Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Since I so much agree with the Big Society which David Cameron wants to create rather than the big state which we have got, I should like to enthuse about the Tory manifesto which makes this the central theme. But there is a problem. The document does not really speak to us, the voters. True, it offers us on its front page an 'invitation to join the government of Britain'. But haven't we got enough on our plates without having to do politicians' job for them? We pay them half our income, and still they want more from us! The manifesto does not start from the viewpoint of particular people - first time voters, pensioners, parents, taxpayers or whoever - and look at the world as they do. Take, for example, the 'eight clear and transparent benchmarks' to judge the economic success of the next Conservative government: none even mentions personal taxation. The manifesto enunciates an overall theory, with examples. A good theory, yes, but one which, for all its concern for the local, feels remote from real life. Reading it, I felt as one sometimes feels when attending a charity occasion where the appeal being made is not quite hitting the spot - a guilty sense that although this is a worthy cause one has not quite got the time to help. The document is, in fact, too posh - not at all in being arrogantly selfish, but in being too vaguely benevolent. It sees human society as resembling the improvements committee of a pleasant village. I live in such a village, and love it, and my wife is on such an improvements committee, but we are very lucky, and most people aren't. In his foreword, David Cameron asks 'How can we revitalise communities unless people stop asking "Who will fix this?" and start asking "What can I do?"?' But the answer to the question, 'What can I do?' is not really provided.

In last week's Spectator, Alex Cockburn, in a letter, complained that he had not yet read a comment in the paper which 'could not be paraphrased as "Yes, we know there were/ are paedophiles among the priests, but. . .".' I cannot speak for other bits of The Spectator, but I am guilty as Mr Cockburn charges. I am happy to be so for two reasons. One is that one of the horrible things about accusations of paedophilia is that it is seen as 'indefensible' (a word which Mr Cockburn used) to resist them. People calling themselves human rights lawyers now decide that they want to arrest the Pope when he comes to Britain for 'crimes against humanity'. Such people get so angry that they forget to establish esguilt, and they happily accuse others - in this case, bishops - of 'cover-up', often on the basis of mangled evidence. For example, the present Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, sent a letter urging a diocese in the United States to proceed with caution before unfrocking a paedophile priest. This is considered damning. But he probably wrote as he did for reasons of which the critics are completely unaware. At that time, the Church was concerned to stop the trend of priests to laicise. It wished to emphasise that the priestly vows are lifelong. Its approach to all cases, therefore, was to slow the process down. The decision not to unfrock a priest (or to delay his unfrocking) does not necessarily mean that his crime was not treated seriously or that he was placed in a position where he could reoffend. I am not saying that Cardinal Ratzinger was right to proceed as he did - I do not know - but his behaviour was not obviously indefensible or evasive. …

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