Tuesday, 22 April 2014

do we do God?

David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, had a reception for Christian leaders in the UK just before Easter. His speech there was reported in the Church Times, as you might expect, but quite widely elsewhere too. He said he appreciated Christian values, which he characterised as hard work, humility, giving and social action. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Perhaps slightly more crowd-pleasingly, he said "Jesus invented the Big Society". Alarm bells sound. Jesus did no such thing. The notion of the Big Society (not a new one of course) may to some extent have been informed by what are described as Christian values. I would suggest that subscribing to such notions is in culturally various ways part of all faiths, and that those of no faith also very often live by a similar moral code - which David Cameron did say. He also, and this is a little more worrying politically, described himself as a "member of the Church of England". Well, fine. So am I. Although it's not a body you really "join", other than to be baptised and confirmed. I am never sure how much you are a "member" if you have been baptised and confirmed but never go into a church.

Where I would question Cameron's wisdom in this speech is in his including mention of his own faith. That is a matter between him and God, as it is for us all. It is not, and never should be, part of any political strategy, still less a plank of an election platform. Cameron came dangerously close to making it so in that speech. Alastair Campbell famously said "We don't do God". Tony Blair of course does very much do God, though even he does it quite politically - he waited until he was out of office to go over to Rome. But maybe that is because there is an established church in England, something I personally would like to see abolished - any political leader has to work with that, and so there is an MP who is the member for God in the Commons, and there are bishops in the House of Lords. Anyway, David Cameron talked about Christian values and praised his local vicar, as well as indicating that the Church had helped him when his son died some years ago. Nothing wrong with that. David Cameron has a reception for Eid and for Diwali, and nobody thinks there is anything wrong with his doing so. At those receptions he does not describe the UK as a Muslim country or a Hindu country, even though there are millions of adherents to both those faiths in the UK.

Now a "group of 50" cultural luminaries have written a letter to the Daily Telegraph in which they bemoan, as they put it, Cameron's designation of the UK as a "Christian country", which they call divisive and wrong. They say he should not appropriate Christianity as representative or descriptive of the UK. You may agree with them. (I always wonder how these open letters get produced so quickly. Do the luminaries all text each other and get together in an Islington wine bar the same night to thrash out a text? I fancy not. Perhaps one of them would like to get in touch and tell me how they do it). But David Cameron did not call the UK a Christian country. What he did was allude to the extent to which Christianity has been woven into the fabric of British life, and to refer to the unique liturgy of the Church of England, the beauty of its churches, and so on. So, luminary brothers and sisters, what you did was set up a straw man "We are a Christian country!" and knock it down "Oh no we're not!" A venerable political tactic, but not a very respectable one, and thus not much respected by the voting public.

It has been reported that Cameron's "Christian" focus is intended to win back the mostly older demographic which has moved from the Tories to UKIP. I do not imagine that that demographic is especially devout. Listen to Nigel Farage's utterances,and look at his personal style, and you would take his constituency to be an utterly materialist ("He's after your job!") and a frivolous ("Mine's a pint!") one.

In short, I think all this "controversy" is just rubbish. Manufactured. Dreamed up. And the public Do Not Care. So, "group of 50", you have wasted your time. No one cares what you think about what Cameron thinks about the Church of England.

Oh, by the way. I am an Anglican. I attend the Anglican church in Strasbourg, France. At one time I didn't like some of the things that were being said and done there. This happens in all organisations. Not all members are pleased with everything they do all the time. So I thought, could I go somewhere else. Not being a Roman Catholic, I could have gone to one of the French Protestant churches, which in this part of France are quite numerous. But I am not a Protestant. "The Church of England by law established" is a reformed Catholic church. So there. Not a lot of people know that.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sarah Wollaston, Nigel Evans,and "blog bullies"

Nigel Evans MP was accused of rape and sexual assault. There was a trial, and he was acquitted of all charges. End of story, you'd think? He walks free, with his name cleared? Not so fast.When the allegations first emerged he resigned the Tory whip. At the time of writing it has not been restored to him. Why not?
One of the key witnesses for the prosecution was one Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, a person I do not know, unlike Nigel Evans, whom I count as a friend. Sarah decided not only to support the allegations made against Nigel, without evidence (and yes I know evidence is difficult in cases of rape and sexual assault) but to be a witness for the prosecution and to call him a drunk and a debaucher of young men. I think this is a disgrace, to her personally, to the office of MP, and to the polity of England. Fortunately the judge and jury rejected this poison. Now Sarah has been given a big piece in The Times (£), with a nice blonde smiley photo of her above it, in which she complains about "male blogger bullies" who were HOWWID to her about her hate-filled outpourings. Well, diddums, Sairs. In fact the remarks made were rather mild, though of course "blogger bullies" do exist. I should know. Well, I'm not male, and I used to be an MP, but some years ago when the online climate was rather different from now, and I'm having my say. You want some, Sarah, you can have some. 
A prominent Tory backbencher has hit out at “aggressive male bloggers” who, she claims, target female MPs.
Sarah Wollaston said that certain parts of the political blogosphere were “quite aggressive in their approach towards women”, particularly when discussing sexual violence or gender. “If you stick your head above the parapet you can expect some quarters of the aggressive blogging community to go for you,” she said. Yes, Sarah. It's called having your say, and other people having theirs too. Freedom of speech, dontcha know.
Dr Wollaston, the Totnes MP, faced a barrage of criticism last week after Nigel Evans, the deputy speaker, was cleared of a string of sex charges. One of the alleged victims was in a Westminster bar with the former GP Like a drink do you Sarah? If not, what were you doing in the bar? when an “off-the-cuff” remark about an alleged assault triggered a sequence of events that led to the court case. Dr Wollaston was contacted by a second man — a friend of the first — who alleged that he had been raped. Ah I see, you were drinking with the alleged victims and winding them up to make police complaints.
The MP listened to their complaints and took them to John Bercow, the Speaker, who said that he could not help. She then passed on police contact details to the alleged victims, who contacted the officers, prompting the arrest last year of Mr Evans...
In an interview with The Times, Dr Wollaston was keen to stress that she was in no way challenging the verdict in the case, adding that she empathised with Mr Evans and his ordeal. Oh yeah?
She confessed, however, that the fallout from the case had been “very difficult”, particularly in the online sphere. Did you CWY, Sarah? Did you THCWEAM and THCWEAM till you were THICK? Nigel's life and career have been ruined. Nothing will ever be the same again for him, personally or politically. And he is innocent. How do you sleep, Sarah?
She singled out The Daily Telegraph writer Dan Hodges, the libertarian blog Guido Fawkes, and the Tory publisher and writer Iain Dale, saying that she had been reading their “really quite aggressive attacks” about her handling of the allegations...
Wollaston said that it was striking that much of the criticism of her had come from male bloggers. “I haven’t had any women writing critical articles and I do think that’s very interesting,” she said. You have now, Ms Wollaston. “I think there are some very aggressive male bloggers out there and they target women MPs.”...
Well, I hope you're happy now, Sarah Wollaston. I hope your constituents are happy with your spending your time and your MP's salary trashing a colleague's life and career. Wetting your knickers now because not everyone likes your pretty blonde hair and sweetie campaigns against booze and fags? It could get worse. And if you think that's a threat, it is. Oh, not from me, you understand. From the nasty horrid "male bloggers" who have been so BEASTLY to the lovely Sarah. But still, Ms Wollaston, next time you are in Strasbourg, do come and say hello. Perhaps we can have a refreshing glass of mineral water together.

Sue me.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

John Campbell, 'Roy Jenkins, A Well-Rounded Life'

this has been, kind of, the political biography of the moment. Everyone's attention was drawn to it by the reviews noting that Tony Crosland was a gayer in his young days (maybe people knew that, but it was before my time), and for a while turned Woy that way too. But there's a lot more to the book than that. Campbell sets out his stall at the beginning by saying that he was and remains an admirer of Jenkins. Fair enough. And that he got access to letters and papers and so on, and cooperation from Roy's widow, Dame Jennifer Jenkins. (I like that even after Roy went to the Lords she preferred to use the title she had won in her own right). You therefore get some tired LibDemmery early on, "ill-advised attempts to play the world's policeman" and so on. He never goes as far as Blair-hating, because of Jenkins' documented admiration for Blair and the considerable work they did together, on electoral reform, but also, and perhaps more significantly, the mentoring work Roy did with Tony before 1997.

Denis Healey is quoted, splendidly: "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your Liberals, and possibly your Social Democrats!" This was over Finland in World War II. Healey was a communist at the time. Campbell wonders if Healey remembered those words in 1981.

Jenkins did his officer training at Alton Towers! Not then the place it is now, but a genteel establishment of tea rooms and pleasure gardens. There's a lot of good social history nuggets like this.

Campbell is well edited, only a few infelicities spotted, though he does misuse metaphors rather irritatingly: "the socialist millennium ... had run into the sand." Grrr.

Both Roy Jenkins and Harold Wilson were committed to a European single currency, with the UK being part of it, in the 1970s, and had discussions to this effect with their French counterparts once de Gaulle had packed up his veto and taken it back to Colombey-Les-Deux-Eglises. Did you know that? I didn't. Pity it didn't come to anything.

By the time Jenkins wrote his memoirs, in 1990-1, he had (rightly) taken the view that political parties "cannot resist returning obsessively to the issues that most divide them". This seems both percipient and prescient.

I did not like Roy Jenkins. He was easy to mock, at least from the late 1970s on, with his drawling artificial accent and his speech impediment and his fondness for claret. I did not like what I saw then, and still do, as the "Gang of Four"'s betrayal of the Labour cause, enabling the Thatcher years and everything that meant. It was not attributable to the Gang of Four that the Labour Party failed to implode, moved towards the centre, and gave us the Blair years. But Roy Jenkins was an interesting politician. Socially liberal, when not all government ministers were, even in the late 1960s - his numerous affairs, tolerated by his wife, were another matter, and perhaps typical of the times - an intellectual who was not as clever as he thought he was, pompous and affected, but he held the great offices of state, and made a difference. He failed to take out Harold Wilson and become Prime Minister, which he thought ever afterwards was the greatest political mistake of his life. I disagree. It does not seem (and Campbell's book is very interesting on this) that it would have been possible for Jenkins to do it. The numbers simply were not there. Well, we'll never know. But I am a Wilson woman, and remain so. If anything, this book reinforced me in that.

The votes on Europe, the "Common Market," as it was known at the time. (I voted yes in the referendum). Jenkins said, "People didn't want to say, when asked in the future, what did you do in one of the great divisions of history, 'I abstained'." No, of course they didn't, and don't. But this is rhetoric. Any MP who has abstained on one of the crucial votes in parliamentary history (Iraq 2003, anyone? So-called rebel Martin Salter, anyone?) is going to want to cover up the fact. And everyone else is going to throw it back at them. It is routine to note that MP X voted against reducing the age of consent, that MP Y was a rebel on Europe, and so on.

Campbell reminds us that when Dick Taverne, a sometime associate of Jenkins', was deselected in Lincoln (for voting against the whip, not with it as it would be today), and stood as an "independent" candidate calling himself "Democratic Labour", he soundly defeated the official Labour candidate, Margaret Jackson, who later became Margaret Beckett. She hasn't reminded the world of that fact in more recent years.

Interesting times. An interesting man and an interesting politician. A miner's son from South Wales who went to Oxford and reinvented himself as a claret-swilling posh bloke. Er, not quite. His father had been a miner, sure, but quite early on became a full-time union official and councillor, and became an MP (Arthur Jenkins) and even a government minister.

This isn't a great book, but it's a fascinating one, and it's one of the best things I have read on the history of the left (well, the mainstream left, anyway) in Britain in the 20th century.

I have decided I would like Roy Jenkins' death. He lived into his eighties, although he had developed health problems linked with fine eating and fine drinking. His wife came into the bedroom one morning and asked what he would like for breakfast. He said he would have two lightly poached eggs. She went away to the cook them, and when she came back with them he was dead.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mother's Day?

Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday, and in church I shall probably be given a flower, perhaps a daffodil, as will all the women there, by one of the children. I find this charming, but also noteworthy that the women who are not mothers (there must be some) receive flowers, without discrimination. This is presumably intended to protect non-mothers from feeling discriminated against, which in some ways they are. In others of course they have many advantages, not least financial - nobody ever got rich having children, and today perhaps more than ever it is mothers who put their careers on hold, often for ever, rendering themselves dependent on a man for their lifestyle. Childless women I know and have kmown seem to live quite enviable lives, and certainly have freedom of choice that those with children do not.

In some ways I live the life of a childless woman now. I had my two children young, so that in my twenties, when my friends were travelling and doing as they chose (or so it seemed to me at the time), I was going to work by day and washing nappies by night (or so it seemed to me at the time). But having them young (of which I am now deeply glad) means that now, as I approach my 60th birthday, my children are in their thirties, long since financially independent of me, and I have two grandchildren who are the light of my life. I am still working, and likely not to retire for the best part of another ten years, when my grandchildren will be in their teens or approaching them. So I am never likely to be Matriarch Granny. I am in the fifteenth year of marriage to my partner, who is not the father of my children, and who has no children of his own. So we have been able to spend such money as we have as we choose. One of the things we have chosen is to live in a modest two-bedroomed flat - why pay for a house that is just rooms to clean? The childless life is good. But that's not how I saw things in my twenties.

Some childless women feel that they are unfairly asked to account for their choice not to have children. Maybe so. If that is so, then things have changed. I had an aunt who had no children - I thought she was great - and I don't think it was by choice, but it would have been impertinent to ask her that question.

Something that has changed is the involvement of parents in the lives of their children. I walked to school and back on my own at five. I walked my children to school and back, or someone did, until they were nine or ten, giving them the top end of primary school to develop the independence they would need for the solo journey to and from secondary school. That was the idea anyway. I never shared any school issues I may have had with my parents. They wouldn't have been interested. If I had a bad report they blamed me, not the school. My children didn't share much of that with me either, but I involved myself quite a bit - and I was ready to blame the school, some of the time, if things were not going well. Now, with my grandchildren, we'll see.

Because I had children younger than my contemporaries did, I have friends my age who have teenagers. I am regularly amazed at how much their children involve them in their lives, daughters especially. It seems routine for a daughter to text or call her mother to seek advice on any decision, from a a haircut to a job interview. My daughter grew up before mobile phones, but I don't think she would have done it anyway. Both my children talk to me regularly, and tell me about what is happenng in their lives - but they inform me after the event, once a decision has been made. Will today's teenagers still text their mothers when they are in their thirties and not sure what to have for dinner?  I don't say this to be judgmental, just to note a social change.

The lack of involvement of adults in their children's lives I grew up with has its downside. A male teacher at my school was what we called "a bit funny" about the girls. He liked us when we were twelve and thirteen, which in those days was before we started to look like young women. We joked that he could tell when we'd started our periods, because then he stopped leaning over us in class and breathing funny. (Girls often started later back then than they do now). We would not have dreamed of reporting him, although some of the behaviour was really quite inappropriate - we'd have been sure we wouldn't be believed. But that man (he's dead now, allegedly by suicide) was not a fit and proper person to be around young girls. And when I think back, one of the girls he made a particular favourite of, which went on long past the age at which he usually stopped, later developed anorexia and other mental health problems and was given electric shock treatment (they wouldn't do it now, but this was in 1971, not that long ago). I met her a few years later, and she was a dull creature who dragged her feet and spoke too slowly, all the spark and liveliness gone. If I had got wind of anything remotely like that at my children's school, higher authorities would have been called in pdq. But it's quite likely that there was at least one teacher there who was "a bit funny" - but they were probably more circumspect about their behaviour, because people were watching.

And now?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

North Korea - Lankov and Sweeney

North Korea has for many years been something of a hobby of mine. My uncle was in Korea during his national service in the Navy, but would never talk about it. when I was a child I was curious. Much later, when I was at the BBC Monitoring Service as a foreign affairs editor on what was at first a print publication called the Summary of World Broadcasts, later on line and these days much changed of course (I started that job in 1984) I was given responsibility, kind of, for North Korea. Understanding what its news media were saying, keeping an eye on what they were putting out, that sort of thing. I began to study Korean in the late 1980s and went to South Korea for a while too, but that is another story. North Korea was a hoot, at times. The language used by KCNA, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's English-language voice, was especially colourful. They would refer to the South Korean media as "venal trumpeters" and "corrupt penny-a-liners". The South generally were "splittist flunkeys". You get the kind of thing. Now, after the Cold War, North Korea seems even stranger. Huge triumphal arches, miraculous happenings to do with the Kim dynasty, and so on.

So, I was interested a few months ago to read a book written in English by a Russian, Andrei Lankov, who lived and worked in North Korea for years, called "The Real North Korea". Leaving aside the inevitable infelicities in English, especially in the use of articles (he is a Russian after all - Andrei, let me edit your next one: I understand the grammar and structure of Russian and Korean and I'm a native English professional editor, you won't find another one like me) it was utterly fascinating. North Korea, he tells us, when formed in 1945, had to be communist of course, but there were no communists in it then. So they had to find some, and bring them from the USSR and other places where the likes of Kim Il Sung were hanging out. He it was who called the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in a private conversation with Brezhnev in 1966, "idiocy". No flies on Kim the Elder, I've always thought. North Korea remains the only country ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as not a lot of people know. It is worth reading this book for the vignettes of life in that secret state, for the pictures never seen elsewhere, some of them taken by the author, of the lives of ordinary North Koreans - and for a different perspective. It is especially worth reading for his analysis of what has kept the Kim dynasty in power for all these decades against the odds, why the regime, entirely rationally, will not change, and, also entirely rationally, why it must. He has added to the sum of historical knowledge.

A different perspective again is to be found in the book by the journalist John Sweeney, "North Korea Undercover" which chronicles a visit he and others made as tourists. He says "understanding North Korea is like figuring out a detective story where you stumble across a corpse in the library, a smoking gun beside it, and the corpse gets up and says that's no gun and it isn't smoking and this isn't a library." The book's working hypothesis is, Sweeney says, "that Kim Jong Un's talk of nuclear war is a confidencc trick and that the Pyongyang bluff is blinding us to a human rights tragedy on an immense scale." That seems about right, and it is time more of the international community took an interest. Though I can quite see why the international movers tend to discover a prior appointment and scurry away when the subject comes up.

Sweeney is not immune to the desire to take the piss that often comes over those who encounter North Korean propaganda - I certainly succumbed to it regularly in the 1980s - he calls Kim Il Sung, rather splendidly, "God the Mother", Kim Jong Il "Bad Elvis", and the current incumbent, Kim Jong Un, "Fat Boy Kim". He too though, like Lankov, glimpses what he calls "the survivalist logic lurking in the dark". No one knows for sure what the elder two Kims were like. Sweeney cites "someone" as saying that the best book about North Korea was written in 1592, and is called "Richard III". I lay my cards upon the table as a passionate Ricardian, and move on. Although I note, and recommend, the film version of that play which stars Sir Ian McKellen, is set in a totalitarian regime of some kind, and has the Lady Anne a junkie.

What is particularly to be recommended about Sweeney's book is the fact that he includes interviews with many North Korean defectors to the South, and this book brings their stories together in one place in readable English, which I do not think anyone else has done.

Read both these books - you will understand totalitarianism a little better. It has not gone away from this world, despite the grounds for optimism I believe there are - death-squad regimes have largely gone from South America and the Iron Curtain is down, but let's not all relax quite yet - and the fact that such a regime can still exist when we all thought it could not is all the more reason for finding out more about it.

As an aside, the official ideology of North Korea, called Juche or Chuche, depending on which transliteration system you prefer, is known in North Korean propaganda as "the Chuche idea". There is no exact translation of that Korean word into English, but it has almost the exact same meaning as a name in the Irish language - Sinn Fein. Not that...

I once had a grey tomcat I called Chuche. He had to go to another owner after a while, who changed his name to Freddie. Pity really.

Friday, 14 March 2014

the will of the people, then and now

what is the name of that rule about the length of time it takes in any online debate before you get called a Nazi? No doubt someone will remind me. I don't really care though - either what the rule is called or whether anyone calls me a Nazi.

The notion of democracy often comes into those debates too. Hitler, it is said, was democratically elected. Er, so that's all right then? The Holocaust and all? Hamas, it is said of more recent times, was democratically elected too. Oh, OK. So the terror attacks - oh, please yourselves.

Let's shed a little light. It is interesting to discover, as I have this week, that the 1930s President of Germany, Hindenberg, who died in 1934, left a will, later destroyed, whose contents were known to at least one person other than the Nazis, and whose contents, as reported, have now come to light. From The Times (£) today, this: (editorial errors - were the subs having an off day, or don't they have subs any more? all theirs)

Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934. A few hours later, the Reich Government announced that the offices of president and chancellor would now been combined under Hitler, as the supreme Führer. A plebiscite was called, to allow the German people to express its collective opinion of Hitler’s unprecedented new role as both head of the government and head of state.
Hitler got wind of the existence of the will, and gave orders to “ensure that this document comes into my possession as soon as possible”. Colonel Oskar von Hindenburg, son of the late President but a loyal Nazi, duly handed his father’s will over. It has never been found.
Four days before the plebiscite, however, the Nazis announced the discovery of Hindenburg’s “political testament”, which gave an account of his political career and included complimentary references to Hitler; it may have been a forgery.
Hindenburg’s apparent endorsement of Hitler from beyond the grave came at a crucial moment. On August 19, 1934, a fortnight after Hindenburg’s death, some 38 million German voters approved Hitler’s usurpation of power, with fewer than five million voting against it. The following day, the Nazis brought in the mandatory oath of loyalty for every member of the German army. Hitler was now all-powerful.
Why then, Hitler's assumption of absolute power was done by the will of the people, through democracy, I hear you cry. (Hamas did it by throwing the opposition out of windows, but that is another story). Er, no. Democracy and a plebiscite are not the same thing. That is why in a more banal but also important context, a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union would be wrong. I am against referendums in principle (though if one is called I vote) because governments are there to govern. Candidates get elected, or should, on the basis of their policies and what their parties stand for, or are perceived to. And some at least of that depends on how engaged the electorate are with the democratic process - how interested they are in what their elected representatives do on their behalf.
I don't know who elects the President of Germany, in the 1930s or now, but whoever does or did what did they think about Hindenberg's naming of Hitler Chancellor of Germany, apparently against his better judgment, when old and ill and perhaps under pressure? These things can happen in democracies.
A plebiscite, a referendum, is a platform for ranting demagogues. I'm against them.
Postscript: does anayone remember Al Stewart's history songs from the 1970s? Not being a historian, I learned a lot from them. There was one called "The Last Day of June 1934", which conotained the lines "On the night that Ernst Roehm died the voices rang out... grown strong like the joining of wills".
Yes. Think on. Democracy or demagoguery? Good faith or bad?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

assisted suicide - some thoughts

the notion of assisted suicide has been in the news lately, and Tim Montomerie, currently of The Times (£) though not for much longer - what role will he play in next year's UK election, readers? - has written a column about it. He is against it. He thinks giving the State the power to kill people will drive "fleets of hearses" though medical ethics. I don't think the issue is so simple. To be fair to Montgomerie, he probably doesn't either, but that is what he writes. He writes also, alarmingly, of people in the Netherlands with early dementia being visited by "mobile euthanasia units". This has the whiff of an urban myth. Certainly on a quick Google around I couldn't identify anything credible that stood it up.

I ive in France, where, it appears, the health care, including palliative care, is the best in the world. In 2009 I accompanied (as the French say - a good word to use, I always think) a friend with terminal cancer in the last months of his life. He died alone, as everyone does, but in the hours before he went there were friends around him, and although he could not communicate with us he clearly had no pain. Measures had been put in place to ensure that he did not. Hospital staff assured us that in the developed world it was completely unnecessary for anyone to die in pain. I hope that is true. But it's not the whole story.

I saw a (French) film a year or two ago which affected me greatly. It was called "Quelques Heures de Printemps" ("A Few Hours of Spring") and it concerned a 70-something widow, luminously played by Helene Vincent, with a degenerative brain disease, unnamed, who had a troubled relationship with her 48-year-old  son, who had moved back to live with her after spending time in prison. It's not a spoiler, should you be minded to seek out the film, to note that a clinic in Switzerland is involved. Well, the woman in the film was compos mentis, though would not necessarily always be, and there was only one family member to consult, which might not always be the case. After watching it I drew the conclusion that in certain circumstances a clinic in Switzerland might be the answer for me, but that I would want to be the one making the decision, and to be capable of doing so. Life is not always so neat.

Attitudes change over the generations. My maternal grandfather died of lung cancer in the 1960s at age 71, and was never told his illness was terminal. He probably worked it out for himself, but was given no real opportunity to prepare for his end. My paternal grandmother, by contrast, died in 2002 of nothing in particular at the age of 96, having spent about three years in a care home before that. My mother often said of her in the last few years of her life "She's lived too long". But who is to be the judge of when a life should end?

When an MP I voted for a "Doctor Assisted Dying" bill, which did not become law. A colleague who was a doctor himself, and with whom I was on friendly terms, voted for it too. Several attempts have been made since to get such a bill on to the statute book, and all of them so far have failed. Mary Warnock, the political philosopher, is convinced euthanasia will be legal in the UK in due course. I am not so sure. Nor am I so sure how I would vote today on such a bill. Probably in favour. But I cannot be certain. This is not an issue for easy certainties.

What do you think?