Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nick Clegg: he's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy...

"It would be barmy and blasphemous...to seriously compare Nick Clegg with Jesus Christ." So says Martin Kettle - who then goes on to do just that:
"The thing we really hate, I suspect, is the difficulty of getting hard things right rather than those who grapple with them. Yet we take it out on the hate figures. This only makes the difficulties greater, not least by implying that there is some obvious solution to hand which the politicians are wilfully ignoring. Handel's Messiah, quoting the Book of Isaiah, speaks to this collective failing with unrivalled power: "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Once again though, they could be talking about the increasingly hapless Clegg."[Emphasis mine]
Uh huh? The idea, if you can bear to read the piece, is that Clegg is suffering vicariously for our own flaws like the 'leper messiah' - an interpretation of Isaiah 53 which was subsequently incorporated into Christianity and applied to Jesus.

I wouldn't have dreamed of making the comparison myself, but Kettle started it so I thought I might continue... The New Testament accounts are obviously a source of debate but I don't think anyone seriously doubts that solicitude with the poor, the despised and the marginalised was central to the kerygma of Jesus of Nazareth. I like the edge to the Beatitudes that you find in Luke's account; blessed are not the 'poor in spirit' of Matthew's more ethereal account - just the poor.

What is more debatable is Jesus' attitude to power. I don't mean the disputes that focus around Jesus' injunction to 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's' but rather whether he wanted power for himself.

For there is an interpretation of the events leading to the Crucifixion that have Jesus as the leader of an armed insurrection against Roman occupation. Against the historical background, it is by no means absurd. In traditional Jewish theology, the Kingdom of God ushered in by the Mashiach was a this-worldly affair. But the injunction to 'sell your cloak and buy a sword' notwithstanding, I don't think the gospel accounts bear this out. The promise of earthly power was one of the Devil's temptations that he resisted in the desert. That the messiah should indeed enjoy earthly power was what was behind Peter's incredulous response to the notion that Jesus would not seize power but die the death of a common criminal. That the writer of the gospel has Jesus rejecting this with the same form of words is obviously no accident.

How unlike Clegg who strikes a number of people, including myself, of being rather the opposite. For did he not succumb to the temptation of worldy-power? And for the poor - has he not passed by on the other side? His toe-curling 'alarm clock Britain' homily contains one reference only to the unemployed; he talks about those who have 'opted-out of work'. No mention of those who have been evicted from their jobs and have nowhere else to go in this undoubted echo of Osborne/Cameron rhetoric about the 'benefits culture'.

One would have thought this would be enough to explain why some people don't like Mr Clegg very much but if Martin Kettle feels there's some kind of mysterious superabundance of hostility that needs accounting for, he might want to factor in Clegg's piety prior to assuming power and his transformation into an imploding bag of poisonous self-pity afterwards.

Martin Kettle thinks 'Clegg-hatred' says more about us than it does about him. Allow me to demur. That his sympathies lie with the rich and the powerful says rather more about him. It suggests someone locked into a Westminster media bubble that has long since lost any sense of how the shoe pinches - not for the 'squeezed middle' - but for that growing minority who live their lives on the edge of desperation. If Mr Kettle was looking for people who suffer vicariously like the leperous messiah, like the scapegoat of Leviticus, for people who have become a lightening rod for our own discontents, he might have spared a thought for them this Easter.
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