Belfast Telegraph

Last chance to rage against the census machine

By Robert McNeil

Next year's UK census could be the last, news which will undoubtedly upset many people of a sensitive disposition. Some of you, on the other hand, will be throwing your beanies in the air, shouting: “Great, I never cared for the census! Too many questions, man.”



The census is now reportedly unable to cope with migration, immigration, and people telling porkies or not treating the exercise seriously. I cannot think how any of these factors leaves it unable to cope. If by “porkies”, or not treating the exercise seriously, the authorities are referring to people putting “Jedi” as their religion, neither can I see what's wrong with that.

In 2001, almost 400,000 people in the UK — including at least eight police officers — put their religion as “Jedi”, an inspiration taken from the Star Wars films. The Jedi were actually real people, such as Luke Skywalker and that Yoda, who wielded a form of energy called the “force”.

This is not so different from the “chi” that features in eastern religions or philosophies, and is occasionally visited by clerics in the west (“More chi, vicar?”).

But the campaign to put “Jedi” on the census form was more or less a form of fun, a tiny bit anarchic, but also a protest, as many folk thought one's religion was none of the state's business (it was the first time such a question had been asked).

Such impudence was made worse in Northern Ireland where, if you'd seen the light and converted to atheism, you were still asked to name the religion in which you were brought up.

But there is an alternative. This time around, the irreverent, tongue-in-cheek campaign by those and such as those involves putting “heavy metal” as one's religion.

It's not a campaign I feel constrained to join. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing I like better of an evening than sitting down with a glass of sherry and listening to Rage Against the Machine.

However, unlike Jedi, I cannot see how heavy metal constitutes a religion. It's just a racket. I refer not to my beloved Rage, who are more “hard rock”. I'm referring to Saxon, Iron Maiden and other such rot, bands who regard the earlobe as a bastion to be stormed and reduced to ruin.

The motto of the campaign is “everything louder than everyone else”, the name of a Motorhead album, and a corruption of words by Ian Gillan of the excellent Deep Purple (who wanted “everything louder than everything else” during a song). See? I know my bleeding onions. I'm even familiar with Motorhead's most famous heavy metal song, The Ace of Spades.

Once, confronted by one of those awful Peruvian pipes combos that clutter up city streets in summer, I asked them to perform The Ace of Spades, but apparently it was beyond them.

Back to the census: we all hate participating in it, but we all want to know the results. Instead of a census in future, the Office for National Statistics and Stuff is looking at introducing a new register based on existing computer records.

Apparently, the cunning, ever-ahead-of-us Scandinavians already do such a thing, but I cannot see how that will work.

How can they tell your religion, for example? Surely, all they have on computer records is your National Insurance number, your Health Service number, and your tax payments. Isn't it?

The whole thing sounds sinister. It also removes the right of decent citizens to cock a snook at the authorities by putting down impudent answers.

D'you know, if next year's census is to be the last one, I might just put “heavy metal” after all.

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