BEFORE we dive into the serious stuff, a marvellous quote from
Jeremy Paxman, who was reviewing a book on journalism in The
Guardian: "News is just some things that have happened, as
chosen by some not-very-interesting people running newspapers and
"These people have rather predictable tastes and rather obvious
blindspots. But they're worried. Which makes them shout a bit too
wildly: after all, their jobs are on the line. The other day the
Daily Telegraph ran a picture story showing how a boulder
had rolled down a mountainside in Italy, adding 'incredibly . . .
no one was injured'. Incredibly? It reads better than
'unsurprisingly, since there was no one in its path', I suppose.
And was it Liz Hurley or Thora Hird who denied she had had an
affair with Bill Clinton? The madder everything gets, the less
anyone needs to read any of it."
Not all news is like that, of course. Sometimes it makes things
happen. We might here consider the Kampala tabloid Red
Pepper, which celebrated the publication of the Ugandan
anti-gay Bill by publishing a list of 200 "homos" under the heading
"Exposed!" The last time a Kampala paper did this, one of their
subjects was beaten to death by a patriot or patriots unknown.
That may explain why I cannot find the story on the web edition,
but at least I can read the GAFCON communiqué explaining that the
Bishops' pastoral letter on gay marriage "is a great encouragement
to our Provinces, and indeed the rest of the Communion, especially
those facing hardships and wars".
How much easier it must be to watch your family slaughtered with
machetes if you don't at the same time have to worry whether a
vicar in Islington is planning to marry his same-sex partner.
PERHAPS all political questions come down to asking whom it is
most therapeutic to despise. For most people in England, it is
obviously reassuring to despise those on benefits. Unfortunately
for the Bishops, that includes most of the Anglican laity.
There was a mountain of commentary on the letter of 27 bishops,
and I'll just pick some representative ones. From the Right, there
was Lord Carey, writing in The Times. This is conservative
in the most straightforward sense. People were better in his
childhood, he thinks. But it isn't heartless, slick, or crass. In
fact, it's the kindest and cleverest thing I've ever read of his:
"The very poorest families in society . . . by no means all of them
on benefits, because many people receive wage packets that are not
enough to live on - are victims of a perfect storm.
"Rising prices, especially of food and energy, declining
incomes, the breakdown of the family, welfare reforms and high
levels of personal and national debt have wrecked the finances of
many households. There is now no resilience in family budgets and
many households are chaotic and unstable because of addictions and
mental health problems.
"Even in a relatively stable home, a sudden emergency such as a
broken cooker can lead to the experience of hunger. Some families,
for example, frequently face the dilemma of whether to put some
money on the electricity card or to buy food."
He puts blame on the breakdown of family and community networks
- and, of course, on increasing levels of debt rather than just on
benefit cuts. He blames the 27 bishops for concentrating on
benefits to the exclusion of other things.
The Financial Times, as usual, stands to his left. "Too
many benefit claimants are being subjected to unacceptably severe
penalties if they commit the slightest infringement of the rules.
To give one example, recent government regulations stipulate that
anyone who misses an ap-pointment at a jobcentre automatically
loses entitlement to Jobseekers' Allowance - their only source of
independent income - for a month. More than half of all penalties
imposed are for minor infractions such as this. That cannot be
"The thrust of [Cameron's] reform effort is socially just and
economically warranted. But too many people are subjected to a
sudden halt in benefit payments by tough penalties. This means that
recourse to the food bank is the only way in which they can escape
hunger. The bishops are right to have raised the alarm."
Over in New Jersey, the Roman Catholic Archbishop is building
himself a palace while closing diocesan schools. I loved the
New York Times's summary of his record: "So many leaders
of the Church have served it so badly for so many decades that it's
hard to keep track of their maledictions. Archbishop Myers provides
one-stop shopping. He is known to insist on being addressed as
'Your Grace'. And his self-regard is matched by his refusal to
apologize for more or less anything."
And people think the Church Times is cruel!