Most jokes offend some person or group. That is because most of them involve some kind of prejudice or man’s inhumanity to man. I enjoy most jokes. I also completely understand that they are offensive to people who would identify with the victim in the joke. If I am sure that telling the joke will not offend the recipient, I repeat it.
Is this bad behaviour on my part? Some would say it is. In reality, it is making use of a human defence mechanism which protects us from emotional harm in relation to bad events that we come across. There are different ways that people take to separate themselves from bad things that happen. One of those ways is making a jokes about them.
Certainly, politicians are limited in the type of joke they can tell. Somebody will always be offended. When a politician ‘puts his foot in it’, the press make a ‘mountain’ out of it and the politician can sometimes be forced to resign. That is why, for example, in 2004, Anne Winterton MP was scolded by the press and had the Conservative whip withdrawn when she told her sharks “grab a Chinese” joke. The joke related to 20 Chinese victims who lost their lives cockle picking in Morecambe Bay.
That brings me to a joke that I heard about 6 years ago. I was reminded of the joke when I saw a report today in the Belfast Telegraph that Martin McGuinness had been invited to the Conservative Party Conference. At the time I heard the joke, McGuinness was the Education Minister at Stormont. The joke went something like this:
McGuinness was being interviewed by the BBC.
“Mr. McGuinness, people will say that you are unfit for this job because of your lack of academic qualifications. You don’t have any “A” levels, do you? ”asked the BBC man.
“That’s not correct,” said McGuinness
“Oh, what ‘A’ levels do you have then?”
“A levelled the Grand Hotel,” said McGuinness
The joke related to the bombing of the Grand Hotel at the Conservative Party Conference in 1984.
One person who would probably not find it funny is Lord Tebbit. He and his wife were maimed in the attack. His wife, Margaret, was paralysed as a result.
Lord Tebbit is almost certain to be offended by the invitation of McGuinness. I feel for Mr. Tebbit and I know that the Prime Minister will also feel very uncomfortable about it.
However, we are here in 2010. Martin McGuiness is Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister. He is there because he was elected. Most of us do not like that fact and most of us are appalled by his actions in the past.
One of the functions of a party Conference is that it gives politicians and party workers a means to promote new ideas and listen to the ideas of others. It is important to listen to what McGuinness has to say as the Deputy First Minister. Failing to listen leads to failure to understand. Failure to understand leaves us no room for bringing in new ideas for moving Northern Ireland forward.
If McGuinness does come to the Conference, Conservatives must not become distracted by history, including, particularly, McGuinness’s past association with the IRA. They must put their emotions to one side for the greater good. Perhaps they might like to tell a few more jokes about the DFM.