Anna Soubry’s vapid attacks on Jacob Rees-Mogg are deranged, argues Sean Walsh. How his having never changed a nappy has a bearing on his eligibility as a political leader is unclear. Churchill never wiped a baby’s bottom, but that doesn’t mean we should have settled for Lord Halifax instead!
Given her current ubiquity, it was a bit of a surprise that Anna Soubry was not there to present Gary Oldman with his Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Her absence might, however, have been for the best. I have scoured the historical archive and have been unable to find any evidence that Churchill ever changed a nappy. Mrs Soubry would not be impressed. “Action this day” is all very well and good, but unless the action involves attending to the lavatorial needs of his children then perhaps we would have been better to stick with Chamberlain. And if the darkest hour in question does not refer to young Mary’s 3am bottle feed then, frankly, he should be consigned to the scrapheap of history.
This is what Mrs Soubry said in a GMTV interview last month:
“Somebody like Jacob [Rees-Mogg], with his views on things like abortion, a man who says he’s had six children and never changed a nappy, somebody who says that even if you were raped by your father you wouldn’t have a right to choose to have a termination – I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stay in a party led by somebody like him.”
That last remark invites an obvious rejoinder, one that is cheap and ungentlemanly and one which I would be delighted to make were I not constrained by considerations of space. So, let’s take the abortion point instead, for Mrs Soubry’s remark here manages to be both facile and illuminating all at once.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s views on abortion are precisely those would expect from a practising communicant of the Catholic church. Catholic teaching holds that at the moment of conception a unique and divinely ordered centre of infinite value is created in the image of God. This is a metaphysical claim which stands or falls regardless of the physical circumstances surrounding that conception: a child brought into being by an evil act remains an innocent child. The awfulness of the situation described by Soubry is mitigated not by the termination of the child but by the realisation that into such a situation would flow the divine love and our imperfect imitation of it. As for a “right to choose”, the Catholic response here would be that it makes no sense to talk of “rights” as something ultimately independently of God; and “choice” and “freedom” are to be understood as a moving of the human will in the direction of His goodness.
Is such a view extreme as Mrs Soubry and other critics assert? It can only be as “extreme” as the metaphysical worldview from which it emerges. And in any case, to describe something as “extreme” is to make a relative claim and Catholic teaching it seems to me is extreme only on the assumption that moral views are aligned according to some spectrum, edged with extremes, and available to the disinterested evaluation of impartial reason. But this view of morality -the liberal secular view- is, of course, ordered according to its own prejudices. To call Rees-Mogg’s view extreme is to fail to see that Catholic morality and liberal secular morality are not the instantiations of two different views but of two different forms of life. And while Mr Rees-Mogg is able to call in his defence two thousand years of vibrant and evolving theology shaped by (among others) St Irenaeus, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis, John Paul II, Elizabeth Anscombe and Alvin Plantinga the liberal secular tradition must make do with its impoverished moral lexicon according to which actions are not good, bad or evil but “acceptable”, “inappropriate” or “extreme” (it is a strange feature of our contemporary moral language that it manages to be both insipid and judgemental at the same time). Against this, of course, Mrs Soubry could always reply that there is no evidence in any of his writings that St Thomas Aquinas knew one end of a breast pump from the other.
The context of Mrs Soubry’s remarks, of course, is Brexit and a similar sort of confusion is in play in that debate. Leavers such as myself voted on the basis that we wished to repatriate our freedom. We did this on the basis of a moral idea, not an economic calculation. As Roger Scruton puts it (in pleasingly Aristotelian terms) for us national interest is the substance of this idea; sovereignty is its form. But the Remain side (or much of it) will have none of that and will insist on framing the debate in terms which will make no mention of this. In this they have been successful because they have been indulged, not least by the BBC.
Getting back to the Oscars: is there a Brass Neck category? If so Mrs Soubry should have been at the very least shortlisted for this gem:
“They [the Tory Brexiteers] are not the Tory party I joined 40 years ago and it is about time Theresa stood up to them and slung them out”.
Guess what Anna, now you know how we feel. Whatever happened to the EEC by the way? You don’t hear it mentioned that often these days.