Magazine article The Spectator

The Truth about the 'Ring of Fairies' around Mr Hague

Magazine article The Spectator

The Truth about the 'Ring of Fairies' around Mr Hague

Article excerpt

William Hague may well be the fittest man in the Commons, but fitness does not guarantee a permanent state of rude animal health. When Mr Hague was a junior minister at Social Security he and Sir Michael Partridge, the then permanent secretary, used to go to the gym with Peter Barnes, the political adviser. Peter Lilley their boss, who did not accompany them, was impressed by all the feats of ironpumping, until he noticed that as soon as the cold and flu season opened, all the gymnasts fell ill. Mr Lilley, who does most of his weight-lifting with fork and glass, remained amusedly immune. Last weekend, Mr Hague was again stricken by flu, which prevented him attending Monday's debate on homosexual sex and voting in favour of lowering the age of consent to 16.

He would not have found the debate illuminating. Kant declared that we should act as if our every action would become a universal moral law. While this may be impossibly rigorous, we can surely agree that any useful discussion of moral questions must have intellectual backbone. But in Britain, the debate on morality has never been more impoverished. For Kant, read cant.

Last week, Mr Blair told us that convicted football hooligans should lose their jobs. This raises a number of questions. Why should football-related crimes be punished more severely than other forms of hooliganism, or than other mildly serious offences? How long should this period of unemployment last? If these men's present employers followed the PM's advice, why should any other employer give them a job? So is football hooliganism to mean a sentence of lifelong unemployment? What about the numerous Home Office studies which demonstrate that employment is one of the best cures for criminal behaviour? Even if it has not worked - yet - with the hooligans, unemployment would not help to reform them. But Mr Blair got his headlines.

The government will allow boys of 16 and 17 to engage in homosexual sex, but not to buy cigarettes or alcohol. Unlike lung cancer, Aids is politically correct. But no one of any age is to take marijuana, heroin or cocaine. On what principle does the government assert the right to regulate the private moral behaviour of adults?

On the hardest of all contemporary moral questions, the government's incoherence is even more pronounced: abortion. The mass destruction of foetuses is a much graver moral lacuna than homosexuality or drug-taking. It may be that no moral argument could prevail against the practicalities of contemporary sexual behaviour and the need for long-stop contraception; there ought at least to be some hard-edged discussion. But Mr Blair tells Roman Catholic audiences that he is opposed to abortion, and feminist audiences that he will vote for it. This is the apotheosis of cant.

Mr Hague has given these matters much more thought than Mr Blair has. The Tory leader describes his position as liberal rather than libertarian. He is instinctively opposed to allowing the state to deny the right of private moral judgment, and also thinks that politicians should beware of moral exhortation - an aversion which has been strengthened as a result of facing preacher Blair across the dispatch box.

But even Mr Hague is prepared to subordinate philosophical logic to political reality. In a book called Satan's Children, his friend and adviser Alan Duncan called for the legalisation of drugs, not because he approved of drug-taking, but because he believed that the state's attempts to prevent it have made matters worse. …

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