A Passing Moment or the Beginnings of a Movement?

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I might as well come clean and admit it. I may have put a nail in the coffin of the Labour Party, aided a false dawn or conversely been at the beginnings of a movement for change that might bring about some good for our society and the wider world.

Yes, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn and was delighted at the overwhelming mandate he received from Labour Party members to become its leader.

Whether he makes a good leader remains to be seen. Whether as a radical backbencher he is able to unite and lead the party, overcome nearly every newspaper which will ruthlessly misrepresent and seek to discredit and “kill him off”, (for an example of this, see the deceitful and fabricated story that the Sun ran on Tuesday to smear Corbyn). It will be a foretaste of many more lives told in the propaganda war that will be waged to discredit him and the thought of a socialist party gaining any ground will draw guns from all quarters of the right and centre right to kill off any credible alternative to the way in which our country is run politically and economically.

I was pleased when the news came through on Saturday of Corbyn’s victory and encouraged by his acceptance speech and the one he made at the rally for welcoming refugees in London that he attended immediately after the election results were announced.

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A movement has been born with people from all backgrounds and generations, many of them young, who like me have given their support to somebody who is a principled politician, who has lived consistently what he believes and who in the leadership debates, captured the imagination and gave a refreshing vision of how we might live as a society, one that is rooted in social justice, compassion, optimism and is good news for the poor.

Idealistic yes, but offering an inspiring vision of a society rooted in righteous, peaceable and compassionate values, for the benefit of all and not just the few. A society that reflects the biblical mandates of loving mercy, acting justly and walking humbly, of being our brother’s keeper, loving our neighbour and working for peace and reconciliation.

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I don’t agree with every policy that he has been advocating but I admire his courage, convictions, principles and the manner in which he has conducted himself throughout his years as a politician. Even his bitterest opponents concede that he is one of, to quote a Tory government minister, the most decent and honourable politicians in Westminster.

To have a leader who actually listens and welcomes debate is so refreshing. His policies, many of which I have read over recent weeks, reveals someone who clearly listens to people, including those with differing views. He cares deeply and brings a refreshing understanding and depth of intellect and conviction to the values and ideas that have shaped who he is and why he is in politics. These values and ideas are, I believe, why the Labour Party exists as a social democratic movement, offering hope, transformation and a greater commitment to a compassionate humanity and a more just and equitable society.

He stands up for his beliefs and does not waver when he is maligned, misunderstood or misrepresented. He has never given in to popularism nor has he sacrificed his principles for power.

He has been a pioneer in the arena of social justice, both in this country and abroad.

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When successive British governments were calling the ANC terrorists, Corbyn was out on the streets getting arrested for protesting against Apartheid. When our government sanctioned the sale of arms to Saddam Hussein, validating and supplying the means by which they could be used to create chemical weapons to kill thousands of people, it was Jeremy Corbyn who was outside the Iraqi embassy in London, denounced such evil actions. He was been one of the most ardent and outspoken opponents to our invasion and war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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He has consistently spoken out for those who are marginalized, for those whose voices are rarely heard, both within this country and victims of injustice, poverty and warfare across the world.

One of the delightful things that is so apparent in reading his speeches is that they are permeated with the language of, “we” and “us“. When most other politicians speak of “I” and “my“, how refreshing to have a political leader who appeals to that intrinsic and God-given element that is communal, community, togetherness.

I recall the abhorrent line in the late Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the Church of Scotland Assembly in Edinburgh in the 1980s, stating that, “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families“. This was not only an epitaph to the 1980s ‘Me’ culture, which I believe has scarred Britain as a society and paved the way for an immoral, unfettered free-market capitalism, that devoid of Christian virtue, has simply rewarded the rich and powerful and disempowered the weak and powerless. It has no doubt improved the standards of living materially for many of us but it has poisoned how we live well as a just and compassionate society.

To hear a politician talking about the corporate nature of society, of our relationship together, with our neighbours, here at home and abroad is very encouraging.

It could of course be a false dawn. I was euphoric at Labour’s victory in the 1997 General Election and saw the impact of early policies contributing to a more just, compassionate and equitable society. Investment was more evenly shared across the United Kingdom, the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement brought a cessation of violence and terrorism to Northern Ireland, the Minimum Wage was introduced, new schools, hospitals and affordable homes were built. “Things could only get better” but sadly in many ways, they didn’t. Apart from some alleviation of debt that Gordon Brown presided over for some African countries, the Labour Party under Tony Blair in their second term, captured by power and the abandonment of core values and principles, in many ways encouraged economic policies that favoured the few and unleashed stock market gambling greed that inevitably would fail. Policies that created great freedoms for banks and other financial institutions, that ironically, would have gone even further if the Conservatives had been in power in that period leading to the global financial crisis. The fallout of that crisis has of course been felt most among the poor of the world. Since the crash the banks have been bailed out, the rich have got richer, and the poor are paying for the folly, greed and sin of bankers, and continue to be penalised for the mistakes of financiers who continue to this day to gamble and exploit.

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The terrible, cruel welfare policies that are now being meted out upon the British public by the present government have met little resistance from opposition parties. I heard yesterday about the new measures affecting asylum seekers here in Britain. Cutting costs, the Government has decreed that many of the offices around the country where asylum seekers must report to sign on, have been closed and in their place there are now regional centres. What this means is that asylum seekers in the north-east of England, a big geographical region, must sign on, some of them weekly, others fortnightly or monthly at the office in Middlesbrough, to the far south of the region. On their first visit they are given a travel permit. No such travel grants are given for subsequent appointments. As a consequence, asylum seekers do not meet the required criteria for them to stay and they can then be deported back to the countries that they are fleeing from. A nasty policy that needs exposing for what it is; inhumane, lacking in either compassion or justice ~ wicked. And whilst on the subject of asylum seekers, let’s get the facts removed from the propaganda fiction; asylum seekers are not eligible for any benefits. The nasty rumour, that fuels fear and racist attitudes, is that they come over here and just sponge off our system. The vast majority do not. They are fleeing from war, torture and untold levels of suffering. Many of them have walked hundreds of miles to escape to freedom and we have a system now that demands that they must walk yet more miles, with no help to meet our bureaucratic regulations, designed not so much to bring a due process to those seeking refuge in our country but rather to assuage the ignorant, prejudiced and racist factions that no government should succumb to appeasing.

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What a Labour government would do in the face of such enormous challenges, I don’t know. What I do know however is that its new leader carries a heart for the poor and compassion to reach out to people like asylum seekers and refugees. If you haven’t already seen his speech at the rally, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vztEzlQOCPQ

History, not least church history, reminds us that it is often from the margins, from the radical edge that visionaries emerge. Prophetic and apostolic figures who effect transformation both in the church and society. I was very moved by his impassioned plea that we might, as ordinary human beings, “open your hearts, open your minds, open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, who want to contribute to our society and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, surely that must be our way forward” Amen to that!

I don’t think I would describe Jeremy Corbyn as either prophetic or apostolic but I do recognise him to be a principled politician who carries values that I believe are good for promoting the wellbeing of a just and compassionate society.

How refreshing to have somebody who doesn’t speak “on message” with political platitudes and spin doctoring lines. The bland and predictable statements that come out from Government ministers and Opposition spokesmen are so boring and only contribute to people’s disillusionment and disengagement with politics.

One of the things that I’ve learned and so appreciate about being a Companion of the Northumbria Community is our embracing of a rule of life. Availability and Vulnerability are the values by which we seek to live out our lives. They are foundational and at the heart of who we are, what we do and why we are and do the things we do, alone and together, as a community.

Values are critical. For me, they are more important than visions.

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What appeals to me about what’s happening in the Labour Party at the moment under Corbyn is that the party has an opportunity to rediscover its values.

Winning elections has to be a goal of any political party but I would suggest that staying true to your values is even more important than winning an election. If politics is only about political expediency and gaining power and you are prepared to sell your principles and values in order to gain victory, by targeting key marginal constituencies, then you have, to put in biblical terms, sold your birthright and are devoid of integrity and authenticity.

I believe that this is what happened to the Liberal Democrats as they went into a coalition government following the previous General Election. They were tempted and seized the opportunity of power, justified it on the basis of, the national interest and stood on a platform of, “we stand for a moderate version of whatever you stand for“. They reaped what they had sown and have almost sunk beyond trace into an electoral abyss.

It can only be good for democracy to be able to discuss and differentiate between political parties about what each one stands for. The Labour Party has the opportunity to recover its values that it lost with the New Labour project. Michael Heseltine, a former Deputy Prime Minister, who mounted a failed challenge to oust Margaret Thatcher from the leadership of the Conservative Party., someone who commands my respect, commenting on the rise of New Labour back in the 1990’s said: A one legged army limping away from the storm they had created. Left! Left! Left! About turn! Right! Right! Very funny and very astute.

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It has to be good to foster open and honest debates between the parties now as to how each one would govern Britain. I look forward to hearing more convictions and principles from both the Government and Opposition benches addressing the huge issues that we face as a society and the world.

I think that we will see more of a change in tone, as evidenced in this week’s, Prime Minister’s Questions. I hope that there might be enlivened debates between socialist, progressive, collective endeavour and that of individual, free-market conservative traditionalism. A healthy debate on the strengths and weaknesses of both capitalism and socialism.

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I am weary of the insipid and damaging quest to occupy their “centre ground”, to gain the support of those key marginal constituencies that secure a political party’s success in the General Election.

The fact that there will be clear differences between the present government and a Corbyn led Labour Party should be welcomed by anybody who was concerned about the value of democracy. This was seen recently when and Corbyn voted against the Government and his parties whips on the Welfare Reform Bill. He did so because he saw the issue of benefit cuts, impacting the unemployed, underemployed, poor, sick, disabled and their children as an issue of Human Rights. For other MP’s, the decision was for political ends.

The same is true in relation to immigration. Consistently going against the flow of media induced public opinion, Corbyn has stood up for the rights of both migrants and asylum seekers.

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I wonder, given the events of the last few weeks, whether he hasn’t proved that he is more in touch with public opinion, than the right wing press have suggested. The fact that he is regarded as a ‘man of the people’, and has considerably more virtue and principle than UKIP’s Nigel Farage, may be one of his strongest selling points to the electorate.

He has certainly inspired thousands of people in these early days of his campaigning and leadership of the party. Thousands joined the party during the campaign and over 50,000 more have joined the party in the last five days since he became leader. This is unprecedented in British politics.

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He has taken a huge risk in appointing his friend John McDowell as his Shadow Chancellor. I watched last night’s Question Time and as Sandi Toksvig, one of the panellists noted, “she could count on the fingers of one hand family time she’d heard a politician on question Time offer an apology.” McDowell said some fairly horrendous things in the past and whatever his motives and intentions, his commendation of IRA terrorists, will haunt him throughout his political career. Whether he means what he said last night only time will tell; If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise…. I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed, it was worth doing because we did hold onto the peace process,”…. There was a real risk of the Republican movement splitting, and some continuing with the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise.

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What McDowell will say on economic policy will be revealed over the coming months but I relish the prospect of seeing some alternative views within the party and within parliament expressed.

Corbyn’s policies on rural affairs and quantitative easing for people to fund investment and promote innovation and reward aspiration are worthy of serious consideration.

His ability to rally and enthuse people around ideas of re-nationalisation could cause a real stir and change in political outlooks.

I may be naïve and idealistic but I believe good politics is best exercised by political parties who represent the values they espouse and who then seek to formulate policies that can be worked out within the legal and democratic system of government.

I hope that Corbyn stays to lead the Labour Party at the next General Election when the public will be given a genuine choice, an alternative set of policies. I hope that his positive visionary politics will actually inspire all parties to be less negative and offer something positive rooted in hope not playing on fear.

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I hope that the apathy that has lulled the public into disinterest and disillusionment with politicians will abate and we can all, of whatever political persuasion, see that how we live and are governed really matters.

Here’s hoping and praying…

urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for rulers and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.                            1 Timothy 2:1,2.

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5 Responses to A Passing Moment or the Beginnings of a Movement?

  1. Dick Davies says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Value led politics seems to be what we need, and I hope that is what we get. “Unelectable” is not the case if I’m right.

  2. Jim bailey says:

    Dear Roy,
    I have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet. I’m new to Northumbria Community , first visit in June and up to Nether Springs in October. This article is brilliant , skilfully articulate and summing up what a lot of folk would want to say in such an insightful manner. Thank you for this article . I’m going to Facebook and Twitter it // I pray like you that just maybe this could be part of a change of thinking for our nation and that God could be raising up a man of passion for humanity . Thank you for the article it’s encouraged me and helped me express what I want to say , but I could never do so . You articulate thought through balanced ,insights and viewpoints you clearly make out the points and I’ve already shared your article with friends and colleagues . Thank you for your amazing articulation and way with words . I’m sure scores , hundreds of folk are being helped by your clear way marks and observations put in a way that lots of folk can relate to. Your article has made my week thank you for your gift and leadership and written rhetoric . I can explain how your article has helped me so
    Much . Thank you.

    Jim bailey

  3. Rob Brown says:

    At last a bit of light shining in parliament ! we must keep Mr Corbyn in our prayers

  4. Derrick Hill says:

    Another excellent piece, Roy.
    I particularly like the comment that “I believe good politics is best exercised by political parties who represent the values they espouse”
    It seems to me that the clarity and consistency of message helped the SNP in this year’s General Election – I hope that Jeremy Corbyn can bring similar clarity to the Labour Party and that other parties will also follow.
    We desperately need informed honest debate about policies rather than the fantasy promises which have so often been offered.
    Derrick Hill

  5. sylvia pott says:

    Well said.

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