Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The charming Cherie Blair

Louise Bagshawe at CentreRight pays this most unexpected compliment.

I had the honour, and yes I do mean honour, of interviewing Cherie Blair. As a tribal Tory, like the rest of us, I've read the caricatures published about this woman over the years. She was the PM's wife our press loved to loathe. Grasping, bolshie, chippy, you name it. There was none of that anywhere in the person I met.

What I'm about to say will not surprise anybody who has read her book. Mrs. Blair is a naturally good writer, so much so that I think in becoming a lawyer she may have missed her true calling. Speaking for Myself is a cracking good read. The author is self-deprecating, witty, perspective, laugh out loud funny at times. You must get it if you haven't done yet. No wonder why it was a massive bestseller when so many bland, sanitised political memoirs fail.

I interviewed her at Southwark Crown Court where she is still working as a Recorder. Not the height of glamour, and obviously Mrs. Blair has no need to work. She does it from a sense of duty and self-satisfaction. When I said I thought it was great she was still working she looked puzzled that I'd even imagine she would stop. She was kind, she was polite, she asked about the date of the election, she said we needed more women in parliament, asked me about standing in Corby. We discussed the hell of the PPC selection process, something she went through herself as well as watching her husband suffer through it.

I was there to interview her, but she's one of those rare people who seems more interested in others than herself. She was elegant, she smiles and laughs all the time. She is (red rag to a bull on ConHome, this, but I admire it) a true feminist. She said she sees her book not as political but written for other women. Men will love it too.

You can see the interview during the show, but in passing in one of her answers, Mrs. Blair said of the press that she didn't even recognise the woman they described. Nor do I. I don't think I've ever been more struck by the disparity between somebody's manufactured image and the person they turned out to be. In the future, I will put even less stock in the tabloids' portrayal of anybody's character. As Conservatives, we can be thankful that such a bright and charismatic woman never made it into Parliament.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A war not quite over

"The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism... in a manner that is consistent with our values and ideals," Mr Obama said.

It's that struggle formerly known as the 'war on terror'.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heaven defined

What animal would you most like to be?

One of a pair of well-loved cats in a house with a cat flap. Love, companionship and independence. Bliss.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I hear that Suggs is marching against racism and homophobia.
I mean, it's just Madness gone politically correct.

Just suppose

Suppose there had been an increase over recent years in the incidence of a particularly cruel and criminal act. Suppose it amounted to an attempt to sabotage the National Blood Service and thus prevent urgent transfusions of blood taking place. Suppose that, apart from a few representatives of oddball organisations and a handful of individual nutters, most of the known culprits were Jehovah's Witnesses and sought to justify their criminal behaviour by reference to the teachings of that religious group, even though many leading Jehovah's Witnesses had publicly condemned their actions.

Suppose a book had been written and a charitable helpline set up to advise and support victims of this horrific interference with a life-saving service. Suppose that the writer of the book and director of the charity was invited to answer questions about the problem in a Guardian column, and she did so without once mentioning Jehovah's Witnesses. Wouldn't it make you think?

Jasvinder Sanghera appeals for support in her efforts to eradicate forced marriage and honour-based crime, without once mentioning Islam.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Becoming western culture

Interesting to see Don Cupitt's typically shrewd observation that Christianity has gradually evolved beyond its 'church' form, to become modern western culture.

He sees this in "the way that the modern world expects Christian standards of the West. People in the poor countries expect the West to feel rather guilty about being so rich, and to acknowledge a duty to 'redistribute' its surplus wealth. They expect the West to acknowledge the sinfulness of colonialism and the slave trade, . . to go on about individual human rights, about democracy and the rule of law. In short, the rest of the world has a great range of moral expectations of the West and tries hard to exploit them. But the poor countries don't have the same expectations of other religions or culture-areas. Nobody expects the Turks to apologize to the Armenians, or the Egyptian Arabs to the Copts, the Indians to dwell on the evils of the Maghul Empire, or the Zanzibaris to demand repentance and reparations for centuries of slave-trading in dhows down the East African coast."

"The world assumes (rightly, it seems) that Christian values do still greatly influence Western behaviour. Many commentators assume that Christianity is a dying faith whereas Islam is very much alive. Because other faiths and cultures show absolutely no inclination to be self-critical in public, they can confidently assert their own moral superiority and the West's relative decadence. But are rich oil sheiks apologizing to black East Africa for slavery, and offering aid without strings? Seemingly not, despite the fact that Almsgiving (Zakat) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam."

His conclusion? That "Christianity is doing better in its afterlife as 'Western culture' than ever it did as a religion."

A virtue of losers

According to Dr Alan White in the Guardian Review, this is how Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a man who had lost all sympathetic feeling for his fellows, saw kindness - as a virtue of losers. Scrooge was of course redeemed and reabsorbed into life and its networks of reciprocity by the hand of a sort of God, a sort of God (be it God or Marx) that, says Dr White, we are lacking today.

But surely all human virtues are truly virtues of losers. We all eventually lose everything - forever. Isn't it this that makes them virtues in the first place? Isn't it only because we are born losers that any kind of morality is possible? If we depend on God or Marx to compensate our losses, can we ever be said to act virtuously at all?

Atheist Bus

Posters have appeared on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground, with the slogan, There's Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.

The trouble with this slogan is the word 'probably'. I think the probability of God's existence is a profoundly irreligious idea. I would rather argue that God is Nothing, following the line of Gareth Moore in Believing in God. It is the extension of another plea I have made here, that we cannot understand belief in God without understanding what it means to become nothing before him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good Politics

'For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.' (Nelson Mandela)

Friday, January 09, 2009

When antisemitism needs a spell check.

In Defence of Israel

The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. But the whole conflict could be avoided if the Palestinians said one small thing.

Daniel Finkelstein's words are moving and wise. Please read them.

Just imagine

Norm reports . .

. . a 'helpful' warning that has just been delivered to Gordon Brown. Jewish representatives are saying to him that it might be hard to restrain angry young Jews from bombing mosques and the London Underground if the rockets on Sderot and other Israeli towns don't cease. Not that the Jewish representatives support this, of course; they're pleading for restraint. Cancel that paragraph - just kidding.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Coolest Grand

About two years into my term of articles, aged 19, I asked Walter Eccles, my boss, for a £1000 loan. The family business, a corner shop, was going bust. It was my dad's business and comprised our home. My request was graciously and regretfully turned down.

How cool was that? £1000 was a lot of money in the early sixties. My starting salary was two pounds ten shillings a week. To me it was a simple matter. My dad was in need. My employer was in the money. Perhaps surprisingly, neither my importunate request, nor Mr Eccles' gentle letdown, made my later relationship with him the least bit uncomfortable. What a gent!

In Senegal

This is what happened:

Nine gay men in Senegal have been sent to jail for “indecent conduct and unnatural acts”.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Senegal but lawyers for the men said the sentence was the harshest ever handed down to gay men in the country.

The judge added three years to the maximum five-year sentence after ruling that the men were also members of a criminal organisation.

Most of them belonged to an association set up to fight HIV and Aids.

“This is the first time that the Senegalese legal system has handed down such a harsh sentence against gays,” said Issa Diop, one of the men’s four defence lawyers.

The head of a gay rights organisation in Senegal told AFP news agency that the situation for gay people in the country was getting worse.

“Many gays are already fleeing to neighbouring countries because of our living conditions,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country and gay men and women remain socially marginalised.

Spring Gardens, Manchester

I passed here today. It took me back to my interview with Walter Eccles, partner in the form of Chartered Accountants, Litton, Pownall, Blakey and Higson. I was leaving school at sixteen and looking for employment as an articled clerk. My dad came with me to the interview. He was trying hard to impress in the way of proud working class fathers. He asked what renumeration I might expect. Having been to a Grammar School I knew that he should have said 'remuneration'. I was mildly embarrassed, but even more I was glad to have a father who cared.

Thanks dad.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Moral Inversion

Melanie Phillips offers a judgement on those who took part in the anti-Israel demonstration in London:

Such people have made no protest at the bombardment of Israeli towns by more than 6000 rockets in the past six years, deliberately targeting innocent civilians. They have made no protest at the way Hamas has used Gazan civilians as human shields, situating its murderous arsenals beneath apartment blocks, in schools and hospitals and mosques in order to maximise the numbers of civilians killed (in order to manipulate all-too pliable western opinion). No, their protest only starts when Israel finally takes the military action aimed at stopping this genocidal barrage.