Simon Heffer on the insidious new taboos that govern society — and how those who break them risk their careers and credibility
It is hard to imagine that at the time when Britain entered what is now called the European Union, in 1973, there would have been such a fuss about the religious beliefs of Mr Rocco Buttiglione, the nominee for the post of Italy’s commissioner. In a predominantly Catholic community, the views for which he is now being vilified would have been regarded as perfectly reasonable. Even after the philosophical ravages of the Swinging Sixties, there would have been no shortage of people in the political class who believed (like him) that homosexuality was a sin, that single parenthood was undesirable, and that within a marriage it was the man’s place to protect the woman. Now, though, the MEPs whose endorsement Mr Buttiglione must rely upon if he is to be confirmed as a commissioner are complaining that his beliefs are unacceptable in an EU that wishes to homogenise and standardise everything — including, it seems, moral values. By the time you read this his stand on principle and the determination of the new EU president, José Manuel Barroso, to support him might have led to the whole new Commission being rejected. If so, Mr Buttiglione will have become the most prominent victim yet of a re-ordering of the whole system of taboos in much of Western civilisation.
Referring to the Buttiglione problem in a radio interview last week, Mr Neil Kinnock, Britain’s outgoing commissioner, made an unintentionally interesting observation. He said he had spoken about the case with a Roman Catholic colleague who had drawn for him a distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘prejudice’. This is an object lesson in how matters that used not to be taboo have now become so.