No, Archbishop, I feel a strong desire for a secular home

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The Independent Online
Like a Martin Amis book advance, or a public spending target, my New Year's resolutions seldom quite deliver on their promise. Last year's were a pretty modest lot, it seemed to me, yet 1996 is almost over and still I'm waiting to sleep with Liverpool's goalkeeper. There is nothing in the rules, I don't think, to say I can't have this one again. But I understand that times have changed. We are now in a scandalous state of moral disrepair, and this is just the sort of thing that has to stop. I must address myself and my list of resolutions to our national moral regeneration.

I think this will involve not watching films that contain car crashes, not rigging telephone polls, and not stabbing motorists who fail to indicate when turning right. If at all possible, it will involve getting married. Shopping the scroungers next door is a must. This could get to be quite some list - but luckily, like a department store credit card, one resolution should cover the lot - a reminder to pop into church each week.

A "desire to find a spiritual home" has, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, been evident in all of us this past year. Particularly, so he says, in our "morality debates". Now, Dr Carey would hardly have been doing his Christmas Day job properly if he hadn't professed to detect such a desire. (Thirty points behind in the polls, after all, Major still maintains a stout whiff of victory in the air.) The real worry in all of this is that the Archbishop may well be right.

God has been making second comings in all sorts of unlikely places this year - and, like Cliff Richard, is being indulged where He quite clearly has no business. Where was the progressive, liberal-left flap about plans to pump Christianity into school kids? Tony Blair as some kind of Christian redeemer has been actively promoted by his party, rather than privately accommodated, and many members were actually gleeful to find the Catholic Church canvassing on their behalf last autumn. On Boxing Day over mince pies, some family friends - lifelong secular rationalists - were discussing a daughter's conversion to Islam. The matter was thought to be harmless enough.

And there I was thinking socialism had problems - and all the time, it was secularism which passed away this year.

I went to Jamaica last month, and blow me down, they're having a moral crisis as well. You can scarcely fit into church there on Sunday, for your full-blast fix of weekly fire and brimstone. The packed congregations are very anxious about their young people, who take drugs, disrespect their elders, and shoot people. The popular option seems to be to get a gun and shoot the buggers before they get a chance to steal your handbag.

Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world - and a murder rate considerably higher than New York's.

Newspapers seem to have had a really hard time finding stuff to put in the papers over Christmas. Luckily, the politicians don't seem to know this, or they might have taken the opportunity to plant stories on grateful newsdesks. Obviously, this isn't what happened on Friday, when John Major made headline news as champion of little babies.

The Prime Minister is taking adoption very seriously, because, a "government source" confided, "he knows it is the right and sensible thing to do". He is ex- tremely unhappy about political correctness keeping babies from adoptive parents, and feels sad about all the babies abroad who could be taken in by loving British families.

A touching and timely Yuletide tale, which just goes to show that even politicians have a heart. And not just at Christmas time - no, as far back as the Tory party conference, Mr Major was getting very upset about the plight of the little orphans.

"I still hear too many stories of politically correct absurdities that prevent children being adopted by loving couples," he declared back in October. "If that is happening, we should stop it."

Which is odd, really, because he had already drafted an Adoption Bill - but then opted to axe it from the Queen's Speech, when it looked like it might run into hot water. A lot of unpleasantness about surrogate motherhood, or gay couples trying to adopt, was not what Mr Major had in mind at all, and - though his heart did bleed for the little darlings - orphaned babies were not quite important enough to merit all that bother.

But it's good to know the Adoption Bill will be back on his election manifesto. "Post-election," a minister explained, "this subject could be a runner." Mr Major, you see, is good to his word. Because, of course, a baby is for life - not just for Christmas.

Among the many conspiracy theories surrounding the splendid Personality of the Year pantomime on Radio 4's Today programme, one mystery remains strangely unresolved. How could the shortlist have failed to feature Princess Diana or the Duchess of York?

Taxpayers have shown great forbearance for centuries, spending fortunes on the royals and getting almost nothing in return. Their investment is at last paying dividends. Sarah Ferguson and the Princess of Wales are proving remarkable value for money - a very shrewd move indeed, in these times of performance-related pay, and one for which the Palace should be deeply grateful. The Firm's curious ingratitude is well documented - but it is hard to believe the British public would pass up the chance to show appreciation for such first-class entertainment.

And therein, surely, lies the story behind Major's win. Party workers have not been busy with the telephones in Smith Square at all. It was Palace officials who were slaving away for weeks, anxious to vote for anyone that they could think of to keep the former daughters-in-law firmly out of the running. And Major didn't seem like a bad choice for decoy candidate - for who else would possibly be voting for him?