Press Column Saturday 29 January 2000

For about thirty years, from the prophet Enoch’s vision of rivers of blood the Christian nationalists of the Daily Telegraph had a simple answer to the question "why were the black people in England?" God had brought the black people to England to ensure that the Conservative party could always win elections by being nasty to them. The late Peter Utley, who was deputy editor for most of this period, once remarked to me in a taxi that "If Margaret looks in real trouble in the election, she need only make a speech linking immigration with unemployment." Now Peter was in many respects a completely admirable man. He would never, I think, have used crude language on the subject. He simply believed that racial prejudice was a natural human condition, presumably placed in our hearts by our maker and that it was right and proper for the Conservative party to exploit it by pressing the right buttons: "immigration" and "unemployment". Nowadays the Telegraph may still harumph about the MacPherson report, but it is, I think, genuinely shocked when the Bishop of Stepney is stopped in his car and searched because he is black. Instead, it has discovered why God made some people gay: so that they could help the Conservatives get elected by opposing them.

It is an important part of this dance that the hatred, the fear, and the prejudice to which it appeals should be denied by the leader column while it bubbles over in the adjacent letters column. On Wednesday, we had a letter from Lt-Col T.J. Hawkins (RAMC) arguing that gays should never be employed as front line soldiers in case their tainted blood should splash on their comrades when they are killed or wounded. "It is out of the question to don gloves, face mask and eye protection before applying the first field dressing". In that case, surely, the answer is to employ gays solely in the front line, where they might, when hit, explode all over the enemy, thus adding greatly to the terror which the British Army, and even its medical corps, traditionally inspires.

It is against the background of letters, and readers, like that, that the Telegraph’s campaign against Section 28 must be judged. Of course, it comes at a providential moment for Dr Carey. A campaign against gays is exactly what is needed to remind people that the Church of England has standards in sexual morality in the week when the remarriage of divorcees is officially proposed. Perhaps God did have a purpose in making such people after all.

It’s a pity that there are still a few of the forces of conservatism left in GodCo, off-message eccentrics such as Richard Harries, who wrote in the Independent that "If the Church is not to offer some understanding and compassion to those many people in our society who have been through the trauma of divorce but who really want to make a fresh start with someone else and who sincerely desire God’s blessing upon their new union, then surely here should be at least equal understanding and compassion to those who find that their orientation is homosexual or lesbian."

Not that this war is fought very fairly on either side. Cardinal Winning’s speech in Malta really did not deserve to be reported as comparing the militant homosexual lobby with the Nazis. I’m not sure who the ‘active and militant homosexual lobby’ is whom he warned his audience against, though I suppose he would count me as a member. But it is surely different from the television whom he compared to the German air force: "In place of the bombs of fifty years ago, you find yourselves bombarded with images, values, and ideas which are utterly alien to the noble Christian traditions". That description was directed, he said, at television channels. Perhaps he should have a word with that well-known papal knight Rupert Murdoch.

Dr Carey’s interview with Monica Furlong in the Times allowed us to learn what he thinks of his journalistic critics: we are "filled with hate for Christianity in general and the Church of England in particular." I liked , too, the appearance of an all-purpose critic of the Archbishop in Hazel Southam’s Independent on Sunday piece predicting the divorce report: "The Rev Geoffrey Kirker, national secretary of Forward in Faith."

Still, I think the prize for the most ignorant and vulgar piece of religious journalism all week went to Jasper Gerard, writing in the Times about the papal succession. We all make mistakes in this business: "lobbying resembles an old-style Tory succession battle; instead of men in grey suits, men in scarlet hats will consult and strike a (messy) compromise, At least the cardinals will go through the niceties of a vote, albeit to ratify an earlier decision." But of course the whole point of a conclave is that no one, really no one, knows who will emerge from it. The vote does not ratify an earlier decision made in a smoke filled room by Cardinal Borgia and his chums. Other choice phrases included the description of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as "One powerful lobby group". Of course the real trouble is the knowing tone that all the features on the Times first opinion page must be written in. Gerard can do the tone all tight. "The existing Pope has been magnificent, reaching out to different faiths." It’s just the knowledge that he lacks: "But he has ducked the big debate: what can be reformed while saving the heart." It’s difficult to think of any question to which this Pope has devoted as much thought, even if you disagree with his answers.

All these, however, are old stories. A new story appeared in the job advertisements of PR Week, "Your task is to revolutionise the communications culture of the Diocese of London, an expanding organisation covering London, North of the Thames. Leading a small team, your role will involve promoting this high profile organisation." The salary offered is £40,000 a year. Is this a more effective form of communication that twelve bishops spending £3,000 a year on their mobiles?

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