Archive for May, 2010

Post-election, Fortress Britain: 26 May

May 26, 2010

Poor political prediction! The Lib Dems failed to maintain their surge of support and Labour support held up. But with significant change coming to the voting system, this could still have been the historic watershed election.

Local factors also seemed crucial in many seats. In some places (like Wells) previously Labour voters supported the Lib Dems, but in others (also in the West Country) the Lib Dems seemed to lose out to the starker options on either side. Maybe enough people just wanted a change, one way or another? Maybe we are at the beginning of a continuing 3 party system, in which coalition is the norm?

No Con-Dem nation now I dread!

I certainly hope that the Lib Dem influence will lead to a reassessment of Fortress Britain guarded by the rottweilers of the UK Borders Agency. Ashbourne has a local group of the Chernobyl Children’s Link, a charity which arranges for youngsters in land contaminated by Chernobyl to come for a month’s holiday. These 10 year olds are exposed to so much daily radiation that a month here will add two years to their lives. But the Borders Agency are trying to stop them coming.

Victor Mizzi, national chair of the UK Chernobyl charity, has written to the Prime Minister, the Home and Foreign Secretaries detailing the ‘harassment’ of both sending families in the Ukraine and Belorussia and of host families in the UK through the visa application process. As with asylum seekers, British officials assume that the applicants are lying and treat them accordingly. Other European countries also give holidays to these children. Most do not require visas. Those that do require visas do not charge. Guess which is the only country to charge its own charities for their sacrificial compassionate hospitality?

We’ve just had the wonderful Tissington Well Dressings. Local people show great team work, craftsmanship, and creativity in producing large petal mosaics mostly depicting Bible themes and stories. Six stunning floral stained glass windows in one tiny village. I had the privilege of ‘blessing’ one well, a delightful detailed picture of Noah’s ark, the rainbow and animals, for the Year of Biodiversity.

Each of the 6 wells stood out in some way. One had magnificent simple gold on magenta colouring. Another, oddly, quoted the devil, ‘Thou Shalt Not Surely Die’, with the snake highlighted. One was in support of Help the Heroes and contained the verse ‘Greater love has no man than he lay down his life…’

It is time that we rescued that verse from the hypocritical distortion of the military. Soldiers do not willingly lay down their lives. They fight to the bitter end for their lives and the life of their country – at least their country’s rulers. Soldiers are trained to fight, to kill, not to lay down before the enemy. They do all they can to ensure that they stay alive, which usually means doing all they can to make sure the enemy dies. If they have life taken away from them in the process this is not what they have wanted. Those who die in battle are the same as those who die in hospital beds or smashed cars, no closer to heaven just because of the way they died.

Of course the military don’t want this truth proclaimed. Like the Taliban promising their soldiers virgins in heaven, our military, supported by much of the Church, half promise our soldiers a sure path to paradise. Jesus and the early Christians must wince every time they hear such distortion.

Shane Claiborne is a leading American Christian activist and author interviewed at length in this month’s Christianity magazine. (www.christianitymagazine.co.uk ) Shane says:

‘The early Christians said that when Jesus disarmed Peter [in the garden of Gethsemane], he disarmed every Christian. You certainly don’t see Christians picking up a sword again for hundreds of years.

The idea that we’ve got to protect the innocent is without a doubt the most compelling argument for violence. But the interesting thing is that Bonhoeffer [the theologian who tried and failed to kill Adolf Hitler] never said that what he was doing was noble or holy. He basically said, ‘I’m getting ready to sin, so don’t try to bless what I’m doing, but I don’t know what else to do and I’m willing to face God with this on my hands.’ That’s really different from what we hear about Christians blessing bombs and wars, saying ‘This is God’s mission.’ That’s the place where it becomes dangerous.’

Roger Harper.

Chicago, Burton Joyce and the General Election: 4 May

May 3, 2010

Apologies for a month’s gap. After Easter my Jewish aunt in America died. I rushed out to the funeral in Chicago and the government’s fear of volcanic ash stopped me rushing back. I came back to two job interviews. Life is only now settling down again.

One of the interviews was in Burton Joyce, (with Bulwell and Stoke Bardolph) NE of Nottingham. The panel were surely the most insightful, intelligent, inspired, and boldest, in the country for they appointed me as their new vicar. I arrived late for the meeting with the PCC and refused to eat the sausage rolls, but they still appointed me. The job is half time, Sundays and three days a week, starting date to be arranged. Thank God!

In and for my father’s Jewish family I am an oddity. Everyone is Chicago was welcoming, some interested in my Christian point of view, some taken aback but in no way rejecting. In and for my mother’s Roman Catholic family I am also accepted, with a hint of having sold out to the other side. But my mother’s mother, before marrying an Irish doctor, had been brought up in an Anglican vicarage – in Hawksworth, seven miles from Burton Joyce! My grandmother talked about her family being the first people in the village to have bicycles. After a round-about family journey, I follow my great-grandfather as a Nottinghamshire vicar.

Ten days ago I was wondering if I would be back for the General Election. How amazing that the Liberal Democrats have suddenly passed the tipping point of electability! My daughter heard people talking in a London pub, saying there was no point in voting Labour as they hadn’t a chance of being elected. Better to vote Lib Dem. Such is the power of TV debates. Once the TV presents the third party as on a par with the dominant two, so it comes to pass. Gordon Brown must be ruing having agreed to the process.

Five years ago I thought that the next election would be a turning point for the Lib Dems because of Iraq. At the time they were alone in opposing the military intervention and I thought that people would eventually see how right they were. But now, despite being not so distinctive on Afghanistan, we have indeed reached the point of electoral returns for the Third Party. To seal the sea change may they have the courage to insist on proportional representation in future UK elections.

The rise, or resurrection after 100 years, of the Liberals reflects changes in British society. They lost ground to the Union-supported socialists when industrial production, controlled and lived off by the wealthy, as they had controlled and lived off their rural estates, was dominant. The Liberals now regain ground against Labour as industrial production has declined in significance. Tony Blair bizarrely continued the bias against manufacturing which Margaret Thatcher had instigated. Maybe this fundamental betrayal of the industrial working classes will prove to have been the killer of the Labour Party.

A few years ago Tony Blair appeared instead to be the saviour of the Labour Party. Labour seemed stuck in its old socialist state-ownership engineer-equality ideology when history had proved this unworkable or worse. Bright politicians of conviction, Shirley Williams and David Owen particularly, saw no hope of reforming Labour. They left to form the alternative SDP, later to merge with the Liberals. Then Tony Blair seemed to have reformed the unreformable and Labour had his years in office. But even this was maybe the last hurrah of a historically doomed movement. Time will tell.

I have long been a supporter of the Lib Dems, seeing them as aiming mostly for fairness, while Labour aims for equality and the Conservatives for prosperity. But this time no party is promoting the policies I would vote for:

            Withdrawal from Afghanistan coupled with a strengthening of the International Criminal Court and the legal response to terrorism

            Scaling down of military forces.

            Strengthening support for asylum seekers.

            Strengthening of manufacturing, through looking hard at where we British have gone wrong and learning from other more successful nations. This will probably mean no more support for financial services. Banks should be allowed to go bust just like steel and car companies.

            A new House of Lords made up of representatives of civil society, with no place for the political parties.

            Tightening up of Primary education so that children once again become used to being told ‘You could do better than this. Do it again.’

If you want any more detail, please ask!

Roger Harper