"But you're a journalist!" people say. "How on earth can you keep up with the news if you don't watch it?"
Error. I am not a journalist. I write for a newspaper - not the same thing. And if I were a reporter, I still do not think I would watch the news. Watching the news does not tell you what is happening in the world. It tells you what people in TV companies think you will want to know. Sob stories, murder stories, trial stories, sound-bite stories, sleaze stories, genocide stories, old-people-in-Scotland-dying-of-disease stories, Cabinet-leak stories, peace process stories... none of it proper news. It's amazing how easy it is to do without what the TV people think is news.
As nothing much is happening in the election campaign - as nothing much ever really happens in election campaigns - this doesn't make a great difference to me, but it does mean that I have never seen John Major with his soapbox. I have heard and read about this box, but never seen him on it.
(In fact, I have very rarely seen Mr Major on TV. I think in all honesty that I have found myself more frequently watching comedians imitating Mr Major than I have seen the "real" thing. It is quite a common experience for many of us to see Rory Bremner doing his John Major more often than to see John Major doing his John Major. Am I alone in thinking that Rory Bremner does it slightly better? I am not saying that John Major does it particularly badly, just that Rory Bremner seems to put more into it. )
But whenever I read about John Major going out into the streets with his soapbox and addressing the masses, I find an image floating into my mind, and that is of Jesus going out into the streets and addressing the masses. I am not being irreverent or blasphemous here. Jesus is the most famous example of a man who went out into the streets and preached, and anyone who has done it since invites comparison.
The comparison is interesting. John Major and Jesus may both speak from soapboxes but the style is very different. You cannot imagine Jesus saying: "Turning now to education...". You cannot imagine John Major saying: "Blessed are the poor." John Major talks about health a lot. Jesus didn't talk about health at all, but he did cure people. And so on.
Where John Major and Jesus do have something in common, oddly enough, is in that they are both given to slagging off their opponents. John Major has no kind word for anyone outside the Tory party. Jesus said that anyone who was not with him was against him, which is a fairly clear sign that he too was against tactical voting. John Major warns us against ever trusting the Labour Party - Jesus did exactly the same for the Pharisees. And the Sadducees. He cried woe unto them in no uncertain fashion, just as John Major cries woe unto New Labour. Of course, Jesus cried woe unto a lot more people than John Major does - he also cried woe unto sinners, and publicans, and rich men, and ye of little faith, and tax-gatherers - but the principle is the same.
Except, of course, that the sinners and publicans were not standing for election. Jesus wasn't slagging off people who were trying to topple him from power. He wasn't in the power game at all. He was doing something quite different. He was actually urging people to behave better. It's quite extraordinary. Jesus actually had the nerve to get up on his soapbox and tell people to be better people. He made no promises. He did not say that if people believed in him taxes would fall and law and order would increase.
This is the big difference between a politician such as John Major and a preacher such as Jesus. John Major gets up on his soapbox and says: "Look at us! Aren't we terrific? Would you like to hear what we are going to do for you?"
Jesus, on the other hand, got up on his soapbox and said: "Look at yourselves! Aren't you awful? And what, may I ask, are you going to do about it?"
I have to say that I think Jesus would have made a perfect anti-sleaze candidate. I also have to say that with that kind of message, he wouldn't have had a chance in hell of being elected.