Sometimes it's the ordinary words that contain the deepest meanings, and the most far reaching possibilities. We live now in the rhetorically overblown world of politics in which spin is now the least of the dangers to truth. For added devalue of truth, evasiveness is now a required skill, mantra chanting of words like deficit and austerity is a new liturgy of the have plenties, moralised clauses of exclusion such as 'those who do the right thing', and 'hard working families' are given quasi-moral currency, and promises (such as on child tax credits) are printed and published like promissory banknotes only to find that, once in power, the notes are declared by the issuer as past their use by date. These are rough and hard and harsh times for many people, and they need more than politicians who make a virtue out of being rough, hard and harsh in their policies, even if they do sound like sweet reason in their explanations and claim to represent the nation's interests.
So when Jeremy Corbyn creates what sounds like an unlikely oxymoron it's worth paying attention; he might just be saying something we have waited a long time to hear. He promised a "kinder politics". Who would think that after years of austerity, hard nosed ideology, and conflicted interests as lacerating as any class divisions of the past, that a politician would realistically suggest a kinder politics. The word, and concept and experience of kindness has not been evident on the floor of the House of Commons, or in the development and implementation of economic policies, nor in the crucibles of poverty, disadvantage and vulnerability which have been the three preferred easy target areas for the benefit cuts of recent years - and as for benefit sanctions, these only exist in a society which has grown tolerant, even slowly but surely preferring, unkindness to kindness.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke of kinder politics and a more caring society. It is to his credit as a leader of the Labour Party that Corbyn is unabashed to use such words - kinder politics, more caring society, in other words a commitment to the common good. In one of Walter Brueggemann's recent books, Journey to the Common Good, a chapter is entitled "Continuing Subversion of Alternative Possibility." What Brueggemann is getting at is that there is a place in Christian witness for calling in question the status quo, a spiritual and ethical necessity to contradict the dominant story of the powerful, a call from God indeed, to subvert, undermine, destabilise the alleged certainties of 'that's the way it is' by persistently and patiently pointing to alternative possibilities. That is what Corbyn was doing today - daring to describe kinder politics, a more caring society, commitment to the common good.
Will he succeed? Will the Party follow, especially the powerful and influential voices which are trained to sniff danger, to act in self-preserving ways and to position themselves to advantage? Such is politics. But if Labour is to win back the hearts of the electrorate, at least enough of them to win an election, then the party faithful and its strongest voices will need to embrace risk; and they will need to put constituents and ordinary folk above personal interests, and open their eyes to a larger vision than the mere calculus of what is safest and least likely to upset the political equilibrium of the status quo.
I am heartened that a politician articulates through such a simple term as kindness, a deeply and disturbingly subversive word of notice to the politics of austerity, with the relentless focus on benefits, welfare and health as key savings sources. This is a call to a more humane politics, a more human face of the body politic, and I for one buy into it 100% as a Christian, as a voter, and yes, as a human being who thinks kindness is a political as well as an ethical value. .