Sunday, July 13, 2008

A New Political Myth Is Born

You will have read or heard dozens of times this week that Gordon Brown had compared himself to Heathcliff.
Except that he didn't.

It was put to him that some other people had compared him to Heathcliff and he gave a jokey reply. That is completely different from making the comparison himself.

Here's the relevant passage from the New Statesman interview in context:

"There is a human side to Gordon. He may be uncomfortable talking about himself, but on the train home our conversation is punctuated with laughter, and most of it is neither nervous nor insincere.
Is he a romantic? I ask. "Ask Sarah," he chuckles. Some women say you remind them of Heathcliff, I suggest. Brown is, after all, brooding and intense. "Absolutely correct," he jokes. "Well, maybe an older Heathcliff, a wiser Heathcliff."

The context is important: a lighter interlude in an interview conducted on a train. Of course, if Brown had paused to reflect on what the media might do with this, he might have said "No comment." But even then the reports might have said 'Brown refuses to deny that he resembles Heathcliff', which would quickly have morphed into 'Brown compares himself to Heathcliff.'

But if Brown does indeed resemble Heathcliff, Tony Blair may need to reconsider what he said in his last Conference speech: "At least I don't have to worry about her [Cherie] running off with the bloke next door."
For here is Cherie on page 30 of her recent memoirs: "it was thanks to [my grandmother] that I discovered Wuthering Heights and fell in love with Heathcliff, Emily Bronte's dark-skinned orphan from Liverpool."

It's so long since I read Wuthering Heights that I was surprised by the revelation that Heathcliff was a Scouser. Somehow it just doesn't feel right.
Heathcliff saying to Cathy: "Come ahead, soft girl. Don't stand there like one of Lewis's. Y'know yer wanna."?
No. I think not.

This will now join the well-established myth that Brown said he liked listening to the Arctic Monkeys, for which he was widely derided.
In that case, the interviewer asked him if he liked the Arctic Monkeys. Brown only said "they would certainly wake you up in the morning."
This is a typical reply to such a question from someone of Brown's age (and mine). Translated, it means: "I've sometimes heard snatches of their music and thought 'What a fucking racket'".
This mis-reporting soon accreted new detail like a snowball rolling down a hill, including the claim that Brown listened to the Arctic Monkeys on his iPod.
I don't even know if Brown has an iPod. He strikes me as a non-iPod man like myself, someone who doesn't want music piped into his head every waking hour.


Following up on my last post about the Christian Registrar who refused to perform Civil Partnership ceremonies and won her case at a tribunal, this was covered on Sunday (Radio 4) today, the religious magazine programme.
Joshua Rosenburg, the Torygraph legal correspondent, explained that the ruling meant that gay rights and religious rights had equal weight in law. One could not have primacy over the other. This baffled the presenter, Roger Bolton, as much as it baffled me.
Asked if a Catholic who worked in a chemist could refuse to sell contraceptives, Rosenburg said no, because that was an essential part of working in a chemist.
But surely today conducting Civil Partnerships is an essential part of working as a Registrar?
The only issue in all this is whether religious beliefs should give exemption from both laws and contracts of employment. If the answer is 'yes', then why is this privilege accorded to religious beliefs and not other beliefs?

Of course, in recent years religions managed to get exemption from various equality laws, although failed to do so in respect of adoption by gay couples because a weakened Blair was over-ruled by his Cabinet.
An unfortunate precedent was set many years ago when Sikh men were given exemption from the legal requirement for motorcycle riders to wear crash helmets.
The other question raised by this is what constitutes a religion or a religious belief? If I were to establish my own religion tomorrow, could I claim exemption from laws and employment duties on the basis of my beliefs? I suspect not.

Incidentally, although I resent two hours of Sunday mornings on Radio 4 being given over to religion, I never miss the 'Sunday' programme. Listening to Christians fighting like ferrets in a sack is vastly entertaining to atheists. And it contains more discussion of homosexuality than any other programme.
I'm always reminded of something that Bernard Levin wrote about political fundamentalists and which is equally true of religions:
"Factions dealing in fictions are prone to frictions leading to fractions."


Listening to Round Britain Quiz in bed last night, I got quite a few of the answers.
In more that 40 years of listening to bits of this programme, I have never even understood the fucking questions.
You see, I don't do cryptic.
That's not who I am.
What the hell had happened? Had my brain suddenly rewired itself?
What next? Will I be able to do quadratic equations or understand string theory?
Maybe it was all a dream. I do hope so.


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