Prof Patrick McGhee

Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

The Leaders’ Debate – In Search of The Gospel Truth

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2015 at 4:38 pm

It’s a pity the Leaders Debate isn’t tomorrow, tomorrow being Good Friday; it would have made allusions to ‘crucified’, ‘passion’, ‘flogging’ and, depending on the outcome, ‘resurrection’ a whole lot easier. As it is Maundy Thursday as a reference point doesn’t carry the same kind of rhetorical resonance: “Miliband really gave Farage a right good handout of coins just then…” just doesn’t hit home in the same way. For really excoriating attacks on the poverty of political grandstanding dipped in the vinegar of sarcasm you can’t beat a symbolically-charged, politically-motivated public execution.

But Thursday it is. Many scholars believe the derivation of ‘Maundy’ in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin translation of the first word of Jesus’ statement at the last supper: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” which means “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”. I doubt we shall see much love amongst the leadership candidates tonight even if, in the end, the odds of a public humiliation and burial over the weekend are much higher.

Standing there is the harsh light of the studio arcs, side by side and pushed to recant and repent previous wrongdoings, some of the politicians will be reminiscent of the supporting cast on Calvary. It reminds me of what Beckett has Vladimir say in Godot about the evangelists’ accounts of the thieves on the cross: “one of the four says that one of the two was saved”. There is little doubt instant opinion polls tomorrow will give us somewhat more detailed breakdown than that. Instead we shall probably have conflicting and bewilderingly qualified polls spun literally left, right and centre, “43% of the viewers, aged 25-35 felt that Miliband was more persuasive than Sturgeon, except those who have switched to SNP during the Independence Referendum when that figure falls dramatically to 41%. Eamonn back to you in the studio”. Though it would be wonderful if a presenter on one of the rolling news channels said “Well, there you have it, viewers. One of the two of our reviewers of the papers says that one of the seven won the debate by a mile”.

And then we will no doubt have over the weekend Ed Balls as a born-again fiscally-responsible Chancellor appealing once more to the Office of Budget Responsibility to check that his figures add up – much as Christ said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”

No doubt some journalists on Good Friday will say that they were all losers in the end. I estimate 27% of broadsheet journalists will claim that democracy was, in many ways, the loser. And all the while someone in the advertising sales department at ITV will have gone to bed with the powerful sense of consolation that only a large Scotch and the knowledge that it all happens just once every five years can bring.

Other scholars believe the derivation of Maundy is not from the ‘mandatum’ phrase at all, but more prosaically from the old English ‘maund’ which was a small basket used by paupers for begging. And beg they will, in each their own way, setting out what they intend to do with that most sovereign and sacred of political coin: a democratic mandate.

But the story of Holy Thursday of course ends much as the account of Christ’s adult life begins – with a search for truth amongst doubt and deficiency. What begins on the long campaign trail in the Judean desert comes to conclusion in Gethsemane. The exhortation spoken then amongst the olive trees is one which we should all bear in mind as we listen to politicians’ personal testimonies and read their manifestos: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Patrick McGhee
@profmcghee