The Sunday Times

December 30th, 2012

Pesky clerics, Europhiles, nurses’ leaders – it’s all change for you

Since I am so bad at keeping my own new year resolutions, I always make them for other people instead — all too often the same, year after year. Here are a few for 2013.

For rash, intruding clerics Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, as Christ said, and stop interfering in politics. The Archbishop of Westminster must have forgotten this teaching when he gave his Christmas Eve sermon this year. Instead of concentrating on the Christmas message of peace and joy, he made a specifically political attack on the government’s gay marriage policy, accusing the prime minister of “shallow thinking” and calling the plans shambolic and undemocratic. Maybe so, but the Church of Rome is hardly known for democracy or political accountability itself.

For judges Remember your proper place, too: avoid behaving like Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge who last week attacked the government for its approach to gay marriage, saying ministers were pursuing the wrong policies and should be concentrating on marriage breakdown. Right or wrong, judges have no business to make their political and moral views known. It is essential to the rule of English law that they do not.

For Lord Patten and other grand panjandrums Give up your absurd numbers of directorships, trusteeships, advisory roles and do-goodery. It is quite impossible to do so many jobs adequately, let alone well: there would hardly even be time to travel regularly between them. Concentrate on two or three.

Lord Patten, for example, is chairman of the BBC Trust; chancellor of Oxford University; non-executive director of Russell Reynolds (headhunting); adviser to Hutchison Europe (telecoms and transport), BP (energy), Bridgepoint (private equity) and EDF (energy); international adviser to the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale awards; co-chairman of the India-UK Round Table; co-chairman of the British Council’s Italy-UK Annual Conference; and trustee of The Tablet, a Catholic journal. Not even a journalist would pretend to be able to cover so much of the waterfront.

But Patten is not alone: there are lots of grand panjandrums like him who somehow imagine they can be responsible for several complex roles at once. They can’t, and there are obvious conflicts of interest. Stop pretending and give most of it up.

For Conservatives When all else fails, try loyalty. Unless you prefer the silliness of the UK Independence party or the financial recklessness of Labour, now is the time to rally around Dave and George. Remember Gordon Brown and beware of where your disloyalty might lead.

For Tories in charge of arts Try a spectacular U-turn and announce a big new “investment” in the arts. Forget cuts. Modern Conservatives should present themselves as passionate patrons of the arts and shower the artistic “community” with more money than Labour has ever offered. Artists and luvvies of all kinds would be thrilled — and, more importantly, they would have to stop sneering at Tory philistinism. The beauty of this scheme is that the arts budget is minuscule — a mere fleabite — compared with total national spending, so romancing and wrongfooting the luvvies at a stroke would be very cheap.

For all commentators, politicians and celebrities Stop using the word legacy. It was bad enough when egomaniacs such as Blair and Brown were unashamedly obsessed with their own legacies: there’s no need for everyone to go on about it. Discretion is the better part of legacy.

For the learning disabilities lobby Don’t overreact to the terrible scandal of Winterbourne View. Of course such abuse must be stopped immediately, but there is no single solution. Some private homes (rather than hospitals) are positive places for people with challenging behaviour and should not be shut in favour of everybody living in the so-called community. Some people with challenging behaviour have problems so serious that they cannot safely live in the community. Knee-jerk responses and politically correct wishful thinking don’t help people in grave need.

For book editors and reviewers Stop reviewing books by your friends and acquaintances. Above all, stop putting your mates’ books in your books-of-the-year lists. It’s a minor form of corruption that makes people cynical about the literary scene.

For the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Royal Horticultural Society and all others responsible for trees and plants Apologise to the nation for your abject failure to protect our trees, our plants and our landscape from imported diseases. Where were you when we needed you? Next year, if it is not already too late, get a grip and ban all importing of trees and plants until further notice. It’s well known that international hypermobility spreads diseases old and new, far and wide, among humans as well as plants. How is it you cannot bring so much as a sausage into Britain from America, but you can import countless bug-ridden plants from almost anywhere? And why did you not tell us clearly whether it was safe to buy Christmas trees imported from Scandinavia or North America? For the leaders of nursing and teaching unions Take a long hard look at yourselves in the mirror and ask this question: given the state of teaching and of nursing, what is the point of you? For Europhiles, especially the reluctant Explain in simple, unforgettable detail why it would be disastrous for this country — if it really would — to leave the European Union. Eurosceptic arguments are simple and seductive. So if, as every government seems to discover, getting out would be a bad thing, the arguments for staying in must be made childishly clear.

Happy new year.