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The Spectator's Notes

All belief systems must accept the danger of ridicule and contempt

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

In the ‘whataboutery’ which now dominates British politics, no mention of Labour anti-Semitism is complete without a counter-accusation of Tory Islamophobia. It swiftly followed the Chief Rabbi’s condemnation of Labour anti-Semitism on Tuesday. There may well be people in the Conservative party who have an irrational hatred of Muslims, but the term ‘Islamophobia’ should be absolutely resisted. Unlike anti-Semitism, this is a concocted concept. A strand of Muslim thought sees all criticism of the prophet Mohammed and his faith as blasphemy and labours worldwide to ban it. Such Muslims are driven mad by the way Jews can cry ‘racism’ when they are attacked, whereas they cannot. But in fact this is fair, because Jewishness is usually inherited and is not necessarily related to what you believe. Islam is. All belief systems must accept the danger of hatred, ridicule and contempt as the price for coexisting in a free society.

An article in the Daily Signal, the online publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC carried a short article this week by an American, James Schmitz, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called West syndrome. When working for a thinktank in London, he needed to be able to rely on a neurologist who could intervene at very short notice to save his life. ‘I can recommend a neurologist for you,’ one NHS doctor advised him, but ‘she’s pretty booked up so you won’t see her for at least nine months.’ In the United States, he could always secure the necessary attention in a maximum of two weeks. So he went home. I repeat this story as all the main political parties yet again abase themselves before the altar of the NHS — ‘the envy of the world’.


Oddly enough, the Corbyn Red Menace is not threatening such high income tax rates as Labour offered in its relatively moderate Kinnockian guise in the 1992 general election. The shadow chancellor (and future leader) John Smith was thought to have sealed his party’s defeat by John Major’s Conservatives by stating there would be a new top rate of 50 pence (it was 40 per cent under the Tories), starting at £40,000 a year. The current shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is promising only 45 per cent (the Tories’ current top rate) on those earning between £80,000 and £125,000. At £125,000 the marginal rate of income tax would rise to 50 per cent. In the light of inflation, those 1992 figures must be slightly more than doubled to reach their 2019 equivalents, so the McDonnell changes are less punitive than the jump which Smith announced. Corbyn’s Labour has also not made the mistake of frankness which Kinnock/Smith made. The 1992 Labour manifesto baldly stated the 50 pence rate. Not many people were earning more than £40,000 a year, but the shock was caused by the thought that Labour wanted to take away the opportunity for greater wealth which voters hoped later to acquire. It felt like a tax on aspiration and thus conflicted with Labour’s self-presentation. The 2019 Labour manifesto is not so impolite (or impolitic) as to mention figures in any detail. It merely says ‘We will ask those who earn more than £80,000 to pay a little more income tax.’ I like that word ‘ask’.

At last, however, my wife will gain compensation under a Labour government. She is one of those ‘WASPIs’ born in the 1950s whose expected pension age is rising from 60 to 66 by the time she retires. Mr Corbyn is promising her and hundreds of thousands of others, most of whom are experiencing no hardship at all, a cheque for several thousand pounds. The reason for the pension age increase was equality between the sexes, so it is hard to see that any wrong was done. For a very long time, men got a state pension at 65, women at 60. Can the wrong committed by equalising them with men really merit an unbudgeted £58 billion compensation? Mr Corbyn could surely court even more votes by inventing a figure for the pensions foregone by the millions of men currently alive who were not allowed, unlike their wives, to retire at 60.

This column frequently drew attention to the wrong done to George Bell, Bishop of Chichester before, during and after the second world war. The Church of England decided, about 60 years after his death, and without due process, that he had committed paedophile acts against a young girl. It later admitted its unjust methods, but never recanted fully. The Archbishop of Canterbury stated that a ‘significant cloud’ still hung over Bell’s name. So it is a Christmas present for the truth that the new visitors’ guide to Chichester Cathedral removes all recent remarks about Bell’s alleged crime and carries an appropriately generous account of his importance in supporting German Christian resistance to Hitler. It quotes a message to Bell from Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, smuggled out after his execution in Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945. ‘Tell him that for me this is the end but also the beginning — with him I believe in the principle of our universal Christian Brotherhood, which rises above all national interests, and that our victory is certain.’

Hard by the top of Duke of York Steps lies the grave of Giro. Giro belonged to the non-Nazi German ambassador, Leopold von Hoesch, who was succeeded by the Nazi Ribbentrop in 1936. In 1934, Giro bit through some electric cables and died. He was buried with a tombstone in the embassy garden at 9 Carlton House Terrace. Last week, passing the tribute to ‘Ein Treuer Begleiter’ (‘a faithful companion’), I noticed that an eviscerated rat had been carefully laid on top of the grave. I fear it was intended as an insult to Giro, an example of the proverb ‘Give a dog a bad name and hang him’. Giro has been described, wholly unfairly, as a Nazi dog, and his grave as the only Nazi monument in Britain. He was actually a creature of the Weimar Republic and committed no known thought-crime.


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