The PR debacle over Ed Milliband having posed for photographs with a copy of the Sun and subsequently apologising, raises a number of issues.
In one sense this is to be welcomed. Mr Milliband is at least apologising for one of his own mistakes, instead of offering one for which neither he nor Brother Ivo and his readers bear any responsibility. A return to a coherent moral universe is something to be applauded. How much of an error this was is debatable.
He plainly knew what he was doing.
It was a posed event and his handlers could not have been unaware of the image to be projected which was innocent enough. All three major party leaders had the same opportunity and took it: they were associating themselves with England’s bid to win the Football World Cup. It was all pretty innocuous and doubtless they would have done the same if any other of the home nations were our sole representative.
The association of the newspaper with his party was far from unprecedented. During the Blair/Brown years Labour was only too happy to have the support of one of the country’s largest publications, especially one which spoke so often to and for the constituencies with which Labour traditionally associated itself.
But in the world of grievance politics, he had sinned and swiftly felt the need to repent. Liverpool had spoken. How dare he consort with their hated enemy, and where that citiy’s historic resentment post -Hillsborough headed, the Left quickly fell in line.
An early attack on Rupert Murdoch and all his works might normally be expected by way of atonement – or in reality- by way of placating of his followers. Yet that can’t happen, for Mr Milliband is shortly to meet the Murdoch representatives in a bid to either win over their support for the coming election or at least modulate the criticism into a minor key.
Paradox time: at a point where he most needed support, he demonstrated by his volte face his unworthiness of it. He had fallen into that familiar trap of the politically supine. In the words of Alexander Auguste Ledru-Rollin ” I must follow them , for I am their leader”.
He is not the only one. Liverpool’s clergy, both those in post, and those with historic links to the city routinely articulate that city’s institutional hatred of a newspaper and all its works, despite it having acceded to the demand for an apology. The Sun gave its apology for bad reporting on the Hillsborough tragedy on 12th September 2013. The offending Editor Kelvin Mackenzie added his personal apology the following day.
Brother Ivo holds no brief for Rupert Murdoch and his organisation. He and it will manage well enough whatever he, Ed Milliband or Liverpool will think. What surely matters is what happens to those incapable of “moving on” from past wrongs.
In this Liverpool’s clergy perhaps need to be more active. Isn’t the essence of the Christian message the forgiveness if sins and moving un-encumbered towards a newer and better life?
Wallowing in historic grievance has not served the people’s of the Middle East or Ireland particularly well. In contrast, whatever one thinks of the EU, the co-operation, reconciliation and ” moving on” needed to build it certainly serves as a pointer to a better way than clinging to resentments.
Good leaders, secular and religious, move their people on, sometimes whether they like it or not. One only has to call to mind the grumbling which Moses endured. Peaceful treating with one’s opponents was what characterised the lives of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and the more modest Gordon Wilson who forgave those who killed his daughter in the Inniskillen bombing.
Liverpool needs to move on.
Doubtless there will be those who will insist that this case -their case- is different, that their enemy is uniquely undeserving, yet that is a nonsense.
Liverpool can draw on its own history.
Brother Ivo woke up this morning with a hunch. He followed it up with a simple Google search and was proved right. Liverpool is twinned with Cologne. Both cities had seen their homes and communities destroyed in the Second World War and their sons decimated twice within a generation. Somehow the leaders of those communities were able to find ways to put that past aside.
What is perhaps most striking is the date of the twinning: it was 1952.
Liverpool, its leaders, and those who wish them well should ponder what it took for that early generation to set aside their resentments and losses to choose reconciliation. This is not for the benefits of the Murdochs or even the Labour Party, but rather for a people who have been bigger than this kind of self indulgent self pity and should be again.
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