The Pointlessness of the Party Conference

or: Why we should all listen to Radio 3 in September

Sometimes, I like to have breakfast to the sound of BBC Radio 3. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that I like classical music. And I don’t like jingles. Much of Radio 3 is beyond me, but the Radio 3 breakfast show is about my level. It’s not for the die-hard purists as it plays single movements and shorter pieces, making at least some concession to the time of day. (No one’s got the best part of an hour to listen to Mahler’s Fifth while eating cornflakes. That many cornflakes is very unhealthy.)

The second reason is that I have young children, and being a middle class parent, I am keen that they appreciate The Arts whilst they have no choice in the matter.

The third reason is that the Radio 3 Breakfast show is mostly music, and very little talking. In particular, there is very little news. Radio 3 would always rather talk about a composer who died in 1723, than a politician who’s desperately trying to get us to eat healthily or vote for them.

On Radio 3, one can avoid the tedious, playground taunting that passes for interviews on Radio 4. One can avoid the incessant reading out of knee-jerk texts and emails from the uninformed listeners on Five Live. And being yelled at on Radio 2, most of the above coming with lengthy travel news reports, even though SatNavs have made this radio obsession almost entirely obsolete.
On Radio 3, you get no travel update, a nod to the news, and then it’s back to a string quartet or sonata. It’s lovely.

Why You Need Radio 3 in September

Radio 3 really comes into its own in September, when party conferences are in full swing. The Media Machine loves to give these events their full attention, grinding out hours of coverage and analysis, not least because they slot nicely into the diary and are easy to cover in depth. As always, the journalists relentlessly focus on politicians and their careers rather than policies that may or may not actually be moral, legitimate, reasonable or good for the country.

Fun times at Party Conference

The media miss the fact that these conferences are completely self-defeating. A party conference can only have two real purposes. The first is a feel-good knees-up with back-slapping speeches where politicians queue up to offer their praise to each other. The party faithful get to feel like they’re part of things and everyone goes home happy, inspired but basically unchallenged. A bit like a Sunday church service when it’s not quite doing its job. (It’s fine to be inspired, but we all know there’s more to it than that.)

The second more useful purpose of a party conference is an introspective search for the party’s soul, what it is and what it stands for. Difficult questions should be asked. Deep philosophical issues should be raised, and then examined, discussed and debated well into the night with a single malt (with someone sober taking notes in case the single malt wins the argument on the night).

The problem, as we have said, is that party conferences are open to the media, and frequently broadcast to the nation – or at least the parts of the nation whose TVs are stuck on BBC2 and can’t seem to get their Freeview/Sky box to change channel. Because the politicians feel under the glare of the nation’s gaze, they act on their mistaken view that the nation likes to see parties united and speaking with one, lengthily-applauded voice..

In the past, for example, Tories always thought people wouldn’t vote for them if they appear divided on the issue of Europe. In fact, those who don’t vote Tory do so for a variety of gut-felt, prejudicial or intellectual reasons, good and bad. Division over Europe is not really one of them. Divisions within religions usually look bad, especially when they end in obscene and hateful language or bloodshed. But everyone expects politicians to at least resort to the former, so why the big deal over presenting a united front on every single policy?

The result is a entirely self-defeating party conference in which every speech given is designed to have the following qualities; vague acceptability to the people in the room; a blandness that it appears is part of mainstream policy and therefore makes the party look united; a lack of verbal gaffes to avoid the attention of the journalists who will report verbal slips with pathetic childish glee; careful use of hand-gestures that cannot be misused to make them look like extremists; and an appeal to the people who aren’t there, aren’t watching on TV and were never going to vote for them anyway.

In short, it’s like trying to conduct a Presbyterian church service, in a synagogue, live on Al Jazeera. It is, at best, a waste of time.

How to accidentally ruin a perfectly decent society

Death by Civilisation

Party conferences should be private affairs, with doors closed and the press excluded. Politicians, SPADs and wonks should lock themselves in a big room and work out what they’re about and why – while the rest of us listen to Mahler’s Fifth eating cornflakes, which can’t be any harder work than watching The Daily Politics during conference season.

A version of this article, and many others like it, can be found in my book, Death by Civilisation, available on Amazon, and as an e-book, here.

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Why I Can’t Hide Like Eddie Stobart

A few years ago, I read a book about the Eddie Stobart company. I’ve forgotten most of it, but my lasting memory is that Eddie himself barely featured in the day-to-day running of this company. In fact, he was soon a distant memory. The other members of the family enjoyed this because if someone stomped into their office with a problem and demanded to see Eddie Stobart, they would be disappointed. Someone else would step in and offer to deal with the problem and suddenly the situation was already beginning to be diffused. And no-one had to take the blame for being Eddie Stobart. Convenient.

I don’t have that luxury on this website. I am James Cary, and this is Jamescary.co.uk. Welcome to my new website. Hopefully it is a permanent online home for my articles and blogs, more of which below. But for now, I realise that I’ve left myself very little room for manoeuvre. If I post a thought or opinion on this site, it’s me. I take the credit or get the blame. Anyone who stomps up and waves a fist will be doing so to the man whose name is at the top. There is no hiding.

In Pursuit Of The Obvious

My previous and now defunct website was called ‘In Pursuit of the Obvious’, which is a curious title for my website. It did not mean that I consider my own views to be merely common sense and self-evident or that that anyone who disagrees with me is clearly wrong-headed, illogical or in denial. Many newspaper columns pride themselves on what they consider to be ‘straight shooting’ and ‘telling it like it is’, in a world of political correctness, PR, spin and fake news. Much as it would be nice to have a website called ‘Both Barrels’ or ‘Shooting from the Hip’, my aim is not to shock people with the truth or rant like a rabble-rounsing demagogue.

There is a Christian justification for being cantankerous and pointing out the uncomfortable truths in the great and the apparently good. ‘Speaking prophetically’ is a thing, biblically-speaking. And if you’re going to be like anyone in the Bible – apart from Jesus – you could do worse than Moses, Elijah or any of those guys. Many of them were living dangerously and met a sticky end (except Elijah who went to heaven in a chariot of fire. Lucky him.)

No, this website and blog has a different purpose, and a different hero. My earthly hero, of the last hundred years, at least, is GK Chesterton. I was inspired to read one of GK Chesterton’s finest works, Orthodoxy, by another author, Philip Yancey, who wrote in Soul Survivor:

“We direly need another Chesterton today, I think. In a time when culture and faith have drifted even further apart, we could use his brilliance, his entertaining style, and above all his generous and joyful spirit. When society becomes polarised, as ours has, it is as if the two sides stand across a great divide and shout at each other. Chesterton had another approach: he walked to the centre of a swinging bridge, roared a challenge to any single combat warriors, and then made both sides laugh aloud. GK Chesterton managed to propound the Christian faith with as much wit, good humour, and sheer intellectual force as anyone in th[e Twentieth C]entury.”

 

GK Chesterton

GK Chesterton

I wanted to find out more about this man. I’d heard his name many times, not least because GK Chesterton is quoted extremely often by evangelical preachers, despite not being an evangelical himself, and he ended up drifting into Roman Catholicism. But he wrote so well and concisely, constantly using beautiful prose and paradox (perhaps the latter to a fault), that he is eminently quotable. He is such an appealing author because he is profoundly serious, but does not take himself too seriously, very much aware of his own flaws and failings. He cut an absurd figure, being extremely tall and large. PG Wodehouse honoured him by referring to his bulk in Mr Mulliner Speaking, in which the hero, Cedric, is creeping around, but surprised by a noise which is described thus:

“The drowsy stillness of the summer afternoon was shattered by what sounded to his strained senses like G. K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.”

Given the mass of Chesterton, we assume this is a loud noise. He would have been thrilled, amused and flattered.

We digress. Okay, I’m doing most of the digressing here, but many great truths have been expressed in digressions, just as many great discoveries were accident. That said, people tend to quote pencillin, but then dry up with further examples rather quickly. Where were we? Ah yes. “In Pursuit of The Obvious”. Why that as the title of my previous blog?

Responding to Yancey’s exhortation, I read GK Chesterton’s book, Orthodoxy. It remains one of my favourite books of all time, being an inspiration for me in my non-fiction writing and precisely the kind of book that I would one day like to write. The opening chapter of the book is a wonderful admission of his own spiritual and philosophical trek about how it would look if an English yachtsman sailed off on a voyage of discovery, only to miscalculate, land on a beach and plant the British flag on a beach, only to discover that his hitherto hidden nation is in fact, England. And if you read the whole chapter – or the whole book – here, you will see that Chesterton admits to being that deluded sailor, looking around the world for something new and exciting, but realising that the thing he was looking for was orthodox Christianity. He writes:

“I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious.”

Much as I’d like to write more about this wonderful chapter, I realise a little more explanation is still needed. Chesterton’s circuitous journey back to faith in plain old Christianity is something that we may yet end up experiencing as a society and nation. I am not saying that we had it right in the old days. There’s no one particular year or even century where we’d really cracked Christendom. In the fifteenth century, Britons were very religious, but it took a form of superstition, rather than a Christian faith. A century later, Protestantism had taken hold (which I’m a fan of), but lots of people were killed in the process. Within another hundred years, life for Protestants serious about their faith found living in England untenable so they left to start another country in the Americas.

The Future

I’m not nostalgic about the past, but I am optimistic about the future because I believe God is good, and that he has made the universe to be a friendly place, and despite our best efforts, our story ends well. As a nation, we are on a journey, trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. We’ve tried Kings, Parliaments, Empire-building, War, Socialism, Pluralism, Capitalism and various blends of the aforementioned, many of which have their strengths and their place.

Like Chesterton, I believe, this journey can only end with the obvious: Christianity, no matter how bizarre that may seem to us today. In that same chapter, he writes about how we chase after the novel:

“It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t. One searches for truth, but it may be that one pursues instinctively the more extraordinary truths.”

The question is what mature, authentic Christianity looks like in the 21st Century, a land of iPhones, science labs, nuclear weapons, cloning, fake news and reality TV. How do Church and State fit together? What is the State? How is this discussed in the Media? What is the media? Sorry, what are the media? (We all know it’s ‘is’ really). What sort of society do we want to be? And what do we do about people who want something else?

These are questions with which I seem to constantly be wrestling. I have elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. But rather than the call the website that, I’ve called it Jamescary.co.uk. Disappointing, but there it is.


How to accidentally ruin a perfectly decent society

Death by Civilisation

I’ve written more on some of the above in a book called Death By Civilisation, available in some good bookshops, a few dreadful ones and unavailable in far more of both. Best bet is Amazon.

“‘a wonderful cascade of sage snippets…fit to grace bedside tables and smallest rooms in the greatest houses” – Alan Wilson, Church Times

“This is a lovely selection of well-thought out and witty articles which you can pick up and put down at your leisure. Cary is not just accomplished, but engaging too. Oh, and funny.” – DeanT, Amazon Review

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