The Spectator

Letters | 9 April 2015

Plus: On praying with Paxman; the elimination of Easter; the problem of Gatwick; and where to find a vicar

Text settings

In defence of Catholicism

Sir: Michael Gove gives an excellent defence of Christianity (4 April), but his embarrassment about the Roman Catholic part of the story is unnecessary. He writes of his discomfort as, declaring oneself to be a Christian, ‘You stand in the tradition of the Inquisition, the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits who made South America safe for colonisation … the Christian Brothers who presided over forced adoptions’. The Inquisitions (Papal, Spanish and Portuguese) were indeed shameful, but were often as ineffective as the governments that supported them. The Counter-Reformation was a great movement of spiritual and cultural renewal that altered and improved western civilisation. Jesuits, and other religious orders, defended the indigenous people of South America from exploitation and earned great enmity from fellow Europeans. The Irish Christian Brothers were but one of many organisations, some of them Protestant and some secular, who sent vast numbers of children overseas. A positive view of the Catholic tradition strengthens, rather than weakens, Mr Gove’s case.

(Revd) Fergus O’Donoghue, SJ

Saint Francis Xavier Church, Dublin

I prayed with Paxman

Sir: Michael Gove wrongs both Jeremy Paxman and Malvern College in referring to ‘Old Malvernian hauteur’. The school is incorporated by Royal Charter as a Church of England foundation. I prayed together with Paxman and several hundred other adolescents of varying degrees of spottiness every day for some years during the 1960s, so I cannot think that his sneer with Blair was anything to do with his views on communal worship. Far more likely that his ‘hauteur’ was derived from the prospect of two leaders of the free world getting down on their knees together to exhibit the attitude of prayer before embarking on a disastrous and, many believe, illegal war, as Gove later implies. By all means remark on Mr Paxman’s tone, but please do not ascribe it to our alma mater, which is a place of deeply held Christian convictions.

Jeremy Havard

London SW3

Unhappy Easter

Sir: Michael Gove’s concern about the celebration, or lack of celebration, of the Christian faith in this country may have relevance to the front pages of the Sunday Times and Telegraph on Easter Sunday. Neither mentioned it — not even the usual picture of daffodils. It left me saddened.

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hampshire

The Halifax Labour club

Sir: In his otherwise excellent review of Jonathan Schneer’s book on Winston Churchill’s war cabinet, Ministers at War (28 March), Nigel Jones made the very common mistake of stating that in May 1940 ‘the Labour party refused to serve under [Lord] Halifax’. In fact, when Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood telephoned from their party conference at Bournemouth on 9 May, they only stipulated that they would refuse to serve under Neville Chamberlain. They left it entirely up to the King and the Conservatives who would be prime minister, and indeed there was a strong body of opinion in the Labour party that preferred Halifax. Both Hugh Dalton and Herbert Morrison told Halifax’s junior minister at the Foreign Office, Rab Butler, that Halifax should be prime minister and that Churchill should ‘stick to the war’. Halifax’s good personal relations with the Labour leadership, his liberal viceroyalty of India and Churchill’s bad history with the Labour party since Tonypandy and the General Strike, as well as the Conservatives’ massive majority in the Commons, all made it inconceivable that Labour would seek to disbar Halifax in the way that they did Chamberlain.

Andrew Roberts

New York

Why Gatwick can’t expand

Sir: Martin Vander Weyer (4 April) should keep his £10 safe from Betfair — Gatwick has no more chance than Heathrow of delivering an extra runway. It has virtually no pool of unemployment nearby, so would have to attract the extra airport workforce to the area, but there is no room to build the extra houses, schools and hospitals needed. Nor is spare rail capacity available to transport extra passengers or workers.

I am afraid that the government set poor Sir Howard Davies the wrong question five years ago when it asked where in the south-east of England an extra runway should go. Now it has rightly decided to follow a strategy of rebalancing the British economy away from the south-east toward a new ‘northern powerhouse’. To make any sense of the strategy, that is where any fresh airport hub must be created.

David Lough

Penshurst, Kent

Horse and Vicar?

Sir: Anne Fisher should not give up on her idea of advertising other than in the Church Times (Letters, 4 April). My dear late grandfather once placed an advertisement for a horse in Horse and Hound and added as an afterthought that if a vicar happened to be reading, he would be glad to hear from him. The result was the best appointment to his local church that my grandfather ever made.

Andrew Wynn

Pixley, Herefordshire

Quote for luck

Sir: I was delighted to read Matilda Bathurst’s review of my collection of short stories, Wrote for Luck (4 April). But I think she ought to know that Samuel Beckett did not, as far as I am aware, ever say that he ‘wrote for luck’. I am afraid that this is an authorial joke.

D.J. Taylor


Write to us The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP;