A former editor of this magazine, Nigel Lawson, once described the NHS as ‘the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood’. He meant to imply that blind faith tends to take over from observation. But there are other likenesses: bickering cardinals, grandiose PFI cathedrals that suck money from the pockets of believers — and now, finally exposed after being covered up for years, a shocking scandal of abuse.
Never has a government been better at exasperating its own supporters; rarely has a government been so politically inept.
The Tories have formidable advantages. Even in the miseries of an economic crisis, they are only seven points behind in the polls and are almost holding on to their general election percentage. If Margaret Thatcher had been doing this well in mid-parliament, she would have wondered what she was doing wrong.
My guard goes up when people in power say that they believe in investigative journalism. Everybody says they do, of course. Then everyone says they have a sense of humour, most especially when they don’t. Just as I doubt the merriment of someone who needs to announce, ‘I enjoy a joke as much as the next man,’ so I worry about politicians and bureaucrats who make perfunctory commitments to serious journalism.
Retreat to your bunkers. Repeat: this is not a drill. Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former chief of the defence staff and veteran of the Normandy landings, has delivered a parting shot. Last week, as he stood from the House of Lords, he opened fire from the crossbenches, blasting the government’s plans to replace Trident and calling for a ‘better-balanced, more relevant defence programme’ in which nuclear weapons would play little or no part.
Sometimes a perfectly good argument can be stretched too far. I heard the resulting snapping noise last week in Cambridge during a debate with Richard Dawkins. We were meant to be on the same side at the Union. But over some months the motion hardened and eventually became ‘This House believes religion should have no place in the 21st century.’ While an atheist myself, it seems to me that claiming that religion should disappear is not just an overstatement but a seismic mistake.
It was something about the twins that got to me; after seeing so many baby institutions and children’s homes, I had almost grown used to abandoned children in ranks of cots, staring at the ceiling. The twins — a boy and a girl of six — were set apart; pale, twisted, both with cerebral palsy. Their mother left them in the institution on the day their father had kicked her out for ‘only being able to have crippled children’.
François Hollande rolled into town for the World Future Energy Summit here recently, but hardly anyone noticed. There is little enthusiasm for his thoughts on clean energy deployment. In any case, in Dubai we prefer D-list celebs to A-list politicians. Just over a year ago, Kim Kardashian brought Dubai to a virtual standstill for two days when she opened a shop called Millions of Milkshakes, and bagged £125,000 for her troubles.