Politics and funerals

Charles 7 Comments


A topical post from our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson


Timed to counter the low turnout of voters at the mayoral and local council elections last week, did you catch the BBC advertisement challenging political apathy by chronicling how so many everyday activities–from the fat count in our sausages to the safety of cyclists on the road–are politicised?

Despite the mid-term anti-Government vote that brought some good news for Labour and disappointment for the Tories, and especially the Lib-Dems, Londoners of my acquaintance are relieved to see Boris returned, and the defeat of tax-avoiding, gaff-prone has-been Red Ken.

But how does politics–local and national–impact on the funeral business? Healthcare clearly affects death tolls, and the economy the lot of small businesses such as independent undertakers. Here are five more, big and small, issues with which local councillors might perhaps busy themselves:

How shall we avoid traffic disruption by town centre funeral processions?

Can we empower the police to hose down those awful ‘God Hate Fags’ protesters who upset the bereaved at private funerals?

How can we secure more land for cemeteries?

How can we placate believers in man-made global warming by making cremation more eco-friendly?

How can we tackle the class war issue of inheritance tax and death duties?

Please add some meat to the bone of this shamefully skeletal list.   


  1. Charles

    I’m sorry no one has had a go at this, Richard. Perhaps it’s bank holiday lassitude, or the enervating effect of rain on rain on rain.

    The God Hates Fags people (the Westboro Baptist Church) do not, as far as I know, operate in Britain. Encouragingly, though, in the US they have inspired the intervention of hairy bikers, who noisily and terrifyingly separate them from their targets. It’ a credit to Americans’ commitment to free speech that these vile nuts have been allowed to carry on.

    For me, the big political issue is the re-use of graves. The acceptability of this has been established, but the practice has only been permitted in London. There has not been a single sustainable cemetery since we started burying people in perpetuity. If perpetuity is what people want, they must pay for it – the maintenance of their grave til the crack of doom. Politicians’ terror is the reason why this issue has not been addressed as it needs to be.

    Re-use of graves would also make a lot more sense of natural burial in those burial grounds which are pastures.

  2. Charles

    Also…improving the way crematoria opperate so that they provide a more useful service and, of course, open air cremation…it would be nice to see that dealt with properly. Oh yes, and DWP reform!

  3. Charles

    A Boris fan and a climate change denier?! Wow.
    The gay community in the US have indeed found a way of dealing with the Westboro nuts, standing beside them with signs that say things like” Jokes/LOL”, or “If God hates fags, how come we’re so fab?”
    Securing land for cemeteries is easy, just stop allowing big business to concrete over the countryside for out of town ‘retail parks’

  4. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    Charles, my examples of political issues were written in haste and I realised the Westboro nuts were a US thing. Your subject of re-using graves and Jenny’s regarding crematoria sound like they’re far more worthy of serious political attention.

    Ru, I’ve seen the witty responses to the vile Westboro banners. Humour is a good response to their hate. In reply to your other points, I’d rather Boris than Ken but wouldn’t say I was a fan. I welcome debate about man-made climate change but I nevertheless live simply: recycle, watch fuel consumption etc.

  5. Charles

    The re-use of graves: doesn’t the problem that seems to create hinge on a wildly unreal view of the nature of our world, of the natural processes of which we are part?

    If we could change attitudes towards human mortality, see death in a different light (which the GFG is doing, of course, bit by bit) and live rather more in the present time and place – then we could still honour the dead and mark their passing, carry forward what new meanings their death has created, and after a while – ten years? A hundred years? When no-one is alive who knew them? Accept that a couple of square metres of ground with some bones in it can be something else. It will anyway, on a longer time-scale…maybe underneath all the hot air about reusing graves, we implicitly understand this truth, which is why we don’t prioritise cemeteries over car parks. As so often, we just make anodyne gestures about the truth.

    I don’t know what politics, and mayors red or blue, can do in this area. I think they might generate or at least enable some calm and thoughtful debate about what happens to human remains, work out some rational proposals? Re-using graves could free up valuable land? And they could certainly work with councils and private owners to do a much better job of convincing people that using the heat from crematoria for some socially useful purpose is a blindingly obvious and sensible thing to do.

    I recently walked through Brompton Cemetery, London, a couple of times. One of those huge mostly Victorian/Edwardian cemeteries. Historically interesting in places, (brief information about a life and a death) but deeply depressing, because visually it is formulaic, repetitive, sterile, cumbersome – a waste of space. Re-use the graves, or the whole place, after a decent interval. The best thing about it was that it was something of an urban nature reserve. It’d be an even better one without all those damned concrete angel and mausoleums. It’s not being stuck on top of bones that makes a shrine effective, it’s the shrine itself.

  6. Charles
    Richard Rawlinson

    Other death related political issues include, of course, euthanasia and increasing/reducing the legal time for abortions. In the US, the death penalty remains an issue, too.

    I’d also like to add to the list something inspired by conservation campaigns such as Save the Whale. Given the prevalence of cremations over burials (in reused sites or otherwise), how about a campaign for another endangered species: Save the Skeleton!

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