The last few days have seen very low moments. A man is drowning. Policemen and firemen are watching him. But if they were to wade in to help, the water might reach above their ankles. Health and safety: have two words ever been more grotesquely misused? Why not call it penpush and jobsworth? In recent years, whenever a fatal accident occurred, there have been demands for any firms involved to be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. What about those in charge of a uniformed service, whose employees refuse to save a man's life in case they get their feet wet? Are they not morally guilty of manslaughter? Until recently, if any satirist had produced an idea for a programme mocking the Health and Safety Executive for imposing rules which forbade policemen from getting their feet wet, no commissioning editor would have entertained the notion: ridiculously implausible. These days, we have to revise our definition of implausibility.
What is the best way to find a job? To have one already. So what could be more helpful than a work-experience programme? It ensures that the unemployed young get up in the morning. It gives them training. It should help to restore their self-respect. Even if the firm which runs the programme cannot give the youngster a job, it can provide him with a reference. Above all, it can provide him with the look in the eye and the confident stance which leads employers to conclude that he could safely be let loose on their customers.
So who could possibly object to such programmes? Answer, the Socialist Workers Party, a left-wing groupuscule which does not want unemployed youngsters to find jobs. The SWP would prefer them to stay in bed until they were needed to join the revolutionary proletariat. So far, so comical. Why should anyone pay attention to a handful of rentamob Lefties? If the flat earth society chose to picket Cunard's offices in protest against a forthcoming round-the-world cruise, one suspects that the voyage would go ahead. But for 36 hours or so, the work-experience programme was in jeopardy. Even though it has been forecasting the imminent collapse of capitalism for several decades, the SWP must have been astonished at its success. It did, of course, have allies, most notably the BBC. Its coverage was disgraceful. Lenin gloated over the useful idiots whose naivete could be exploited by the Bolsheviks. They do not come more idiotic than the BBC.
They do not come much more useless than the representatives of the capitalist class who were in charge of the firms that the SWP condemned. What a wet bunch. Most of us have witnessed that well-known rural atrocity: a little dog chasing sheep. The dog's owner is effing and blinding and pursuing. The mutt no doubt realises that its reunion with its master will be awkward. But the exhilaration of sending hundreds of fleecy rumps fleeing to the horizon: well-worth an unpleasant encounter with a walking stick. One has often wished that sheep would learn to stand their ground. But sheep will be sheep. That excuse hardly applies to the directors of Tesco's and other firms. Yet they ran away as abjectly as any sheep. It is to be hoped that they are thoroughly, abjectly ashamed of themselves and will now tell the SWP and the BBC to be damned.
Thank goodness for Chris Grayling: nothing wet about him. He is not the subtlest Minister in political history. But if you want someone to go straight at 'em, there is no-one better. The Churches are full of subtle men. Some of them, notably Rowan Williams, are so subtle that no-one knows what they mean. They could all do with some Grayling-style go straight at 'em. In the last couple of weeks, Trevor Phillips, the equality commissar, and Lynn Featherstone, the Government's Minister for useful idiocy, have both said that the Churches must give up the idea that they can run their own affairs. Mr Phillips actually argued that a Church which claimed that its teachings were superior to the Equality Act would be analogous to a Muslim fanatic, which wished to enforce sharia law on the whole country.
Mr Phillips is a clever and likeable man. So how could he talk such tosh? How could he miss the self-evident difference between wishing to impose sharia law, which would be theocracy, and allowing Churches to run their own affairs, which is religious toleration. To a large extent, this is the Churches' fault, for failing to fight back (the Archbishop of Canterbury could make a vital contibution to that process, by resigning).
When the Roman Catholics were told that they would have to allow homosexual couples to adopt children, or close their adoption agencies, they should have made a stand. They should have said that they could not do either. Their Church and the entire Christian tradition forbade them to facilitate homosexual adoptions, and they were not prepared to renounce the almost sacred task of finding good homes for abandoned children. Since the Reformation, their hierarchy and their priesthood had often been persecuted in Britain. If this were another such trial, the Church would embrace it. Every Catholic priest in Britain was prepared to go to prison in defence of the Church's right to run its own adoption policy.
That was not the best time for the Catholics to make such a stand, for obvious reasons. But no organisation which fails to rise to a challenge and to defy a threat can ever hope to regain its self-confidence. Equally, if the Church had stood firm, does anyone think that the politicians would have commissioned the additional prison cells? Suppose there had been a Muslim adoption agency; does anyone believe that it would have been ordered to welcome homosexual couples?
The Prime Minister may not realise it yet, but all this could mean trouble for him. An awful lot of his natural supporters are worried about the state of the nation. Vast parts of the machinery of government appear to be out of control, simultaneously wasteful, incompetent and oppressive. There is endless talk about "diversity", which in practice seems to mean the cultural humiliation of the majority, reinforced by bullying from Whitehall. Most people are now prepared to accept civil partnerships and even homosexual adoption. But they do not wish to see any respect for the Christian tradition eradicated from our national life – and whatever happened to the Big Society?
Surely it should have been a celebration of genuine diversity: localism, individual initiative, "all things original, counter, spare, strange" – plus institutions which have proved their value over time, such as Churches and universities. Instead, we seemed to be heading for Offbig and Offsoc: the Health and Safety version of the Big Society. The PM seems to realise that something ought to be done. In the last couple of weeks, there has been an initiative a day. But we do not need more initiatives on matters which could be left to a Parliamentary Secretary. We need grip and exalted language; an explanation of David Cameron's sense of Britain. The Scottish speech was outstanding: more, please. Otherwise there will be trouble.