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Wednesday, February 18, 2015 

Can I vote for the Church of England party, please?

(Exposition: The BBC has for some unknown reason seen fit to reunite the cast of Blackadder II.  All the surviving original actors have returned except for Stephen Fry, as he no longer wanted to portray the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Something about bone cancer.  The actual Archbishop of Canterbury takes up his role.  Russell Brand takes over from the late Rik Mayall as Lord Flashheart, only he insists on playing Flash as himself.  Olivia Colman plays Nursie as she's in fucking everything, but at least does so in tribute to Patsy Byrne.)

(The final scene in the 'Bells' episode.  Lord Flashheart has just made his late, extravagant entrance.)

Lord Flashheart: Brand by name, brand by nature!

... (Skipping to the relevant part)

Lord Flashheart: And Melchy! Still worshipping God? Last thing I heard he started worshipping me! Ahaha aha!

Audience and cast: (Silence)

(At this point Justin Welby decides he can take no more. He grabs Brand by the lapels and headbutts him.  Everyone cheers.)

Yeah, that worked better in my head than written out.  Still, the general point's there.

As indeed the general point is expressed by the Church of England's 56-page pre-election epistle to the few who'll bother to read the entire thing.  It deserves to be read for two reasons: firstly because it's shorter than any of the actual manifestos soon to be published by the various political parties will be, and second as it's almost certain to be far more coherent and radical than their efforts into the bargain.

It's this very fact an organisation once known as the Conservative party at prayer finds itself in such a position that causes the Bishops such disquiet.  At the one extreme they see the main parties denouncing each other in no uncertain terms over what are often the slightest of policy differences, while at the other they look at preening cocks like the aforementioned Brand calling for a revolution, right, but not the sort achieved through the ballot box, because like nothing ever changes so it's a waste of time, yeah?  Little wonder the Bishops suggest there's a, err, third way.

If there's a criticism to be made of the House of Bishops' efforts, and there are plenty if you so wish, it's that often they seem to be echoing the now all but forgotten mantras of New Labour.  An entire section is devoted to setting out how post-war the administrations of Attlee and Thatcher changed the political settlement, heralding a consensus around first social democracy and then neoliberalism, although neither are defined as such.  

The answer, the Bishops appear to suggest, is taking the best parts of each and using them to dilute the excesses of the other, so Beveridge's welfare state is preserved but the voluntarism and other responsibilities he called for are emphasised, while the cohesion and security provided by the state help to tone down the individualism and consumption encouraged by the markets.  If this sounds familiar, that's because it's almost exactly what both Labour pre-97 and David Cameron were talking about and promoting before they came to power.  The Bishops go so far as to name check the Big Society, an idea from "thoughtful Conservatives", and say it should not be "consigned to the political dustbin" rather, "it could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community we seek".

This is to give Cameron and the Tories a little too much credit.  The Big Society was never truly about a new political ethos or way of going about things as the Bishops would like it to be, but rather a ploy to make cuts while claiming it a way of fixing the broken society, another subject the Conservatives quickly dropped.  It's also just a little naive - the Big Society was partly dropped not only because it was believed confusing, but as most people either didn't have the time or inclination to do the work the state had previously.  The Bishops would no doubt argue this is precisely because of how we have become a "society of strangers", as they set out, rather than a "community of communities", where consumption, individualism and competition, to the point almost of social Darwinism, now define who we are, yet it wouldn't entirely be convincing.  The past sense of community didn't instantly also extend to charity and helping out, as the CoE surely ought to know better than others.

What impresses more than any of the suggestions as to how politics might be fixed is the strength of the analysis and the decision not to mince words.  Yes, we all know how elections have been reduced to a battle over the marginals, but rarely are mainstream commentators so blunt about what politics has become.  As the Bishops write about the lack of vision offered, "We are subjected to sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best. There is no idealism in this prospectus." They note how "There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed."  They go on "when those who rely on social security payments are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent, and ought to be self-sufficient, it deters others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state." And on that other theme of the parliament they say "The way we talk about migration, with ethnically identifiable communities being treated as “the problem” has, deliberately or inadvertently, created an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration."

Hardly surprising then that despite their attempts to reject both labels of left and right, saying their approach could be "embraced by any of the mainstream parties without being untrue to their own histories", that plenty of comment has referred back to the 80s and Faith in the City.  While most of the suggestions are more instantly associated with the left than the right, the document was clearly intended as wounding criticism of politics in 2015 rather an exercise in Tory-bashing.  It calls for an improvement in the standard of debate by involvement, instead of the Brand-like on the outside pissing in.  It also deserves a far more serious response from the people it criticises than the idiotic one it received from David Cameron yesterday, who repeated the exact argument about it not being kind or compassionate to leave someone idle on benefits that the letter so utterly rejects.

It's not the most original sentiment, but if it wasn't for the whole God thing and the occasional forays into ill-advised comment on sex and science, I could grow to quite like Welby and friends.  That on this evidence many people would also vote for a Church of England party given the opportunity, it ought to give the political class much pause for thought.

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Really enjoying the posts, as ever. Glad things seem a bit brighter in camp Septic Isle.

I'm curious as to your thoughts on Brand, other than the flippant and contemptuous ones. It's surprised me how much the 'liberal' media has attacked him. There are countless easy criticisms to level at the guy, but I don't think there's any convincing argument against what he's doing - that is, using his stature to highlight social injustice (and support grassroots movements against it). Put aside his appearance, lexicon and comic talent (or lack of) - all of which are essentially irrelevant in this context anyway - and I find myself increasingly pleased with just how far he's willing to take it. And as frustrating as 'the Trews' is, I love that he's bringing attention to things that receive no mainstream coverage. I can't help but be instantly cynical whenever anyone attacks him or his political theorizing based on his admittedly ridiculous comic character.

Oh, I meant 'flippant and contemptuous' in the nicest possible way. They're certainly valid and entirely appropriate in this post!

Most of what I wrote here on Brand I'd stand by: http://www.septicisle.info/index.php?q=/2013/11/russell-is-brand.html

There is a bit of a love/hate thing going with Brand and the likes of the Graun and so on. It's somewhat similar to how the likes of Jessica Valenti or Lindy West see a celebrity suddenly decide they're a feminist and applaud them instantly without realising the whole thing is just a marketing ploy and they're going to carry on dancing in their pants. Not all of the vitriol that has rained down on Brand has been fair, but in equal measure I think that's a reaction to how such a ridiculous figure, and he is ridiculous, has been feted for not doing much more than spouting some frankly counter-productive platitudes.

I think if there is an argument to be made against Brand, it's that all he's doing is jumping on passing bandwagons that were already rolling, like the social housing protests in London, and then in the main it becomes about him rather than the cause or the people originally behind it, although they'd probably disagree. I also don't believe a single word he says, and I'd wager that in time he's going to get bored, just as he seemingly has before and move on to doing something else. My worry is that his act, and I'm afraid I think it is all an act, will help convince those who already believe "they're all the same" to not vote, when the differences, slight as they are, could be everything to the under-21s the Tories have signalled they want to treat like dirt. The same under-21s likely to find Brand's shtick invigorating. My feeling is that undermines whatever wider good the themes and ideas in his books and videos will have.

The UK voters have a penchant for self destruction.
So increase taxes , increase restrictive legislation, import people nobody likes,Tell people that things are better than ever, ban heterosexuals especially white ,forbid dog ownership
That will get any party into parliament. It has already.

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