Class Monitor: the Christians

It's partly the surprise - I didn't know that they still come to the door - but it's mainly the anger. The baby has just gone to sleep and now someone has started to poke at our doorbell with unbounded enthusiasm.

The bell has transmogrified from a standard battery-operated domestic door buzzer into the loudest piece of electronic equipment in the world, and the baby is already making the ominous gurgling-cum-growling sound that is invariably a precursor to 30 minutes of weeping and wailing.

Whispering dark obscenities, I snatch open the front door to find two plump black women in their later years, apparently dressed for a funeral. They smile the broad and sparkling smiles of the genuinely happy.

The older, larger lady holds a Bible. "Have you heard," asks her younger, smaller but in no way less striking colleague, “the good news?"

At first I am lost for words and simply stand and stare at their hats before noting that, even though it is nearly June, they are wearing gloves.
“Good news?" I manage.

“Yes," the woman continues. "Jesus Christ has come to save you."

Of course - they are Christians. Not the standard British Christians who serve as comedy extras in our national debates - the plum-vowelled men in purple cassocks seeking outreach with jihadis or the angry Presbyterian couples demanding the right to evict sodomites from their Highland tearooms - but West Indian Christians.

They are women in their sixties, with ankles that have started the long slip south and bottoms that seem set to join them, yet they still contrive to walk the suburban streets of this country that has been so careless in its attention to them, offering the greatest gift they have - love.

Most, if not all, doors will be shut on them, given white suburbia's deep distrust of black people or bafflement at such unadulterated happiness. But on the women will walk, spreading the good news as laid out by a minor Palestinian preacher 2,000 years ago.

Which is fine, and in many ways admirable, but the fact remains: they are making noise. "The baby's asleep," I point out.

“Oh," says the older lady, speaking for the first time.

“You are blessed. I am so happy for you." And looking in her eyes, I see nothing but warmth of feeling. But it is too late, the rejection is already coming out of my mouth. "Sorry," I snap,

“I'm not interested." And I shut the door sharply on the Christians.

Through the frosted glass I see the two women do not move immediately, but give me a moment's grace in case goodwill or good manners induces me to change my mind. A pang of regret passes through me and from upstairs I hear the first demented cries of the child.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of Mandela

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.