political paranoia

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This bloggage carries a ‘harumph’ warning. It is fuelled by deep dissatisfaction about the direction of politics in the UK and other countries and a fear that we are bumbling our way to a crisis of global proportions. If you’re not up for that I suggest that you head for the fun and funny stuff section.

You have been warned.

Is it just me or are some politicians getting more extreme in order to gain popular support? In the UK and USA there are politicians who are seeking (or have) the highest office in the land and they are making statements that are designed to attract attention and appear to be on the side of ‘ordinary people’. Or am I being paranoid?

I consider myself to be ‘ordinary’ and I can conclusively say that these ‘populist politicians’ are not on my side when they make comments that fuel racism, stoke the fires of the irrational fear of the foreigner and pander to a right wing agenda. Part of making a nation great again seems to be about denigrating other nations so that a nation feels superior to it. In the USA the President regularly tweets in a critical manner about other people, nations and situations.

Another tactic that I see at work is the ability to make statements that have no basis in fact, or at best are a half-truth. And when that is pointed out the critics are the ones branded as peddling ‘fake news’! Or am I being paranoid?

Truth is the first casualty in this campaign of contradictory communication. In the UK the Referendum on whether to leave the EU had a headline figure that was emblazoned on a big red bus that said, “We give the EU £350million a week let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now it’s arguable that the amount of money that flows to the EU is less than that (some say £100million less each week!), but this ‘fact’ ignores the UK also receives a substantial rebate, it receives agricultural and other subsidies,research grants and it benefits from the free trade environment within the EU. It’s so disingenuous, but once the headline has been released into the wild it gains a notoriety and life of its own that no amount of ‘fact checking’ can remove from the public consciousness.

It was very clever and played to the self-centredness and indignation of those who would vote ‘Leave’, but it was a lie, and has subsequently been criticised as “a clear misuse of official statistics” by the UK Statistics Authority. Boris Johnson, one of the candidates to become our next Prime Minister, was the leading propagator of this lie. In the USA the President denies that climate change is a thing or that it has its roots in human activity – denying the truth of the vast majority of scientific research. His actions in leaving international climate change agreements could condemn the planet to serious damage!

If truth becomes defined by the loudest voice then it ceases to have value and politics has become a pantomime of populist personality propaganda. The politicians that seem to be the most popular are those with the most apparent flaws in character and frequently seem to put their foot in it when they open their mouth. I don’t believe that they are as daft as this appears. It’s portayed as them being a ‘character’ or laughed off, while truth lies trampled and unnoticed in the dirt. Or am I being paranoid?

It seems to me that much of this ‘populist’ politics is led by business and financial interests. The politicians at the head of these movements are wealthy, privileged and are not affected in any way by the impact of their actions. They can cope if markets crash because they have investments in many different places. They don’t need to queue for a foodbank, live without money when their benefits are stopped while an assessment takes place or make a choice about whether to buy food or clothes for their children. Yet their policies condemn more and more people to this existence while they celebrate tax cuts for the rich and get excited about how business will save the world.

These politicians are mostly isolated from the real world – ironically the ‘ordinary’ people from whom they are seeking to win support – and seek to blame someone else (immigrants, the EU, other countries) for the negative impact of their policies on the most vulnerable in their countries. Have we seen this sort of thing in the 20th Century after World War 1 when there was a rise of nationalistic fervour and the nation’s ills were blamed on others that began innocently enough and culminated in the most hideous acts in human history? Or am I being paranoid?

And how does the prevailing economic system make sense? Almost all of the governments in the world have borrowed money in order to carry out their policies. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? And where will the wealth come from in order to pay it back? Taxation? Maybe, but there’s only so much money available from the taxpayers. So the rest is borrowed to repay the loans. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? The debts rise inexorably while the ability to repay them diminishes. In the UK over the life of the Conservative Government we have been treated to ‘austerity’ which was designed in order to restore our country’s finances to a place where we lived within our means. Between 2010 and 2019 more than £30 billion in spending reductions have been made to things like welfare payments, housing subsidies, local council budgets, police services and social services. And the impact has been on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society while the wealthy have carried on relatively unaffected. And have nine years of austerity reduced our deficit? Well, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the deficit is decreasing. But the general government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of the financial year ending March 2018 and it’s still increasing! Am I being paranoid?

Our political system and the reporting of it is such that personality seems to be more important than substance and the media is keener on promoting their own preferences or prejudices in the way that they report the activities and words of their favourite puppets than in proclaiming truth. And people seem to have lost the ability to discern when they are being sold a lie and take on board what they are told in the ‘news’ as being the truth. In May 2019 Nigel Farage made his 33rd appearance on BBC Question Time – more than any other MP even though his party has no MPs! And the public are unwitting accomplices in this as they forget (or choose to ignore) that they have chosen the media outlet that they prefer, which reinforces their own preferences and prejudices, rather than listening to the voice that proclaims that the emperor has no clothes. Or am I being paranoid?

Don’t worry, the harumph is nearly over. You see I believe that there is a different way. Not all politicians are like this. I see many members of parliament (of all parties) whose reason for being MPs is to serve not to self-promote. I see many members of parliament whose voices are raised in protest at the lies. I want to thank them, encourage them, pray for them and (if I lived in their constituency) vote for them. It doesn’t have to be like this.

I am not advocating communism or socialism, certainly not in their current national incarnations that lead to oppressive regimes founded on a flawed atheistic view of life where there is the same inequality between those in power and the poor as there is in capitalist countries. I am advocating a new politics based on love and justice. What if society existed to benefit all, not just the rich, and there was a model in which justice and love were the main motivators for policies. What if we really did what Jesus encouraged and ‘love our neighbour’ and seek the best for everyone else? If everyone did that, what sort of society would we live in? Or am I being idealistic?

Be blessed, be a blessing

a partly political broadcast

Iceberg 1999 by M A Felton

Regular readers of this irregular blog will realise that I am rarely overtly political in what I write. I am certainly not party-political, preferring to keep my allegiance to myself, however much of what I write will have political overtones and undertones. You can’t write about poverty without being political. You can’t write about truth without it being a political comment. And, I dare to believe, you can’t write about faith without being political because faith is not lived out in a vaccuum, but is all about matters of life and death, right and wrong, hope and expectation and these are all political issues.

On the whole I have kept quiet about the defining political debate of this generation – Brexit. But the recent parliamentary debates on this have left such an unpleasant taste in my mouth that I feel I need to put fingers to keyboard and commit some more words to the millions that have been written about this so far. So if you don’t want to read a rant, look elsewhere, because this is most definitely one of those!

This whole brexit debacle has revealed the deep flaws within our political system in the UK, and in particular that party-politics has put our country in deep peril. We were led into a referendum on this subject by a Prime Minister whose party was threatening to fracture on this fault line (and who has been notably absent since his resignation when his ‘remain’ campaign lost). He gambled that he would win the referendum and therefore keep both his party together but lost and his party is even more divided than before.

The Prime Minister who replaced him has always been struggling with the establishing some sort of coherent policy in spite of the divisions within her party (and perhaps even within herself as she had voted ‘remain’ but is now resolutely determined to lead the country out of the EU). How many ministers have resigned during her leadership? This was most notable after the disastrous Chequers cabinet meeting in which she declared that she had established unity about the way ahead and within a matter of a day or so several significant members of her cabinet had resigned and declared the plan ‘unworkable’! These politicians have put self-interest before the interests of the country.

There was the ridiculous 5 day debate in Parliament before Christmas when Parliamentary time was dedicated to the question of whether to support the Prime Minister’s deal that she had negotiated with the EU and when it became clear that because of the divisions in her own party and the lack of support within Parliament for her deal the PM suspended the debate without a vote. When it was repeated in early 2019, with no substantive amendments to the deal being debated the PM suffered a humiliating defeat.

And most recently Parliament has debated a number of amendments and voted for one that says that we must renegotiate the deal when the EU has said that there will be no renegotiation on the issues that have proved so contentious. In the midst of the discussions and debate party-politics and personal ideologies seems to have taken priority over the needs of the country.

It’s as if we are on the Titanic steaming fast towards the Iceberg and have voted that the Iceberg needs to change direction!

And, in case you accuse me of solely anti-government bias, I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition has done much to help in this time of national crisis either. Instead of holding the government to account he seems to have resigned himself to a quiet acquiescence that we are going to collide with the iceberg and hope that in the ensuing wreckage there will be an opportunity for him to launch a lifeboat that makes him PM instead.

The country needs to change course drastically!

There have been so many false promises that it is impossible to list them all, but each time they are broken the public trust in politicians is eroded just a bit more. Politicians have made outrageous claims about what will happen in the future when they know that they have no way of backing them up with facts or proof. Fantastical conjecture has been cynically peddled as certain reality (‘£350million for the NHS’ on the side of a bus, by way of example). And some newspapers have been guilty of perpetuating and propagating these lies in the guise of facts in order to further the thinly-veiled political aims of their owners who hide in the background in their wealth-protected bunkers. Others have even protected themselves by investing their wealth overseas, and some in EU countries!!!

You might be able to discern how upset I am about all of this. I did vote ‘remain’ and still believe that leaving the EU is a massive mistake. I fervently believe that what is euphemistically called a ‘no deal brexit’, ‘hard brexit’ or even a ‘clean brexit’ would be catastrophic for the UK, and in particular for those who are most vulnerable in our society. To me it is a devastating indictment of many of those whose voices are loudest about how we should leave the EU that they are among the wealthiest in our country and least likely to be adversely affected by the economic tsunami that I believe is threatening on the horizon.

I am praying hard that somehow in the midst of the parliamentary chaos voices of reason and truth will be heard and listened to. I have written to my MP (who I have seen on TV pronouncing how ‘brexit means brexit’ and how we should leave with no deal, so I don’t expect him to listen to me). I hope and pray that somehow, when peering over the edge into the abyss of brexit, enough politicians will find the courage to set aside party allegiance, to ignore the whips and vote in a way that puts the interests of the poorest in our country first. Trust and truth are not the only victims of this.

Whether or not you agree with my analysis or political standpoint, I hope that you will at least be praying.

Be blessed, be a blessing


dancin’ like Mrs May

woman in peach color and red floral sweatshirt holding gray jacket
Photo by Godisable Jacob on Pexels.com

These week TV news programmes showed us the British Prime Minister Theresa May on a trade visit to some African countries. And we were shown two separate occasions when she attempted to dance as she was welcomed in the traditional way with singing and dancing.

At first I cringed. The dancing was on a par with my ‘Dad dancing’, for which I get mocked at weddings, and the whole world was watching! Social media has subsequently enjoyed the opportunities to mock and ridicule with lots of different memes emerging.

But this morning I paused as I watched a video of Mrs May with superimposed bandy elastic legs and I decided that not only was I being unfair to her, but I was also missing the point completely. I don’t agree with much of what Mrs May is doing politically, and she is being hamstrung by a party that is riven by those with their own leadership ambitions, others who believe she is too liberal and others who believe she is too right wing. It’s not an easy job.

But here, knowing that in all likelihood she would be ridiculed for it, Mrs May took the courageous step to respond to her hosts and to dance as part of the welcome she received. Well done Mrs May. It would have been easy to stand still and applaud politely in true British fashion but she entered into the spirit of things and in doing so made a strong statement that she was willing to risk her reputation in order to honour her hosts. Good on her.

I also wonder how many of those who are now mocking Mrs May would have had the courage to do what she did? I am not sure I would. And how many of these people have somewhere got a poster, a sticker or a picture saying, “Dance like no-one is watching”? How do we dance when someone is?

Be blessed, be a blessing

playground politics

Picture of Childrens Playground - Free Pictures - FreeFoto.com

A long time ago I upset our local MP by posting a bloggage that revealed how he had voted against a motion that highlighted the issue of the growth in demand for foodbanks. You can see it here if you want, and it led to a lengthy correspondence with him (he was still unhappy at the end of it). But it was an unusual occurrence because although I consider myself to be a political person and have strong opinions about many issues, I don’t tend to post them here. But it may be time to upset some more politicians…

And it’s because of playground politics.

I would like to think that those who enter politics do so in order to serve the country. I would like to think that those who enter politics do so particularly to care for those who are weakest and most vulnerable in our society. I would like to think that those who seek office do so in order to make a positive difference. And I am sure that if you asked any politician whether this is the case they would respond positively (or if not they would evade the question by answering a different one they would rather have been asked).

But increasingly to me it appears as if many politicians are acting in the interests of their party rather than the interests of the country, and some are even acting in the interests of their own political ambitions above even the interests of their party! How can that serve the interests of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised?

There are all sorts of allegations being made about lies and broken promises by each of our political parties and by the different sides of the EU referendum but the level of disingenuous rhetoric that I perceive is greater today than at any other time. One of the most obvious examples is the £350million for the NHS promised on the side of the notorious bus was an outright lie and nobody now is making that promise. It really bothers me that some of the leading Brexit politicians in this country are busy squirreling their wealth overseas while telling us that there’s nothing to worry about.

But what really bothers me is when politicians (in the UK and USA) label opposing views with a blanket phrase that allegedly discounts them immediately without engaging in the issues being raised. So in this country any criticism of the Brexit plans (or lack thereof) is labelled ‘Project Fear’ and by doing so the criticisms can be ignored in one fell swoop. In the USA criticisms are labelled ‘Fake News’ in the same way. And people believe this because they trust the politicians. If we let our politicians get away with this we may not be surprised if we eventually find that they have removed any sense of personal or corporate accountability for their actions.

It feels like the playground when a child’s taunt would receive responses like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue: whatever you say you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Or the annoying constant retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

So what can we do?

Write to your MP when there’s an issue that concerns you. You can send them an email through https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/ They are obliged to write back. And if the answer is unsatisfactory, write again. You can use the same process to write directly to the Prime Minister or any other politician (email addresses are firstname.surname.mp@parliament.uk).

Join campaigning groups.

Join with others who want to make a difference to their community in groups such as Citizens UK

Join with your local church who will (hopefully) be working to make a positive difference to some of those on the margins of our society.

And just maybe we can leave the playground and return to the nobler purpose of politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

post-truth?

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The word ‘post-truth’ has been declared the Oxford Dictionaries word of 2016. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It emerged this year to try to describe the way in which the UK Referendum on EU Membership and the US Presidential election were conducted and how people voted.

I am not keen on the word. It’s not because I don’t think that both the UK and US campaigns were marked by misleading, emotive and undeniably false claims and statements aimed and getting an emotional response and appealing to less honourable human instincts. It’s not because I don’t think that people were unaffected by these claims and statements. It’s because I don’t think that ‘post-truth’ is the root of the problem.

People have always responded to others with a combination of heart and head. And that has always been exploited from the time that Thag persuaded Ug (remember them from yesterday?) to come hunting with him with the promise of a full tummy at the end of it right through to advertising campaigns and political debates today. What I think has changed is that those who are seeking to affect public opinion are no longer being held accountable for what they say.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with us, the general public. We have allowed things to slide: by not challenging disingenuous statements in the past an environment has evolved in which it is acceptable knowingly to make outrageously false statements and get away with it.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with the media – television, TV, radio. They need headlines that grab our attention. Why else do newspapers devote so much of their front page to a few words in massive print? Why else to news programmes trail the rest of the programme with sentence summaries of what is coming? And the more outrageous the headline, the more likely we are to pay attention to it. Why else did a bus get driven around the country with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” plastered down the side? It got a lot of publicity because it was considered headline-worthy, even though those who were funding it had no intention or power to use any saving from leaving the EU to fund the NHS.

Part of the responsibility (and I think the biggest part) lies with our culture in which ‘the end justifies the means’ has become one of our mantras.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to buy the goods we want for the cheapest possible price because we want to maximise what we have while ignoring the price paid (literally and metaphorically) by those who are the sharp end of the production process.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to tell lies about someone else in order to protect or enhance our reputation without considering the impact on the other person.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to feel okay about polluting our planet in order to allow the rich minority in the world to continue to live in the manner to which we are accustomed.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to salve our consciences when innocent civilians are killed by ill-directed bombs or drone strikes in the so-called war on terror.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to make false statements in order to try to get elected or the outcome we want from a referendum.

I don’t like to think we are in a post-truth era. I think we are in an era where we are reaping a harvest from a lack of love. Not mushy romantic love or sweaty sexual love, but dogged, belligerent, ‘want-the-best-for-you’ love in which we value every single person has as much as we value ourselves.

You see, when you love someone like that you don’t want to deceive, dishonour or destroy them because they matter so much. Rather you want to respect, encourage and bless them with the way that you speak to them and treat them. You are not indifferent to their suffering, anguish or despair. Rather you want to alleviate suffering, comfort and affirm them.

Perhaps we are not in a ‘post-truth’ society so much as a ‘post-love’. What would a political campaign look like that was based on that sort of love? What would a life look like that was based on that sort of love? (Hint, if you want to know read one of the Gospels in the Bible).

Be blessed, be a blessing

signet rings*

 

Last Sunday I had the unusual experience of hearing a sermon preached from Haggai. BIG points to any of you who have ever preached from Haggai, bonus points if you can find it without having to rummage through the Minor Prophets!

It’s a fascinating little book that dovetails particularly with Ezra and the rebuilding work following the return from Exile under Nehemiah. The preacher based his sermon on two phrases in Chapter 2 verse 4: “Be strong… and work. For I am with you.” There’s a lot in that alone, but later on I read the whole of the book and was fascinated by God’s promise to Zerubbabel (governor of Judah) that God “will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” (Haggai 2:23) That’s an unusual phrase, isn’t it?

I wonder how Zerubbabel felt when Haggai delivered those words to him from God. Was he hoping for something a bit more dynamic, a bit more impressive or a bit more visible? I turned to my three commentaries on Haggai (yes, three! (although they are all collections of Minor Prophets)) and discovered that Zerubbabel was not only the bounciest man in the Bible but was a grandson of King Jehoiachin, so therefore was part of the royal line of David. In Jeremiah 22:24 God had described Jehoiachin as being like his signet ring that he was going to take off and fling away (into Babylon) because of his sin. Now God is ready to put his signet ring back on, having retrieved it from down the back of the sofa of the Exile. To take the language of Habbakuk, in his wrath God had remembered mercy. And the line of David could continue through to Jesus.

A signet ring in those days was not a mere piece of jewellery. It signified the King. (Pharaoh put his signet ring on Joseph’s finger to give him his authority, for example). It was as important as a crown and was used to seal important documents to prove that the King endorsed them. God calls Zerubbabel his ‘Servant’ not ‘Governor’ in this prophecy, which is a messianic description too. However we don’t hear much more about Zerubbabel after this moment, except that he appears in Jesus’ family tree (Luke 3:27).

sealedSo what do we make of all this? Is it just interesting historical analysis? Is it merely fascinating Biblical cross-referencing? I think it’s so much more than that:

  • it’s a reaffirmation that God is still King of kings (which is why he wanted them to get on and finish the Temple rebuilding (see earlier in Haggai)) even though his kings had let him down;
  • it’s a reminder that God is the thread of continuity in history (despite the bleak present God will still be King in the future);
  • and it’s a reminder that God works through people (including political leaders). He spoke through Haggai and he planned to restore the monarchy through Zerubbabel (ensuring Jesus’ royal lineage). As God’s signet ring Zerubbabel would be God’s seal of endorsement on his activity. He would be his proxy.

These thoughts spoke to me in our current circumstances in the UK – where there is turmoil and a need for a reconstruction of society. We need to ensure that God’s visible presence (which is what the Temple was, and we now are) stands strong and proclaims that he is still King of kings. And we should remember that God fulfils his purposes through people – those in low positions and those in authority too. He longs for us all to be his servants and to use us to be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer that “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps we might even dare to consider that as co-heirs with Christ we too are signet rings – signs of God’s rule and authority, and his proxy in his world.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*this was first sent out as a ‘thought for the week’ sent to Baptist Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association

breakfast with a politician

I have written three times recently to my local MP (about different aspects and issues relating to Migrants,  the Jungle Camp clearance in Calais, and votes in Parliament). To his credit he has written back twice (the third one was only this last weekend so it’s a bit too soon to expect a reply). But his replies were immensely frustrating because rather than answering questions I asked and responding to points I made, he wrote about things he and the Government are doing which did not address those issues directly. He left me frustrated and annoyed that he had ignored the key points but probably felt that he had answered me. There is a difference between an answer and a response!

It got me wondering about what life is like in a politician’s house (at the risk of generalising about politicians). It’s breakfast time at the Politician’s house…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAPolitician’s Spouse (PS): Darling, please will you take out the rubbish bin?

Politician (P): I am glad you asked me. Did you know that I have taken out the rubbish bin every week for the past three months? And did you know that the Council has not failed to empty it on any of those occasions?

PS: Thank you dear, but please will you take it out today?

P: I have plans to take the rubbish bin out every week from now on. The future rubbish-taking-out needs of the household are in safe hands.

PS: But it needs taking out now.

P: Thank you for bringing this to my attention. As a household we have significantly reduced the amount of refuse to be collected since we started recycling.

PS: I will ask you a simple question and want a simple answer. Are you going to take the rubbish bin out?

P: That’s an important question. But a more important question is to ask whether our neighbours have taken their rubbish bins out – my actions on their own won’t make any difference.

PS: I can hear the refuse collection lorry coming. Just take the bin out now!

P: Do you realise that if I had not taken the rubbish bin out in the past we would have a big mound of rubbish in our back garden that would constitute a health hazard. My actions have prevented that.

PS: [screams in exasperation] YOU’RE TOO LATE!

P: I don’t see why you are so upset with me. The rubbish is everyone’s responsibility, not just mine.

Why is it that some politicians seem to have developed the ability to answer the question that they wanted to be asked rather than answer the one that has been asked? Reflecting on this I realised that Jesus sometimes did the same thing. He might be asked a question and instead of giving a straight answer he would respond with a question or a story. Was he being as evasive as some politicians?

The difference is that when Jesus responded he was seeking to reveal the truth – the true (and sneaky) motive behind the question, or the reality of how God sees things and open people up to the possibility of positive change. Politicians when evading questions are seeking to obscure truth, avoid the awkward questions and close down any possibility of changing their mind or policies.

It’s a shame because, as Jesus said, “The Truth will set you free…”

Be blessed, be a blessing