Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Queen's ghillie

A Prime Minister should gain authority from the force of his argument, from ability to dominate the House. He should not have to skulk in corridors, traducing and browbeating his followers into lending support.

The party will gather round the Prime Minister as if attracted by magnet to the deep principles that hold it together. Some may drift away for reasons of personal gain or prejudice but they will be replaced by others, who listen and hear and defy their own denomination in pursuit of the right path.

It is ominous and remarkable therefore to see the Queen's ghillie beset over a period of days by churchmen, by journalists and by his own party in respect of a series of measures which, it seems, he believes with the best of intentions will deliver progress.

Now by no means should the Pope and his Cardinals dictate to Englishmen how they should govern their country. Yet they have chosen their time, their cause well. They have staked their ground on two principles: the first that legislators should vote primarily according to their conscience; the second that scientists should not create half-human beings, that Parliament should not usher in the age of Dr Frankenstein, as envisioned in the popular writings of Mrs Shelley.

On the first principle, the Church of Rome is not best-placed to demand that its adherents vote according to their individual conscience, as in principle and in practice it seeks to dictate what that conscience should be. On the second principle, the concern catches a popular mood, yet it is likely that the basis of the Romish argument is tortuous theology, which, wisely, the Bishops have chosen not to share with the wider public.

One would therefore wish that Cantuar himself, Dr Williams, had made the arguments and that he carried the popular authority to carry the media and a substantial section of MPs with him; for the arguments would be well-made in such hands.

Whatever the source of the moral blast, it remains that the Queen's ghillie has yet again fumbled and dithered, has blustered and delayed as if caught catching the Queen's salmon. His solution is that MPs, who claim an issue of conscience, should vote against the individual clause and then be required to vote for the Bill as a whole. He has sacrificed his remaining shreds of authority for, numerically, it is unlikely he needs these members and, in effect, he continues to demand their reluctant support because he does not have the courage to state his case and explain to the people at large why it is necessary to create half-human beasts; why he wishes the power of the ancient gods to create the Chimaera.

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