20 JANUARY 1967, Page 8

A Spectator's Notebook

MR Duncan Sandys's latest little exploit as Shadow Leader of the Opposition was an oddly implausible event. Perhaps the Conserva- tives are destined to become the minority party of dissent and protest, in which case we will grow accustomed to Tory 'mass demos' in Trafalgar Square. They will be different from Sunday's assembly there, however. A great many of the people present seemed to feel amusement and even mild hilarity at the novelty of the occasion. I suppose the youthful devotees who had filled up the space near to the speakers digested all that Mr Sandys and the other speakers said. The rest of us heard imperfectly through their boisterous cheering. It was rather like being at a rugger match : thus it was hardly surprising that there was a bit of a scrimmage afterwards.

Mr Sandys is of course a good, determined speaker with lots of smouldering indignation, but I assume the effect of his rally on the course of events in Rhodesia was nil. Nevertheless, the gathering had drawn, as a magnet acts on iron filings, a great variety of little groups accustomed to expressing themselves with loud shouts and the brandishing of home-made banners. These banners are presumably meant to serve the same inflammatory purpose as the warring posters on the walls of Peking. All the same, it is hard to imagine anyone's political views being substan- tially altered by the sight of, say, a couple of youths with a minuscule placard bearing the words, 'Monday Club.' I take it that the manu- facture of these banners is in fact a form of folk- art, indicating a search for self-expression which William Morris would have understood. I wasn't too sure, though, about the man bearing a placard reading: 'Ban Sodomy Bill.' Who could he mean'?

Pragmatism A schoolmaster I met this week, after explain- ing to me cheerfully that preparatory and public school fees were certain to go up this year as soon as the period of severe restraint was over, tactfully changed the subject by telling me his plan to overcome teachers' opposition to the employment of 'ancillary helpers' for non-teach- ing duties, as recommended in the Plowden report. Resistance to the idea, he said, was really rooted in fears about the teacher's status: there- fore, instead of calling the helpers 'auxiliaries' or something similar, which suggests they are merely second-rate teachers, they should be firmly desig- nated 'secretaries,' which places the teachers whom they assist in the higher-executive category. A cynical notion, no doubt: but it would be an odd campaign, in these days, which had as its rallying-cry, 'We will not be given secretaries.'

Times Change One corner of the newspaper world which has been too busily concerned with its own affairs to share the general gloom has been The Times, where the arrival of Mr William Rees-Mogg, the new editor, has begun the massive renovation of that insecure national monument. Mr Rees-Mogg has in the past been much more of an active politician than most of his predecessors, or indeed most editors. Some people saw this as an impediment to his appointment. This seems to me a mistaken view, based on a misunder- standing of how journalists (good ones, at any rate) work. There are plenty of men with closed minds and no party allegiance : equally, there are independent-mintied men in all parties. (Mr Grimond, whose leadership the Liberals are going to miss so much, is a case in point.)

Both journalism and politics are chancy trades. Just before the 1959 general election Mr Rees- Mogg tried to get himself chosen as the Tory candidate at Hallam, Sheffield. In the final selec- tion, he received thirty-five votes, and Mr John Osborn, who now represents the seat, received thirty-six. A decisive factor in bringing about this narrow defeat, I'm told, was a spirited cam- paign conducted by the Sheffield Telegraph in favour of the local man. Mr Rees-Mogg, im- pressed no doubt by this demonstration of the power of the press, shelved his parliamentary aspirations and went to work for the Sunday Times. If only all defeats could prove so un- disguisedly blessings in retrospect! Of course, Lord Thomson, as is his habit, was the real winner. He not only acquired his future editor of The Times but soon afterwards he took over the Sheffield Telegraph too.

Pop Brotherhood?

It occurred to me, while visiting the Millais exhibition at Burlington House this week, that Pre-Raphaelitism is in line to be taken up as the next modish fad, art nouveau having had its run. Millais himself, of course, early abandoned the austere ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to become a Midas among painters, commanding with his syrupy talent an income such as only a handful of men in the whole country can match today. But the Pre-Raphaelite idea has shown remarkable resilience, and a new manifestation of popular interest would be in keeping with its singular history. Perhaps the fact that the Brother- hood was a precursor of today's youth cult will help. Millais, Rossetti, Holman Hunt and the others were all either still in or scarcely out of their teens when they met to bring the movement into formal being. The meeting took place at the home of Millais's parents in Gower Street, only a few yards away, as it happens, from the present office of the SPECTATOR. (This journal also played a more direct part in the affairs of the PRB: it was very active in the controversies the move- ment aroused, and W. M. Rossetti, who was secretary of the group, later became its art critic.) Considering the abundance of blue commemora- tive plaques with which London is speckled, it is strange that there is no visible mark on the building to record its significant role in the evolu- tion of the nineteenth-century Romantic spirit.

Habemus Papam By picking Mr Jeremy Thorpe as their new leader the Liberals have at least brought about an unprecedented state of affairs. Never before have two of the three party leaders been un- married. It seems rather odd that this boom in bachelors should coincide with signs that the rule of celibacy is crumbling in its historic stronghold, the Roman Catholic Church. Per- haps politicians are becoming the new priesthood of the age—dedicated spouses of the electorate, untrammelled by domesticity, professionally com- mitted for twenty-four hours each day. Could this leave Mr Wilson of all people open to the charge of amateurism?

But even if the Liberals have followed the Tories in choosing a bachelor, they have not gone right over the radical brink with them. They have stuck to Eton.