Saturday 30 May 2009
Richard Ingrams's Week: One rule for Hogg and another for Cameron
I have never been all that keen on wisteria, that woody rambling climber that left to its own devices will cover the front of many country cottages producing masses of pale mauve blossoms at this time of the year.
David Cameron must have felt the same. At any rate, he paid for somebody to come and cut down the wisteria that was threatening to engulf his country home in Oxfordshire. It cost him £680 and he claimed the money back from the taxpayer, an action which he now describes as "questionable". (He has since repaid the money.)
One would like to know a bit more about all this. How could it cost all of £680 to remove or was it just to prune an unruly wisteria? Provided with a ladder and a saw, couldn't Cameron have done the job himself? But, more importantly, assuming that Cameron had to get what they call "a little man" to come round, why couldn't he pay the bill out of his own pocket?
And then, quite apart from the wisteria, Cameron was claiming about £20,000 a year on the mortgage to pay for the nice house on which the wisteria grew. So what exactly was the difference between Douglas Hogg's moat and David Cameron's wisteria? Why should one man resign and not the other?
And isn't the only real scandal in all this that of very rich men claiming for things they could perfectly well pay for out of their own pocket? I could almost get angry about it.
Where's this public anger?
I do not get around as much perhaps as I used to. Even so, I commute to London most days using trains, buses and taxis and bump into any number of friends and even a few strangers.
And I have to say I have yet to come across a single trace of the wave of anger which is reported day by day to have engulfed the entire British nation in the wake of the scandal over MPs' expenses.
The tide of anger seems just as elusive as the tide of grief which was said to paralyse Britain following the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
Ah yes, people tell me, but didn't you see the audience on the BBC's Question Time shouting and screaming at those MPs? Here surely was the anger that you could have witnessed if you could have been bothered to stay up and watch the programme.
If that is all that it amounts to, then people ought to think twice before they persuade themselves that every single person in the country is red-faced with fury at the extravagances of Hazel Blears and Julie Kirkbride.
Because if you herd a group of people into a TV studio, subject them to warm-ups and other manipulative tricks, you can get them to do anything.
They will even, if called upon to do so, howl with laughter at completely unfunny jokes which they don't understand anyway. Confront them with a handful of MPs and they will duly scream and shout abuse. That's just a kind of artificially induced hysteria. Whatever it is it certainly isn't anger.
What was a vocation has turned into just another job
Being a priest, in the eyes of the secular media, is no different from any other job. It follows that we should no more think of objecting to a gay minister of religion than we would a gay dentist.
Hence the general rejoicing that the Church of Scotland has voted in favour of the appointment of its first ever gay minister, Mr Scott Rennie, 37, pictured.
Here is an organisation long associated with the harsh puritanism of John Knox now showing itself to be tolerant, forward-looking, modernising and all kinds of words that don't mean anything much.
The fact that Mr Rennie was married with a young child but has left them, is now divorced and living with a man is neither here nor there. In today's world we are all very relaxed about the breaking of the marriage vows. "Jesus loves me," says Mr Rennie, so it must be all right then.
The issue of openly gay clergy has already caused a major upheaval in the Church of England and now the same sort of crisis is threatening the Church of Scotland.
But the issue is not really to do with homosexuality. The only way the churches can survive is if priests and ministers are seen to be making personal sacrifices which the rest of us are not prepared to make. Then they will be respected.
As soon as they feel free to marry, get divorced, remarry, live with other men and so on then they are telling us that there's nothing so special about being a priest. It's just another job, like being a dentist. So no wonder the media are being so supportive.
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