18.12.1994

The liberal legacy

The liberal legacy
 
LYNETTE BURROWS
 
SOME important people want Myra Hindley released; the public do not. Indeed, many people have said they would kill her if she came out of jail. In effect, therefore, a fatwa has been pronounced on Hindley. Tut, tut; most embarrassing for the Home Secretary who brought no prosecutions for the one issued on Salman Rushdie. It is distressing to see the English reduced to the level of a mob baying for justice, but this is what the liberal laws of the past few years have brought us to.
 
A sense of justice is an intensely characteristic thing, quite on a par with other stereotypical traits which distinguish one tribe from another, even in Europe. A fascinating article a few weeks ago in The Sun­day Telegraph featured the views of the renowned expert on criminal psychology, Elliott Leyton, who described his surprise at dis­covering that the English murder rate, if purged of Celtic and foreign elements, was not only less than that of any other developed country, but was roughly equivalent to that of the rural backwater of Newfoundland. Such facts are not familiar to the Eng­lish since our news media operate a heavy self-censorship over revealing who pre­cisely is responsible for spe­cific crimes. This no doubt has the intended effect of making us all feel equally guilty about rising crime while keeping us healthily incapable of forming a judg­ment on what to do about it.
 
The reason Leyton advanced for our obvious dis­taste for murder is our long- established habit of using the law to avenge private wrongs, rather than taking action on our own behalf, as was the habit on the Conti­nent until quite recently. In consequence of this, we have a respect for the law which shows in almost every aspect of our lives and is, unfortu­nately, often used against us.
 
However, this habit of allowing the law to act for us, though obviously to some extent temperamental, is also cultural and depends upon the law being prepared to act upon what people feel is justice. One would have thought that respect for the law would be an extremely precious thing which any governing class would treas­ure rather than spurn by pre­ferring the esoteric argu­ments of the few who favour mercy rather than justice.
 
In any case, those who advocate the release of Myra Hindley are seriously un-historic, not to say confused. The religious view — that the New Testament exhorts us to show kindness to those in prison — is scarcely applica­ble here since, in biblical times, prisons did not con­tain the grisly murderers of today. They would all have been summarily executed, together with all those whom we would consider serious criminals; and the petty criminals in prison then would have been far too uninteresting to have attracted the attention of a biblical Lord Longford. Not even the Evangelists thought ordinary people had a duty to accommodate the vilest criminals, and the Catholic Church in its new catechism reiterates the right of the state to use capital punish­ment in certain circumstances.
 
Liberals, on the other hand, have an invented mo­rality which claims that they alone know what is justice. One feels they hold their opinions more as a way of displaying their moral super­iority over the common herd than through real conviction, and that personal experience could alter them.
 
DON'T YOU just hate women's magazines? One was banned this week by W. H. Smith for being too offensive. I'll say they are offensive — but not in the way the retailers had in mind. They offend against the very idea of the educated young woman by serving up her reading material entirely in the soft-porn form so beloved of the likes of Pent­house. The tragic thing is that, whereas Penthouse and Playboy were just two maga­zines among a whole host of others offered to men — and only the half-educated ever read them anyway — the glossy magazines on offer for young women today are all seedy.
 
George Eliot, Jane Austen, Mrs Gaskell and all the noble women who strove to secure the right to vote and to go to university would not believe what their heirs have done with their hard-won free­dom. There is scarcely one magazine that is edited by a woman and written largely by women, that is not either so domestic that Mrs Beeton could have written it while drunk; or so overridingly vacuous and sordid that it is an affront to the very idea of the intelligent woman.
 
All the worst things that have ever been said about women's intelligence are, in them, laid bare. They are the intellectual black holes into which are dematerialised all the ideas of the 20th century. Come back Jonathan Swift, all is forgiven: "A very little wit is valued in a woman, as we are pleased by a few words, spoken plain by a parrot." The man was a prophet.
 
AFTER a very enjoyable time on the hurly-burly of Radio 4's Mor­al Maze on the subject of "outing" homosexuals in high places, I received an impassioned fax. "My Dear­est Lynette," it said, "I can­not apologise enough; my mouth ran away with me. 'Ranting, painted lady.' Oh woe is me. Please do not sue, I cannot help being gay. It is just the way I'm maid. I'm not rich and besides, I need the money for treatment. Think of me as a poor, down­trodden member of the privi­leged middle-class effete. Merry Christmas. Starkey."
 
I was extremely touched by this obviously sincere apology and prepared to reply in a suitably forgiving vein, admitting that I had not noticed the words referred to.
 
Fortunately, while I was looking for the address of the LSE, someone pointed out that "maid" was a misspell­ing. I wonder if it was a fake. How does one know?