18 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 7


CHARLES MOORE Acouple of weeks ago the Londoner's Diary of the Evening Standard carried a lead story about our contributor Charles Glass. It said that he had separated from his wife. The story was not apparently malicious: indeed, it was written in the oily style of sensitive sympathy which gossip columnists quickly learn to affect. It was also true, although Mr Glass sees his wife and children every day and the separation may not be permanent. But the story still seems to me unjustified. The Standard's editor defends it, on the grounds that the story of what happens to a man after being kidnapped (the fate which Mr Glass suf- fered) is of public interest. So it may be, but there is still the question of privacy. Public facts should be reported: a divorce, like a marriage, is a settled, public fact. An informal separation is not a public fact, but tentative and private. It would have been perfectly reasonable for the Standard to have telephoned the Glasses and asked if they could use the story, but being private, its publication should only have been at the Glasses' discretion. No doubt there should not be absolute rules about this sort of thing, but I hate the way newspapers dismiss objections so airily. They are as arrogant about invading privacy as govern- ments are about defending secrecy. They know perfectly well that the motive for Printing — and reading — most of these stories is salacious. In the case of the Standard, the Diary has recently been taken over by Mr Peter McKay who also contributes the who-is-or-is-not-sleeping- with-whom stories to Private Eye (does the editor of the Standard approve that double role?) and is turning the column into the same sort of thing. His best friends would not accuse him of caring about the public interest. Readers might like to know how inquiries for such stories are conducted. In this case, I was telephoned and told that I might as well talk to the Standard (which I refused to do) because the Observer had the story anyway. I later discovered it did not. I was promised that the story would not appear. It did.

The first definition of a civilisation, the historiographer Christopher Dawson wrote somewhere, is a people that cares for its dead. On this reckoning, Westminster Council is uncivilised. It sold three cemeteries in 1987 for 15 pence. The Cemeteries' occupants are in the hands of Wisland Investment — Panamanian- registered, Swiss-based and sitting on assets now worth more than £5 million. Now Mr Rodney Brooke, the chief execu- tive of the council who opposed the sale, has been sacked — No! not sacked, rather (I quote from the council's press release), `due to an internal management reorga- nisation, following the appointment of a Managing Director two years ago and a subsequent reallocation of duties in Octo- ber 1987, it is now proposed that Mr Brooke step down....' Curiously enough, Lady Porter's council might have got into less trouble if it had been more strictly commercial. It would not necessarily have been wrong to sell the cemeteries if guarantees of upkeep could have been included in the sale, but to sell them for 15p showed a guilty conscience: we can't be seen to do well out of this, it seems to say, but please take these wretched corpses off our hands and make what money you can out of them. As a result of the fiasco, I suspect that 'due to an internal manage- ment reorganisation' Lady Porter may have to 'step down'. She should have learnt from Mr Michael Foot's performance at the Cenotaph that the dead control more votes than any other group.

As a secret admirer of Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, I was stunned by the extracts from his Brussels Diary which appeared in last Sunday's Observer. Their tediousness and self-importance were stupefying. Lord Jenkins's favourite trick when describing his meetings with the great is to import references to other such meetings. Thus his talk with the Pope is 'much more intimate ... than ... with either of the two previous Popes whom I have met'. King Baudouin of Belgium has a manner 'quite unlike that of any member of the British Royal Fami- ly'. Prince Charles is `... the most intelli- gent male member of his family since Prince Albert' (no doubt Lord Jenkins met him too). The Queen suffers from 'the protocol which makes it a much more formal occasion than in any other royal house in Europe'. Lord Jenkins is gener- ous, however, in his praise of the Queen: 'Her French is better than mine.'

As part of the Episcopalian Church of the United States breaks itself off from the universal Church by making a woman bishop, a more decorous dispute is being conducted within the Church of England. Some time ago the General Synod passed a motion that divorced and remarried people should be allowed to become clergymen, this despite the fact that the Church's law that marriage is lifelong has not been changed. The proposal came before the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. To the shock of the Synod's bigwigs, the committee did not like it. The two Archbishops and other dignitaries pleaded with the committee on Monday but found it adamant. They huft and puft that the objections are unprecedented and ultra vires, but they are not. The committee's job is to decide whether synodical legisla- tion is 'expedient'. How can it be expedient when it cuts across existing Church rules and when the Synod was misled into thinking that the change affected only a couple of aspirant clergy (it is now admit- ted that it applies to about 200 hopefuls)? The Synod should go away and come back with a proper nullity procedure. It is an enjoyable paradox that Parliament is now a better defender of the Church's orthodoxy than are its bishops and bureaucrats.

Even though Mr Heath opposed it, the Government was still wrong to guillotine the Official Secrets Bill this week. Nobody argued that there had been a filibuster. Most of the Conservative MPs who spoke opposed portions of the Bill and made constructive suggestions for amendment which needed to be debated properly. A Bill which in many aspects conceded what critics of secrecy had been demanding lost all goodwill because of a couple of clauses and the abrupt manner of its termination.

Might there not be a simple explana- tion for the latest biographer's desire to say that Kipling was a homosexual? Kipling looked like our current idea of one. He had gold-rimmed spectacles, close-cropped hair and a large moustache. I suspect that Mr Martin Seymour-Smith's subconscious prompted him to think, 'Kipling must have been one of them, mustn't he?'

Mr Ludovic Kennedy, affecting senil- ity (Diary, 28 January), claimed not to understand our cartoons. Well, we like to keep our older readers on their toes. One of the best things about cartoons is that they neatly capture and laugh at the spirit of the age. To get the joke you have to have some idea of what the spirit of the age is. Most readers, I hope, will be as pleased as I am that Michael Heath is now our cartoon editor and that we shall publish far more cartoons than in the past.