Let’s subsidise weddings
Sir: Fraser Nelson (‘Marrying money’, 15 November) points out that marriages tend to last longer than cohabitations and that this is a good thing. But there is only one obvious difference between being married and merely cohabitating. If you are married you’ve been through a marriage ceremony and if you’re not you haven’t. The marriage ceremony brings the couple together to make vows to each other before God (optionally), the representatives of the state and their gathered families and friends. But crucially at these ceremonies the wedding guests also formally commit to supporting the couple in their marriage. This is a very beautiful thing in itself but its practical consequences are highly beneficial.
A marriage, unlike cohabitation, is rooted in a wider network of social obligations. This is particularly useful when a happy couple becomes an unhappy couple, as it inevitably will at some point. It provides a large fund of social capital on which to draw and a whole range of pooled insurance policies. None of this capital is taxed; not its income nor its capital gains. So why don’t poor people get married and lay claim to it? Well, one of the things that will put them off is the cash expense of even a fairly simple ceremony. This can be prohibitively expensive for someone on a low income.
If marriage is a public good, we should subsidise weddings. Free venues, no fees for those on the dole, some help with food and drink. Then means-testing for all others. What could better unite the libertarian and socially conservative wings of the Tory party? What better policy could there be for the party of austerity going into the next election on the back of the biggest falls in real wages in over a century?
Sir: The Labour party may be an irrelevance, crumbling faster than the two ‘governing’ parties (‘Left in the lurch’, 15 November), but ‘leftism’ has become embedded in the establishment, from its welfare-state ethos to its imposed ‘equality and diversity’ ideology. Several Communist Manifesto requirements are already in place, and if ‘the workers have no country’ because finance and labour are globalised, nations themselves are on the way out. Keir Hardie, Blatchford and Attlee have been replaced by Gramsci, Marcuse and Žižek — which is nothing to be pleased about.
Sir: I wonder if the invariably positive media coverage of the pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury has raised the profile of their respective churches as much as your editorial (‘Thank heavens for Welby’, 15 November) might seem to imply. People listen to the archbishop not for his theological insights, but because he has experience of finance and business, indeed has worked previously in ‘the real world’ — which gives him a signal advantage over many politicians.
The case of Pope Francis is more puzzling. His off-the-cuff remarks have given encouragement to many; but they are sometimes contradicted or explained away afterwards by Vatican spokesmen. And the fuzzy result of the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family doesn’t suggest that in the short time available to him he can make much difference either to what the Catholic church thinks or how it behaves. Could the chief reason for his popularity merely be that he is so obviously Not Benedict XVI and Not John Paul II?
Chichester, West Sussex
Anglicans against aspiration
Sir: There are other medieval religions that have sought to preserve social stratification. James Delingpole (‘The sermon that taught me what’s happened to Birmingham’, 8 November) may remember having repeatedly to sing at school Cecil Frances Alexander’s Anglican hymn ‘All things Bright and Beautiful’ (1848), the third verse of which goes:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate
Nowadays, the Anglican tradition in churches and schools may leave out the insidious verse of this jolly hymn which otherwise celebrates nature. Unfortunately, class divisions in Britain have outlasted the influence of the Church of England and its songs for children.
Dr Carl Gray
Laptops in the library
Sir: Harry Mount is correct to say that the Bodleian Library is still a serious place (‘Signs of contempt’, 15 November), but it is hardly quiet. Proper silence requires more than just an absence of talking, and the Bod’s decision not to bar laptops from any reading room means that it is impossible to escape the constant and irritating clatter of heavy-handed typing. Librarians wouldn’t allow users to tap drumsticks against their reading desks; why are they so perversely lenient towards typists?
Wolfson College, Oxford
Sir: While it was good to read that Ferdinand Mount has always loved Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale (‘Books of the Year’, 15 November), I’m sorry to see that he puts Constance and Sophia Baines in the Black Country. They grew up in Burslem, which is in North Staffordshire Potteries, 25 miles north, and in those days they would have seldom, if ever, have visited the south of the county. However Wolverhampton is certainly part of the Black Country, so perhaps the reworking he recommends is at the centre of this confusion. I shall read Marriage Material on his recommendation.