Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 27 April 2017

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: the Uberisation of politics; Tim Farron’s views on gay sex; driving tests for the elderly

The Spectator's Notes | 27 April 2017
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With Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen through to the final in France, people of a conservative disposition might feel themselves spoilt for choice. You can have either the believer in free markets and open societies or the upholder of sovereignty and national identity. In both cases, the left doesn’t get a look-in. But what if it isn’t like that at all? What if Macron, far from opposing the big state, is just a more technocratic version of the usual dirigiste from ENA? What if Le Pen, far from wanting a nation’s genius expressed in its vigorous parliamentary democracy, is just a spokesman for joyless resentment, looking for handouts for angry white people? Maybe both of them mentally come from the left — he ‘progressiste’ obsessed with equality, she the rabble-rouser exploiting nostalgia for working-class solidarity? From a British point of view, the whole thing feels back to front. Macron loves the EU in part because he sees it as a bastion of free trade. Le Pen hates it, in part for the same reason. That is not how we see the EU, but perhaps if we were French, we would.

Which result would better serve the cause of Brexit? Obviously, a Le Pen victory would precipitate a crisis in the EU, weakening its negotiating hand against us. On top of Brexit and Trump’s victory, it would be a thumping rejection of the internationalist complacencies of the last 50 years. It is unbearable to see the joyful pretence in Brussels, the FT etc that Macron is ‘anti-establishment’ — their collective exhalation of relief at the prospect that the same people will still be on top. On the other hand, is there a single Le Pen policy, apart from Frexit (which she may not truly support), that any reasonable conservative would admire? A Le Pen victory could make what the French call ‘le système’ look desirable and discredit the cause of Euroscepticism. ‘On est chez nous’, they reassure one another at Front National rallies. I find it hard to work out whether that is what we in Britain should want France to be.

A French friend tells me that Macron represents the ‘Uber-isation’ of politics. I suppose that makes Le Pen the spokesman for the black cab interest. I want to live in a country which manages a modus vivendi between these two schools of thought. If life is all Uber, it will be freer and cheaper, but also more ignorant and grotty. If life is all black cabs, prices will be too high and cabbies will revert to the surlier service they used to give in the 20th century. Perhaps such peaceful coexistence is an impossible dream.

Each year, this column has the melancholy duty of reminding the public of the Prince of Wales’s prediction, made in Brazil in March 2009, that there were only 100 months left to prevent ‘irretrievable climate collapse’. Those 100 months will have elapsed at the end of next month, so it looks as if we are all doomed. The general election on 8 June will therefore be pretty pointless. It is noticeable, however, that the Prince has not, in recent years, repeated his exact dating of the catastrophe, muttering, in 2015, that it might be 35 years. Even more striking was his co-authorship, at the beginning of this year, of the Ladybird Book of Climate Change. Presumably there would have been no point in publishing such a work, intended to set the younger generation on the right path, if climate collapse were really irretrievable from the end of May: it would have been a cruel deception of the young to sell them a book telling them to provide for a future that could not exist. In his Ladybird Book, the Prince is rightly concerned about the future of the yellow-footed rock wallaby and the golden shouldered parrot, but is notably more reticent about exactly when the end is nigh. We can breathe again.

Journalists have hunted down Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, about Christian views of homosexuality. Originally, they asked him the wrong question, doctrinally, by inquiring whether he thought ‘homosexuality’ was a sin. This was an easy one for him to repudiate, since an involuntary disposition is not a sin. I forbore to point this out, since I didn’t want to make their persecution of poor Mr Farron any easier, but by the beginning of this week, they had realised their mistake and began pressing him to state whether gay sex was a sin. (The Times covered this with the surprising headline : ‘Farron shrugs off gay sex row to target veteran’s seat’.) Mr Farron at first resisted their impertinence in asking a politician about matters of faith and pointed out that he had always supported gay rights. Obviously the right people to turn to for answers on this sort of thing are the religious authorities, but they are so coy nowadays. My understanding is that the mainstream teaching of all the three monotheistic religions remains that all forms of genital sexual activity are sinful unless performed between husband and wife; and some of them are not permissible even then. In the old Catholic catechism, ‘the sin of Sodom’ is said to ‘cry aloud to Heaven for vengeance’ — as is the sin of oppressing widows and orphans — but the sin of Sodom is by no means exclusively a matter of ‘gay sex’. Mr Farron is right that we should not have to read about this in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. But he has now capitulated to the media and declared that he has decided that gay sex is not a sin. This is the secular equivalent of Henry of Navarre’s view that ‘Paris is worth a Mass.’

Elections and the public interest cannot always go together. It must be secretly obvious to most people who think about the matter that the best practical measure to improve road safety in this country would be to compel everyone aged 70 onwards to retake the driving test at regular intervals. It will never happen, however, because of the rage of the elderly voters themselves and of all their children and grandchildren upon whom, without a car, they would suddenly become dependent.