In writing about the RedBird IMI bid for the Telegraph Group and The Spectator, its opponents — your columnist very much included — emphasize the danger that the real buyers, the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, could use their purchase to put political or commercial pressure on the British government. But there is also a danger the other way round. If Abu Dhabi owned the titles, I would not put it past any British government (of any party) to put pressure on the Arabs. “Look here,” I can imagine some prime minister saying: “Of course, we’d like to sell you a stake in our power stations/electric vehicles/5G networks [or whatever], but it’s very difficult for us to help while you let your titles criticize us so unfairly.” That would be the sort of language any Gulf state would understand.
If a future British government did frame such requests, they would probably convey them to Dr. Sultan al-Jaber. Dr. Sultan is IMI’s main man of business, and a man of many parts, being his country’s minister of industry and advanced technology, head of its renewable energy company and of its national oil company, and therefore perfectly placed to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds as head of the COP28 in Dubai which ended this week. He is also the country’s former chief censor (not, of course, so named) and something of a diplomat. In St. Petersburg in June, Dr. Sultan was among those who met President Vladimir Putin “to build bridges and foster positive partnerships to ensure regional and international security and stability.” He will instinctively recognize the need for any British papers which his company owns to be flexible wherever the interests of his country are seriously engaged.
To my surprise, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the three Ivy League presidents (what we would call vice-chancellors) who appeared before the house of representatives’ education committee last week. All were accused of giving answers which refused to declare student calls for genocide of the Jews as an automatic breach of their universities’ codes. One has resigned. Another, Dr. Claudine Gay, has since explained herself by saying: “Some students have confused a right to free speech with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students.” There surely is a free speech issue here: it would be difficult and undesirable to draw up a list of things, however revolting, that students may not say. Dr. Gay was not flat wrong to try to distinguish between free speech and inciting violence against or harassment of Jewish students. The trouble is, however, that these three presidents — and most elite US universities — lack credibility. They have allowed their institutions to become intensely political in the framing of “decolonized” curriculums, recruitment of academic staff, student admission policies, etc. Harvard even has separate graduation ceremonies for black students, Hispanic students and gay students. In a question not so widely reported, a black Republican congressman asked the President of MIT, Sally Kornbluth, whether it was all right to segregate student dormitories on grounds of color, as MIT does. Professor Kornbluth said it was because this was “positive selection” not segregation: the black students (there are, of course, no all-white dorms permitted) could share “common experiences and support.” The way Ivy League universities are run today is prejudiced intellectually, culturally and practically against white students and most especially against Jewish ones. So the defense of free speech offered by presidents who obsessively police “micro-aggressions” was justifiably not believed. The problem is not best dealt with by punishing students for uttering repulsive views, but by purging the universities of the systemic politicization and unfairness created by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies so they can become proper academic institutions once again.
Auberon Waugh died nearly a quarter of a century ago, aged sixty-one. I remember reading, not long before his death, a piece in which he calculated that no matter how long he lived, he would not be able to drink all the wine in his cellar. I felt sad to read this, and I later worried that his realization had helped him lose interest in life, rather like the tears Alexander the Great supposedly shed when he had no new worlds to conquer. Although I am now six years older than Bron ever was, my cellar has no risk of achieving such superfluity. Bron was a buff (though he scorned wine buffery, saying “Just drink what you enjoy”) and accumulated huge reserves, thanks to his work for the Spectator Wine Club. I am an ignorant amateur. But my drinking habits have changed with the years. I still love wine, but more than one glass makes me feel rotten. So although I could in theory drink all the wine I possess, I shan’t. Since the rest of my family — except for one element who is more interested in quantity than quality — also drinks little or nothing, should I give up on a cellar, and just get a few bottles in when guests come? No, and Christmas reminds me why. It is to do with the curious fact about good wine (reflected in the policy which treats it as a wasting asset and therefore does not charge capital gains tax on onward sale) that it improves with age yet also perishes. I like good wine’s resemblance to a life well lived — the need to exercise patience to achieve maximum pleasure. It is therefore the right thing with which to toast the people you love. An empty cellar is a life-denying thing, like a cold hearth.
In matters of health, marketing is all. So I hope by next Christmas to make available for sale tiny phials of a liquid preparation based on an ancient Celtic recipe which distills the life-giving properties of spring water. If placed on the tongue, its label will explain, its subtle taste, extracted from a mash of natural grains, boosts calm and wellbeing. I shall call it Usquebaugh.