Monthly Archives: September 2014

No Human Rights without Legal Aid, Mr Khan

Brother Ivo takes his name from the patron saint of lawyers, who was effectivley the first recorded legal aid lawyer; he was certainly famed  for his advocacy on behalf of the poor. It is a cause close to Brother Ivo’s heart, so he accordingly tuned in to listen to listen to Labour Justice spokesman Sadiq Khan with real interest as Mr Khan told the nation about his priorities should he be given the justice brief in a Labour Government.

We heard that Mr Khan’s modest family origins caused him to identify with and  speak up for the poor, and if that be so, good for him. We all ought to applaud those who come through from modest origins, unlike David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and, err .. Ed Milliband, Ed Balls, Harriett Harman, Hilary Benn, and many others on Labour’s top table.

Brother Ivo was himself born during post war austerity, in a council house which his parents were not exactly entitled to occupy, so as boys from the wrong side of the tracks, he and Sadiq ought perhaps to stick together.

Unfortunately that that bonhomie  and fellow feeling did  not last long into his speech.

Sadiq Khan quickly went into attack mode on behalf of the much criticised Human Rights Act, making the common mistake of confusing substance and form. He prayed in aid Sir Winston Churchill,  who, he seemed to suggest, would have leapt to the defence of the HRA against the proposals of some on the right who wish to repeal it.

Brother Ivo is not quite  of the era, but is historically informed enough to know that Britain did not place itself under the authority of the European Court despite having originally defined the concepts of the Human Rights Convention. We, unlike most of Europe, had not fallen under the intellectual sway of either the jurisprudence of Fascism or Marxism . We had our common law to protect us: it had evolved organically over hundreds of years , having been framed and refined by fair minded judges. We did not instantly  join up to the European jurisprudential renewal – because we did not need to.

To have insisted upon British participation would have been an impertinence, rather like asking Sir Chris Hoye to take a cycling proficiency test. Sir Winston would have instinctively known that Britain’s courts did not need to place themselves under Human Rights Principles –  because they embodied them.

So much of Mr Khan’s big point. Yet as he made his case, few in the hall appreciated that he was standing on incredibly thin ice.

As as a proud Human Rights lawyer, Mr Khan has operated within a protected environment. Britain has to fund Human Rights cases, and does so richly if reluctantly. Thus Abu Quatada and his lawyers consumed £1.3m on his 8 year campaign to avoid the justice in his home country. Jordan has just acquitted him.

Is is anybody outside the Human Rights gravy train thinking “So glad we spent the money”?

The prioritising of cases such has Mr Quatada, has come at a cost, largely in the family Courts. It is common knowledge that the priorities which the Human Rights Act accorded to the absolute rights found within Immigration and Asylum Law, broke the old system of Legal Aid. The budget was finite: the new area of law was the cuckoo in the nest which duly began to heave the original offspring out of the nest.

Legal Aid was established as part of the post war Welfare State, and undoubtedly grew enormously under both Labour and Conservative governments. Both moved quickly to make economies when budgetary problems struck.

Labour, and its 3rd sector cheerleaders were very swift to condemn the £200m cuts to the Legal Aid budget, introduced by the Conservatives, and rightly so. Labour is not usually reticent about spending money or promising to reverse ” Tory Cuts”.

Brother Ivo therefore waited to hear Mr Khan announce that such cuts would be reversed. He waited in vain.

Mr Khan it appears is a blowhard. Strong on the rhetoric, weak on the application.

For all the talk of justice, Mr Khan and his party are talking in the abstract. Human Rights without Legal Aid for the poorest members of society, provide but a fig leaf of justice.

Mr Khan chose to avoid owning his policy. An open politician would have explained why he has chosen to retain Chris Graylings priorities having  plainly decided to do nothing to put the flesh on the bones of the rhetoric.

The Abu Quatadas of the world and those representing them will continue to suckle on the taxpayers teat, but ordinary people in, say, Clacton or Heywood and Middleton will continue to be on their own when family problems take them to Court.

Doubtless Mr Khan will next be in the television studios expressing disbelief and incomprehension when UKIP advances thanks to the support of the ordinary voters who have found the Welfare State is not there for them when they need it. Once they thought Labour stood for folks just like them, Mr Khan is teaching them otherwise.




“Rendering to Caesar” implies respect for politicians

The last few weeks have been very political, and with the Clacton by-election happening soon, that news priority seems likely to continue.

People of faith often check themselves when they find politics taking precedence in lives or pre-occupation and Brother Ivo is no exception.

Politics are there to serve humanity, and not to be an end in itself. When it takes a distorted priority in anyone’s life, priorities slip, family suffers, single-mindedness gives way to pride and in that way lies corruption and perdition.

In the aftermath of the Scottish Referendum there remain big and important questions, but none perhaps is greater than our sudden loss of confidence in our institutions and our politicians. In many ways they have brought it upon themselves, partly through the expenses scandal but also through the increasing distance of those within the ” Westminster Bubble” from ordinary life.

Policy positions are perceived to be driven by political expediency, shaped by internal polling or focus groups, rather than any real conviction or intellectual analysis. More and more, MP’s seem to have drifted from Oxbridge to consultancy, special advisor status to favoured status on the constituency short list, without ever having to engage with the problems and frustrations of everyday life.

Many long for the days when the House of Commons may have had its admirals, brigadiers and Masters of Hounds, but also its self made businessmen, its miners, boilermakers and shopkeepers who could inject a degree of ordinary experience into debate. To use the modern jargon it may, paradoxically have been more “diverse” in former days, at least in terms of life experience.

We seem to think less of our rulers now, and yet Jesus taught us to render to Caeser the things that are Caeser”s, and amongst that which we should offer, is surely a modicum of respect. There many other biblical references to to propriety of secular authority.

In Exodus 21 we read ” Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens”.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans emphasises the role and value of rulers.

“Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

Paul knew, and frequently suffered at the hands of rulers. Having suffered multiple beatings and imprisonments; he would not have any need of our tutoring on the subject of oppression by those in authority.

Our modern rulers, even at their worst, are infinitely better than those to whom the Apostles bent the knee.

Our faith response to reform must be informed by institutional and personal frailties but also carefull that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater.

Too easily, MP’s are characterised as venal, and a Parliamentary salary may seem high to most on the average wage, but it is now fixed by independent outsiders. Many MP’s do take a pay reduction when the offer themselves for public service, and for all their faults they stand in the higher centiles of probity and good conduct when compared to rulers of most other countries.

When we are feeling weary and cynical it will do us no harm to reflect on how else we might be governed to our detriment. Pakistani politicians are more tribal, Chinese politicians more compliant to the wishes of the elite and Kenyan MPs pay themselves the highest salaries of any legislature in the world.

As we reflect on what respect we should record our own representatives, we still need to ask ourselves not only why some fall short of proper standards, but also why so many serve with industry, conscience and dedication. When contrasted with politicians across the globe, our question might be not “Why are they so bad?” but rather “Why are so many so good?”

Looking at our current crop of leaders we may not approve of everything that David Cameron does, yet amidst all the cynicism, there was a real bravery and integrity about his decision to give Scotlad its referendum on the Union. Many criticise Alex Salmond’s cocky style, yet few can deny that he both connected with the electorate, especially the young, and is responsible for renewed confidence in the possibility of change. Gordon Brown has been widely depicted as a brooding figure of resentment since his departure from office. He can earn huge amounts on the US lecture circuit. Yet when he was needed (we may debate whether by his country or his party) a fundamental loyalty kicked in and he answered the call, with vigour and ability.

Soon we shall have a by-election in Clacton, where every political commentator expects the former incumbent to triumph, with a majority that might as well be weighed as counted. Notwithstanding his confidence in retaining the seat, there was real integrity in Douglas Carswell’s insistence on seeking a renewed mandate from his electorate when he switched party. That is another reason for renewed optimism about what is right in our political settlement. A precedent is important in our political system which evolves pragmatically rather than follows a set text.

A little internet research showed a huge history of defections, and many simply switched and stayed put. In the 1980’s over 40 Labour MP’s created the SDP without reference to their constituents. More recently Peter Temple-Morris, Shawn Woodward and Quentin Davis all switched to Labour without offering the conservative majorities who elected them, a chance to agree or disagree.

A little reflection on these developments ought to lighten our moods rather than putting our heads in our hands with those bemoaning our “broken politics”. Don’t try and secure sympathy for that view in Zimbabwe or Iran.

Why we are so blessed is partly a result in the integrity of individuals, but there is no small contribution which derives from our culture. It is a culture with both a Christian past and even a Christian presence. Our Queen sets a shining example, both from private devotion but also as head of the Established Church. Our Parliament begins its sessions with prayer – voluntary prayer at that. The Speaker’s chaplain is a quiet presence supporting both MPs and their staff. Every day in churches across the nation, prayers are offered for the Queen in Parliament

We learnt the hard way: our history is beset with both horror and error, yet somehow it gave birth to a system that is still the envy of many countries for both the subtly balanced form, and the overwhelming probity of its members.

Of course it is far from perfect, yet, the day after we saw the Archbishop of Canterbury’s cricket team enjoying a match and the company of a Vatican 11, it is worth remembering that the same peoples who devised a political settlement based on fair play, gave many of the varied sporting codes to the world. We seem to have a talent for sensing what is and isn’t cricket, and that ought not to be under estimated.

Some politicians still “walk”. Many still disapprove sledging, ball tampering or the professional foul.

Reform makes its case by telling a negative story: that easily resonates with the young. There is some truth in its critique. Yet Established Church – and all who have benefitted from it- surely have a duty to tell the full history and redress the balance when we fail to properly count our many blessings.

There are, as Ian Drury cheerfully sang “Reasons to be cheerful”. If we want a better politics we need to be sensitive to its weaknesses but also to balance the widespread cynicism with a refreshing recognition that things could be very much worse and there is still much for which we should properly render thanks.

Beware of the false SNP Narrative.

The English speaking peoples have a good record on healing divisions. It is worth remembering this as we enter the post Scottish Referendum period, after a serious debate upon issues which in many cultures would inevitably have brought out serious tribal bloodshed.

At the conclusion of the American Civil War, Union soldiers lowered their flags in respectful acknowledgement of noble adversaries, and shared their rations with Robert E Lee’s weary army when it surrendered at Appomatox Courthouse, Lincoln himself ordered his army musicians to play once again the merry tune ” I wish I were in Dixie” which he declared he always loved.

In Europe after the Second World War, Churchill urged the French to take Germany by the hand,  to lead her back into the comity of nations.

More recently, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness amazed people on both sides of the Ulster conflict by sitting and jovially chuckling like old friends as soon as the peace accord was signed.

As Alex Salmond stands down as leader of the Scottish National Party, he will reasonably and properly be acknowledged as having fought a good and effective campaign. It may be that like George Wallace, a politician he partly resembles, his pugnacious rhetoric, his populism and his ebullient self confidence, will mask his real achievement which is to have changed national politics beyond his immediate objectives and concerns.

There is however, a serious risk in this post referendum period. It is the risk of the false narrative.

After the American Civil War, there was a false narrative that ” the South will rise again”: it led directly to the Ku Klux Klan.

After World War One, Germany developed a false narrative that the Imperial Army had not been defeated but had been “stabbed in the back” by defeatist politicians, war profiteers and not least ” the Jews”. This led to Hitlerism.

In Ulster the reality was that the IRA were defeated militarily. Additionally, US President George W Bush’s “War on Terror”,post 9/11, denied the IRA the support of America, which had sustained it for decades. It was not politic to say this, and this led in due course to  the false narrative of the “Real IRA ” that there is a prospect of re-opening Irish unification by force.

We need to be mindful of these historical precedents in the post referendum period. Much of the “Yes Campaign” was driven by emotion and that is especially susceptible to disappointment and disillusion. Already there have been a few expressions of anger, suggesting that other means should be grasped as the ballot denied them their birthright.

If we are to manage the more foolish expressions of disappointment we cannot be too sentimental about Alex Salmond’s legacy. He may have changed UK politics forever by bringing forward English consciousness, and a serious return to the resolution of the West Lothian question. That was not however his intention.

He wanted Independance and failed to secure it.

He and supporters are already offering explanations.

It was the fault of the ” Westminster Elite”, the “Establishment”, ” bullying Big Business” ” the Media” and many others .

This is all a diversion, and it is important that the reason for the ” No vote” is stated plainly.

On each of the big issues – the currency, EU membership, NATO membership – Alex Salmond offered no hard edged solutions, but only jokes, charm, and bombast. He had years to prepare his answers, he knew the issues, the date of the election and what his opponents would ask him, yet he still flopped and had no coherence in his case. There is no other reason for his losing: it is important that those in the public eye don’t let the SNP forget this.

A Vision for Mosul

Archbishop Justin has announced that he is looking for an Abbot to build a monastic community to live and worship in Lambeth Palace. It is a fine initiative and will remind the world that the Church is about far more than its controversies.

The announcement set Brother Ivo to reflect on a previous initiative of similar character, when in the aftermath of the Second World War, Brother Roger gathered his brothers around him at Taize as a sign of reconciliation and outreach to the young. It has sown hope and prayer in the world since that time.

Foundations are important. They speak of our values, they make us sacrifice, and they ask us to consider our priorities. Establishing a worshipping, praying community in difficult times is not an indulgence, it is a necessity, and doing so at the end of conflict, as Brother Roger did, sets a marker for the future.

The Middle East needs just such a marker for the future.

Many of us were saddened to learn when Christians were finally driven out of Mosul for the first time in two thousand years. We probably never thought of them before in any specific way, but we always knew instinctively that such communities existed and we liked the idea of their longevity.

Islamic State has interrupted that, horribly and brutally. Yet, the word ” interrupted ” is chosen deliberately. The doctrine of IS is evil and will pass, just as many such evils have been ended, most recently Nazism and Soviet Communism. Both were followed by a repopulation by the people of faith.

The process by which restoration can occur is harsh and built upon the deeds of brave and rough men: to everything there is a season, and the writer of Ecclesiastes did not shy from recognising that war may be part of the cycle of human existence, sometimes a virtuous part.

It will be followed by peace, however, and the quality of the repopulation may be significant.

What shall be done for Mosul?

After 1945, communities which had suffered particularly, gave a legacy to the future. Hiroshima, Dresden, Coventry – Israel, even, each imprinted their experience onto history, so serve as a sign that such terrible things must not be repeated.

Perhaps Archbishop Justin’s new initiative points the way forward for Mosul, in whatever distant timeframe that may be possible.

Mosul needs Christians to return, but not only in the form of individual vulnerable families, but also institutionally as part of the world’s commitment to stopping such religious cleansing happening again.

Bishop Justin’s community will be multi-denominational, like Brother Roger’s before him.

Imagine Mosul’s Christian non-denominational return being joined by Shia, Sunni and Jewish international prayer centres making Mosul a centre for the Abrahamic faiths to live and learn to value each other.

A large international commitment to such a project would post a message to the world and to any future young would-be-terrorist that an attack on any faith is a violation of the precepts of all. The young could take their idealism there to learn from each other and experience difference without barriers. We could see that centre’s discussion on You Tube rather than the shrill voices of the narrow and the narscistically violent.

Such a project would regenerate the broken Mosul community. A commitment at this time when the problem is not yet resolved would be an important international statement of intent, telling Islamic State, that its time is limited, and people of goodwill across the faiths will not see them succeed, and are already planning the better alternative.

A vision of the time when Popes Patriarchs. Imams, and Rabbis will come to Mosul to meet, pray and talk will give focus to the world’s politicians, strengthening their resolve to create the conditions where this can happen. Such a commitment would restore tolerant faith not only to Mosul but also into the broader public mind, serving to reiterate that faith matters, and that it influences best when it leads towards the establishment of peace.

In dark times we need to dream dreams. We need a vision for Mosul