There are so many problems confronting our polity this week that it is almost impossible to write about any of them. Between the time of writing and the time you read this, we could have agreed Brexit, destroyed Brexit, called an election, called a referendum, or achieved nothing at all. Here, perhaps, is one thing which can safely be pointed out. In almost any scenario, Boris Johnson has to worry about the Brexit party. In practice, this means worrying about Nigel Farage. Who, if so minded, could persuade Mr Farage to be amenable? Surely the answer is his friend Donald Trump. If President Trump is serious in his desire for Brexit, his most useful contribution at this moment would be to induce Mr Farage to help Boris, not hinder him. Might this involve persuading Boris to make Sir Nigel (as he would then become) British ambassador to the United States? Or could Lord Farage of the Medway Towns be created and become Britain’s special trade envoy to the court of King Donald? There must be something for him.
Trump’s desertion of the Kurds reveals how close his foreign policy really is to that of Barack Obama. Rhetorically, Trump loves America’s friends, whereas Obama tried to apologise to her enemies. In reality, however, both run away when the going gets tough. In both cases, the damage done to the world order is colossal.
I recently heard the alarming rumour that Mr Speaker Bercow still has it in his power (a power he used on an earlier occasion) to duck out of his promise to retire. He said on 9 September that he would step down on 31 October, but apparently he may decide at the last minute that his country still needs him. I have no idea whether this speculation is correct. We do all know, however, that Mr Bercow long ago decided that the Speaker can break any convention according to whim and describe his whim as an assertion of the rights of parliament.
In the celebrations of J.H. Newman’s canonisation, not enough has been said about his mastery of language. We are accustomed to distinguish between ‘style’ and ‘content’ in language — the first arguably suspect, the second being the real thing — but I wonder how much this distinction means. Here is perhaps Newman’s most famous, and I should think his longest, sentence. It forms an entire paragraph of the Apologia:
To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of long-standing facts, the tokens so faint and broken of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle’s words, ‘having no hope and without God in the world’ — all this is a vision to dizzy and appal; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery which is absolutely beyond human solution.
I would say that in Newman style and content marry, because what he is expressing is the beauty of truth.
There is a provision in the new Queen’s Speech that photo ID will be required for voting. It seems sensible. As I managed to highlight when I twice entered a ballot box with a ballot paper on the day of the 2016 Brexit referendum (voting, however, only once), it is the easiest thing in the world to vote more than once. You would think that anyone who believes in universal suffrage would strongly agree that it must not be adulterated by fraud. It creates a loss of confidence much wider than the actual numbers adulterated. We know from the case of Lutfur Rahman that voter fraud, for which he was convicted, corrupted the entire politics of Tower Hamlets. Think what it would do if it were national. Yet supposedly respectable bodies are outraged by tightening the security of the vote. The Electoral Reform Society reacts angrily to the Queen’s Speech plan: it ‘risks shutting out millions of voters in “Windrush Mark 2”.’ The ERS even threatens legal action to challenge results where ID demands are made. Surely if you see voting as one of the most important civic duties, you would want the law to punish abuse, not harass those who try to prevent it. The only justified objection to the tightening up is that it does not appear to be tackling postal vote fraud, an abuse that goes wider than individual personation.
‘We persecute foxes for invading our streets. But just ask yourself who was there first.’ This was the headline in this week’s Sunday Times promoting an ecologist called Adele Beard who labours to prove that urban foxes are no trouble to man, beast, bird or baby in any way. Ask yourself, as requested by the headline, ‘who was there first’? The answer is, men. Men, not foxes, built the streets. This created enormous food opportunities for scavenging, so foxes came. It seems logical to suppose that there were far fewer foxes when there were fewer streets and much less intensive rearing of chickens. What would there have been for large numbers of them to eat? We know from the phenomenon of the ‘bagged fox’ that foxes were rarer in the 18th century than they are today. Mankind provided much of the habitat. Note that Ms Beard’s arguments in favour of animals would, if made about human beings, be denounced as fascist and racist. The ‘who was there first’ is the classic line of anti-immigration nativists.