“I’ve been thinking a lot about normal,” said Caitlin Moran during her Bath Book Festival talk to promote Moranthology. “About how it’s assumed to be white, male and straight, and it shouldn’t be.” She didn’t directly address the criticism that she’s received over the last few days for what’s been interpreted as a failure to think outside her own comfortable identity as a white woman, but there it was: she’s been thinking about the assumptions around default humanity, and she doesn’t accept them.
What came next is the really important thing about Moran, the reason why her writing (personal writing in a personal column, the genre most likely to collapse into mewling solipsism and self-justification) includes some of the most powerful, inspiring, moving political journalism we have at the moment: her explanation for rejecting that version of the normal human is funny, pragmatic and bound up in her own experience as a working class girl. “It’s a waste,” she said. “If you’re only listening to one kind of person, you’re missing out on the brainpower of everyone else… and one of them, somewhere, could probably solve the financial crisis. That’s why I believe in equality.”
This was the jumping off point for a speech about the welfare state, and what the welfare state meant to her family, that beat the whole of the Labour Party conference and left it rolling in the dirt. It was mighty. It was moving. It was gracious: “If you pay tax, thank you for the clothes, the food, the libraries… Thank you, and I have paid you back.” Moran standing on a stage being funny and clever and wildly gorgeous is a better argument for redistribution than any number of wonkish disquisitions on the wonders of Sweden. She’s the poster product and the greatest proponent of a system designed to let people rise up rather than be crushed down.
And the audience applauded, loudly and for a long time, for the right of a disabled father, his wife and their eight children to be supported by the state. It was a beautiful moment. The thing is, Moran has charisma. She has shit tons of charisma, and by some glorious fluke of humanity, that charisma sits alongside a sense of justice and generosity. (We’re lucky: some generations end up with their greatest depository of charisma sharing person-space with a taste for fascism, or war, or generally fucking other people over.) She said she’s into revolution, and the most revolutionary thing she’s doing right now is using her own charm to make us look on other people as people.
This sounds like gushing fangirl talk, because it is gushing fangirl talk: there were a lot of gushing fangirls in that audience, including some near me who’d baked Moran a cake in tribute. She’s powerful and politically important because she inspires this kind of affection, and can direct it not just at herself, but at all the people whose lives you’ve barely thought to imagine. (Her column Unlike Most Of The Coalition, I Was Raised On Benefits is a magnificent example of this, and it’s included in Moranthology.) There’s been a lot of chatter this week about whether Moran is ideologically sound. I think she’s better than sound: she’s downright good, able to listen to criticism and able to charm people who profoundly disagree with her into listening. Against cold, cynical, cutting cruelty, Moran’s warmth is the best kind of opposition we have.