Rod McPhee: The UK's progressive, not aggressive

DID you realise you were being aggressive? No, me neither. But apparently we are. According to the Pope our secular behaviour is insidiously endangering Britain.

But what kind of aggressive secularism might he be referring to? Is it the widespread acceptance of living in sin? Of contraceptive use? Of leading an actively gay life?

It sounds progressive, not aggressive.

Clearly, as the wanton, unchaste, degenerate I am, I would say that. But I'm also confident that vast swathes of the population – many of whom don't have the moral compass of a Viking on heat – would agree.

What recent generations have adopted isn't malignant, it's simply an evolution, an unfolding of a modified code which rejects the unreasonable and still retains the core values of love, respect, responsibility and family life.

It's also a rejection of the hypocrisy of many of our predecessors who nominally practised monogamy, steely discipline and unsustainable abstinence, then committed sin on the sly.

You'd think we were brazenly transforming Blighty into Gomorrah, but this 'pick-and-mix' morality talked about creates an adversarial tension which is unnecessary. The reality is that modern life doesn't actively reject religion and nurture ethical decay, it just embraces common sense.

We just want to give relationships a try before we tie the knot, we'd just rather not endure the trauma of unplanned pregnancies and potentially deadly sexually transmitted infections.

As for homosexuality, the church won't reject you for feeling such unnatural desires, but they will if you don't try to mend your ways.

Of course, the papal displeasure is also directed at our state which reinforces this notion that you should be at liberty to live your life, not in a wild, indulgent, self-absorbed, hedonistic way necessarily, just without enduring a miserable tortured existence.

It's not a question of the state shunning the key teachings of faith as a means of underpinning society either, it's simply the fact that this country is a predominantly liberal democracy. We have always been reluctant to prescribe to any doctrine defining how we should live our lives.

Call them Christian values if you like, but those who don't strictly adhere to the teachings of a church aren't obliged to fornicate, rob and murder.

As for more debatable issues like abortion, adoption, religious education and anti-discrimination, they can be discussed and government policy can take religious views into consideration, but ultimately our guiding focus should be that people are free to do what they want, within reason.

And what's reasonable is decided by national consensus – not by aggression, but certainly not by the passive aggression of dogma.

Liar reveals some true changes

AFTER watching the 50th Anniversary stage production of Billy Liar last week I felt rather blasphemous. You see, I'd always been led to believe this story – one which is worshipped in Leeds – was eternally northern.

However, it only made me realise just how much life here has altered.

The tale by Keith Waterhouse, who was raised in the city during the 30s and 40s and wrote the original novel in 1959, is no longer a relevant snapshot of life in a post-industrial backwater. Even 20 years ago it might still have been relevant.

But now the attitude, language, aspirations and lifestyle seem, as strange as this sounds, very mid-20th Century. It deals with a longing to escape, to get on that train to London, which is no longer a requirement for the youth of today.

There is no more divisive 11-plus exam, a far larger higher education offering and you don't have to head down the M1 to enjoy a decent quality of life. So the spiral of young talent and enthusiasm no longer drains south, in fact, home counties kids are now as likely to venture north.

Billy Liar is held up by devotees who love a story capturing a major seachange in society, but I wonder if they realise it wasn't the last one.

DM for PM

I'M going to nail my colours to the mast now and say I reckon David Miliband will be elected as Labour party leader.

At least, I hope he will. Any other choice would almost certainly see the left go into self destruct mode just as the Tories did for a decade when, after 1997, they continuously enlisted lame ducks who no one envisaged being Prime Minister.

From Hague to Howard and IDS, few could really imagine removing Blair for an inferior premier – and that's the realisation which Labour must face unless they want to endure multiple election defeats.

David Miliband is the only candidate who looks and sounds suitably statesmanlike and, although the zeitgeist seems to go against the last 13 years, his centre-ground politics remains the most palatable in the heartlands and Middle England marginals.

I did moot the former Foreign Secretary as being the best option for Labour some months ago whereupon my boss, who accused me of only backing the older Miliband because of his aesthetic appeal, poo-pooed the idea.

Which means that this time next week I'll either be feeling rather doubly smug or particularly stupid.


Just £150 more per person will help narrow the North/South divide, says Leeds council leader