Press Column Saturday 06 May 2000

One of the things that distinguishes Ruth Gledhill — there are others, as the Guardian diary has discovered — is her willingness actually to go to church. Her column At Your Service may grate on some people because of the vulgarity of rating services for "spiritual highs" but at least it keeps her off the ballroom floor and ensures that she spends some time every week plugged into normal religious activities. The natural tendency in any religious specialist is otherwise to suppose that if you have spent all week working then Sundays should be enjoyed as far from believers as possible. But there are still some stories which can only be got by getting your knees down, and Michael Brown had a lovely one in the Yorkshire Post on Monday. This started off as a standard parish row: new evangelical vicar sacks organist after discovering that he is not married to the woman he has been living with for the last ten years. Many papers had that. What Michael alone had was that when a member of the congregation made an impromptu speech in favour of the organist the vicar, the Rev Philip Evans, summed the police to restore order, while his wife marched out of church "raising her hands and shouting ‘Praise the Lord!’ and was followed by about 20 members of the congregation." It’s not clear whether the Holy Spirit was needed to back up the police, or vice versa. Either way, the story is almost unique as an example of life improving on St Gargoyle’s.

What the Guardian diary has got hold of is Ruth’s web site, This had had only 7,000 visitors when it was named web site of the month by the diary, which has been quoting choice snippets of autobiography in the hope of doubling the visitor count. It is up to 7,800 as I write, but I don’t think it will ever really take off as a cult unless he can reproduce the pictures as well as the words. I had no idea that her dance costumes were sponsored by a firm called ChrisAnne. Perhaps she could interest Vanpoules as well in her synodical outfits. In any case, she has fought back in quite the best way against this teasing, by announcing it as the first award her web pages have ever won, and providing links back to the Guardian stories.

Off the web, Ruth got Rowan Williams to talk about his love of the Simpsons. I liked this, not just because the show is, as he describes it, "very sophisticated ... and very moral"; but it is also the case that one of the most unattractive characters in it is the Flanders the fundie who lives next door to the Simpson family; and one of the most delightful gags in it was a sign on the church after a hurricane struck Springfield, which says: "God welcomes His victims." The peg for all this was his announcement that he didn’t think much of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the film Notting Hill. He got nearly half a page in the Times and the Daily Telegraph for these remarks, but what was really extraordinary was that he managed to get across a get across a sophisticated and grown-up thought about sexual love despite being photographed in a dog-collar. To see the extent of his triumph, you need only look at the final quote in the Daily Telegraph’s coverage, where the PR droid from the film company says "Notting Hill has no sex in it and is probably one of the most romantic films of the Nineties. It clearly sends out the message that love conquers all." This is, in effect, to rebuke the Archbishop for not telling pretty lies.

Are we seeing the beginnings of an organised Christian political movement in this country? Three developments make this look possible. The first was William Hague’s speech at Spring Harvest, witheringly anatomised by Nick Cohen in the New Statesman. Cohen, an ebullient atheist, takes this as the coming together of two doomed organisations who have nothing to lose by associating with each other. But Hague would not have gone to Spring Harvest if someone had not put up a persuasive case that there were votes to be had from evangelical Christians. Clifford Longley had one of his more oracular columns in the Daily Telegraph about how Hague’s speech at Spring Harvest left open a line of communications between the churches and the Conservative party over immigration. Clifford will occasionally write columns which analyse and praise obscure policy documents at such lengths that I always suspect he has written them himself under another name. But they are, by the same token, a reliable indication that someone rich or powerful is concerned with the matter. Then there is the case of Ram Gidoomal, the Christian candidate for Mayor of London. The Daily Telegraph, a reliable guide to Conservative civil wars, has carried letters endorsing his candidacy from three suffragan bishops, the rather more influential figure of Sandy Millar, and now Gill Brentwood and Lady Sainsbury.

Perhaps I am just beig suspicious, but I can see a pattern here. Of course there is no chance of the Christian defeating Ken Livingstone. But that is not the point; indeed, the fact that votes against Livingstone in this election seem completely pointless actually strengthens the positions of a wild-card candidate. The interesting point is whether the HTB vote can damage Steven "shagger" Norris, the official Conservative. Norris stands for what one might call non-judgemental conservatism. He doesn’t want to condemn any adult for having sex, especially not with Steven Norris; and that is, it is assumed in the political classes, the way the voters feel too. But a good showing for Ram Gidoomal could be used as an argument to persuade William Hague that there are votes in pharisaism, especially now that he is himself a respectably married man. By the time this appears you will know whether there’s anything in this theory.

Front Cuts Book Back