Wake Up to the Dawning of a Dark Age

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The world has woken up to the news that Donald Trump has indeed ‘trumped’ his opponent, Hillary Clinton, many within his own Republican party, political pundits and pollsters and will be the next President of the USA.

Using similar methodology to those who masterminded the Brexit campaign here in Britain, Trump has captured the minds and imagination of the masses, defied many peoples’ expectations and won the race to the White House.

As previously indicated I am not surprised by his election.  I abhor many of his views and fear the consequences of his presidency. The party in Trump Tower celebrated a remarkable victory and congratulations have poured in. Far Right leaders were among the first to congratulate Donald Trump, as other world leaders and diplomats have struggled to come to terms with the US election results. While many prominent global figures reacted with dismay, rightwing nationalist leaders in France, Hungary and the Netherlands expressed their joy and congratulations. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who branded Barak Obama a “son of whore” earlier this year, offered “warm congratulations” to Trump. The US-based British historian Simon Schama said the result was a calamity for democracy that will hearten fascists all over the world. Vladimir Putin has sent Trump a telegram to congratulate him. In contrast, Garry Kasparov, the Russian former world chess champion turned vocal opponent of Putin, tweeted simply, Winter is here.

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There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s victory has made two men very happy today, key figures in their countries whose influence goes far beyond the territories they occupy; Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s character, attitudes and policies call into question for me his legitimacy to hold arguably the highest and most powerful political office in the world. Ironically, the States have elected an autocrat who has bludgeoned his way through life and his business practices reveal something of a dictator who trashes his opponents, removes those who oppose him and exploit or at best, use others to achieve his ambitions. A character who is brilliant at ego and self promotion he is also adept at self-deception and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there.

He has has portrayed himself as a champion of the working class but the truth exposes how untrue that claim is. Over the past thirty years Trump and his businesses have been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, many of them relating to the poor treatment of employees or Trump’s companies refusing to pay for goods and services they have received. His business empire has an appalling record of not paying individuals and small businesses and when those affected take it to court, Trump’s enormous financial resources and his huge legal teams are used to overpower his accusers.

Americans struggling to make ends meet on very low incomes or worried about their jobs will quickly discover the billionaire capitalist is no saviour when he undermines the minimum wage for them and gifts big tax cuts to his country club wealthy elite. The disconnection between the public’s perception of Mr. Trump as a self-made mogul and the reality of him being a rich kid who lost other people’s money and made far less for himself than he claims has gone undetected by the masses.

This is just one example of actions not matching words and there is a catalogue of very disturbing examples of a man of very poor character, who has expressed racist, sexist, xenophobic, abhorrent attitudes and actions throughout his life and who has managed to capture and appeal to the masses with vitriolic speeches and a campaign that featured fear, anger and hatred in large measures. Someone who needlessly offended countless groups of people, including women, Hispanics, Muslims and disabled people.

It concerns me that the majority of Americans who voted cast their preference for such a man. What kind of society elects such a president? I am disturbed by the thought  that he has been able to tap into aspects of racism, sexism, sectarianism and nationalism in the American consciousness that has influenced people’s voting intentions.

That is not to say that everyone who voted for Trump is racist but it is undoubtedly true that playing the race, sexism and nationalistic cards have helped Trump to become President.

The same is true of what happened here in Britain with the Referendum. Not everyone who voted to Leave are xenophobic or racist but undoubtedly, there were many for whom such outlooks, ignorance, prejudices, fears and bigotry were factors in influencing their voting intentions. I have met many sincere folks who voted to leave the EU for reasons of regaining our sovereignty. They are not racist, sexist or bigots.

However in the States, several commentators have described the result as a whitewash, a backlash to the eight years of having a black president ~ that’s racism. Many Americans couldn’t vote for a woman president, not just because it was Hillary Clinton, but because of her gender ~ that’s sexism.

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The result also causes me to question and be concerned about the nation that voted for him and if this is what democracy delivers, and it’s what America stands for, then there is something seriously wrong. How could the nation, (albeit a divided nation like Britain is becoming), elect a man accused of a series of sexual assaults who has demonised Blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, employed venomous language in his campaign be elected to the White House? Billy Bragg, the singer songwriter has tweeted: Trump has answered the great conundrum of the 20th century. How did a rational people like the Germans come to vote for a demagogue like Hitler?

There are of course also some big questions to be asked of and challenges and lessons to be addressed by the ‘political’ classes both here and in the States who are so to be out of touch with the happenings and experiences of many of the citizens they serve. Both in the US Elections and the Referendum here, there was, undoubtedly, a huge element of protest that influenced how people voted. David Cameron and his cronies got a bloody nose at the Referendum. Similarly,  the political elite, the dynasties in the States have been dealt a body blow. People like Farage and Trump have captured, and to my mind, exploited, the feelings of those who feel left behind, thousands of people who see the growing prosperity and opportunities of the wealthy whilst they are deprived, neglected and abandoned.

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This can see be clearly seen here in Britain where the north-south divide is wider than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It’s wider than when Dickens was writing about Victorian squalor, and deeper than in the Depression years of the 1930s. The regional divide is so vast that, at £13,500 per person, the economic output in Gwent, Wales, is a tenth of one of the wealthiest part of London; and in the Tees and Welsh valleys it has now fallen below that of Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Average household incomes in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Northern regions of England are under 60% of those in Greater London. Last year, when jobs rose by over 0.5 million in London and the South East they fell by 40,000 in the North-East. Property prices in the south have seen considerable growth in the space of ten years whereas large parts of the north have seen little growth and many are plunging into negative equity.

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Economic inequality, ‘opportunity injustice’, a widespread lack of equal distribution of wealth has led to anger and become a breeding ground for politicians from the far Right and Left to gain momentum and take advantage. Pour into the mix inequalities and sense of betrayal the ingredients of racism, tribalism, nationalism, (which Einstein described as an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind), fear, prejudice, blaming the stranger, immigrant, migrant, etc and you have all that is necessary to create civil unrest and effect political change.

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Staying at the delightful Scargill Community in the snow covered Yorkshire Dales I gather to share morning prayer with the community and other guests. The regular pattern of prayer is abandoned and we sit in silence, reflecting on the news of Trump’s success and quietly pray. I had been with the Community, predominantly younger people the evening before, sharing with them on aspects of living in community as disciples of Jesus. Our time together began with the welcoming in of new members to the community, a lovely Hungarian couple, who were sat next to a delightful Italian couple who are in their first week here at Scargill. The absence of any Africans was very noticeable, as on every other occasion I was delighted to meet with brothers and sisters from that continent. But as we have taken the path of suspicion and mistrust, tightened measures on who we will allow to come into our country, it is becoming impossible for the community here to get any work visas for people from Africa. The situation will only get, in my opinion, worse, if the plans and proposals following Brexit are implemented. As the evening concluded we prayed for the US election results that would come in through the night. Someone made a joke about Trump, one or two tried reassuringly to say he would not be elected but a general air of unease and fear pervaded those of us who were part of the conversation as we realised that in all probability we would wake up to hear news of his victory through the night. And we did.

These are very turbulent days and anybody who pretends otherwise is deceiving themselves or taking false comfort in the freedoms and relative security that most of us in Britain and North America still enjoy. Economically we are in for a rough ride, not so much in the short-term because the consequences of political decisions taken this year will not be experienced for quite some time yet. However the damage to civil society, to global relations is beginning to be seen. The resurgence of fascism is a growing force in global politics, (watch what happens in France and Germany next year, following and with huge encouragement in the wake of what we have done with Brexit here in Britain), nationalist extremes, the renaissance of tribalism which all contribute to conflict and war, (watch this space for what will happen in the former Soviet Union in nations like Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for whom yesterday’s election result and Brexit, signals no help or hope).

Jimmy Carter, a much underrated former President and a very godly man, warned back in the 1970’s when he tried to bring in caps on the political funding for electioneering and curb the power of media advertising warned that without such measures the States would one day end up with a media mogul as president.

They have. A media baron called Donald Trump. Having seen the ‘trailers’ in the Primaries and run up to the election, we might just be in for a Rocky Horror series, which contains more horror than comedy. As David Lammy, MP has said earlier today, 2016 has been such a dark year. I fear the next few years will be darker still.

Placards were evident at the Republican Party’s celebrations following Trumps success, “God Bless America”.

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My prayer is; Lord have mercy

and the Serenity PrayerGod, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

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Mind your language

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One of our grandchildren rushed into the kitchen to report that he’d heard someone on a childrens television programme using a swear word. He was shocked and felt we needed to know. “He shouldn’t have sworn should he Grandad?”. “ No Patrick. He shouldn’t”. He will remember that programme for all the wrong reasons.

It seems as though the idea of minding your language no longer applies, not just on the television but across the whole spectrum of private and public life.

The tongue and language generally is a powerful tool as the writer of James in the New Testament says. It has the power to bless or curse, to help or harm.

Language, words, stories and narratives shape, consciously and unconsciously, individuals and societies. The brilliance of the Brexit campaign with its slogans, many of them blatant lies, captured the imagination of the public and won the Referendum, winning the argument over an insipid and inept Remain campaign, adopting their own language of fear. The language that was so evident then, among politicians, was brutal, partisan and divisive. The language that has ensued in the wake of the Referendum result has been vitriolic, discriminatory and incredibly damaging.

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster criticised the “self indulgent way” in which some Britons have been expressing a hatred of people they see as different. He said society had to have a “fundamental generosity and respect” and warned of a “them and us” attitude to the migrant crisis, which he said “denies our common humanity“. He went on to say that the very real issues facing society, including the immigration crisis, was almost impossible to discuss in an atmosphere in which fear and hatred are the dominant features. He cited the example of migrants from Poland and Africa who had been left uncomfortable at the way “arguments around the referendum on EU membership were conducted“. He said that “expressions of hatred” on social media as well as racist graffiti were “creating a culture of fear among people who have been welcomed here, never mind those for whom we do have a responsibility because of their desperate need“. On politicians and the media he said: “What we seem to be living with is a kind of popular leadership which is basing itself on fear. It’s almost trading in fear….As far as I can see that is the worst kind of leadership.” He went on to say that, “Sometimes it is the media that gives an opportunity and creates an environment in which every item of news about migrants in this country is negative. And that is I think untrue to the reality of this country and corrosive of our best nature and our best contribution.” Thank God for a church leader, who carries far more weight and influence that I do who has named the language being used as damaging, rooted in fear and fuelling hatred.

Think about the abusive and disrespectful language dominating the US Presidential election. Hillary Clinton has been acidic in her denunciation of her Republican opponent Donald Trump. He in turn has conducted a master class in appealing to the baser instincts of humanity, playing on peoples fears, trumpeting false hopes and unrealistic and simplistic solutions, blaming others, especially non whites, particularly Muslims, Mexicans and migrants. I find it extraordinary that it is likely to be conservative Evangelical Christians who will be a key factor in electing him to the White House. Should that happen it confirms to me finally that evangelicals there have forgotten the roots of their tradition, namely the authority of Scripture and what it says on issues of lifestyle, immigration, refugees, justice and God’s bias for the poor, to name but a few things.

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To hear the language of Trump, not just what he said ten years ago but throughout the election. He has described women as, “pigs, dogs and slobs”, that he could “grab them by the xxxxx“. He has spoken of Hillary Clinton as “deranged… an evil woman”. Labelling Mexicans as people who were “bringing drugs and bringing crime. They’re rapists …… He says he plans to deport 11 million “ethnics” if he becomes President. His language is one of defamation, which is defined as, ‘intentional false communication, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held’.

The language that Trump and indeed his political friend and counterpart here in Britain, Nigel Farage, uses, induces disparaging, hostile opinions or feelings against a person. It is slanderous and incredibly damaging, not just for the individuals to whom it is directed but for the wellbeing of society.

As Cardinal Nichols said, respect is at the heart of any civilized society. Lose respect and society crumbles. The Ten Commandments, God’s foundational decrees for human life in society, is shot through with respect. Lose it and society falls ~ read history!

It’s easy to point to what’s happening in the States but here in Britain the same defamatory and damaging language is evident. Take for example this week’s Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards, where Nigel Farage was awarded the Political Comeback of the Year award. His language now as throughout his political career has been toxic. He was presented his award by the former Chancellor, ‘yesterday’s man’, George Osborne, a man he not so long described publicly as a “pasty-faced bastard”.

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For a momentary more humourous note during the evening’s awards, there was the wonderful clumsy moment when Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary referred in his speech to Brexit as a ‘titanic success’. No wonder Theresa May put her head in her hands as people reminded Boris that the titanic sank!

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Another danger is the language of spin. This week saw Sir John Chilcot, who headed up the inquiry into the Iraq War, before the Commons Liaison Committee. He said that Tony Blair’s case for war in Iraq went “beyond the facts” in a way that caused long-term damage to the public’s trust in politics. Close to saying that Blair had spun the evidence when he claimed Saddam Hussein posed a ‘real and present danger’ to the UK, he told the committee that there was “no imminent threat” to Britain and that it was not “reasonable” for the former PM to put an “inflection” on the caveated intelligence. “A speech was made in advocate’s terms and putting the best possible inflection on the description that he used,” he added, going on to say that,“I absolve him from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive Parliament or the public, to state falsehoods knowing them to be false…. However, he also exercised his very considerable powers of advocacy and persuasion rather than laying the real issues and the information to back the analysis of them fairly and squarely in front of either Parliament or the public. It was an exercise in advocacy.” Chilcot insisted that he was not saying Blair had “deliberately spread falsehoods” but felt he had behaved more like a lawyer and politician rather than “laying the real issues and information” before Parliament and the public. He went on to say that he believed that the consequences of such ‘spin’ had eroded trust in politics. And that is what has played into the present turmoil in society, a belief that politicans tell lies and can’t be trusted. Chilcot added that it would take a long time to restore the voters’ trust in their politicians. Speaking after the session, Treasury Select Committee chairman Andrew Tyrie said: “Sir John’s evidence confirmed what many of us have long suspected; in making his case for war, Mr Blair went beyond the facts. In doing so Mr Blair eroded the trust of the electorate in its leaders, a shocking legacy.”

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The consequences of the media not watching its language is equally damaging. Take for example the headlines in most newspapers following this week’s High Court judgement on Brexit. The Daily Mail ran the headline, ‘The Enemies of the People’ when describing the three High Court judges who ruled that parliament should get a vote on triggering article 50. Papers like The Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun have made some serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary after the High Court’s Brexit decision. Such headlines undermine the important issue of the independence of the judiciary.

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The media, far from contributing to the rebuilding of a broken society, exasperates the problem and incites hatred. For example. we are faced currently with a very divided and increasingly fracturing nation, where hate crimes are rising disturbingly. We are faced with the reality that the referendum has divided the nation. 17,410,742 (51.9%) people voted to leave and 16,141,241 (48.1%) voted to remain. It was a narrow victory, with a 4% margin. Every other referendum across the Western world would have viewed the results as advisory and seen the result as an indicator of a divided nation that required careful handling. Look at the headline facts; Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted for Europe. The North East, where there are just 19,000 East Europeans living and working, voted against Europe. Young people voted for a future in Europe. The elderly, mostly said No.

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The articles within the inside pages of The Mail went on to talk about the sexuality and civil partnership of one of the judges, as if that was a contributory factor in the judges unanimous and unequivocal judgment.

The hatred that has been meted out to the businesswoman Gina Miller since the hearing is wicked. She has been subjected to racist online abuse after her lawsuit forced the Government to put its plans to leave the European Union to a Parliamentary vote. She has received emails and texts saying she will be gang raped, knifed and many of her detractors have made overt reference to her Guyanese heritage, with huge numbers saying she should ‘go back to where she belongs’ and leave the UK.

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Watch your language for, as the writer of the book of James says, the tongue is a powerful weapon. He charts the potential for evil rather than the potential for good with one’s tongue, citing the dangers of the tongue’s ability to spread evil, (James 3:5-6). He uses several images in the opening chapter of the letter depicting the power and potential of our tongue; waves, a horse’s bit, ship’s rudder, and a fire. James chose to portray a spreading destruction. An ax destroys one tree at a time; with our tongues, one act of evil starts a destructiveness that spreads beyond the initial act.

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Politicians, journalists, broadcasters, parents, let’s all of us, for the common good, guard our tongues and mind our language.

 

 

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Canada, Compassion and Concerns

I’ve never been to Canada but know plenty of people from our own Community and other friends who live or have visited the country. It’s vast landscapes, unique and tolerant blend of cultures and multifaceted history make it a really interesting place. One of the world’s wealthiest nations and second only in size to Russia, it is a big country! Though similar economically to its neighbour to the south, the United States, there are significant differences between the two countries

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Shaped and influenced by immigrants primarily from Britain and France, Canadian citizens are reasonably happy with their European heritages.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the children have just returned from Canada and Prince William said that he and his family were, incredibly grateful to the people of Canada for the warmth and hospitality that they’d experienced as a family. He went on to say, We have loved our time in British Columbia and Yukon and will never forget the beautiful places we have seen and the many people who have been kind enough to come to welcome us in person…..We feel very lucky to have been able to introduce George and Charlotte to Canada. This country will play a big part in the lives of our children and we have created such happy memories for our family during this visit. Canada is a country of optimism, generosity and unrivalled natural beauty. I hope we have helped all Canadians celebrate what makes this country great. We will see you again soon. So well done Canada!

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A country, not without its problems but in this regard and in relation to your welcoming of refugees, a country with a big heart, showing compassion, reaching out to support, responding to the cries of the desperate.

A news story broke last week about how a Syrian refugee come to the rescue of the Canadian bride. Just a couple of hours before her wedding the zip on her wedding dress broke and despite the efforts of her bridesmaids, the problem remained. In desperation they went over the road to a neighbour’s house for help. They went to borrow some pliers from the neighbour and in the process discovered something much better. Their neighbour was hosting a family of Syrian refugees and the father was a master tailor and was only too happy to help. Within minutes, the taylor and his son arrived to help, sewing kit in tow and rescued the situation. The whole episode was recorded by the wedding photographer, Lindsay Coulter. She learnt that the Syrian refugee family had moved to Canada just over a week ago. They didn’t speak a word of English and had been communicating with their Canadian host family using Google translate. She went on to say, Every weekend I take photos of people on the happiest days of their lives, and today one man who has seen some of the worst things our world has to offer came to the rescue. I am so proud to live in Canada, a country who has opened our doors to refugees countless times. I’m in awe of the families who have welcomed these strangers into their homes and lives, and I’m inspired by the resilience of the Syrian people. We are truly blessed. In a later interview on Canadian television news, the Syrian father and master tailor said, (through a translator) that he was happy to help; I was so excited and so happy to help Canadian people like other people have helped us.

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It’s a heartwarming story of compassion and the blessings of both giving and receiving.

We have much to learn in Britain from such a story.

Yvette Cooper, wife of the former Chancellor Ed Balls, (renowned now for his cowboy themed Charleston in last night’s Strictly Come Dancing show on TV and who has survived and dances on for another week!) is calling upon the British Government to intervene in the refugee crisis. In a fresh plea to the government Cooper points out that 500 of the estimated 1000 orphaned refugee children will be left stranded and prey to traffickers as the French authorities bulldoze and demolish the Calais Jungle. Nearly 100 of these 500 desperately vulnerable refugee children have relatives living legally in Britain and yet our British authorities are not allowing them to enter the country. God have mercy upon us! Cooper has visited the ‘camp’ on several occasions and was dismayed and angered by our failure, together with the French to resolve the problem. She says, The talent of our two nations drove the industrial revolution, the best medical advances in history, and the creation of the world wide web. It is not beyond the wit of our two great countries to solve the problem of Calais. In the last few months, I’ve travelled to Beirut, Lesbos and Calais talking both to those who have fled their homes and to local authorities who are struggling to cope. This work isn’t intended to be party political – we want to build a consensus on tackling the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. How are we letting this happen? 

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Complex as the whole issue of immigration is, compassion has to govern and inform our attitudes and actions in response to the needs of others. Theresa May’s refusal to lift a finger to help the world’s most vulnerable at the recent UN refugee summit contrasts with that of Angela Merkel’s principled Christian stand to alleviate the trauma of multitudes of refugees, despite the political cost to herself.  Charities, religious leaders, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP have all criticised the government for agreeing to take only 20,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees over the next four years, even though places for them have already been found with local councils. The prophet Micah clearly declared, He has shown you what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.

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I was thinking this morning on a bike ride round where I live of how blessed I am in so many ways. The Maslow Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological tool that gives a 5 tier pyramid model of human needs. Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people and he came to the conclusion that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some of those needs take precedence over others. He said that our most basic need is for physical survival and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that is met, we move on of the pyramid to the next level, safety, and so on, (see the diagram below).

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I am in that privileged place of realising all of those needs but in contrast, the plight of millions of refugees is such that they are being denied very basic human needs; food, water, warmth and rest. They have no safety or security. A failure to respond to them is to damage them further as human beings. So in Christ’s name and for humanity’s sake, let’s respond to the cry of refugees.

Sadly, I fear that too many hearts are closed, ears deafened and attitudes hardened. I hope and pray that Theresa May, promoted by several newspapers yesterday on the eve of the Conservative party conference as the vicar’s daughter will deliver on some of the values that were shared in the vicarage as a child and during her teenage years. Talking soft left and sounding compassionate but delivering hard right policies is contradictory and damaging. She has an unenviable task, in a party that is like Labour, riven with divisions but I pray that she will be true to some of the words she spoke on the doorstep of number 10 when she assumed the leadership of the party and became our Prime Minister. It haunts me to think of a previous woman prime minister quoting the words of St Francis of Assisi on her taking up office; Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’ …   The scars of Thatcherism bear testimony to a huge disconnect between those words of St Francis and the reality of government policies under her reign as Prime Minister.

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It’s obvious now that there is going to be no U-turn on an opportunity for the public to have any say on the issues and implications following Brexit. As Theresa May has stated today, There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year. Britain will be out of the EU by 2019.

A decision I believe that we will, in the course of time, come to regret. We’re told, the British people have decided “unanimously”. In truth, the referendum result was won with a narrow majority and has been previously stated in my blog, the British public were lied to and those lies formed the propaganda that produced the result.

I am dismayed by the result and the way in which it was deceiving and manipulative, a point not lost on the BBC’s John Simpson, the corporation’s world affairs editor who speaking yesterday said, The BBC failed its viewers in its coverage of the EU referendum. He said the Brexit result could have been different, had broadcasters and newspapers held politicians and campaigners to account. That is exposed their lies.

However my greater concern is what the result has unleashed within the consciousness, the hearts and minds of too many people. It’s the law of unintended consequences, when something that is designed to do one thing, actually contributes to something quite contrary or gets out of hand. A happening or experience that triggers something that is potentially very damaging and dangerous.

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Let me illustrate what I mean. The other evening I watched BBCs Question Time, which came from Boston in Lincolnshire, an area that had voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. An area where the issue of immigration and migrant workers is heightened. It still puzzles me when driving through Lincolnshire a few years ago, seeing the site of migrant workers on their hands and knees, working in the fields of a farmer who had large posters encouraging people to vote for UKIP. Surely a contradiction in terms?! Anyway, on Question Time, the issue of immigration inevitably was raised and took up half the programme in debate and discussion. I was shocked and saddened by what appeared to be the majority of the audience and most of the panel, by the attitudes towards refugees in particular. One member of the audience drew huge sympathy and much support when he expressed his horror at the idea of a refugee being invited and being welcomed into the home of “we British people”. He went on to say that he didn’t know where they were coming from, what they would like, that they may be the potential terrorists, murderers, thieves etc. Now I am not saying that there are not some very complex issues and some real concerns but this is just the kind of language and narratives that were prevalent in 1930’s Germany.

I recently attended a symposium on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Durham and was asked to give a short paper and sit on a panel as we discussed his book Life Together. In preparing for such an occasion I reminded myself of the context in which Bonhoeffer wrote. It was quite frightening to read about some of the things that were being said, written and broadcast in Germany and to see that some of the narrative and attitudes prevalent in 1930s Germany were being echoed in some of the comments that I heard the other evening on Question Time. Bonnie Greer, jeered at times by the audience for her contribution as a panelist, pointed out that it was from England in the 17th cebtury, that people, wanting to be free of poverty, injustice and serfdom, left our shores and sailed to America and founded places like Boston, Massachusetts. Most people didn’t get the point she was making. Comments in contrast from other panelists and most members of the audience appeared reasonable and understandable but from a theological, biblical, Christian point of view are simply unjustifiable and incompatible with the values of God’s kingdom.

My fears were confirmed by the vast majority of people at the symposium that I was able to speak to, far more able and intelligent, thinking academics, each one coming to similar conclusions, that the attitudes and prevailing thinking that Bonhoeffer was contending in speaking out against are to be found again, not only in Europe but across the Western world. To name just one ‘evil’; the rise of nationalism. Allied to the emergence and renewal of tribalism, we find ourselves in an increasingly fragmented, divided and partisan culture, where difference is regarded as a threat and diversity, far from being celebrated is something that is seen as damaging.

The law of unintended consequences is I believe contributing to a move from patriotism to divisive nationalism. A move that segregates and separates people. A shift in consciousness that leads to sectarianism, racism, a blaming of the stranger, social unrest, violence and ultimately to war.

I’m writing this blog with an eye on the Ryder Cup. The vast majority of the crowd, behaving patriotically and supporting their USA team but to the listening ear as well as reading the reports of what happened yesterday, there are clearly some sections of the crowd that are venomous in their behaviour towards the opposition.

These are worrying trends, disturbing traits and turbulent times. They call for us to be contemplatives in a world in action, able to think and pray, to observe and discern the signs of the times and like Bonhoeffer protest, alert, warn and take appropriate action in response to the challenges ahead.

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Lord have mercy.

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Rooms with a View

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Summertime and the living is easy or in my case, with holidays and the need of a break from blogging, it’s summertime and the writer has been lazy.

My last blog on the day after the Referendum signed off on what was really a very sad note. The result has cast a huge shadow over the summer. Two months on and I still feel sickened by what happened. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a senior, long serving politician, no longer in the House of Commons but now sitting in the Lords and he only confirmed my fears when he said that what we had witnessed was one of the worst political decisions in his lifetime and one that would bring considerable challenges and problems, several dangers and very little to help the poor of our society and the wider world.

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The referendum was ill-conceived and the debate was poor on both sides. Operation fear was misguided and backfired and my concerns that half truths, propaganda and unashamed deceit and media manipulation, allied in some circles with racial undertones would win the day and to my mind, they did. Those who exaggerated lost and those who lied won. As Helen Lewis, the political commentator for Radio 4 noted, “if there is one sentence that explains the referendum result, it’s the one from the Advertising Standards Agency website: For reasons of freedom of speech, we do not have remit over non-broadcast ads where the purpose of the ad is to persuade voters in a local, national or international electoral referendum.” In other words, political advertising is exempt from the regulation that would otherwise bar false claims and outrageous promises. So, whilst it’s illegal, for example, to claim a cure for baldness by drinking herbal tea and standing on your head for an hour a day it’s okay to claim that £350m a week will go to the NHS instead of the European Union. The brains behind the Brexit campaign victory discovered this loophole in advertising standards that enabled them to lie and deceive millions of people.

‘An extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS across the UK’ ~ extremely misleading and deceitful. The slogan, “Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week” was painted on the Leave campaign’s poster ~ an outright lie that hoodwinked a largely undiscerning public. Immigration Controls; it was front and centre stage of the Leave campaign, with posters warning of increased numbers of people arriving from Turkey if it ever actually joins the EU. Boris Johnson claiming the population would grow to 80 million if we remained in the EU ~ lie upon lie. A man who is a habitual liar, someone who was sacked from a previous post because of his lying, who is now our Foreign Secretary! As Helen Lewis went onto write in the New Statesmen on the Brexit politicians: These people promised us a unicorn and now claim they merely hinted at the possibility of a Shetland pony.They won by pretending there are simple answers to our problems and the inadequacies and failings of the EU. They spurned complexity, nuance, compromise and trade-offs. They won an astonishing and unexpected victory. But at what price?

Yes a cloud of unease hangs over me still, and a feeling that the Referendum, far from serving democracy, has revealed some of its weaknesses. I am also concerned that we will witness an increasing harvest of attitudes and actions that have sprung up from the seeds of fear, mistrust, ignorance, nationalism and a veiled racism, all of which are alien to the values of God’s Kingdom and do little to foster solidarity with the poor and cooperation with those across Europe who are working and striving for peace, justice and the wellbeing of their own and other world citizens. We are being led now by those who never expected to win, who had little or no plan for Brexit beyond the referendum and who are now in charge of our exit process. Few principles, little values, no progress and very little clue as to how to proceed.

So what has cheered my spirits? E.M. Forster wrote, A Room with a View set in the Florence. Two rooms with a view that I’ve sat in over the summer have helped me to disperse some of the gloom that I have felt in the wake of that fateful June 23rd. Both at Letterfinlay at Ballydugan in Ireland and yesterday looking out from the balcony of a friend’s house on the West of Scotland by a beautiful loch, I have enjoyed the time and space to reflect on what has been a challenging and demanding year.

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As life often is, this year has been a paradoxical period of joys and sadness, pressure and pleasure, challenges and opportunities, farewells, bereavements and new beginnings.

As I look out over the loch I am reminded again of some of the good things in life which are a blessing:  Observing the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. The air is still, migrating birds are passing through on their journeys south to warmer climes. Trout are jumping to feed on flies that hover just above the surface of the water. Within minutes of arriving in this serene and beautiful place the other evening we caught sight of two deer quietly and gently moving through the reeds to drink by the water’s edge. A hen harrier swooped across the loch before disappearing into the marshy reads on the far bank. Pine Martens, otters and osprey are frequently seen here.unknown-1unknown

The silhouette in the loch of a horse that has meandered down to the water’s edge to quench its thirst, both setting and subject striking in their beauty, reveals the West Coast of Scotland at its best as summer gives way to autumn.

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I came to faith whilst training to be an Outward Bound instructor in the Cairngorms here in Scotland. I felt the call to ministry at Stag Rock at Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast and being outside, appreciating creation, with every sense alive and aware of its beauty, complexity and wonder, rejuvenates my soul and refreshes my spirit.

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Reminders of the goodness of God, as in how we came to find ourselves in this beautiful place, staying unexpectedly with folks we haven’t seen for years. I’d been sailing with some of my friends for a week earlier in the summer and mooring in the nearby marina went for a walk one evening, popping into a church building on the side of the loch with the most bizarre three pulpits and before leaving signing the visitor’s book, ‘Roy Searle, Northumbria’. Unbeknown to me, the folks that we are now staying with had retired from Cheshire five years ago and were now elders at the kirk. Seeing my name, rekindled memories of time spent when I used to travel across to teach on an MA missional leadership course for people in the Manchester area. So they found my contact details, issued an open invitation to visit them and here, several weeks on, we are enjoying their warm hospitality and the amazing eco-home that they have designed and built by the loch side. Following breakfast we shared Morning Office, discovering, as I have done so many times, people with whom we have had little contact with but who appreciate using Celtic Daily Prayer as their daily devotion for years. It never ceases to amaze me how God has blessed and used the Community’s Office to speak into the lives of people right across the world.

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So the gift of being reminded of God through his creation, the hints of his presence in the gift of friends lifts the spirit. Time spent on holiday in Ireland, back for a weekend with good and close friends at Ballydugan. Deep friendships, great neighbours with whom to share deeply is easy, where caution is thrown to the winds and conversation flows naturally about serious as well as mundane matters. Or catching up with another dear friend at his cottage by the sea in Ireland, reminiscing, sympathising with one another and again with ease discussing matters of life and faith and also the challenges and very real fears that Brexit poses the North and south of Ireland. Cycling around the country lanes of County Down near the border with the Republic of Ireland, mindful that not so long ago this area was deemed ‘bandit country’ where many families and communities were torn apart by sectarian violence and acts of barbarous terrorism, it is salutary to hear the fears and concerns of intelligent and knowledgeable people, both sides of the border who fear the consequences of Brexit and the resumption of border controls and return to the echoes of The Troubles that plagued Ireland and scarred its citizens. I’m thankful for friends either side of the political and religious divide and very heartened by the growth of our own Community and its influence in breaking down the walls and removing the barriers between people.

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The blessing of close friends in Scotland with whom we attend an open-air staging of Hamlet on the banks of another loch with a gentle warm breeze, keeping midges at bay and us warm as the play unfolds before the setting sun. Another close friend who knows me so well that they are able to speak so powerfully and accurately into the internal workings of my life with insight and compassionate encouragement. The welcoming of my Belgian friends for a summer holiday sailing in the Inner Hebrides. The friendship of my spiritual director at whose Jubilee celebration of their profession as a nun I am asked to speak. The help of a friend in easing some anxiety. The gift of friends, Companions and colleagues in Community are a rich source of joy and encouragement. The emergence of a new generation of Community folk, many of them as young as we once were in the early days of the Community’s life. Given the challenges that we have faced as a Community following a pension cessation issue which has cost the Community a huge sum of money to pay our, (the employers), share of the Baptist Pension Fund deficit which ran into serious difficulties following the global recession of 2008, it has been remarkable to see how by God’s grace, people’s generosity and sacrificial giving, we are in a place where we have been able to face the challenge and indeed implement policies and measures that have turned the problem into an opportunity. The right people, in the right seats, with the fitting task, I am thankful to God for wise and trusted fellow leaders, trustees and advisers; people of integrity and ability who have grasped the implications and responsibilities that they carry as Companions on behalf of the wider Community.

The blessings of friendship echoed in the blessings of family, all of whom we have seen over summer, each member a source of joy and pleasure, each one enriching and with whom to share our lives is a joy and privilege. Children and grandchildren, brother and sister, niece, cousin and in-laws have all woven into our lives the threads of happiness. Our time in Ireland included taking our three Belfast grandchildren away on holiday. Aged 9, 8 and 6, a blissful time was spent that rejuvenated the spirit and replenished the adventure, excitement and sense of discovery that childhood possesses.The joy of taking our two Oxford grandchildren to a farm park in the Cotswolds; fun filled and fascinating to view life and happenings through the eyes of two young children.

A new bike and rediscovering cycling, not racing but pedalling in relaxed mode through the lanes (and hills!) of Northumberland, the Scottish Borders, Norfolk (pleasantly undulating!), Ireland and now the West Coast of Scotland and as of this evening, leaving the car in Oban we’ve brought our bikes on ferry to Colonsay.

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A hot tub at my cousin’s farm in Norfolk, one of life’s sheer indulgences, enjoyed to the full; glass of wine in hand, sitting in its therapeutic waters in the heat of day or by the light of the moon.

The missional initiative that we started in Glendale five years ago now realising the formation of a strong and committed core group; people sharing life, faith and friendship together, reaching out and serving this beautiful but very needy area of Northumberland. The pride and pleasure beamed on the face of one of our guests, an environmental agency worker, staying with us whilst working on the repair of a broken bridge at one of Northumberland’s wonderful valleys, as he described his beautiful disabled 18-year-old daughter. The conversation that I witnessed between two sisters in Newry, Northern Ireland; one severely disabled with tremendous speech impediments yet understood by her sister, they shared and laughed, observed and commented on the happenings in that coffee shop for over an hour. It was highly entertaining and a joy to behold such acts of unfettered love, compassion, understanding and human joy.

Middlesbrough’s return to the Premiership and a good number of new signings this season and the prospects of just surviving in the top league is a possibility. A day sailing on a Dutch schooner in the Parade of Sail Regatta prior to the start of the Tall Ships Race from Blyth to Gothenburg.

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And to cap it all the celebration of our ruby wedding anniversary; forty years of married life in which we have been remarkably blessed and which is a cause for much thanksgiving. Plans for a large gathering of family and friends, for understandable reasons, never materialised and instead we celebrated quietly with a posh afternoon tea at the Slieve Donard hotel in Ireland, where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

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And now we spending a few days away here on the West Coast of Scotland.Back in the manse on this lovely Hebridean island, memories come flooding back of delightful, happy holidays with our parents and children. Again we share Office and pray for some Companions in Community and marvel at the timing of the entry in the Prayer Guide. As the compiler of the Guide I am constantly amazed and awed by how often the entries, (written months before) turn out to be so appropriate on the day the Community prays for people and places. We pray the family mentioned, discovering today that the elder son had an interview for a job in Scotland on the day he is prayed for and he has been successful and starts work later this month. Praise God!

Settling for the night with old friends from our Portrack days we drink wine and in reminiscing, mark with thankfulness God’s goodness to us over the years of our lives. So with thankfulness permeating the dark forboding clouds I fear in the wake of Brexit, we move on with a renewed confidence and trust in God, in the words of the hymn Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way.

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So onward and upward as autumn dawns.

 

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Dear Lord and father of mankind forgive our foolish ways

A terrible day. A European tragedy, which like a Greek tragedy will wreak its revenge on human folly and weakness

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We have detonated an historic political and economic ‘earthquake’, fuelled further a divided Britain that will trigger the breakup of the UK and the collapse of Europe as a continent of peace, solidarity and cooperation. Farage, Johnson and Gove  you have captured the hearts and minds of the masses. Your ‘Independence Day’ and your vision of Britain is so alien to the nature of God and the ways of his kingdom.

Great Britain has become Grate Britain which will now grate, shred, pulverize, crush, crumble and fragment our nation and Europe.

This is a very sad day with fearful consequences in the years to come.

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In Danger of “Nailing our Colours to the Myth”

I watched with disgust and impending fear the news from Marseille, where scenes of fighting, mob violence and a disregard for any respect for the rule of law is evidenced on the streets of the city. I am ashamed and disgusted by the incendiary behaviour of a small group of thugs from Britain and well orchestrated, armed gangs from Russia, egged on by provoked local French youths. Questions will be asked about how the French police authorities have responded but the crowds of English fans, caught on camera singing anti-German songs and chanting “sit down if you hate the French“, “Fuck off Europe, were all voting out” and “Isis, Isis, where are you?” reveal abhorrent violent behaviour undergirded by ignorance and racism.

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My fear is not because of an isolated incident connected to football hooligans but by the rise of nationalism, extremist policies and the growth of far right and far left groups, all of whom are working towards breaking up Europe. Nigel Farage, gloating at the prospects of a Brexit victory, declared triumphantly this morning that “the European union is breaking apart”. It is Nigel and the future politically belongs to people like you and other extremist groups across the Continent. You have masterminded a superb campaign that has exposed and exploited the fault line in the Conservative party and appealed to those former Labour supporters who have felt the impact of the Government’s austerity measures, and by your clever rhetoric, have decided that the problem lies with too many immigrants.

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The reason why I’ve spent much time recently praying and thinking and latterly speaking and writing on the European referendum is because I believe that it is the single most important political decision that our country has made in my lifetime.

The decision that Britain will take on June 23rd will impact the lives of millions of people, not only in this country but across Europe and the wider world. I have campaigned not for myself but in the interests of my family, friends and people across this great continent. I will be voting in the referendum, very mindful of the legacy that will be left from this referendum for my children and grandchildren. If, as I fear, Britain will vote to leave the European Union, I want my children and grandchildren, my many friends here and across Europe to know that I voted to remain in the EU and I did so, not because I am uncritical of what it has become but because I did not want to trigger a movement that would see the collapse of something that has held the continent together in peace for over 60 years.

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We have experienced the longest period of peace in Europe since the Roman Empire and I cannot believe that Britain, which at its best, exhibits tolerance, moderation, respect and decency and has used its immeasurable powers to influence for good the wider world in many ways, is now on the brink of being the nation that triggers the breakup that I believe will cause untold damage to Europe and the wider world. I listened to the Queen on Sunday, who, in her short speech at The Patrons Lunch said, I hope these happy celebrations will remind us of the many benefits that can flow when people come together for the common purpose, as family friends and neighbours. If only that could be rediscovered as we think of our relationship with our European neighbours.

I have argued previously about my distaste for referendums. This one was not called in the spirit of honest democratic engagement but as an attempt to placate anti-European wings of the Conservative party and win back those who were leaving the party and joining UKIP. As Matthew Parris said recently, David Cameron will rue the day he resorted to plebiscites to settle big issues. They’re a tool of demagogues and dictators. Hitler and Goebbels used this to influence public opinion back in the 1930s and I believe the same dynamic is at work today and will probably work for the Brexit campaign. Referendums are used to coerce and manipulate public opinion. They are seldom fought on facts and the naïve, if not stupid idea that it is easy to glean the facts from either side of the argument in this campaign is ludicrous. When I hear people say, “If they would just give us the facts” it reveals how lacking in understanding and at times how ignorant we are. The issue cannot be explained in a soundbite sentence. The referendum raises a whole host of complex issues that need careful and discerning consideration.

People also say they are sick of the soundbites but politicians know that those soundbites, those cliched headlines, even if they are exaggerated or are blatantly untrue, they work and they shape and influence public opinion. The Brexit campaign has been masterful, capturing public opinion, overwhelmingly supported by large sections of the media, playing on the fears, manipulating half-truths, distorting information and increasingly, blatantly lying.

Referendums are rarely fought on facts but on buzz phrases and soundbites. I heard on the radio this this week that the Sun’s front page headline read, BeLeave in Britain…The Sun says… Vote to Quit EU on June 23. It reminded me of that notorious headline that appeared on the Sun’s front page on the morning after 1992 general election, It’s The Sun Wot Won It. It is regularly cited in debates on the influence of the press over politicians and election results and has since become a political catch catch phrase  in the UK.

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Those who are leading the Remain campaign are accused of fear mongering. They are guilty of exaggeration. But the scurrilous claims and at times blatant lying of the Brexit campaign is quite extraordinary. Despite every verifiable independent evidence to the contrary, their battle bus and their strap line remains, The UK sends over £350 million to the EU every week. By any stretch of the imagination, this simply isn’t true. It is a lie but it will remain on the bus and in the campaign because it is working. When you start to talk about such huge sums of money it’s a clever way of manipulating uninformed public opinion.

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Break the actual figures down and you discover that the amount of money that Britain pays into the EU equates to £4.40 per week per person, the equivalent of a cup of coffee and a cake. I was speaking in centre in Yorkshire last week and somebody came up to me and asked what, if anything did the EU do for the North of England. Well, for a start, the North East of England receives more money from the EU then it contributes to the EU. Why? Because we are poorer economic region. Our industries, the arts and things like the Angel of the North, the Sage, our national parks, universities and the very centre where I was speaking, have all received funding from the EU. It’s the principle of the redistribution of wealth, to help the weaker and poorer parts of the continent to grow and develop. It’s a lifeline to the poorer countries of southern Europe. The idea but if we came out of Europe that the north-east would be better off could not be further from the truth. Levels of poverty will increase and with all the attendant pressures and problems that would ensue.

In percentage terms, the UK pays less than 1% of its national GDP to the European Union. They won’t tell you that in the media. You have to search for that in the Office for National Statistics. Such facts do not get told and an uninformed public is swayed by the headline figures, oblivious to the truth. The same is true on the issue of immigration. We are told that immigration is a drain on our economy when the truth is immigration brings more money into the country, by people working and paying taxes, than it takes from our national budget. Immigration is an incredibly challenging issue and its complexity means that there are no easy answers. Yet again, tabloid headlines will persuaded an uninformed public and the momentum is now so strong in Brexit’s favour that the likely outcome is as I fear a vote to leave the EU. Playing the immigration card, preying on people’s fears, fuelling their concerns, allied to ignorance, is clearly working, as current polls reveal.

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Another card that is being played is that the EU is undemocratic. This is not true. We elect members to the European Parliament. Elected members, on our behalf, appoint committees to work on all aspects of European legislation that has to pass through the European Parliament, which has democratically elected members and each member state has the right to veto. The EU is based on the rule of law. Everything it does is founded on treaties, voluntarily and democratically agreed by its member states. It is governed by the principle of representative democracy, with citizens directly represented in the European Parliament and each member state is represented in the European Council. This council is composed of the heads of state or government of the European Union countries, the President of the European Commission, who was elected into office by those heads of state of each government, including our own Prime Minister. Then there is the Council of the EU, whose members are drawn from government ministers from each European country, according to the policy area that is being addressed. Each EU country holds the presidency on a six-month rotating basis. Of course, there is great need of reform within the EU but let’s not be hypocritical or tell lies that suggest that the European Union is totally undemocratic, with unelected members deciding on our future. They are elected members of the European Parliament. Let’s first, take the log out of our own eyes and remember that we have just under 800 unelected people in the House of Lords!

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It’s claimed that this is our last chance to remove ourselves from the undemocratic Brussels machine . Well let’s just be reminded of some facts; only 13% of the laws that were passed in Britain in 2014 came from Brussels and those decisions were made within the European Parliament, where Britain was represented. The United Kingdom has 73 elected members of the European Parliament, (9%, which is not an unsubstantial number. Germany has 96 MEPs and France 74). How tragic that UKIP, avowedly anti-EU is representing Britain because it is a substantial part of the UK democratically elected group of members within the European Parliament. Acting as an irritant, blocking progress in negotiations on policy-making, we are less able to shape and influence for good the European Union and play our part in reforming it and calling it back to its original vision and purpose, with renegades and opponents of the EU, elected allegedly to serve but in reality, acting as stumbling blocks and the disturbers and disrupters of progress. UKIP has failed in previous years to gain any real ground within British politics but a pincer movement has engineered them from being a small but significant voice representing the UK in the European Parliament to a movement that is now about to gain significant ground in British politics, not through a General Election, (where they gained one seat!) but through the misguided opportunity that the Referendum has provided.

I believe history will look back on the decision that we are about to take and that my children and children’s children will suffer the consequences of giving power to people like Nigel Farage whose purpose in politics has been to break up the European Union. He will rejoice, as will Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and other Brexit leaders and they will be joined in their celebrations by Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party in France, Geert Wilders and his PVV Party in Holland and President Putin who will be getting the champagne ready for when we vote to come out of the European Union and signal the domino effect that will see its collapse in the coming years.

Latest intelligence reports confirm the fact that Putin is building a ‘super army’ in preparing for ‘large scale” conflict as NATO struggles to curtail his plans. Putin wants to bring the former Soviet States back into the fold to create and leave a legacy of a ‘Greater Russia‘. Despite the poor state of the Russian economy Putin is upgrading Russia’s conventional military and is mobilising the army, navy and air force for war. No wonder Britain has been asked to provide more troops for the 4000 strong NATO defence force based in Poland.

It might be considered scaremongering to say that Britain and Europe will be stronger together than alone but I believe but it is very true and any fragmentation across the continent will only encourage Putin in his ambitious, totally undemocratic plans.

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His control over Russia is extraordinary and he, like Hitler and his Russian predecessors, manipulate and control public opinion, not least by controlling the media. As is true in Russia today, so there are aspects of the referendum debate here where telling the truth has disappeared and people have succumbed like those that the Apostle Paul warned about in his letter to Timothy, imposters who will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. For example, it doesn’t matter that the overwhelming evidence, from all quarters, from independent financial institutions, leading experts in the field of economics, world leaders, leading academics, and, in an unusual stance, church leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Bishop of Durham, all come out in favour of the Remain campaign. Justin Welby said that he would be voting to remain within the European Union, saying that Britain should be a country for the world.

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Warning against succumbing to our worst instincts” over immigration, he clashed publicly with Nigel Farage over what he says are UKIP’s attempts to stir up racism. Welby said he would vote to stay in to avert economic damage that could harm the poorest. He said that “a vision of peace and reconciliation, of being “builders of bridges, not barriers” was one of the principles at the heart of the country’s Christian heritage. The EU he said “needs renewed vision; major reforms”, but remained in part responsible for the maintenance of peace on the continent since 1945, which was “the greatest cause for thankfulness that we can imagine”.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said, My fear is that if Britain steps back from Europe it will be stepping back from its own heritage. In Britain we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others. In talking in isolationist terms we run the risk of nailing our colours to a myth.’

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I believe that we are about to trigger a movement that could see the breakup of the EU and with it the consequences of conflict, a widening gap between rich and poor and an inevitable outbreak of war in some part of Europe in the ensuing years.

I am fearful by what I see played out in the Referendum and the consequences of us leaving the EU.

For an insightful comment on the subject of religious liberty and the Referendum see Steve Holmes blog: http://steverholmes.org.uk/blog/?p=7622

Lord have mercy upon us.

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Europe: Yours Concerned

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In a few weeks time Britain will go to the polls to vote in the European referendum. As disciples of Christ, called to live out the gospel by the values of God’s kingdom, it is imperative that we think and pray about the issues facing society, including those that the Referendum raises.

I have for many years had an interest in Europe and have enjoyed the opportunity and privilege of travelling extensively throughout the Continent, not least through my work as one of the leaders of the Northumbria Community. It is through reading, travelling, meeting and many conversations with friends and associates across the continent, both in the East and in the West, that I carry a real concern for Europe at this time. I have also been influenced and inspired by the German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose writings have informed us as a community and many others exploring what it means to live faithfully as disciples of Christ in a changing world. Bonhoeffer, observing happenings in his native Germany in the 1930s became increasingly disturbed by the trends, attitudes and policies that were being taken, notably under the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.

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Like Bonhoeffer I carry similar concerns for what I see happening across Europe and particularly here in Britain, where I fear that our attitudes and actions may potentially fuel the fires of nationalism and contribute to the fragmentation and breakup of relationships across the continent that will lead inevitably to conflict and war. What follows is unapologetically long and I guess will only appeal to those who see the seriousness of what is happening with the Referendum. For others, wait for the next blog, which will not be as long. I have engaged in lots of conversations and been asked to speak on a few of occasions about the Referendum and in order to do the subject justice, I have spent a good deal of time praying, reading and reflecting and what follows is some of my findings: I am incredibly disappointed by the lead that politicians of all parties have given on the debate that we should be having about the Referendum. It seems as though everything hinges on economics and how better or worse off financially and materially we will be if we stay in or leave the EU. Economics governs and influences so much of life but I believe there are greater and more significant questions to ask, such as, what kind of nation, continent, society do we want to be. What values do we want to build civic society upon? What legacy of civilisation do we want to bequeath to our children and our children’s children? These things seem absent from the current debate. When the current debate is regarded as simply a matter of economic and political issues we need to be reminded that Europe is so much more. Europe is not just a political creation or economic entity. As the historian Christopher Dawson wrote: Europe is a society of peoples who shared the same faith and the same moral values. The European nations are parts of a wider spiritual society, and it is only by studying the nature of the whole, that we can understand the functions of the parts.

It is a historic cultural reality that Europe has emerged from the idea of Christendom, a culture or assembly of cultures rooted in the Judaeo-Christian values. The term ‘Europe’ derives its origins from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus and while there’s no doubt that pre-Christian civilisations, like the Greek and Roman Empire contributed to Europe’s intellectual, cultural and political inheritance, it was Christianity which brought together the disparate tribes of Europe. It was the Christian faith that provided the foundation and a worldview that paved the way for the pursuit of unity and democracy across the continent. European Christendom in the Middle Ages provided the historical ‘matrix’ from which separate ‘elements’ or nation states arose.

Europe_flags           Christian-Europe

It was appreciating that these European foundations were essentially Christian that inspired the founding fathers of the European Union. Most people, including the majority of Christians, have no idea that the European Union was founded by Christians. A key figure was the Luxembourg born French statesman Robert Schuman. He was a Christian Democrat, an independent political thinker and activist. He served office twice as the Prime Minister of France, as Minister of Finance and also as its Foreign Minister. He was instrumental in building post-war European and transatlantic relationships and was involved in establishing things like the Council of Europe, NATO and principally the European Union. Together with other Christian statesman; Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of post-war Germany and Alcide di Gasperi the Prime Minister of Italy, they laid the foundations of the EU. With the horrific experience of two world wars they appealed to the recovery of Europe’s Christian roots. The context for what was to be known as the Schumann Declaration, was the aftermath of the Second World War. Following the deaths of millions of people and the devastation of a continent wracked by war, the climate was one of hatred, bitterness, mistrust and suspicion, following Hitler’s defeat. Germany had been defeated but the task of rebuilding a devastated and divided Europe now presented itself. How was it to be done and upon what foundations and with whose values? What could be put in place, not only to secure peace and begin a rebuilding process but something that would break the seemingly inevitable cycles of conflict and war among European Nations? A small committed group of statesman, who shared common values, the majority of whom were Christians, laid the essential foundations for Europe’s future. They believed that a renewal of Christian values in a way fully compatible with modern democracy, personal freedoms and human rights could be a great force for healing the self-inflicted wounds of a battered war torn continent. Highly respected and known for his integrity and humility was Schuman. A devout Catholic, in May 1950, he proposed a bold plan to bring together the people of Europe in peace and solidarity.

We are called to bethink ourselves of the Christian basics of Europe by forming a democratic model of governance which through reconciliation develops into a community of peoples in freedom, equality, solidarity and peace and which is deeply rooted in Christian basic valuesSchuman Declaration

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In the current debate on the European referendum, this remarkable, visionary declaration, which paved the way for the founding of the European Union, is forgotten. Schuman believed that the Judaeo-Christian values which had laid the original foundations for Europe during the first millennium of the Christian era, notably through the influence of Celtic monks and missionaries, provided the inspiration for the shaping of modern Europe after the Second World War. Decades of attempts to reshape Europe with secular rationalism, nationalism and fascism had confirmed his conviction that Europe’s future depended on the recovery of Christian values which would shape political and economic realities. Europe, in defeating Hitler and his fascist worldview was facing another threat, the emerging strength of communism with the Soviet Union in empirical mode. A third world war was a frightening prospect. Europe needed to stand together against the potent threat of the Soviet Union.

The peace and prosperity of Europe since the Second World War is not simply the consequence of Hitler’s downfall but I believe, it came about through Schumann’s declaration and the founding of the European Union, together with the incredible generosity of American economic aid through the Marshall plan and the trans–Atlantic partnership of NATO. Thank God for the generosity of the United States to Europe following the Second World War. It was interesting to hear Barack Obama last week when he was over here in England, now a ‘free man’, able to speak his mind, warning Britain, not only of the economic consequences but the damage to European nations and also how transatlantic relations would suffer, should Britain leave the EU. Mindful of the horrors of the Second World War, in which thousands of Americans lost their lives helping Britain and its allies defeat Hitler, America saw that Europe was on the brink of economic collapse Industrial capacity had been wiped out. Trade had ceased. People were starving, many were destitute and given such struggles were liable to turn to communism. America, seeing the potential damage to Europe from communism, gave aid and strengthened the recovery of the continent. The 1953 London Conference together with the Marshall plan saw the burden of debt lifted and what today would be over $150 billion of American aid poured in to rebuild economic capacity, enabling countries throughout Europe to trade with each other and stand firm together against the threat from Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The Marshall plan and NATO emerged in the late 1940s following the war and helped to propel Europe towards peace and prosperity but were able to do so because of the moral climate of forgiveness, reconciliation and cooperation that Schuman and his Christian colleagues created with the establishing of the European Union. Another of the architects of the European Union, Jean Monnet declared at an early stage that, we are not forming coalitions between states, but unity among peoples. The aim of the Union was to make future wars between member states impossible by eliminating competition for natural resources through the common market, and bringing about mutually beneficial economic relationships. Later on, the monetary union, the creation of the Euro was designed to make this even easier and bring members closer together still. The flow of money from one country to another was supposed to be used as a kind of social glue to align the interests of members and prevent future tensions erupting. To these ends, the EU’s single market aims to guarantee ‘four freedoms’ between its 28 member states:Freedom of movement, for people to live, work, study and travel without restriction.Free of movement of capital to facilitate investment between member countries. Free movement of services, enabling the cross-border delivery of services. Free movement of goods, with no internal customs barriers and common customs policy towards other countries.

Britain’s involvement in the European Community has always been controversial. Ever since closer integration was first proposed it has been a source of contention. Britain declined membership of the EEC when it was first formed in 1957 but eventually joined in 1973. A referendum in 1975 showed an overwhelming, 67% of the electorate approving our membership.  Scepticism grew in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher and increased further with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 under John Major. It was this treaty that brought about closer integration and the handing over of some substantial powers to the new European Union, despite concessions being granted to the UK to keep the pound. From 1997 Tony Blair sought closer integration still, though with a stronger economy, wider support for joining the Euro was limited. Bitter divisions have ensued in recent years, most recently being brought to the surface by the euro crisis. The current climate of suspicion, mistrust and bitter divisions has provided the context for the rise of Eurosceptic parties like UKIP here in Britain and their counterparts, mainly of the far right and a few to the far left politically, across the Continent.

The Vote Leave campaign raises the issue of money that the UK pays for its EU membership and the potential benefits of recovering that if we were to leave stop it is said that we will regain control and the money that we spend can be better spent on our own priorities as a nation, e.g. the NHS.European bureaucracy is commonly cited is costly and time-consuming, over yielding in its demands and unnecessary rules and regulations. Anti-EU arguments include; saving money spent on membership of the EU, freedom from red tape, bureaucracy and over regulation and the ability to control our own borders and prevent unlimited immigration.

The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign on the other hand, maintain that our economic prospects and prosperity are more secure by staying in the EU. Richard Branson, the business magnate says: Being part of Europe means that we are part of one of the biggest trading blocs in the world. So the bottom line is we are much stronger being part of Europe than being an island to ourselves. It is said that the benefits of being ‘in’ are about a stronger economy, stronger security, stronger leadership and greater influence on the world stage. Other pro EU campaigners argue that issues of national defence and fighting organised crime are better addressed as part of a larger body, rather than in isolation. Leaving the EU could “undermine our ability to protect ourselves,” two former senior British intelligence officers have said. Former MI6 head Sir John Sawyers and Lord Evans, who ran MI5 until 2013, argued the EU is essential for sharing data and counter-terrorism, which they describe as a “team game”. Writing in the Sunday Times, the intelligence chiefs claim Brexit could precipitate “instability on the Continent”, worsening the existing “economic difficulties, the migration crisis and a resurgent Russia“.

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Overlapping but distinct from monetary issues is the question of immigration. Critics argue that the free movement of people within the EU has led to unsustainable levels of immigration. Brexit campaigners say that the only way to regain control of our borders is for Britain to leave the EU. There is no doubt that the European refugee crisis has brought new attention to this issue. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants have crossed into Europe in the last two years, a large proportion from war-torn Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. This has put considerable pressures upon the European Union. The European Parliament has voted in favour of a quota system that distributes asylum seekers fairly across all the member states. The migrant crisis is a highly emotive issue and has always formed a key part of the argument against EU membership.

The migrant crisis has revealed what values truly drive our political leaders and the governments of European nations. I have written in my previous blog, whilst travelling in Belgium and the Netherlands about the different responses that have been made and my being both ashamed and appalled by my own governments attitude in response to the refugee crisis. The Bible says little about border controls or immigration but it does say a lot about migrants and refugees. Where we tend to categorise migrants and refugees in terms of their reason for entry; work, study, family connections or seeking asylum, the Bible looks at the issue from the point of view of need and intention. There are broadly only two categories of migrant found in the Bible: the ger and the nokri. The ger is typically described as someone who lives on the edges of society, potentially marginalised and vulnerable. They may broadly correspond to today’s refugee or low-paid economic migrant. They are people who have no family or land of their own, who live hand-to-mouth and are reliant on the goodwill of native Israelites. They are frequently mentioned alongside other marginalised and homeless exiles who need extra protection. He has shown you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God, (Micah 6:8).

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Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other, (Zechariah 7:9-10). The ger was generally willing to integrate into Israeli life, and in almost every respect was to be treated the same as a native Israelite, (Leviticus 19:34). The Israelites were constantly reminded to look after the alien and stranger in their midst, remembering that they were once foreigners in Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21).

Then there was the nokri, someone who was culturally and financially independent, whose allegiances lay outside of Israel and who potentially represented a threat to its culture and religion. There are numerous warnings about nokri people and their ‘gods’ leading the Israelites astray, often in combination, as was the case with Solomon’s many foreign wives (1 Kings 11). The Bible is far more wary of the nokri, for these reasons, though welcomes those who genuinely want to become a part of Israel, particularly after the exile. Analogous groups today might include the higher-paid and temporary economic migrant, those who refuse to integrate in any meaningful way, and arguably even wealthy individuals and corporations who domicile themselves outside of the UK to avoid paying tax. It would to my mind, include many of the Russian, Chinese, Indian and other foreign influences and investors, who certainly do not adhere or care about the values that have shaped Europe, the Judaeo-Christian tradition that has shaped the European Continent.

Whilst the present discussions tend to focus on the economic benefits, or otherwise, of allowing different categories of migrants into the country, the Bible is more concerned about whether someone from another country is willing to integrate with Israelite culture and religion and whether they are a threat to the country’s identity. It is also concerned to ensure that the poor and vulnerable are protected, rather than those who are already able to help themselves.                                                                                                                                    Again there is an irony in that those who want us to come out of the EU will probably open the floodgates to more unregulated foreign influences that will more seriously erode any British values.

I was asked to speak at a session during a recent denominational assembly on the subject of the European Referendum, during which I shared some of the biblical insights on the issues it raises. The Bible has a lot to say about the concentration of political and financial power. It also sheds light on the debate about centralisation and subsidiarity.

The Bible warns of the dangers of centralised power. The epitome of this is seen in the story of Egypt, under whose highly centralised and bureaucratic rule, the Israelites spent many years in slavery. Centralised power almost inevitably is distant, unaccountable and can lead to misunderstanding, injustices and abuse. I see this played out in our own British democracy. Government, led by the ‘Westminster set’, are to my mind, oblivious or insensitive to the needs of the vast majority of people in the regions. I have been back and forth to London over the last couple of months and people look at me incredulously when I say that most property prices in the north-east have remained static or have fallen over the last 10 years. I live in a beautiful place but businesses on are high street are going to the wall, redundancies are common place and the impact of government cutbacks and austerity measures are felt keenly and adversely affect thousands of people, who are mainly unnoticed and uncared for. Government, when it is removed from the realities of the ordinary people whom it serves, because it is distant, inevitably leads to poor consequences.

The risks inherent in any concentration of power meant that the people of Israel were commanded to take a different approach in their own political structures. After they had been rescued from their slavery in Egypt and they entered the Promised land, Israel existed as a loose confederation of tribes, which operated fairly independently and came together under the leadership of an individual only when circumstances demanded it, such as times of war. It’s salutary to be reminded that when Israel demanded a king so that they would have a leader like the surrounding nations, this was considered a rejection of God’s authority and a development that would pave the way for higher taxes, conscription and servitude, (1 Samuel 8). Instead of a centralised top-down government that was seen in Egypt and Assyria, the Bible reflects the idea that decisions should be taken at the lowest, most local level possible. Decisions should be taken by those who are affected by them, by people who understand their context best. Decisions were only passed up to a higher, more central authority if they could not be better addressed at a lower level.

The idea of subsidiarity is found in Catholic social teaching which reflects that biblical approach to government as one as large as necessary, as small as possible.

The principal of subsidiarity is built into the EU. It is established in article 5 of the Treaty of the European Union: Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level. What has happened however and which is contributed to arguably the most contentious aspect of the U.K.’s relationship with Europe has been the transference of increasing powers to the European Union and Brussels. This is seen as undermining of Britain’s sovereignty and it’s argued, the ability for us in the UK to make decisions which reflect our own national interests. A common complaint is that the legislation that comes out of Brussels imposes significant burdens on UK citizens and businesses. I recognise this but think it is foolish to suggest that coming out of the EU would deliver us from burdening bureaucracy. We have become so bureaucratic, attributed as much by the poisonous and pervasive litigation culture that has come come not from Europe but from America. We are ruled in issues of governence now by fear, mistrust and suspicion and so many of the policies and practices in the workplace and society generally are determined by having to protect against someone suing you.                                                                        Thank God we don’t have the right to bear arms year in the UK so we haven’t resorted to resolving conflict by shooting people but we’ve certainly bought into the litigation, ‘I’ll sue you’ culture from the States. In the debate about subsidiarity, the risk of undermining each country’s autonomy can be seen most clearly in the recent experience of Greece. The terms of the bailout which has allowed Greece to avoid bankruptcy and remain in the EU has been decreed by the European Union. Conditions imposed upon Greece that were not agreed by the Greek people or its leaders but by EU officials and creditors.

There was a deep irony being played out in the negotiations and history was forgotten. How ironic that it was Greece who helped post-war Germany to recover economically and was now being crippled by Germany and other EU nations. Surely what was good for Germany in 1953 should have been good for Greece in 2015, i.e. debt relief and financial investment not crippling bailout measures. The Greek finance minister at the London Conference of 1953 signed a treaty agreeing to cancel 50% of Germany’s debt. A biblical perspective on the issue of debt was in part realised at this time; that any loans granted was supposed to be made without interest, (Deuteronomy 23:19) because the express purpose of the loan was to enable economic independence, which allowed the recipient to get back on their feet stop the creditor was not supposed to profit financially from the arrangements. Wow, is that so different from the current practices of the money markets! Charging interest was seen as a form of injustice, a way that the rich extract money from the already poor. The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender, Proverbs 22:7 and the text reminds us that debt almost inevitably involves a relationship of power and is a challenge to remember that in God’s eyes there are obligations on the lender as well as the borrower in any loan transaction.

Greater and closer the integration with Europe has led to member countries feeling they are unable to determine their own laws and policies. This is a real and valid concern as the centralisation of power leads to distant, detached decision-making at best. At worst, it is to dominant and coercive and harmful to those who it is supposed to serve. This accusation could certainly be levelled against some of the EU legislation, as it could some of the policies that have been imposed by our own Government.

Brexit campaigners argue that by coming out of the EU it will enable us to regain our sovereignty. That I believe is pure fantasy. As a nation, with the encouragement of successive governments, we have already given away our sovereignty to a whole variety of external powers, including the EU, over many years. Huge, foreign-owned multinationals determine levels of investment and jobs in this country as a consequence of decades of British nationalised tuitions and businesses being privatised or sold to the highest bidder. Think of all the public utilities, water, gas and electricity, once owned by the British public, just as, coal mines, steelworks, railways and other means of public transport were nationalised. Under Margaret Thatcher and the dogma that drove her government’s policies, the country’s public utilities, together with giving people the right to buy publicly owned council houses, were sold off in the pursuit of privatisation, deregulation and the notion of a free-market economy was let loose. Thatcherite policies allied to the and the determination to demolish the power of trade unionism, whose abusive powers and behaviour in the late 1970’s gave the perfect excuse for them to be taken on and defeated in the 1980s, raised funds for the British economy but in so doing eroded any sense of subsidiarity and sovereignty.

I found it a deep irony that during the Union Jack, flag-waving euphoria and the singing of Rule Britannia that accompanied the celebrations following our defeat of the Argentinians in the Falklands war, that at the same time, the UK government was quite prepared to sell off the country silver to foreign buyers. It is big business, foreign investors, the money markets that influence and determine so much of our life and work in Britain. Foreign companies acquired over £70billion worth of British enterprises in 2014. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Government, legislation made it easier for foreign investors to snap up British companies. It won’t be long before the vast majority of the British working public will be working for foreign companies. We are prey to overseas predators, whose money is welcomed but whose values are never questioned . The removal of regulations on overseas investment by former Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in 1979 has ushered in an era of British companies being sold off with little or no restraint. A raft of restrictive old practices in the City of London have been cast aside over the past thirty years allowing foreign banks to flood into the City and exert unchecked pressure and influence, far more undemocratic than those posed by us being in the EU.

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Take for example the situation last year when Ed Miliband proposed a freeze on gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for 20 months if he won the election, cutting annual bills by £120 a year on average. The media went ballistic, they saw it as ‘state intervention’ in the free-market economy. Foreign owners and shareholders of utility companies waged war on Miliband and his proposals, lobbied the government, threatened and cajoled and were given guarantees that such a proposal would not feature in any Conservative manifesto. And who are these utility companies owned by? Americans, French and other nationalities, with many of their shareholders having little or no interest in how Britain is doing as a nation. What matters to them are profits and a return on their investment. Take for example Northumbria Water. It sounds lovely doesn’t? ‘Northumbria Water’. It sounds nice and local but when you pay the bill you may be surprised to learn that the profits leach away to the other side of the world. Like nearly every other one of our public utilities, it is foreign-owned. Northumbria Water is owned by the Hong Kong-based billionaire Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in the world, who has made more than £630 million profit in the last two years. He also owns Superdrug and the 3 mobile network. The idea that coming out of Europe will regain our sovereignty and our ability to determine our own affairs is ludicrous. The UK government provides a free market environment which has sold off our own natural resources and the deregulation and legal and financial loopholes that we continue to allow and in some ways encourage people like Li Ka-Shing to be able to operate their companies like Northumbria Water and pay less than 10% corporation tax. It is scandalous. It is wicked and promotes and rewards the rich at the expense of the poor. Where now is the voice of the prophet Amos, who in God’s name would have utterly denounced such practices?

It is an illusion to believe that leaving Europe will somehow restore national sovereignty when our utilities, including our energy security is largely dependent on French and Chinese governments deciding whether or not things like nuclear power stations are built. British steel’s future is determined by Indian entrepreneurs and German and Japanese companies will decide the long term health of our car manufacturing industries. Decades of privatisation of the public sector has seen outsourcing contracts, (look at what’s happening currently in the NHS) to US Corporations. American companies have staff living, working, lobbying government and courting health executives here in the UK, ready to invest and offer ‘improvements’ to the NHS. Of course they are not interested in the nonprofitable areas of healthcare. They are working for shareholders, for whom profit is the critical thing. These things are a much greater threat to British sovereignty than EU regulations and bureaucracy.

There is also the issue of the escalating and damaging problem of housing, particularly in London and the south-east. So many properties in central London are now owned by Russians, Chinese and Saudi Arabians. Vast tracts of land throughout Britain are being bought by the Chinese. How ridiculous to think that the EU and migrant workers are a threat to British sovereignty when under our noses we have thrown open the doors to nations whose values and ways of life and work are so alien to the European values that are rooted in Christendom. The power and influence of US corporations, China, India and Russia will not be diminished by coming out of the EU. Nor will the government find itself in a stronger position to persuade anyone to pay a fair contribution towards our civil society through taxation. Ironically, it is the EU that has taken measures to try and stop our markets being flooded by cheap and inferior imports from China. Legislation worked on by the ‘bureaucrats’ in Brussels, at the instigation of elected members of the European Parliament, legislation, that our own UK government has chosen to ignore. So much for being dictated to. A bit of protectionist policy on foreign imports proposed by the EU might have helped to prevent the closure of steel works on Teesside and remove the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over Port Talbot and Scunthorpe. We have exported our sovereignty worldwide through globalisation since the 1980s. As one commentator has put it; The Brexit illusion but fog in the channel will cut off the continent from the mainland will do nothing to change that reality.

A Unease over Referendums

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I confess also that I have a great unease about the use of referendums. Historians, political analysts and psephologists (people who study and analyse elections) know only too well that Goebbels and Hitler used referendums to shape public opinion in Germany in the 1930s. It was Josef Goebbels who said that, the most effective form of persuasion is when you are not aware you are being persuaded.

I am fascinated and intrigued by Social Identity Theory. This relates to a person’s sense of who they are based on their affiliation with a group. The theory was put forward by the psychologist Henry Tajfel, who was best known for his pioneering work on prejudice and social identity. He highlighted the idea that people gain their sense of identity and self-esteem from the groups that they associated with. e.g. social class, family, football team, church, etc. Such groups give a sense of social identity, a sense of belonging to the social world. He said that we increase our self-image by enhancing the status of the group to which we belong. So, when I go to watch Middlesbrough play football and we are doing well, I will often hear the crowd singing, “We’re the finest team in football, the world has ever seen” (how deluded can you get!). More seriously, we can increase our self-image by enhancing the status of our nation, “Britain is the best in the world“. If you take that on board then consciously and unconsciously we start discriminating and holding prejudicial views against others, that is, the group we don’t belong to. For example, think of some of the things that some Brits say about the French, or Scots say about the English and vice versa. What particularly concerns me and I listen or observe it nearly every day in the run-up to the European referendum is the anti-European language and attitudes that are being expressed, against the Germans, French, Brussels, the bureaucrats. ‘We are British‘ and what I sense is a powerful and very persuasive mixing up of what it means to be patriotic and nationalistic. I think what often gets confused is patriotism and nationalism. I am quite patriotic, (well actually I am quite confused about who I should be shouting for when the Home Nations play one another in the rugby, with historic family allegiances coming from three different nations!) but being patriotic is different from being nationalistic. It is I believe possible to be patriotic and not nationalist.

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Social identity theory observes the power of creating self-esteem and identity by enhancing the status of the group to which we belong. It inevitably leads to a sectarian attitude of, “us” and “them”. We categorise people. It is known as the in-group (us) and out-group (them). Social identity theory states that the in group will discriminate against the out group to enhance their self-image. This is what is going on in Britain currently. The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that those who belong to the in group will seek to find negative aspects of an out group, thus enhancing their self-image. The attitudes and language, now permeating the conversations and discussions and debates about the Referendum are creating prejudiced views which feed racism, breeds sectarianism, nurtures division and fosters suspicion, mistrust, fear, conflict and provides the context for violence and war.

Tajfel said that by stereotyping, (putting people into groups and categories) is based on normal cognitive processes, the tendency to group things together. By doing so we tend to exaggerate the differences between groups and the similarities of things in the same group. The consequence of such cognitive behaviour is that we see the group to which we belong, (the in-group) as being different from the others, (the out-group) and the members of the same group as being more similar than they are. Inevitably it leads to ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. Think about some of the examples of in-groups and out-groups: Northern Ireland – Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Loyalists. Rwanda – Hutus and Tutsis. Yugoslavia – the Bosnians and the Serbs. Football – Newcastle and Sunderland, Man Utd and Man City, Celtic and Rangers. Social class – working class and middle class. Germany – Jews and the Nazis.

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Tajfel suggested that there were three mental processes involved in evaluating others as ‘us’ or ‘them’. The first thing that we do is categorise: just as we categorise objects and things in order to understand and identify them, in a similar way we categorise people, including ourselves, in order to understand the social environment. So social categories like black, white, Christian, Muslim, footballer, accountant; are all terms that are used because they are useful. If we can assign people to a category then it gives us some clues about those people. If we know that somebody is an airline pilot, it gives us some understanding of who they are and what they do. Similarly, we can derive our identity by knowing what categories we belong to and much of our behaviour is influencing conditioned by belonging to such groups.

In the 2nd stage, social identification, we adopt the identity of the group we have categorised ourselves as belonging to. So for example, if you have categorised yourself as a football fan, the chances are you will adopt the identity of that group and begin to act in ways and have attitudes that conform to the groups identity and patterns of behaviour. Your self esteem is bound up with belonging to that group.

The final stage is social comparison. Having categorised ourselves as part of a group, if our self-esteem is to be maintained, our group needs to compare favourably with any other group. This is critical to understanding prejudice, because once 2 groups identify themselves as rivals, they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem. Competition inevitably leads to hostility between groups as they compete for place or resources. A fascinating psychological insight comes from realistic conflict theory which illustrates the conflict that occurs when two groups are in competition for limited resources. And we can see this being played out in the debate on the European referendum. We, must control our own borders, keep migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers out. “They will threaten our resources“, “They will take our jobs“, etc Inevitably, such language fuels the attitudes behind them and leads to discrimination.

This is what’s going on and I fear that what we are seeing in the consciousness of the general public here in Britain will reap a harvest of destruction across the continent. As troubling as the sectarian, subtle racism and emerging nationalism that is emerging, is the power and influence of the media that is weighing in heavily on the Brexit side. Behind most of the newspapers and TV channels, are media moguls, who are determining editorial policies, whose interests lie in Britain coming out of the EU. Make no mistake, the press will play a vital and deciding role in the EU referendum result. The British press is dominated by Eurosceptics. I saw this abundantly evident in 2012 when the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe over 60 years. Most of the British media didn’t even report the news! Of course not. It is not what anti-European, press barons and media moguls want the British public to hear about. We are served a daily diet of negative coverage about the EU. Rarely can you read or hear about any of the positive things that the European Union is doing to benefit Britain on issues of peace, security, human rights, democracy, the environment, trade and the rule of law. Newspaper headlines are on the whole very anti EU and use patriotic phrases that cleverly deploy and engender nationalist feelings and perpetrate anti-European attitudes. And of course most people are informed consciously or unconsciously by what they read, see or hear from the media.

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And that’s why it is so difficult for us to be properly informed about the issues. Yesterday for example we saw The Sun newspaper depicted an image of Angela Merkel with David Cameron as his puppet with the headline, Germany SABOTAGED David Cameron’s EU renegotiation and he let them, IDS sensationally claims. The Sun, together with another anti Euro paper, The Daily Mail, are the most popular newspapers in Britain, which in itself is both revealing and very sad.

I listened to the interview on the Today at One programme with a German member of the European Parliament being interviewed on the issue, where he challenged Iain Duncan Smith, refuting the ‘ridiculous’ claim that was being made by the former Cabinet office Minister. IDS declined the invitation to respond or to be interviewed by Martha Karney, the programme’s presenter. The myth was not able to be defended and the damage had been done, and a largely unthinking public had been fed the perception from the morning newspaper headline that David Cameron is indeed just a puppet of the German chancellor.

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Another example of media influence is the continuous drip feed about the terrible bureaucracy of the European Union and the waste of money that is spent on bureaucrats in Brussels. Well, here’s a fact that might be of surprise: the total size of the European bureaucracy is about exactly the same size as the number of people employed by Derbyshire County Council. According to the office of National Statistics, currently, Derbyshire County Council employs 36, 519 public sector employees. This compares to the 33,000 employed by the European Commission. I think most people being presented with those figures would be surprised, given the angle and slant that the media is taken to deceive and influence public opinion on the issue of bureaucracy.

The media absolutely love Nigel Farage.

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He is given so much more airtime and press coverage than other Opposition leaders. He isn’t even an elected member of Parliament. He represents UKIP, a political party that only has one MP in Westminster. Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the SNP, the DUP and Sinn Fein, when do we hear anything of their views on Europe? We hear them but not as clearly and repeatedly as those articulated by Farage. He is a brilliant communicator, a remarkably persuasive political figure. He can influence and persuade an audience with great ability. You can see this played out time and time again on the radio and TV. He is a remarkable orator; so was Oswald Mosley! Mosley was described as a ‘brilliant orator’ possessing extreme self-confidence, whose persuasive rhetoric often lead crowds singing, ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow‘ having been won over by his presence and eloquence in the 1930’s. Poisonous, damaging and very dangerous, as I believe Farage is. There are nasty xenophobic elements within UKIP, which is becoming a potent force in British politics. Allied to the remarkable growth and ascendency of the SNP in Scotland, nationalist attitudes are spreading throughout the UK. You have to hand it to the SNP, they have been brilliant in capturing the hearts of the Scottish public, demolishing Labour. They have done it with a mixture of opportunism, strategic thinking, brilliant marketing and utilising social media to great effect. They are an extremely well disciplined political party, everybody is ‘online’ and woe betide anyone who steps out of line or utters a voice of dissent. It’s not all sweetness and smiles within the rank and file of the party; there is more than a fair degree of coercion and being held in line by the powers that be.     I believe that we are witnessing a phenominal growth of nationalism and tribalism across Europe and were we to exit the EU, the result would be celebrated by parties on the extreme right and left across the Continent. Marine Le Pen and the national Front in France in France, Geert Wilders and his Pff in Holland, the AfD in Germany, all extreme right wing parties will hail a Brexit victory as good news. So will President Putin in Russia. It is within Russia’s interest to see Europe fragment. All the while we are engaging in disputes and falling out with our European partners, Putin is assembling nuclear warheads, flexing his military muscles in the war in Syria and strengthening his military might for the future. A frightening prospect. The thought of Putin continuing to rule Russia, a return to patterns of behaviour witnessed in the Cold War years and a President Trump in the White House and we will be seeing books and films depicting Armageddon!

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The Referendum throws up so many issues that are deeply concerning which should cause us to pray and think deeply as we go into the polling stations on June 23rd. We need to think seriously about these issues ask ourselves why we are voting the way we will. Is it for self-interest? Out of national interest? European interest? Global interest? Will our vote make the world a better place? What will my vote mean for my children and grandchildren, for the generations who will have to live with the consequences of my vote in the European Referendum.

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It’s pretty obvious that I will be voting to stay in the EU. Not that I am uncritical of how the European Union has developed, how it’s become more bureaucratic, is dismissive and distant from some of the peoples and nation states who are its members. Nor how what has developed would come under strong criticism from Robert Shuman and his fellow EU founders. It is not perfect or ideal by any stretch of the imagination. However, I believe in its reformation and for working for the renewal of the values it enshrines in its constitution rather than by leaving it. By voting to leave, I believe, we will begin the process of dismantling the European Union. Sometimes it’s easier to repair and restore rather than demolish or try to start from scratch. I fear the consequences of leaving the EU and I am concerned about the rise of extremist parties emerging across Europe, with a resurgence of nationalism, bordering on racism and xenophobia. The impact of the gospel brought by our Celtic forefathers and mothers in the faith, who lay the foundations of Europe and provided the stability and morality of Judaeo-Christian values and combated tribalism, is in danger of being undone.

Lord grant us wisdom and discernment and in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

 

 

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