Losing Faith in Our Democracy?

Today, the Primeminister, Theresa May, said that if Brexit doesn’t happen….and let’s face it, no one really knows what’s going to happen anymore…people will lose faith in our democracy….

 

Are you losing faith in our democracy? I hope so! It’s high time we woke up to the fact that we don’t actually live in a participatory democracy, and the views of the UK are not fairly represented in the first-past-the-post 2 party system. Our political system is broken – both in the UK and in the EU. It is simply unable to help us create what we now need in society. It is built on multiplied sovereignty, simply the child of empire, and needs to be completely reimagined for a future that is more socially just and environmentally sustainable.

TIGgers and a New Politics?

For several years now, many people across the UK have been calling for a ‘new politics’ and ‘new economics’. There is a growing weariness with the current systems, behaviours and ideologies which are incapable to give us the future we need – a future in which we take climate change, the sustainability of the planet and social justice really seriously.

 

So, what hope do TIGgers offer us?  I had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Allen MP a couple of weeks ago, when she came to Morecambe with Frank Field MP to better understand the issues of poverty and in particular the effects of government policy on the lives of human beings. I watched her sit and really listen to my friend, Daniel Burba, with tears streaming down her face, as he told his gut-wrenching story of lived-experience of poverty and how he deserved to be treated as a person with a name and not a mere number or statistic. I watched her quit the Conservative party, citing the failure of the government to make any difference to the issues of poverty, but rather to have worsened them. I admire politicians who are willing to really listen to what is going in commmunities, examine whether or not policies are actually working or in fact deeply failing people and be willing to make changes accordingly. People with lived experience of poverty are fed up to the back teeth of being told that policies are working, when they live on the receiving end of the harsh realities involved.

 

And so, now we have the formation of this new “Independent Group” – an interesting mixture of MPs who have, for a variety of reasons formed together on the ‘centre ground’ of British politics. But is this the new politics? Well….if anything helps break up the dominant 2-party, first past the post system with less braying across the isles, then maybe we can get somewhere towards it. If it models a new way of building relationships, then all the better!

 

But do TIGgers really signify a genuine shift towards a new politics for the people and the planet, a politics based on love and kindness, and politics of collaboration and genuine listening and care, a politics that is together with, not to or for or over? I’m not sure it can be – for such a politics can not be ‘independent’ but must be ‘interdependent’. Such a politics cannot rely on such a broken economic model as neoliberalism but be willing to make a shift into the doughnut, ensuring business can thrive in a way that does not mean destruction of the planet or a widening of inequalities! Nor can it be agnostic over the issues of climate change. It needs to mean the breakdown of powerful lobby groups and a more open, honest and accountable way of operating.

 

No, a new politics and economics will enable us to truly face up to our colonial past and the ‘hostile environment’ we have created and instead help bring communities together to build relationships and embrace interculturalism on a foundation of self-giving, others-empowering love and kindness. It will put the environment and social justice front and centre.  It will ensure we focus on age old inequalities, and ensure that no child goes hungry and every life matters. It will build the health of people and the planet into every policy decision and co-create a more flexible education system that is a work of art. It will be more honest about the resources we have available and be collaborative with communities about how we use them best. It will be humble in its approach to International relationships and development, looking to build positive peace.

 

I am a tigger, but not a TIGger. ‘TIG’ does not yet signify the new politics we are looking for, but at least it is calling for it – and that is very welcome.

Is Blair Right on Brexit?

Today I walked into on a conversation at work in which Brexit was being compared to trying to be ‘friends with benefits’ after a divorce! Not a bad analogy!

 

This week on radio 4, ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was being interviewed on his thoughts on Brexit. this is what I understand him to be saying:

 

1) Yes – it is taking what seems like an age for the MPs to make a decision on Brexit

 

2) This is because it is extremely complicated to leave the EU after so many years of close relationship and trying to strike a deal and understand all of the details involved is not straightforward – so it’s both right and important that our MPs do what they are elected to do.

 

3) Theresa May’s deal has been rejected with good reason. It would have been better if she had worked on a few options and worked on a cross party agreement for something more likely to satisfy the varying positions.

 

4) The options we are left with are as follows:

 

a) crash out with no deal and trade by WTO rules, but the WTO is in a mess and this will cause some real short term pain for our economy. I don’t know about you, but I know loads of people for whom this would mean very difficult financial positions and would put homes and jobs at severe risk. The economy would recover long-term, but it could take years and years. After all the austerity – can we really handle this?

 

b) Go for a Norway plus deal, but this leaves us pretty much in the EU, but without the benefits.

 

c) Go for a Canada plus deal, but the EU are very unlikely to accept this as it is really bad for them, and actually worse for us too. And it leaves us with the Irish border issue.

 

d) Have a people’s vote (2nd referendum) to check that we still want to do this, now that we know much more than we did when we voted and this time, make the vote binding. this is what happened in Ireland and they realised that they were so much worse off outside of the EU

 

e) In the mean time, the EU needs to have some time for reflection and understand why the UK voted to leave and why we are seeing such a massive rise of nationalism across Europe right now and think about how we can find a new story for Europe that works for everybody.

 

Over the last few weeks I’ve taken time to really listen to people who voted for us to leave the EU and there are some really good reasons involved and some I definitely disagree with, but given all of the above, although it is painful, I don’t see how we can do anything except have a further vote. It was amazing to hear the lovely people of Germany reach out to us today to ask us to reconsider. After everything that happened in the last century, the fact that we call each other friends is amazing. Given what we know now, do we really want to Brexit?

 

 

Repentance IS the Revolution

Here we are at the start of ‘Green Week’ in which the UK government has decided to ask some experts about whether or not we should amend our target of being carbon neutral by 2050?! Talk about asking a stupid question! In the very same week, Cuadrilla will be allowed to start fracking – drilling for more fossil fuels in Lancashire, whilst those who peacefully protested are sent to prison (a little ironic!) and the Climate Change Minister –  Claire Perry, has declared it is not her government’s job to advise people on a climate friendly diet (despite the evidence, which I regret, showing that we need to seriously curtail our meat intake, especially of beef and lamb). What is the role of government, I am left wondering…….?

 

We have 12 years! That really isn’t a very long time. 12 years in which to drastically change our minds and our behaviour about how we are living, or face the devastating consequences of the impact of climate change for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

 

Gandhi wrote so powerfully about the seven social sins, as he saw them:

 

1) Politics without Principle

2) Wealth without Work (weird how this has switched in the social conscience to poverty without work….how did poverty become the sin?)

3) Commerce without Morality

4) Pleasure without Conscience

5) Education without Character

6) Science without Humanity

7) Worship without Sacrifice

 

For the health and wellbeing of people and the planet, we need to change and we need to change now. As my friend Martin Scott says, the facades are down. We can see things clearly for what they are. That means we cannot and must not allow ‘business as usual’ to continue. This is our moment. We cannot simply carry on with the same old, same old. If ever there was a moment for us to change – it is now! Our economic model is literally destroying us. Our politics are increasingly tainted with a rhetoric of blame and fear. Unless we change now, with the backdrop of environmental disasters, food and water shortages, driven by human greed, then within a few short years, we will be facing war and humanitarian atrocities at a truly alarming scale.

 

Our only hope, is repentance. Repentance, as David Benjamin Blower tells us, IS the revolution. An old, biblical phrase which means to completely change our hearts and minds and instead live utterly differently. It means laying down our consumerism of the world and instead choosing to become good stewards of it, letting go of our own hedonistic selfishness in preference for the ‘other’ and sustainability of the earth. It means recognising that our economic model is broken and unjust, so we need to find a new way that is distributive and regenerative. It means learning to love our enemy rather than hate them, curtailing our excesses and learning to live more simply, caring for the poor instead of scapegoating them, promoting the welfare of children rather than constantly comparing and measuring them. It means breaking the chains of the global slave trade, stopping our appalling pollution now, not in 2050 and finding a way to live in peace.

 

This isn’t some hippy utopia, it is, I believe, what God always hoped for with us.  Repentance isn’t some weirdo religious experience, it is a gutsy, humble recognition that we’re in a mess and we need forgiveness from God, ourselves, each other and the planet. Repentance is a complete change of heart and mind, away from death to life, from greed to gift, from destruction to renewal, from darkness to light, from hate to love.

 

I  have found in my journey of faith in the person and teaching of Jesus, that only the love of God really changes my heart and deals with my pride, my greed and my selfishness.  Sadly, (predominantly) white, evangelical Christianity has aligned itself more with nationalism and free-market capitalism than what I read Jesus to teach in the scriptures. A dangerous theology has developed which equates a strong economy as being a sign of God’s ‘financial blessing’ and ‘favour’, giving little thought to the raping of the earth’s resources or the injustice upon which such ‘prosperity’ is built. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here”, he wasn’t saying that he was going to replace the Roman Empire with an even more awful and utterly destructive system. He was inviting us to open our eyes and see that the ways of God could not be more different to Empire and are about ‘life poured out love’ or ‘self-giving, others empowering-love’, where all are welcome, all are set free and all can become stewards of this way of kindness and peace. It’s not easy to go against the system – it takes sacrifice – but it is the only thing that can lead to our salvation – something we need more than ever.

 

I have little hope that any government or system, with all their vested interests, can or will take the precarity of our situation seriously enough. And so it falls to you and me – we the people together. Personal and corporate repentance. It’s time (As Michael Jackson sang) to look at the man or woman in the mirror – and make that change.

 

It is true, that our work may well feel apparently worthless, futile and achieve no result at all – in all honesty it’s why I’ve made excuses for not changing certain things (like eating beef far too often – though that changes now!)……so as Thomas Merton reminds us, we must focus on the value, the rightness and the truth of the work we must do, itself…….In the end….he says…..”it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything.” So, don’t feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Make your own repentance yourself and amongst your relationships and bit by bit, we might just make a difference. Doing nothing is not an option. Repentance IS the revolution – and a revolution is what we need. Grace gives the opportunity to make a fresh start. Are you ready for it? What changes will you make? If not now, when? If not us, who?

 

 

Enough Now!

Here is a poem I wrote, after hearing an amazing head teacher, called Jill Wood speaking about why she had taken the decision for her Year 6 Students not to take their SATS tests (compulsory exams for our 11 year old in England). She was giving her “enough now” to the detrimental effects testing can have on children. Here is what she inspired in me:

 

Consent, Divorce and Brexit

images-1Sometimes people change their mind, especially when new evidence comes to light! For example, in the medical profession, the process of consent stays open right until the operation is about to take place. It would be ludicrous to tell someone they have to go through with a leg amputation, even after it’s been discovered that their leg is in fact healthy and savable, simply because the consent form is signed! I think Brexit feels like that, except in our case, we are the leg and we’re about to cut off the body to which we are joined! Or we could compare it to a couple being forced to go through with a divorce, with all the pain involved, even after they rediscover that they are really great together, have believed lies about each other, and will both be worse off without each other. Yes – they may have some things to work through and they may need to totally reimagine their relationship, but to force the divorce through just because they were going through a rough patch, might be hugely regretful. I think Brexit feels like that – a very sad outcome to what could have been a totally different kind of conversation.

 

Yes, I accept that there are things about the EU which have made many across the UK find it difficult to want to stay in a relationship with her. But we’ve been led to believe some things about Europe which are wholly untrue and our vision got really clouded. When we step back and recognise all the good things about the relationship, knowing that it isn’t perfect and would still need a lot of work; mediating a reimagined future is so much more preferable than what a divorce is going to mean. And sometimes, it’s only after you call something off that you begin to realise that it isn’t a break-up that you want, it’s just a different kind of relationship. We are literally about to make an unbelievably terrible mistake, but it’s not too late to change our minds. 

 

Unknown-1Let’s be honest, through the unraveling scandal of Cambridge Analytica et al. we now know that Brexit was NOT the result of a “democratic process”, and the idea that we now can’t change our minds, (even though the evidence is clear of how bad it will be), is beyond ludicrous. Yes, it’s true, we were told it would be a once in a lifetime vote, and that not leaving the EU will break people’s trust in our political system – but last time I looked, there wasn’t loads of faith in it anyway! The leave campaign broke the law in terms of what they spent, told many lies, and hard though it is for us to face up to, used immorally targeted psychological manipulation to get the vote they wanted, driven by hyper-nationalist media moguls. And so NO, we don’t actually have to take the result and live with the dire  consequences. It is time to stop this madness, say sorry to our European friends and renegotiate a New European Union that works for everybody. Clearly there are some huge problems, which is why we are seeing the rise of the far right across the continent. Many people feel un-listened to. Europe has forgotten how to create a positive story of the future and so we are retreating into narratives of fear and separation. But, rather than leave, what we need to do is come together with a bolder and more positive dream of what it means to be in Union together and then we can begin to face up to some of the really complex issues we face at a global level.  

 

images-2We’ve been worried that being part of the Union means that we are losing our own national identity. It doesn’t mean that at all! Have you seen the Dutch fans at a football match?! When I married my wife, I was still me, she was still her, but we also became something new together! The EU really doesn’t limit our sense of individual nationhood, rather it expands our sense of partnership! We’ve believed that that the union prevents our ability to make good and sensible laws, but this simply isn’t true! Rather, the EU upholds human rights and helps us to embrace ‘otherness’. Europe and the European Union is extraordinarily amazing, but it absolutely needs to modernise, change and embrace the positive new power movements which are emerging. In the bloodiest continent on the planet, we have managed to live at peace with each other for over 70 years, and more than that to have become friends with each other. 

 

Compared to many nations in Europe, we are not as amazing as we might like to believe. We have one of the highest levels of poverty, some of the least happy people, the widest inequality gaps by an absolute mile and some of the lowest spending on public services. We have the highest property prices and rents in Europe and significantly declining productivity. To top it all, we have the worst pension deal. This is not the fault of the EU, but of the economic systems we have championed but which the rest of Europe have been more careful about monitoring.

 

imagesSo, leaving the European Union will help us how? £350 million extra a week for the NHS
or social care, or education, or policing? Nope. A better deal in life for those living in our most economically deprived areas? No again. Will we be safer? The police chiefs tell us not. Will our borders be more secure so that we can control all the immigration that we are told is the root of all our problems? Well no, and although immigration is a complex issue, Brexit is not the answer to it and we need to resist a rhetoric of fear, division and hate. . Might we create division across a well-healed Irish border? Yes. Will we potentially lose loads of manufacturing jobs across the North? Yes (just look 
at the new manufacturing deal Japan have struck with the EU). Will many of our businesses suffer heavy losses? Yes. Will the NHS struggle to recruit workers when our workforce is already hugely overstretched? Yes. Are there likely to be food shortages and will food become more expensive? Yes. Are we more likely to see the break up of the UK? Yes – and what of our great sovereignty then?! England is a very small place on its own! We need to wake up!Unknown

 

 

I know, we had a referendum and the ‘remoaners’ lost. But we are all about to lose so much more if we actually go through with this madness. We don’t just need a people’s vote, we need some humility and some hope that we can restore the damage we have done to our friends across the continent and together face the huge complexities in front of us over this next century – climate change, the refugee crisis, the plastic in our seas, water shortages and so much more. We cannot face these things alone as isolated nation states, but together, in union, we can! So, enough with Brexit! Let’s stop this now and find a new way forward together. #togetherwecan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Northern New Power House

Inew-power-200529495[1]’ve recently finished reading the excellent book, “New Power”, by Timms and Heimans – a master class in the paradigms of power we seeing in play around the globe at this time in history. It is a really important book to engage with, well written, easy to read and full of great stories and powerful analogies.

 

It got me thinking again about ‘the northern power house’ and how much of this is still predicated on ‘old power’ models. But the North has a long history in New Power and Social Movements, which have radically changed the political landscape of the UK. I love the fact that over 1/3 of the people of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield signed a petition, to their own personal cost, to see the beginning of the end of the slave trade. The Peterloo massacre is another example of people movements ahead of their time. Had social media been around in those days, the #enoughisenough, or #blacklivesmatter would have been lighting up the Twittersphere.

 

It is new power, not old power that will really ring the changes needed across the North, and leaders need to partner with the emerging social movements to bring the real shifts that are needed in these wonderful parts of England. We must see a fair distribution of resource, radical moves for social justice, the breaking of long held inequalities in health and social care, transport, education, policing and economic opportunity. The Northern Powerhouse could be shaped by New Power not Old Power, and those in Old Power positions must make space for what is emerging and be willing to partner with it for a truly creative co-disruption, so that something truly transformational might occur. So here’s to some #northernpower to #changethefuture because #togetherwecan