The Politics of Cheese

cheese-board(Photo of cheese-board from Aldi)

At our recent DTS Graduation Meal, my good friend Ryan began to sully the innocent activity of cheese connoiseurship with political controversy by suggesting that various cheeses have an inherent bias towards certain parties. He has his own opinions on what these biases might be, but I thought I would set out my own views on the subject by considering a classic supermarket cheeseboard selection.

Red Leicester
Red Leicester seems an easy one to start with — its colour clearly demonstrates its socialist sympathies, and further investigation reveals that its geographical namesake also reliably elects Labour MPs to its three seats. In terms of the cheese’s flavour it is creamy, mellow, inoffensive.

Verdict: Labour

Blue Stilton
Again, its distinctive colour makes the affiliation of this cheese easily identifiable on the British political spectrum–blue is, for some reason, the Conservative colour.

What’s more, in the incredibly conservative world of cheese-naming legalities (in which EU regulations permit only cheeses made within a particular clearly-defined geographical area to use certain prestigious titles), it turns out that Stilton exemplifies this spirit of preservationist politicking in a peculiar way. For Stilton the Cambridgeshire village is in the midst of a passionate campaign to demonstrate that although Stilton the cheese has been produced in the Midlands for the last two hundred years, actually historical evidence shows that it was the eponymous village who were the cheese’s original manufacturers. (This essay on the historical evidence for such a claim is an informative and amusing read.)

Verdict: Conservative

Wensleydale
A distinctively British cheese (apparently in the opinion of George Orwell it was second only to Stilton in the cheese championships), often combined with cranberries or apricots. Some — I’m again looking again in the direction of the esteemed Mister Ryan Macmahon — consider this fruitiness ‘controversial’, but on the whole Wensleydale is surprisingly popular.

Translating this into the political sphere, I think the most natural affiliation would be with a party which is proudly British, which has also courted controversy with its ‘fruitiness’, and which appeals to the sort of small business owner who finds EU legislation a tiring and troublesome obstacle.

Verdict: UKIP

Brie
Soft and creamy, yet with that hard white mouldy rind that no-one is quite sure what to do with, this is a cheese that defies simplistic left/right classification. A vital part of a British cheeseboard, and yet with undisguised internationalist sympathies. Not quite as popular as maybe it should be.

Verdict: Liberal Democrat

Cheddar
Cheddar is everyman’s cheese, the choice of the person who is perhaps only dimly aware that there are other cheeses. Come Christmas and the celebratory cheeseboard that makes its obligatory annual appearance, this person might step out of the boat and try a taste of the Blue Stilton or the Red Leicester, but for most of the year cheese is something to be grated onto spaghetti or sliced into a sandwich, not self-consciously smudged onto a post-dinner cracker — and ‘cheese’ can reliably be taken to mean ‘Cheddar’.

Thus cheddar must represent the largely disengaged apolitical majority of the British electorate–occasionally there may come an election, or a referendum, and they may be persuaded to enter the political fray and remember to trudge to the polling booth and cast their lot in with the left or the right or the alternative protest party, but on a day-in/day-out basis they find politics distant and disinteresting.

Verdict: The Apolitical Majority

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So it’s over to you now to discuss and debate my political opinions. And there’s plenty more analysis that the world of political cheese could still use: would Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese, be hard-line Fascist? would Feta inevitably crumble like the Greek economy? what cheese best represents the Scottish Nationalist Party? I look forward to hearing your comments.

Parliament

Four Secrets To Voting Like A Christian

This post is dedicated to my friend Abigail, who is sounding the trumpet for people to use their voice and engage with the political process.

So the British election has come and gone, and in spite of many expecting a hung Parliament, and speaking of impending constitutional crisis (some were even declaring it “abundantly clear [that] the UK’s days where one party has an absolute majority are over”), the Conservatives surprised even themselves by winning an outright majority. (Though Fof shared a fascinating article suggesting that better statistical analysis would have suggested a Tory victory).

As a declaration of confidence in the greatness of Britain regardless of what governments might come or go, I celebrated the occasion by trying to apply for Taryn to become a British citizen (yes, ‘trying’ — but that’s another story), before then heading to North Arbury Chapel — where my friend Martin got saved! — to vote. I’d thought a little about who to vote for and why — though had failed in my attempt to finish reading the Jubilee Centre’s book Votewise, which I had hoped would help me formulate a thoroughly Christian response to the varied issues being played out in this election.

But what impacted me the most on election-day was not the voting itself, nor any conclusion that I was able to come to before voting about which politicians and which party would best govern for the good of the nation and the glory of God, but rather the chance I had to lead the Cam-HoP prayer time that evening. Anyway, here are my four reflections on engaging as a Christian with the political process.

1. Keep politics in perspective
Andrew asked me at that Thursday evening prayer meeting to pick a passage which we could use to pray for the country in the concluding hours of the election, so I immediately suggested 1 Timothy 2, the classic text on praying for those in authority. But in actually praying through it I was powerfully impacted and struck by the revelation that even here in highlighting the priority of praying for political authorities, Paul is still relentlessly focussed on the fact that it is Christ alone who can mediate between man and God; it is only Jesus who can bring forth justice upon the earth; it is only the kingdom of heaven which will truly bring good news to the poor.

“Petitions, prayers, and intercession must be made for those in authority” — but are prayers are not to be primarily focussed on this or that party coming to power, for this sort of messianic mission is misguided. Our primary prayer is for people to be able to live in the peace and freedom necessary for them to hear and consider and believe the good news of the gospel, that Jesus died so that the sins of the world could be forgiven, and the kingdom of God come!

2. Engage anyway–and not just during the election!
Now you might have strong suspicions about which political party will be more likely to govern in such a way as to cultivate those conditions of peace and freedom — so by all means pray for them to win! And canvass for them, and vote for them.

I’ve said before that representative government is in accordance with biblical principle. Our text here is Deut. 1:13-15, in which Moses reminds the Israelites of the way that he instructed the various tribes, clans and families to “choose wise, understanding and knowledgeable men” to lead them.

3. Be wary of demonizing the opposition
But once you’ve made your choice as to who you — as Christ’s ambassador! — you have to guard against the temptation to idolize your candidate, and even more importantly the urge to demonize the opposition.

This is difficult — because our lives in this world are lived in a spiritual battle in which all manner of demonic principalities are at work. And we are called to discern between good and evil, which requires making judgments as to which policies are which. But in the midst of the process of climbing the steep learning curve of political discernment, we must somehow still refrain from too quickly judging the hearts of those who govern, and vote, in ways that we disagree with.

And don’t let it stop with a glib and wishy-washy reluctance to get to close to the heart of the issue. Rather ask the people you disagree with why they think differently, and learn to understand why they think the way they do. At the very least it will help you perhaps persuade them why they’re wrong!

4. Trust that God is at work
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him — this has to be the foundation that we rest upon, in all of our praying, in all of our voting, in all of our living. God is at work in ways that we can never quite understand.

You might have been convinced that we should vote for Labour, because of its roots in Christian socialism, because they convinced you that they were the party that would best protect the poor and the vulnerable — and now you are unashamedly disappointed by the election result.

But maybe the economists are right in suggesting that there are unexpected side-effects to the minimum wage? Or what if — more chaotically — cutting welfare will indeed initially make things worse for those with less money, but through church-supported food-banks and debt counselling, those people end up coming into contact with the transforming love of God in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t? This isn’t by the way an argument justifying deliberate economic nastiness, just a reminder to trust the providence of God in spite of it.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts from someone who is quite self-consciously aware of the fact that our citizenship is in heaven. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you voted as you did — whether you’re a loyal Liberal Democrat, a defiant UKIPper, a disappointed Labourite, or a shy Tory.

The painting of the Houses of Parliament is by Richard Willis.