GAY TIMES 238, July 1998

If you count the number of times any individual has been mentioned in Media Watch over the years, I think Paul Johnson would probably top the list.

For years the great moralist has been raging against the sexual immorality of our society. He has written repeatedly, and in immoderate and hateful terms, about his disgust at homosexuality. He has called on God to punish us and those who support us. Indeed, once he called on the Almighty to cause Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of Channel 4, to die in a plane crash. He said Sir Michael was “waging war against Christianity” by broadcasting “15 solid hours of sex-pervert propaganda known as Dyke TV”. Oh yes, Paul Johnson is definitely King of the Bigots.

The Daily Mail was Mr Johnson’s main platform for these fire and brimstone rants. Week after week, Johnson would berate the nation for its lack of virtue. His “we’re all going to damnation” essays were just the ticket for The Mail’s readership. Johnson was completely at home along with the flying saucers, ghosts and quackery that makes up most of the rest of The Daily Mail’s content.

But now Mr Johnson’s house of absolute moral values has come crashing down around his ears. On May 12th, The Daily Express carried a two-page interview with Gloria Stewart, a lady who has been having an affair with Mr Johnson for the past 11 years. She was enraged by an article he wrote in The Mail about his 40th wedding anniversary. In it, he extolled the virtues of a long and happy married life with his wife Marigold.

Ms Stewart revealed that, not only was her relationship with Mr Johnson a sexual one — it was kinky with it! She told how Johnson “loved to be spanked, and this was a big feature of our relationship”. Oh joy of joys!

“Basically I’m a Ten Commandments Christian,” Johnson told Lynda Lee-Potter in The Mail, back in 1987, although presumably now he is a Nine Commandments Christian (or isn’t that Eight, given the lies he must have told his wife?). Then, in 1992, he told Mick Brown of The Daily Telegraph: “One reason why I think the West has succeeded, as opposed to the Muslim world, is that we have a tradition of monogamous marriage.” In 1993, Johnson wrote in The Spectator that he considered “sexual licence, the easy availability of divorce, the decline of monogamous marriage” to be the great evils of the modern world. “What I cannot bear is humbug,” he wrote in the same piece.

When the Tory Government got itself into bother over the Back to Basics campaign, Mr Johnson had a field day. In 1994, in relation to Tim Yeo, a Government minister who was forced to resign for impregnating a woman who was not his wife, Mr Johnson wrote in The Mail, “Adultery is wrong and should be punished. If the offender occupies a high position, then the punishment should be correspondingly severe… The apparently irresistible rise of promiscuity is a sin crying out to heaven for punishment.”

There are reams and reams of similar stuff in the Paul Johnson memorial archive. While he berated others for their sins, he was privately committing those same sins himself.

Ah, hypocrisy, Johnson is thy name!

But, of course, Mr Johnson has friends in high places in the media. His downfall was not reported in The Mail; it was not mentioned in the Murdoch press, either. But in those newspapers that owe no allegiance to the crony-network to which Mr Johnson belongs, there was little mercy.

Victor Lewis-Smith in The Mirror said Paul Johnson “ought to be horsewhipped on the steps of his club” but then thought better of it. “The trouble is, Mr Johnson would probably pay good money to be horsewhipped, and his club is probably called the Pussy-A-Go-Go.”

Christopher Hitchens in The Observer wrote a vitriolic attack on Johnson, obviously settling an old score. But it made great reading. After rubbishing Johnson’s academic posturings, Hitchens wrote: “On the moral front, he employs the Church’s teachings in the same way that a hopeless drunkard uses a lamppost. Over the course of an 11-year illicit liaison, he must have gone to confession fully intending to repeat the sin as soon as possible. To say this makes him a hypocrite is to say the least of it. What it mainly shows is that the sexual code of the Palestinian Bronze Age, with its sinister fairy tales about reward and punishment, is useless, even to those who affect to believe in it.”

Suzanne Moore in The Guardian was less concerned about Johnson’s sexual hypocrisy, more that he promotes himself as Tony Blair’s advisor on family values.

A N Wilson, on the other hand, mounted a defence of the reptile in The London Evening Standard (which, coincidentally, is in the same stable of papers as The Mail). “There are plenty of ways for us journalists to show our loathing of one another,” Wilson wrote, “without resorting to the underhand tricks displayed in The Daily Express.”

Oh, please! Cant on top of hypocrisy, humbug on top of sanctimony. What about the hundreds of innocent people who’ve been destroyed by journalistic underhand tricks? Johnson deserves all the humiliation he gets — so let’s give him some more.

Not only is Paul Johnson professionally repellent, his personal relationships leave much to be desired, too. He may have written rapturously about his 40-year marriage to Marigold, but, as Christopher Hitchens reveals: “In order to make a point in a crowded restaurant, he once struck his wife in the face. Those who intervened were threatened with violence in their turn. In his prose and in his person he repeatedly resorts to wild and lurid threats.”

And his florid, ginger-headed appearance has been likened to “an explosion in a pubic hair factory”.

I have waited a long time to see Paul Johnson get his come-uppance, so you will forgive me for wallowing in it for just a moment longer. For Johnson has not only betrayed his saintly wife, his credulous readers and his children, he has also made a mockery of the religion which he purports to uphold with every fibre of his being.

Mr Johnson has written approvingly of the way that Islam enforces its own moral codes. He seems to think that the choppings and stonings and lashings (especially the lashings) are a good way to keep sinners in line. He will be happy to know that Iran has recently downgraded the penalty for adultery from stoning to fifty lashes. No doubt he will be on the next plane — so long as the flogger is a nubile young girl dressed in leather.

We should not forget that last month two young men in Southport were jailed for 18 months for employing other men to whip them with belts. How come Paul Johnson isn’t banged up, too? Surely he deserves to be punished more severely than most. Or, as Suzanne Moore said: “Johnson’s advice to David Mellor was that he should endeavour to ‘rehabilitate himself with some worthy activity, involving self-sacrifice’. May I suggest that for once, Johnson walks the walk as well as talks the talk and makes the ultimate sacrifice by never writing another word.”

I’ll say amen to that.

***

And while we’re on the topic of grotesque public figures, let us turn our attention to Ann Widdecombe MP, newly-promoted shadow minister for health. Ms Widdecombe, it will be remembered, embraced the Catholic religion a couple of years ago because she did not approve of the CoE’s acceptance of women priests. She has been assaulting us with her personal morality ever since.

We must also remember that this was the woman who stood up in Parliament when the Tories were in power, and justified Michael Howard’s policy of chaining pregnant prisoners to their hospital bed. I remember, at the time, writing to my own MP when I read that another prisoner — a man in this instance who was dying of stomach cancer —had also been chained to his bed during his final hours. Once again, Ms Widdecombe claimed this was justifiable. Ah yes, the joys of being morally superior.

The saintly MP for Maidstone naturally joined the campaign against an equal age of consent for gay men. Writing in The Daily Mail under the heading “Protect your sons from legal gay sex at 16” she describes Labour as “giving its imprimatur to sodomy at 16” and describes the Parliamentary moves towards equality as “the whole revolting business”.

Ms Widdecombe speaks contemptuously of “compassion”, saying that it now just means political correctness. She claims that it is not possible to disapprove of things you find horrible any more, and then goes on to do exactly that, at great length and in a national newspaper.

Ms Widdecombe says in an interview in The Mail that William Hague has done the right thing in getting married: “He has got engaged, he has got married and presumably — in due course — there will be a family. That’s the right progression.”

Oh is it? So why hasn’t she taken that path herself? Why is she still “a spinster” (a term she uses of herself) if she thinks marriage is the “right” way? Another “do as I say, not as I do” merchant.

She reveals that she once had a “chaste” relationship with a man at college, but was relieved when it ended.

Ms Widdecombe is presently being promoted by the right-wing press as the possible saviour of the Tory party (“darling-ised” as The Guardian puts it). She is lauded for her sense of humour and her self-deprecation. The Daily Express even thinks she may be the next Tory leader.

In that case, let’s hope her lousy party never regains office.

***

Those gay Christians who thought that the Lambeth Conference was going to bring them some kind of breakthrough with the Archbishop of Canterbury must be seeing their hopes diminish by the minute. The Church Times reports that “Two bishops with opposing views on homosexuality have drafted a paper which they hope could form the basis of consensus at the Lambeth Conference this summer.”

The bishops in question are John Spong of Newark, New Jersey (pro-gay and a non-believer in most of what the Bible says) and the Reverend Peter Lee of South Africa (definitely anti).

They have produced between them what they call A Catechesis on Homosexuality (what is it with holy Joes and pretentious, inflated language — can’t they just use English, for God’s sake?) Anyway, in this “catachesis” they suggest that the Conference should “take no vote that would imply that one side or the other had won or lost the debate”. They say that if no consensus can be reached (and how could it ever be?), then “an international panel should be set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Christ, not another bleeding international panel. Just the thing for ensuring that nothing happens for at least another ten years.

But, of course, attempts at bringing peace and harmony to the Church of England can only result in further conflict. And it wasn’t long in coming. Canon Michael Saward of St Paul’s Cathedral says that the Lambeth Conference must “massively ignore whatever John Spong says.” And George Austin, the Archdeacon of York says that the plan is doomed to failure because “proponents of the gay lobby have no intention of allowing the real issue to be debated.”

What a fabulous bun-fight the Lambeth Conference is going to be (and, my dear, the frocks!).

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