It’s PC gone mad!!

Nick Cohen in the Observer is one of those writers who can either completely nail a subject (like here), or make a right pig’s ear of it (like here, which appears to have been written in order to generate those 400+ comments).

This week, he manages to do both.

The column is about the case of Paul Chambers, was arrested under anti-terrorism laws for a tweet he made back in the snow in January, joking that he would blow up Robin Hood Airport if it didn’t open to allow him to visit his girlfriend (who he also met on Twitter) in Northern Ireland (you can read his own views on the case here). Not the best joke in the world, but perhaps an understandable venting of frustration.

Cohen, for much of his article nails this. Not only is it a complete waste of time. It’s more than that: there’s something vaguely sinister about the way the CPS seemed to want to find any law they could to charge him. Not just that, but to be convicted under anti-terrorist laws for, say, a joke like this, the CPS don’t need to show that you had any intent, to actually carry out the act: just that you made the comment. As Cohen says:

People joke like this all the time. When they say in a bar: "I’ll strangle my boyfriend if he hasn’t done the washing up" or post on Facebook: "I’ll murder my boss if he makes me work late", it does not mean that the bodies of boyfriends and bosses will soon be filling morgues.

So far, so good, you’re with Cohen. Alright, this perhaps wasn’t the best thing Chambers has ever done, but not, in the grand scheme of things, that important.

Then, it all goes wrong and we get this:

Beyond the law lies the politics. The hounding of Paul Chambers stinks of Labour authoritarianism. The prosecuting authorities showed no respect for free speech.

And this:

I don’t care what the polls say or how unpopular the coalition becomes – Labour must change the settled view of the majority of Britons that it is the party of politically correct jobsworths or it will never win another election.

Huh? First, where is there any evidence that Labour were behind this? I can sort of see where he’s coming from: Labour were hardly reticent about coming forward with new anti-terror legislation and seemed much more interested in the security threat than in protecting civil liberties. And that may well have encouraged cases like this. But this case appears to have been driven by the CPS, desperate to find any way they could to get Chambers.

But where the argument truly falls down is that phrase "[Labour] is the party of politically correct jobsworths". Sorry, where did "political correctness" come into this? I genuinely, really, don’t understand: whom he Chambers alleged to have insulted/offended? Why bring PC into the debate?

More than that, the term "political correctness" ought to be dropped, no matter what side of the debate about it you’re on. C’mon guys, we’re out of the 1990s now. It doesn’t show brave, free speech; it’s just an empty cliche that’s largely meaningless now.

And what’s so wrong with what political correctness is supposed to stand for in any case? It’s quite simply respecting other people who happen to be different from us. It’s not making value judgements about them, their beliefs, their culture based on our own stereotypes. It’s recognising that language we may have used in the past to describe others may be offensive to them and that, actually, that might mean we have to stop. It means that, just occasionally, we have to make allowances for other people’s ideas: this isn’t pandering, or giving in, or surrendering our own culture – it’s just good manners. Civility. Tolerance – the things that Britain’s supposed to be good at. As Diarmaid MacCulloch says in the introduction to his book "A History of Christianty", when explaining why he uses the names for groups that aren’t offensive to them, even if they’re unfamiliar to us:

Some may sneer at this as ‘political correctness’. When I was young, my parents were insistent on the importance of being courteous and respectful of other people’s opinions and I am saddened that these undramatic values have now been relabelled in an unfriendly spirit.

So "political correctness": nothing to do with the Paul Chambers case and nothing more than being "courteous and respectful". What’s all the fuss about? Let it drop, please!

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Preaching on Back to Church Sunday

September 26 is Back to Church Sunday 2010 – but preparing the sermon at present is proving to be a distinctly frustrating experience…

The text is John 1:35-43, the story of the first two disciples (Andrew and A N Other) meeting Jesus, and Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. But it all seems to be so elusive. Although it’s focussed on Jesus, He’s a very strange and elusive character in the story:

  1. At the beginning, He’s just walking by – we don’t really know why, or where He’s going (does it matter?)
  2. He only says 3 three things in the whole passage: a) asking the disciples why they’re following Him; 2) inviting them to come and see where He’s staying; 3) telling Simon that his name was now going to be Peter.
  3. We don’t know what He said to the two disciples when they stayed at His house – John doesn’t tell us. We also don’t know the effects of their time together (though the disciples kept following Him, so whatever happened, it must have confirmed to them that John the Baptist was right and He was the Messiah).

My only thought at the moment is to get people to put themselves in the disciples’ shoes, since they too have been invited to "Come and See". What were they expecting? What’s the idea in their head of this Jesus fellow whom we Christians talk about and worship? What would it mean to them to meet Him – what do they think would happen as a result of this?

Perhaps the elusiveness is part of the point: we’re so keen to try and be certain about Jesus, to try and talk about the facts and persuade people by our arguments, talking about the reliability of the Gospels, the reasons why we can be sure the resurrection happened and so on. And I’m not saying any of that’s wrong, far from it: I think it’s crucial that our faith has a basis in history.

But what I mean (I think) is that, ultimately, knowing facts is not what following Jesus is about. It’s about encountering Him, meeting Him, being ready to have our expectations blown out of the water, finding that this Jesus is a lot more mysterious than we imagine. Sometimes it feels as if He can be elusive, hard-to-grasp. And as they follow Him, the disciples will find the same thing: just as they think they’ve got a handle on Jesus, He wrong foots them again. Not because He’s devious, but because He’s simply far more than we can imagine.

So perhaps the point of this is to get people interested, to present to them this fascinating, elusive Jesus who wants to spend time with us, to show us "His place" and who, ultimately, wants us to follow Him.

Hmmmm… maybe I am on to something here…

New breakfast on Radio 2

Hello and happy new year!

As you may have noticed, today was Chris Evans’ first breakfast show on Radio 2.  There’s been all sorts of comment about it, some of it good, some of it not so good (to say the least).

There is history here, for me.  For a while, I was a fan of Chris’ Radio 1 breakfast show, which could be really funny at its best (and really annoying at its worst); so I was keen to hear how different this would be.  Secondly, I really, really liked Drivetime (though for some reason I was less keen on the All-Request Fridays; I think I just liked the banter and features that made up the regular show).  Thirdly, in recent years, I’ve grown to like Wake Up to Wogan (you may have heard of it…).  So I wanted to hear how its replacement would fare.  In short, I was looking forward to this.

What did I make of it?  I thought it was good.  What was weird was, not just the fact that it was Chris Evans and not Terry Wogan, but that it was Evans at breakfast, not Drivetime.  I think he found it a bit weird, too, which is why he imported so much of Drivetime across, some of which worked, some of which didn’t.  It was as if he needed some familiar things to help him through the first show.  I do wonder how much of them will last for too long.

He did sound very nervous (especially at first) and the show had a nervous feel to it.  It had so many features, as if it wanted to impress you with how good it was.  A lot of the phone-ins didn’t work and hopefully will go.  And a bit less Jonny Saunders would’ve been good (no offence to him, but Drivetime was in part great because Evans didn’t have a sidekick, it was just him most of the time and it worked well), along with a bit more Lyn Bowles. Having Moira Stuart was fantastic, though – and she seemed game enough to join in with it all. I missed the car-crash moment, the interview with the hot water bottle bloke – I suspect that segment may be the first to go.

What’s interesting has been reading the Guardian blog of Chris’ first Drivetime show – it seems a very different beast to how it finished off, and shows that that show developed over time.  I suspect it’ll be the same with Breakfast; there was a lot that wasn’t great, but I suspect it’ll improve as time goes on and they get used to the bits that work and the bits that don’t.  It’ll probably sound very different in, say, 6 months: less of Drivetime stretched half-an-hour longer (as today’s felt), less nervousness from Chris and a more relaxed, in-control feel.  I wonder if ratings will dip, then improve, as they did for Drivetime.  In short, don’t judge it by the first show. It needs more chat, especially from Chris, less trying too hard with gimmicks and features and it’ll be great.

But even despite its failings, I came away at 9:30 with a smile on my face.  More please, BBC!