When Tony told Gordon, while they were having dinner with John on 6 November 2003, that he (Tony) was going to relinquish the Labour leadership in 2004, he (Tony) said, ‘I know I must leave, but I need your help to get through the next year.’ According to Robert Peston, the author who reports these words, Tony then spent that period plotting how to go back on this promise. What Peston does not note is the similarity of Tony’s phrasing to the famous message that the IRA, allegedly through Martin McGuinness, gave to British intelligence in 1993: ‘The conflict is over, but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close.’ It is an interesting echo, whether conscious or not, because the IRA’s message, like Tony’s to Gordon, remains murky. Was it really given or was it, as Sinn Fein now allege, concocted by the British? Did McGuinness really say anything, and if so, what did he mean? Judging by the IRA’s involvement in the biggest bank robbery in British history the other day, and its continuing refusal to give up arms, the conflict still isn’t over. In fact, the ‘peace process’ and the ‘Granita deal’ have been haunting our politics for roughly the same length of time, both unresolved, both complicated, bitter and obscure, both semi-bogus.
The most frightening image in the current Blair/Brown war about which is better qualified to end suffering on the planet — the proxy for who is to be leader — was a press photograph last week of Mr Brown on the floor with a group of little children. New Labour’s propaganda exploitation of children is nothing new, but the darkness of Mr Brown’s suit and hair, the pallor of his face and the awkwardness of his crouch contributed a Hammer Horror feel to the picture. The way to end these gruesome photocalls is for the press to follow strictly the Press Complaints Commission rules about the privacy of those in education and pixillate all the heads of the children in the shots.
Being a Roman Catholic who went to a public school, I ought, I suppose, to be pleased when others in the same categories achieve prominent public positions. The natural tendency would be to assume that such people would act upon their faith and reflect some of the attitudes that their good education gave them. Life isn’t like that, though. Both categories — public school and Catholicism — are considered disadvantages in modern metropolitan culture, which brings strong pressure on their victims/ beneficiaries to disown them, or at least to act in a way which makes their effects invisible. When I first came across the new Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, years ago, I was very favourably impressed, but then I saw her receive an award at The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year luncheon in 2001. Her speech of acceptance was quite breathtakingly graceless, and delivered in an accent which she would never have had while at Westminster School (a biographical fact that she has obliterated from her entry in Who’s Who). She was trying to prove that she was something she wasn’t. Miss Kelly is also a Catholic, and has therefore been attacked already by New Labour feminists. I assume that this means she will do nothing to prevent the issue of morning-after pills, condoms, etc., to 12-year-olds in schools.
A similar process is at work with Mark Thompson, the new Director-General of the BBC, who also has an affected estuarial accent of a type unknown to Stonyhurst when he was there. Precisely because Mr Thompson is a Catholic, he feels the need to put on blasphemous programmes to show that the Pope can’t kick him around. Thus he defended Jerry Springer: The Opera, which shows Eve fondling the genitals of Jesus, on the grounds that he was a Christian and he couldn’t see anything blasphemous about it. With friends like these, Christians would probably do better with nothing but atheists in public life.
In fact, although I don’t want blasphemy on television, and I grow more and more angry at the anti-artistic effect of swear-words in drama, I would much rather have a society with Jerry Springer: The Opera on the BBC than one that banned it by law. The double standards, though, are striking. When, before Christmas, I wrote an article saying that the new religious hatred law was a bad thing, and that people should not be prevented from alleging (though I didn’t believe it) that the Prophet Mohammed was a paedophile, I was interviewed on the BBC’s Asian Network. My interviewer was so worried that mention of the paedophile claim might offend Muslim listeners that he refused to repeat it at all, even when quoting, which must have made it all very perplexing for the radio audience. Does anyone believe that the BBC would use a similar delicacy when handling some slur against Christianity?
There has been some controversy over remarks by Mike O’Brien, the energy minister, in which he told Muslims that Michael Howard, if prime minister, would not support their causes. Mr O’Brien has been accused of anti-Semitism, since Mr Howard is Jewish. It is not clear from Mr O’Brien’s remarks that the innuendo is there, but even if it is, I suspect that the perverse law described above applies. In reality, Mr Howard is extremely cautious — far too much so — in saying anything which might annoy Muslim activists in this country. I cannot prove it, but I attribute this to a fear on the Conservative leader’s part that his Jewishness will make people believe he is unfair to Muslims. His tendency, therefore, is to over-correct, and do little for Christians or Jews.
It is a good idea for the Spanish government to hand out the European constitution at football matches, preparatory to its referendum on the subject next month. It is a fair tactic, however, only if it delivers the full text, not little pamphlets about what the government says it says. All opponents of the constitution must press the government to give every voter the entire thing, so that all can make up their own minds. So far, I find our government interestingly reluctant about the idea.
There are endless discussions in rural areas at present about how next month’s hunt ban will be circumvented. In one such recently I described ideas that I had heard about moving hounds anonymously round the country, descending without announcement on the secretly chosen spot and getting the field to find their way there by mobile telephone and word of mouth. My lunch companion’s eyes shone. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘you mean like a rave.’