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Lord Sewel fails temptation test

31 July 2015

Traditional tabloid exposé: The Sun of Sunday last weekend

Traditional tabloid exposé: The Sun of Sunday last weekend

I SEEM to be unusually low-minded in thinking that the downfall of Lord Sewel was a demonstration of the virtues of British journalism.

To recap, since it is possible that the readers of the Church Times are so high-minded that they don’t know the story: a peer of whom no one had heard, but who was in charge of standards in the Upper House, was filmed by The Sun on Sunday snorting cocaine with, and from the breasts of, a couple of prostitutes.

He also managed to say disparaging things about David Cameron, to boast of his wealth, and make some racist remarks about Asian women. We don’t know whether the paper set him up, or whether, as seems more likely, the women involved thought they could get a lot more from the newspaper than they were getting from him (£200 each).

In either case, the point of principle seems clear. Members of the Upper House should not be idiots, even in their spare time. They should not really be breaking laws, either, given that their job is to supply wisdom when laws are framed.

As for the claim that sting operations are wrong because they expose people to temptation, it seems to me that a test of this sort is one that should be more widely applied for certain jobs. It’s almost a definition of an important job that it exposes the holder to powerful temptations.

I’m not really suggesting that the letter from Downing Street asking if you want to be Bishop of Barchester be delivered by strippergram; but it makes sense to try to discover well before putting someone in an exposed position whether he or she will live up to it.


I WAS struck by the appearance, on the Daily Mail’s website, of the headline: “Pope calls on world leaders to take a ‘strong stand’ on climate change ahead of UN summit.” This seemed an improbable place to find high-minded seriousness.

Then, again, it came below a number of other stories. Let’s see: “Grandparents aged 58 and 70 who were told they were too OLD to adopt their granddaughter, three, hit out at ‘wicked’ treatment”; “Tesco customer astonished by supermarket’s reply over bacon rasher complaint”; “Prince George held by Prince William in photo to celebrate second birthday”; “Criminologists reveal the five key traits common in serial killers”; “Who ARE the men and women risking it all for extra-marital fun? As Ashley Madison faces security breach, FEMAIL signs up to the controversial dating site to find out”; “The Empire strikes back: This awesome painting of a bloodied British soldier will star in a brave new exhibition of the Empire’s most stirring masterpieces. And it will drive the PC lobby hopping mad!”; and “PICTURE EXCLUSIVE: Demi Moore goes on luxury shopping spree at Prada and Lanvin with her daughters in New York after ‘absolute shock’ of hearing that a 21-year-old man died in her swimming pool”.

Could someone remind me precisely why this civilisation deserves to be saved?


MEANWHILE, the boundaries of acceptable “extremism” continue to be probed. The Times had a story, taken from Sky News, about a Muslim boarding school that bans its pupils from watching television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, or socialising with “outsiders”. I do wonder what their RE courses are like.

In any case, OFSTED has given the school an official rating of “good”. The Institute of Islamic Education is run by Tablighi Jamaat, the people who are trying to erect the “megamosque” in east London.

What made the story even better was the official reaction: “Mosque elder Shabbir Daji, chairman of the school’s governing shura, told Sky News the school ‘works for unity’, but would not comment on how its restrictions prepare children for life in Britain.

“‘Our policy is to keep away from the media,’ he said.”


LAST, there was a really excellent and thought-provoking piece by Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian, tracing the roots of the rise of IS back to the 19th century, and seeing Russia then as the first country to be existentially challenged by the rise of the West.

“Russian writers from Pushkin onwards had already probed the peculiar psychology of the ‘superfluous’ man in a semi-westernised society: educated into a sense of hope and entitlement, but rendered adrift by his limited circumstances, and exposed to feelings of weakness, inferiority and envy. Russia, trying to catch up with the West, produced many such spiritually unmoored young men who had a quasi-Byronic conception of freedom, further inflated by German idealism, but the most unpromising conditions in which to realise them.”

If you swap “Islam” for “German idealism”, this seems to describe exactly the conditions of the countries where IS most successfully recruits its international brigade. And when you remember the subsequent course of Russian history, it looks as if taking in more refugees is the only thing we can actually do to help. And we won’t.

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