Who benefits from Prince Charles’s handshake with Gerry Adams? Not the victims of IRA violence, including the 18 soldiers who died at Warrenpoint on the same day as Lord Mountbatten was murdered. Not the moderate parties in Ireland, north or south, who never blew up anybody and so can get no kudos for pretending to be sorry about it afterwards. Only Adams (who was a senior IRA commander at the time of the killings) and Sinn Fein. His party has thus been relieved of current unpopularity in the Republic caused by long-running rape accusations, and is suddenly made to look good in the run-up to the centenary of the Easter Rising. I gather the bright idea to involve the royal family in this tasteless choreography came from our own Foreign Office. If they sought to build on the Queen’s wonderful visit in 2011, they made a category error. She healed wounds between Britain and Ireland. Making life easy for the IRA is not the same thing: indeed, it is the opposite.
It was the hunts wot won it. In these days when political parties have so few active members, the contribution of Vote OK, the pro-hunting group, was crucial to campaigning in numerous marginals. Near us in Hastings and Rye, it did much of the work needed for Amber Rudd to get back in and become Environment Secretary. The same applies to the new Chief Whip, Mark Harper, in the Forest of Dean. This is the third general election in which Vote OK has operated: its methods have become increasingly well-targeted. What it wants, of course, is a change in the Hunting Act, by repeal or possibly by amendment. Will the SNP follow its own principles, and refuse to vote on a measure that applies only to England and Wales? Even if they don’t, they would, in logic, vote for the amendment being canvassed, since it is very similar to the law they themselves helped introduce in Scotland. The Scottish measure — unlike the English one, which prescribes a maximum of two ‘dogs’ for ‘exempt hunting’ — permits a full pack to be used if hounds flush foxes on to guns. The other question is ‘What will David Cameron do?’ He has been very steady in his personal support of repeal. His manifesto promises a free vote. The foolish thing would be to permit the vote, but not actively support it, so that the measure falls. The outcome will depend on the ‘payroll vote’ (ministers and PPSs). Will they be told that this matters to the Prime Minister, or feel free to slide away? The Tory election victory ought to exorcise the idea that hunting is an issue which loses the party votes. It should also revive the rule, unfulfilled for a generation, that the party should reward its best supporters.
‘You know what I read first in the papers each morning?’ Norman Tebbit said to me many years ago. ‘The obituaries. Then I think, “Good, that bastard’s dead.’” Even if you are of a more forgiving disposition, obituaries are often the most informative and enjoyable read in a newspaper. I follow the competition closely. The battle is really between the Daily Telegraph and the Times. At one point, I thought the latter was gaining on the former, but now the Times is turning its obituaries into lengthy tributes rather than a cool mixture of fact and assessment. There is too much of the stuff you hear at memorial services. About Andrew Rosenfeld, a businessman who died this year, the ‘pull quote’ highlighting the piece said, ‘He preferred not to drink, but enjoyed the odd cigar’, as if this was of interest. The Times now makes a point of giving the name and occupation of every child of the deceased — Gavin is a chartered accountant, Kathy is an events organiser etc. This may sell more copies among family and friends, but it isn’t journalism.
The other day, I entered the office of a large company and was asked my name by security. I showed my card because this can be quicker than spelling it. The man on the desk, who was white and British, looked at my first name and asked, ‘How do you pronounce that?’ Since there is only one known way of pronouncing ‘Charles’ in English, I wondered if he was illiterate, but decided he could not be, since his job involved looking up lots of names on lists. The only remaining explanation is that common, traditional names have been so widely replaced by things like ‘Unique’ or ‘Stardust’, that he simply had not heard it before.
The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion hands out £1.1 million each year to a holy man or woman and is thus the most valuable prize in the world. Being holy, the unfortunate winner must — though the rules do not state this — give it all away. (One half-hopes that some previously blameless monk will blow the lot on wine, women and cigars.) In St Martin’s-in-the-Fields on Monday, we gathered for this year’s ceremony. The winner, Jean Vanier, a Canadian, joined the Royal Navy during the war. He left it after a few years, studied theology, and became interested in mental disability. More than 50 years ago, he set up a tiny community in L’Arche, his house near Paris, where the mentally handicapped came to live with him. L’Arche now has 147 houses across the world, and 1,500 support groups. The guiding principle is that the strong need the weak. ‘May those who are disabled, and those who think they are not, help each other’, is how Vanier’s sister, Thérèse, put it. Vanier is a big, impressive, gentle man. He has an unusual way of speaking which is like the waves of the sea. Rather than moving in a linear way, he repeats himself with variations and developments — big waves and small ones, surprising splashes of humour, constant movement, reaching his audience from something vast. ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord.’
The only silly thing about this moving occasion was that the invitation said ‘Business attire required’. Vanier has spent his life among people unfamiliar with the phrase and effectively excluded by the concept. He wore his usual plaid shirt and fisherman’s jacket. Come to think of it, that is his business attire.
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