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
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
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
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
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
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