Monday, 25 July 2016

Maybe, maybe not

There has been some media interest in the fact that Theresa May is a vicar's daughter and, according to one source this "instilled in her the serious minded sense of duty she holds dear today." May herself has to some extent corroborated this, apparently saying that her father's work inspired her choice of a political career because, " you didn't think about yourself. The emphasis was on others."
It is an interesting idea, and there was a similar focus on Gordon Brown's history, to use the Scottish phrase, as a child of the manse  and Margaret Thatcher's upbringing as the daughter of a man who was a grocer but also a local preacher (albeit apparently with a dubious reputation.) In short, some people seem to suggest that the children of clergy tend to be more self-giving, disciplined, focused less on the material (although whether that describes politicians is debatable...), and that clergy children are primed to seek roles in later life that tend towards vocation or leadership.

There may be some truth in the idea, children after all often absorb and are influenced by the values of their parents and those around them; a friend of mine is a ballet teacher and her son is now a professional dancer, a friend is a consultant and his daughter is studying medicine. Overall though,  I am unconvinced by the argument that clergy children fall into some special category, after all we can find characters and lives as disparate of those of Jane Austen, Katy Perry and even Lucrezia Borgia among the daughters of the cloth, although it is only fair to point out that Lucrezia Borgia's father was a cardinal (later Pope Alexander VI) and that recent history regards her more a pawn than an agent in the political machinations that surrounded her.

It is also true that quite opposite stereotypes about vicars' children exist, namely the idea that those brought up with the constraints, expectations and public scrutiny that can accompany being a vicar's child often later rebel against this and go "off the rails." This phenomenon / stereotype (delete as applicable) is so entrenched that it has its own term- Preacher's kid syndrome. Again, I am not entirely convinced, other children rebel as well, maybe we just notice it more in certain cases, I think PK syndrome simply offers an alluring narrative, and who doesn't just love Dusty Springfield's Son of a preacher man in which a boy inherits his father's persuasive eloquence and puts it to use in very different ways.

As for Theresa May, the extent to which she will act in accordance with the Christian values of her upbringing remains to be seen. Her first Prime Ministerial speech dwelt on her desire to reach out and to serve, a few days later when asked if she would authorise a nuclear strike killing thousands of men, women and children, she did not hesitate to answer "yes". Well, politics is a tough and nasty business, Prime Ministers, perhaps female ones in particular, cannot afford to be weak or to be seen as weak; they rely on the reputation they create. And possibly that idea of reputation, that idea of brand image  lies as much as anything behind Theresa May (in common with Thatcher and Brown) pointing us to background as a reason for us to feel trust, respect or , almost bizarrely in this oh-so secular age, even reverence.

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