I wrote a few years back about how we Island dwellers have an all too apt reputation as miserable, whining tightwads. Today I’ll leave the tightwaddery to one side and focus on the miserableness – a trope that seems to have taken root and grown.
On BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz recently, Lucy Porter was talking about the vitriol that seems to be part of public political life these days. She whimsically wished political discourse should be undertaken “like a vicar at a church fete judging the cake competition”. Vicaring is not for the timid, but you won’t get very far in it if you upset people too often. And as someone who as a non-vicar has on more than one occasion been asked to judge cake competitions, it’s an onerous duty. The point is that – as in politics – there are serious messages to be delivered. Somebody’s cake is the best. Deciding on which one is the easy part. Delivering the news is harder. How does our hypothetical vicar do this? By saying nice things, of course. Not by telling untruths – if the cake’s bad it should be clear that it is, but it is all about the way in which this is done. This is where Lucy’s light-hearted political analogy turns into actual practical advice.
Let us evaluate some recent Island events. As reported in the County Press, at a meeting of Bembridge Parish Council, Cllr Richard Weaver was said to have called Cllr Alasdair Steane a c**t – although he protested unsuccessfully that he’d used the word ‘cult’. This very obviously fails the vicar test. Would you consider it appropriate for the clergy to call the maker of a substandard cake ‘a c**t’? I imagine few outside of Bembridge would think so. So, in this instance, Cllr Mr Weaver would have the buttons snipped off his cassock and get sent back to theology college. Bembridge we know is a bit of a special case. I recall the entertaining story of ‘biscuitgate‘, when police were called to a Bembridge Parish Council meeting in December 2018 and residents showed up with a giant inflatable biscuit in protest. That incident would find favour with our mythical clerical adjudicator. Indignation expressed in a memorable way without resorting to punch-and-judy argument. If all our local councillors applied the same test to their actions we might find a more congenial atmosphere in local politics.
My sermon was to conclude at this point, with earnest entreaties for us all to raise our game and the standard of public debate. Alas, honesty compels me to give the lie to such an agreeable fantasy. As I was finalising this piece, feeling smugly sanctimonious, I heard the Prime Minister on the radio announcing that crowdfunding would provide the £500,000 needed to make Big Ben sound when Britain leaves the EU on 31 January. “Bung a bob for a Big Ben bong,” he titled the proposal. Out loud, and to my shame, I spat “What a cult”.