Modal shift?

IT MUST be political panto time when your theatre critic Joyce McMillan enters stage left to give her stock fortissimo tongue-lashing yet again to the mean-minded Tories – that minority for whom any abuse in the media is legal, if not compulsory (Perspective, 28 December).

But this time she imports – in aid of the rant about welfare payments – the contrasting story of the generous Good King Wenceslas. It is an original touch; yet an ironic one. The writer of the carol, the 19th century Anglo-Catholic, John Mason Neale, was impeccably an old Tory in leanings, having been appointed to supervise an almshouse founded by the Duke of Dorset, having been nominated by Lady de la Warr and Lady Amherst. I’m surprised a lookalike has not been written into the script of the toff drama Downton Abbey.

Ms McMillan has surely not undergone a conversion to the model of a paternalistic hereditary ruler voluntarily handing out social benefits on an arbitrary basis, which is the point of the legend?

Nowadays we have £50 billion extracted from taxpayers already going out in sickness and disability payments – the latter up a third in a decade and, overall, one of the highest levels in advanced nations. So the coalition idea of our system focusing on the really needy (“hearts led by reason”, in the original translation of the song) deserves a more charitable hearing, if we are to bring Wenceslas up-to-date.

Peter Smaill