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Striking the Houthis was Britain’s only option

Armed men stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, is anchored off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023
Armed men stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, is anchored off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023

Critics complain that the United States and Britain should not be intervening against the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. Why are we getting involved, they ask? At a remove, we are “escalating” the conflict in Gaza in just the way the Houthis want, they allege.

These attacks come from the Left: the BBC interviews disapproving professors from Tehran University as if they were neutral experts. They also come from the isolationist Right who grumble that it is not our job to solve the problems of the world. From both sides come self-appointed constitutionalists who argue that only Parliament can instigate such action.

It ought to be obvious why these objections are wrong. What the Houthis are doing is piracy. Since the great bulk of world trade passes by sea, this is a genuinely global issue and the interests of most nations are engaged. National and international interests coincide.

As a maritime nation, Britain must punish piracy. It has done so prominently for 300 years. Since the 1940s, it has ceded primacy to the United States, but continued to help in this vital task. The Houthis may claim to be helping suffering Palestinians by their attacks, but this does not make those attacks any less piratical.

Parliamentary scruples are also misplaced. Rightly, no military campaign can continue for long without parliamentary approval, but it does not follow that Parliament, which is not an executive body, can direct military action in advance. If it did, the element of surprise would disappear, and politics would mess up military planning. On this occasion, we have, if anything, signalled our intentions too clearly in advance: fearing “escalation”, the Government decided to give time to warn the Iranian trainers of the Houthis to leave before they get bombed.


Love and faith

Rather belatedly, I have been studying the new “Prayers of Love and Faith” recently “made available for use” by the Church of England.

The title is somewhat misleading. Love and faith are both things that Anglicans have always prayed for, privately and in church. But in this case the love under consideration is that between same-sex couples. The “faith” spoken of is not belief in God, but faithfulness in a same-sex relationship.

Although the accompanying literature is coy on what exactly is being blessed, I do not think the Church of England has formally departed from its teaching that sexual relations are permissible only between a man and a woman, and only in marriage. Yet what is the same-sex faithfulness here celebrated, if not a sexual one? It is true that ordinary, non-sexual friendship greatly values faithfulness (though not in an exclusive sense), but in that case, why is the service explicitly aimed at same-sex couples? Why can these prayers not be valid for any two pals, or indeed relations, who are fond of one another? Are they available only to a couple that has a formal civil partnership or same-sex marriage?

My old friends, Virginia and Catherine Utley, are sisters who have lived together for many years. They are, in that sense, a same-sex couple, but have always missed out on the bonanza of social and ecclesiastical approval which is now conferred on gay and lesbian pairs.

I asked Virginia if she and Catherine would like to turn up at an Anglican church and ask it (using the official phrase accompanying the new prayers) to “recognise the commitment same-sex couples make to each other”. Although both sisters are Christians, Virginia thanked me, but said she thought they could manage without.


On merit

There is much criticism of the honours system because Paula Vennells, of Post Office notoriety, was given a CBE. The system is corrupt, people say.

This is a massive exaggeration, although Ms Vennells was, even at the time, undeserving. If you study the very long twice-yearly lists of people who get damehoods, knighthoods, CBEs, OBEs, MBEs and BEMs, you find a procession of persons from all parts of the country who have done good things.

On several occasions, I have helped a few others put someone forward for an honour. We have quite often succeeded. In all cases, I was backing a person – a writer, a journalist, an artist, a businessman, and several leaders of small charities – who did not live off the taxpayer.

These honours tend to go to people in the later part of their lives (sporting heroes being the main exception), because their achievements have accumulated over time. When you are over 60, recognition is more precious than a pay rise. The modest investitures with senior members of the royal family presenting the decorations are happy occasions for many proud families. Honours are a very cheap means of encouraging the deserving.

It is true that a few dodgy people get through the net, but the only general fault is that the system is over-managed by civil servants, who over-reward their own kind. I do not even think it is wrong to confer honours on people who contribute money to political parties: it is, in principle, a public-spirited act.

PS I am aware the above may attract criticism since I am a life peer. So I should explain that the system of peerage creation is entirely different from that of honours. The honours system is designed to reward specific achievements, which are publicly stated. The peerage system is far more random and – in the words of Lord Melbourne about the Order of the Garter – has “no damn’d merit about it”.

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