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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Manifesto for the UK Post Brexit (Part 2 – Politics and Economics)

Here are some thoughts on Political Structures and the Economy:

 

Political Organisation

I would want to legislate Proportional Representation for a fairer reflection of the political will of the people, with coalitions becoming the norm, leading to a more collaborative and conciliatory form of politics, involving real engagement with and empowerment of local people in their communities.

Political conversations in local communities will mean that politicians and public servants do not come up with good ideas and “do things to people”, but rather learn to form environments of participatory leadership where co-commissioning becomes the norm. “No decision about me, without me, is for me.” (Leeds Poverty Truth Challenge). This is part of the new politics we need.

Sovereignty can be understood in several ways. From my perspective there are two competing narratives that frame the debate. Sovereignty can be the right to self-govern, to be in charge of our own future and rule in such a way to ensure that this happens – that is to insist that our own freedoms matter the most and we may have to suspend the freedom of others to ensure this happens. The alternative view of freedom is rooted in the idea of ‘essential kenosis’, i.e. that true sovereignty is not the domination of the other, but a self-giving, others-empowering love. I would see this latter definition of Sovereignty to be the basis of a more human kind of leadership. Leadership is something which is from among, rather than something which is lorded over others.

I would continue with town and county councils run on this basis, with two nationally elected houses, one based in the north and the other in the south.

Economy

I would start with the breaking up of banks into smaller, regional units, encouraging a multiplicity of options, especially encouraging credit unions and cooperatives. This is a well thought through idea of what to do with RBS, as championed by the New Economics Foundation. This will ensure local lending for local people, businesses and initiatives which will lead to a more sustainable system, more similar to the German or Danish model, both of which have ridden financial storms more easily than those where larger and centralised banks are allowed to dominate the market.

there needs to be a recognition that in all of economic history that we know of, only 3 countries have ever been in surplus and each case this was in a very unusual circumstance and for a short time. The obsession with balancing the books is a nonsense. (A national economy is nothing at all like a household! For instance, we do not have a bank in our back gardens that can print money, nor do we have rich friends living with us, to whom we give special privileges whilst making others work for very little pay, refusing to help them out, but rather telling them they need to have better aspirations and work harder).

A fair society involves creating local environments in which people can work and work pays well, so that a hard days work does not still leave someone unable to afford food, shelter and warmth. A fair society means that when you are unable to work or go through a time of hardship, you will be cared for appropriately. We would encourage the formation and strengthening of unions on this basis.

We need an economy that does not allow organisations to have their headquarters in the UK, but put their profits into other nations, whilst avoiding their fair share of taxation. The UK has many reasons to attract companies here, other than low tax rates and if companies wish to hold the UK to ransom, they can go elsewhere. Instead we will build relationships with those companies that will pay a fair and living wage, ensuring a fair share of profits and contribute to the wellbeing of the economy. Trickle down neoliberalism is failing the vast majority of people, and so we will develop this new economy together.

Political Parables – Free Market Economics

Unknown First of all, I listened to an awesome radio 4 show this week, which is part of a brilliant series called “Promises, promises: A History of Debt”. This week’s short program was entitled: “The International Politics of Debt” and serves as a good backdrop to challenge some of our world-view before embarking on this next parable, which to be honest, interpreted through the lens of Freire and Herzog, blew my mind! Have a listen: http://bbc.in/18eAr6m The parable in question is that of  “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27)

Matthew 25:14-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the imagesone talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 25:14 Greek bondservants; also verse 19
  2. Matthew 25:15 talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer
  3. Matthew 25:21 Greek bondservant; also verses 232630
English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. I have sat in so many different church contexts over the years and heard this parable taught the same way. “Use your talents/gifts/money for God, because God doesn’t want you to waste what He’s given you. You are supposed to multiply it and increase it and use it for His glory/for good/to show others His blessing…..” But, hang on a minute. What if we turn this parable on its head? What if Jesus is not casting God as the master, but he is again directly speaking into the societal set up of the day? What if this master is in fact a ruler in an agrarian society, with a governing class beneath him, a section of merchants, retainers and priests with a few artisans thrown in underneath that and a bunch of unclean/degraded/expendables at the bottom of the pile? If this is so, (and I’m not sure the master fits the bill in terms of who Jesus is revealing the Father to be), then what might the parable mean? Is it possible that the radical person is not the one who doubles the money of the “unjust ruler”, who reaps where he doesn’t sow etc etc? Rather, could Jesus be highlighting the one who choses to challenge this way of life, that in effect keeps the ruler rich and powerful, or gives increase to the ones who are willing to increase their wealth through defunct systems of usury, to be the real radical/irritant/one of another kind of Kingdom? It’s not to say that God doesn’t want us to use gifts he’s given us for the benefit of others…..but maybe that’s just not what this parable is about. Too often, the parables of Jesus are used to uphold and justify a certain way of doing economics and perhaps we don’t want to engage with the hard-hitting realities of what he might really be saying…. If we assume that this master does not represent God, then what might a modern-day reading of it be (also given the context of international debt)? Maybe something like this: For it will be like the CEO of a big chocolate company, who went to the Ivory Coast to ensure a good flow of chocolate into the West and ever expand his chocolate empire. He called three of his most entrusted leaders to himself, and asked them to ensure more chocolate at a lower price. He set one of them, with the most experience over 5 factories, the next one over 3 factories and the last one over 1 factory. The first two set to work, thinking about how they could make more chocolate for less money in order to keep their boss happy and the business functioning well. They knew if they did well, they would secure their own future in the company and good income for their families. Understanding capitalism, they came up with a cunning plan. They decided the best way would be to get cheap or even free images-2labour. So, they enslaved children from the surrounding area and nations with families who were too poor to keep them, and put them to work in the fields, picking the cocoa, or in the factories at the grinding machines, under terrible and dangerous conditions, in which many of the children died or were abused by hard task masters. images-1The last of the workers, saw what the other two were up to and it made him sick to the stomach. He refused to enslave children in this way and couldn’t understand the motivation of the CEO. He chose to pay people a fair wage, keep their working conditions good and have strong morale amongst his team. The CEO returned. He was willing to turn a blind eye to the methods and was full of praise for the ‘business acumen’ of the first two. He paid them well, ensuring his ‘fair trade’ logo and set them up over even more projects to continue achieving brilliant results. The other guy was out on his ear, sacked from the company with no right of appeal. Confused and dismayed, what was he to do? End his life? Beg for his job back and act the same way as the others? No, he continued Unknown-1to try to live a life that restored people’s humanity and hoped for “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible”. So, who is the radical carrier of the Kingdom of God here?

Political Parables – The ‘Other’

I recently participated in an extremely enjoyable conversation about ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’ and how we read it/it reads us today. (Read or watch below).

Luke 10:25-37 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 10:35 denarius was a day’s wage for a labourer

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Or Watch it here:

UnknownIt’s a parable so well-known now, it is easy to let its impact completely wash over us. For me, it and the preceding dialogue poses 3 hugely political issues (by that I
mean how we live alongside our fellow humans) rather than party politics, which I consider to be an utterly defunct system which will not deliver to us the future we are calling for. (Having said that I recognise some people feel called to change it from within, and I am particularly excited to soon embark on the wonderful Caroline Lucas’ new book, ‘Honourable Friends?’)…….

The 3 issues are as follows:

1) With whom does your allegiance lie? Jesus’ challenge is straight – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength i.e. are you about loving God and walking in the ways of love or are you about serving Caesar or religion or an oppressive regime or a particular leader or a nation-state or flag?

2) Who is my neighbour? Who is there around me that I could be helping, but am not? Who am I too busy or too important to help, to stoop down to, to embrace? Who might inconvenience my schedule or delay my journey? Who might infect me or make me feel ‘dirty’? Who am I struggling to spend myself on behalf of? And yet, who is the unexpected person doing that for me?

images3) Who is the ‘other’ that offends me? I was watching one of my favourite TV shows the other week – gogglebox – absolute genius television! One of the reasons I love it is that it gives me hope that TV, rather than simply nullify our pain, numb us to the real issues, pacify and hypnotize us to carry on business as usual, can actually inspire some conversation, cause to engage with the ‘other’ and maybe even challenge and change our perspectives! One of the shows the goggleboxers were watching, was one about a man I have in all honesty had quite a low opinion of – Nigel Farage. It was a show about him as a person, rather than his (odorous) policies. It challenged me deeply. Nearly all of the people watching him, started out with quite a low opinion of him, but came out the other side seeing him much more as a human being. It is so easy to dehumanize the ‘other’, to ridicule those we don’t agree with and create the great ‘us and them’ divide. But the challenge of Jesus is so stark in this parable. Who is the one you despise? See, they are a human being like you, and maybe not so awful as you might think. (Not an excuse to not debate awful ideas btw!).

I wonder, as we look to the future across Europe, how helpful the vilification of individuals and people groups is? Will it give us a new, love based politics? When we really allow ourselves to imagine the future, I mean really imagine it, does it involve more separation and division?

I wonder, if Jesus told this parable in the UK today who he would cast as the ‘Good Samaritan’? Maybe a male taxi driver of Pakistani origin from Rochdale? Or a school girl from London who has some sympathies for some of the ideas of IS? Perhaps a member of the EDL? PLEASE don’t mishear me. I am not for one minute suggesting that those who did the despicable acts in Rochdale, or those carrying out heinous and barbaric crimes in the middle east, be that IS (or the nation-states bombing the middle east) are “good samaritans”. But if we are not careful it is possible we tar too many people with the same brush. Interestingly, we wouldn’t have an NHS without the 11% of all our staff and 26% of the doctors who come from overseas. Maybe we (who is the ‘we’ – the UK? Europe? Humanity?) are richer together and if we allow ourselves to discover interdependence, we will find some love from very unexpected places and find ourselves embracing those we once thought “beyond the pale” (originally a phrase meaning those in Ireland who lived outside the British boundaries…..)?