Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 26 July 2018

The Spectator's Notes | 26 July 2018
Text settings

At a speaker luncheon last week, someone I didn’t know passed me a note asking ‘Have you stopped supporting capital punishment?’ As far as I could remember, I have never supported capital punishment, so I was slightly at a loss for a reply. My problem with the subject is that I have always felt ambiguous. On the one hand, capital punishment is horrible, bad for the executioner as well as the victim, and fatal to the innocent. On the other, I cannot confidently argue that, when conducted under law, it would be wrong in every single circumstance. Some times, and perhaps some actions, are so bad that the death penalty may be needed to maintain order, crush evil and show who’s boss. Under present circumstances in modern Britain, I am against it, but — hypothetically and in principle — not everywhere, not always. Now comes the news of Sajid Javid’s decision about El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey. Anyone would think the Home Secretary had just sentenced two former British citizens to death. In fact, all he has done is weighed the difficult options and decided not to stand in the way of the men being tried in the United States, where death is a possible sentence for their alleged crimes. America is an ally, and a democracy. It has due process and the rule of law. Some US states retain capital punishment because their citizens want it, and it remains a federal punishment in some circumstances. We may strongly disagree with this, but it is not barbarism. Represented in the American legal system, these two men are being much better treated than their fellow jihadis who were sentenced to death by Barack Obama’s busy drones.

Back home, our own dear justice system isn’t working so well. After Alison Saunders’s disastrous tenure as Director of Public Prosecutions, she is to be replaced by Max Hill QC. Mr Hill has a shocking record of cosying up to Islamists and their fellow travellers, notably CAGE and MEND. Thank goodness the prosecution of these ‘Beatles’, these two unloveable moptops from Isis, does not rest on the fragile shoulders of our CPS.

Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, is right to warn that a ‘no deal’ Brexit by accident would create problems. The way to solve this is to have ‘no deal’ by design.

Here is quite a good trick question. Which current Member of Parliament has voted most often against pro-EU measures? I have not done the count, but I suppose it would be natural to guess Bill Cash, who entered Parliament in 1984. In fact, it is much more likely to be Jeremy Corbyn who came into the House in 1983 and has defied his party more often on the subject than has Sir William. It is fascinating how Mr Corbyn’s tenacious Bennite Euroscepticism has been glossed over by the media. The most likely candidate, however, must be Dennis Skinner, who entered Parliament in 1970 and must be last person still sitting there to have voted against entry in the first place.

Some people still go to church solely out of a sense of duty. It is in that spirit that I listen to Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I feel its presence on the BBC should be upheld, but can’t remember quite why, and I almost never listen with pleasure or profit. The slot has a unique ability to come up with something which belies its title. It manages to be platitudinous and wrong at the same time. Professor Tina Beattie’s offering on Monday was a masterclass in the genre. The platitudes lay in her formal messages — that the British are Europeans, that we must work to maintain ‘fragile peace’ after Brexit, that Christianity should not be a form of identity politics, and that the ‘values, identities and visions we aspire to live by should not be reducible to the politics of the nation state’. The wrongness lay in the underlying assumption — that Brexiteers are less ‘inclusive, hospitable and peacemaking’ than Remainers and therefore less Christian. Professor Beattie urged us, in the Brexit climate, to ‘resist all attempts to appropriate the Christian faith in the service of a narrow, exclusive and hostile nationalism’. Have you come across a single prominent person who attempts to do this? True, some politicians in Ireland, notably Sinn Fein, keep using Brexit as an excuse to stir up a narrow, exclusive and hostile nationalism against the United Kingdom, but presumably that is not what Prof. Beattie had in mind. I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury (who was a Remainer in the referendum) that Christians can legitimately disagree about Brexit, and should avoid invoking Jesus in their support.

So I would not dream of taking issue with Prof. Beattie’s implied argument. I shall forebear to point out that some people wish to appropriate the Christian faith in the service of a narrow, exclusive and hostile internationalism, which seeks to deny our democratic rights, and gets more airtime on Thought for the Day than the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Just before 11 p.m. on Saturday night, my wife and I became grandparents. Our daughter-in-law, Hannah, gave birth to Elizabeth Persis Moore. She weighed 9lbs, which made it hard for her head to appear, so it is perhaps appropriate that Persis is mentioned in the Bible only as having ‘laboured much in the Lord’. We feel joyful, of course, but as people say when they win Olympic medals, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. The existence of a being whom one has not procreated yet who would not exist without one is a delightfully unfamiliar experience to us. What I do understand at once is how lucky we are to be living in the 21st century. All Elizabeth’s grandparents are alive, whereas all mine had died before I was three (all but one of them before I was born). And both my parents are alive, thus becoming — so far as we know — the first great-grandparents in their families’ histories. Amid all the (sometimes justified) moans about modern family life, this continuity seems an almost unmitigated bonus.