4 JANUARY 1992, Page 6


The Feast of the Circumcision (1 Jan- uary), which we have all just celebrated, seemed a good moment to reconsider the relations between Jews and Christians. There has been much in recent weeks to make us think about the subject: the deci- sion of the Archbishop of Canterbury to withdraw his patronage from the Society for the Conversion of the Jews; the angry responses provoked by the advertising cam- paign of the Jews for Jesus Organisation; the Monckton/Lawson nuptials, to name but three occasions when Christians have been confronted with the Jewish Question. This question is not, as anti-Semites have supposed, 'What are we going to do to limit the power of the Jews?' The question is, 'Who's right?' Christians claim that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and the Founder of the Catholic Church. Jews believe that Jesus was a Galilean holy man who repre- sented much that was sublime in his ances- tral prophetic tradition, and who died tragi- cally in about the year 30 of the Common Era. Having been brought up as a Chris- tian, I had always supposed that Jesus, even if he did not actually claim to be God, at least meant to establish a mission to Gen- tiles, or in some sense to 'found a church'. It is this premise on which the whole of Christianity is based. Having studied the matter for years, however, I am reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that there is no evidence for this belief whatsoever. Any dispassionate consideration of the matter must suggest that Jesus was born a Jew, brought up a Jew, and had no intention of being anything but a Jew. His interest in Gentiles was minimal, and when he did speak of them it was usually in abusive terms — describing them as dogs or pigs. Far from proclaiming a Decade of Evange- lism to convert the Jews and infidels, I wish the Christians would admit that they had got this matter wrong, and that, had he ever lived to hear of such a thing, Jesus would have been horrified by 'Christianity'.

Itook part in Any Questions just before Christmas. As I arrived at the hotel in Orp- ington where my fellow-panellists had fore- gathered, I was flattered that the hall porter said, 'I know you. I've seen you on telly.' It was a little less gratifying when he added, 'You're Michael Aspel, aren't you?' I have not appeared on the television very often, and I do not actually think that he 'recognised' me at all. But I knew what he meant. After a year of writing a column of television criticism for the Sunday Tele- graph, I find that the faces of the 'personali- ties' blend into one. In an analogous man- ner, at the end of Orwell's Animal Farm, it was impossible to tell the difference between the human beings and the pigs.

The Terries, Wogan and Waite, Noel Edmonds, Sooty, the Queen — they are just faces, flickering away in the corner of the room, and after a while it does not make much difference which is which.

Speaking of the Queen, I wonder how many people placed bets at Ladbroke's that she would abdicate during her Christmas broadcast? The odds were 500 to 1. After the signing of the Maastricht agreement, of course, it makes little difference whether she abdicates or not, since the Prime Minis- ter, by signing the treaty, deprived her of her ultimate authority as the supreme legis- lator in this country. Beside this potentially momentous change in the British constitu- tion, the questions of whether we were in a fast lane or a slow lane, and whether or not we were playing on a level pitch, were of minimal significance, which is presumably why the politicians all enjoyed talking about them so heatedly and so long. I can- not remember any political issue in my life- time which has been discussed almost sole- ly in metaphors. There was Sir Geoffrey Howe's train, which we were all supposed to be so disappointed not to have caught, and Mrs Thatcher's cricket match, followed by the images of autobahn and playing field. I think the reason that both sides in the argument resort to these tedious clichés is that very few have read the small print of any of the European treaties and those who have done so haven't the slightest idea what they mean. It is only when you come to live with the consequences of a Euro-treaty fertile agricultural land 'set-aside', food mountains which are destroyed rather than being sent to the starving millions, English sheep burned alive by French farmers, English fishing vessels driven out of their familiar waters by Spaniards — that you begin to understand what our politicians are up to. I do not mind in the least that John Major has in effect abolished the monarchy — and indeed, if he had the grace to tell us that this was what he was doing, or if I thought he even realised that this was what he had done, I might feel tempted to vote for him. But my sympathy

for him evaporated when he told us last year that Neville Chamberlain was one of his political heroes. Thereafter, I have been suspicious when he clambered out of aero- planes with a smile on his face, waving pieces of paper on which he had collected the German Chancellor's autograph.

Like Dean Inge, I can say, 'I was once a pillar of the Church of England, and now I am a column on the Evening Standard.' I have enjoyed the happiest year of my pro- fessional life working for the Evening Stan- dard, which is why I have not written for The Spectator as often as I once did. Over Christmas, I have been enjoying reading Arnold Bennett's columns for the Standard, which he described as 'the only evening paper that appeals even a little to educated people'. A judgment one would readily endorse today, since in London at least it is the only evening paper 'period'. I have always enjoyed Bennett's novels, but I had not realised what a perceptive and wide- ranging critic he was, not at all the relent- less middle-brow you would have expected. Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Wynd- ham Lewis and Yeats all get his thumbs up. And he was the first English critic to spot the genius of William Faulkner. 'He evi- dently has great and original talent . . . He seems to take malicious pleasure in mystify- ing the reader . . . Infuriated as I am by the book (The Sound and the Fury, 1929), I would not have missed it.' I am also inter- ested by Bennett's judgment that almost no English novels are worth re-reading. We re- read the English poets, but for novels which are worth repeated perusal we go to France or Russia. I certainly have found this is true in my own case, though unlike Bennett (and Mr Enoch Powell, so surprisingly) I don't read Zola for pleasure.

While on the subject of distinguished novelists, I was driven across the Thames the other day in a mini-cab. My driver pointed out to me the windows of Jeffrey Archer's river-side apartment. He told me that a friend of his, an electrician, had been working in Mr Archer's flat for the last year and that in the last 12 months he had spent £250,000 on electrical fittings. Very nice work for the friend, as my driver conceded: but what sort of electrical work could possi- bly cost a quarter of a million pounds? I was told that Mr Archer had very elaborate dimmer switches and intercom systems, and the best hi-fi equipment you ever heard. So I should hope, for that sum. Much of the money, my driver seemed to think, was taken up in 'labour costs'. It is comforting, in these gloomy recessionary days, to think of people who have money to burn.