We must do everything we can to stop politics ruining Christmas

PUBLISHED: 20:36 30 November 2019 | UPDATED: 20:36 30 November 2019

Christmas carol concert on the quayside always goes down well each year at St Katharine's. Picture: Lucy Young

Christmas carol concert on the quayside always goes down well each year at St Katharine's. Picture: Lucy Young

© Lucy Young

MITCH BENN on doing everything he can to make sure politicians don't ruin his Christmas without a fight.

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I'm breaking one of my own cardinal rules this year. Generally I operate an absolute embargo on anything Christmas-related until December 1.

Obviously one can't entirely avoid any mention of Christmas during November, or indeed October (or, occasionally, September and August); the shops have been selling Christmas stuff for more than a month and the Christmas adverts started turning up on TV a couple of weeks ago (and whichever radio station it is that annually rebrands itself as 'Radio Christmas' or something and starts playing non-stop festive hits did so a few days ago).

The point is that I don't do anything Christmassy until December begins; not from bah humbuggishness but to avoid Christmas burnout: Once November's over I go Full Christmas for 25 straight days.

The Christmas playlist goes onto the iPod (well, Spotify these days) and stays there, the decorations go up and then, and only then, will I re-read Dickens's A Christmas Carol, or watch any of the hundreds of adaptations (much as I love the obvious ones like Sim and the Muppets, my favourite is a slightly obscure 1980s TV movie in which Scrooge is played by a varyingly accented but perfectly-pitched George C Scott).

I've had to break this part of the embargo this year as I find myself having to read, and indeed study, A Christmas Carol before December begins, as on the evening of December 18 I shall be performing a reading of Dickens's own abridged 'performance' version of the story at the Space Arts Centre on the Isle of Dogs, in East London.

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This is something I've been contemplating doing for a few years now and I'm so pleased to have finally got it together... Back in 2007, à propos of nothing in particular, I recorded a complete unabridged audiobook of the story and every year I post it as a free download on my Bandcamp site. People have occasionally asked me if I'd be interested in a live performance and with this in mind I recently tracked down a copy of the shortened version of the text that Dickens himself used when he gave public readings of the story in his later years.

I asked on Twitter if any venues might be interested in hosting such a performance and the Space offered me a slot almost immediately. The Isle of Dogs is quite a schlep from my home in the bottom left corner of London but somehow it feels right and proper to be performing A Christmas Carol in the east of the city. I've visited the venue and it's wonderful; apparently Sir Ian McKellen is something of a patron.

A Christmas Carol is a story which never loses its relevance, and reading it this year, in the run-up to an election which in one way or another promises to at the very least overshadow Christmas if not bury it altogether, it feels more salient than ever.

I didn't see either of the two thus far televised 'leaders' debates; I understand Boris Johnson is bottling out of all the forthcoming ones, much as Theresa May did last time (and, while we're here, is our most self-consciously Dickensian politician, Jacob Rees Marley, even still alive?). As such I only heard about Jeremy Corbyn's suggestion of A Christmas Carol as an ideal gift for Johnson after the event.

It was a nice move on Corbyn's part and no doubt sincerely meant, though some people have picked up on the fact that the depiction of Fagin in Oliver Twist might mean that invoking Dickens won't have done Corbyn any favours with regard to the ongoing row about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, although it's worth bearing in mind that in the years following that book's publication Dickens expressed regret at what a racist caricature Fagin had been, and later editions of the story were in fact edited to depict him in a less viciously anti-Semitic manner. So it is possible to admit to having made such a mistake and try to make amends for it. Just saying.

A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that we will never escape, nor should we try to. A few years ago in my contribution to the book The Atheists' Guide To Christmas I noted that it has, if not exactly supplanted, certainly drawn up alongside the nativity itself as the foundational 'legend' of the season. I can't imagine ever living in a society where the message of the story - that we are all bound together and that looking after those around you is looking after yourself, in the most fundamental way - wouldn't bear repeating. It certainly bears repeating now.

Vote, vote tactically and encourage your friends to do likewise.

I'm not going to let them ruin my Christmas without a fight.

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