Charles Moore

The Spectator’s notes | 20 June 2013

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When he arrived for the G8 in Co. Fermanagh, President Obama told the people of Northern Ireland that those living with conflict in far-flung places are ‘studying what you’re doing’ and that ‘You’re the blueprint to follow’. If they really were studying it, they would be less confident of the blueprint status. It is not true that the Belfast Agreement meant that, as the President put it, ‘clenched fists gave way to outstretched hands’. What happened was that the roughest major grouping on each side — the Paisleyites and Sinn Fein — saw that they could crowd out their more moderate rivals and divide the spoils of office between them. If hands are outstretched, it is more for public money than for peace. The undoubted benefit has been that it is not currently in the interest of anyone important to kill other people. But there has been no burying of past antagonisms and no serious contrition. Sectarianism, rather than becoming a thing of the past, is now institutionalised. In this respect, Northern Ireland today is not a future model, but an old-fashioned gangsters’ deal.

‘What is the future of Christianity in Britain, Mr Moore?’ I was asked as I rushed down the stairs to catch a train. I wished I had the gift of concision of the late William Douglas-Home, who, when asked in an exam paper ‘What is the future of coal?’, wrote ‘Smoke’. I had just been addressing a meeting of the Friends of the Ordinariate, the body set up by Pope Benedict to enable Anglicans to be in communion with the Catholic Church without abandoning the liturgical and spiritual traditions of their Anglicanism. It tries to bring reality to Jesus’ own statement: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions.’ One of the least-noticed changes in recent times is that the ecumenical movement, having originally been advanced by liberals, is now, in essence, evangelical. As was borne out by last week’s visit of Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, to the new Pope Francis in Rome, the two men share a religion which is missionary and Biblical. (And both of them follow Ignatian spiritual  discipline.) It does not mean that the differences about orders etc are unimportant — hence, indeed, the existence of the Ordinariate —  but it does mean that the chalice is half-full rather than half-empty. So I suppose my esprit d’escalier answer to the questioner I short-changed is: ‘The future of Christianity in Britain is that it will be Christian first, denominational second.’ Much misery has been caused by the fact that, for almost 500 years, it was the other way round.

It is traditional for this column, at this season, to remind readers of the Prince of Wales’s prophecy, spoken in Brazil in March 2009. His Royal Highness warned that the world had ‘only 100 months to avert irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse’. So only four years now remain. But as I write, the Met Office is meeting in Exeter for an unprecedented summit to work out why it has predicted for the past 13 years that the British climate will get warmer only to find, in 12 out of the 13, that it has got colder. No one is admitting, of course, that the end of the world is not nigh, but one does notice much self-exculpatory talk of how weather is affected by ‘a host of other factors’. I cannot prove it — and nor can anyone, either way — but I think it is a reasonable working assumption that the climate will not collapse in 2017. I suspect that Prince Charles quietly thinks so too. Why else does he bother to take on his mother’s duties as she grows older?

Con Coughlin’s enjoyable new book Churchill’s First War (Macmillan), contains a photograph of the sign outside the Malakand Fort in modern Pakistan which says ‘Sir Winston Churchil [sic] ex British Prime Minister stayed in this room during 1897 as a war correspondent’. Coughlin, who is himself the Daily Telegraph’s defence editor, must have swelled with pride at seeing this plaque: Churchill reported the campaign for the Telegraph and is a patron saint of war reporting. There is a good book to be written about journalists who became politicians. Others include Lord Salisbury, before he inherited his title; Mussolini, who edited the socialist papers L’Avvenire del Lavoratore (sometimes unkindly rendered as ‘The Future of the Lavatory’) and Avanti!; and Boris Johnson. One wonders whether the journalism or the politics was their real love or — a third possibility — that, in pursuing a political career, they were writing their futures in their heads, and then acting out what they had already imagined. The more obvious motive is money. ‘I shall earn a great deal more by my pen than I shall ever get by my tongue,’ wrote Salisbury when his father threatened to stop paying his election expenses. Churchill wanted to be ‘a knight of pen and sword’ partly so that he could supplement his officer’s pay of £300 a year (c. £25,000 today) with another £500. (He was furious with the Daily Telegraph for paying him only £5 per despatch.) And to this day, while Mayor of London, Boris contributes weekly to the Daily Telegraph. Once, while editing this magazine, Boris rang me up to ask my ‘advice’ about his wish to become an MP in direct contravention of his promise to Conrad Black, the then proprietor, not to enter politics while editing. ‘What do you actually want, Boris?’ I asked. ‘I want to have my cake and eat it,’ was the reply. That greed for life is a very good qualification for journalism.

There is a new film out called Man of Steel, apparently very solemn. In the 1960s, I think, a film of the same name appeared. I remember nothing about it except a review, which read, in full: ‘Man of Steel. Feet of clay. Waste of time.’

Among my all too many unsolicited emails, several Russian messages have recently appeared. Without being able to understand a word of the Cyrillic script, I assume that these are offering me sexual favours, rather than assessments of post-Cold War security architecture. Does this thought prove that I am a racist?