In a lecture I recently gave to mark the approaching 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, one of the questions I asked was whether Argentina would have another go. I concluded it would not, because the military protection of the islands, neglected in 1982, was now strong. In passing, though, I did note that China now has a close relationship with Argentina, over arms trading, the hog industry, soybeans, help with the pandemic etc. Argentina, I said, was now likelier to support China, not the West, in international forums. This week, Xi Jinping has declared his support for Argentina’s claim to ‘the full exercise of sovereignty’ over the islands. This may be mere game-playing, but our government should scent danger. In 1982, one of Argentina’s key failures was to win significant diplomatic support. Mrs Thatcher moved fast to get a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion. Would we get such a thing today, or would China veto, describing British sovereignty of the islands as ‘colonialism’? Through its Belt and Road Initiative, it has bought up very wide support in the developing world. It would happily argue that the Falklands equal Taiwan and should be returned to their rightful owners, even though there probably is not one single Falklander who wants to be ruled by Argentina.
Last week, the Conservatives won the Southend by-election (‘hung on’ was the BBC’s phrase to describe a 12,000 majority). But it was a weird contest because the other mainstream parties did not stand, out of respect for the constituency’s murdered Tory MP, Sir David Amess. The same happened after the Labour Jo Cox’s murder. This convention is understandable but mistaken. Assassins are trying to stop democratic politics. Surely voters deserve contested elections.
This column first drew attention (see Notes, 20 June 2020) to the petition by Jesus College, Cambridge, for Church permission to remove Grinling Gibbons’s bust of its 17th-century benefactor, Tobias Rustat, from its chapel. Rustat, it alleges, made his fortune out of slavery. It argues that his monument’s continuing presence is an obstacle to Christian worship. A large group of college alumni strongly disagree. The matter finally came to the Consistory Court last week. As is customary in ecclesiastical law, the court met in the place under discussion — the chapel; so old Rustat looked down upon the proceedings. I went along and watched from the media ‘viewing room’, there not being space in the chapel.
It would be unwise to pre-empt anything that His Honour Judge David Hodge may decide, but I want to record the atmosphere. There was something Trollopian about the men in wigs and gowns arguing beneath the Gothic arches. And there was something almost rabbinical about the arguments: men learned in the law debated issues of theology and scriptural exegesis such as biblical attitudes to slavery. There was drama inherent in the setting. Justin Gau, for the ‘parties opponent’, and their historical expert, Professor Lawrence Goldman, pointed out that yards from the Rustat memorial stands one to perhaps the most important of all Jesuans, Thomas Cranmer, chief begetter of the Book of Common Prayer. His record, they suggested, divided Christians, and sometimes involved persecuting those considered heretical. Should Cranmer’s monument therefore be considered offensive to worshippers and taken down, they asked. What I found moving about the hearing was that an effort was at last being made to understand the dead and the mental world they inhabited. This is a civilised thing to do. Something about the court’s form brought out this respectfulness. ‘Why is it so much agony to remove a monument to slavery?’ asked the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tuesday. The answer is that it is not a monument to slavery but a work of art depicting a particular man who did good for his college.
So I was a bit surprised by the Bishop of Ely, Stephen Conway, who took the unusual step of appearing as a witness in his own diocesan court (speaking for the college). Dr Conway is also acting Bishop of Lincoln. Suggesting the college could place a ‘contextualising’ notice beside the Rustat memorial rather than removing it, Mr Gau made the comparison with the case of Little Hugh of Lincoln, whose shrine in Lincoln cathedral has been treated thus. The Bishop had to admit he had not heard of him. This ignorance was striking, not only because it suggests the Bishop is unfamiliar with the great cathedral in which he sits, but also because the story of Little Hugh is a famous embarrassment for the Church. In the mid-13th century, the boy was found dead in a well. The story was put about, without evidence, that he had been kidnapped and murdered by the Jews of Lincoln in a mock-crucifixion. Under torture, a Jew called Copin made a false confession that ‘nearly all the Jews in England agreed to the death of this boy’. Copin was executed and so were 18 other Jews. Little Hugh’s tomb in the cathedral became a shrine to the pseudo-martyr and a focus of anti-Semitism, contributing to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. In 1955, the cathedral decided to keep the shrine in situ but erected the plaque to which Mr Gau referred. It says that such stories as Little Hugh’s are ‘fictions which cost many innocent Jews their lives’ and prays ‘Lord, forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be’. If archbishops and bishops knew more of their Church’s past, they could give it a better future.
We, the board of the Countryside Alliance, were gathered in London in a ground floor room with full-length windows. As we discussed the business, which included the unhealthy condition of fox populations since the hunting ban, one of our number gave a little scream. There, at one of the windows, a fox was looking in. The poor chap illustrated the problem. He had a staring coat and signs of mange. He loped sadly away.
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