It is a laugh watching David Cameron at a European Council meeting. My old Foreign Office colleagues say that in his first few months it was all bonhomie. He would slap a few backs, air-kiss a few leaders, crack a few almost bilingual jokes, and leave with a better deal than he had thought. But now it's different, and always at his back he hears his wild backbenchers.
The so-called veto has melted in his hands and he's left outside the room where a treaty on fiscal union will be signed. The 25 have completely disregarded his argument that the instruments and offices of the EU should not be made available to the fiscal union and that the treaty is of dubious legality.
So on Thursday night he issued a five-minute diatribe of frustration at the council dinner and now, rather feebly, he has even moaned that he is being ignored in Europe. I should coco. If you storm out of the living room mid-family row, you rarely end up winning it. Where once we could always cobble together a coalition of Scandinavians and Eastern bloc countries to defeat any loopy proposal, now Cameron lazily hopes to saunter along in the slipstream of Sarkozy and Merkel.
The bigger problem is that, largely because of his "made in Britain" ideological truculence with Europe, Cameron just doesn't get the nature of the problem. He actually said yesterday, "Europe doesn't just face a debt crisis. It faces a growth crisis."
Well, yes, Prime Minister. Absolutely. That is exactly what we have been saying for two years now. The only way out of the slough of European economic despond is growth. Sharp-edged austerity, enforced by technocrats and right-wing governments is in real danger of consigning Europe to a decade of under-performance. If ever there was a time for Europe to be pooling its sovereignty in the wider economic interest, it is now.
Jesus would want women bishops
As Parliament still, bizarrely, has a role in agreeing the Church of England's canon law, my clerical and parliamentary "careers" sometimes collide. So on Tuesday morning we had a debate on women bishops, led by my colleague Diana Johnson. So far as I can see, the opponents' central claim is that if Jesus had intended there to be women bishops he would have chosen women disciples. This is just lazy, inaccurate and dangerous theological tosh.
For a start, we don't know whether any of the 70 disciples and more that Jesus sent out in pairs were women (yes, honestly, 70). Nor can we even be certain of the names of the apostles as the list of 12 in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is different from that in Luke (who replaces Thaddeus with Jude the Obscure) and John (who adds Nathaniel). Indeed, Jesus clearly surrounded himself with women and St Paul also refers to a woman called Junia as an "apostle". But more important, pettifogging, small-minded, gnat-straining, camel-swallowing religion is truly dangerous.
I remember hearing the resoundingly soulful Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, being posed a deliberately tricky question by a smells-and-bells trainee vicar. "Father," he said, "what should you do if you spill a chalice full of consecrated wine over an expensive brand new altar carpet?" The ordinand doubtless expected the theologically correct answer, that the carpet should be burnt. But Ramsey, twinkling with mischief through his Denis Healey eyebrows, quipped back, "I'm sure if the Good Lord knows how to get into it, he also knows how to get out of it."
A long way from homeless reality
A symbol of how depressing my advice surgery can be was the man who came to see me last week. He is working full-time, paying his Child Support Agency contributions, but is left with so little to live on that he is homeless and sofa-surfing. That's when Parliament feels a long way from reality, especially as the Commons has been stuck in the doldrums for weeks and even Tories are fed up.
Amazingly, we were on a one-line whip (ie attendance has been entirely voluntary) every single day this week and there was just a single vote. The reason we have so little to get our teeth into is the fact that, whereas in the past the Queen's Speech (marking the beginning of a new parliamentary session) was nearly always in the autumn, this Government decided to run a session for a full two years, so we are now in the fag end of the longest parliamentary session since the Long Parliament ended with the Restoration in 1660.
Since all legislation lapses if it has not completed all its stages in both Houses by the end of the session, the Government can't now introduce anything controversial before May. So we are stuck twiddling our thumbs. Sadly, the long session has also made it easier for the Government to force its bills through the Lords, either by appointing more and more peers or just waging a war of attrition. If there had been a Queen's Speech last autumn, the Government would almost certainly have had to cave in on its ludicrous bugger's muddle of a Health Bill.
Divided by language
Incidentally, poor translation can often undo Europe. When the former president of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, was publishing a report into allegations that Edith Cresson, France's commissioner, had dubiously appointed her dentist as an adviser, he used the French word blanchie. I think he meant to say that Cresson had been exonerated. The commission translation into English, however, had him calling it a "whitewash".
Likewise, less seriously, there was much hilarity in a European Parliament debate when a Frenchman said that that was needed was more common sense, in French la sagesse normande, as this was translated as "we need more Norman Wisdom".
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