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Press: Victim’s father points to a more noble politics

06 December 2019

PA

The family of Jack Merritt, who was killed alongside Saskia Jones in the London Bridge terror attack, last Friday, attend a vigil at the Guildhall in Cambridge

The family of Jack Merritt, who was killed alongside Saskia Jones in the London Bridge terror attack, last Friday, attend a vigil at the Guildhall in ...

I HAVE been puzzled by the demands that politicians should not play politics with the London Bridge terrorist attack. What else, exactly, are they supposed to do with it? The circumstances of the murders go to the heart of the central political questions: How do we live with one another? Who is our neighbour? What are the duties that we owe them?

Had the victims been chosen at random, this would not have been nearly so true. But they were among the best and most promising young people you’ll ever read about, and their project, for the rehabilitation of offenders, was and is making a real difference. It wasn’t just talk.

As David Merritt, the father of Jack Merritt, one of the victims, wrote in The Guardian: “Jack was . . . angry because he saw our society failing those most in need. He was frustrated because the political elite have forgotten why it is important to be fair. He was selfless in his dedication to make things right in every second of his life.

“Jack devoted his energy to the purpose of Learning Together: a pioneering programme to bring students from university and prisons together to share their unique perspectives on justice. Unlike many of us, Jack did not just go to work. He lived and breathed fire in his pursuit of a better world for all humanity, particularly those most in need.”

Mr Merritt continues: “If Jack could comment on his death — and the tragic incident on Friday 29 November — he would be livid. Jack would understand the political timing with visceral clarity.

“He would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against. We should never forget that.”

This is more noble, wiser, and more merciful than the hideous headlines in Monday’s Tory press about “Boris Blitz on freed jihadis”. But it is every bit as political. In case this point was not obvious, Mr Merritt added that his son had worked for a world “Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge. Where we do not consistently undermine our public services, the lifeline of our nation ” — which is not the one you will find in the Conservative manifesto.

There are some forms of politics, like some forms of religion, which attempt to make suffering more bearable by giving it a communal meaning. Although the vigil in London for the victims was held at Southwark Cathedral, the main tenor of the public responses was political or humanist rather than Christian.

The Learning Together scheme that both victims worked on is reminiscent of the mission work in the East End that Anglo-Catholic students used to do, but it seems to have no overtly Christian basis at all. That said, the work at HM Prison Grendon is inextricably associated, for me, with Christianity, from the time in 2011 when I watched Archbishop Williams talking with murderers there: incomparably the most moving and impressive performance of Christianity which I have ever seen from him.

 

THE other notable story of the week, from a journalistic point of view, was Hugo Rifkind in The Times, writing about feminist porn. The paper had sent him to a film set in Barcelona, where an earnest, energetic Swedish woman, who works under the name of Erika Lust, was making a film starring characters who had names such as “Superclit”.

This could have been an invitation for sniggering, smugness, or just superficiality. Rifkind managed to avoid all these pitfalls. He also faced head-on the two really difficult questions: How much of the industry is necessarily exploitative? And why can’t it all just go away?

Both are questions that drive Ms Lust, and the second is easily answered: her view is that children growing up today will unavoidably be exposed to porn, and — in a way that might get a rise from John Stuart Mill’s eyebrows — that the answer to bad porn is good porn.

“For Lust . . . the images viewers see of people having sex inform their understanding of how sex and gender roles ought to work. And understanding that mainstream pornography offers a very fixed view of that sort of thing, and not a healthy one.”

Rifkind is charmed by the performers he talks to, though he points out the curious paradox that one of them absolutely refuses to have anything to do with the mainstream press, even though she has 50,000 followers on Twitter, and 9000 on Instagram, “and once won an award for her bottom” .

But he worries about exploitation, too, and comes to an unexpected conclusion: “Do happy, contented, un-messed-up people really opt for careers of having sex on camera or, indeed, for money at all? The latent reactionary conservative in me, I find, feels not. Maybe, though, that doesn’t matter. Who says that only happy, contented people should get to call the shots? These are questions for which I have no answer.”

It’s a very rare piece about the sex industry which manages to suggest that the people who work in it are just people, neither exceptionally sinful nor saints of the new enlightenment.

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