Lord Carey loses his pulpit

Among the few people mourning the sudden demise of the News of the World may well be the former Arch

For some years now, Lord Carey has taken advantage of the tabloid's distinguished columns to lament the moral decline of society, to warn readers of the threat posed by immigration and Islam, to bemoan the persecution of Christians by bureaucratic multiculturalists, to have the occasional dig at the Pope and subtly to undermine his successor Rowan Williams.

Who could forget, for example, his scandalised reaction to the mauling the Screws received at the hands of Max Mosley and Mr Justice Eady? According to Carey, the paper was absolutely right to expose Mosley's predilection for sadomasochistic sex games to the public gaze. In words that could almost have been ghost-written by Colin Myler, the archbishop feared that Eady's ruling would give carte blanche to depraved perverts everywhere.

It was "bad enough", thought Carey, that "without public debate or democratic scrutiny the courts have created a wholly new privacy law". More seriously from his point of view ("as a Christian leader") it was "deeply sad that public morality is the second victim of this legal judgement". Henceforth, he declared, "unspeakable and indecent behaviour, whether in public or in private" would no longer be considered "significant".

Carey seemed to have missed that the whole point of that ruling was that Mosley's privacy had been violated. His behaviour only became public courtesy of the newspaper in which he was writing. To Carey, though, there's no distinction between private and public morality. To think otherwise -- to imagine that what adults get up to in private should be their own business -- represented "a bleak, deeply-flawed "anything goes" philosophy", which was "dangerous and socially undermining, devoid of the basic, decent moral standards that form the very fabric of our society".

The same decent moral standards that kept the News of the World going for 168 years, I suppose.

Carey wasn't finished with Mosley. In March 2009, he wrote complaining at Gordon Brown's refusal to apologise for the financial crisis -- by contrast with David Cameron, who had "accepted the blame for his party's failure to warn of looming economic danger." Failure to apologise, he argued, was "a sign of a relationship in trouble." A particulary glaring example, he thought, was Mosley's appearance at the House of Commons Select Committee hearing into privacy law. The MPs had "feebly conceded the moral high ground and chuckled at his jokes." Not one had drawn attention to his "moral depravity" and "appalling behaviour". But then, he implied, politicians don't understand the concept of apology.

In October 2009, Carey chose Nick Griffin's infamous appearance on Question Time as an appropriate peg to hang an outspoken attack on the government's immigration policies. He denounced the BNP leader as "a squalid racist" who "must not be allowed to hijack one of the world's great religions" (a strange way for an archbishop to describe his own faith). But he then went on to put much of the blame for Griffin's prominence on the "cowardly failure of successive governments to address our open borders".

Carey went on to demand "clear caps on population growth" and an abandonment of "the discredited policy of multiculturalism". " Make no mistake about it," he thundered, "immigration MUST be a major item on next year's General Election agenda."

Of course, the suggestion that BNP's success (such as it is) can be attributed to mass immigration was scarcely new. Nor the idea that politicians have paid insufficient heed to voters' views on the subject. But it was striking that Carey devoted more of his piece to an assault on government policy than to his attack on Griffin for "hijacking" Christianity, which was rather perfunctory.

There was so much more that he might have said. He might have drawn attention to the great contribution made to his own church by immigrants such as the present archbishop of York John Sentamu, or (someone more of the Carey persuasion) Michael Nazir-Ali, who was bishop of Rochester at the time. He might have extolled the legacy of Martin Luther King, or explained how Christianity had been distorted in the past by the Ku Klux Klan and the architects of Apartheid. He might have reminded readers of Christ's teaching of "love thy neighbour", or mentioned the little-known fact that one of the earliest recorded archbishops of Canterbury was an African. He might, in short, have explained why he thought Nick Griffin was wrong to use the Christian history of Britain in his propaganda. Instead he chose to grouse about immigration. Bizarre.

Carey's career as a kind of ecclesiastical Littlejohn has continued this year. April saw him return to the theme of overpopulation as he called for "a government with a united, national sense of purpose... which is sadly and tragically lacking." Acknowledging that "Jesus himself was a refugee after his birth and his family received hospitality in Egypt", he nevertheless stressed that "there are limits".

"Last year I visited the Middle East, and when I returned I saw more women wearing burkhas in London than I saw in Jerusalem," he complained.

Carey did, however, have some words of praise for David Cameron's tough-talking, which he contrasted with Vince Cable's "defiant act of rebellion" in opposing a blanket cap on immigration. The "real extremists in our midst", he wrote, were not the BNP but "those advocating open borders and uncontrolled migration."

Just last month, Carey used his News of the World pulpit to denounce the "appalling world of bungs and favours" in international football. "As a lifelong lover of the game," he wrote, "I can't believe how low it has sunk. FIFA is mired in financial skulduggery with a stink from the top that affects every layer of the game." It was a "sleazy body" that "must be dragged into the open air."

If he ever had similar thoughts about the sleazy newspaper that helped him extend his own public career for so many years, he kept them to himself.

 

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What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era