Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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An English anthem?

And did those feet in ancient time

The preface to Blake's 'Milton, a Poem', containing 'And did those feet in ancient time', as coloured by Blake.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, has been watching the footie, and he wants a debate on an English national anthem. It seems he’s got a little annoyed at the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the England football team at the World Cup in South Africa.

First off, anthems are rather silly things. Their lyrics are often little more than a admixture of jingoism and romanticist nonsense. However, the things of anthems and flags are important symbols of belonging, as long as we recognise they are the symbols and window-dressing of our identity and not its substance.

Second off, I abhor our current paean to Mrs Windsor because she doesn’t even begin to represent what this country means to most of us. The tune and lyrics are both bad: scrap it along with the monarchy! It also has the problem of having some official status in most Commonwealth realms (those countries that inexplicably keep Mrs Windsor as head of state). New Zealanders, for instance, would have the right to complain that the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ by British or English sporting teams that the anthem is just as much theirs — ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of New Zealand, alongside the more common ‘God Defend New Zealand’. In spite of my being a Christian, I recognise that ‘God Save the Queen’ bears a certain theological element that is either inappropriate or questionable to a significant number of citizens — being addressed to God, it is a prayer, and can, historically, be said to be a Christian, even Church of England, prayer.

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A budget both unnecessary and vicious

The Liberal Democrats are doing most of the talking on this week’s budget, in an apparent attempt to convince themselves about it. My MP, Vince Cable, has been writing in the local rag about how we all knew that a tough budget was needed, that it will hurt, but is totally necessary. It is clear from various media vox pops that a number of people are being taken in by this ‘tough but fair’ line.

The only thing that is obvious is that there is a deficit in government finances. The threat that is wafted before us is that of Greece, but the UK’s credit rating is in a far better state than that of Greece. And the assumption is that the markets trump all other needs in our society. This is a deeply offensive attitude towards the people of this country, and demonstrates the hateful ideology behind this budget.

Vince Cable has been all over the TV trying to drum up support for this budget. However, when all its viciousness against families, disabled people, those on housing benefit and anyone who buys anything is listed, he defended the budget by pointing out the positives: all for business. So, the Con Dems are not only putting markets before people, but also business before people. They may retort that helping business creates jobs, and reduces unemployment, and thus is better for the general population. However, we have plenty of evidence that helping business mostly benefits upper management, and there is no ‘trickle down’.

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The horror of the slasher budget

Today, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced his budget. Variously named an emergency budget or an austerity budget, it is clearly more a slasher horror.

We already knew that the Tories were going to be savage with the public purse, but we are beginning to see a Liberal Democrat Party beholden to a liberal economic theory, and the sidelining of that party’s social democratic wing in the name of coalition government.

As everyone predicted, the new budget is a screw-the-poor budget: child benefit frozen for three years (huge impact on low-income families), housing benefit capped (those on low incomes will be forced out of some areas), SureStart maternity grant limited to first child (affects most families), tests for disability allowance to get tougher (fairly degrading to many claimants, costs to administer and will likely find fewer ‘bogus’ claimants than the Daily Mail expects)  and VAT to increase to 20% (massively affecting the spending power of the poorest in society).

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South Africa and the British concentration camps

I’m loving the World Cup, trying to watch as many matches as I can, and even like the sound of the vuvuzelas! With many others of the English tendency, I watched England’s first match against USA with nervous excitement. ITV prefaced the match with an outdoor broadcast from Roark’s Drift, and Film4 showed Zulu earlier in the day. As much as I have enjoyed the film in the past, it belongs to the odd canon of boys-own British pseudohistory.

The Boer War is a fairly forgotten piece of British Empire history, although ending only a little over a century ago. In the UK we remember Roark’s Drift (mainly because of Zulu), the Relief of Mafeking, Cecil Rhodes and Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts. It’s far too easy to have this jingoistic comic-book understanding of British history. In some countries, lots of them, the school history books are doctored to instill a nationalistic pseudohistory in the student, but here simple, subtle mass ignorance suffices.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Lizzie van Zyl, victim of Britain's concentration camps.

Britain began the 20th century with systematic mass murder in South Africa, which involved the invention of the concentration camp. Part of jingoistic history is to make evil other: foreigners are and do evil,which we boldly resist. By editing out the evil from our own history, we end up with an overinflated impression of our moral superiority. This makes it important to remember the evil our country has done.

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I’m supporting Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott

On Wednesday, John McDonnell, whom I was supporting for the Labour Party leadership, pulled out of the contest. He and most of his supporters transferred their nominations to Diane Abbott, catapulting her from last place to near the threshold. In my last post, I outlined why it would be good to have Abbott on the ballot paper.

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Getting Labour back to work

2010 Labour leadershipWednesday 9 June is the closing date for nominations for the Labour leadership. In the meantime, Harriet Harman has been doing a not-too-bad job as acting leader. Just like MLeadership 2010argaret Beckett before her, Harman’s stint in charge is merely a caretaking role, and the best a woman has ever got in the Labour Party.

Of the six candidates up for nomination, we have only one woman, and Diane Abbott is currently in last position with only eleven nominations (including Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas). She is also the only black candidate: an unenviable intersectionality in the patriarchal den that still goes for parliament in this country.

The Labour Party faces the challenge of mounting a strong opposition to the Con Dem government and taking the lead when the public outcry against savage spending cuts comes. The Con Dems, however, can return these with interest using one simple play: it’s all New Labour’s fault. Of course, New Labour cannot be wholly blamed for our country’s financial situation, but The Current Bun and The Daily Hate don’t bother with those niceties. If Labour try to mount an opposition, the Con Dems will decry the record of the New Labour government. If Labour try to spearhead the campaign against cuts, the Con Dems merely have to suggest that the last government made such cuts neccessary.

As with the dying days of John Major’s government, Gordon Brown’s premiership was inhabited by ghosts: politicians lacking purpose or principle. It was only in the last few days of the general-election campaign that Cabinet ministers started to rediscover that they had some principles: like pearls, discovered after a very lengthy bothering over intense iritations.

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