Could you forgive Mugabe?

Zimbabwe's president shows no sign of going. How does this "devout Catholic" square his crimes with

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, memorably cut up his clerical collar live on Andrew Marr's Sunday breakfast show in 2007 to demonstrate how Robert Mugabe had destroyed the identity of the people of Zimbabwe. Sentamu believes Mugabe should be tried for crimes against humanity, and pledged not to wear a dog collar again until the president had gone. But nearly two years on there is no sign of the archbishop being able to resume his neckwear.

As Mugabe has been much in the news of late, with a very warm reception at the Southern African Development Community summit and the EU delegation's visit signalling acceptance that he is here to stay, I have written about him in today's Independent, asking this: could we -- should we -- forgive him his crimes?

In the Indy I looked at this from a political perspective, but I would welcome a discussion examining the ethical or religious grounds for forgiving him. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, educated by Jesuits, is of course still supposedly a Catholic, a point Christopher Hitchens raised in typically tart fashion in Slate.

What is it going to take before the Roman Catholic Church has anything to say about the conduct of this member of its flock? Mugabe has been a devout Catholic ever since his days in a mission school in what was then colonial Rhodesia, and one is forced to wonder what he tells his priest when he is asked if he has anything he'd like to confess.

One does indeed. Not least because many would assume that forgiveness should not even begin to be meted out until there has been some repentance on Mugabe's part. He hasn't repented in public. Has he in private? And if so, does he think that's enough? The notion that he could be unburdening himself of his crimes in the confessional, receiving absolution, and then committing fresh atrocities in the knowledge that he has a clean slate because he's said a few rosaries, is too twisted to contemplate.

Surely, one might say, only an unbalanced mind could imagine that was conduct within both the spirit and the rules of the Catholic faith. But if Mugabe does believe that, there are other consequences. If we judge he is not of sound mind, the extent to which he can be held responsible for his crimes diminishes. And then he becomes demonstrably more deserving of pity -- and forgiveness . . .

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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