Category Archives: Politics

‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.

Prayer

We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
 
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
 
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’
So much of what I’ve found difficult about 2016’s politics has come from the rejection and fear of ‘the other’. And yet I’ve probably responded to people with whom I have a fundamental difference of position by reflecting a similar level of antipathy (or worse) about them as people, as well as their ideology.

Challenge

On Tuesday evening our Croydon Vineyard small group were picking over the second half of 1 Peter 2. It talks about submitting to authority, even (and especially) if it oppresses you. It even includes the three words ‘honour the emperor’.
 
Reading that the other day wasn’t easy; returning to it last night after Donald Trumps’s victory was even harder. But there was something very powerful (and even hope filled) in wrestling with what it means for God to desire relationship with Donald the man, just as much as he does with me, and you.
 
When you get down to it, the ground is flat at the foot of the cross – there is no hierarchy of sin, no category of holier, no singling out as worst. Of course it offends us to think that there’s no difference between me and him but the message at the heart of what I believe is to love the person I’d not even consider worth acknowledgement, and to love them sacrificially.
 
Last night someone used a turn of phrase that stuck with me: ‘Love never changes. Love always wins. Love looks the same today as it did yesterday, and will do tomorrow’.
 
As individuals that’s an important attitude of the heart and it’s important that we live it out in our relationships with others. But in the midst of everything it’s pretty overwhelming to think about how broken the world is, how frightening particular politics are, and how little we can do by ourselves.
 
Which is why God invites us to be part of The Church so that with him, and each other, we can be a movement seeking God’s kingdom on earth – not to build a theocracy but to be united in pursuing justice and mercy with a loving humility that’s backed by our trust in God as Sovereign.

Response 

None of us know what the next few years will bring. There is plenty to fear. But fear is the currency of oppression. I’m choosing hope over fear, light over darkness, love over hate, action over apathy. But right now, I’m going back to the source and looking to God for this to be recognisable  for everyone, everywhere:
 
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

York’s local election

In the aftermath of York’s election I was interested in the sort of things that might get talked about at a general election in terms of a picture changing from election to election. The simple picture was a crushing defeat for the Liberal Democrats as Labour swept to power but in the spirit of Whitehall Watch is there a story in the votes rather than the seats?

First up, the makeup of the chamber before (taking into account the by-election results since 2007):
City of York Council 2007

After:
City of York Council 2011

And you can see from a quick glance how the vote changed from 2007 to 2011

Labour recorded 18,000 votes more on Thursday than they did in 2007 and increased their share of the vote from 27% to 37%. Much has been said about Thursday representing an incredibly bad night for the Liberal Democrats but in York the result was not down to the complete evaporation of Liberal Democrat support. The ruling Liberal Democrats (only) lost 5,000 votes across the city, a similar figure to that dropped by the Conservatives. The other party to shed votes was the BNP whose support shrank by 70%.

Party Votes 2007 Votes 2011 Change
BNP 3,582 1,076 -2,506
Conservatives 37,172 32,788 -4,384
Green 14,337 19,196 4,859
Labour 36,746 54,874 18,128
Liberal Democrats 43,764 38,818 -4,946
Others 829 1112 283

Swing is a favourite statistic to work out and in order to calculate it you take the increase in votes from one party, add it to the fall of the other and divide it by two.

This means a swing to Labour from the Liberal Democrats of 8% with a similar figure for the swing to Labour from the Conservatives of 7.7%.

But there are some more nuances to what actually happened in the city. Although the Conservative party vote fell by 5,000 this is more connected to a reduction in candidates from 47 to 33. In 3 wards, which had contributed 3,724 votes in 2007 there was no Conservative candidate at all. Despite their share of the city’s vote falling to 22% their average vote per candidate increased to 994, more than any other party except Labour.

In contrast, the Green party’s significant improvement overall comes from their fielding an additional 15 candidates. In Clifton, for example, they tripled their candidates and secured an additional 10% of the vote (although their leading candidate only increased her votes by 33). But, apart from Skelton, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without (the neighbouring ward) where they picked up almost 12% more of the vote their performance across the city was fairly static with the average number of votes each candidate received falling by 74.

The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have simply lost seats due to dissatisfaction with the national political picture. In Strensall, Haxby and Wheldrake they lost seats to their coalition partners (Christian Vassie’s loss of Wheldrake compounding a miserable 12 months in politics after last year’s general election when he was unable to dislodge Hugh Bayley).

So the convincing nature of Labour’s victory seems to be much more down to getting people to vote rather than seeing a massive drop in support for either the way the Liberal Democrats ran York or in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster. In 2007 the turnout was 41.8% (approx. 136,000 voters) but this year the extra 10,000 voters in a turnout of 44.7% seems to have made all the difference rather than disgruntled voters switching from one party to another. Edit: of course, I’d failed to think about the aggregating effect of wards where individuals got more than a single vote. The difference between 2007 and 2011 was actually closer to 4,500 voters.

Mind you, given that the majority of York wasn’t voting last Thursday I wonder whether any of these thoughts are in any way relevant.

If you want to pick over the data and point out any of the flaws in my data literacy there’s a spreadsheet on Google Docs.

>Reinventing the wheel

>Sunday evening took this passage from Acts as its backdrop.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved…All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37

That’s a revolutionary expression of community. That model of fellowship without borders was the hallmark of Jesus’ relationships. Not just with his disciples but with those society wouldn’t touch. The church of Acts are living with that same authenticity, vulnerability and generosity. They live grace, they are church. Those words aren’t theological constructs, they’re dynamic adjectives.

Their faith changed the world. Theirs a religion built around the service and love of those around them. Theirs a fundamentally relational pursuit of Jesus. Somewhere in the annals of history we dropped the ball. Religion became a dirty word bound up in ritual and show, dominated by fear, judgement and hypocrisy, not synonymous with the Gospel of ‘good news’ but seen to be something manipulative and controlling.

That’s not the true story. When the Archbishop of York was asked about his thoughts on Big Society he claimed the idea as a rebranding of what the church has been doing since its birth. For Sentamu (whose full article is well worth a read), Big Society’s just another name for the wheels which the church, alongside others, has consistently been involved with oiling for the last couple of thousand years.

Following the Spending Review the state is going to shrink, and there will be a reduction in services. There will be increasing needs and the church has the infrastructure, human resources and experience to contribute to finding solutions – the Church of England provides 23.2 million hours of voluntary service per month (and that’s just one chunk of The Church). More specific is Acts 4:35 an initiative of Archbishop Sentamu that provides a mechanism for giving money directly to others for specific purposes (in many ways it’s a local version of Kiva).

That’s great, as is our local commitment to The Besom. But we are absolutely wrong if we think that we’re the only people who care about kindling community and getting involved with transforming the lives around us. I might not enjoy the political rhetoric and cost-cutting reality that surrounds us at the moment but I do love the fact that there are lots of people who are exploring opportunities and experimenting with technology to give voice to the voiceless and support those who might otherwise fall through the gaps.

Sadly God’s hands and feet are conspicuous in their absence. This just doesn’t make sense. I can’t get my head around why we’re not round those tables, entering those debates and talking about the kind of compassion that hurts. The Acts model of community was radical 2,000 years ago and nothing has changed. What are we waiting for?

If it’s permission we’re looking for then the irony is that Acts 2 models of community are being spoken about and developed, probably by people completely oblivious to what’s written in the New Testament. Maybe it’s time we twigged that there’s universality to the wheel? God doesn’t always need us to start something, or for it to wear his brand or come under his ‘ownership’ for it to bring him glory and transform lives.

Is the Acts 2 challenge too hard given the busyness of life? I hear that, my daily commute sees me out of York for 12 hours a day. How do I foster meaningful community with those around me?Well, perhaps these four things which are already set up and focused on building relationship, fostering community and living generously can provide us with a platform inside church but also in dismantling the walls around our worshipping community.

The Big Lunch began life at The Eden Project a couple of years ago and encourages neighbours to spend the day with one another through street parties. Christine and I hosted one for our street in 2008 and it was brilliant (sadly we were both out of the country this year), instead of church on June 5th 2011 why don’t we shut up St Mike’s and break bread with our neighbours?

Flock Local was born at Glasgow’s Social Innovation Camp last June. The premise is pretty simple – directing the energy of a flash mob into an activity with a social purpose. The website provides a front end for listing local events and a mechanism for people to register, communicate and pitch in.

Street Bank exists to help people share what they’ve got with people in their locality. Sign up, list the skills you can offer your neighbours or the things you’ve got to lend or give away and see what happens.

Street Club overlaps the others and is a sophisticated approach to providing digital foundations to a local community. It’s designed to be a private online members club that revolves around ten key words – discuss, volunteer, ask, share, recommend, give, trade, play, save and party. There is something daunting about a resource this comprehensive but then it isn’t a website designed for individuals is it?

This week Conversations starts life in its latest venue (upstairs in The Graduate, formerly Varsity). I’m (justifiably) proud to belong to a community that hopefully looks like that early church. I hope we’re not just a community for ourselves but one that is committed to getting stuck into the world around us. We’re here to follow Jesus and that means pouring ourselves out for the people of York, til it hurts. Maybe signing up to a few websites can help?

>OK, so what’s next?

>While we don’t yet have a new government the thirteen years of Labour rule are almost certain to come to an end. Even if there is no agreement between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with the result that a LibDemLab coalition is birthed it would be met with consternation by the 10.7m people represented by those who won the popular vote.

Whatever box you crossed, and whoever your local representative is our future is a future heavy on Cameron, Osbourne, Gove et al. It is one in which Conservative policies you agreed with, or detested, will lurk. Irrespective of a coalition with Clegg the Conservatives have the greater clout, outnumbering their prospective bed-fellows by 5 to 1.

And so, Big Society will be the order of the day.

The Conservative campaign left me uneasy. I found it contradiction heavy and substance light. An invitation to be part of the next government is hollow when it goes hand in hand with state bribes for a given value of ‘family’. It is a ludicrous claim to propose that we’re ‘all in this together’ when referring to austerity whilst simultaneously rewarding those who have amassed estates valued at £1m.

On Thursday I read this chilling article in the Independent of what Compassionate Conservatism looks like when put into practice. If you haven’t already seen it, please take a few minutes to read it.

It should hardly be a surprise that in the quest for lower taxation, which this article suggests is the mark of ‘success’, services would be cut. Nor should it come as a shock that the drive for smaller government means lines are drawn in the sand about what’s important and what’s not, what’s funded and what isn’t.

Big Society, compassionate Conservatism holds as the ideal that individuals build community, that they are the solution to any or all issues and that the state should facilitate but not provide. Clearly in Hammersmith & Fulham the facilitation hasn’t always worked and people have suffered as a result. If this is the nature of the politics to come and the outcome of the government we have chosen what are we going to do about it?

Our response, at every level, has to be more than just disappointment at the outcome and more than just thinking about what a politics of opposition can achieve in the next 5 years with an eye to the next election. A lot is being said about a hung parliament being a wonderful opportunity for parties to work together. The unspoken subtitle to this is ‘because they’re forced to’.

I hope that I’m not alone in believing that the men and women we ask to represent us would have a greater desire to work alongside the other parties than this seems to indicate.

A politics of opposition is what we’ve had and from my perspective that has created a tit for tat world where across the country it’s all about finding the silver bullet that is the solution, or the flaw that will deal it a fatal blow. It’s a tear up and start again approach because if you hold opposing views and the balance of power swings then necessarily Everything Must Go. Take the Pupil Premium, it may be a good way of targeting deprivation but it is such a departure from the current mechanics that it is not just a tweak but a rewriting.

Big society might not be something we like. We might believe that those who are vulnerable (to whatever extent) are the whole point of public services and the whole raison d’etre of sending men and women to Westminster to give voice to the voiceless and for government to be nothing if not a tool of social justice.

We also might be very uneasy with the Conservatives having the balance of power. But this is democracy, sometimes you lose. We might be concerned about where the scythe will fall, how important areas of policy are approached and what the long-term holds in a bluer nation. But, this is democracy and when your politics loses, other people have the opportunity to govern.

Conservative influence and Big Society will characterise the immediate future of Britain. And that means everyone will have to play ball, to embrace those ideas and get stuck in. Because if you don’t volunteer, then who will?

We now need to be part of our communities in a way that delivers social justice and challenges the gaps a withdrawing state might leave behind.

History is claimed to go in cycles and whilst we will not return to a true laissez-faire regime (marriage tax breaks for example are a fairly obvious example of state interventionism) as that found in the 19th century we might end up closer to it than we are now. In a Britain with low taxation, bureaucracy and state intervention there was little in the way of education, health or support that didn’t come from the generosity and compassion of those in local communities. It was on the back of socially conscientious pioneers who challenged this status quo that the Welfare State was eventually built.

I believe that the Welfare State is one of the greatest things about this country. Not just for what it has done and will continue to do but because it places at the heart of the nation a fundamental understanding that there is justice in the state acting corporately in support of those who have the least as well as those with the most. A humility to understand that we are ‘all in this together’ which breeds compassion and mercy, not self-interest.

It’s obviously both premature and extreme to say that there will be a systematic dismantling of it. But with the extent of cuts forecast something will have to give. There’s serious talk of Proportional Representation amongst the non-Cons but isn’t this just losing badly? After over a decade in power in which they have enjoyed a stonking majority rule, and even then subverted the legislature, the Labour Party have turned to this now they are faced by the spectre of losing influence. It’s worth remembering that in 2005 a majority government was elected with 35.2% of the vote, less than Thursday’s Conservatives.

What is real from the point of view of the people is a genuine desire for engagement. Even though the hyped ‘massive turnout’ did not materialise (the total increased a mere 4% to 65%) there is an enthusiasm to be involved with the political process where our MPs represent us and do what we tell them to do (even if so far they have fallen short of what we’ve asked on issues like 10:10 and the Digital Economy Bill).

Organisations like MySociety and 38Degrees demonstrate the potential for people to get involved. Tom Steinberg, founder of MySociety, has been co-opted by the Tories so does this mean that Big Society is being planned to harness this basic enthusiasm for participation, and the ability for people to self organise?

The state is about to shrink, the services and opportunities people have access to must not be allowed to follow. Standing on the sidelines and complaining about the incompatibility of Conservative and Liberal Democratic politics doesn’t fix that, continuing the petty and snide mockery that has characterised too much of the election serves the needs of nobody, hoping that in 4 years’ time the public are disappointed and crave another change in government is selfish.

We should all be striving for this Parliament, which will be one of the hardest five years in a very long time, to be a success and to be able to turn around in a few years and declare

‘you know actually Cameron has done a good job, Osbourne hasn’t seen a double dip recession, Gove’s schools have genuinely raised standards, Compassionate Conservatism has reduced inequality and we’ve surpassed commitments to international development and the environment’.

At this moment in time I don’t see it, but even as a Labour voter there’s nothing wrong in my saying I want it to happen. How do we, the public, put our politics and disappointment to one side in order to help make sure it becomes a reality? And for all we might want to whinge about Westminster, we make that happen by being part of the solution ourselves. I hope that the 10.7m people who voted Conservative follow that up by being wherever the state no longer is. But more than that I hope that the other 19m do that too.

There will be reasons people say they can’t do it. But people have turned out to campaign for Proportional Representation as I type. Would we be so keen if it meant having to volunteer at the sharp end of service delivery? In the toss up between flopping on the sofa at the end of a long day or going to support others what will we choose? And how do we achieve it with anything like the coordination that’s required? Who provides the leadership and the steer and the guidance?

I’m fairly disengaged – I work in one city and live in another, I’m out of the house for 12 hours a weekday. Am I willing to foresake my comforts to help the least? To add something else to my weekly diary? What will I do with my married couple’s allowance, if we qualify? Will people use it to support those no longer helped through SureStart? Will those who benefit from an inheritance tax break be bothered that encouraging their wealth might mean denying support to those on the margins?

Unless we use what we have the state is not going to deliver a fairer Britain. We will have to be part of the solution from the pitch, not just the sidelines. And that might mean that Conservative policy works, and you’d be involved with making that so. Like I say, politics and ideology on one side. Big Society here we come…

>Why Hugh Bayley helped make #debill become the #deact in his own words

>Earlier this week I received a letter from the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for York Central to respond to the concerns I had raised with him about the Digital Economy Bill when it was first mooted. Well, I call him my PPC but despite the letter being dated April 12th Hugh actually referred to himself as an MP and used House of Commons headed paper, I don’t really care but I thought once Parliament was dissolved this was frowned upon.

Anyway, here’s what he wrote, at least I didn’t get the stock letter that’s been doing the rounds

The Digital Economy Bill covers a wide range of issues. There is a pressing need for new legislation to stop the UK falling behind other countries in the digital revolution. For example the Bill will require Channel Four to provide public service content, it will provide more flexibility over the licensing of Channel 3 and Channel 5 services and allow Ofcom to appoint providers of regional and local news. It will extend the role of Ofcom to include reporting on communications infrastructure and media content and allow the Secretary of State to intervene in internet domain name registration. It extends the range of video games that are subject to age-related classification and deals with the issue of the digital switchover which affects local radio stations like Minster FM. I am glad that the government agreed last week to amend the controversial provisions on copyright. In doing so it secured cross party agreement to the Bill going through.

I think it is reasonable for the creator of an artistic work to collect royalties. Writers, composers and musicians deserve to be paid for their work. I used to make television films – which cost tens of thousands of pounds to produce. The people who worked for me depended for their wages on our company being paid when our films were shown. Nowadays films and videos are distributed on the internet but the people who create them still need to be paid. I hope you agree that the principle of authors being able to collect royalties from people using copyright material is reasonable.

The point at issue with the Bill was the power to disconnect people from the internet if they repeatedly downloaded copyright material without paying. I agree that you need to protect people who have not broken the rules. I wrote to the Minister, Stephen Timms, about this. Last Wednesday evening in the House of Commons he proposed an amendment to the Bill applying a super affirmative procedure. This means that further legislation will be required, after the general election, before technical measures, such as disconnected, could be introduced. This further legislation will be subject to further consultation, and additional scrutiny and amendments by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and both Houses will have to vote in favour of the legilsation before it can be brought in. Given these safeguards I voted for the Bill.

I hope you welcome this climb down by the government which secured cross-party support.

So, there you have it. In this constituency where my vote carries the weight of 0.063 the incumbent MP is in a very strong position. Maybe the Digital Economy Bill will be an election changing issue in some parts of the country but in York I doubt this will be the case.

>Hugh Bayley on 10:10

>On October 21st the Lib Dems asked their fellow MPs to commit Parliament to reducing its carbon footprint by 10% by the end of 2010, following a huge wave of support that saw almost 10,000 emails in 48 hours and 96% of MPs receiving a phone call asking for them to support the campaign.

In the event Labour stymied the vote with the Noes containing only a solitary DUP member and a sea of Red. I had emailed my MP, Hugh Bayley, asking him in the first instance to personally commit to the campaign and subsequently to support the motion brought before the house.
Sadly Hugh voted with the rest of his party (save for the twelve noble exceptions) in rejecting Simon Hughes’ motion and not committing Parliament to a 10% reduction by the end of next year.
To say I was disappointed was an understatement, particularly from an MP who has been so prominent within International Development (the world’s poorest suffer the most from a changing climate) so it was with interest that I received his response in the post (no postal strike impact here as yet).

On the personal front he’s in.

I shall work to reduce my personal carbon consumption by 10 per cent in 2010 compared with this year. It is important for MPs to practice what they preach, so I will report on how well I do on my website at www.hughbayley.labour.co.uk as 2010 progresses.

However, he did not vote for the motion because

I did not support it because it included an unrealisable commitment for Parliament to cut its emissions by 10 per cent in 2010. I wish the Houses of Parliament were in a position to make and implement such a pledge, but I am afraid we are not.

The House of Commons Commission, a committee of six senior MPs, had discussed 10:10 on the Monday before concluding that it was impossible to speed up or add to the we work of emission cutting to achieve 10 per cent in 2010.
Fair enough, the reason we didn’t see Parliament adopt 10:10 was because they didn’t want to make a promise they couldn’t keep. Given the last 12 months that’s not a stupid decision, in Hugh’s words
the Commission is right not to make a promise it feels it could not keep. If it did so it would increase public cynicism about Parliament and politicians
However, what’s revealing is the letter that Hugh Bayley sent to the Commission. In it he lists 10 things. I’ll let you make your mind up over whether or not these are achievable and leave you to the incredulity that behaviours within Westminster should be so blase…
  • Every kitchen on the estate should be equipped to recycle paper, plastic, glass and cans. Currently, this is not the case
  • Food waste – rotting food waste contributes massively to our greenhouse gas emissions. We could consider ways to start recycling this
  • I have noticed walking around the Parliamentary estate that radiators are turned up to maximum temperature, with the windows open. There should be a cap to ensure the temperature on radiators is only as high as we need, and cannot be turned up.
  • We should have a ‘lights off’ policy and should install more movement-sensitive timers so that lights are not left on when rooms and corridors are not in use
  • We should be encouraging staff to turn their computer monitors and printers off when not in use
  • The monitors around the estate remain on throughout recess, and when the House is not sitting. This is unnecessary and they should be turned off if there is no business to display
  • Most plastic does not biodegrade and this is very damaging to the environment. The House should limit the use of plastic where possible. For example, we could switch to using takeaway wooden cutlery instead of plastic, and encourage people to use their own mugs, or biodegradable cups instead of the plastic filmed paper cups
  • The House of Commons gift shop could adopt a no plastic bag policy, and instead use paper bags
  • We should go back to providing tap water, and not bottled water in meetings
  • We should switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products, which are less polluting than chemical products.

Justice

>

Two years ago I spent some time in Sierra Leone researching my Masters dissertation. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Index it’s the poorest country on the planet. The conflict that tore that country apart is a harrowing story of child soldiers, brutal amputations and destroyed communities. My dissertation examined the gap between the ‘peace’ of Special Courts and Truth & Reconciliation Committees (TRC) and the reality of that ‘peace’ as experienced by men, women and children without homes or prospects and carrying the scars of the conflict.


Central to that debate was justice. On the one hand the belief that criminal justice equates to peace and in stark contrast the reality on the ground. The work of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society addressed the needs of lives torn apart by conflict by seeking advocacy and reconciliation, particularly on behalf of child soldiers.


The consequence was not communities that rejected these men and women, often guilty of heinous crimes, but to actively engage in reconciliation and the rebuilding of their lives together. Clearly it wasn’t enough to try Foday Sankoh or Charles Taylor. Not only did everyone know that those indicted were guilty but most of them died prior to facing trial. So what did attempted legal restitution achieve? The lives of those I met were being pieced together by people getting together, talking and forgiving before moving on as a restored community.


This is the poorest and the least developed country in the world recovering from untold evil. Not by punishing the people responsible for those crimes but actively welcoming them back into their midst. Very challenging.


The reason this is brought to mind is the recent media attention surrounding Ronnie Briggs, Peter Connelly and Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. Briggs has been released from prison on compassionate grounds and it’s being suggested that the same thing should be possible for al-Megrahi whilst the identities of those involved in the death of Peter Connelly have this week been made public. Alongside those pictures have been discussions about giving them new identities when they are released from prison, causing outrange at the waste of taxpayers’ cash.


Predictably there are loud voices of dissent. And it’s the same whenever someone is sentenced for a high profile crime. Wherever there is the pain of loss, those responsible need to suffer in a way that ‘fits the crime’. But what punishment ever truly fits a crime on that basis? Is it like for like? One life for another?


I question whether that is a justice that gives peace? If our response is to require someone to suffer in our stead it doesn’t stop our pain or make us feel any less raw. The more you punish,the more you pursue an impossible criteria for restitution. And so we’ve developed an incredibly sophisticated justice system that provides an agreed standard of societal justice. The British hand over responsibility for justice to those who have spent their lives studying the law and analysing defendants. On our behalf, and speaking for society, these men and women declare what punishment is appropriate and what justice is.


But then we can’t accept that it has atoned for the crime.


Because the issues aren’t just with sentencing, they’re at release too. When granted freedom ex-cons have atoned for their actions in the eyes of the law (and by extension the rest of society). It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re unrepentant, or seek restitution and reconciliation with those they’ve hurt because that’s beyond the remit of a secular justice system. Except that we don’t see it that way. Former prisoners face barriers to engaging with society, which some would say should be expected. But aren’t those barriers only going to perpetuate those destructive behaviours? When Tracey Connelly, her picture widely publicised, leaves prison she will do so into the arms of a society ready to exact vengeance on her son’s behalf.


Even though justice will have been served.


Not justice in terms of what some would demand but on that day she will have done what the state demands to provide restitution to the population of Britain.


If on that day she requires a new identity it will be because the papers who first bemoan her sentence and then her false identity are the same people who give credibility to a position that says ‘the justice system is broken, it doesn’t go far enough and she needs to suffer for what she did’.


Fundamentally, British society believes that there’s something people have to do to make themselves right with us; some standard of acceptability to achieve; or some punishment that resolves the past in order to change the future.


I don’t believe that.


I found Sierra Leone an incredibly challenging experience for a variety of reasons but fortunately we don’t have to visit West Africa to see life changing behaviour in action. Gee Verona-Walker, the mother of Anthony Walker, forgave her son’s killers. She knew that carrying the pain did nothing. She knows that it is no disrespect to the memory of her son to celebrate his life rather than searching for a potentially non-existent criteria for satisfaction.


As a Christian I fundamentally believe that lives do not have to depend on histories. And I believe that forgiveness, true past-forgetting unconditional forgiveness can heal anything. Impossible? Perhaps. Hard? Certainly. But the things that I believe rotate around that central, crucial, life transforming principle.

Transparency = Clarity = Trust?

At the heart of this furore about expenses is a breakdown in trust.

We think that our politicians have been shafting us and getting away with naughtiness for years. The activities of 20 to 30 of the 650 elected members in Westminster is provoking the kind of outrage and, at the same time, apathy, that has sent Nick Griffin (“RT @TiernanDouieb: In mythology, the Griffin is part lion, part bird. Yet Nick Griffin of the BNP is all cock”) and his odious ideas to Brussels on behalf of the British.

The solution, we cry, is for political reform; for shining brighter lights onto the activity of government and scrutinising everything that our political leaders do. In the attempt to find a way of governing the nation that works, we want to ramp up and ramp up the organs of checking up on it. Continue reading Transparency = Clarity = Trust?

Pedlars of Lies

I have no problem with people being given a platform from which to say whatever they want. I have no desire to prevent anyone from saying anything. We are quite capable of controlling what we listen to, distilling the value of it and either accepting or rejecting its worth. This and things like it are the beauty of the freedoms we enjoy.

I do, however, have a problem with those freedoms being used to give credence to lies. And I have a problem with the way in which we can seemingly abandon the big-picture, issue driven, needs orientated discourses in favour of the mud slinging that’s dominating Westminster at the moment.

The combination of these things is that there’s a likelihood of a big swing to the right in the elections in two weeks’ time.

This week we’ve mostly been receiving pamphlets from the canvassing teams of the parties (and from UKIP in the post from my Grandad). In amongst that was material from the BNP literature containing the perfect mix of half-truth, stereotype, fear and sensationalism to underscore the skillful way in which Nick Griffin is making repugnant views seemingly palatable. Alongside this has been a number of opinion pieces dismayed at the rise of the right but addressing the issues from an aloof position that simply deals with the BNP in the same way the BNP deal with facts. And in response there has been a staggering insight into Britain’s mind.

I’ve seen a number of statements trotted out as glib facts that are anything but.

Their pamphlet contains plenty of them whilst the comments left on newspaper articles repeat the rhetoric and expand the lies.

They’ll pull us out of Europe. I am very much pro-Europe and I fail to see what behaving like a stagnant little backwater really seeks to achieve. Isolationism might work if you’re Russia or China or even the USA because the economies of scale in such a big operation and the access to a willing and exploitable workforce make it somehow viable. Their Britain, which will have had the most exploitable workforce repatriated and already looks to the world to supply its needs is not going to be an attractive proposition for businesses, for external investment or for us.

Hearteningly though, until the BNP MEPs pull us out from Europe they’re going to give 10% of their salaries (although no word on whether they’ll follow the MEP expense abuse that far exceeds what’s happening in London) to funds that will enable community groups to properly celebrate St George’s Day. As though it’s money that is preventing people taking the initiative and organizing things. I’d suggest that a lack of community momentum to organize things that mark St George’s Day, for example, come from an insularity that is peculiarly British rather than anything else. Minority groups will celebrate their homelands when on foreign soil, the majority bumbles along comfortable in the fact that every day life is every day life and doesn’t need remembering or commemorating. Plus, it’s not as though the British really need an excuse for a piss-up, which is all St Patrick’s and St Andrew’s days have become.

Immigration, as you’d expect, features heavily. Whether it’s in the opposing moves, that are supported by the major parties, to block the borders to the 80 million low wage Muslim Turks poised to overwhelm the UK (yes, because a system that currently sees a net migration of 147,000 people is suddenly going to see 800 times that number) or having a picture of a doctor saying he’s voting BNP because the NHS is under strain from immigrants there’s no doubt specks of truth but it’s ultimately incredibly misleading.

If the NHS is under strain (ive never had a bad experience myself) it’s unlikely to be attributed to one thing alone. How about heart disease, diabetes and lifestyle connected cancers? Or drink/drug related need? Or things to do with sex whether curing disease or bringing life. It’s a statement made all the more ludicrous, and disrespectful to our medics by ignoring the valuable contribution made by migration to the NHS’ workforce (for the last 60 years) not just as medical professionals but in the auxiliary roles too.

But that must be what is contributing to our reaching retirement and then being at the back of the queue behind the asylum seekers (there were a whopping 5,000 asylum claims last year, 700 more than the previous one but not what I would call an invasion). I’ve heard this queue mentioned a lot but I’m no closer to working out what lies at its head. Schooling? That’s free for all. Health? Again free to all. Benefits? Open to anyone with need (both to be enjoyed or abused by anyone criminal enough to do so). Work? Difficult for everyone but accessible to everyone who is deemed to hold the best qualifications. Like jobs on the continent are if we bothered to learn languages or leave this sceptred isle. But it’s clearly that issue driving claims that there should be British jobs for British workers. These recent strikes are another example of British arrogance. All that striking in this way will do is encourage more companies to leave Britain because of a workforce that is petulant and expectant of more and more and more.

Then there’s the question of Iraq and Afghanistan. Dealt with in a number of ways. Firstly, Iraq was about oil and therefore wrong, Afghanistan is a foreign war and therefore we should be pulled out. They state our troops are not well equipped (and the infrequent stories that highlight this gloss over the evident disparity in kit between the rarely wounded coalition and the repeatedly pulverised enemy). Oh yeah, and that Muslims in this country don’t appreciate their sacrifice because soldiers have been abused in the streets.

It’s a clever ploy because it distances them from the fighting on the basis of faith and the source of so such foreign policy discussion and faith based discourse whilst leaving you in no doubt that Islam is dangerous and insidious. It ignores the reality that there are plenty of anti-war protesters who have diminished the efforts of the British forces by pointing an accusatory finger, backed up by the nationwide news coverage of the event, at one particular group and one particular incident.

It’s interesting though that there’s a contradiction within the party and what they believe when it comes to the interaction of faith and skin colour. A BNP candidate councillor for York said that if there is a black police association from which whites are barred why couldn’t the opposite be true. Leaving aside whether that’s what normality looks like (no majority ‘loses out’ when minorities are granted the same opportunities) he went on to say that they don’t want to talk about colour at all, just people.

So why then does their propaganda specify Muslims (twice)? Skin colour and faith are clearly very different. Although skin colour isn’t important what you believe is enough to make us build up divisions that really we aren’t interested in. Evidently this school of thought must be informing the guy who said something along the lines of ‘it’s not that we don’t like Muslims it’s just that their faith is incompatible with our Christian heritage’.

Eh?

Christianity tells of God’s love for me, for you, for creation. It points out the beauty of being in loving relationship with God and with people like us but Jesus makes it blatantly obvious that actually it’s more about being friends to the friendless, striving for justice for the downtrodden and generally pouring out ourselves in service to others particularly if the world thinks your differences are insurmountable.

Be proud that this nation of ours has played host to people from around the world forever. Be proud that in this country your human rights are not only protected but they are proactively promoted throughout the world. Be proud that we are blessed with education, health, welfare, transport, employment regimes and systems that are the envy of the world and that prompt people (without just cause to flee) to leave their homes to search for better life and offer those who have to flee a safety from the harm they might experience at ‘home’.

I work in one of the poorest parts of the UK. 6 out of 10 postcodes are amongst the 25% most deprived nationally. And we have an ethnic minority population of 8-9%.

Yet the menu of life in Hill is one of joblessness, benefits, drink, drugs, fractured families, teenage pregnancies, nationally the lowest educational attainment, some terrifying health statistics. And I could go on.

None of those problems come from immigration. None of those problems would be fixed by corporal or capital punishment. And certainly none of those problems are solved by the repatriation of anyone deemed not to be British by ancestry.

It’s not enough to say “no platform for racists”, thumb our noses and walk off with the moral high ground attached to our feet. It’s not enough to be condescending, to assume that people understand and appreciate what’s going on behind the propaganda. This is heart and mind stuff, but it’s heart and mind stuff that flows from that reluctance to engage. So let’s address the issues. Let’s talk about Britain being an absolutely mongrel nation that has thrived on immigration and covered the planet by emigration. There is no such thing as being ‘British’ by ancestry; there’s nothing that makes a 5th generation Brit more British than someone whose parents arrived in this country in the 60s, or who has recently been given citizenship.

Get off your bums and use your vote. The European elections use Proportional Representation, that makes it even more important that you do vote. Don’t lose sight of what this is really about in the immediate confusion and emotion of this talk about expenses (when really we’re splitting hairs over a small proportion of unnecessary expenses against necessary expenses). Evil prospers when good people do nothing.

“He has showed you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

When you go to the ballot box vote for the people who will do justice, mercy and humility. Please don’t vote for the ones who won’t.