Was Mr John Prescott's adulterous conduct "private" behaviour or not? That is the subject which anguishes the political class.
Mr David Cameron went dry in the mouth as Grand Inquisitor Mr John Humphreys pressed him for an answer. "Dave" seemed so anxious not to offend, or to be morally "judgmental" that the listener might get the impression he was trying to protect someone with similar peccadilloes.
Modern politicians are very, very anxious not to appear to be morally "judgmental".
But then most of them haven't been brought up Catholics, where the rules of the game are clear enough: you condemn the sin but not the sinner. Another useful coda is that you may affirm an ideal even if you, yourself. have been unable to practise it.
This may lead to charges of hypocrisy. But we also have a modern form of hypocrisy whereby every pub conversation is convulsed with hilarity at Mr Prescott's antics but an opposition politician comes over all pompous about "private life" when asked to comment.
The late Victorians were also accused of hypocrisy, but they had a rather sensible code about these matters. They did regard private behaviour as a person's own business unless it became publicly known and thereby created a scandal.
Queen Victoria herself could be more tolerant than she is given credit for. She knew that men were made of flesh and blood — though she did expect women to show a higher moral tone — and that adulterous liaisons were often known about in society. These were regarded as "private" unless they became subject to public scandal: then the man had to take the rap.
In the case of Charles Parnell the leading political — and Church — personalities were aware of the "irregularities" of his life. He was living with another man's wife. The leader of the Irish Catholic Church, Archbishop Croke, knew about the liaison, and regarded it as a matter for the man's own conscience. Even when the scandal burst upon the public— when the cuckolded husband sued for divorce — Dr Croke advised Parnell to take a long holiday in France to let it pass. It was Parnell's insistence on making the issue public, and "brazening it out" that broke him as parliamentary leader.
The tragic story of Parnell is a long way from John Prescott, and his dalliance with a civil servant, who wrote a remarkably banal diary, and published it for a great deal of money. But the case illustrates something about our uneasy definition of what is "private" and what is "public". If the Deputy Prime Minister's sexual conduct becomes a matter of very
blatant public comment, is it still "private"?
Perhaps it is a sign of our moral confusion that we do not know. Though the voters, I think, do.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor has said that we should welcome migrants, whatever their background or circumstances, and he is quite right. It's clear from the New Testament that the migrant and the refugee should be treated with Christian charity.
And, over the centuries, as the Irish diaspora knew so well, migrants have proved to be the lifeblood and the energy in any society.
But there is a code: if the migrant abuses the host society, he should be despatched, without further ado, whence he came. Passport or no passport. Not to enforce this penalty is to encourage wrong-doing.
Has there been a worse case of torture or murder in recent times of the Reading schoolgirl, Mary-Anne Leneghan? I cannot think of one..Shouldn't those of her immigrant murderers be sent back whence they came? I rather think so.
Iwrote recently that many women seeking IVF are not being "denied. motherhood" by the lottery of medical treatment. Many such women have previously made choices which denied themselves motherhood, particularly through the choice of terminating an earlier pregnancy.
This comment has caused distress to a reader: and I apologise for any offence caused. It is not my intention to be meanspirited.
But some abortion agencies mislead young women by telling them: "Oh, you can always get pregnant again." And it is heartbreaking to meet nice women in their middle and late 30s, desperate for a child, and bitterly regretting the chance that they passed up. I know at least three such cases at the present time.
My sources are anecdotal: but it seems to me a fair comment to make, and I have done so without libelling any person, or disclosing any specific confidential material. It is a general point which I believe to be true, and a helpful health warning.