It is a postmodernist’s paradise at the moment in the UK and Ireland, watching two of the grandest of Grand Narratives crumbling into ridicule on one hand and revulsion on the other.
Narrative #1, that the Mother of Parliaments in the UK is composed of good men and women working selflessly for the benefit of their electorates and the country.
The MP’s expenses scandal has lurched between the outrageous and the farcical with members screwing everything out of the system from mortgage interest on non-existent mortgages worth tens of thousands of pounds, to claims for Kit Kats and yogurts. But it is the absurdity of members’ claims for the cleaning of their moat and the building of a duck house for their lake which will be emblematic of this scandal. The most telling comment on the scandal came from MP Dianne Abbott who said that the public wanted to see ‘dead MPs hanging from lampposts’. She is not far wrong. Parliament has lost any moral authority that it may once have felt able to claim and the level of public disillusionment, cynicism and outright fury is palpable. If only Screaming Lord Sutch were still alive. He would be a shoe-in to win the next general election.
Narrative #2, that the Church is a kindly organisation comprised of charitable people suffused with the love of God and keen to promulgate his good works.
In Dublin yesterday I watched with others as Justice Sean Ryan’s Report detailed the years of child abuse, torture, rape, beating and emotional violence suffered by children at the hands of the Catholic Church and their institutions in Ireland. Even when you think that you have heard and read the worst of what the adult world can do to children, this report surely marks a new low. No longer can the church claim that this ‘problem’ was down to a few ‘bad apples’. These ‘schools’, and orphanages were the orchards of the damned. The report’s language is quite deliberate. The abuse was ‘institutionalised’, endemic’, ‘systematic’, ‘pervasive’. The church and their hierarchy knew what was happening and turned an equally systematic blind eye to the suffering to protect their priests and nuns. In full collusion with the abuse, the other arm of this unholy alliance, the Department of Education did nothing, save for adopt an approach to ‘monitoring’ that the report described as ‘deferential’ and ‘submissive’ to the Church. One commentator noted that the Catholic Church in Ireland now had the dubious honour of being publically and legally identified as the country’s most notorious and widespread paedophile ring. What, they mused, would happen to any other organisation found to have behaved in such a way?
Another dominant feature of both of these stories has been the place of the ‘pubic apology’ and its demise into just another slick, spin-doctoring strategy. More about this later.