Monday, 27 June 2016

More After the Referendum

Pub night with friends, and all agreed on one aspect at least that the stupid referendum has now led to political and economic chaos, that so many people we met on polling day and after were exit people and yet seemed to have voted in relative ignorance. At a wedding and a post-referendum conversation, the person says to my friend, 'Oh I didn't know this, and I can't like go back and vote again.' I've said of the daughter whose firm may as well relocate into the EU area now. He reckoned she may well end up living in America! We agreed too that there is only one person to blame for this: the masterless tactician David Cameron. But we disagreed too, and here is how things have moved on.

In contrast: had stay-in won, the Conservative Party would have split. We'd have retained economic certainty but politics would have been rolling around. And having come out, for now it is the Labour Party potentially splitting. If Jeremy Corbyn stands for the leadership and wins again, he will end up with a virtual second party in Parliament of Labour MPs doing their own thing.

Now I might be sympathetic to Corbyn, but I am not and here is why. In constituency after constituency, UKIP is second to Labour. If Labour cannot connect with the public, one that voted for exiting - and this takes the ability to communicate and reassure as well as principles, then there will be a tipping point of a group of UKIP MPs into Parliament leaving a rump Labour Party - Scotland all over again, but in the north.

Now I'd rather have a quarter of a loaf than a negative loaf. So, as I said to my friends, Labour needs someone who can talk (a little) nasty, who can communicate, northern too. Not another 'metropolitan' like Chuka Umunna, or some Blairite, but someone who can bite. I don't like Caroline Flint, which makes her or like her a good candidate. Someone who performs in Parliament, but more so who looks like they can handle tough and difficult matters and people.

I'd be more pro-Corbyn but he was half-hearted in the Europe campaign, and I was predicting a necessary General Election around the corner because the Referendum was never going to solve the Tory Party problem - either way in fact. This General Election is coming down the line.

A General Election trumps a Referendum. What would give our representatives (we are a representative democracy after all - not a direct democracy, and boy doesn't this referendum demonstrate why) the right to stand against this referendum is to stand for parliament on that basis of saying the referendum was wrong in conception, contradictory promises and outcome.

So plates (tectonics) shift and new realities arise. I said tonight the Liberal Democrats did what they did in the past because the "Orange Mob" took over and yes they did prop-up Cameron. (In fact they made him a functional leader, after which he became as overstretched as Anthony Eden but without the gravitas). But if they learn from their error and stand on the basis of maintaining our membership of the EU, then they give to themselves that mandate. It might attract a minority of votes but also could be a good minority and the basis of recovery. Some of us would need persuading to go back again, but times change and needs change. Politics is about responding and being relevant. One friend says the Liberal Democrats can do this because they believe in nothing: not so, because they have always been pro-European. It is hardly 'believing in nothing' to stand against a referendum result.

Pure socialism? Me a socialist? No, I said - I have always been a "social liberal", and it has a long history. I like Corbyn but I didn't vote for him and would not again for the reason that I am not Labour. One friend is considering full membership of Labour, but not the purist Socialist. Whereas - yes - I can be flexible enough to change my vote. And easily forgotten is our friends also voted in the Coalition: not that any of us intended this. We were betrayed by the Liberal Democrats.

But I'm sorry because I like Corbyn. But there isn't the time to do my friend's "get rid of the lot of them" from Parliament who he calls "Tories". To me they are not Tories at all anyway. Whatever one thinks of the legacy of the Blair years, these are actual realities. Karl Turner MP (ours) may be useless, but he's not a Tory or even Blairite, but his ditching of Corbyn is a reality on the ground. It may be a pre-discussed Benn-led coup and all that, but with a General Election soon it is still facts on the ground.

Otherwise it is a big Tory win, and UKIP nasties leaving a rump Labour Party in Britain. Yes I want rail, utilities, a bank at least, a building firm for houses, nationalised, but nationalised with a workers' co-op aspect, not the old 1940s top-down Civil Service model of running the commanding heights. I'm with Corbyn on such. But we are now in acute danger of going back to the 1970s economically - an economy based on food and shelter, of losing internationalism, of losing people-movement through Europe back and forth, of losing the core relationships with our near continent, losing economic and social liberties, and loss of the vision of sharing with those like us. The Barbarians are at the door, and they have to be countered.

The stench is also from the racists released, people who were being slowly repressed and controlled in part due to our wider European outlook, however challenging that was with such movement of people across the world. Now they are expecting the foreign to 'go home' and it is just bloody nasty stuff.

Well, I don't care how we restore matters. But in Real Politik, we go from this referendum result. We say to Johnson, Gove and Farage: "Go and negotiate then." And let's then, quite possibly, have a second referendum when you don't come up with what you promised. You can't, because what you promised was contradictory. My socialist friend says no second referendum and the other ain't so sure. I am - whatever it takes to restore sanity. So, see what they promise, set against a diminished economy of course. As Alex Salmond said, and my retailing friend knows, 'if you break it you keep it'. They broke it and it is theirs to negotiate.

And Nicola Sturgeon's brief is to deal with Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is in part devolved in the context of the European Union already. And if the Parliament does not consent, then over to the UK Supreme Court to work that one out. If the new UK right wing refuse to grant a second referendum on Independence, a Scottish Parliament could declare UDI. That would be interesting.

A new Council of the British Isles was always the best way to sort out these islands, but that would be in an EU context too: especially considering the relationship between north and south of Ireland. Again, it's independent countries but co-operating, even co-ordination: including all of Ireland! And yet we might instead see not only a customs border in Ireland again, but one between England and Scotland. Two currencies on each island as well, two borders of import tariffs. Madness. Little England (and Wales still attached) would be the worst off and Ireland in a tense condition of unsatisfactory division.

Oh and our politicians have neither the ability nor the time to unravel European legislation, European law is deep in our body politic, and absorbed in our economic and cultural life. Parliament would have to sit day and night to unravel the Europe in the British bloodstream after 40+ years. These people aren't up to the job; the Civil Service is probably unwilling and too small.

Meanwhile, this is a moving situation, very fast at such a point of change - of shaking out. We haven't heard from Osborne because he is likely to produce what he promised, which is an Emergency Budget - austerity with knobs on. Tories for exit will oppose him, and if so the markets will slide into the abyss as the government loses control.

So: Labour must sort it out and fast in that Corbyn should do the decent thing and stand down. Labour is more than you, even more than your purist principles. Liberal Democrats - make the pro-European Union stance front and back of the manifesto for the coming General Election. Act fast because as the economy plunges into uncertainty, politics will need to speed up. But best of luck with this, the political class, because you have taken on more than you can chew.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

After the Referendum: Division and Mess

People who voted for out of the EU are asking others for unity and to be less angry, to 'come together'. I even saw such sentiments in a Church of England statement via several bishops.

If only it was so easy. Well, they may not be saying it is easy. If only it was even possible. The reason why this referendum result is "stupid" is because of the mess it has left in the body politic across what will soon not be the United Kingdom, in the economic life of these islands, and in the cultural stench that has been released. Plus after 40 years EU law is interwoven with our law and to unravel it will keep Parliament busy for a very long time, probably more time than is available.

What has not been said on the media so far is this: we do not have, in these islands, the quality of politician to do the job that would make a positive result of this very divisive outcome.

The current and now outgoing Prime Minister, David Cameron, must qualify as the most reckless and ridiculous Prime Minister we have had. Some commentators have said he compares with Anthony Eden and Neville Chamberlain. The latter at least had good intentions. David Cameron was always a second class politician, a Public Relations man, a partial clone of Tony Blair by intent. All along his political career he was a fixer with, it seemed, the only ideal that the privileged should rule. He didn't have a wider vision or purpose. The referendum was no more that a way to silence his critics, and he thought an appeal to get some more votes. It was part of his otherwise negative General Election campaigning. The Conservatives set about destroying their one-time Liberal Democrat partners, who had propped them up thinking nice things about participating with other parties. Perhaps Cameron thought he wouldn't win outright and the referendum would not happen.

But when it did happen, he had to go through a pantomime of renegotiation. The gamble was to win it, overcome it, and carry on. The referendum proved so negative and divisive that, whichever side won, he was in trouble. The first speech of Nigel Farage before results came in showed that the "war" would have continued: he'd have had no majority.

His tactical gamble failed. But what he did was he gambled the whole of the UK on his tactical referendum. Would you bet your house on the basis of getting in front of a traffic queue.

Set against him is another second rate politician, Boris Johnson. He had written almost spoof articles bashing the EU for The Daily Telegraph. He has spoken in favour of continued EU membership. A few months back, he came for being out of the EU. He gambled the future of the UK in order to be a political assassin. He has succeeded. Now the assassin will present himself for Prime Minister material. He was rightly booed when he appeared as 'victor'. He is no more capable of clearing up this mess than Cameron. He won't be in control.

The situation is now division upon division. There is division between economy and culture, division between young and old, division between England and its capital, division between Scotland and England, division made between North and South of Ireland, division between the strained UK and Europe. What is more, we have had right wing politicians play the immigration card (whatever real concerns about resources) so that people, who have no idea how the EU is run because nobody would tell them, lashed out at the austerity they have undergone for so long now. Like lemmings, they have voted for a right wing whose reward to them will be even more austerity, a stripping of workers' rights, a privatising and underfunding of the NHS. Betrayed again, these underemployed and underclass look like idiots. It's not their fault - we've had no political education in schools, a political education that would have had to at least describe how the institutions of the EU work.

During the campaign it was clear that the leave camp did not know what their future out would be. Even now some are saying, given the Remain vote percentage, that they should pay for access to the Single Market and have to renege on the immigration promise. Others say they cannot renege on that promise, so they have to accept a diminished economy (and renege on economic promises).

If I was Nicola Sturgeon (and she is one of this island's more talented politicians) I'd be in Europe seeking terms of entry for an independent Scotland. Have a plan - get the currency issue sorted out and it may have to be the euro entered at a competitive rate - and have it in place for an independence referendum. The Scots have every right to hold it. At least then part of these islands will be in the EU.

The Northern Irish also deserve a referendum, even though the nationalists might lose it. The authorities must preserve the democratic process in that already and long divided place. We cannot have a leave EU government minister deciding on her own whether or not to have such a referendum. The Unionists knew what they were doing with supporting out, to make more of the border. Well that needs to be tested directly.

Even Wales, infected by the UKIP can of worms, might want an independence referendum. But even if not, the current division in the UK Parliament, so visible in the Scottish Nationalist bloc, would be sorted out by independence and then, perhaps, an intergovernmental Council of the British Isles.

And if we had that, England, a rump country left because of Cameron's gamble, might reapply to join the EU. Or not. Big industry, business, finance, would find it easier and more straightforward to locate on the continent. Our business here would be, presumably, to keep people fed, clothed and housed, and move about.

Here is where it really went wrong. Go back to 1975 and the 'in' politicians had vision. A new set of institutions, they said, that were better than the Nation State. A different ideal of shared decisions, shared interest, a people like us, so that we would be them and they us. Instead, no one offered vision against the tribal nationalists. The nationalists of the UK were able to pick up the put upon and dispossessed and exposed the deep divisions that at least the EU managed, if not as best as could be.

British influence in the EU has pushed it towards a neo-liberal ethos which, when combined with German financial control, has proved difficult and unwieldy. The dirigiste model was far more effective at managing regions and building economic and political consensus. Perhaps with us gone the EU will adapt back to what it was good at and restore hope.

One final division to consider. Some of us are not ready to put political trust back into the Liberal Democrats. Their weakness is one reason why Cameron has delivered this disaster. But they betrayed their voters, and became something other. Someone has already likened the 'Brexit' dropping of campaign promises to the Liberal Democrat deception on achieving power. So we have to look to the Labour Party. And the Labour Party is divided too.

Why? Because a load of pissed off downtrodden people joined with ideologues to give Jeremy Corbyn a mandate to lead Labour to an ethical left. Now I like Jeremy Corbyn and his ethical centre is well grounded. Indeed it was rightly said that he was where many people were regarding the EU. But just as we have a representative democracy where 76% of MPs were pro-EU, and they should know the arguments, so it is that Jeremy Corbyn just does not carry the support of his MPs.

These are desperate times because the right have won this referendum and they will set the agenda for little England. There now MUST be a Labour leader who can, perhaps, say some unpleasant things as well as have ethical intentions regarding equality and the future. If Caroline Flint, for example,wants to attack Corbyn as not reaching out, and she can talk the talk, then she should have the guts to stand for election when Corbyn's position becomes untenable. Jeremy Corbyn also ought to ask if half a loaf is better than crumbs of cake. I don't like Caroline Flint, but I can see how she might connect.

It is necessary because the coming Tory leadership change will exploit a weak Labour Party to get a majority, and then all bets are off. So we need to find talent in Labour to take on whichever second rate politician the Tories choose. We are not spoilt for choice in Labour, but someone has to take on the task for at least a term or two at the top.

Meanwhile I have signed a petition for a second referendum - at the time of doing it over 460,000 have also done so. I have signed because the mess is so profound that the quickest solution is to put a lid on it quick. The outers have already broken their promises but far worse is the utter mess that has been left. We do not have the calibre of politician, nor the means, nor the time, to sort this out.

Perhaps there is a reason why, in the past, EU countries that have referendums as part of their political process have had them twice.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Vote is on Thursday...

A fortnight back I considered that the people wanting exit were doing well, that the in camp had shot so many missiles that for a time they had run out. Now I think that the wheel is coming off the exit wagon. One wheel, that is. It might well limp in front.

It didn't take a murder to do it, but the murder of Jo Cox MP has allowed Nigel Farage to conduct his politics from the gutter, accusing the stay side of exploiting it. That's what he was doing by raising the matter. His poster of refugees would have been enough to show the gutter.

Like it or not, the company the exiters keep, or won't keep with their own, drags them in. It is because they bang on about immigration.

The person I blame for this, however, is David Cameron. He or advisors must have known that to go for this in-out referendum, regardless of powers moving to the centre, would dig up the nasty underbelly of racism in this country. Whilst it is perfectly legitimate to talk about resources and work availability under pressure, the fact is that the right wing in order to get former Labour voters have to play a tribalistic nationalist card. They are playing on the 'downtrodden white working class' and at this UKIP is a clever operator.

In the end, it is about who 'we' are. The argument of 'out' is about the UK and its right to determine its power. But the UK is fragile, and not clear that it is a 'we' at all. Come out of the EU and the 'we' starts to crack very badly. The Scottish will want out, the Northern Irish situation will be confused when, in all reality, the EU underwrites closer relations between the north and south. The Unionists know this, which is why they want out. It makes more division, more clear defence of their little tribe.

I also blame the stay side for the narrowness of vision. The people who were pro-Europe in 1975 talked about "new institutions" that were to replace the simplicity of the Nation State, after the Nation State had consistently failed to prevent conflict. The idea of the European Union is semi-economic determinism: that if we share economic interests we cannot fight what we share. And we do this politically too, just to make sure. Having a Europe-wide view also is deliberate, but so is sharing sovereignty. It is good to share.

Instead the stay side have become narrow with economics. They have not promoted the idea and reality of Europe.

This blog ends with an overview of how decisions are taken. Most people voting will not know how Europe works, because no one will tell them. It is as if no one will break the bubble of ignorance. Informing that Brussels is NOT run by bureaucrats is the first step to having a more positive view.

The major policy guidelines are set in The European Council where the heads of state of the European Union and the President of the Commission meet to discuss general matters. It does not take formal binding decisions but influences the agenda. It meets at least every 6 months and it takes all actions unanimously. Its presidency rotates every six months between all the EU members. it is not the same as the Council of the European Union.

The Council of The European Union - the Council of Ministers - has executive authority, mainly delegated to the Commission, and legislative authority. All regulations and directives must be approved by the Council, either jointly with the European Parliament or after consultation.

The Council of Ministers is composed of one representative per country meeting between 80 and 90 times in a typical year. It is attended by the national executive minister in charge of the issue under discussion. The Council decides by unanimity for crucial issues, and in most cases by Qualified Majority Voting that assigns votes to member countries as a function of their population size, but weighted to benefit small countries. Majority voting is also 'qualified' because when Qualified Majority Voting applies and yet a country invokes its vital interests, the Council of Ministers should then try: "within a reasonable time to reach solutions which can be adopted by all Members of the Council while respecting their mutual interests and those of the Community." This puts more pressure on smaller countries than larger. ECOFIN is the meeting of the all-important finance ministers to discuss, monitor and coordinate the budget.

The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament cannot approve legislation if it has not been proposed by the European Commission. Neverthless the European Commission is not going to block the main demands and trends of the Council of Ministers - it tries to give a European wide view and represent all the countries as one. The Commission monitors and regulates the implementation of the main legislation adopted by the European Union. It defends the Treaties and can take suspected infringements to the European Court of Justice. The Commission recommends actions to the Council in case of non-compliance with policy.

The European Commission is accountable as a whole to the European Parliament: if the European Parliament passes a motion of censure, the European Commission must resign all together. The President of the European Commission can dismiss a Commissioner, if a most Commissioners agree.

The European Commission and its President are first nominated and then appointed by member countries after approval by the European Parliament. The five largest countries have two commissioners and the rest have one each.

The European Commission was once a Europe-wide think-tank body designed to be rather independent. Now it arguably needs more regular means of accountability.

The European Parliament is directly elected for 5 years. It shares legislative and budgetary authority with the Council. The Council of Ministers’ opinion prevails in matters of “compulsory spending” (especially agriculture), while the European Parliament’s vote prevails on lesser matters.

The European Court of Justice interprets European Union laws and demands their application. Yet its judicial rulings do not have legal stature in the European Union. Court cases can be initiated both by governments and private citizens. It has had much to say on forcing competition policy.

The Treaties are the primary source for legislation and must be ratified by all member governments. There are three main forms of binding secondary legislation: regulations, directives, and (Council of Ministers' etc.) decisions. There are basically two procedures to pass regulations and directives: consultation and co-decision. In all situations, the Commission has the right of initiative.

Consultation applies to the Common Agricultural Policy, competition, taxation, guidelines for employment policies, industrial policy. Thus the power of the European Parliament is limited to a consultative role, and unanimity in the Council is required in all issues except agriculture and competition.

Co-decision was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 to boost the European Parliament. The Commission’s proposal must be accepted by both the European Parliament by majority and by the Council by Qualified Majority Voting except unanimity in culture, social security, and freedom of movement. If the Commission’s proposal is amended, an extremely convoluted process is set in motion where agenda setting is confused. Maastricht also introduced subsidiarity, an emphasis that decisions should be taken as low down to the people concerned as possible, so that the 'beyond borders' issues become European level. In practice little has changed.

Co-decision operates for about 80 percent of the main legislative decisions, in particular all the issues decided by QMV, except agriculture and competition policy.

The Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice are supranational bodies. The European Council and Council of Ministers are intergovernmental bodies. The result is more confederal, in that sovereignty is shared from the countries. Smaller countries tend to look to the European Commission for extra support; it takes the European wide view. Increasing the powers of the European Parliament is also more federal.

In general, if Qualified Majority Voting increases, so does the federal aspect, incrementally. The greater the role of Council of Ministers and even national parliaments, the greater the confederal aspect. Veto powers do exist in matters of key importance, limiting the sharing of sovereignty to co-operation. Smaller countries may find it difficult to exercise a veto; it matters more when a large country effectively says no in advance. Nevertheless, a veto is a veto. QMV can be introduced by larger countries without effective loss of sovereignty.

Even a European Commission directive gives freedom to national legislation as to how to achieve its objectives. A decision applies to specific individuals, firms or countries; it is binding and directly applicable.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Two Articles after the Unitarian Theology Conference

So, in addition to four review articles for each section of the Unitarian Theology Conference and two sound files presented, I have written two further pieces submitted to publications. Each is submitted only to them although I display almost all I do on my website. It is a fact of life these days that materials go online instantly and only slowly appear on paper as and when space is available and if the editor chooses. One is to The Unitarian that was pure text only and I have made a simple webpage from it, and then other is to Faith and Freedom sent as a Libre Office made .DOC file but is on the Pluralist Website as a .PDF as it appeared via that program.

The report to The Unitarian is my interpretive summary of the presentations, and could I suppose run alongside another report with a different view. I hear that some did appreciate the Rev. Dr. David Steers' paper, but I fail to see if it offered anything regarding the future, and a good point has been made in comments here that it did not (even without knowing the terminology) show any recent Chain of Memory. Well, perhaps because it wasn't interested in how we got from there to here, and rather wished we were not here (ideologically) at all. But this is by the by; rather I'm more interested in what the Rev. Stephen Lingwood proposed (and the critique) and the more in depth identifications of the Rev. Jo James. Perhaps I am even more interested in Dr Melanie Prideaux's larger tool box applied to Unitarianism.

I wanted to do a fully fledged academic piece, and this is why I have sent it to Faith and Freedom. It may stand alongside verbatim papers from the Conference. It would be good if it is accompanied also by papers of a different perspective, and delving into theologies and the Sociology of Religion. I know David Steers is the Editor, and it is up to him whether he judges the paper as suitable from all sorts of perspectives and not just ideological. I have no fear of debate. And, incidentally, this is no judgment of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism. I happen not to like how religion works in Ireland, especially in the North, although the NSPCI is probably the best of the lot. This isn't relevant. What is relevant is that it is integral to its cultural situation but not to Great Britain. The answer to the pot-shots taken at the Unitarian Universalists is that this is more relevant to Britain and its developments. I hope religion in Ireland changes, and I think it is doing. But we'll see what happens.

My stance regarding relevance to Unitarianism very much goes along with the theology of John Caputo, referred to by Jo James. He is accused of being Unitarian, by critics, and I think they are right, but more interesting is his what I call sub-atomic theology and the paradox of Being. Also relevant is Mark C. Taylor and his deconstructive creativity. My focus, though, is on the opposite temptation to adopt a kind of Yale Postliberalism (obviously not that itself, because it is ecumenically Trinitarian), and speakers did give their assent to it under my questioning. This is relevant to giving definition or coherence to Unitarianism. For me, the Unitarian tradition is the mirror opposite, and this is its own Chain of Memory. I go into this and the pitfalls in some detail - for example, creating Invented Traditions. It means that Unitarian identity will be in describing its wide sectoral diversity of belief types that inhabit a Rationality to Romanticism polarity. To have a narrower view raises where in the past one selects a 'legitimate' Unitarianism and if it therefore becomes like a religious museum. But even if not that concept, we are by the sheer decline of Unitarianism all becoming curators having to record for posterity.

If you want to know what I dislike, it is Yale Postliberalism of course but my real venom is for Radical Orthodoxy. I was pleased to read some of the words John Caputo has used about the movement.

The background to the Conference was the 3000 low-point reached in Unitarianism, and the fact that this is still falling. It has halved in about 15 years. This has more attention in my academic paper. My point is that we can still do theology, even if it is like those independent ministries we see. But we are really at a point of almost desperation now. I'm sorry if this is offensive to some, but it happens to be true. I see this every week and know it is rather common. I am beginning to think that an average of 20 per congregation of members is rather optimistic. Yet 3000 still has belief tendencies. New people do come through the doors, some stay, but not enough stay to counter the losses. So we survey the "subjective turn" as was found in the study of Kendal, and we do Practical Theology, and Contextual Theology, which connects with Anthropology and then Theology and then Historical Theology. That's the Chain of Memory.

Friday, 3 June 2016

We Vote Later This Month...

The Remain campaign in the European Referendum vote is wobbling. It is wobbling for two reasons: one is a statistical overkill that people find lacks credibility (less is more) and, secondly, it is being fronted by David Cameron.

I did not see the Sky News debate, but have since discovered it was not David Cameron's finest hour. However, it confirms rather than renews what I was already thinking.

The Prime Minister looks increasingly bust the more he leads this campaign. His lowest point was to ravish praise on Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London. Only weeks ago Sadiq Khan was the friend of terrorists. Now maybe it's because he's a Londoner. Cameron has shown by this reversal his own airhead PR condition: that he believes in very little other than privilege and the right to rule. The statistical overkill has also brought down Osborne several pegs, although Osborne really does believe in privilege ruling and doing others down. Osborne believes in redistributing from the poor to the rich.

I have always been confident that staying in would be the result of the referendum. I hope to get such confidence back next week. Hope so...

The Labour Party message is pretty united, but the trouble is that we are seeing a repeat of the General Election. This is that although UKIP and all that about immigration is fed by the right wing Tories and UKIP's nutjobs, the voter appeal is to those who would vote Labour under previous circumstances. People don't see that every immigrant is a market unit as well as a labour supply unit, and with the exception of pressure of housing and schools (and then many EU workers are single) and much less so health, immigrants via the EU route pay for themselves. But people go on and on about Poles moving in and taking over, and Turks are a bigger fear. It's potent.

What is missing from this campaign is any mention of European identity, and mention of the benefits of actively sharing sovereignty - that of positively giving up sovereignty for meeting and sharing. That we are Europeans, and that they are us.

In the same light, the we of the UK is a fragile concept, in that there is no 'UK' that can decide alone and securely to withdraw from the European Union. If the UK withdraws from Europe, Scotland will find it easier to withdraw from the UK (to return to the EU). It would be a disaster on the island of Ireland. We are almost merging with Ireland without even having the same head of State - the Irish resident in the UK can vote in this referendum regardless. Strange, when people have a different view regarding across the other water break.

Let's see if we get more regarding leaving the EU that we either control immigration borders or pay for access to the single market but not both. The prospect of leaving and relative economic health is the same potential immigration (and emigration) but no input into decision making. Alternatively we can 'control our borders' more but pay for it in economics. In any case the leavers say different things about the future. They haven't a clue about the practicalities of the future - far worse than making potentially bogus economic forecasts.

It is a crap campaign and the danger is repeating what the Tories did in the Mayoral campaign in London. It turns people off and people are not convinced. But the prejudices of the leavers need exposing in a movement towards a more positive outlook. My own positive outlook is after the referendum because, either way, Cameron is finished, vacated of any substance, with a Tory party armed with knives; and with the scandal of Tory election expenses building the pressure will be to clear the decks and find a way to call a General Election.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Unitarian Theology Conference

On Saturday May 21st I went to Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester for the Unitarian Theology Conference.

I only decided to go just before the Rev. Ralph Catts, Hull minister, went on his holiday. I'd already said no to going to the General Assembly. This attracted me, but I was wary. I thought it could be largely a conservative event to be prescriptive in some impossible attempt to revive theology in Unitarianism. I'd already engaged in debates on the open to the public UK Unitarian Facebook page, suggesting that theological resources all around are quite diverse whereas this Unitarian conference would be all about identity, and a rather closed (Yale) postliberal view at that (to look, recognisably, like a Church, to have supporting theology).

I learnt that Manchester had selected free city centre buses these days, and one stopped over 200 yards from the chapel. It seems I did after all get off at the nearest stop, but walked down the wrong connecting street. I arrived five minutes late and overheated. Nevertheless, I started making notes from the off, and wanted to make a positive contribution.

And it was a lot better than I had expected. Stephen Lingwood did admit to being somewhat (Yale) postliberal in his stance regarding Unitarianism, but his proposal on the immediacy and unfolding of the Spirit seemed reasonable enough to me. The critique of it was better still, in that it employed many tools and indeed did ask why be attracted on the way by systematic theology? Really Melanie Prideaux should have critiqued every paper. Jo James produced a well argued selective history of the immediacy of the Spirit in radical egalitarian groups from the left wing of the Reformation and proposed the relevance of the Spirit today - it can unite where various positions among Unitarian pluralism put people off. Trouble is, the Spirit doesn't help, of itself, co-ordinated organisation. David Steers' paper was not so much towards the twenty-first century as to go back to back to the nineteenth. It was narrow in sympathy and lamented a denomination going somewhere he'd rather not: but if the UUA isn't relevant for British Unitarianism then certainly religion from Northern Ireland isn't. And hopefully that religious culture will be changing as confidence grows about a more modern less clerical Ireland, and non-subscribers won't be able to ride its back for so long.

I tackled David Steers' paper first, because I thought it would have been first. I realise it probably would have been last anyway. So rather than everything improving afterwards, it might have left a bad taste in the mouth. Why was it the 'keynote speech' when Jo James's talk was far more intellectually robust and useful?

Hopefully, this is the first of many such conferences. This was conservative biased, but that was bound to be the case. There is suspicion about theology in Unitarianism: that it is still Christian, that it tries to say one thing and mean another as in the so-called mainstream. Theology can come from below, and that was said enough to provide at least the prospect of alternatives.

A key idea emerging from the Conference was Unitarians restoring a chain of memory, to discover, theologically, how they got from there (e.g. Martineau and Adams) to here (pluralism - classifying the positions, classifying the subjective turn in spirituality or the postmodernity of positions). It's worth the effort.

These lectures and sound files I've also done are on the Pluralist Website, in the Learning Area, the Religion section, and the ever-expanding Unitarianism part. A recent addition there, on the Unitarian 'Harmless Freedom' alternative history ties in very well with Jo James's presentation.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

BBC Bias and Missing the Real Story

The BBC News has become tedious; it is biased in its emphasis on Labour's weakness, and seems not to realise there is yet another reason why Conservative weakness should lead to an early General Election.

I know that it is a feature of the blog world to run conspiracy theory including the reporting of BBC journalists, linking the BBC reporting to a corrupted BBC Trust and government connections. I don't know about that, but there does seem to be something profoundly obsessional about Laura Kuenssberg and her reporting, among others. The weight of the focus is on Labour and its inadequacies after the local elections. Meanwhile there is next to nothing on the 27 MPs where there is apparent evidence of overspending so that we are having policies inflicted upon us by a corrupt government. Channel 4 News has made this story, but with police forces taking up investigation it should now have made BBC News. Nor has the BBC News criticised the timing of the government's about face regarding compulsion and school academies.

Now I'm not saying that the BBC News is like Russia Today. Russia Today is corrupted journalism. It puts out opinions as news and lurks in its own conspiracy theories as a way of slinging mud in various directions. Its journalists have sold out - there might be little option of course for them. In fact the channel is misnamed, because it rarely features Russian news at all, but goes on and on about the United States and less so the United Kingdom. When it features direct Russian policy, e.g. towards Turkey, it shows its bias without shadows and interferences, but on other subjects it seeks to undermine by speculation. Only occasionally does it feature an insight clearly missing from BBC News and Sky News etc..

Rather, BBC News is timid, and frightened of a government that has salami-sliced the licence fee and cut its budget heavily, and fears worse. Imagine if Channel 4, in fear of privatisation, had told Channel 4 News to go easy on the corruption story regarding Conservative Party election expenses. Meanwhile, in order to be investigative, BBC News weighs-in to Labour, if it analyses the Tories with any intensity at all.

The Labour Party has more than a problem in Scotland, of course. But the analysis is that devolution has so cut the direct link so that the Tories can now redefine and recover north of the border. It is precisely the distance from Cameron and Osborne that has allowed its redefinition as a broader yet Unionist party. The Conservatives chose one side of the faultline in Scottish politics, to anti the SNP, and has replaced Labour that was tainted with a Unionism and a London semi-Toryism before further devolved powers happened.

This faultline does not exist in Wales, where Labour held on far better than might have been expected, especially with UKIP picking up disgruntled and simplistic ex-Labour voters, the old Tory working class voter that blames others for things that have gone wrong. Labour also held up well enough in areas where it would have been expected to have been in meltdown.

And in London Labour showed what a positive multi-ethnic campaign can do, compared with a horrible Tory campaign. Sadiq Khan is regarded as a politician of strategy and integrity.

What is missing in the BBC analysis is that Jeremy Corbyn is a slow burn as he maintains his integrity. This integrity is attractive and, whatever doubts one might have about him as a politician who can wield a knife, a decisiveness sometimes necessary in decision making, the man has this attractive integrity. He says what he thinks, and he actually stands for a radical alternative. He is contrasted with Cameron the PR man, who fakes his interviews to then 'rush off' oh so decisively, who fakes his performances in speeches and visits, and has back of a postcard policies regularly sent off into U-turns (thank goodness) and who, one thinks, believes in one thing - privilege and himself and his pals near and far.

Where in the BBC is there an analysis of the wealth economy, for example, and how it works. Paul Mason told us, once he arrived at Channel 4 News temporarily. He did actually explain Corbyn's alternative.

Now I, along with many, maintain that the European Union in-Out Referendum is entirely about the Conservative Party and the electorate making a decision that the Conservative Party cannot (rather than a policy that is so deep and changable from the present that it needs a popular vote beyond the role of our representatives). The government wants us to stay in Europe, but to solve its party's angst wants a popular vote to confirm what continues.

Except, if the BBC was doing analysis properly, it would discuss the weakness of Cameron (and Osborne) whatever happens. If the vote is to exit, Cameron must resign and take his Chancellor with him. But if Cameron wins, his party will cry foul, and will become wreckless. The BBC seems to take the lead from the agenda set in an increasingly unimportant national press or government announcements. We know why Sky News does this, but BBC News ought to make its own decisions.

If the BBC cannot analyse then it ought to adopt the stance of C-Span in the USA, which is that of utter neutrality plus some history and let voices speak for themselves.

I have predicted an early General Election because of this European dimension, but I also predict one now because of the electoral corruption. One way to overcome 27 potential by-elections and punishment by the electorate for cheating is to call a General Election. No doubt the BBC will continue to focus on Labour and its weakness. Don't be so sure. The coming General Election will be a sign of the Tories' weakness, both as a result of the referendum and as a result of allegations of corruption.