On my first ship it was not untypical for ‘Daily Orders’ to be appended with a message from on high, instructing that care be taken when traversing the freshly polished deck-tiled passageways, with specific addressing to ‘tea spillers’ and ‘hot-buttered toast drippers’. My best mess-mate, with whom I shared an often unpopularity-provoking
confused quizzical attitude, looked at me aghast: “I can’t believe these are the guys who run this fucking ship!”
Last week, in a Downing Street reception for Christian leaders, the Blue Spectre delivered a pre-Easter speech which encapsulates why I instinctively find him an odious PR stylist. Being Prime Minister, he has (I assume) speech-writer(s) who generate text for him to read out. I don’t know whether or not it was they who badly worded his guileful address, but he does, presumably, read through beforehand to make sure it conveys his message. (Let us hope so, otherwise the ramifications are particularly disturbing.) I say guileful, but that would imply skill; rather, in its patronising translucency, perhaps tyronic is more applicable.
The full text can be found at this church and state amalgamation. I just want to address (at the ever-present risk of lifting out of context, but you can check for yourself if you are concerned I’m doing him any disservice) a few of his sapient nuggets. Early on, he exposes himself to that gaping question as to an individual’s faith:
‘… we obviously spend a lot of time celebrating Christmas and thinking about Christmas, but actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts. Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details.’
Yes, Easter is the one; the resurrection bit is pretty key to Christianity, isn’t it? But it seems that “call me Dave” doesn’t believe it. Specifically, which ‘details’ keep him awake at night? If he does not accept the key doctrines espoused by those religious leaders with whom he ingratiates himself, just why does he consider it worthwhile to promote them – when, after all, he is not a religious leader? And why is the idea of resurrection so important? The adverb is actually a key inclusion: it is an important fantasy. It seems, then, our PM acknowledges that Christianity is constructed upon a foundation of fabrication.
But it does come in very handy. So, just to convince that he is on the same hymn sheet, he adopts the ‘Defender of the Faith’ stance:
‘I think there is something of a Christian fight-back going on in Britain and I think that’s a thoroughly good thing. I think you could see it in the enormous reception of the Pope’s visit; I think you could see it with the successful return visit that Sayeeda Warsi led. I think you can see it, actually, in the reception to Sayeeda’s superb speeches about standing up for faith and celebrating faith and, as she so famously put it, actually doing God in Britain.’
Ahh, a swipe at those pesky ‘militant secularists’ who are fouling things up for everybody with their unconservative questioning of the status quo. How bloody predictable from the man who appointed Warsi and Pickles. Appeal to the persecution complex. Air-brush recent history by referring to the Pope’s visit as successful and worthwhile; his anosmic disregard of the malodour that clings to that cassock abetting efforts to waft it out of the window in the hope that it will, in time, quietly dissipate. Perhaps he sanctioned Warsi’s cupidinous words; he certainly endorses his fatuous minister’s overturning of a high court judicial ruling. Just how does the law work here? Warsi misrepresented our country at The Vatican; he misrepresents it to its own people.
Change tack by appealing to ‘values’ – that always works:
‘The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need – values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance. Now, I’ve made this argument many times that you don’t have to be a Christian or you don’t have to adhere to another religion to have strong values, to believe in strong values or to pass those values on to your children, but the point I always make is that it helps.’
How does it help? How? Because he cannot muster the imagination to come up with a better argument than the recycling of the Church’s claim of the moral high ground? The Bible does not have a monopoly on these ‘values’ – and never has had. Cameron knows this – at least he ought to do. However, as he gets on to later, he needs the Church to pique our consciences.
He goes on to make a ‘plea.’ Rather, an indication that, in his efforts to keep church leaders sweet and on board, he may backtrack on his previous attempt to portray himself as modernistic with last year’s endorsement of gay marriage “… because I am a Conservative.”
‘Now my plea: my plea is that I hope that in spite of the disagreements and the arguments we will undoubtedly have, the plea is that I hope we don’t all fall out too much over the issue of gay marriage.’
The problem with hot potatoes is they don’t cool down as quickly as pasties. I guess this explains in part the previous schmoozing references to you know who. If he advocates the right to gay marriage, then he is, in effect, stating that he considers the Pope wrong on this. But that would be a public show of disrespect of the Pope’s position, which would jeopardise his relationship with (Catholic) church leaders here.
‘The point I’d make is this: if this does go ahead it will change what happens in a registry office; it will not change what happens in a church. If this doesn’t go ahead, to those of us who’d like it to go ahead, there will still be civil partnerships, so gay people will be able to form a partnership that gives them many of the advantages of marriage.’
Okay…. so what is being said here? Telling the church to butt out of what takes place outside its hallowed walls? Is that not an endorsement of secularism? Perhaps he ought to clarify on this because it doesn’t dovetail with the otherwise ‘Christian country’ mantra, does it?
‘The domestic challenge is, and you’d be surprised if I didn’t bring it up, the issue of the Big Society. I think there is enormous potential in churches and faith-based organisations to tackle some of the deepest problems we have in our society, whether it is educational and under-attainment, whether it is homelessness, whether it is mental health.’
Ah, we get to the core. The nebulous Big Society rises again. Yet, I wonder, is there a hint that he is becoming somewhat embarrassed by this thing he wants to divert our thoughts back towards when the shit is flying from the fan? The plea to church authorities to fill in where cuts to benefits and councils have forced the reduction of services. What was that about ‘values’?
In the wake of the pensions, pasties, petrol and prat-ism debacles, Easter could not come quick enough for Cameron. A national holiday: distraction for the apathetic; faith fleetingly stirred by TV rescreens of Biblical epics; opportune time for rekindling relations with big church cheeses. What should we make of him then, and his ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ rhetoric? Perhaps, being Easter time, it is poor taste to be contrary. Yet, is it not poor taste when church leaders use it to flagwave credit for Fabrice Muamba’s recovery? And is it not discomforting when our leader delivers a speech so cringeworthy, any self-respecting sixth-former would find it hard to live down? How on earth did he…? No, actually … I do get it. And I, for one, am not too surprised. Best reserve any invective for the in ballast Clegg, who before very long will likely not have any ship to steer.
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