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'A little bit more afraid'

24 May 2013

Denying it all: the Prime Minister in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph

Denying it all: the Prime Minister in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph

THIS has been the week of the swivel-eyed loons. Who would have predicted that the dividing line in the Conservative Party would run from Europe to gay marriage?

The two best pieces on the political end of the row were by Michael White in The Guardian and Matthew Parris in The Times, both of them hugely experienced, and, as former sketch-writers, familiar with the ambiguous boundaries between gossip, news, and the stuff that "everybody knows".

Information is a currency in politics of every sort, and you can hoard it or trade it to your advantage. But it's not a hard currency. It is more like cigarettes were in Europe immediately after the Second World War: breaking a confidence to make a story is like lighting up a cigarette you might have used for money. If you do it too often, you will have no capital left. But if it could never be done, there wouldn't be any underlying value to the currency.

Michael White asked of the journalists involved: "What would I have done at their age? I'm not sure. Probably tucked the phrase away for future use to indicate the disdain that some Cameron's familiars - the unelected metropolitan idiots - have for the rank and file. It's the disdain we see in bankers.

"But to use a remark gleaned in pub banter as a page-one splash, and make it cowardly clear where it came from in almost every detail? I hope not. That's not playing straight."

Matthew Parris had a perfect anecdote about the rise of UKIP: "A friend starting as a cub reporter for a diary column on a mid-market tabloid, let's call it the Daily Brute, received a pep talk from his diary editor. 'Always remember on the Brute', he was told, 'that the ideal news item will leave our readers feeling a little bit angrier, or a little bit more afraid.'"

To put this in proportion, here is Rachel Sylvester, also in The Times: "According to one senior figure, the average age of a Conservative member is now 67. A 16-year-old William Hague told the 1977 Tory conference: 'Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time.' Yesterday one aide joked that, 36 years later, 'they are in fact, of course, still here.'"

WHAT has this to do with the Church of England? For one thing, it shows that it is still a younger, as well as a much larger organisation. Its tensions over gay marriage are largely in the opposite direction, with a leadership convinced that it must be more reactionary than the grass-roots if it is to survive.

You can carry the analogy too far. Few people, I hope, join or stay in the Church of England in order to influence its national policies, whatever they may be. The urge for power can be entirely gratified within the confines of a parish - and, of course, the rewards of Christian life come from communities of real people, not the phantasms of the news. David Cameron may believe that the perfect activist is one who is entirely silent, but there is a serious sense in which the perfect Christian activist would be a contemplative nun.

It is very noticeable that the pictures sent out by Christian Concern of their demo outside the Houses of Parliament showed about a hundred people, few of them young; and only one bishop was mentioned, Dr Nazir-Ali. Compare that with the immense, if futile, demonstrations in France against a similar Bill, and the wisdom of the House of Bishops' cowardice becomes apparent.

WE should also enjoy the letter from 500 imams in The Daily Telegraph denouncing polygamy - or is that not quite what they meant when they wrote that "Marriage is a sacred contract between a man and a woman"?

I didn't think gay marriage was an important or particularly desir-able reform myself. I reckoned that civil partnerships, celebrated in churches if desired, offered the kind of recognition and public admiration that some gay relationships were due.

These same arguments are sometimes made by opponents, but they are hardly ever meant, and the fact that a wrecking amendment "to defend marriage" would throw open civil partnerships to everyone as a kind of low-fat alternative to real marriage shows quite clearly what lies behind much of the hostility. That just won't do. 

JUST time for Cardinal Schönborn's encounter with the Holy Spirit, as reported by John Bingham in the Telegraph. Apparently he told the HTB leadership conference that he knew that the Holy Spirit was at work in the election of Pope Francis because he had asked a Latin American friend for guidance as he walked to the conclave, and she had whispered "Bergoglio". Astonishing! How providential that he did not ask a North American friend instead.

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