IT is astonishing how quickly the televising of parliament has become self-evidently a Good Thing. It is hard even to remember the arguments against it. The notion that it would inhibit spontaneous behaviour has been proved to be nonsense.
It would have been palpably absurd to be denied such historic moments as Sir Geoffrey Howe's resignation speech and Margaret Thatcher's swan-song during the failed censure vote. Yet there is something profoundly disquieting about our adversarial system. It leads to a Manichaean view of the other side in black and white terms.
Thus Jack Straw, Labour education spokesman, described Mrs Thatcher on the day of her resignaticin as "that evil woman". Likewise, Michael Heseltine said he should be elected to avoid "the ultimate calamity" of a Labour Government. Aldous Huxley said that when people stopped believing in the devil, they turned their political opponents into the embodiment of absolute evil. I begin to think he was right. It was on that basis that Stalin shot his political opponents.
AS the cold war came to an end, the Italian department of Reading University had the bright idea of asking how it all started. Was it inevitable? My job was to discuss whether Pope Pius XII could be properly described as "the chaplain of the Atlantic alliance".
I suggested that Pope Pius would have been very upset to be so described. He thought he had been "neutral" or — as he preferred to say — "impartial" throughout the war. Despite intense pressure from the allenveloping fascist government, he always refused to call the onslaught on Soviet Russia a "crusade".
Of course he was radically anti-communist, and had nightmares about Cossacks watering their horses in the fountains of St Peter's Square. But he opposed communism in the name of Christian civilisation, not in the name of western democracy.
The Americans saw Italy as the front-line of the battle for democracy. But Pius could not be uncritically pro-American because the Americans brought in their luggage Protestantism, freemasonry, Hollywood values (whatever they might be) and a "practical materialism" hardly better than the theoretical materialism of the communists.
So instead of a bi-polar world carved up by the two super powers he tried to interpose the "third force" of "Christian civilisation". It was never on.
BUT there was a brief glimmer of hope in 1947. It was the year of the Marshal! Plan whic-h Financed the reconstruction of Europe. Ernest Bevin, foreign secretary, got Victor Perowne, the newly arrived British minister to the Holy See, to urge the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, to support the Marshall Plan. No problem.
The Vatican paper had already published articles by Count Giuseppe Della Torre (who had been around since 1917) which showed an understanding of Russia's desire for secure frontiers to the west.
He said that to call Russia's policies "pure aggressivity" was as absurd as to imagine that the Anglo-Saxons (code for Americans) were motivated by a desire for imperialist expansion in Europe. This was remarkably even-handed.
Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Paul VI) placed proMarshall Plan articles in L'Osservatore Romano. But he committed a gaffe in revealing that the Russians had imposed a veto on membership for the
The article reported the view of the Romanian ambassador that 90 per cent of Romanians were in favour of acceptance, and it was a similar story in Poland, Hungary and even Czechoslovakia. They were all obliged to repudiate their interests in the name of ideology: the Marshall Plan was outlawed because in the eyes of Soviet propaganda it was "dollar imperialism".
That fateful decision — to dignify it somewhat — divided Europe into two blocs, and brought down the iron curtain. It became the frontier between plenty and shortage.
Montini corrected his gaffe by another article in II Quotidiano, the paper of Catholic Action. It said: "it is clear that economic solidarity on a continental basis would protect the independence of European peoples far better than bilateral agreements concluded by one great power with so many countries, weak and needful though they are."
That was the principle on which the European Community would eventually be based. And still is. The Vatican was much keener on a solidary and selfhelp Europe than on the Atlantic alliance. The French socialist and Catholic Jacques Delors is the direct heir of this position. It is opposed to all Thatcherite individualism.
BUT back to history. Though Pius XII may have allowed his newspapers to behave eirenically, his fear of communism was profound. The first post-war election in Italy was due on April 18 1948. He saw it as a direct clash between Rome and Moscow.
Dr Dermot Keogh, of Cork University, has described how the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, an enthusiastic exJesuit scholastic called Joseph Walshe, saw the Pope on February 26 1948.
He found him "looking very tired indeed, and for the first time I saw him in a mood of deepest pessimism". The Pope was "hunched up, almost physically overcome by the weight of his present burden".
He spoke of "the imminent danger to the church of Italy
and the whole of western Europe". "If they have a majority," asked the Pope, leaving no doubt about who they were, "what can I do to govern the church as Christ wants me to govern it?"
Walshe seized the hint, and offered Pius XII refuge in Dublin. The Pope said he would feel safe in Dublin, but thought his duty was to stay put: "my place is in Rome and, if it be the will of the divine master, I am ready to be martyred for him in Rome".
Montini and the CIA took steps to ensure that the election would be won with 48.5 per cent of the votes, thus making papal martyrdom unnecessary. But there were still fears that the largest communist party in western Europe would try to achieve by insurrection what it had been denied by the ballot box.
FORTY-FIVE years later, the Italian president Francesco Cossiga, who became a young Christian Democrat at precisely this time, on a state visit to London, praised the Italian communists (now called the Democratic Left) for their dedication to democracy.
Okay. But what a turn for the book. Moreover, Cossiga, an honorary fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, has just taken on Sandro Vaciago as his chief speech-writer. Vaciago, for many years head of the Italian Institute in London, was wont to supply his president with books by Gladstone, Newman, Bentham and other Victorian worthies (two complete sets a time, one for his home, the other for the office).
I have one memory of 1940s anti-communism. I once went to heckle at a communist party meeting on Ashton Market, the local Hyde Park Corner. Why, I asked, had Douglas Hyde left the party? "Because he was bribed by the Vatican," said the man on the market stall that served as a podium.
Before I could ask by how much a posse of four toughlooking men surrounded me. I slipped away sadder and wiser, my bit of Catholic Action over.