As the Labour leadership ballots arrive this week, Momentum is still managing to steer the holed Labour Party back onto the rocks. Sir Keir Starmer features in this dreary saga like a dragging anchor. Tony Blair is right that root and branch change is needed. Starmer probably agrees. But despite demonstrable survival and strategic skills, and consistently side-stepping the worst excesses of Corbynism, he can’t yet safely speak of repositioning the Labour Party.
Political commentary now reads like political psychoanalysis. What has got into the mind of, and remains entrenched in, a Party that once won three consecutive general elections? Had the anointed one, Rebecca Long-Bailey, no choice but to assume the role of Corbyn continuity candidate embracing abject failure and political self-harm? If elected will Starmer be able to beat Johnson while engaged, one arm tied behind his back, in a struggle to return the Party to winning ways?
One theory is that socialist secularism has much in common with religious thinking. A residue of religious virtue seems to have jumped ship from the Churches to the Labour Party. Not the already acknowledged Methodist variety but signs of something more Catholic. Sixty years ago traditional Catholic schools taught that an action could be good in itself; what made a good act good was that it was pleasing to God. It didn’t have to have an outcome, ending homelessness, bringing about equality, ending discrimination. Eating your hated cabbage in a school dinner, renouncing yourself by performing ‘cabbage Acts’, did not help starving babies - who stood like a reproachful African chorus on the moral high ground. But the self-denial was pleasing to God. Similarly, many Labour members refuse to recognise that political actions must be effective; standing for Socialism is good in itself and a precious part of a virtuous identity.
The idealistic young, and old, who saw Corbyn as a secular Guide to the Promised Land and Socialism as a redemptive power were often uninterested in how to achieve effective outcomes from good policies. The policies themselves were the outcome, the more the merrier, virtue piled on virtue, bracing brassicas adding to the health and self-confidence of the Party. The recently coined phrase ‘virtue signalling’ – pejoratively and often unfairly - acknowledges an aspect of this emergent reality, but the phrase misses Labour Party members’ refusal to accept that politics demands a particular cluster of skills. Denouncing all and sundry is not a substitute for the absence of these skills. If it is to have an impact on Society, contemporary politics has to be about good outcomes, effective implementation of policies, and, of course, convincing the public they want your Party to form a government. Good words, pledges and good actions, however pleasing to Socialist values, do not cut it, and the public knows it.
Rebecca Long-Bailey is still narrowly Starmer’s chief rival for the Labour leadership, though massive constituency support for Starmer suggests that the current influence of Momentum in the Party may be less than usually perceived. Her position on equality and discrimination is more than virtue-signalling to Socialism. But take her recent stance on the counter-terrorism PREVENT programme. Last week speaking at the Kensington al-Manaar Mosque Rebecca Long-Bailey rubbished the PREVENT programme on grounds of discrimination. This put her in the company of - some - Muslim communities, the N.U.T and UNITE.
Here her weaknesses and that of her backers were evident. Evidence-based policy making does not get a look-in. The government’s counter-terrorism strategy was “clearly failing”, she said. PREVENT alienated “Muslim communities”, “set back our freedoms” and had “not made us safer”. She wanted it scrapped and something new, but vague, to come out of a consultative process which would include Muslim leaders. Any facts explaining this blanket denunciation did not seem important.
For a start there are now more Right-Wing extremists admitted to the key Channel de-radicalisation part of PREVENT than Islamists. Nor is there any sense of a balanced assessment of the magnitude of the terrorist threat: according to Intelligence chiefs some 3,000 people “of interest” are being monitored and 800 live investigations going on. At least 24 planned attacks have been thwarted since the killing on Westminster Bridge in March 2017. Surveillance is massively labour intensive.
Prevention can only achieve so much. At the end of 2019, the annual number of referrals to PREVENT dropped to 5,738, their lowest since statistics were collected in 2016, but with the highest number yet deemed in need mentoring, 254 for Right-Wing extremism, 210 for Islamist extremism, participating in the Channel mentoring programme. Many others are given local authority support of one sort or another. About a third of referrals arose in the education sector, a third from the police, after reporting safeguarding concerns related to terrorism under the 2015 Statutory Duty provisions; they were mostly males, and mostly under twenty.
Labour Party policy is only to review PREVENT. Government has a statutory obligation to produce a review by August 2020. Statistics do not stand up Long-Bailey’s claims nor justify her intention to scrap a programme that is currently being improved. They might just as well be used to claim discrimination against the white working class of the West Midlands and North-West England, the main regions troubled with the right-wing extremism reported to the programme.
The Labour Party set up a PREVENT programme in 2003 as part of a broader counter-terrorism strategy. Not enough subsequent effort went into explaining the programme to teachers and gaining support from Muslim communities – which incidentally are far from united in their ‘alienation’. Its past flaws have been widely publicised. But the way forward is to improve understanding and community buy-in and the quality of support and de-radicalisation mentoring undertaken. Instead the loudest voices are heeded and PREVENT is added to the usual Momentum refrain that nothing good could possibly have come out of the Labour Party pre-Corbyn. Historical humility is not their strongest point.
Labour Party members should heed Tony Blair’s recent intervention as have the general public. Weber and Troeltsch made a useful distinction between a Church and a Sect. It can be applied profitably to the choice facing the Labour Party.
See also TheArticle 26/02/2020
“Viewers may find some images distressing”. Whether Idlib, Yemen, Afghanistan or Libya, journalists will probably have risked their lives to film what follows. Why forewarn us that we may be distressed by reports of terrible human suffering? No such warning that an episode of Love Island may be depressing. Or a clip of the Johnson Cabinet laughable. Must we always be protected from distress?
Perhaps our patrician TV protectors mean “viewers ought to be distressed by the following images, but we understand you will be getting up to make tea, or may even switch channels”. A foreign correspondent says to camera “this is the worst humanitarian crisis I have ever encountered”, but then we move smoothly on to the next – domestic - news item.
The horror of war is brought into our sitting rooms with stunning immediacy, often via mobile phones in the shaking hands of the victims themselves, unlike newspaper reports of former times - and so should be more influential. Apparently not so. The Battle of Solferino (1859) left 23,000 dying or wounded untended on the battlefield. Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman and activist, saw the pain and carnage and was duly distressed. Out of his distress came the Red Cross and, in the 1860s, the first Geneva Conventions limiting the barbarity of war. Recent images from Idlib Province in Syria and Yemen result in no such comparable reaction, and these show civilians dying.
Professional foreign correspondents struggle to engage us because you can’t imagine refugees fleeing in their millions, nations where most of the population are malnourished or dying of starvation because of war. So they focus on particular families or individuals and their travails. We watch towns bombed to rubble around them while snipers and drones target them as they flee. Yet our fleeting empathy leads nowhere.
The sheer numbers of refugees are unimaginable. There are 3.66 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey, a third in camps near the border. 1.8 million are in Jordan. The 1.5 million Syrians who fled to Lebanon live amongst a Lebanese population of only 5.9 million. Hundreds of thousands of children would be without a future without State and NGO attempts to provide education. CARITAS Lebanon, for example, provides after-school schooling for both Lebanese children at risk of dropping out of the overwhelmed State schools and for Syrian refugees.
Since Assad’s December Idlib offensive, some 900,000 people have fled north towards the sealed Turkish border. Besides the external agencies trying to meet this prodigious humanitarian challenge, the resilience and coping mechanisms of local actors are extraordinary. But humanitarian efforts are fast being overwhelmed.
And yet Syria and Yemen remain distant countries with little in common with the UK. Yemen is a semi-desert and desert land, desperately poor before the Saudis and Houthis made it a war zone. Over three quarters of the country’s vital food imports pass through one contested port, Hodeidah, alongside arms for the Houthi rebels whom the Saudis, and United Arab Emirates (UAE), hope to interdict and defeat. Over five million children, and 80% of the population, who depend on these food supplies face starvation. UNICEF is struggling to get food aid into the country, despite increasing obstacles erected by both sides, and the UN has warned of “the world’s worst humanitarian disaster”.
My memory of the people and the land is still vivid. As a visiting CEO of a development agency, I spent time in a remote village high in the beautiful Raymah mountains where we were training midwives. These mountains may be unique; the higher you climb the noisier it gets. The poverty is as striking as the beauty.
You meet shepherds herding their flocks, climbing at a punishing rate, or skipping downwards irrespective of age, men and donkeys carrying impossible loads and incongruous items, a television set, a Kalashnikov, two big status symbols. You mount via uneven steps, passing narrow terraces where food crops and qat are grown. At the top there is the buzz of human voices: houses, villages, dirt roads, beat-up cars. You don’t climb mountains in Yemen seeking solitude.
Has the inaccessibility of the Raymah mountains protected people from the worst ravages of war? I don’t know. Idlib in Syria, the final sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing war, certainly hasn’t. In Idlib refugees are the targets of the Assad regime’s barbarism supported by Russia. The evidence of the deliberate targeting of hospitals, ambulances and schools, innocent civilians or ‘white helmets’ tending the wounded, is overwhelming. Barrel bombs fall on markets and areas of high population density. As drones pick off individuals, a new high-tech chapter in man’s inhumanity has opened up. We have come a long way from Solferino where soldiers bore the brunt of war. Now it is the civilian populations whose agony is reported.
The Geneva Conventions built on a tradition of ethics. Christianity and Islam both developed a theory of just war from a shared set of mediaeval principles. Many pages in Sharia Law dwell on what is not permissible in jihad, most notably the killing of innocents and non-combatants. Similar constraints on targeting, inherited from the Christian past, are part of an ethical code taught and generally implemented by British Forces. But, lest we claim some inherent sense of superiority, last week was the 75th anniversary of the indiscriminate, and unnecessary, bombing of Dresden, in which an estimated 24,000 Germans died.
A concerted international effort is needed to re-establish the laws of war, rebuild compliance with international conventions, and end complicity with their systematic undermining. It will be no easy matter. Diplomatic or commercial reasons for ignoring the increasing destruction of international order can always be found. It is time we - and complicit heads of state - began to “find some images distressing” and acted decisively upon our distress. As the head of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, said in Davos: “Welcome to the Age of Impunity”.
See TheArticle 20/02/20
Fierce debates about Catholicism’s place in public life invariably omit the positive contribution that Catholic social teaching could make to our politics. Discussion gets stuck – understandably but with much sound and fury - on contemporary issues, the beginning and end of life and sexuality, a minefield for politicians. But the Catholic tradition is wider and richer than that. And, after a period when the content of politics was reduced to Leave or Remain, could Catholicism provide ideas about the kind of society we might wish to live in?
Catholic social teaching developed in the 19th century in response to the condition of the European working class, revolutionary threats, the rise of Marxist analysis, and the emergence of Communist Parties and trades unions. In his 1839 pamphlet On Modern Slavery, the French Abbé, Félicité de Lamennais highlighted the damaging dependence of what he called ‘the proletariat’ on Capital. Whilst the young Marx was studying the history of philosophy, a Catholic priest was already placing the ‘proletariat’ politically centre-stage.
In June 1869, the Bavarian Bishop Wilhelm von Ketteler preaching at a pilgrimage chapel in Hesse to 10,000 workers, denounced “anti-christian liberalism” and advocated worker associations on the model of British trades unions. His sermon was part of his committed engagement with social democracy and contemporary political debates. Ketteler anticipated the key themes of later Vatican social pronouncements: he introduced the term ‘subsidiarity’ - meaning that central government should only do that which local government was unable to do effectively.
A line can be drawn from Lamennais’ passionate tracts, through Ketteler, to Pope Leo XIII. The Pope’s Rerum Novarum (Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour) published in 1891, was the first of a series of papal encyclicals, a self-consciously organic tradition leading to today and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si on the threat of climate change. In the 1880s Cardinal Henry Manning, concerned about the Irish migrants living rough around the Liverpool docks, was a further influence. Manning openly sympathized with striking dockers and mediated between unions and employers in the 1889 Dock Strike. The foundations of a living teaching tradition, open to development in new and different socio-economic contexts, were laid in the 19th. century.
Fast-forward to the 1960s and an inter-governmental conference on trade and development held in Geneva in 1964. Two speakers received a standing ovation. One was Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Argentinian hero of the Cuban Revolution. The other was Louis-Joseph Lebret, a Dominican priest from St. Malo where he experienced the poverty and struggles of the small Breton fishing community.
The conference established a new UN agency, UNCTAD. Lebret helped Pope Paul VI write his farsighted 1967 encyclical on trade and development, Populorum Progressio, the Progress of Peoples. Benefitting from the prestige of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Catholicism was again engaging authoritatively with contemporary problems and politics. Over 55 years later Populorum Progressio stands the test of time.
Ferment in Catholic thinking about poverty jumped from Europe to the developing world, notably Latin America where social movements were reacting to the brutality of military dictatorships and oligarchies supported by the CIA. From this revolutionary crucible came renewed interest in the Bible, with its themes of justice, and the birth of Liberation Theology.
Several core social principles from Latin America were cautiously adopted by Pope John Paul II, always suspicious of the bureaucratic communism he experienced in Poland. That seeking justice was fundamental to the Church’s mandate to evangelize just as much as charity, that solidarity with the poor was a central Christian virtue, that the poor should ‘make their own history’, rather than be its collateral damage, were ideas which entered the bloodstream of the global Church. Implementing these ideas in practical action and policies in Europe proved difficult.
The Catholic Church has been engaged in a long-running political conversation with socialism for over 175 years, at a Vatican level for 150 years. In 1990 when I talked with Gorbachev’s religious advisers as the Soviet Union was crumbling, they were acutely aware of the coming vacuum. “Our communist ethics are dead”, they bemoaned, “Christianity will have to provide the moral cement for society”. They had not foreseen the future role of the - State - Russian Orthodox Church.
Today some Chinese universities are very interested in the political ideas of the 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas, ideas he inherited from Aristotle. Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae, his teaching manual, devoted many pages to justice. Thomism seemed to map out a possible path to the harmonious society.
Catholic social teaching promotes several priorities: first to uphold the value of work, vocational labour, and worker rights, sometimes honoured in the breach, other times, in dramatic interventions, such as Solidarność in Poland; second, a critical distinction between “productive” and “savage” Capitalism. In short, the priority of human dignity, the Common Good, People over Profit. Too bad if Britain finds this politically uncomfortable.
Such general prescriptions and axioms, human dignity, the common good, social justice, require down-to-earth detailed policy implementation to take on socio-economic life. The political theorist, Professor Maurice Glasman, claims post-war Germany took this path: subsidiarity reflected in federalism with considerable devolution to the Länder, and in regional and local banks; non-conflictual industrial structures embodying co-partnership between employers and workers (Mitbestimmung); more recently, reflecting Catholic concern for migrants, the appointment of city integration commissioners for immigrant communities. Britain went its own way.
One caveat: Catholic Social Teaching is not a holistic get-yourself-out-of-moral-bankruptcy card when playing Monopoly Capitalism. As post-war Germany illustrates, it can give direction to society and economics. General de Gaulle tried to adopt a policy of ‘association’ and then ‘participation’ for workers in industrial management but failed. Britain’s economy, skewed heavily towards finance capital, and stuck after Empire with the dominance of the City of London, has barely tried.
This socio-economic vision which Catholicism proposes informed the early days of the European Union whose founding fathers were disproportionately Catholic. Whether they like it or not, British Catholics are part of this story. Not an ideal identity for drawing a needy audience to Catholic social thinking in a secular Britain, officially Protestant, having rejected membership of the European Union.
See TheArticle 14/02/2020
Explaining the Trump-Netanyahu ‘Peace-to-Prosperity’ plan last week, the White House made a revealing point: past failure to recognise political reality distorts contemporary perceptions. Hence the call for everyone to wake up and acknowledge the real state of affairs in Israel-Palestine. Or, more succinctly, to agree Might is Right. What seemed surreal in this travesty of a peace plan was simply ‘the new real’ of Realpolitik.
We inhabit a global landscape in which considerations of morality or international order are being discarded as utopian visions. The flagrant disregard of the rights of Palestinians to genuine self-determination, to anything resembling normal statehood, the legalising and entrenchment of Israeli contempt for UN Resolutions and international law, are today barely considered worthy of comment by Western governments, let alone robustly denounced. Have we become inured to injustice, terrified of the charge of anti-Semitism, guilty bystanders, watching the values shoring up the infrastructure of our international order daily eroded?
Not so the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, a body including the region’s Roman Catholic bishops and patriarchs of the ancient Christian Rites in communion with Rome. Their reaction to the plan was straightforward. “It does not give dignity and rights to the Palestinians. It is to be considered a unilateral initiative, since it endorses almost all the demands of one side, the Israeli one, and its political agenda. On the other hand, this plan does not really take into considerations the just demands of the Palestinian people for their homeland, their rights and dignified life”. They foresaw the consequences no less clearly: “The plan will bring no solution but rather will create more tensions and probably more violence and bloodshed”. That is the truth of Might is Right.
Trump doubtless learnt at his father’s feet that Might, understood as money plus power, is Right. And when it comes to the Palestinians, “losers” in his vocabulary, Trump the Peacemaker presents it as “the deal of the century”. Of course the mature political Trump would also be hearing the voice of a core element of his voter base: 81% of US Evangelicals who support him, many of whom espouse Christian Zionism, the belief that the State of Israel is the fulfilment of biblical prophecies, and, for some, the sign of the End Times. A much smaller percentage of American Jewish voters support Trump’s current policy and are uncritical of Israel’s human rights record.
Trump’s motivations are complex. But he thinks like a politician who knows from experience how important big blocs of ethnic and religious votes can be in winning the next Presidential election. He may even have hopes of a Nobel Peace Prize. That Obama got there first will rankle with him.
The Trump-Netanyahu double-act in Washington on 28 January was a chilling performance. Netanyahu gloating and thundering that the USA not only rejected the illegality of Israeli settlements in contravention of UN resolutions, but that the legality of his “facts on the ground” were now recognised in a formal peace plan.
The Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday rejected the plan; it did “not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people”. In the words of B’Tselem, the Jerusalem and Washington-based Human Rights Group, Palestine was to be reduced to the structure of a Swiss cheese: “the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”. The annexations would become permanent features enabling the total encirclement of 15 Palestinian enclaves by the exclusive Jewish Religious/Ethnic State and its military. Job done for Netanyahu.
Peace, it is often said, is in everyone’s interests. But peace in this ‘peace plan’ means that the Palestinians, in exchange for a promise of a large cash injection, would have to accept greater fragmentation of their territory than the Bantustans of former apartheid South Africa It is well known to most peace negotiators that offering money, $50 billion apparently on the table, in exchange for compromising core religious values, in this case the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome on the Rock, and Jerusalem itself – not some grubby suburb - as the Palestinian capital, will be regarded as a profound insult. People’s religious values are not for sale. Far from this being a peace plan, it is a knock-out blow to future dialogue, and most likely the beginning of a prolonged insurgency in the fashion of South Africa from the 1960s to 1990s, resulting in a single rather than a two-state ‘solution’ as the outcome.
Sometimes an event sharpens our perception of a whole period. It is a truism that domestic politics are always a dimension of foreign policy decisions. Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement in the 1930s was a direct response to British public opinion as much as an expression of British government concern for international order. But it is rare for a major piece of foreign/international policy to be entirely for domestic consumption in the manner of this Trumpian ‘peace-to-prosperity plan’. This does not stop it doing irreparable damage to future peace processes in the region. As the Catholic bishops wrote, to ignore the human dignity and the rights of the Palestinian people is not a peace plan but a recipe for growing violence.
See also TheArticle 05/02/20
“Contingency is the characteristic of what might not have been or could have been different” Emile Boutroux*
The biggest constitutional change in recent British history is upon us on 31 January, but the question “Cui Bono?” remains unanswered. Who actually gains from BREXIT? In the wealth of commentary and advocacy since 2016, there has never been a clear answer.
The consensus amongst reputable economists is that removing ourselves from the huge market provided by the EU has a multitude of negative consequences for our manufacturing, agricultural, fishing and financial sectors meaning significant GDP losses over the next few years measured in ten of billions Sterling. Already the big corporates and banks are opening up or looking at office space in Frankfurt, Dublin and Paris. Farmers are being offered compensatory payments, assured only for five years. Severed supply chains mean intense pressures on future production, most obviously in the car and chemical industries. Sajid Javaid’s announcement that Britain has every intention of diverging from EU regulations and standards should come as no surprise. What would be the point of leaving the Customs Union were this not the case? Whatever our Little England Chancellor says, car makers and other manufacturers must now plough their own furrow, and comply with European regulations if they wish to sell without losses into the European market.
A trade deal with the USA is dangled as the great prize from BREXIT. But trade experts, and common sense, indicate that any UK trade deal with the USA, given the gross disparity of power between the negotiating partners, will be predominantly in the US interests. We may have to accept future higher rates of food poisoning or drug prices, or other negative consequences, if any deal is to emerge in the short time available before our proclaimed – idiotic – deadline. And do we expect that other economically powerful countries such as India and China are going to agree terms with an isolated Britain better than those we already enjoyed as a member of a 27 country trading bloc?
Will Hutton, a notable and eloquent economist, described BREXIT in The Observer as taking Britain further into a “vortex of decline”. The decline is not only economic but also in our capacity to “punch above our weight” in international affairs. Torn between kowtowing to Mr. Trump and sharing an effective, peaceful policy towards Iran with our European allies, we adopt a fanciful role - as mediator - a pattern set to persist during UK-USA trade negotiations. Given the likelihood of a second term for Trump now the Democrats have cornered themselves in impeachment proceedings, so easily flipped by a Republican Senate into a Trump triumph appealing to his political base, do we really want to tie our wagon to this meandering US wagon-train? And we will have lost all influence over the future policy directions of the EU.
Meanwhile back home BREXIT will, and already has, opened up a Pandora’s box of destabilising rival nationalisms within our four nation-state. The SNP push for a second referendum on independence mishandled could result in Catalan levels of disruption. Ulster Unionism and Irish nationalism retain considerable potential for renewed violence generated by both material issues of border checks and their psychological impact on the different communities. Years of uncertainty lie ahead with little sign of future benefit.
So no winners so far except perhaps Mr. Putin who at little cost to Russia damaged both the UK and a EU. And certainly not the EU itself which openly laments Britain’s departure.
But couldn’t it be argued that democracy is the winner? Don’t “the people”, or at least the 52% of them who voted Leave, handed responsibility for the UK’s future in 2016, finally win? If you believe that a divided and damaged country is worth the price of honouring a narrow popular vote, partly influenced by systematic misinformation, thus weakening representative parliamentary democracy, yes.
There are some notable beneficiaries from Britain leaving the EU. A number of small to tiny blocs of elected parliamentarians and individuals, the ERG and the DUP, Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson drove the country to this point in the absence of an effective Opposition. The latter have in common that they represent the emergent global phenomenon of the Entertainer-Trickster politician. While we are laughing they are – Bolshevik fashion – riding the accidents of history and directing rising public anger and hatred of the Establishment - which they magically manage to dissociate themselves from - for their own personal advantage. The ERG and DUP simply got lucky on the electoral arithmetic and were able to swing government in their direction and lever advantage with a handful of votes, at least for a while. This does not correspond to any palatable idea of what a democratic culture looks like. A gain for democracy? I don’t think so.
Are the Entertainer-Trickster politicians witting and unwitting agents of transnational capital as Will Hutton suggests? So the only winner becomes transnational capital? Well maybe. But we should be suspicious of proposing abstract nouns as historical causes particularly of something as bizarre as national self-harm. It seems much more, as Harold Macmillan probably didn’t say, a matter of “events, dear boy, events”. In other words accidents and contingency: an arrogant Etonian believing he had the 2016 referendum in the bag, coinciding with the other Party leader, a hangover from the 1970s, who believed in belonging to a Socialist States of Europe rather than the EU, as a pamphlet at that time proclaimed. Then his Etonian nemesis, Mr. Johnson, at the 11th hour gambling correctly on Leave winning, espousing the cause that furthered his leadership ambitions. Alexander Hamilton’s question is pertinent: whether human societies can establish “good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”
Does anyone win from BREXIT? Except for a few, for example, currency speculators, investors in the tax-avoiding, data-hoarding IT companies, in other transnational enterprises, and in arms sales, nobody wins. So there we are. We just have to get on with it and take the self-inflicted punishment. No requiem for REMAIN. But fortunately, thanks to Harry and Megan, we have more important things to worry about.
*Quoted in Charles de Gaulle’s personal notebooks, taken from Julian Jackson A Certain Idea of France Penguin 2018
See also "Remain Lost but who Won? TheArticle 30/101/20
President General Abdul Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt arrives in Britain today for the UK-Africa Investment Summit. In 2019 Egyptians voted in a referendum for an amendment to the 2014 new constitution enabling him to stay in power until 2030. Safeguards for religious minorities, notably Coptic Christians (10% of the population, the largest Christian community in the Middle East) remain, but discrimination against them continues while sectarian attacks go unpunished.
The Egyptian Arab Spring deposed the dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Then there was a brief period, 2012-2013, when Muhammad Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, became President after winning Egypt’s first free and fair democratic elections as leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), formed on 21 February 2011. It was an important moment for Islamic democracy with which Christians with a tradition of Christian Democracy might find some sympathy.
For a brief while a modus vivendi prevailed between Morsi and key elements in the military. Then the military detained and charged him with terrorism. He later died of a heart attack in court during his trial. The Muslim Brotherhood which formed his Party was declared a terrorist organisation. Most of its first tier leadership were imprisoned, others went into exile. Many members have been killed or arrested and charged in Military and State Security Courts. In protests against the military take-over in August 2013 Human Rights Watch believe up to 1,000 protesters in two of Cairo’s main squares were killed in one day by Egyptian security forces and innumerable others wounded.
To all intents and purposes, for the last decade military power has prevailed whether overtly, or covertly. Or put in another way the elected Muslim Brotherhood never achieved full control of the state.
Beneath the stereotype of a conflict between a monolithic, unchanging “political Islam” and Western secular democracy lies a variety of different dynamics. The complexity of this Islamic story has been quickly lost as different interlocutors shoe-horn it into their narratives.
Religious experience is interpreted in different kinds of narrative. The experience of pious Muslim Brothers in Egypt is no exception. But there are some general lessons to be drawn. Fruitful, positive, development within religious traditions comes from an experience of encounter and dialogue. Most of the key leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood never experienced genuine dialogue; they were locked up long before they tried to form a functioning government.
Without agreeing with them, the religious ideas in play within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood deserve a measure of respect and understanding. People of all faiths want to see their values inform, and transform, the societies in which they live. Wars and political upheavals have in the past accompanied this quest or, at least, generated it. Christian democracy in Europe, for example, came as a reaction to the dual totalitarianisms of Communism and National Socialism. It proved remarkably successful in Germany, significantly flawed in Italy. The nature and implementation of democratic politics has determined the contours and dynamics of the European Union, and Christian social and political thought has played a significant part in its origins.
Hope that the Arab Spring might also be a historic turning point, acting as mid-wife to political reforms and new forms of engagement with politics within Islam was dashed. For a time, a dialogue between a secular vision and a commitment to Islamic values in society seemed possible, as once Christian democrats imagined a future in a democratic post-war Europe. This neglected the different contexts in the Middle East and North Africa, out of which progressive change was expected to happen: polarised societies, social turmoil, revolutionary mobilisation and upheavals, sectarianism, military interventions, and the allure of religious extremism.
As a terrain of political activity, the state and civil society need to be considered together. Much of the discussion today amongst Muslims, as amongst Christians, works within this dual framework, considering appropriate ways of introducing a religiously motivated agenda about family life, social and economic justice, both nationally and internationally. People of faith behaving in – what might be deemed - a political way in civil society look different to a secular world from religious people seeking governance based on religious principles. Christian Democracy in Germany was religion-lite compared with the religious engagement of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Though both were attempts to bring a religious heritage and values into governance by democratic means.
Context and history matter. The Muslim Brotherhood inherited an authoritarian structure, and a leadership with closed ranks, after repeated periods of repression. Its social conservatives, inveterately cautious to ensure survival after periods in prison, had very limited experience of national government.
Authoritarian decision-making alienated most of its reformist leaders who found themselves marginalised. But, in terms of narrow electoral democracy, or at least the formation of a government representing majority opinion, the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood reflected popular views. Urban and rural poor were, in the main, comfortable with a patriarchal, socially conservative agenda in the name of Islam. According to an authoritative Pew Foundation survey, 85% of the population saw Islam as a positive force in politics. Within a year of Morsi’s winning 13.2 million votes, 51.7%, of the total, he was overthrown by the military with widespread popular support .
The gradualist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood proved to be neither a monolithic bloc forcing conservative Islamic values on an unwilling majority, nor an effective carrier of a new Islamic democracy modelled on Christian democracy. Unlike Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, it failed to confront a binary opposition between secular and religious worldviews by dialogue. It was several years from evolving into a modern political party with timely compromises and careful crafting of its public statements.
The abiding question was gradualism towards what? Above all it was impossible to know whether the commitment of individual leaders to democracy was merely tactical –- or represented a serious evolution in Islamic political thought. Most likely, irrespective of intentions, the former was planting the seeds of the latter.
Lumping the Muslim Brotherhood in a catch-all category “political Islam” that includes Da-esh and Al-Qaida – as often occurs - does not help analysis of its significance. Though internationally connected the Brotherhood differs from country to country. Its cruel fate in Egypt does not make General El-Sisi a welcome visitor.
The shock of Qasem Soleimani’s assassination has passed. The commentators have chewed it over in measured or apocalyptic tones. The remnants of his body have been buried. Even his death cost lives, those of the mourners crushed at his funeral. Iran duly fired missiles into two large American air-force bases in Iraq to honour the deceased; in the aftermath 176 lives were lost as Revolutionary Guards shot down a Ukrainian plane by mistake. What have we learned? What comes next?
On the American side, a diagnosis of the US President’s mental state, sociopathic narcissism, has gained in credibility. Nothing inconsistent with that in the last few weeks. Mr. Trump has a need to draw attention and adulation to himself from his adoring Republican base. Hence the drone-strike outside Baghdad. Hence the promise of war crimes avenging a litany of Iranian-backed killing, and those hostages taken by Iranian revolutionaries some forty years ago. Behold the great timeless Warrior-Defender fierce in anger. But, at the drop of a few Iranian missiles, the Great Defender turns into the Great Deal-Maker, the peace-seeking statesman flanked by rows of grim generals weighed down with medals and the need to look fierce and peaceable at the same time. And hence the bullying of an ally to comply with his misguided policy towards Iran and tear up international agreements. The wonders of the consistency of inconsistency as strategy. Can we expect a future call to Rouhani for a Geneva meeting?
On the Iranian side we have Ayatollah Khamenei’s variations on ‘Death to America’ alongside a diplomatic attempt by the Iranian Foreign Minister to draw a line under tit-for-tat acts of aggression. Despite the cruelty, theocracy and the theology of martyrdom of the Shi’a clerics who are in power, Iran’s policies have a cold rationality. The overwhelming military advantage of the USA was reflected in the calibrated and limited nature of Iranian military retaliation.
It would be a mistake to imagine that this limited response indicated cowardice or that Iran’s “stepping down”, as Mr. Trump called it, indicated defeat and abandonment of Soleimani’s foreign policy of defence by proxy-aggression. The vast acreage of war cemetery along the road from Tehran to Ayatollah Khomenei’s mausoleum, with their poignant photographs of the deceased, the terrible death toll of the Iran-Iraq war, tell a different story: a nationalism hardened by a history of foreign control and invasion into a dreadful level of human sacrifice. A Hujjat-ul-Islam sitting next to me at dinner in Tehran, breaking into a harsh, hacking cough, reminded me of how apt the comparison was between Northern Europe 1914-1918 and Iran 1980-1988. “I was gassed in the war”, he said in an offhand explanation. And the gas chemicals had come from Europe while support for Saddam Hussein had come from the USA.
Many Iranians will place Soleimani’s death within the Shi’a worldview in the religious context of martyrdom. Others wanting to see an end to the velayat-al-faqih, clerical rule (by legal experts), will place his assassination in the context of Iran’s history, a proud Persian culture and now a fervent, secular nationalism. For Soleimani was, after all, a hero of the Iran-Iraq war. Trump can speak of the American hostages taken in 1979. Iranians can speak of the UK and US-instigated 1953 coup that deprived Iran of democracy under Mossadegh, and the Shah’s torture chambers. History and Religion matter. Neither Trump’s strong points.
The country has effectively two – interacting - parallel governments with President Rouhani seeking negotiation and reform and the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards opposing any compromise. There are Iranian clerics, even in the throbbing heart of clerical Qom, who have come to see the adoption of political office as the poisonous root of corruption and want out of politics. The streets of Iran fill up intermittently with citizens who want freedom from the Puritanism, cruelty, human rights violations and foreign adventures of the clerical regime, only to be gunned down and imprisoned.
The path to reform is long and hard. US intervention under Trump, giving the Revolutionary Guards a martyr and national hero, thwarting the considerable achievements of the JPCOA nuclear negotiators and making Rouhani look like a naïve fool, undermining his government with devastating sanctions, have blocked this path for a long time to come. The great strategic thinker is gone. The strategy survives.
There are three ways things can go. Business as usual: continuing chaos in the Middle East with growing Iranian desperation at sanctions and a grim determination not to be one of the only military powers in its region that lack nuclear weapons. JPCOA was a deal reneged on by the US, not by Iran; it was essentially a matter of ‘we’ll end sanctions if you end the uranium enrichment required for nuclear warheads’. Trump was determined on personal vengeance to reverse anything Obama had achieved. Or there is preferred path of the Washington hawks, Netanyahu, and the US military-industrial interests who seek more and more pressure and provocations that risk triggering full-scale war. Or there is what Trump pledged and Iran wants: to get troops out of the Middle East’s wars, and Iran’s reformers to gain in prestige. Lets hope Trump’s narcissism is best served by being the Great-Deal Maker.
See TheArticle.com "Iran: What Next? 07/01/2020
Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Dan Jarvis, the three Labour mayors of London, Manchester and Sheffield are national figures. Why, as staunch members of an imploding Labour Party, supporters fleeing, opponents jeering, are they respected by a public with recognised contempt for politicians? The short answer is that the ‘Metro-Mayors’ – Jarvis the newcomer - to the best of their and their cabinets’ ability, improve the experience of big-city life. But they can only achieve what is possible within the limited budget given them by central government. No mean feat. London has 8.5 million people, Manchester 2.7 million and Sheffield City Region 1.4 million. And over the last decade their funding has been cut to the bone by government.
The more complex answer, as Vernon Bogdanor recently argued in TheArticle, is that they are accountable and can give voice to the people who directly elected them. They also embody and express pride in their cities, promote a positive urban identity, offer hope, and show dignity in a country that has made itself the laughing-stock of Europe. Of the ten city-regions of George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ eight have directly elected mayors (there are 23 in all in England). Mayors do make a difference. Take Hackney in the 1980s: filthy streets, council estates neglected, schools failing, parks and public places a mess. In 2002 Mayor Jules Pipe, was directly elected and slowly turned the borough round. It’s now a great place to live. It’s even fashionable – which is a growing problem as incomers drive up property prices.
Millennials grew up with much talking and legislating by national government about the role of local authorities: notably the Localism Act 2014, Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016, though it was reform of the Greater London Authority under Tony Blair in 2000 that brought plans for a Metro-Mayor of London, first considered by John Major, into reality. The London mayoralty gave us ‘Red Ken’ and, along with Have I got News for You, launched Boris Johnson into the political limelight dangling on a wire, buying water-cannons which couldn’t be used and those nostalgia-trip Route Master buses - but which stopped you jumping on and off - while pouring money into an eco-fantasy bridge over the Thames. It later emerged that he was also funding a pole-dancing entrepreneur who happened to be his girlfriend. But, to Johnson’s credit, and that of the cycling lobby, he continued to cycle and persevered with the provision of cycle lanes. From City Hall to Downing Street proved to be a short cycle ride.
If, as Bogdanor suggests, the focus of devolution should be local Councils, opportunities and threats open up under a Johnson government. The immediate threat is that London could be punished for its strong support for REMAIN and for being a Labour stronghold. If the northern swing constituencies now ‘cloth-cap Conservative’ are to get their reward and not revert, somewhere else is going to feel the pinch. Rumoured reduction or abolition of London allowances for teachers, for example, would have dire consequences.
The picture of London as the heartland of smashed- avocado-on-toast breakfasting cosmopolitans queuing at Waitrose is a deceit. There is plenty of not so hidden poverty. Drugs dealing and gang-crime don’t come out of thin air. ‘Posh’ Islington has the 4th highest level of child poverty in the country (47.5% - some 20,000 children). If the allocation of greater funds and attention to the ‘North’ is to be more than a political ploy, it must avoid taking from the poor of London to give to the poor in towns which have begun to vote conservative.
The opportunity for wider social and economic change begins with asking what is London doing right? How and why has an urban culture developed that is mostly colour-blind and at ease with ethnicity? About 90% of residents of Hackney felt “everyone got along together” in a recent survey. Courtesy and consideration for the old and disabled is widespread.
Yes, London has key national and international institutions, excellent comprehensive schools and health service. And yes, London attracts the ambitious, often the best, from around the world, and some get rich. Under all its mayors it has had strong leadership on racial issues even under terrorist attacks. So why not learn from it. Support the people who keep this city moving, who promote a vibrant economy, and try with inadequate resources to remove the face-to-face dark web of drug, knife and gang crime across its streets. In hard budgetary terms give elected mayors much more control over their city’s expenditure and its allocation.
Reform of any kind is difficult. Nobody dares to revalue the decades-old Council tax bands because owners of houses whose value has risen fear having to pay more. Room for mayors to manoeuvre is small. A Prime Minister interested in more than political advantage would encourage its expansion. But to build creatively on the social and economic achievements of Greater London, not denounce its citizens as a cosmopolitan elite, gives Mr. Johnson no electoral advantage at all.
Meanwhile, Mr. Corbyn has reverted to “resistance”. Aux Armes, Citoyens. The Labour Party will henceforth ‘resist’ centralisation and Tory Rule. But, in the real world, it has been leaders such as Khan, Burnham and Jarvis doing the resisting. They have created an urban governance model in opposition to centralisation and populism, doing the most they can within the limits set by their political opponents, retaining the notion that politics is about gaining power to work for the common good. They have resisted the Corbynist vision of power required principally for winning conflicts within the Labour Party.
So how should we describe Labour cities such as London, Manchester and Sheffield? The Labour Party Diaspora? Social democracy devolved? Urban democratic pluralism? We wouldn’t need border patrols along the M25. But if London were to gain just a little of the autonomy of a city-state – it has a larger population and economy than many UN member states – Labour members should stay to cheer not flee and jeer.
See TheArticle.com 07/01/2020
A New Decade. The Labour Party in special measures. The Conservative Party donning a cloth-cap. Times are a-changing. Or so it seems.
The un-electable Mr. Corbyn and his un-believable pledges, unprecedented mistrust, and overwhelming national frustration, combined to give Boris Johnson his big majority. It took over three and a half years, from the June 2016 Referendum to formal withdrawal, now certain this January. Yet from our application for EEC membership to formally joining in January 1973 took much longer.
Peter Hennessy tells the story in his Winds of Change: Britain in the Early Sixties. General de Gaulle firmly blocked our entry in 1962, with a tearful Prime Minister Harold Macmillan privately denouncing him as the new “Napoleon”. For Macmillan failure to gain entry to the EEC was a tragedy. For us achieving withdrawal from the EU was a farce.
The two parties’ rhetoric was reversed in the early 1960s. The Labour Party under Hugh Gaitskell’s leadership opposed entry. “It means the end of a thousand years of history”, he declared at Party Conference. The UK would become “a province of Europe”. Not “a vassal state” - near enough though. The impact of joining the EEC on the Commonwealth loomed large. But the strategic argument has remained constant: fear of a politically federalist Europe versus benefits of economic membership. Plus Ça Change….
Peter Hennessy is Britain’s most sophisticated and entertaining political historian, both a respected academic, broadcaster, and active crossbench peer. Winds of Change is his third book in a chronological trilogy, the first starting with the Atlee government in 1945. Some background social history is sprinkled into most chapters. But his passion is for the history of government, political process and personalities, employing a range of sources: a fly on the wall during Cabinet meetings, international negotiations and the inner workings of the political parties. Armed with Macmillan’s diary and newly opened national archives, we have an insider’s view of the great transformative events of the early 1960s: the Berlin blockade; Cuban Missile Crisis; Decolonisation; Britain’s struggle for EEC entry; Trident and CND; Wilson and the “white heat of the scientific revolution”.
There is something endearing about Macmillan and Hennessy’s portrayal of him. The reader discovers a different, healthier, British political culture. Decent men admire each other’s oratory, disagree about how to move forward but, on the whole, agree about fundamental values and the society they want. Hennessy loves this Britain with a romantic intensity, even with its dissenters and mavericks like Enoch Powell.
There is a sharper edge when it comes to describing the Labour leader, Harold Wilson, just as there is to the man himself, amiable demeanour and pipe notwithstanding. Here is the 1964 Labour Party/Wilson’s Manifesto on Polaris - our nuclear deterrent at the time: “It will not be independent, and it will not be British and it will not deter”. Nonetheless, Wilson as Prime Minister kept Polaris reneging on his pledge to renegotiate the Nassau agreement with the USA which ‘shared’ Polaris - manufactured in the US - with the UK. Two recurrent themes emerge in the book: the inextricable link, mainly but far from exclusively in Conservative thinking, between Britain’s image as a global power and its ownership of nuclear weapons, and its corollary, the almost secondary importance of these weapons for defence.
Despite holding up the Commonwealth as a fig-leaf covering the loss of Empire, it was the Bomb that kept us at the top table. Macmillan, though, obsessed by the danger of nuclear war, had internalised the picture of the mushroom cloud that hung over the 60s. As Hennessy points out, apart from his steady-as-she-goes steering of the ship of state, Macmillan’s greatest achievement was the negotiation of a Partial Test Ban Treaty between the UK, USA and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. We have foolishly lost his salutary anxiety about nuclear war today.
What we haven’t lost is the taste for a good sex-scandal. Like any red-blooded male who lived through the Profumo affair, Hennessy enjoys telling the tale: a Minister of Defence sharing a “call-girl” with a Soviet agent posing as a diplomat, and their joint contribution to Macmillan’s decline and downfall, an inglorious story of sex, spies and toffs. Who could not enjoy?
Hennessy is too famous a writer for severe editing; some joyous but diversionary, anecdotes survive publication. Here is a Hennessy BTW holding up the flow in a passage dealing with Lord Denning’s report investigating whether there had been security leaks during the Profumo scandal. “Denning, by the way, spoke in what was usually called a rich Hampshire burr, a sound rarely heard on the early post-war bench (though it was made famous in the cricket commentary box by that poet amongst journalists, John Arlott)”. In an instant, you are back in the 1960s, watching TV, or tuning in to a sotto voce conversation in the Athenaeum; De Gaulle, Hennessy confides, declared that the Profumo scandal “taught the British a lesson for trying to imitate the French”.
Why is Lord Hennessy so important? Because he provides a political plumb-line. To the left of him you’re on the Left, to the right, you’re on the Right. The trouble with this simple test is that the ground shifts. And we are in the midst of an earthquake at the moment. But for those who were discovering politics in the early sixties, Winds of Change is an enriching journey down memory lane with an erudite, entertaining guide. Readers below the age of seventy will re-learn that the past is another country, though with many recognisable landmarks.
In 1962 both President Kennedy and Prime Minister Macmillan read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August detailing the miscalculations that lead to the First World War. Hennessy implies that the book influenced them during the Cuban Missile Crisis, if only as a warning. His Winds of Change may help future generations in crises to come. At the very least, Hennessy’s gentle judgements and search for the truth will become a poignant and, I hope, influential memory.
See TheArticle 17/12/2019
A British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey for 2018 gave an increase in respondents saying they had no religion up 21% from 1983 to 52% (a BREXIT-thin majority). We seem, if only as far as box-ticking, to be a secular society so religion is unlikely to feature in an end of year round-up. Least of all after Britain’s intensely absorbing political upheavals.
Religious correspondents are the first to go when newspaper journalists are cut - which seems odd when events described as “Islamic terrorism” make the headlines. The last detail of Manchester City’s defensive tactics is required knowledge for an informed public. But the strategy and organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood compared with that of Da’esh?
Sexual abuse by ‘people of faith’ reaches the front page. Or controversial statements by religious leaders like Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ outspoken attack on Jeremy Corbyn. But unlike America where Right-Wing evangelicals helped bring Trump to power, thanks to the solid values of the UK Evangelical Alliance, we are spared stories of Christian support for the political Right. The significance of faiths’ social action is missed.
Indifference to, or ignorance of, the work of people of faith to alleviate the suffering of the poor in Britain, and in the developing world, may have bottomed out. There is the work of the Muslim development agencies in war zones, Zakat, Muslim philanthropy during Ramadan, the work of street pastors combatting knife crime, Christian groups and individuals of all denominations helping refugees and economic migrants, care for the homeless and destitute, (33,000 projects run by the C of E and some 8,000 parishes supporting or running food banks). This sometimes provides a sentimental story, around religious festivals. As do the Salvation Army who not only sing carols but quietly co-ordinate , for example, the work on sexual trafficking in this country. The impact is huge if hidden.
The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, died in May. His work with - their words - people with intellectual disabilities, is little known outside religious circles. And one of Vanier’s sayings is more than pertinent for Britain 2019: ““Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don't talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.”
The contribution of religious ideas to the common good should not be underestimated. Pope Francis’ second encyclical, Laudato Si, (On Care for Our Common Home), published in June 2015, has percolated down throughout the Church and beyond, generating climate change action networks. In April Francis met with Greta Thunberg encouraging her to “go ahead”. In June he held a conference in Rome on climate change for government ministers and scientists. In October a controversial Synod on the pan-Amazon region showed he wanted Laudato Si implemented whatever the backlash from the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro. If 2019 was notable for other than an acceleration of Britain’s descent into a “vortex of decline” (Will Hutton), it is for the gap between government action on climate change and the growing public anxiety about its widening into a scandalous gulf.
2019 was also the year when antisemitism and the two ill-named phobias, Islamophobia and ‘Christianophobia’ – like spiders? - broke into the public domain with a vengeance, and became politically significant. This was not just a phenomenon damaging the Labour Party. The European Right has made a comparable mark on Germany. The causes of hostility were different for each religion. For Christianity, beginning and end of life issues, together with gender and sexuality, remained the war-cry for illiberal liberals and the Left. The message from the Bishops of England and Wales on the General Election, a clear statement of Catholic Social Teaching which many would endorse, made abortion its first bullet point alienating its secular readership. Increasing anti-Muslim sentiment, dividing society was an important goal of ‘Islamic terrorism’– partially achieved. Half of those referred to the mentoring programme of PREVENT show signs of neo-Nazi influence.
Hate-speech directed at religious faiths has led to a worldwide rise in persecution and violence. The magnitude and extent of persecution of Christians, 245 million suffering to some degree worldwide, was highlighted by a report by the Anglican bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen in November. While the persecution of Muslims, predominantly by other Muslims, has been intensified by war in the Middle East, this focus on the plight of Christians was a first. That Jeremy Hunt, then Foreign Secretary, commissioned this report on religious freedom is a step forward.
Pope Francis has continued flagging up his priorities, the poor and interfaith reconciliation, in his visits, speeches and actions. He continued to improve relations with the Muslim world while visiting the UAE and Morocco. He was shunned by the Orthodox in Bulgaria. He cemented his relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who visited Ebola-stricken areas of the Congo in November. In another brave démarche they have both indicated their intention to visit war-torn South Sudan. This initiative follows a moving religious retreat to build peace, held by them both for Salva Kiir, South Sudan’s Catholic President, and his rebel former Vice-President, Riek Machar, a Presbyterian, in the Casa Santa Marta hostel where Francis lives in the Vatican. The Pope’s kissing the feet of the two Congolese leaders, acting out his vision of leadership, was worth many words.
Archbishop Welby, a task-oriented purposeful man, shares the Pope’s commitment to reconciliation and has the same gift for the spirituality of symbolism. His prostration in Amritsar made as an apology for the 1919 massacre during a visit to India in October, was another reminder of the special nature of Christian leadership. “The souls of those who were killed or wounded, of the bereaved, cry out to us from these stones and warn us about power and the misuse of power”, he said.
So the profile of religion in 2019 has been, to say the least, complex. Decline in belief and practice may have levelled out at an all-time low. The British Social Attitudes survey for 2018 found only 1% of young people, 18-24, identified themselves as C of E. Figures for youth in the Roman Catholic Church, more of an identity because of Catholic schools, will be higher. As Pope Francis writes in a March exhortation to young people: “A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum”.
A new interest may have been sparked, thanks in some measure to Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis. But we will have to wait until the New Year to tell. With apologies to Nietzsche, God is not dead. Though religious journalism may be on its last legs.
See also "God is not Dead" The Article.Com 25/12/2019