John Battle MP
EVERY third Friday evening of the month, as a Member of Parliament, I'm expected to report hack to the elected general management committee of the Leeds West Labour Party. Last month we duly arrived at Armley Sports Centre to be told we couldn't use the large meeting room off the bar area but would have to squeeze into the snooker room.
The reason was that a clairvoyant evening had been arranged to raise funds for Children In Need. After a lengthy debate on the effects of the Government's Autumn statement and the cutting of the Urban Programme — at which the mood had been bleakly pessimistic — I slipped out for a drink.
What was disconcerting was seeing the clairvoyant, dressed from head to font in a white lace dress, sat on a high stool with a roving microphone addressing over a hundred adults who were all listening to her in silence — totally absorbed. Not only were there more people at the clairvoyant's session, the atmosphere was far removed form that in the room I had just left People seemed to believe, to be taking in all she said as she teased out her personal predictions of the future.
She seemed to have more to offer than a diagnosis of Increasing unemployment and homelessness, and the difficulties of bringing about political change, which had preoccupied our party meeting. Her words hinted at a threatening fin de siecle as she urged people to take their horoscopes more seriously and turn to the practitioners of the "paranormal sciences" if they wanted to know how to survive.
I don't know how much was raised for Children in Need, but 1 got the impression that most would have paid to hear her anyway, as we move towards a new "Age of Unreason".
EARLIER in the week, responding to the Government's Autumn statement on a radio programme, I'd been accused of being a "prophet of doom and gloom", "a typical Jeremiah". It did occur to me to point out that Jeremiah was in fact right. Jerusalem was sacked in 587 BC and the people of Judah were dragged off into slavery and exile in Babylon for 50 years. Nonetheless, a bask question resurfaces about which prophets can be trusted.
The German philosopher Ernst
Bloch in his seminal work The Principles of Hope (written while he himself was exiled in the USA between 1938 and 1947) contrasts the Old Testament prophets with Cassandra, who proclaims an empty fate. He stresses that, since the prophets know Yahweh "destiny can be completely changed; Isaiah in particular teaches it as dependent upon man's morality and his decisions... With this intervention by morality into the shape of destiny, a counter-movement of freedom is opened up. This is directed outwardly against fate, in concealed manner against its Lord, who is repeatedly called to justice."
Isaiah, our Advent prophet, spells out that human decisions do count, people have to work and take responsibility; moral action is thus possible again. The Second part of Isaiah (chapters 40-55) and Jeremiah are both the prophets of those "exilic
times" which perhaps parallel our own. The western (mainly northern) world seems to be historically located in relation to the biblical times of the Babylonian exile as a prototype, more than to the times of Exodus and the journey of liberation and formation of a people that characterises "Liberation Theology" in the "southern world".
While third world societies struggle to be free of military dictatorships and build democracies, the first world is revealed as a world of political burnout and corruption, collapsing kingdoms exiled in Babylon.
It was tempting to ask the clairvoyant what she thought would be the fate of the Queen and Norman Lamont, but such asides were scowled at as a profound irreverence, breaking the clairvoyant's spell. Perhaps "Hope and the Old Testament Prophets" should be the theme of my next parliamentary constituency report!