Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 7 December 2017

Also: Leo Varadkar is missing a trick; Don’t reduce the number of MPs

The Spectator's Notes | 7 December 2017
Text settings

I’m afraid I have a deep faith in the Democratic Unionist Party’s capacity to cede an issue of principle in return for more gold, baubles, Renewable Heat Incentives etc. It may well give in, after receiving some bung, in a few days. But its resistance, at the time of writing, to the idea of ‘regulatory alignment’ with the Republic, seems wholly justified. This is not a pernickety matter solely for the province — it should apply just as much to the entire United Kingdom. If we agree to align trade rules with EU ones (as opposed to each recognising the other’s rules), we are sacrificing the economic point of Brexit, which is competitive advantage. When it insisted on settling the Irish question before going on to trade talks, the European Commission presumably understood this very well. As David Davis in effect admits, if we accept alignment for the North, we are accepting the thin end of a great big EU wedge.

The Irish Constitution is composed, says its Preamble, ‘In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority, and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and states must be referred’, but I still feel that Leo Varadkar is missing a trick in the matter of Brexit and the issue of the Irish border. The new Taoiseach, aged only 38, is a gay, secular half-Hindu. He came in as a moderniser, disinclined, it would seem, to refer his own state actions to the arbitrament of the shamrock. The modern thing to do would be to say that Brexit shows Ireland a clear path for competitive divergence from the EU, opening up the country to the world and rejoining the Commonwealth. He could announce lower tax rates which would put an independent Britain (including Northern Ireland) under pressure to follow suit. He could point out that the problem of the ‘hard border’ occurs through no wish of either Britain or Ireland, but because of the European Union’s dogmatic and rigid interpretation of its ‘four freedoms’ for all its member states. Instead, he has reverted to dreary old Nationalist noises, bashing both Britain and the Unionists, dragging his country back to the 1970s.

Because there is a hue and cry against Damian Green, the media underreported the remarks of Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, on Monday. They were notable, though, for their jargon-free English and their clarity. This is what she said about the ex-policemen reviving allegations of having found (legal) pornography on Mr Green’s computer nine years ago: ‘Police officers have a duty of confidentiality. We come into contact with personal information very regularly, sometimes extremely sensitive… We all know that we have a duty to protect that information and to keep it confidential. In my view, that duty endures… after you leave the service, so I believe that what this officer and, indeed, other retired officers, appear to have done, is wrong.’ ‘Wrong’ is the obvious word, but it is brave of a police chief to say it about her own tribe, because, as we learnt from the ‘Plebgate’ case, the omertà of many officers claims the right to bring down prominent people who annoy them. Ms Dick will now avoid the fate of her predecessor, Bernard Hogan-Howe, who defended the indefensible during the Plebgate affair. On the other hand, surly coppers may now try to undermine her for having spoken out. She, after all, was involved in authorising the police raid on Mr Green’s offices in 2008. The raid itself was controversial enough, because it looked like police interference in politics. The porn claims, dragged up by Bob Quick and others yet again, make it look shamingly unprofessional as well.

The slow-moving attempt to reduce the number of MPs trundles forward. When David Cameron announced the idea, it sounded a reasonable saving. But it has two flaws. The first is that our system of smallish constituencies with one Member is essentially good, and is recognised as such by voters, who usually have a higher opinion of their own MP than of MPs in general. The other is that, if you cut the number of MPs but keep the number of ministers the same, you make the ‘pay-roll vote’ even more significant than it is now. After Brexit, Parliament should grow stronger. Government should not get proportionally bigger.

Last month, my dear sister-in-law Lizzie died, sadly young, after many years of multiple sclerosis. Her family decided that she should be buried, not cremated. This is not easy in London, where Lizzie lived. A firm called Poppy’s Funerals recommended a place called GreenAcres Epping Forest. It was the right thing, beyond my expectation. Lizzie was not religious, and so this neutral ground, where faith is neither privileged nor shunned, was appropriate. The burial plots are in about 50 acres of mainly deciduous woodland, looking out over bright fields, so the place does not feel hemmed in. GreenAcres is blessedly free of signage, tarmac, kitsch and fuss. The monuments on the tombs all seem to be wooden, so there is no staring marble. It strikes me as odd that there are still so few such places of burial. As we ceased to be dominated, as a society, by the church, we tended to substitute rather municipal, dreary settings and ceremonies for those who wanted a secular context for marriage or death. Registry offices have now got slightly better, because there is free competition for weddings these days. What remains dismal, as I know from attending too often, is the average crematorium. These places are almost as dispiriting as the NHS, though I have never yet heard of any of them cancelling a cremation on the day, as hospitals now routinely do with operations. Why can’t there be a charity or commercial firm — perhaps called Crem de la Crem — which sets out to make the crematorium more worthy of its serious and therapeutic purpose? We all remember the funerals of someone we love. Why should they receive less care than weddings?