Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

In the cut and thrust of debate, David Cameron won easily against the Chancellor in the Budget battle. He was crisp and effective. But Alistair Darling did not attempt thrust and certainly will not cut. The fact that his Budget had nothing in it and could barely be spun out for 50 minutes was wholly intentional, and was, in fact, the right thing to do. Mr Cameron said that Mr Darling and Gordon Brown were in a hole and were digging. That might be true of the government more broadly, but it was not true of this Budget. The Chancellor is not digging, nor, on the other hand, is he trying to climb out. He is sitting perfectly still, hoping to emerge when the storm has passed.

For this role, the dreary Mr Darling is ideally suited. His argument is that all the bad things that are happening are to do with global forces beyond his control. If this is so, the logic is not to pretend you can control them, and he is following that logic. Politically, it is not an easy one for the Tories to crack.

A friend of mine was quite recently the foreman of a jury. The case concerned a priest who was accused of serious paedophile crimes committed a long time ago. He was convicted and sentenced, though he is now an old man, to many years in prison. My friend now feels uneasy about the whole thing. The case was mismanaged so that it was unnecessarily protracted, putting extra pressure on the jurors to decide. And it struck him that the evidence against the man was extraordinarily thin, because it consisted of nothing but the assertions of two brothers about what had been done to them, many of which were vague and some of which conflicted with one another. It seems that a culture has been created in which there is so much doctrine about how clever paedophiles are at hiding their tracks that the lack of proper evidence is taken almost as evidence of guilt (see how cunning they are! ) and that to be accused at all is to be convicted. The law forbids him to reveal the deliberations of the jury room, but he sensed that some of his fellow jurors felt that the crimes alleged were so disgusting no one would accuse anyone of such things unless they were true. He was also surprised by the fact that the Church did not give any testimony in favour of (or indeed, against) the priest. Interested by this last point, I telephoned the diocesan authorities. They explained that their legal advice is that they cannot be seen to be acting against the alleged victim. This seems strange advice, given that the victim is only a victim if guilt is proved.

Once an allegation is made, the Church withdraws from the entire legal process. No doubt this happens because, in the past, the Church too often colluded in the protection of guilty men. But two wrongs do not make a right. Priests are appallingly open to terrible accusations like these, and appallingly alone when they are tried for them.

It may be that the government's plan for oaths of allegiance for 18-year-olds in schools won't work, but I am suspicious of the argument that it is 'unBritish' to make a song and dance about Britishness. In fact, a song and dance could be literally, and exactly, what are needed. Being essentially a political rather than an ethnic idea, Britishness is an artificial creation (and I mean that as a compliment).

It was the careful work of leaders, thinkers, writers and artists for about 200 years. The concept helped forge a nation out of several once-warring components. …

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