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The bugger, bugged

After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story. . .

When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I'm not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn't get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.

He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car's glove box for just this kind of happy accident.

More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4's Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim - a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, "not for publication, just for the wall of the pub".

I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.

I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Me So, how's the whistleblowing going?
Him I'm trying to get a book published. I sent it off to a publisher who immediately accepted it and then it got legal and they said, "This is never going to get published."
Me Why? Because it accuses too many people of crime?
Him Yes, as I said to the parliamentary commission, Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it . . . He [Coulson] rose quickly to the top; he wanted to cover his tracks all the time. So he wouldn't just write a story about a celeb who'd done something. He'd want to make sure they could never sue, so he wanted us to hear the celeb like you on tape saying, "Hello, darling, we had lovely sex last night." So that's on tape - OK, we've got that and so we can publish . . . Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You know, you just . . . sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said.
Me Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana's phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact . . .
Him Paps in the back of a van, yes . . . I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the Nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes.
Me And . . . it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?
Him Oh absolutely, yeah. When I went freelance in 2004 the biggest payers - you'd have thought it would be the NoW, but actually it was the Daily Mail. If I take a good picture, the first person I go to is - such as in your case - the Mail on Sunday. Did you see that story? The picture of you, breaking down . . . I ought to thank you for that. I got £3,000. Whooo!
Me But would they [the Mail] buy a phone-hacked story?
Him For about four or five years they've absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren't. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.
Me So everyone knew? I mean, would Rebekah Wade have known all this stuff was going on?
Him Good question. You're not taping, are you?
Me [slightly shrill voice] No.
Him Well, yeah. Clearly she . . . took over the job of [a journalist] who had a scanner who was trying to sell it to members of his own department. But it wasn't a big crime. [NB: Rebekah Brooks has always denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. The current police investigation is into events that took place after her editorship of the News of the World.]
It started off as fun - you know, it wasn't against the law, so why wouldn't you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and being generally corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a digital scanner. So all we were left with was - you know - finding a blag to get your mobile [records] out of someone at Vodafone. Or, when someone's got it, other people swap things for it.
Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
Him [...] Cameron must have known - that's the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . . Tony Blair . . . [tape is hard to hear here] Maggie openly courted Murdoch, saying, you know, "Please support me." So when Cameron, when it came his turn to go to Murdoch via Rebekah Wade . . . Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah. I know, because as well as doorstepping celebrities, I've also doorstepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that - you know - Murdoch was backing Cameron.
Me What happened to that story?
Him The Guardian paid for me to do it and I stepped in it and missed them, basically. They'd gone past - not as good as having a picture.
Me Do you think Murdoch knew about phone-hacking?
Him Errr, possibly not. He's a funny bloke given that he owns the Sun and the Screws . . . quite puritanical. Sorry to talk about Divine Brown, but when that came out . . . Murdoch was furious: "What are you putting that on our front page for? You're bringing down the tone of our papers." [Indicating himself] That's what we do over here.
Me Well, it's also because it was his film I was about to come out in.
Him Oh. I see.
Me Yeah. It was a Fox film.
[A pause here while we chat to other customers, and then - ]
Him So anyway, let me finish my story.
Me Murdoch, yes . . .
Him So I was sent to do a feature on Moulin Rouge! at Cannes, which was a great send anyway. Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging - what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch's paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to fuck her up . . . So all hail the master. We're just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?
Me Wow. You reckon he never knew about it?
Him [pause] I don't even think he really worried himself too much about it.
Me What's his son called?
Him James. They're all mates together. They all go horse riding. You've got Jeremy Clarkson lives here [in Oxfordshire]. Cameron lives here, and Rebekah Wade is married to Brooks's son [the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks]. Cameron gets dressed up as the Stig to go to Clarkson's 50th birthday party [NB: it was actually to record a video message for the party]. Is that demeaning for a prime minister? It should be the other way round, shouldn't it? So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament - that Cameron's either a liar or an idiot.
Me But don't you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don't want to upset Murdoch?
Him Yeah. There's that . . . You also work a lot with policemen as well . . . One of the early stories was [and here he names a much-loved TV actress in her sixties] used to be a street walker - whether or not she was, but that's the tip.
Me and Chum MLTVA?!
Me I can't believe it. Oh no!
Chum Really??
Him Yeah. Well, not now . . .
Chum Oh, it'd be so much better if it was now.
Him So I asked a copper to get his hands on the phone files, but because it's only a caution it's not there any more. So that's the tip . . . it's a policeman ringing up a tabloid reporter and asking him for ten grand because this girl had been cautioned right at the start of his career. And then I ask another policemen to go and check the records . . . So that's happening regularly. So the police don't particularly want to investigate.
Me But do you think they're going to have to now?
Him I mean - 20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms? . . . And what's wrong with that, anyway? It doesn't hurt anyone particularly. I mean, it could hurt someone's career - but isn't that the dance with the devil you have to play?
Me Well, I suppose the fact that they're dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking - which is a crime - some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.
Him But then - should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You're transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?
Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .
Him Much harder to do.
Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?
Him I'd have to say quite possibly, yeah. I'd say that should be illegal.
Me But a mobile phone - a digital phone . . . you'd say it'd be all right to tap that?
Him I'm not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are - is it MI5 or MI6?
Me I'd rather no one listened in, to be honest. And I might not be alone there. You probably wouldn't want people listening to your conversations.
Him I'm not interesting enough for anyone to want to listen in.
Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Him Yeah. Yeah. It's more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah - friends and family is something that's not as easy to justify as the other things.
Me But celebrities you would justify because they're rich?
Him Yeah. I mean, if you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage. It'll do wonders.
Me So I should have given up acting?
Him If you live off your image, you can't really complain about someone . . .
Me I live off my acting. Which is different to living off your image.
Him Yeah, but you're still presenting yourself to the public. And if the public didn't know you -
Me They don't give a shit. I got arrested with a hooker and they still came to my films. They don't give a fuck about your public image. They just care about whether you're in an entertaining film or not.
Him That's true . . . I have terrible difficulty with him [points to pap shot of Johnny Depp]. He's really difficult. You know, I was in Venice and he was a nightmare to do because he walks around looking like Michael Jackson. And the punchline was . . . after leading everyone a merry dance the film was shot on an open balcony - I mean, it was like - he was standing there in public.
Me And you don't see the difference between the two situations?
Chum He was actually working at this time? As opposed to having his own private time?
Him You can't hide all the time.
Me So you're saying, if you're Johnny Depp or me, you don't deserve to have a private life?
Him You make so much more money. You know, most people in Dover take home about £200 and struggle.
Me So how much do you think the families of the Milly and Soham girls make?
Him OK, so there are examples that are poor and you can't justify - and that's clearly one of them.
Me I tell you the thing I still don't get - if you think it was all right to do all that stuff, why blow the whistle on it?
Him Errm . . . Right. That's interesting. I actually blew the whistle when a friend of mine at the Guardian kept hassling me for an interview. I said, "Well if you put the name of the Castle [his pub] on the front page of the Guardian, I'll do anything you like." So that's how it started.
Me So, have you been leant on by the NoW, News International, since you blew the whistle?
Him No, they've kept their distance. I mean, there's people who have much better records - my records are non-existent. There are people who actually have tapes and transcripts they did for Andy Coulson.
Me And where are these tapes and transcripts? Do you think they've been destroyed?
Him No, I'm sure they're saving them till they retire.
Me So did you personally ever listen to my voice messages?
Him No, I didn't personally ever listen to your voice messages. I did quite a lot of stories on you, though. You were a very good earner at times.

Those are the highlights. As I drove home past the white cliffs, I thought it was interesting - apart from the fact that Paul hates people like me, and I hate people like him, we got on quite well. And, absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him.

And he does have a very nice pub. The Castle Inn, Dover, for the record. There are rooms available, too. He asked me if I'd like to sample the honeymoon suite some time: "I can guarantee your privacy."

-- Listen to the audio now --

This article first appeared in the 11 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Jemima Khan guest edit

PRIVATE COLLECTION / PHOTO © TARKER / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
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The shout that awakened nations

Martin Luther, the Reformation – and the birth of the modern world.

There is still the odd parish church in England with a notice on its south door that begins: “There are those who will tell you that at the time of the Reformation the Church of England ceased to be Catholic and became Protestant. Do not believe them.” It is a bemusing argument, hinting at the divisions within Anglicanism that stemmed from Henry VIII’s decision to establish a state church in 1534 and reject the authority of the pope in Rome.

Many Anglican clergy long for the Western Church to be reunited, but important practical and doctrinal differences obstruct this – not least the celibacy of clergy and the ordination of women as priests. Henry VIII’s decision had little to do with religion, though a theological earthquake in continental Europe had made it possible. Not the least of the secular consequences of that earthquake was that the king of England could, in order to marry his mistress, set up his own Christian Church, and in doing so change the course of English, and British, history. It is not least why we have a queen of German descent, and why for centuries Britain and Ireland had such bad relations.

By 1534 the course of European history had already been changed; large tracts of the world would in the ensuing centuries have their destinies changed as a result. On 31 October it will be 500 years since Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk from Saxony, sent his bishop, Albrecht of Mainz, his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. And Luther may, as the mythology states, have nailed the document – also known as the 95 Theses – to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, where he was a theologian at the university.

In England it occasioned the most significant moment in history between the Battle of Hastings and the Great War: significant because of all that flowed from it, not in a theological sense, but in its secular effect. In Europe it caused an upheaval not seen since the establishment of the Holy Roman empire in 800, and it was the beginning of the end of that empire. The history of the West changed in that moment. Despite the efforts of the Spanish and Portuguese to establish Catholic empires around the world, the most extensive empire of all would be the Protestant, British one. Its creation was directly attributable to the religious, economic and cultural consequences of the Reformation, and it would be imported into North America, Africa and Australasia.

Luther, who was 33 when he picked this argument with his Church, had become a monk after a bolt of lightning hit the ground near him and thus spared him. Later, he was ordained as a priest. He was a gifted and disputatious academic theologian. The cause of his affront was that the then pope, Leo X – a Medici from Florence – had granted the sale of indulgences to raise money to complete St Peter’s at Rome, and had sent Johann Tetzel, his commissioner for indulgences, to Germany to raise funds in this way. Purchase of an indulgence supposedly guaranteed less time in purgatory. Luther was outraged: he had developed a system of belief in which simple faith, not the execution of good works or donations of money to various forms of charity, was the way to salvation. In this way, he was also indirectly the father of the welfare state.

Luther’s 86th thesis asked why, given the pope’s wealth, he did not use his own money to pay for St Peter’s rather than that of “poor believers”. Bishop Albrecht did not respond to his complaint, but sent the document to Rome. Early in 1518, using the relatively new medium of the printing press, the 95 Theses, in the universal language of Latin, were distributed around Germany and, with remarkable speed, much of Europe, too. Thomas Carlyle, for whom Luther was one of history’s heroes, called this expression of outrage a “shout”, and wrote: “The Pope should not have provoked that ‘shout’! It was the shout of the awakening of nations.”

 

***

 

Carlyle got to the root of the significance of the Reformation, and why it shapes our world so profoundly. There had been challenges to the Christian religious orthodoxy before – remember King John’s, not to mention other outbursts of insolence around Catholic Europe – but Luther’s came at a time to trigger the perfect storm. The Reformation provoked a challenge to spiritual authority for which not merely the masses, but many of their rulers, felt ready; the invention of the printing press also allowed their view to be broadcast with an ease hitherto impossible. In the same manner as Henry VIII and his successors would establish a principle of absolute sovereignty – eventually, parliamentary sovereignty – in England and then in Great Britain, other polities in northern Europe gradually ended the influence of the pope and the Catholic Church in their affairs.

The Church hierarchy tried to talk Luther out of his views, but failed. In April 1521 he was summoned to the Diet of Worms, providing the moment Carlyle described as “the greatest scene in Modern European History; the point, indeed, from which the whole subsequent history of civilisation takes its rise”. This was where secular authority under Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, tried to persuade Luther to recant. He refused: the mythology has it that this was when he pronounced: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” He was outlawed and excommunicated: but Frederick the Wise, the sympathetic elector of Saxony, shielded him in his castle at Wartburg and, once the heat was off, Luther set about organising his own Church on his own principles.

The secular effects of this attack on authority were soon apparent. A peasants’ revolt in parts of Germany in 1525, which for strategic reasons Luther declined to support, showed the mood, and helped explain why in the northern German lands, in the Low Countries and elsewhere in Europe, people flocked to the new brand of Christianity. Lutheranism was the anti-establishment populism of its day and a means whereby, in an age before democracy, the unfranchised could make their voices heard.

Luther’s ideas inspired, and were developed by, John Calvin, a Frenchman who expounded his own theology from Geneva, where he had gone into exile. If we owe ­Luther (among other things) the intellectual right to question and reject authority, especially when it can be proved wrong or corrupt, we owe Calvin the Protestant work ethic, as well as the flourishing of capitalism and enterprise that stems from it. The left should be well aware of this point, as it was the basis of R H Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, published in 1926; the right should know it through the ­political economist Max Weber. Calvin saw work as a duty that the individual owed God and fellow citizens out of gratitude for redemption through Jesus Christ: no one had the right not to work if able to do so. Those who shared his belief that the industrious would prosper in the afterlife developed a culture that not only created capitalism, but encouraged the buccaneers, pioneers and adventurers who would seek to build empires.

Thus, as Carlyle said, the Reformation marked the moment when society stopped caring about the moral and spiritual health of people and started to worry about their economic and practical condition. Other historians have put it more bluntly: it was the moment when the Middle Ages ended and the modern world began. It brought with it ideas and attitudes such as social mobility, an inevitable by-product of a society where work and enterprise are promoted. Luther was in some senses highly enlightened, and his enlightenment spread: he set an example of freedom of thought, opening up new inquiries into science and philosophy. This establishment of the right to individual conscience leads to the contention that our modern idea of liberty stems from the Reformation.

Some who pursued liberty of thought and conscience in rigidly Catholic societies, such as Galileo a century later, still struggled; yet by the time Galileo was put under house arrest for claiming that the sun was the centre of the solar system many were belatedly accepting Copernicus’s theory of heliocentricity, advanced around the time of the 95 Theses. The Reformation signalled the moment when the Church lost control of science, though even Protestants retained a prejudice, born of fear, against radical inquiry. It was the 19th century before geology became an accepted subject of study at English universities, for fear it would contradict what the Bible said about the chronology of the Creation.

Luther’s sense of enlightenment also led him to oppose the subjugation of women, believing they should be able to divorce an unsatisfactory husband. Excommunicated, he himself married a former nun, unilaterally ending the notion that a clergyman had to be celibate. He was also deeply opposed to slavery, an abomination whose international abolition was eventually driven by British and American Quakers. However, there was one marked respect in which his doctrine was anything but enlightened, and its poisonous legacy would resonate down the centuries.

Luther had argued initially for Christians to treat Jews kindly, in the hope of converting them; but by the 1530s he had abandoned any idea of mass conversion and saw persecution as the only alternative. He became unequivocally anti-Semitic and called explicitly for Jews to be removed from all German territories, their houses and synagogues burned, and their chattels and religious texts confiscated; they were also to be denied safe passage as they travelled. Jews fled to eastern Europe to avoid the privations Lutherans forced on them, congregating particularly in Catholic Poland, and in Habsburg lands to the south and east.

Luther now condemned those Christians who helped the Jews; indeed, one Lutheran pastor in the Alsatian town of Hochfelden ordered his congregation to go out and murder them. A substantial Jewish community lived in Hochfelden until 1940, when the Nazis began to deport them. Then in December 1941, six weeks before the Wannsee Conference, seven confederations of Protestant churches in Germany announced their support for the Nazi policy of forcing Jews to wear the Star of David. From time to time the Nazis used Luther to justify their persecution.

Nor would this be the only form of Protestant racism. In South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church was explicit in its endorsement of apartheid, and Hendrik Verwoerd, its architect, was educated by Lutherans. But racism was not inextricable from the Reformation: in 1982 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which took its main inspiration from Calvin rather than Luther, expelled the Dutch Reformed Church and declared apartheid a sin.

Luther soon had followers among secular rulers other than Frederick the Wise, who in 1531 formed a defensive alliance called the Schmalkaldic League. In 1555 it forced Charles V to conclude the Peace of Augsburg, allowing Lutheran rulers to exist within the Holy Roman empire: this sundered Protestant Germany from Catholic Germany, a divide that persisted until the declaration of the Second Reich in 1871. It then took until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the Peace of Westphalia to allow Calvinist rule, too, within the empire. In that war, 40 per cent of the population of what is now Germany was killed, partly through plague. Eight million people died altogether, in a series of wars that began over the determination of Emperor Ferdinand II to renege on the Treaty of Augsburg and impose Catholicism throughout the empire. In time, however, the war became a conflict between the leading powers – notably the French and the Habsburgs – squabbling over territory and influence, with Catholic France finding it desirable for reasons of ­security to support the Protestants, and with powers as far-flung as Spain and Sweden joining in.

The other consequences of Luther’s Reformation were less horrific. His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular helped standardise that language and had a profound effect on German literacy and culture: it founded a literary tradition that would flower after the Thirty Years War with the Baroque period, and then produce Kant, Goethe and Schiller. Luther was also a prolific hymn-writer. A German musical tradition that passed down from Bach and influenced composers around Europe was greatly stimulated by the Church he founded. The growth of literacy further fed debate and discourse. Luther’s translation of the Bible was emulated in England, Scotland and other Protestant countries, and had a similarly galvanising effect on culture in those lands. It was not just that, greatly helped by printing, translation made religion more accessible and comprehensible to the masses: greater literacy propelled freedom of speech and thought. The Reformation provoked the greatest explosion of information, knowledge and ideas until the arrival of the internet.

Despite his strictures against ideas promulgated by the Jews, Luther advocated inquiry as a means of stimulating freedom of thought. Even though he saw it as a tool of the devil, he also wanted the Quran to be freely available so that it could be subject to scrutiny. Ironically, this spirit of inquiry and debate did not always exist in Luther’s own denomination. The Pilgrim Fathers went to America, founding the nation as we know it and providing perhaps one of the greatest consequences of the Reformation, only because of the mutual intolerance of factions within Protestantism. The emigration on the Mayflower can be traced back to the departure from the East Midlands of early Nonconformists, who fled to Holland in 1606-07 to escape rising persecution in the Church of England. Perhaps predictably, when they arrived in New Plymouth they radiated loathing of other religions, notably Catholicism, setting in place an institutional prejudice in America. It took the United States until 1960, and the election of John F Kennedy, to choose a Catholic president.

 

***

 

In continental Europe, the political, constitutional and economic effects of the Reformation have been profound. In Britain, it is why Queen Elizabeth II sits on the throne and not Franz, Duke of Bavaria, the premier descendant of Charles I of England, who would otherwise be King Francis II. Charles I’s failure to accept the religious consequences of the Reformation helped cause the English Civil War. The refusal of his son James II to do so brought about the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the Act of Settlement, preventing the Catholic children of James and their descendants from inheriting the throne and offering it to the distantly related House of Hanover. Thanks to this, the monarch was taken out of British politics, with the office of prime minister developing after 1721 to manage affairs on behalf of George I and the role of the sovereign being steadily eroded over the next two centuries into what we now call a constitutional monarchy.

The hostility with France from the late 17th century until 1815 was fed by English outrage at the revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV of the Edict of Nantes, by which Protestants had had their rights protected in France. An estimated 50,000 of the most accomplished people in France – ­Calvinist Huguenots – migrated across the Channel, forming one of the biggest waves of immigration in English history of one group relative to the existing population. For generations they and their descendants made a valuable contribution to British life, setting up enclaves of weavers in Canterbury and Spitalfields and lacemakers in Worcestershire, and also settling in Ireland, where they became prominent both in business and in local government.

The transfer of power from religious to secular authority in central Europe after the Peace of Westphalia paved the way for a continent dominated in the late 19th century by Germany, with all that would entail. It was a grotesque perversion of history that Adolf Hitler, a lapsed Catholic, should reunite those who were culturally German into a heathen form of the Holy Roman empire on the Anschluss with Austria of 1938.

France passed a loi de laïcité in 1905 formally separating the state from the power of the Roman Catholic Church; but in that country’s affairs what is still called the haute société protestante has an influence far exceeding the proportion of Protestants in society, whether in politics, officialdom or business. Protestants had been allowed back into France after 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and they applied their Calvinist work ethic to French business. Peugeot and Hermès were founded and run by Protestants. So, too, were some of the biggest French firms, such as the Schlumberger industrial group, whose origins were in Alsace. Protestants are disproportionately represented in finance and utility companies. The relatively great wealth of northern (Protestant) Europe compared to the Catholic south is still a matter of tension in the European Union.

A secular society such as ours naturally regards politics as driving the course of history, but at this 500th anniversary it is right to recall what has driven the course of politics. Martin Luther did not only change the world: the consequences of this quarrelsome but brave monk’s actions continue to affect the world to this day. If you seek his monument, look around you.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 26 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The eclipse of the West