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June 2016

We need a GNU: Government of National Unity

Who can recall a time of such peacetime turmoil and yet, simultaneously, paralysis?

The country is split after its EU referendum – and splitting, with further fractures appearing, not least between the constituent countries of the UK.

Meanwhile, both the Conservatives and Labour are engaged in simultaneous leadership conflicts, the Lib Dems are a Parliamentary footnote, UKIP and the Greens have no presence there to speak of, and only the SNP seem to be coherent.

Who, in the midst of all this is going to take a lead and pull things together? Leaving any party political considerations aside, can we really imagine either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt or Jeremy Corbyn or Tim Farron, to name but a few, as being remotely genuinely prime ministerial in a way that (a) unifies the country and (b) provides a coherent vision and plan?

We need a Government of National Unity. Revd Giles Fraser, the outspoken Anglican cleric, has already called for one on last Sunday’s Question Time on TV.

We need a government of real vision and of real talent: people of goodwill who will put self and party to one side in the greater interest of the common good.

There are some people with real leadership experience and qualities in the Commons: in Labour, for example, Sir Kier Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions; in the Conservatives, Colonel Bob Stewart, who served with the Cheshire Regiment from 1969 to 1996. (Both pictured below).

Keir-Starmer_2991889b     Bob Stewart

Is it not possible that MPs of goodwill in all the major political parties can come come together to form some kind of Government of National Unity, and to come up with a plan which would command widespread non-partisan support across the country?

Or do we have to put up with months — even years — more of inadequate leadership and poor vision-casting?

When a crisis comes, leaders lead. No-one is doing that at the moment, with the exception of Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland. So who — of stature, responsibility and thoughtfulness — will step up and lead in the House of Commons? Is it possible thoughtful people of different political persuasions can come together in a grown up way and provide us not only with leadership and vision but wisdom? “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Unlikely, maybe. Impossible? Surely not, for much else of what is currently happening would have seemed utterly implausible just a few years ago.

Please like and share on social media if you agree. Let’s see how much traction there is for a GNU – a Government of National Unity.

#commonground


head and shoulders

Like all posts on this blog, this contribution is anonymous, so it can be weighed for its contents rather than its writer.

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On Thursday, I shall vote for the little people…

On Thursday, I shall vote for the little people.

I shall vote for the people of Greece, whose democratically elected government’s attempt to resist German-inspired austerity was squashed by the EU. I shall vote for them twice over, because the Greek people then rejected, in a referendum, what the EU was offering – only to have still harsher terms imposed on them a few days later against their will and despite what they had expressly rejected at the ballot box.

GREECE-POLITICS-ECONOMY-DEMO
Greeks protest in the run up to their referendum in which 61% voted against EU bailout terms – only to see harsher terms imposed on them regardless. (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

I shall vote for the people of France, who voted in a referendum against the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005, but who later discovered that many of the proposals they had thought they were vetoing were incorporated into the Treaty of Lisbon later, regardless.

I shall vote for the people of the Netherlands, who discovered exactly the same as the people of France after their referendum on the same issue.

I shall vote for the people of Italy, who had an unelected former European Commissioner Mario Monti imposed on them as prime minister in 2011, despite him never having been elected to anything, ever, least of all in Italy.

I shall vote for the people of Ireland, who on two separate occasions held referendums which gave the “wrong” result from the EU’s perspective… and so had to have a re-run to get the “right” answer.

I shall vote for the weakest members of our society in the UK, who, as social justice campaigner and Labour MP Frank Field argues in the Church Times, deserve better than the EU can ever give them.

I shall vote for the poorest of African farmers, who as Anglican vicar Giles Fraser has said in The Guardian, are priced out of world markets by the EU.

I shall vote for refugees, on whose behalf the internationally-acclaimed relief organisation  Médecins Sans Frontières has taken a stand and stopped receiving EU funding in protest at EU handling of the refugee crisis.

I shall vote for workers, whose interests across the EU have been subjugated to those of bankers, as the economist Larry Elliott has argued in the Guardian here.

I shall vote for the little people, the ordinary people, whose voices cry out in frustration against the mighty power of the politicians, bankers, corporations, bureaucrats and commissioners – and yet whose voices are over-ridden.

On Thursday, unless anyone can convince me otherwise, I shall vote to leave an EU which, even with the pressure of a UK referendum, offered little by way of genuine reform.

On Thursday, I shall vote to leave an EU which, when its will is defied by the “ordinary” little people in votes, has again and again demonstrated what lies in its heart by choosing to ignore or circumvent them.

On Thursday, unless anyone can convince me otherwise, I shall vote to leave.


head and shoulders

Like all posts on this blog, this contribution is anonymous, so it can be read for what it says, and evaluated on its contents, rather than who wrote it.

See also: 10 problems with EU democracy in 30 seconds: https://knotsuntangled.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/eu-democracy-problem/

The words of Jesus we desperately need for the last few days of the EU referendum

THE TONE of the EU campaign has been so deeply depressing it makes you wonder whether as a nation we are capable of intelligent and civilised political discussion any more.

There has been far more heat than light; labels have been flung at opponents, as though those who hold a differing view were at best idiots; some of the language has been extreme and brutal. Videos have been edited to make those in them appear worse than they are. Simplistic memes which are no better than playground taunts and v-signs out of a passing car window have gone viral on Facebook. And this from both sides.

It’s precisely into situations such as this that some words of Jesus come with directness and crystal clear coolness: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back,” (Luke 6v37-38).

Jesus is not, as the novelist Leo Tolstoy assumed, forbidding the use of law courts. The context here is personal relationships, not a judicial setting.

Nor is Jesus asking us to suspend our critical faculties in making assessments of people and situations. There is even a place for verbal rebuke, as he says elsewhere: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone,” (Matthew 18v15-17).

Jesus is elsewhere clear that we need to distinguish between truth and error, and goodness and evil. Much of the rest of Jesus’ teaching here in Luke 6 and in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel is based on the assumption that we will use our critical powers – to be different from the world around us, different from hypocrites, and so on.

What Jesus is talking about here is the fault-finding, condemnatory attitude to others which is too often combined with a blindness to our own failings. In a word, censoriousness.

This sort of fault-finding, condemnatory attitude to others infects whole societies. And it has reached epidemic proportions in the UK as this campaign demonstrates.

A few years ago the writer David Denby wrote a whole book about it, called simply Snark. Writing at the time in The Guardian, he wrote: “Snark seizes on any vulnerability or weakness it can find – a slip of the tongue, a sentence not quite up to date, a bit of flab, an exposed bit of flesh, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, an open mouth, a closed mouth. It exploits – slyly, teasingly – race and gender prejudice. When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up…. Snarky writers can’t bear being outclassed by anyone, and snark becomes the vehicle of their resentment and contempt.”

insults

From a Christian perspective, John Stott wrote: “The follower of Jesus is still a ‘critic’ in the sense of using his or her powers of discernment, but not a ‘judge’ in the sense of being censorious. Censoriousness is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients. It does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly. The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible construction on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes, and is ungenerous towards their mistakes.”

So let’s watch our Facebook posts. Our throwaway comments. Our smart one-liners. Let’s engage with the issues, but not engage in the kind of censoriousness which Jesus puts his finger on here.

As Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, wrote: “There are two particularly astonishing things about these instructions. First, their simplicity: they are obvious, clear, direct and memorable. Second, their scarcity. How many people do you know who really live like this? How many communities do you know where these guidelines are the rules of life? What’s gone wrong? Has God changed? Or have we forgotten who he really is?”


head and shoulders                 Like all posts on this blog, this contribution is anonymous, so it can be read for what it says, rather than who did or did not write it.

 

A word to those voting Remain; or Leave; or as yet Undecided…

Undecided2SO.. you’ve decided to vote Remain… or indeed Leave… or perhaps you have still to make up your mind about the European Union. (If you’ve yet to discover there is a referendum on the 23rd then I congratulate you on your hermit lifestyle!).

If there’s one thing many of us would agree on, whichever way we are voting, much of the debate so far has been pretty poor, and at some points downright objectionable. And we may find ourselves asking, as the Corrs very nearly sang, but didn’t quite: “What can I do to make it better?”

(1) Let’s discuss issues – not diss individuals.

Yesterday I read in one blog post a statement about “unholy, sickening trio of Farage, Johnson and Gove, surely three of the most cynical, adulterous, lying, self-seeking politicians that have ever walked the face of this nation…”

At the same time we have people attacking David Cameron’s competence and Jeremy Corbyn’s perceived half-heartedness or Frank Field’s alleged right-wing tendencies.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never met any of these individuals. I can’t judge their hearts and their motives. Which of us hasn’t changed our minds about something, or got something wrong, or had mixed motives in what we have been doing?

Let’s stick to the issues instead. So what IS the main issue for you? Democracy? Human rights? Co-operation? The economy? Refugees? Sovereignty? Immigration? Nationalism? And WHY is it important for you?

For me, democracy is the key thing – for without the ability to properly hold to account those who make our laws, all is lost. I have written about what I perceive to be the serious shortfall in EU democracy and it’s less than impressive history in this regard here and someone else has written about it more eloquently and at greater length here.

But what is it for you? And why? Let’s talk about facts – but leave the bashing of individuals to one side. As the Corrs so rightly sang: “There’s only so much I can take, And I just got to let it go, And who knows I might feel better.” Yes, this is the only blog where you will find gratuitous and entirely out-of-context lyrics from the Corrs informing the EU debate. Just one of this website’s many unique strengths.

(2) Let’s discuss facts – not fantasy forecasts.

Just remind me which futurologists forecast the First World War, or World War Two, or the attack on the Twin Towers, or the collapse of the Berlin Wall, or the rise of Islamic State?

And which economists predicted the Credit Crunch? Or that oil prices would collapse? Or that not being in the Euro, and leaving the Exchange Rate Mechanism, would actually turn out to be a triumph?

Exactly. Thought as much. Which is why I think it is hard to give too much credit to the apocalyptic forecasts or utopian predictions that emanate from either side, be they from “experts” or not.

Because frankly none of us know what is going to happen. We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, for goodness’ sake. The treasury’s forecasts from six months ago have been revised substantially, so how anyone from any side can confidently predict what will happen in ten years’ time seems implausible, to put it mildly.

What will happen? The unexpected – or, as Harold Macmillan, put it “events, dear boy, events.” Stuff will happen, most of it unforeseen, and events will pan out in the light of that. For better or for worse. None of us knows.

So let’s talk about current facts, and past facts – and here is one website which, so far as I can see, endeavours to do this independently though it says less about democracy than I would like.

And there is not long to go until we vote either! To conclude with another entirely irrelevant quote from the Corrs: “No more waiting, no more aching… No more fighting, no more.” Or at least we can live in hope…

The most important EU issue? Love! And that’s why I have questions about it…

As we all know, a lot of rubbish is being talked about the EU referendum from both sides. At the same time, there has been a tendency to over-simplify the issue as well. Effectively the choice has been presented as voting between economic prosperity (remain) and reducing immigration (leave).

Both approaches are not only simplistic but also lacking in “big picture” concepts. So let’s look at things from the uniquely Christian viewpoint of  love as Jesus defines it.

Within a Christian worldview, Jesus tells us the most important commandment is to “love God with all our heart and soul and mind”. He also tells us the second most important command is to love our neighbours as ourselves. Finally, he warns that we cannot serve both God and Money (or Mammon as some translations put it), since we will inevitably love one and hate the other. Let’s consider each of these in turn.

(1) The EU, the UK and loving God.

How do the EU and UK respectively measure up to “loving God” in the way Jesus sets out? Well, the House of Commons in the UK has prayers before the start of each day’s business. There is a House of Commons chaplain. There is a Head of State, the Queen, who, whatever the merits or otherwise of an hereditary system, is “defender of the faith” and speaks openly of her personal faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not perfect as a system, but there are these things there.

By contrast, there is no mention of God or Christianity in any EU treaty or proposed treaty. Attempts to include such mentions in texts in the past have failed. A final draft of the later abandoned European Constitution referred simply to “Europe’s Religious and Humanist inheritance”. I am not aware of any European Parliament chaplain or prayers.

(2) The EU, the UK and loving our neighbour.

In a way, it might seem obvious that being part of the EU helps us as a country love our neighbouring countries. This is certainly the view of Justin Welby. In the Mail on Sunday of 12th June he wrote:

“Sacrifice, generosity, vision beyond self-interest, suffering for others, helping the helpless, these are some of the deeply Christian principles that have shaped us. They are principles that show us at our best, as an example to other countries, as a home of freedom and democracy, as a beacon of hope that shines around a dark world. They are forward-looking virtues. Those who fought in two world wars were not looking back but forward. Those who built the EU after the two wars, in which millions of Europeans had died, looked forward.”The implication seems to be that the EU helps us love our neighbours.

On the other hand, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali takes a different view:

“The founders of the EEC were mainly Christian humanists who wished to unite Europe around a common spiritual and cultural heritage and for free trade. This has since mutated into the dangerous desire for a super-state with totalitarian aspirations and with an atheistic agenda that diminishes respect for conscience, freedom of belief and reasonable accommodation. It is now seeking to redefine that foundation of society, the family, in ways never intended by the drafters of the UN Declaration of Human Rights or of the European Convention. All of this has had a baneful effect on national legislation and policy, not least in upholding parents as the primary guardians of their children.”

There are real questions about whether the EU, as an institution, has crossed a line. Does it still foster love between nations – or does it force its will upon nations? Does it help us live as good neighbours over the garden fence, or does it force us all to live as co-tenants in a single property with over-stringent house rules?

Certainly the experience of Greece, and the history of a number of referendums in the EU, suggests a tendency these days towards authoritarianism rather than love. See another post on this blog for a more detailed discussion of EU democracy.

We could also ask: does the EU help us love those who are poor, either abroad or in the UK? The well known Anglican speaker and writer Canon J John has written:

“As a forgiving man I would be prepared to be reconciled to the EU if I sensed any repentance and desire for reform. Yet the impersonal figures that govern from Brussels seems to have no desire for change but, instead, are unrepentantly pushing forward their arrogant project of an empire – a ‘United States of Europe’ – extending from the tip of Scotland to Turkey’s eastern borders… That rings alarm bells with me: very few empires have been a blessing to the poor, the weak or the Christian.” (See more here)

And the Labour MP and social justice campaigner Frank Field has argued in the Church Times:

“Compassion toward the weakest members of our society … demands that we vote to leave the EU,” (see here )

What do you think? And why?

(3) The EU, the UK and loving money.

Since the 1980s and the exaltation of competition at the expense of public service, profit over the common good, and work over rest, the UK has undoubtedly been a worshipper of money, with all the corrosive consequences we have seen in terms of the banking crisis, wage gaps between rich and poor, and lack of affordable housing.

But it’s arguable the EU has gone a stage further by making the Euro currency its whole raison d’être. Indeed, in the absence of any notion of God (see point 1 above) it is scarcely surprising.

The laughable thing is that the EU doesn’t even “love money” very effectively! The Euro has led to the stagnation of much of Europe as an economy; southern Europe has suffered by being forced into a currency union it could never really fit into; there is massive youth unemployment in many areas. Yes, the EU loves money – and it doesn’t even do so very well.

So from a Christian perspective – what do you think? How do the UK and EU shape up in terms of loving God, loving our neighbour and (on a negative note) loving money? And how should that impact our voting? The great thing about democracy (while we still have it) is that you decide!

 

Pope announces surprise shake up to Trinity

From the Babylon Times

Vatican City-Saturday

IN AN UNEXPECTED MOVE, Pope Francis this morning announced that late boxer Muhammad Ali is to replacer Jesus Christ in the Holy Trinity.

Addressing a crowd in St Peter’s Square, Rome, the pontiff told the assembled masses: “Many of you may have thought Mr Ali was merely a well-known pugilist who knocked out a few people and said a few moderately amusing things.

“However it is clear from the outpouring of worldwide grief and adoration since his sad demise that he was so much more than that — namely a global leader, prophet, healer, astronaut, brain surgeon, dietary expert and all-round presiding genius.”

He went on: “In view of this, I have no alternative but to announce that Muhammad Ali is to replace Jesus Christ in the Holy Trinity.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis speculated: “It may well be that the other two members of the trinity would welcome a new colleague.”

And he concluded: “The  idea that when people cease to worship the true God, they put any old thing or person in His place — be that the Beatles, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince or indeed Donald Trump — is so last century, darlings.”

“Get with the groove, sweethearts,” he added, before spitting out the remains of a gluten-free tofu veggie burger.

Ten problems with EU democracy – in 30 seconds

IS the European Union truly democratic? Here’s a quick guide to provoke your thinking which should scarcely take any time to read…

In some aspects, it would seem the European Union is thoroughly democratic: for example, the EU Parliament is elected. And many decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, the representatives of elected governments across the EU.

But delve below the surface a bit more and there are some real issues that cause concern. For example:

1. The Greek people voted 61%  against financial bailout terms the EU/troika were offering in July 2015. The EU effectively ignored this and forced the Greek government, despite this popular mandate, to accept a settlement with harsher terms than those which had been rejected by the people only a few days earlier in that referendum.

The Greek electorate may have been right or wrong in their vote, wise or unwise, but their view should have been respected (even if it meant other nations ejecting them from the Euro) because when the people of a country speak in a legitimate vote then their views are sovereign. That’s how democracy works!

2. European Commissioners (one per country) who can propose legislation are unelected. That’s akin to Cabinet members in the UK not being elected by a constituency, as they are here, but simply appointed personally at the whim of the Prime Minister. Effectively it means the Commissioners are not accountable to those whose lives they impact so hugely – ie us, the voters. Can you name our current EU Commissioner? Almost certainly not. Could you get rid of him if you didn’t want him? No – there is no direct way to do this.

3. European Union regulations come into effect immediately in all member states as law and over-ride national law. These can be made (among other ways) by the European Commission (whose members, we remind ourselves, are not elected).

4. European Union directives are similar to EU regulations, and again can, among other methods, be made by the European Commission (whose members etc…). While directives differ from regulations in that the precise means of achieving a regulation’s objective are left to member states to work out in detail, that ultimate objective is not in itself negotiable and is binding.

5. The treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE), sometimes called the European Constitution or the Constitutional Treaty, was completed in 2004. However the rejection of the document by French and Dutch voters in referendums in May and June 2005 brought the ratification process to an end. So, after a while, the Treaty of Lisbon was simply created to replace it. This contained many of the changes that were originally placed in the Constitutional Treaty — but because it was formulated as a set of amendments to existing treaties, and not a new treaty in and of itself (despite its title!), it neatly circumvented the need for further referendums in France and Holland, and conveniently bypassed the two rejections that had already taken place there!

6. Irish voters were nonetheless given a vote on that Treaty of Lisbon. They rejected it the first time around. So a second referendum had to be held a while later so the Irish people had a chance to get it right second time around! Opinion differs as to whether this was legitimate or not. But can one imagine a reverse scenario with a second vote being held had voters accepted it first time around, after pressure from those who had voted no? It is hard to imagine that happening. The same can be said in relation to the two Irish referendums on the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and 2002.

7. Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti (2011-2013) had been a European Commissioner and was invited to become premier of Italy despite never having run for elected office or received any kind of popular mandate. All sorts of questions surround this appointment (see footnote below for more reading on this). Similar questions also surround former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.

8. The EU as a tier of government is too far removed from the electorate through sheer size and distance to be truly accountable.

9. Constituencies for MEP elections are too big to be meaningful or to work in practice.

10. Different languages as well as separate media, TV stations and newspapers mean the EU cannot work as a single democratic system (in contrast with the USA or Russia, for example).

It is sometimes said that deficiencies in democracy in the UK  mean we can overlook deficiencies in democracy in the EU. Who are Britons to talk about EU democracy, some people argue, when our own system has a number of questionable aspects? But the presence of flaws in one system should not be a reason for ignoring flaws in another! That seems a strange logic!

Summary: the EU is not nearly as democratic as it likes to look.

 Sources:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_related_to_the_European_Union#Greek_bailout_referendum.2C_2015

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Commissioner

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_(European_Union)

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_(European_Union)

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_establishing_a_Constitution_for_Europe

6.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendums_related_to_the_European_Union#Treaty_of_Lisbon

7. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/11/european-greece-technocrats and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8896719/Who-voted-for-you-Mario-Monti.html and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/what-price-the-new-democracy-goldman-sachs-conquers-europe-6264091.html, among many other news items.

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