Ifeel much sympathy with the bishops in the House of Lords in their efforts to exclude child benefit from the overall welfare cuts that are being proposed by the Government.
Churchmen should defend the family, and I don’t care for the popular, and populist, view that people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them. Yes, responsible families do try to provide sensibly for their offspring, and “cut their coat according to their cloth”, but babies sometimes do come along without necessarily being financially planned for, and a pro-family society should care for them.
Even though it’s a good idea to motivate people to get off welfare and into work, the children should be protected from want, and children’s allowance should be ringfenced as a fund that supports the family.
The churches should at all times be associated with the support of mothers and families, and in this sense, the bishops in the Lords are only doing their job.
The theme is nicely illus trated by the charming current Sunday night series on BBC One, Call the Midwife. It follows a group of nurses, and of Anglican nuns, in 1950s East London, as they care for mothers and babies often in difficult circumstances. Although it teeters on the corny, the story never fails to bring a tear of joy to the eye and an emotional lump to the throat because it is about something so utterly fundamental to life: the gratitude and joy of a child coming into the world.
Multiparous mothers – in the first episode, we saw a mother with 24 children – are not mocked for their fertility, and the children of these huge East End families are loved (and sometimes clipped around the ear if naughty) and appreciated. The nuns – Jenny Agutter and Pam Ferris star – are terrific because they really are there for the mothers and the babies.
We all know the welfare state needs reform and change, because of changing circumstances. But I still say the bishops are right to stand up for the family. Richard Branson is on a campaign to “end the war on drugs” and tackle the illicit drug problem with fresh ideas.
Mr Branson recommends that the United Kingdom approaches the drug problem rather as Portugal has done, treating the problem of addiction as an illness and not a crime.
You have to be wary about pointing to another country and saying: “See how they deal with things there.” There are always cultural factors to be studied.
For a long time we were told that the Netherlands had the right solution by allowing cannabis cafes to flourish legally. But the Dutch authorities are now closing down these cafes, which degenerated into squalid dives.
Richard Branson cites the failure of Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s (equally strongly implemented in Finland, by the way). But if he is being historically aware, he should perhaps cite the failure, in the 1960s, of the legal and medical approach in Britain.
Heroin was legally obtainable in Britain until 1967. You could go to Boots in Piccadilly and pick up your medically prescribed daily ration.
But a racket developed, as addicts sold on their allotted script. Liberal doctors were found who would prescribe more liberal amounts, and so ever more individuals were drawn into the circle of addiction.
Let Mr Branson propose changes to the drug laws, but let him be aware that there aren’t any easy solutions, and it is self-deluding to imagine that there are.
We voters (and even we observers in elections where we have no vote) can be an irrational lot. I took little interest in the American primaries because I thought the front-runner, Mitt Romney, was dull, dull, dullissimo!
But now that Mr Newton Gingrich – who has been described as a “serial philanderer”, a “cheatin’ husband” to his previous two wives – and a hypocrite for lambasting Bill Clinton when he was doing some of this marital cheatin’ himself – has triumphed in South Carolina, I’ve perked up.
Newt Gingrich is now married to his third wife, Callista – and they are both Catholic converts. They spent last year making and promoting a documentary about John Paul II.
Callista, aged 45, is a classical pianist and a children’s writer (she has penned a book about a patriotic elephant called Sweet Land of Liberty) whose stiff, platinum-blonde hair is an object of much fascination. Newt says that in a marital relationship “the woman is always the grown-up”, and Callista maintains a firm, adult formality in public.
Newt Gingrich has shown that it’s never too late – either to repent of those cheatin’ ways, or to run for office. He is 68. You have to be interested in what he’ll do next.