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Being late to most parties, it was only on a recent flight to the US that I finally got a chance to watch the movie Dunkirk. The recent rash of World War II movies obviously tempts us into contemporary analogies, and loath though I am to make them, Dunkirk has several. Yet what was most affecting was what seemed most remote. There is a scene in the movie where the flotilla of small boats finally arrives on the horizon. Kenneth Branagh’s Royal Navy officer spots them and in a moment of soundtrack genius the chords of Elgar’s “Nimrod” variation sync in a modern, altered, but recognisable form.

However, it is the stances of the people on the ships that brought a tear to the eye. Over-stylised, perhaps, but the men and women who were manning the ships all stood like statues as they sailed past. Grim-faced seamen and sturdy but certain women, all staring ahead and un-showily going to do their duty. The type was recognisable in an instant, even to someone of my generation. They were the sort of people I grew up around. Yet how remote and foreign they seem today. Why does a nation still admire people who — so far as I can see — they in no way still aspire to become?


Every day seems to bring examples of people who were once admired but can be admired no more.  Sex scandals rolled across the churches and politics years ago, but recent months have seen the last bastions of unfettered admiration tumble one by one: entertainment, Hollywood and now charities. The revelation that Oxfam, among others, was actively covering up appalling sexual abuse may be said to leave the public square with almost no living institutions to admire.

Though impossible to say where all this will lead, there are some early hints.  As reactions to the exposé of Brendan Cox — widower of the murdered MP Jo Cox, former charity boss and alleged groper — shows, it appears that people will choose to forgive those who are roughly of their own political persuasion while continuing ruthlessly to attack those whose politics differ from their own. So a groper on your own side will be forgiven while a mildly inappropriate joke from someone in the opposing political camp will not.

Recognising this leaves me in a tricky situation. As I mentioned in this place a year ago, over the last decade Tariq Ramadan has probably been my very closest enemy. Of all the post-Harvey Weinstein accusations, those against him are the most serious. At present he sits in a French jail, remanded in custody on two rape charges. I always expected a particularly disastrous debate with me might finish him off. Now I must accept that he has been brought low in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. And yet people still make predictions.

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