Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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I marched, but the media reported wrongly

I joined the March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March with around half-a-million others. It was an exciting day, and good to see people of all ages, including little children, and all backgrounds dancing and chanting along the Embankment and en route to Hyde Park. I got back to see BBC News coverage of the event, and was angry, albeit not that surprised, to see a very skewed view of what went on.  I have had around two-dozen friends say that they wished they had gone on the march, but were concerned about this or that. I have to say that this march was ultra-safe, and the babies and toddlers only cried when they saw Cameron or Clegg’s face on placards! If you stayed home and only know about the march from media reports, let me tell you something you have not yet heard: it was a great day out for all the family.

The main contingent of the march were the unions. There were lots of Unison, Unite and GMB banners there. There were firefighters marching in pristine uniforms. Teachers were marching, as were students. A huge Postman Pat was leading groups of posties. Plenty of Labour Party branches were there with banners, as were a few Green Party branches and the assorted other parties of the Left. Campaign groups were out, like Stop the War and UK Uncut. Many spent hours on coaches from Scotland and Northern England to get there. A group of carers for the elderly marched with placards, each bearing a photo of an older person and their message of support for the march — an old woman grasping her zimmer frame: “I would march if I could”. It took two hours for those at the back of the march to reach the starting point on the Embankment from which the front moved off. If each of us who marched has a handful of friends who stayed at home yet support us, the march represents many millions of Britons who refuse to accept the government’s rhetoric on necessary cuts. This is no minority, this is mainstream.

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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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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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Why do some parties think repealing human-rights legislation is a vote winner?

English Democrats: putting England back into the Dark Ages!

English Democrats: putting England back into the Dark Ages!

Leafy Twickenham is all aquiet as volcanic ash has cleared Heathrow’s flight path. Political banners are beginning to bristle from box hedges, although most of them proclaim the incumbent Vince Cable as the choice vote.

When it comes to human rights, the fundamental underpinning of liberal democracy, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have a consistently positive track record (although neither party has been in a position where they have had to live with the consequences of their stance). Labour are often thought of having a poor record, yet, despite New Labour’s increasingly authoritarian approach, it introduced the Human Rights Act, the most comprehensive legislation on human rights in the UK (among many other things, the act totally abolished the death penalty in the UK, which was still available for certain military offenses). Conversely, the Tories have consistently challenged the act, and now wish to replace it with a watered down bill of rights.

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I believe in Brilliant Britain

Last night I saw the new Labour Party election broadcast featuring Eddie Izzard. The Labour Party rolled out this passionately clever comedian to front this broadcast at the same time that the Tories courted Gary Barlow, boy-band singer, pop-song writer and charity worker. Both are great Britons, but whereas Izzard brings a wry humour and indomitable otherness, Barlow comes across as a rather superficial populist.

Anyway, Eddie Izzard’s broadcast reminded me of the absolute root of the difference between the political right and left: the right have always played on people’s fears (crime, economy, immigration) to gain power, whereas the left pleads for people’s hopes (free healthcare, education, equality).

Izzard makes two main points in the short broadcast. Firstly, he mentions that the Tories have massively more funding than any other party. Prominently, Ashcroft, tax-avoiding non-domiciled Tory life peer, has invested in campaigns in marginal constituencies. As Izzard says, they probably expect some return on their investment.

The other point is a refutation of the Tory slogan Broken Britain. Since time immemorial people have complained about the kids not respecting their elders, fears of crime and general dissatisfaction. The rightwing media have spearheaded this ‘feel bad’ message. But it is this curse of fear that is the real problem. As a Christian, I believe in hope as the fundamental motive of our action (from faith to love). As a Briton and an Englishman, I love my country for all its quirkyness, beauty, dodgy food and funny people. Britain’s not broken, it’s brilliant.

For the record, I’m a paid-up member of the Labour Party. Watch the broadcast here:


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The CSM discusses family values

The CSM badgeYesterday evening, I was down at Westminster Central Hall for the Christian Socialist Movement AGM and the following Tawney Dialogue. Unlike other sections of the Labour Party, the CSM still uses the word ‘socialist’, and is actually proud to do so. It makes a refreshing change to hear people talking openly about praying for socialism, or interceding for the renationalisation of the railways. Although the CSM does not represent the left wing of the party, it does bring a radical commitment to social justice that often seems to be absent from the discourse of the party’s right.

This year’s Tawney Dialogue was titled ‘Will the general election make any difference to the family?’ with Ann Holt, Director of Programme at the Bible Society, Elaine Storkey, philosopher, sociologist and theologian, and Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

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