l e rB r a n d i m
Life is short. The new SLK. Prices from just £29,980*.
O cial government fuel consumption figures in MPG (Litres per 100km) for the new SLK-Class range: Urban 28.5(9.9)-32.8(8.6), Extra Urban 51.4(5.5)-53.3(5.3), Combined 39.8(7.1)-43.5(6.5). CO2 Emissions: 167-151 g/km. *The new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class range starts from £29,980.00 on-the-road. Model featured is a new Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 BlueEFFICIENCY (Manual) at £33,795.00 on-the-road including optional 18˝ alloy wheels at £715.00, optional Intelligent Light System at £895.00, optional sports suspension at £205.00, optional nappa leather upholstery at £1,355.00 and optional metallic paint at £645.00 (price includes VAT, delivery, 12 months Road Fund Licence, number plates, new vehicle registration fee and fuel). Prices correct at time of going to print. established 1828
Our sovereign debt
If the government were to grant an award to the public servant who has made the greatest effort over the past year to manage expenditure, Her Majesty the Queen would be a strong contender.The royal public finances, published this week, reveal that the cost of running the royal household has fallen over the past year by 5.3 per cent to £32.1 million. Proportionally, the Queen has made more cuts in one year than George Osborne intends to do over five. The royal household is now costing the taxpayer less in absolute terms than it was in 2007.
Had the British government reduced its total costs by 5.3 per cent, the structural deficit would have been eliminated already — and the era of austerity ended. As things stand, monthly figures show new spending records being set. The cuts have not yet begun. Top salaries in the royal household have been frozen over the past year — in contrast to the promised public sector ‘pay freeze’, which has resulted in some town hall fatcats awarding themselves hefty pay rises regardless.
It is counter-intuitive that an unelected monarchy should act more wisely with public money than an elected government. But anyone who tries to argue that the monarchy is a drain on the taxpayer should look at the French model. The costs of running Nicolas Sarkozy’s household have almost trebled since he entered the Elysée Palace. Those who dragged Marie Antoinette to the scaffold would be astonished to see the airs and graces acquired by the leaders of the Republic. One ruling class has replaced another.
In Britain, government officials feel a sense of entitlement that the monarchy demonstrably does not. Eric Pickles, the formidable Local Government secretary, recently discovered that some of his officials had spent a four-figure sum on a ‘team-building’ mission, which involved playing the bongo drums in a burlesque club in east London. When challenged, the officials claimed they had solicited good value for the taxpayer because the Spearmint Rhino strip bar had given them a more expensive quote. This betrays an extraordinary mindset, and a nearcriminal looseness with taxpayers’ money.
Whereas Buckingham Palace has tightened the purse strings, too many public sector managers have been driven by a determination to fight their own little corners. If I don’t spend my whole budget this year, dictates one ruling sentiment, then my budget for next year will be slashed.
The language of profligacy is, even now, embedded in government — and is even being repeated by some Conservatives. To ‘protect’ the Department of Health, for example, means ensuring it spends more than it did last year. ‘Spending’ and ‘cost’ are still referred to as ‘investment’.
One of the perks of public office, besides a solid pension, is the chance of being chosen to be among the 76,000 guests who will this year attend the Queen’s garden parties or other functions. In future, when screening nominations for the honour, Buckingham Palace officials will hopefully look for evidence of what prospective guests did to help Britain through the crisis in the public finances. In this, as in so much, the conduct of the royals has been exemplary.
Is anything more annoying than a sports commentator who can’t keep his mouth shut? The BBC has been forced to apologise for its tennis pundits ‘over-talking’ during the Wimbledon Championships — and rightly. With their constant observations about celebrities in the crowd and the wonders of Hawk-Eye technology, Boris Becker and Tim Henman seemed to be competing to see who could make sports commentary the most banal.
The Beeb should do more than just say sorry, though. Next year, it must be strict with its commentators; force them to tell us only what we actually want to know: a player’s history, for instance, or the strengths and weaknesses of his or her game.And if there’s nothing interesting to say, then silence would be a great relief. We don’t need to be told that somebody who has just lost two sets and has begun to cry into his towel is ‘looking pretty fragile right now’.
the spectator | 9 July 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk
If the BBC succeeds in restoring sense and silence to modern life, it will be well worth its licence fee — and with any luck it will set an example too. We’re harangued almost constantly these days, over-ground, underground and in the air. Barely a second goes by on any form of public transport without some self-important official making a spurious announcement. There’s too much noise altogether. We’d like some quiet, please.