Sunday, 29 April 2012

To Recuse

A new - old - verb has suddenly hit the headlines: to recuse. This is what David Cameron claims he did with respect to the News Corporation's proposal to buy the balance of shares in - in other words to gain 100 per cent control over -  BSkyB. The dictionary definition of this useful word is to remove oneself from, usually in the context of a judicial process eg because of a conflict of interest. The noun recusant was used in England in the 16th century to describe those, usually Roman Catholics, who refused to attend Church of England services. Church attendance was compulsory in those days, like wearing head covering of the appropriate kind. Vestiges of these social mores once subject to the sanction of the law linger in 'dress codes' - should one wear a hat eg for a wedding? for a funeral? A decision about what to wear is often a matter of how you show respect for others, or for the occasion, or not as the case may be. I remember distinctly the frisson that ran round a formal reception with royalty present when a young, rich, titled (Hapsburgs, as I seem to remember), recently-married couple ran hand in hand in jeans and flip-flops round a room full of women in formal attire and men in dark suits.Their wealth, youth and exuberance, in their honeymoon' bubble'  excused them, but they were clearly violating an unwritten code, they were in flagrant breach of etiquette. Society depends on people keeping to not only the letter of the law, but the spirit. Oscar Wilde once said that Britain was the homeland of the hypocrite and our only protection of our hard-won freedoms is an independent judiciary, an elected parliament, and a free press. Here endeth the lesson. Amen

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