Thursday, 27 August 2015

I Sort of Offer Support!

Gretta Vosper is a difficult one. This may need rephrasing: the issue of Gretta Vosper is a difficult one. On the one hand I agree with her, in general, more or less sharing her theological ground, but on the other hand I also think a Church has the right to define its boundaries and it may be no slur on her standing or ability to do ministry that it still thinks she is too far outside the boundary.

She could simply join the Unitarians in Canada. In the USA, a universalist Bishop Carlton Pearson joined on the basis of leaving fundamentalist Calvinism - something of a leap. People do change denominations.

On the other hand, she may retain a commitment to Christianity, like Lloyd Geering does (at the link above).
Incidentally, Don Cupitt doesn't - he says his critics were right all along. I remember at the very first Sea of Faith Conference one biblical scholar presenter saying there is a boundary somewhere beyond which what is distinctly Christian is lost. The point is, if she is clear there is no God, and that Jesus is but a man and a fallible one at that, then what is Christian about her position. Christianity loses the philosophical basis by which to focus exclusively on the Christ figure - there is no historical method by which he comes top of the religious league table. There are times when Buddha, Confucius or Gandhi are more relevant, if one wants heroes or guides. Jesus becomes a textual transfer, and no more. His very supernatural, very pre-modern outlook, but more important the premodernism of the Church he inspired, is so very different from anything the theological far left believe or, for that matter, any ordinary person going about their ordinary business.

If the Canadian Church of which she is part chucks her out, then she will have to move on. Gretta might take her congregation with her, after all in rather classic fashion of old her deconversion resulted in a loss of most of them, so those she has kept and gathered are likely to follow her along.

Unitarianism is not a simple answer as an alternative destination: I'm not sure it works, and also in the UK it is so small it is practically dead. Those of us still in it (and days like this I wonder why I am associated) are museum keepers of another kind. By this I don't mean its subculture of inheritances, but the fact that it is pretty much out of time. It's multivarious beliefs are now dissolving into wider society. It's claim of offering fellowship on the basis of free belief falls down because fellowship as such doesn't work - I maintain I attend churches despite the people there and not because of them (a variation on 'we're all sinners') so the principles have to be right. Some may think (and I may) that there ought to be some sort of sectoral identity to what a place stands for. I can't decide. Perhaps people like Greta Vosper are afraid to cut the rope, because if you do there is no safety net.

I think, incidentally, that the URC in the UK (the equivalent of her Church) has had it, and so has Methodism. They are falling like a stone. Fresh Expressions won't save the Church of England, and the cathedrals only work because people can pop in and out unnoticed for a religious concert. Christianity no longer explains anything, and it no longer has an anchor into society. But Unitarianism is simply ahead of the game again, this time at the point where it is knackered. It isn't the solution. So I wish Gretta Vosper the best, and similar folks like Sande Ramage in New Zealand. I'd recommend the Unitarians, but I can't.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Splits Ahead Politically

A few articles in the press have mentioned some main political parties splitting. The original notion was that the Liberal Democrats are too weak to split, but by membership recovery and leadership change they are going more back the liberal-left they were before the Orange Book takeover and the disastrous wooden leg prop given to the Conservatives. The Tories rewarded the Liberal Democrats for their help by destroying them and have used the transition to majority to create one of the nastiest governments around.

The effective majority is about 16, and the government is shoving through its most ideological and nasty stuff (and dropping many electoral promises) from the off, until of course the European Referendum comes along and the accusations start to fly of rubbish 'renegotiations' and presentation over substance for public consumption. David Cameron will be fully exposed for what many of us already know - he's a P R man and little else, and for all his talk about 'compassionate Conservatism' the real guts of his government is to attack the poor in particular and indeed anyone that isn't well off already.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat narrative that Labour caused the economic mess, rather than rescued us from calamity, stuck. Now we see a narrative that somehow Cameron occupies the centre ground, and yet again it seems Labour has no counter-narrative. Under Harriet Harman, it just rolls over and tells the government that Labour won't oppose for the sake of opposing.

Now, a strong Labour opposition, and indeed the SNP and even the Liberal Democrats turned around, are what keeps a governing party held together, but we know that this 16 majority (if formally 12) is in deep trouble once the nut jobs get their sham renegotiations and the government has to argue in favour of staying in the European union. The potential, post-referendum, is that only UKIP would keep the demand politically alight to get out. Such Tory MPs are bound to disbehave or even jump to UKIP.

But suddenly the unexpected is happening before all this. What was expected was that Labour had a voting system extended to public supporters as a way to get around its own sectarianism and invite in a moderate public to have a moderate leader. What they didn't expect was to encourage a whole load of increasingly disenfranchised people to warm to one candidate's socialist alternative, a socialist who even needed a leg up from opponents to get on the ballot paper. We expected Tim Farron to guide the Liberal Democrats back leftwards as Labour once again took on a position that vacated people vilified by all but the Greens and TUSC during the election for not working or not being part of a family.

Along with that has been a sea-change within the membership for something more coherent and not in the direction of Harriet Harman and her 'roll over and tickle my tummy' approach to opposition politics.

How is it then that a liberal lefty like me can support Jeremy Corbyn? Because his socialism is also democratic and libertarian. He supports those rights that Labour trampled on during the Blair years and which, crumbs, the Orange Book Liberals still upheld, along with their economic liberalism. Thus he is not a statist, and nationalisation does not mean state bureaucracy but a more participatory model. The old 'elite knows best' agenda of 1945 is not on offer this time by this choice.

I'm impressed by his manner too, especially when interviewed. In one of the more sensible questioning sessions, he didn't have to tell the reporter to calm down or ask who was feeding him the nonsense asked. It was in Wales, and Corbyn mentioned at the end having a look again at the Caerfyrddin/ Carmarthen to Aberystwyth link on the railways - that it doesn't go all the way north said Corbyn but would improve north-south travel. I don't care whether this is his interest or via a researcher: I am impressed by this attention to detail. I could suggest a line out of the heads of the valleys to near Aberhonddu/ Brecon and up to the Shrewsbury to Barmouth line. What of renewed possibilities around Llyn Celyn and to Trawsfynydd from Morfa Mawddach and Bala and linking back with Blaenau Ffestiniog? Or utilising the narrow gauge from Porthmadog (either to Blaenau Ffestiniog or Caernarfon)? These are much better suggestions for investment and in localities than the HS 2 waste of money, out of date before it is finished. But to rebuild rail links (as in the Edinburgh to Carlisle line) is a super way to add to travel infrastructure.

In response to his potential win, some in Labour are already saying about a coup, and some commentators about a split. If Labour did split, the Tories are likely to split even more with the EU referendum as the excuse. So it is worth identifying where the parties are regarding their coalitions.

The Liberal Democrats are still divided between Economic Liberals and Social Liberals/ added Social Democrats. Labour clearly now has Blue Labour, the Social Democrats and the Socialists. Blue Labour are virtually left-Conservatives. It's not clear that the Liberal Democrats would welcome them as they once welcomed the SDP - after all, the SDP had commitments to equality and social justice missing from Blue Labour. Blue Labour would be just as relevant with the Red Tories. The Social Democrats are regarded as being anti-liberal by track record: people like the deposed Ed Balls and that one who introduced Student fees and wanted identity cards, David Blunkett (and many others). Actually David Blunkett may have morphed into a  right winger. The Liberal Democrats, having overridden the Orange Bookers as destroyers of the party, might find they have more in common with the Socialists, especially if non-statist and refreshing.

It's amazing how many Tories resent David Cameron, almost as much as Labour resents Tony Blair, although Blair has blood on his hands whereas Cameron turned away from bombing Syria (except in secret) and has walked away from Libya. There are the anti-European nationalists - I call them 'nutjobs' from my bias - and then those inheritors of Thatcher and Blair for their agenda. There are still a few pro-European old-school One Nation Tories, but only a few, those who were the most comfortable with the Liberal Democrat wooden legs in government between 2010 and 2015 and till retained some sense of social conscience without punitive desires. Cameron isn't one, but he is nearby. In fact, one isn't sure about Cameron at all. The Blair-Thatcher types are trying another right wing push at present, and are Eurosceptics but not leavers.

The Tories could split three ways depending on what happens to Labour. We assume the purist nutjobs go first, in a sea of resentment. They become right wing nationalists, and will still appear to some working class types who voted UKIP from both Labour and the Tories. The Orange Book Liberals might well have to join a combination of Red Tories and Blue Labour, but one can hardly see these 'New Whigs' being very large or self-sustaining. The betting has to be that they would stay attached to the other Tories in a reshaped electoral alliance. Against them would be the Labour left, the SNP, the Liberal left and Greens, learning to co-operate.

First Past the Post was already a ridiculous voting system last time. If scrapped, it would allow the parties to be as they would be; with it we still get the Tories with the rightist top gone and bringing in a right-centrist middle. Labour would be a party of challenge with the others: if they could get people who vote less to get out and vote there could he a radical future: otherwise the Tories could reform to hold a kind of right wing inherited new centre. The Fixed Term Parliament Act is bound to be repealed for an earlier election.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Redoing the London Rapid Transit Map

I've always been interested in maps, and even as a child I would take a map of the area south east of Peterborough and north of the A141 and draw, and quite well even if I say so, a map of a city I called Fenton. These days I'd need strong bifocals to produce what I did then.

Since then has come the Internet and a flowering of efforts to redraw the London Underground map as inherited from Harry Pick (I know - was it him and so on). With the addition of London Overground and the shifting Thameslink, and the coming of Crossrail, the map is hugely complicated. The more compromises it makes, the more the lines have to squiggle a bit, and the greater are some of its anomilies.

The principle of a good rapid transit map is as much simplicity as possible, and this means as many straight lines and regular curves as can be, and fewer deviations. One of the best and most recent adaptations of the London Rapid Transit map is by someone called Sameboat, who apparently resides in Hong Kong. The bottle shape of the original circle line, with the Metropolitan line above and the District line below he has tilted, which has allowed for improvements and corrections in other lines. There is still a bias to the centre and the lines outward are shrunken - he even flattens the outer lines into the horizontal.

However, originally, he did not include Thameslink or the Stansted Express, and Crossrail in the west involved a pretty horrendous compromise of the proposed Acton Main Line north of Action North, when it is most definitely to the south. Crossrail was nice and straight with few angles. However, when it came to later additions and adding in the new Thameslink, the line is forced into a curve downwards and then a sort of bucket shape before going towards the north west (heading for Milton Keynes). It is partly due to the tilted bottle, but also other line arrangements on the plan.

 So I have had a go, especially as his effort was under a Creative Commons copyright. It's free for further development.


My effort is not just to include Crossrail and the new Thameslink, but putting back the old Thameslink (presumably the way to Moorgate goes via St Pancras now), and adding in the Stansted Express. My map is what I would like to see in terms of improved connectivity and a webpage gives complete explanations. For example, the Overground extension that passes over Brixton Underground Station has no station because it was too expensive to provide one. The new and coming (and expensive) link to Battersea (given in fact as a Northern Line extension: Sameboat oddly invents the Battersea line) has no intended connection to the Victoria Line because of expense and pressure on Vauxhall, when it goes under South Lambeth. This daft extension as is will force travellers to go the long way around Kennington and the Northern Line when the Victoria Line would have given a more direct route. There are other 'move and improve' changes like at Loughborough Junction and Harringay. On my map I have marked such changes for improved connectivity with yellow highlighting. Street maps show what is possible and not possible - Acton Junction adds to the large number of Acton stations both Underground and Overground, and why the Acton Main Line error had to be corrected (all it needs is for the Central Line to connect its two spurs with an alternative dominance of the upper northern branch over the lower southern). My map goes further south, to include the Wimbledon and Sutton loop that now forms part of Thameslink, and as a result improves the representation of the Tramlink, not only the sure necessity of an additional connecting to South Wimbledon by a spur but in how one long branch line turns in its dive towards South Croydon before going off south east. Sameboat showed a horizontal line for that. My 'improvements' as well as being larger were made by stretching the map north and slightly westwards beyond the bottle, thus in part countering the bottle's tilt. It's negative effect is on the Metropolitan line, but that was long and straight and station-avoiding anyway. It goes into the stretch zone, in effect.

Of course the bias on London means more than one Crossrail, I have not put more in. I have put in suggestions I think are the most rational and effective, trying to connect up the system and making the London Overground even more orbital - not just via Putney to and from Richmond, but via Twickenham as well.

I have used mainly the pre-ribbon MS Paint for my improvements, but did start to employ RealWorld Paint because of its facility with curves. I've done some smoothing via my old and trusty Micrografx Picture Publisher. I admire people like Sameboat, who can make .SVG files. How they do it baffles me.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Putting Policy Flesh on the Bones

I'm grateful for so many of you in spending your three pounds and voting for me to be the next Labour leader, and just hope that the party does not open an enquiry to ask how this has all come about. After all, we know how: the leadership never trusted the membership. Frankly, you know, I expected more of you in the great beyond to dip in and vote as I reach out to more than the narrow party constituency, more than these apparent unreliable insiders obsessed with their £40 a year membership and just being too involved. We expected insiders to vote for that chap I shall only call the C word, but apparently outsiders have voted for him too, and some of them he doesn't even want! I do - I'll take all I can get. So reaching out it is and I am the candidate to reach the important Great British public. So I'm not ungrateful for the numbers voting, far from it, and yet I have to say the absence of any attempts at entryism tells us just how far we have got to go to get the voters out there interested. Nevertheless, it is up to us as candidates to generate interest, and I intend to do so using matters of substance.

Now, in that light, of addressing matters of substance, I've been asked to put policy flesh on the not quite bare bones of the vision thing I have already expressed previously. The vision thing is, you see, vitally important: vitally important that we have it. It is our ability to see, to see ahead, and see ahead we will. Not 'we shall', but 'we will', and those of you beyond the party who treasure our great language will know that to say 'we will' is to make a statement of intent. I am determined to do this, and as Mrs Slocombe used to say, I am unanimous in this.

So how does this vision translate into policies? Well, it does, and I want to look at some key areas that fit in with the vision that a modern party like ours can possess, one that nevertheless takes account of political realities, of a Conservative government that won, and a Labour opposition that lost. Yes, we must always remember that they won and we lost.

Remember when we used to win? Yes, a certain Tony Blair used to say, "Cor! Bin this!" and he'd say, "Cor! Bin that!" and binning policies helped us win an election or three, and we must do the same, otherwise we'll end up with the first two of those essential three words, and that means, without making the case, we'll end up saying, "Cor! Bin the General Election!"

 So what policy areas are these we must bin and must refashion? I suggest housing, transport, welfare and devolution are all key areas for the current political agenda. And I shall, if I may, key in Europe with devolution, which is the same thing but in different directions. But there is a relevance here of that particular coupling with all our policies. Remember the term "subsidiarity"? That was Europe handing decisions down to the lowest level relevant, and you'll see how subsidiarity has a part to play in every policy area.

So let's start with housing. Housing is one of our values, that everyone should have a place to live. This is our aspiration at least. Ideally it is a decent place to live, particularly where children are involved. But, if one thing this General Election result has shown us, it is that we must be realistic, and there will be, even under my leadership I'm afraid, waiting lists and a likely continued rise in house prices and rents and horrible places to reside. Subsidiarity means it must be the full responsibility of individuals to find housing, and businesses to provide housing, but let's see this positively as part of opportunity Britain. We will never be able to go back to the days of that collective socialist paternalist Harold MacMillan and his building lots of council houses when some people never had it so good - not as good, was it, when people were able to buy those houses at a discount and stash the cash in a wealth effect: that really was a time of never having it so good. So let's not make that mistake of council house building again. Although the one thing we can do is sell off Housing Association stock. And then, as regards the market in property, given that we must attract the votes of the elite, rising property prices under pressure of fewer places to live is a means by which they can afford and maintain a lifestyle, and this while expensive welfare goes to those who sit in front of afternoon television watching programmes about buying and selling houses, ridiculous when buying and selling houses happens among those who work, and either manage a lifetime of debt or are part of the elite taking property prices (just as they do affording education) in their stride.

By the way I'm not referring to education simply because the Conservatives took on what Blair did, the only difference being that their academies and free schools are aimed at the posher end of the market whereas ours were aimed at the poorer end of the market. Neither did - nor does - much for social mobility: and in any case these last years of falling unemployment have shown how useful it is to have a pool of largely uneducated labour to fill low wage low productivity jobs, a labour pool that now we must free from benefit top-ups however painful but useful for the subsidiary of responsibility.

Yes, some people, if not the welfare dependent or the high elite, go to work using transport. It is Osborne's policy to keep petrol less taxed because they use cars. But what about public transport? Let's be honest: John Major privatised our railways in the worst way possible, so that they have to be subsidised to be profitable. Can we make them profitable without being subsidised? Our legacy now is adjusted from the worst days: we have Network Rail and these operating companies. Now it is a good thing that many of these operating companies are owned by State run railways abroad, so although we see our prices rise, subsidies rise and profits grow, these bodies can run their own services as a social good and bring to their own national operations the benefits of making a profit. Yes, this is the new reality, just as is the Northern Powercut. Let me tell you about that - and some home truths are needed. Remember the fuss made about trams in Manchester, followed by the fuss made about trams in Sheffield? What about all the noise about a pathetic little line in Edinburgh? Yes - but do you remember hearing anything about the Wimbledon Tramlink? No - and that's because the south takes its investment in its stride, where necessity demands the investment and where surely we can spend lots on repositioning stations, and co-ordinating London Underground, London Overground, Thameslink in two forms, Crossrail and the Stansted Express. I have detailed policies on this and a map of proposals. Yes we are committed, at enormous expense, to HS 1, HS 2 and HS 3, even if they will be out of date by the time they come to fruition, when the Chinese and Japanese will be building maglevs up and down their lands going at considerably faster speeds. We need to catch up as we fall behind at the same time, all at a considerable commitment to such marginal investment. I know others want small and effective rail and rapid transit improvements, but we must remember that this Chancellor is showing the way and we are not an opposition for opposition's sake, even when we might have a better alternative.

When Labour won its landslide it didn't institute a Welfare State that would cradle people from their birth to their grave. No. They expected that, as the National Health Service made people more well that it would be able to shrink, not discover more and more conditions to treat. This is no way of going on. The point about unemployment pay was to then be taken to a firm or government department to start a job. People who were ill or had needs had families to look after them, and if they didn't they were illegitimate anyway and could approach a religious house or convent or some such. The logic of this Chancellor's and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions' direction must be the workhouse, surely the best place where people can do mindless and meaningless work in order that they may survive. Let's be honest, it was not all bad in the nineteenth century. I was reading how children in bondage, even to such progressive mill owners at those Unitarian Greggs in Styal, used to run away to the workhouse. They ran from such a lovely village and guaranteed work to a workhouse because they thought they would be able to leave it and get a real job. What a good idea - and in appealing to our elite, who with their wealth can relax somewhat, we need to refashion the world of benefits to get ahead of the curve and bring back the local workhouse. It will give people the experience and skills by which they can go and do these low wage low productivity jobs that the elite money economy does seem to allow. I'm sure that a sensitive introduction of the workhouse can also be a little softer with older inhabitants or those with medical conditions, reducing the need to offer pensions or other social care as early as we do. Indeed, care homes can be incorporated into workhouses. Furthermore, people in workhouses will put less pressure on Housing Association properties allowing them to be sold off. And of course these workhouses will be privately run, giving a real sense of economic growth in the motivation of the labour force, especially in the north - and we would only need to pay by results.

And let's be clear, here, that we are committed to one nation. Yes we are because why should part of the nation pay and part of the nation receive? That's two nations. Let us have one nation, where no one is receiving, or at least they are receiving in a well run private workhouse that gets paid by results of people working hard within and then going into work without. Let the wealthy elite realise it is time to vote Labour! Yes, Labour is for labouring!

But. let me warn you. We could soon be automating ourselves out of jobs, and having no cost or price for items in the information economy. Capitalism is threatened, and the C word man must not be allowed to suggest an unwelcome alternative. We must therefore retain the low productivity low wages jobs that our elite understands as necessary for social peace, that reinforced by the active workhouse system I am proposing that would benefit everyone going through its transitory purposes.

So more and more decisions should be take locally. For example, every workhouse would have to decide its own regime on how it would meet its payment by results. But let's look at the wider subsidiarity question. Who knows whether we will be in or out of Europe by the time the next election comes? Who knows if euros will be printed on Greece-proof paper? But here let's devolve to local cliques and bigwigs, the sort of people we see tribally up and down the country, with local feuds able to sort out local policy differences. There is a good argument for national politics to be refashioned not by voting and all the trouble that brings, but a refashioned House of Lords where our elite can purchase their way into direct policy making. After all, with my kinds of policies, why have a General Election at all? Why not leave the direction in which we are now going and which I can advance to a collection of the wealthy to actually make public decisions?

Let's look at the evidence. The City of London is a wonderful receptacle for financial assets of all kinds, legal and illegal, that has a special place in the property sector in London, especially now that the benefit families are being forced to move out and go to northern England (and could be the very people to occupy the workhouses there). Property prices can soar and really generate finance for our nation, on the biggest scale since slavery! Ask what powered our industrial revolution and it was slavery. Now ask where the money is coming from today, and it is oligarchs and crooks and all sorts of worldwide dodgy dealings, as well as from a whole host of financial derivatives that make pre-2008 look like sober times. Quantitative easing that has kept the patient alive is turning up now in all sorts of high-end consumerism for the sorts of people we need to vote Labour, people with many properties and even more cars.

I say to the pessimists, Labour does not have nowhere to go. Elect me as your leader and I will continue with venom where the Conservatives are only gingerly going. I will get us there and fast - the one nation that is our future, located as a magnet for the world. Let's refashion Labour and show the world!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Speech as a Labour Leadership Candidate

Well it is good to be taking part in these Labour leadership hustings, to put myself forward as one of the candidates. So, my collegues, and friends, or indeed that long-lost word 'comrades' should Jeremy win, we need to tackle some hard truths about where we are and where we are probably going. I am saying I am the person for the job.

Face the facts. We are in the downstream of the General Election result, the signficance of which is pessimistic, but potentially optimistic, as we tackle the role of opposition in recognising that the government won, as indeed governments always do. Our leadership is not to oppose, simply, but to win, and win next time, not the time after, or the time after that. Which could happen if we get this wrong, and probably will if we are not careful. But this government won this time, and could next, and next again, with an agenda somewhat different from ours, which is why some of us think, in some aspects, think that to win, and win soon, that our agenda should instead be somewhat similar to theirs, that is doing what they do, according, however, to our values.

But what are our values? They are the values of perhaps the interpretive photocopier, the intelligent scanner, the diligent copyist, in the sense that we embed our values into that which we copy, one of our values now being to copy the other and make it our own. We need to make the appeal, and flattery is part of the appeal. A blat flattery is no good to anyone, so we need the copying process to work, in which to embed our values, as I say. We need Windows on the world by which to operate the scanner and of course to print out the agenda, by which we make it our own, as well as theirs.

And this, of course, is a painful process. It was when Tony Blair did it, and remember: he won many elections even as he lost our core vote. He was followed by Gordon Brown, as Margaret Thatcher was followed by John Major, except Major achieved a modest majority on a huge vote, rather as this government now has won a modest majority on a tiny vote. Let's not forget that we are copying a government that hardly had a resounding win, except it did much better than us. Going back, I hardly need reminding you, we had Gordon Brown, of the banking crisis, rather as John Major had the disaster of the ERM: except that the Major government policy was to blame for the ERM, whereas in our case government policy at the time probably saved us from going down the economic and social plughole. But despite Gordon Brown around the world with Alistair Darling being praised for steadying the ship with strategies and liquidity, we must take our share of the blame for liberalising the financial markets during the period of the later Thatcher government. When the American property market exposed the rot in the derivative financial products around the world, it was seen by the electorate in the last five years as our fault. And we are listening.

President Obama might have reduced the US deficit by monetary and financial measures, supporting his real economy and infrastructure, rather than by austerity, but Labour surely must take its share of the blame and in a politically adept masochistic style adopt the current UK view of austerity in fiscal tightening and monetary slackness that allows moneys parked in banks to leak into property and the economy of the very rich. Yes, low wages have allowed employers to take on our underemployed workforce rather than invest in productive capital. My leadership accepts that the electorate, informed by the last government and the media, is right. We cannot argue otherwise: we simply are not competent to make a more irrelevant case. Of course we don't believe in trickle-down, and in our serious electoral situation we must surely follow the current Chancellor's policies of water pumped up, never mind down, up to those who buy goods of wealth that are part of the international economy, that we must preserve of excess liquidity flushing through London and giving us a share of the profits in the unbalanced world economy, for as long as it survives.

This is what is meant by supporting "working people" and we are the party of working people after all, one of the slogans of the Chancellor by which we cannot be otherwise labelled the party of the underclass. And, if the unbalanced world economy doesn't survive, we in Labour will of course more than likely take the blame for it not surviving, as George Osborne will pin it on us as disloyal to him and his agenda, and we must not let the electorate think we are to blame because as we know the electorate as informed by him is always right. And indeed it has gone to the right as he goes ahead of them, leading the way. Apparently. After all they did not vote for us after a period of the Tories and the Wooden Leg in government, for which we got the blame for allowing this to happen and for what they did.

So, whereas the Scots made the case and won on the argument, we cannot put our own argument if we had one because we are largely present in England, and we are not sure about Wales, and Northern Ireland is peculiar. This is my tough message: to win Scotland back is to lose England, and as there is no certainty in winning Scotland back we cannot first lose England.

So what we need is vision, vision for an alternative that follows the direction in which the government has gone and is going, and accepting the dominant third of the active electorate. If we could do it before, we can do it again. We need that vision thing, by which we can see ahead.

The dominant third was so powerful that it even demolished the prop I have just mentioned, the prop that allowed the Chancellor to operate in the previous coalition government, from which base he is now able to operate far more freely and ruthlessly. With them, he was able to make a good start on this shift towards inequality that he can now pursue, and which we see as the agenda today. It is my tough message. We too must support a benefits cap and take money from the poorest and continue to adopt the 'working people' language so that the wealthy can pass the financial assets between themselves.

But notice the difference between us and the former Wooden Leg of Conservative rule. Post-election, the Wooden Leg is as shocked as us, but it has just had a fairly benign leadership election, whereas we are showing our seriousness by tearing ourselves apart. Our leader, unlike Nick Clegg, resigned far too readily and early, and we are adrift in an election of our own as we try to adjust our agenda for this new financial age. They have replaced their leader easily, whereas we could end up with, for goodness sake, someone with - well, historically, it has been referred to as - socialism, but it is a word best avoided. No, Nick Clegg should have resigned a year or two earlier: we know that the former Business Secretary got cold feet when in China when Clegg should have gone. Now that would have been far more exciting than their rather late and timid actual leadership campaign. It just shows they have no flexibility and no idea of where they want to be, unlike us, and so we show seriousness in this very difficult time for this party.

Let's be honest. The acting leader has shown vision, vision to say we should follow the Chancellor and it is from this vision that I wish to make my case. For once a Labour leader actually lacks the authority to do bold things, and yet does them, and so I am arguing that I should be elected to have that authority to do what she has started.

For if we have more than our values, and have actual policies, we could upset what seems to be the former Wooden Leg's strategy of going back to the liberal left. This would not help them or us. It suits us as 'responsible' to have the Liberals to our left, so it shows how we apply what values we may have to the new era in which we find ourselves, an era of victimising the underclass and stripping the working poor of the ability to better themselves and even their dream of joining the elite. Labour ought to be itself the policy of the elite, so we can be of that appeal. Our big tent needs to go in that direction, even if it is actually no bigger.

We need to appeal to the elite because the people in the centre ground, now currently losing out, won't vote for us until others vote for us to be a government and show that we can be a responsible government. We cannot even appeal to the centre ground! This is what the focus groups show, and the focus groups are core information. They are our potential electorate - except they are not being our potential electorate until the time after next. This is devastating. I repeat: we cannot do our task of recovery by appealing to the centre, just as we cannot by energising people who might have a memory of the S word. We need a Labour Government by which we can then convince the middle ground voters to vote for us once we show that we are not to blame for the woes in the economy and what happens to those centre people, like at the present, as like at the last five years of Tories and the Wooden Leg.

And we should be ready. Their majority is effectively 16. Now when we took that visionary step of abstaining on the welfare matters, twenty Tories abstained as well. Assuming they weren't taking advantage of our principled stance, had we voted against we would have won and scuppered the government's harsh welfare policies. And that really will not do, not with our own tough message and our attempt to travel in the government's direction. We cannot elect someone who makes the case, that would only suit Scotland and not England, now, because very soon the Government will tear itself apart over the European referendum. We know the Prime Minister, David Cameron - even if George Osborne is increasingly running the government - will have a faux negotiation that will fool no one, and then there will be a referendum to dissatisfy and alienate the nut jobs in his party. That majority will effectively vanish in bitterness and rancour. David Cameron could be exposed as a political rancour. But if Cameron detects a weakness in us, then a simple majority can overturn the Fixed Term Parliament Act, that demands a two-thirds Commons majority, in order to call an early general election. Repeal the Act and, even if Cameron doesn't get back the power in the Crown to call an election, a simple majority will be enough. And if we are weak, or making some other former case, the Tories will win even more, even if with yet a smaller number of votes, should the former Wooden Leg party recover.

So let us be ready, and apply some hard vision, to not take the blame anymore, and show that we can do what they do, if not quite with the same venom. Perhaps we could have that too. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Favourite to Win

A number of possibilities arise from a Jeremy Corbyn leadership. The first is that, far from Harriet Harman rolling over and asking the vicious Tories to tickle her tummy, the leadership will be opposing the government on its attack on the least capable of resisting. Secondly there can be an effective alliance with the SNP in terms of putting up a more effective bloc against the government (and a Corbyn leadership is more likely, in and of itself, to win back Scottish sympathy that went to the SNP).

It is said that Corbyn is in the lead, including second preference votes. Whether this is so, or not, we shall see. But it is possible. The notion of 'anyone join to vote, let's moderate the electorate beyond the party' seems to have backfired.

The notion was Miliband lost because he was too left wing. He wasn't - he lost because he didn't have an economic analysis. He didn't spell out an alternative to savage cuts, to more deflation. He might have indicated what Obama had done, for example: the growth way to reduce the deficit. People thought Miliband would spend, and spend better, but was not up to it regarding economic management.

With Corbyn we might even renationalise the railways. Whoopee! And even if not, there could well be a state owned Transport for London type approach, where private firms are contracted to provide and that's it, they get paid but the ticket moneys go to the payer and the payer decides all strategies.

And there will be a reassignment of spending priorities, helping those who need it the most, and returning to society.

But there's another outcome too. It has already been said that the big growth in the Labour Party won't get past the leadership election. No matter who wins, people will leave. If Liz Kendall were to win, then whole groups of supporters will fade away and many go elsewhere. There was a little socialist party up and down the country at the last election, with Dave Nellist at the helm. But as a Blairite Mark II, she was never going to win.

With Jeremy Corbyn winning, watch out for a Labour Party split, because there will be some resurrection the 'suicide note' period of Michael Foot and all that.

The Liberal Democrats are inviting members of Progress to their conference. Oh they like to dally with the right wings of politics. This time it is to try and (again) redefine the broad left and if it's Nice Tim doing it (and it is), we might have that attempt. If the Labour Part splits, it could well be yet another SDP coming about.

Of course we can't afford another SDP. We can't afford legs up to the Tories. We want the Tories to self-destruct over Europe, not have Labour self-destruct before they do it.

I foresaw a Labour Party tacking to the right and the Liberal Democrats recovering by tacking back to the left, and having to give guarantees that they would never again give the Tories a wooden leg.  It is that wooden leg that allowed the Tories to win this time (by a nationalist scare fluke and Labour bad tactics) and has unleashed all this misery on to the young and the poor and even the average people.

With a Corbyn leadership, the Lib Dems will go after the centre ground and attempt to pick up the splitters.

If Corbyn wins, he will need to appoint carefully to minimise the splitters. We know the noise will be immense. We know also how the press will respond, and we know TV will go into tabloid journalism, but that's the least of the problems in the Internet age. Of course it might just be the best thing that's happens. Might.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

When a Tradition Dies: Defining My Position

We live in interesting times, so the saying goes, and perhaps that is something of a privilege to observe one of those interesting times. The evidence surely shows that the Unitarian tradition as a movement is on its deathbed. We are turning into curators, with so few that visit its museum.

There might be strategies for revival from within, but in the end a true revival is social and driven in part from without. The Unitarian tradition has lost its anchorage socially, and is simply dying away.

I have been reading the late John Kent's view of the Methodist revival - it wasn't a revival because it resulted in churches whereas revivals boost churches again. Yet Methodism provided a displaced population, that had lost expressive outlets of its primal religion, a means of expressing that primal religion in a newer charismatic-Arminian form, one that Wesley deliberately guided in a trinitarian and orthodox manner consistent with his fear of Arian developments among English Presbyterians and even Anglicans. So he tapped into a need, and this response made the one time high Church Eucharist-loving brothers into effective low Church evangelists, helped by Calvinist George Whitfield.

An institution that is pluralist losing its anchorage in a pluralist society might seem odd: it should be a place of spiritual practice reflecting the plurality without. The problem is that this involves no sense of difference, when all it offers is an individualism that, well, individuals can enjoy anyway. Most people have a bias in one direction or another, and can shop around consumer-like for what meets a need at any one time, if they want to shop around.

Difference never used to matter. The historical position of 'Church' was sameness, but sameness supported by widespread culture of Sunday schools and a sizeable minority of people into the core while the Church reflected ways of thinking and provided a social life, education and welfare. Sameness is no more, consumerism is the present, including the option not to buy any of them when none of them perhaps reflect plausibility structures of ordinary thought and practice today.

Even under this nasty Tory government, education and welfare as commitments are not going to return to the churches other than at the margins. Religious institutions now offer simply religion: the core is its entirety, its social life derived from the core. So there are no Churches now, no denominations even, only sects and cults, and what is a sect that denies being a sect at all?

Of course you can do it in part by comparative positioning. The Unitarian Universalists in the USA do this, as they exploit the (albeit declining) residual habit of churchgoing. I was talking to my open evangelical friend Rachel this week, and from her perspective Unitarians are well to the left theologically. Unitarians will happily accept more liberals - but of course Anglicans are very poor at leaving the Church of England and tend to grumble in corners, find somewhere Anglican that is more compatible (like the evangelicals do, but more slowly) or leave. They don't in fact tend to go religious shopping. A very few go quiet and become Quakers or Buddhists, but most just drift off. Unitarians will appeal to no one if they pursue the fiction of appealing to all.

Even accepting comparative positioning, Unitarians will not then make progress by focussing on what doesn't trouble others. The denominationalist habit is to criticise other liberals saying creeds when not believed. Credalists say, 'We believe' these days, meaning the collective, which gives the individual cover. Before I led it, I was in an Anglican discussion group when, in one session, they were concluding that we should say, 'They believe' or 'They believed'. How dismissive was that? And everyone recited the creed the following Sunday. Well, all religious language is borrowed from the past: Unitarians are constantly saying things they don't believe. Many refer to God and don't believe in God. They will tell you so, more readily, perhaps, but go on doing it. They have to, otherwise there'd never be collective worship.


Theologically, I am Unitarian on an evolution of belief definition, established in the nineteenth-century: one that follows liberal and critical theology, that now makes use of the postmodern (I'm a little bit too modernist - more Habermas than Derrida, if not quite Habermas). These theologies have developed because of how ideas have changed: I particularly value the theology of the Roman Catholic David Tracy and how the classics play into questions of who we are as a kind of ongoing reflective discussion. Yes, he is a Roman Catholic!

However, I am happier when not A Unitarian, and indeed I am not a member of any Unitarian body. I was reminded today about how a minor historical strand in the wider movement gets trashed, never mind argued against. The supposed wide umbrella does include what the common Unitarian does not understand and does not use, and those with any sacramental past.

And, yet again, in addition, this notion of 'being liberal' is pushed back far too far into Puritan times. It is so simple to say this, so tribally deceptive, and simpler still to reply that they were not liberals, not in any stretch, and indeed it turns out that the most intolerant were the Presbyterians. Parish (communal) mentality they may have had, but only because it oppressed society into their narrow views and not simply the gathered. I think the Church of England did the inevitably right thing (and let's not forget that not all Puritans left) by asserting three not two orders of ministry and a mixture of Calvinist, Lutheran and even lower c catholic theologies in its liturgy. I have no sympathy for Presbyterian Puritans and I assert that Presbyterian churches went into decline and were revived by liberal, ideological, theological Unitarians - a replacement almost.

The minor movement I am referring to - that keeps being written out or trashed - is the Free Catholic and Liberal Catholic, and the latter has several strands: from Charles Gore's Lux Mundi in Anglicanism, and Roman Catholic Modernism, to the Theosophical (Hindu and Buddhist) bending independent movement, the latter a little bit too magical for me but still very anthropological about the gift and sacrifice in ritual. I am not a fool about the 'dressing up' among Catholics, and particularly self-delusions of grandeur, or what I see as the silliness of claims behind Apostolic procession, but nevertheless they maintain a core identity through activity and then are light on dogma.

I'm under pressure because I want to at least present the history, but this is coming under the kind of criticism that brushes out even the possibility of presentation, including when the history strives to be accurate and proportionate.

But, aside from all that, and its usual story of tribalism and representation, and defining the limits of the tribe, the question here is the loss of the main movement. It is collapsing in on itself, and even its common adherents do not value it enough to make the effort to observe. Recently the Hibbert Trust has raised the issue of having a 'critical mass', after which revival is virtually impossible. I think this movement is well below that critical mass. There has to be in any movement a section of leaders and caretakers, and then in the group those who just come along because it resonates; instead Unitarians are turning into museum curators, each and every one, because we are preserving something for others when there are no 'others'.

Incidentally, Unitarians, critical of independent sacramental ministers and the like, of their egos and deceptions (and there are some, certainly), ought to be careful because the Unitarian movement is itself falling to a level at which exactly those delusory mental pressures start to kick in. There is a lot of talk in Unitarianism about a wide and active tradition when we are really talking about handfuls of people - the curators. There is a delusion in the discussion: for example, the supposed umbrella doesn't have to be that large given the number of people needing protection from the rain. Well, they don't even need protection from the rain (that's the point).


The future is open ended and culture changes, but it is not going to change readily to uphold a movement that is completely porous to culture and simply has no distinctive base. I like to think I am good at curating, being a bit of a theological and historical anorak, but I am nobody's fool. The writing isn't just on the wall, it is going into glass cases.