Main Site         

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband: singing from the same hymn sheet

2010 November 18
by Paul Vallely

Does the Queen clap?  It’s hard to tell from the fleeting shots we were allowed of her at the service on the eve of Remembrance Sunday. There is clearly some BBC etiquette which restricts the number and nature of times the camera is allowed to linger on the monarch. We know she does not sing the national anthem, which might be permissible theologically but would offend against protocol or propriety. But when people perform before her does she, like the rest of the audience, applaud? We never got to see.

What the camera did record, as the Festival of Remembrance modulated from civic commemoration into a religious service, was close-ups of politicians singing the hymns. It was no surprise that David Cameron joined in; the prime minister is a known churchgoer. But Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband sang too, which set me thinking since they have both announced that they do not believe in God.

They may, of course, in the interim had a Damascene moment. More likely they had decided that too many people would be offended by them not singing. News stories saying “party leader shows lack of respect for the fallen” would probably lose more votes than ones suggesting “politician does the opposite of what he says”. To many of the electorate the latter would sound as newsworthy as “dog bites man”.

So is singing something that you don’t really believe a mark of politeness – or a lack of integrity? Nick Clegg, of course, is already fairly low on the scale of the nation’s esteem after his brazen U-turns on the ferocity of public spending cuts and on university tuition fees, on both of which he abandoned clear electoral promises.

He also has form when it comes to his propensity to seek to please whoever it is he is addressing, which is why he foolishly once told Piers Morgan in GQ magazine that he had had sex with as many as 30 women. That could have been a slip, but there was something more calculating about his choosing a supply of cigarettes as his luxury on Desert Island Discs, shame-facedly adding that his children were entirely ignorant of the fact that he smoked – an admission which shamelessly ensured that they were ignorant of the fact no longer. Mr Clegg is clearly another pretty-straight kind of guy, to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair.

Ed Miliband, of course, would have a had a perfect excuse for an evening of silence, rather than just two minutes’ worth, since he is Jewish. But that fact made it seem even odder to sing How Great Thou Art, a hymn replete with references to Christ’s atonement and joyful anticipation of the second coming. Dogma bites man.

What underscored the incongruity was that, as the camera panned around the Albert Hall, it momentarily featured the faces of a number of non-singers. Perhaps they were overcome with the pain of bereavement. But it may well have been a lack of religious conviction. Either way it did not come across as a lack of respect. There is more than one way to participate in a public event.

If we don’t acknowledge that we risk ending up like the joke Eric Morecambe told in his typical mix of Seventies innocence and pre-PC sensibilities. A commissionaire at the BBC – an ex-soldier who only had one arm – once stopped the comedian and asked: “Excuse me, Mr Morecambe, but is there any chance you could get two tickets for your show at the London Palladium for me and the wife?”

“Certainly not,” the comic replied.

“But why?” the one-armed man inquired.

“Because you can’t clap.”

It was only a gag, of course. And he probably would not have told it today. As the Queen shows us, there are other ways of contributing than clapping. Or indeed singing.

from The Church Times

2 Responses
  1. November 19, 2010

    As a child, I used to cause so much embarrassment singing vulgar and obscene words to hymns that everyone was very grateful when I STFU.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband: singing from the same hymn sheet | Paul Vallely --

Comments are closed.