Richard Ingrams' Week: Tories ignore the big issue

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The Independent Online

It is tempting to think that it may all have something to do with the age gap. After all, Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind, the two oldie candidates, both had much to say on the subject - Rifkind especially expressing anger and indignation over what had happened. Yet they were the first to be knocked out of the Conservative leadership contest, an indication perhaps that Iraq was not an issue of concern to Tory MPs, many of whom no doubt supported the invasion.

There is today a great gulf between two groups of people, one, consisting of those like David Cameron, who are not too bothered about Iraq or who still think that we did, and are still doing, the right thing.

The other sees the decision to invade as an unqualified disaster which has led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis, not to mention 2,000 American and 100 British servicemen with many more wounded. A disaster which has led to horrific acts of torture and which is being justified with all manner of lies, distortions and forgeries, a disaster which has reduced the country we went to save to a hotbed of chaos, anarchy and terrorism. And this is an outcome which, for no good reason, a British prime minister has played a major role in helping to bring about.

It is mainly because unlike David Cameron this newspaper has never lost sight of the enormity and the danger of this scandal that I am honoured to join the ranks of its columnists.

Fear of causing offence blinds us to human nature

When David Blunkett was made Home Secretary in 2001, I think I was the only commentator to argue that it was not a job that was suited to somebody like Blunkett who was blind.

The issue was topical at the time as race riots had been taking place in the north of England and, normally speaking, the Home Secretary would be expected to go to the scene to "see for himself" the extent of the damage. Yet this was something Blunkett could not do, any more than he could visit a prison to judge the conditions in which prisoners were detained.

Later when interviewed on Woman's Hour, Blunkett had quoted back to him what I had written - the BBC not liking to make the point themselves - and he replied in his usual rather high-handed way that he didn't pay any attention to what I said because I was "just a grumpy old man".

Fair enough. Yet the interview showed how reluctant people are to raise the subject of disability, preferring to tiptoe round it for fear of causing offence to those deserving of sympathy and support - an explanation, perhaps, of why Blunkett was until recently given such an easy ride by the press.

To be fair to Blunkett he never sought this kind of kid-glove treatment, but it might be better if in future people were more open on the subject. Otherwise the idea gains ground not only that disabled people deserve special sympathy but also they are necessarily nicer, even more saintly people than the rest of us - when the opposite is often the case.

What Dr Johnson said about illness applies just as much to disability: "Disease produces much selfishness. It is so hard for a sick man not to be a scoundrel."

It is always a mistake to label yourself modern, as inevitably with the passage of time what is modern will soon be considered old hat. How long before Tate Modern is being derided as hopelessly old-fashioned?

The same is true of the Church of England's favourite hymn book Ancient and Modern, which really should call itself hymns ancient and slightly less ancient.

As a part-time church organist, A&M has always been my least favourite hymn book. Many tunes are omitted and the ones that are in are quite often in the wrong key. The England Hymnal, whose musical editor was Vaughan Williams, is a much better bet.

Still, that does nothing to justify the Archbishop of Canterbury who last week described as "sinful" the efforts by the church's missionaries to bring hymns A&M to the underdeveloped world. It upsets Dr Rowan Williams to think of all those Africans or Indians being taught to sing "Abide with Me" instead of something more suitable like "Kum Ba Yah".

Yet it is not only in the Third World that the old hymns are officially discouraged. Next weekend on Remembrance Sunday British churchgoers may find that old favourites such as "I Vow to Thee My Country" or "Oh Valiant Hearts" have been censored.

That is because today's church feels uncomfortable with anything overtly patriotic or militant. So even the popular "Onward Christian Soldiers" has been changed in their latest hymn book to "Onward Christian Pilgrims".