30 September 2009

Cause and affect

With timing designed to cause maximum political embarrassment, yesterday The Sun announced it was switching its political allegiance from New Labour to David Cameron's Conservatives (formerly known as The Conservative Party). Gleefully parading its already monstrous ego, as both creator and subject of the news, the story also led the news on the BBC and ITN news, to the eternal discredit of those who should know better.

No doubt the BBC would maintain it was an important story because of the supposed enormous political influence The Sun holds. Famously, after the 1992 surprise Conservative election victory, the paper claimed "It was The Sun wot won it", which did more to enfeeble the British political system and diminish democracy in this country than anything in the last 20 years. Not because it was true, but because politicians believed it was true, and have been cowed by it ever since.

I would like to say for the record that the emperor has no clothes. The Sun can no more win an election than increased sales of ice cream causes hot weather - it is a confidence trick of causality, muddling up cause and effect. Yes the paper has publicly backed the winning party for every election in the last 30 years, but that's like me saying my support for Manchester United has caused them to win the Premier League. People will ultimately vote a government in or out not because The Sun tells them to, but because they come to a conclusion about the issues themselves through a mixture of media influence, including The Sun, peer pressure/influence, prejudice and judgements about likely outcomes to their own personal circumstances. The Sun is the ultimate glory fan, backing a winner to bask in its reflected glory, deluding itself that it says something about its wisdom.

In the past, The Sun has backed the Community Charge, decried Scottish devolution and the minimum wage and U-turned more times than a driving school. Its track record of influencing change is no better than mine. Yesterday's switch of tack does not condemn the Labour Party to defeat at the next election, for they have already done that themselves - it merely goes to show it positioning itself in line with its readers' views. I would urge all politicians to consult the next set of ABC figures in December to see how far The Sun's readership has declined these last 20 years, and how many other sources of news people use these days. Then just maybe our politicians will remember they have spines.

25 September 2009

…as the ASDA said to the bishop

The Bishop of Reading, The Rt. Reverend Stephen Cotrell, has been making headlines this week with his marketing-led analysis of the English church-goer. His assertion is that the Church of England needs to move downmarket to shore up its declining customer base – or as he put it:

“How did it come to this, that we have become known as just the Marks & Spencer option when in our heart of hearts we know that Jesus would just as likely be in the queue at ASDA or Aldi?”

I am intrigued by the many implications of this thought. First, that Aldi and Marks and Spencer are mutually exclusive. The current recession is proving that middle class people are just as adept at shopping at discount food retailers as the great unwashed. Second, Jesus may indeed have been found amongst the aisles at Netto, but I also guess He wouldn’t ignore those people who frequent M&S as well. After all, what more of an Everyman statement could He make than to buy His underwear from M&S?

A part of me also thinks that rather than queuing for His Pot Noodles, He might instead be tempted to make His own, maybe updating the loaves-and-fishes model for a modern audience – 5,000 kebabs with chilli sauce from a single pitta, maybe?

Modernisation is, of course, at the heart of the entire argument. The Bishop’s outburst was part of a PR campaign to encourage lapsed believers to give the C of E another try; something else the Church has in common with supermarkets is a recruitment drive in the run-up to Christmas, its busiest trading period. As part of this, “a rap-style radio advertisement” (shudder) has been launched to get the yoof back through church doors, featuring this gem:

"Don't look to make no airs and graces.
Faked up smiles and masked up faces.
No need to make no innovation.
Please accept this as your invitation."

It would seem the use of double negatives is to be a feature of the new ASDA-style Eucharist in an apparent attempt to patronise their new audience to within an inch of their lives. How very middle class. How very M&S.

19 September 2009

Bones of contention

This week saw the beginning of a tour of the bones of St Therese of Liseux, coming to a cathedral, church or prison near you. There hasn't been this much excitement about a tour of old relics in this country since the last Rolling Stones concerts, and the Catholic Church has promised us "a time of grace" for the 30-day duration of the visit. Given that St Therese's disintegrating DNA has also visited Russia, Kazakhstan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Lebanon and Iraq in the recent past, I'm not sure she has much of a track record in that department.

I find it fascinating that, far from being slightly sheepish about this barely-disguised idolatry, the Catholic Church is loudly trumpeting the visit. If there is anything less likely to convince non-believers of your credibility as an intellectual force, I would have thought relic visits would be akin to an Iranian World Tour of Stoning, or Libya parading a terrorist through the streets. Oh, hang on...

But this is not being done for the likes of me, of course - according to the Catholic Church's website "many people have been praying and asking for this to happen, and now their prayers have been answered", which shows a remarkably skewed sense of 'prayer priorities' if you ask me. According to one attendee to today's first stop in Taunton, "although she lived over hundred years ago, St Thérèse is a saint for our times." Quite literally, it would seem, as she has her own 2009 calendar that you can download from her own website. I don't think she has a Twitter account, but I've no doubt she'd get a lot of followers if she did.

Maybe the promoters of the secular world's own poster boy for 2009, Charles Darwin, are missing a trick? Instead of boring things such as exhibitions, movies, documentaries and eponymous extensions to the Natural History Museum, they should have exhumed old Chuck's remains and paraded them to the Science Museum. I think it's important to fight anti-intellectualism on its own terms, just to show that, in these times, it's not about the arguments but who has the best PR. I'm half inclined to switch on "X Factor" to see if St Therese's sarcophagus turns up performing an attempted healing.

14 September 2009

Back online

Big thanks to my friend Marc Allington for figuring out just what the heck was up with my web URLs, and why my Blogger account was no longer recognising them. www.hofflimits.co.uk is back up and running - now for hofflimits.com.