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Sir Philip Green sans Knighthood?

Theodore Dalrymple

The House of Commons wants to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood because it alleges that he is a spiv. I am perfectly prepared to believe that he is a spiv, though I cannot claim to have followed his career closely. At the very least he seems to be a man given to vulgar show.

A spiv is a person who dresses nattily, lives well even in hard times for others, and makes his living by disreputable means. How many members of our parliament and government are spivs, or hope to become spivs at the end of their political careers? Two of our last three Prime Ministers were clearly of spiv calibre, one of them indeed to spivs what the Capo dei Capi is to the Mafia. If Parliament deprived them of their pensions, then it might have done something useful.

Once you grasp the concept of spivvery, much about modern Britain becomes explicable. You have only to read the Financial Times’ Saturday supplement, How to Spend It, to understand how much of our economy is in essence a spiv economy. The supplement is aimed not at people with more money than sense, but at a group of people far, far worse: people with more money than taste, for whom Sir Philip Green (if he still is Sir Philip) is a leader of fashion.

As for the way of making a living, it can be disreputable without being illegal. Part of our trouble is that people no longer distinguish between what is legal from what is permissible in any other sense. Often a person who is criticised for his behaviour will say, ‘There’s no law against it,’ as if we had made the law the sole arbiter of how we should behave. Implicitly, though perhaps not yet quite in practice, we grant our legislators totalitarian powers over our souls.

On the other hand, we often do not make the distinction between what is legal and illegal either. Tax avoidance is conflated with tax evasion. The one is legal as the other is not, but they are often spoken of in the same breath.

There is clearly something distasteful, as well as economically harmful, about tax avoidance as the key to great wealth in so many cases: but if we have raised up spivs to the summit of our economy and society, perhaps we should reform a tax system that turns accountancy into the queen of the sciences.

4 Comments on Sir Philip Green sans Knighthood?

  1. Thanks for explaining to this yank the mysteries of spiverie. I was aways afraid to ask. I think there is a negative term in American english sounding almost the same, but pertaining to black men. I’d rather not know that one.

  2. But we have, or most of us have, made the law the sole arbiter of how we behave. Now that Christianity has been driven out of the public square, it is the government which hands down morality to the rest of us.

    The fact that the government comprises individuals which the public often views as morality free, lying, self seeking opportunists careerist hypocrites is one good reason why obeying the law is becoming a matter of choice.

    Another is the recognition that as the government changes, so morality changes. What was moral yesterday is condemned today as some heresy in the Cult of Equality or other ‘bigotry’.

    No civilisation and no society can survive under such conditions.

  3. I detect a very nasty whiff of antisemitism in the witchhunt being conducted against Green. As with Lord Levy, an outsider is feted when it’s useful to the establishment, then abandoned to vilification when his usefulness is over.

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