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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When politicians swear

It’s been about twelve years since I last had a fulsome swear.

I do swear
that I will be faithful
and bear true allegiance
to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,
her heirs and successors,
according to law:
So help me God.

All Church of England clergy have to make this Oath of Allegiance on the taking up of most church posts. The same oath is made by MPs at the beginning of the parliamentary term. Our MPs began swearing their new oaths last Wednesday (19 May), which just happens ironically to be the anniversary of the Declaration of the English Commonwealth (1649).

A pile of sacred tomes is deposited beside the government despatch box in the Commons for those who wish to hold something sacred while they swear. An alternative form of the oath that affirms rather than swears is available for those who object on principle to the swearing of oaths. The alternative was originally introduced to allow Quakers, who do not swear oaths, to take seats in Parliament. No Sinn Féin MP has taken their seat as there’d be no way they’d swear allegiance to the British monarchy. Some others cross their fingers, some add ‘and all who sail in her’, as a compromise of taking up their seats as duly elected without taking the forelock tugging too seriously.

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Happy birthday, Tom!

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (9 February 1737, Thetford, Norfolk – 8 June 1809, Greenwich Village, New York City)

Thomas Paine was born this day in 1737. He virtually invented the idea that the power of a nation should ultimately rest with the commonality of its people, and that elected politicians should be answerable to the people. Tom Paine is the father of rational values as the basis of a political constitution: that our government, legal system and political engagement should all make sense to average citizens so that they might fully participate. Naturally, Paine had no time for monarchs and monarchy: he wanted values at the heart of a nation rather than a dodgy personality cult. Neither did he think much of the British ‘compromise’ of parliamentary sovereignty, in which we elect politicians using an outdated electoral system who, once elected, are not accountable to the electorate and may do whatsoever they will. The MPs expenses are just the tip of the iceberg of a political system that creates a political class separate and above the people.

From the first page of Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet Common Sense, I take the following quote

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

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The First British Republic

356 years ago today, Britain received its first elected politician as head of state, rather than a hereditary monarch. Various mediaeval states had elected leaders (from a narrow franchise), but this was the first modern republican leader in a major state. This was long before the United States got the whole world to call their republican leaders President, so we called him Protector. Continue reading


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Long live, King David!

This article also appears on Republic Blog.

As a kid, I was given a picture chart of English monarchs since William the Conqueror. I’m sure it was given me ‘learn’ me some history, but it subtly brainwashed me into thinking that British monarchy is a long, unbroken chain stretching back almost a thousand years.

Of course, it’s nothing like that. The succession from one crowned head to another has been squabbled over throughout that time, making the line of succession as complicated as a London Tube map. I remember on my childhood chart that even the accession of Charles Stuart jr was back-dated to his father’s execution, completely missing the glaring historical reality that England and Wales, and later Scotland and Ireland, were a de facto republic for just over a decade, and the earliest attempt at a modern, rather than mediaeval, republican state. Monarchists cast this period as the Interregnum, ‘between kings’. However, no one, whatever their political stripe, in the period used such an anachronistic term. Continue reading


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Politics as a spectator sport, preventing an excess of democracy

I just came across this little video of Noam Chomsky speaking on the trend in US politics throughout its history to keep the people somewhat removed from their democracy. I can’t embed it here, so you’ll have to follow the link to watch it.

There are two things that come to mind watching this. The first is that the US has a greater quantity and quality of democracy than the UK. The US has a directly elected executive and clear checks on it by the legislature, unlike the mush of monarch, prime minister and parliament in the UK. The US has subnational entities, the states, which have a large degree of independence from central government, unlike the mostly powerless UK councils. The US at least starts from the idea of popular sovereignty (“We, the people”), where the UK has the useless compromise of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’. Therefore, any sense in which the US has consistently denied the right of the people to engage in their own government over the history is amplified in the UK context. Continue reading