Category Archives: BBC

What did I learn about Benghazi? – Cynicism pays.

 

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From the days of his youth, Brother Ivo has been interested in US politics. He recalls the Kennedy-Nixon campaign of 1960, albeit hazily. He followed the progress of the Civil Rights movement and the tragic assassinations of Dr King and both Kennedys.

He was a “Watergate junky ,waking early each morning to eagerly receive the overnight update on the inquiry, from a BBC which covered it in depth, making the slow southern drawl of “Senator Sam” Ervin of Texas a minor media star as he doggedly pursued the questions that revealed the unthinkable – that a US President had both acted  and lied  for political advantage.

Nixon fell and repented, but that appears to be the last wholesome precedent in living memory.

Subsequently, and in sharp contrast, Bill Clinton lied and was forgiven. He was aided and abetted in that by a wife who knew perfectly well of his widespread philandering, yet faced the press and people down.

More importantly she vilified the victims of her husband as liars, fantasists or gold diggers, yet still manages to represent herself with a straight face as the champion against those waging a “war of women”.

Only recently did Brother Ivo learn that Mrs Clinton had in fact been thrown off the Watergate inquiry team by its lead Democrat prosecutor for unethical behaviour. She had borrowed the only copy of an obscure legal precedent from the Library of Congress which supported the beleaguered Nixon’s request for Legal Counsel to assist him, she locked it in her room and then argued that if he could not produce it, he had no case for assistance in the process.

Her then boss discharged her saying that said she could never be trusted with such responsibility again.

Times have changed. Brother Ivo had been an admirer. If Watergate taught us anything however, it is surely that for integrity to remain in public life, one sometimes has to stand against one’s “own side”, something that Watergate Republicans of a different era did do; sadly, the Benghazi Committee Democrats have proved themselves incapable of following that ethical precedent.

Brother Ivo watch much of the Clinton evidence – so you didn’t have to.

What did he learn?

First that the BBC has ceased to be a serious reported of the issues of American politics. Jon Sopel’s report only addressed one issue -” Did Mrs Clinton’s Presidential bid survive?” One might have expected such a culturally liberal institution to assert that the deaths of 4 Embassy staff was too important to be politicised – which they accuse the Republicans of doing – and yet none of the evidence has been reported by our National Broadcaster.

This is evidence of a decline in broadcasting standards. Watergate was arguably less important – nobody died – and yet Brother Ivo and others of his age could probably even now give a fair summary of how bad practice came to be exposed.

The Benghazi Committee Chair, Trey Gowdy, came out as a man of integrity and forensic focus. He said he would concentrate on the events of Benghazi, and although the tale of Mrs Clinton’s secret and illegal email server is fascinating, he did not dwell on it at all.

He did neatly dispose of the claims that there was no new facts to investigate, pointing out that Mrs Clinton had never testified to any of the other bodies purporting to have investigated the matter, neither had any of those inquiries seen or even asked for her emails or those of Ambassador Stephens.

None of them had heard from witnesses on the ground.

The notion that this inquiry is irrelevant was thus despatched easily in his opening remarks, to the satisfaction of anyone of a non partisan nature.

The one big issue clarified was major. The Benghazi attack was not caused by the getting out of hand of a demonstration about an internet film, watched by only 300 people at the time of the attack occurring.

Nobody on the ground reported a demonstration.

Nobody called from the compound talking of a demonstration at all, still less it becoming ugly. Congressman Jordan put this directly to Mrs Clinton and she acknowledged its truth. There was not only no demonstration but no proper basis upon which to discuss one.

Sen John McCain – a personal friend of Mrs Clinton – had observed at the time that “nobody brings a rocket propelled grenade to a demonstration”, and although Mrs Clinton mentioned in passing that as Libya fell into turmoil, weapons were increasingly available, that may actually prove a hinderance rather than a help when we come to consider her responses to requests for greater security.

The key new revelation comes in three parts evidencing that the video claim was both patently false and known by Mrs Clinton to be false.

.On the night in question, Mrs Clinton emailed her daughter Chelsea to speak of a terrorist Al Quaida attack on the Benghazi Consulate. There is no reference to a video or a demonstration.

More officially, in two official records of telephone conversations with the Egyptian Prime Minister ( where there had been a demonstration) and the Libyan PM , Mrs Clinton said – in plain terms- that this was a pre-planned attack by an armed terrorist group and nothing to do with a video.

Within days that changed, with no evidence of reason for change being advanced; Mrs Clinton stood over the coffins of the dead and asserted that they had arrested the video maker who was responsible for this dreadful state of affairs. In the meantime, her staff had prepared “talking points’ for Susan Rice, the Whitehouse National Security advisor,as she  toured the Sunday morning talk shows asserting that it was the video that had inflamed the situation.

Why would anyone do this?

Would not most people have accepted that sometimes attacks like the original 9/11 literally come out of a clear blue sky? Unfortunate, tragic, but capable of being maturely explained and accepted.

The answer of course comes from the context. it was only 56 days from the election date, the President and Mrs Clinton were running on a record encapsulated in the phrase “General Motors is still alive and Bin Laden is dead”. They were proclaiming the victory over Al Quada and this was now falsified by the attack.

A second reason is more specific to Mrs Clinton and her own political ambitions currently being pursued. The evidence showed a picture of less than due diligence towards the security needs of Ambassador Stevens.

Mrs Clinton claimed him as a personal friend, implying that she would never neglect her duties towards him, with professional obligation underpinned by personal loyalty. She referred to him as “Chris” throughout.

Yet when questioned on this, she confirmed that he did not have her private telephone number, nor her cell phone, fax number or access to her through the notorious secret private email server. Her friend had never visited her house.

In contrast, her friend Sidney Blumenthall , was not only in possession of all her contact details but, despite being declared persona non grata to the Administration by the President in direct, unambiguous terms, was in constant discussion with her and she engaged with him regularly, sometimes sending his opinion over Libya higher up the chain – after carefully redacting his identity as the source of opinions.

She knew he was not trusted, neither did he have security clearance. He had never been to Libya but did have commercial interests as an advisor there, interests he was happy to advance with her by email. He was one of her most prolific email correspondents. His views and advice was “ put into the mix” as if a credible source though she knew that had those receiving the advice known its source they would have brought a degree of scepticism to the evaluation of the weight to be attached to it.

Congresswoman Brooks graphically displayed two piles of emails, one, approximately 750 in the year before the attack, but in the second barely a hundred and fifty in the time leading up to the attack. Whilst email is not the only measure of engagement, the contrast was striking.

It became more so in relation to the plight of Mrs Clinton’s  “friend”, who was simultaneously expressing concerns about the security situation for himself and his staff, sending about 600 requests.

Mrs Clinton made two sound points; first that emails alone are not the only indicator of concern, she was, after all having meetings, telephone calls cable reports etc. Second, that there were things she did do to improve security across the region; she had more obligations than Benghazi, even if “Chris” was specifically a friend.

Where that hits a credibility problem is in relation to her staff.

Two of them, writing form the State Department Libya desk, recorded that she appeared not to know that there was a consulate in Benghazi. She denied knowledge of the memo or its authors and specifically denied knowing their names.

This is puzzling.

How many unknown parties in a large organisation would risk upsetting its head by reminding her of a significant memory lapse?

Is that not usually the role of trusted confidantes?

Further, if unknown parties had access to the private and secret email address of a Secretary of State, does that not raise increasingly worrying questions of security?

More substantial is the fact that some 600 emails from Ambassador Stevens appear to have been received by her staff ( these were only disclosed two weeks and on week before the hearing so evaluation time was truncated). Mrs Clinton says that she never received or knew of these increasingly worried pleas from the Ambassador. What does it say of the culture of the Department of which she “takes full responsibility” that such powerful pleas and indicators of concern were never thought sufficiently important for her staff to refer to her for executive consideration and decision?

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We learnt that not only did the Ambassador specifically raise concern that the Consulate might have to be abandoned – again never put to her by her staff, but that as other Countries Missions, Charities, and Non Governmental Organisations pulled out, the worried Ambassador began buying cut price security apparatus to improve the security because his pleas to his Secretary of State were persistently unanswered.

Not only did Mrs Clinton laugh at this, referring to her “ friend’s ” ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, but insisted that he was making the decision to stay – he could have raised it with her if he was especially worried.

He was signaling anxiety, but these signals cut no ice with Mrs Clinton’s Staff who arguably were anxious not to break the political narrative that all was well with the Administrations policy in relation to the Arab Spring.

Is there no lesson to be learned here?

Is it not at least apparent that when staff screen out 600 pleas for help a Secretary of State in future needs to put in place procedures that such matters should be offered to him/her for risk assessment?

To put this in context, in specific answer to a question from Congressman Pompano, Mrs Clinton agreed she read every email from Sidney Blumenthall who advised and opined on Libya, having never been there, but not the many emails coming into her Department from her Ambassador in the front line,

The refrain that he was an experienced Diplomat and the best man to decide when the risk escalated to an unacceptable level may underplay the loyalty that Ambassador Stevens showed to Mrs Clinton. At times she was perilously close to asserting “ death by misadventure” – that he was “asking for it”.

If nobody knew the risks better than the Ambassador, the question begs to be asked “why did she and her staff ignore his advice that greater security was needed?”

Ambassador Stevens had 5 security men protecting him. The US had more security men defending their Embassy in Bermuda. Congressman Westmoreland from Georgia spoke with a slow Southern drawl, but one small part of his questioning was powerful.

He specifically asked Mrs Clinton about attacks on the Benghazi Consulate. She said she knew of only two, including the last fatal one. Westmoreland then pointed her to emails in which no fewer than 18 other attacks – of varying severity- were referenced. She agreed she had absolutely no knowledge of them.

We learned an important  new reason for this. Asked directly, she agreed that she could remember not a single occasion on which she spoke to her friend/Ambassador after he was appointed and sent into one of the most volatile war zones at the time,

As can be seen, far from being an “Irrelevant” political witch hunt, real new information is emerging about what happened that night, Mrs Clinoton’s Democrat colleagues desperately tried to run the “ nothing to see here” line, frequently offering criticism of the process whilst asking no specific questions.

Unfortunately for them, in a moment of unguarded candour, Mrs Clinton answered to one congresswoman that “ There are legitimate questions ……”

If this is the case – as indeed it is – why were the Democrats not attempting to ask them?

Not all legitimate questions would necessarily have been to Mrs Clinton’s detriment, yet her supporters seemed to have no faith in her ability to offer full and credible explanations of the character identified as “ legitimate” by Mrs Clinton, and chose not to risk any serious invitation to ask her explain more.

So there you have a brief resume of the principle points of the 11 hours of testimony. Only half of those hours were made up of serious questions and Mrs Clinton was not shy of giving extended answers to run down the clock.

Chairman Gowdy did not interrupt her and was scrupulously polite throughout.

Anyone can watch the entire hearing on the internet if there is any concern about Brother Ivo’s summary or interpretation.

So what did Brother Ivo learn?

Beyond the factual matters, he has come to a very depressing conclusion. Bill Clinton lied to get elected and was forgiven. Barack Obama’s election was secured partly thanks to a less than frank account of what happened in Benghazi that night; it was not an error but a strategy.

Mrs Clinton is seeking election on the back of a significant lack of transparency, resistance to accountability and plain evidence to having advanced a full narrative about the significance of the rogue video.

In Watergate, there were Nixon supporters who reluctantly came to the conclusion that however much they liked “ their man” , integrity forced them to turn away. Sadly in these three more recent scandals partisanship has triumphed. Committee Democrats bemoaned the costs of the process – $4.5m. They seemed blissfully unaware of the irony that the easier you make it for a lying politician to remain in office , the more it incentivises lying, prevarication, and subterfuge. Only by always calling out the miscreants, will you curtail waste in the future. All Secretary of State Clinton is seeing as a result of her mistakes from that time, is unqualified approbation and adulation from her side of the aisle

So reluctantly, sadly, Brother Ivo’s abiding lesson from the Behnghazi investigation is just that – cynicism pays.

 

P.S. As he reviewed his notes and wrote this piece, many on twitter were declaring that “nothing new” had emerged, that there was no “gotcha moment”, and even that the whole inquiry must be closed down in consequence.

This profoundly misunderstands the quasi-judicial process,

  1. Mrs Clinton had to be given an opportunity to put her side of the case – as she was with time opportunity and politeness, That is a prerequisite of a fair process,
  2. Something important has happened; her account is now fixed on oath,with no more opportunity to adjust the narrative.
  3. It can now be compared to other evidence, past and future, and any inconsistency can be identified and brought into account.

PPS Should the BBC wish to use this analysis as the basis for intelligent discussion they are more that welcome to use it to ” up their game”

Synod must approach the Lord Green controversy proportionately.

General Synod will be meeting this week to discuss the future shape and direction of the Church and how it will fulfil its mission to spread the Gospel. Amongst the papers under discussion will be proposals which touch upon the selection of future senior leaders, which have been prepared by Lord Green who was the Head of the HSBC, and later a Trade Minister in the Coalition Government. He is now an Anglican priest.

The Green proposals are informed by modern business practice. Under them, future potential bishops may be spotted early and will have their leadership enhanced by ” MBA style” training: this injection of business training and performance standards is viewed with suspicion in certain quarters.

Nobody is suggesting that the future Church leadership should be solely shaped by modern business thinking, but neither is it unreasonable to examine these proposals with our own due diligence.

So far so good.

Already however, the politicised question of whether Lord Green was complicit in any legal impropriety is seeping into references to him and his report. That must be resisted by all Synod members as they fulfill their proper duties of deciding whether the Green proposals have merit or not.

Brother Ivo is disturbed at how the Green Issue is being presented by the BBC. It is speaking of whether HSBC helped its clients to “duck” or “dodge” UK taxes. Synod representatives must be astute enough not to allow such terms to intrude into its thinking. The issue of probity turns upon complicity in criminal evasion not lawful avoidance or tax planning.

We all “duck/dodge” tax when we shelter our savings in ISAs or make a lump sum payment into our pensions.

In business, tax breaks are offered by Governments to stimulate activity in approved but potentially risky activities such as the British Film Industry. The tainting of lawful activity by “Arthur Daley” terminology is more to the shame of our State broadcaster than anyone engaged in the lawful activity of the Banking Sector.

It does not help that episode after episode of BBC comedy has made the profession of Banker synonymous with “inappropriate behaviour”.

Brother Ivo does not know what Lorf Green did or did not know about the way in which a Swiss subsidiary conducted its business. He does know that that HSBC was one of the few Banking Institutions that was so well managed that it did not need and did not take public money, when many in the Banking World had gambled their way into precarious instability.

He also knows that virtually every Institution and profession in the UK has had its scandals; some politicians exploited expenses, some journalist hacked, some NHS managers neglected the elderly, some at the BBC presided over a culture of immunity for child molesters. In short, damning a proposal because of prejudice towards the entire sector of the community from which they come, is shallow and a betrayal of our responsibilities to seriously examine the question of developing our own future leaders.

We must play the ball, not the man.

Lord Green is currently declining to engage with journalistic attempts to “doorstep ” him. He may not rush to issue immediate statements as called for by politicians in an election year.

Brother Ivo is not surprised and will cast no stones. Apparently over 1000 people may be interviewed about what has happened and why. The areas of concern are currently diffuse. If criminality, corporate or personal, has occurred, it has not yet been formulated. It would be a highly imprudent former Chief Executive who engages too early in assuaging journalistic appetite or facilitating political exploitation.

When the Church has its scandals we expect our Archbishops and Bishops to ascertain the facts and understand the issues before opening their mouths. We should expect nothing different from those who have offered their skills to help us re-engineer the structures of our church.

The Green proposals need discussion because they offer a new perspective. We might adapt Gamaliel’s advice, accepting that if such recommendations have merit, they should be apparent regardless of provenance. Past association does not prevent us listening to St Paul – and his past
“inappropriate behaviour” was beyond question.

The Green Report may be good bad or “curate’s egg” Brother Ivo wants to hear the debate and make his mind up. He suggests thatSynod should leave the politics for another time and do its job of examining what is before it.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The events in France this week have challenged us all to make sense of troubling events.

Many conclusions will be drawn,  frequently according to our preconceptions.

“Don’t trust Muslims”,

“Don’t demonise Muslims”,

“To hell with all faith”,

“Close the borders”

“Repent of our foreign policy”

“Redistribute more wealth”
“Send in the diversity co-ordinators”

Never has a problem had so many seemingly obvious causes or instant solutions.

The more Brother Ivo has listened, the more convinced he has become that there are two important areas for Christians to address..

The first is the need for us to have a deeper, prolonged and more honest faith dialogue with our Muslim neighbours. It will not be easy.

It takes two to tango and the Taliban are not fans of Strictly Come Dancing.

The second is that it is both foolish and dangerous to regard Islam and Chritianity as comparable religions in relation to the wider Society.

If we accept that there is a distinction between those Muslims who follow the Abu Hamza’s of this world and the everyday folk we meet in the shops, schools, hospitals and streets of Britain, then we will all need to better understand what lies within that faith. We are unlikely to advance our understanding however if we think we can view it with the same mindset and cultural assumptions of secular Liberal Britain as most of our politicians and media do.

Those of us who can view these matters from a literate religious perspective have an advantage in getting to grips with the problems and so can -and should – make a special contribution. We will need intellectual courage and integrity to do so, It will not make us popular.

Consider for a moment, the High Wycombe Muslim interviewed on Radio 4 yesterday, who proclaimed that Muslims love their Prophet more than they love their wives or children. Such a statement would be almost incomprehensible to the average Briton, though those with longer memories, might have noted a similarity to Golda Meir’s famous observation that there will be no peace between her people and their neighbours until Arabs learn to love their children more than they hate the Jews.

Later in the day, as the French Special Forces showed their great skill and bravery, we saw young child hostages being carried out of the Parisian supermarket by the rescuers.

Christians can state with confidence that Christ was unequivocal about such matters.

He punctured the pomposity of those who claimed to love God, whom they have never seen, whilst not showing equal love for those about us who we can know  1 John 4:20. Jesus plainly taught that love of God and love of Man were to be seen as two sides of the same coin without being in competition one with the other.

Following an affirmative answer to His question, “Peter, do you love me” he answered ” Feed my lambs” – not ” Take them hostage”.

Rather than seeing children as hostage material or subordinate family member Jesus saw them as models of behaviour for all who would enter the Kingdom. Matthew 18.3

He warned those who harmed children that it would be better for them to have a millstone tied round their neck and to be cast into the sea. Luke 17:2

It is hard to consider these teachings as in anyway congruent with the actions and attitudes of the more florid adherents of Islam.

Christianity can handle such inhumanity in clear theological terms; perhaps Islam can too, but all too often we are too polite or fearful to ask.

Yet ask we must.

Those who assert that such fanatics cannot be defeated by force often foolishly and wrongly suggest that the solution to the problem lies in social or economic change. It does not. Such bigotry must be defeated theologically and that can only be done by understanding the faith claims, principles and – let’s be blunt, its weaknesses.

Brother Ivo has not yet heard kindly responsible Muslim Imams and scholars asked by our media to identify with clarity the texts, traditions and authorities which enable them to accept criticism of the faith by secularists like those of Charlie Hebdo without recourse to violence.

One assumes that their peaceful response is not simply founded on lack of weapons: if they have faith inhibitors of intemperate action, this needs to be made more widely known, not least to the hot headed young.

Christians, and particularly those with religious studies skills, are best placed to ask such questions and lead such dialogue from the perspective of the non-Muslim majority. By knowing how to ask the right questions, appreciate alternatives, explore complementary ways of interpreting text and how to challenge assertions, we can make an important and distinctive contribution.

Yet too often we find clergy either disinclined or incapable of standing their ground, or identifying those questions.

It is not, of course, Christians who ridicule Islam.

We suffer far more insult at the hands of our National Broadcaster than Islam which has secretly benefitted from policies such as the recently publicised kid glove approach embodied in the BBC guidelines on what can and cannot be said and portrayed.

Christians are well placed to explain how to demonstrate dignified patient responses.

Too often, however we collude with the notion that the man Mohammed perfected God’s revelation to humankind, rather than His Son. We also collude with the idea that Islam suffers more at the hands of militant secularists; they do not. The harsh cartoons against Christ and his Church has spawned no concern on the Left of incipient ” Christo-phobia”.

When all faith is portrayed as threatening, intolerant, divisive and excluding, Christians need to be equipped to speak of our unique “selling points”. We need to explain this both to Islam and to the wider secular community.

We need to recognise and speak our truths plainly

Our God is imminent, not remote.

Jesus washes our feet and commands us to offer service rather than demand submission.

God is not too proud to enbrace the humiliation of crucifixion if that is what it takes to lead us back to Him.

We do not have to earn God’s love because it has already been given.

Unlike Mohammed, Jesus responded to insult by turning the other cheek; He did not sanction the death of those who insulted him.

The societies created by Islamic values, and Christian values are accordingly very different.

Such differences matter.

If we do not assist by identifying explaining and publicising such differences, how can secular society and Islam understand each other better? Christianity has an important interpretive role.

Above all, a primary distinction between Christianity and Islam in modern Britain is that Churches are not incubating hundreds if not thousands of angry isolated young men admiring the Parisian attackers.

Amongst the messages to communicate to our Islamic neighbours are:-

Muslims seem to be happiest and most free within in the western societies than in the Middle Eastern Islamic homelands.

The biggest killers of Mulims in the world today are other Muslims

The most persecuted religion in the whorl is Christianity

 

We can call these inconvenient truths.

It may dent Islamic pride, but Christians and Jews are not clamouring to enter Islamic societies. Our harshes Muslim critics fight in the Courts to avoid being returned to more Islamic societies.

These truths need to be said.

Even so, Christians are best placed to engage with Imams and scholars to encourage them to diagnose and address the disease of terrorism within their mosques. We must not shirk the responsibility for doing this.

We need to explain to the public the religious and theological difficulties which such Imams face. Brother Ivo has identified some of these in earlier posts.

We need to understand, publicise and praise both the fact, and detail of how many peaceful Muslims are standing with us against such terrorism which has been imported from less tolerant societies. The press is not good at giving credit where it is due.

This honest reconciliation of sincere difference and its communication to the wider public is difficult work, not least because of the flabby assumption that Chistanity and Islam are really very similar and can be treated alike by modern secular society.

 

They are not

If you are in any doubt about that, compare the body count.

Torture – what would you do?

Brother Ivo has lived a fairly broad life so, as the world considers the US Senate report on the interrogation of prisoners, you may not be entirely surprised to hear of a conversation he once had with a former work colleague who mentioned in casually that he had once electrically tortured someone.

Brother Ivo was young then, and even more idealistic, and was appropriately appalled. He could not but ask how this man, who he liked a lot, could do such a thing.

The story is short.

The  colleague had been employed as a colonial policeman in an outpost in Africa many years ago, when they captured a guerrilla fighter who had been working that night laying land mines. They had far too few men and resources to undertake a physical night search over a wide area. The guerrilla  had mines in his possession when caught so they had no doubt that lethal weaponry was out there somewhere targeting civilians.

The police station was equipped with an old telephone system,  and power was generated by a hand cranked generator which could deliver a powerful but not lethal charge. He had chosen to turn the handle and extracted the information.

The colleague then turned the tables on his interrogator.

“It is three in the morning, and the school buses hit the roads at 6 am. I had to make my decision: I turned the handle – what would you have done?”

That question has rested on Brother Ivo’s conscience ever since.

Would he have had the moral courage to stand by his principles, to look at the shattered bodies of children and into the eyes of grieving parents the following morning, knowing and perhaps explaining to them, “I might have stopped this, but chose not to”?

Alternatively would he have had a different type of courage, to have embraced the opprobrium of most right minded people and no small amount of self loathing, and inflicted the suffering on the would-be perpetrator so that the schoolchildren might live.

In either case, such problems rarely seem to present themselves at a time of quiet moral reflection with the academic support of expert moral philosophers on hand: like so many decision points, it came out of a clear blue sky, like a thief in the night.

Brother Ivo does not intend to answer that question today.

He recounts the story simply to act as a reference point for anyone thinking that they know what they would do in such extreme cases.

The truly fortunate never have to answer such questions. Many of us will offer an opinion over the news story as it unfolds, but whatever decision we think we might take, let us retain a degree of compassion for all and any for whom these questions are not matters of idle or academic interest only.

Prayer would not come amiss of both gratitude and intercession. as the Christas song agonisingly cries “Thank God its them instead of you”.

“The times they are a’changing”

B1pqXT0IYAA9hfDBrother Ivo has been awake at unsocial hours throughout the night following the mid term elections in the USA.

Just as Michael Howard and Ed Milliband follow American sports, so Brother Ivo has had a lifelong fascination with the American political process, its characters, its failures and its processes.

Brother Ivo blames the late Alistair Cooke.

From the age of about 7, Brother Ivo would listen to his elegant, eclectic, radio programme, “Letters from America” and acquired a taste for the trans-Atlantic diversity which he described.

One week Cooke might be describing a political convention in Miami, but would be just as comfortable writing the following week about Charlie Chaplin ( who was supposed to have been the best man at his wedding) or making a point by dipping into history to describe George Washington arriving at his Boarding House late and missing supper  – having just been inaugurated as President of the United States. Those were the days.

Brother Ivo followed Cooke’s easy elegant prose as he unfolded the story of the Civil Rights Movement, its triumphs and tragedies, the Watergate drama and the tragedy of the Vietnam War. If readers have never heard him, the nearest current writer Brother Ivo can think of is perhaps Bill Bryson who reciprocates the love for his adopted country and similarly roams the country with a similar affectionate outsider’s eye for detail.

How we could have done with such mature commentary and understanding last night as the Republican Party made significant gains across the board in US Senate, Gubernatorial, and local elections. There were reasons for these turn arounds two short years after the re-election of the President but the BBC and its reporters were well below Cooke’s standards as they attempted to explain them.

In the early hours the BBC World Service was highlighting the complaint of voter suppression reducing the Democratic vote and supposedly excusing its electoral meltdown. It is a simpleDemocratic talking point/excuse, and the BBC should do better than reproducing it unchallenged.

The complaint might be encapsulated by the complaint of Mary Landrieu incumbent Senator for Louisiana who attributed her difficulties to her State having a historic problem with black people and women. In that State you have to secure 50% of the vote. She is facing a run off that she will probably lose although as the GOP ( Grand Old Party -Republican) has won everything else she might just squeak back.

Her complaint might have a little more validity had not that same electorate ( which she seemingly regards as sotto voce prejudiced)  not only voted for President Obama twice,  but has also supported her on three previous occasions. Not only this but their Governor is Republican Bobby Jhindal who, as his name confirms, is of recent Indian family extract.

Sometimes the explanation is that the voters simply regard your performance as below parr and trying to excuse it with reference to historic prejudices just won’t wash.

Alistaire Cook was never partisan. He had his favourites, the urbane Adelaide Stephenson featured regularly in his recollections, but  one cannot imagine him leaving such claims unexplored and unchallenged.

If one is looking for a “minorities” angle in these elections it is that the Republicans have continued to make good progress in diversifying its representatives.

Jodi Ernst becomes the first woman Senator from Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito achieved the same in West Virginia.  In New York Elise Stefanik becomes the youngest Congresswoman ever elected, aged 30 for the same party.

Hispanic Governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez hardly had to get out of bed to win re-election, and young Black GOP hopeful won her seat in Congress in Utah, which is not a State associated with a large black vote. In doing so, she became the first Black Republican woman in Congress.

Perhaps the most significant result of the night was in South Carolina where black Republican Tim Scott won his Senate seat. The youngest woman Governor – Nikki Haley – also retained her seat in that State as a Native American woman.

Scott celebrated his landslide in what had once been the heart of the Confederacy. Scott with a remark which encapsulated  “Hope and Change”. He reminded folk that his grandfather picked cotton and he was now taking a Senate Seat – ” This is America”.

The Republicans have gone some way to fixing their problems, not by embracing “Identity politics” but through merit, and letting those meritorious minority candidates progress without being either excluded in “smoke filled rooms” of shoehorned in by quota. Mia Love looks more like a real feminist than Jack Dromey.

It is striking that those who embraced identity politics the most seemed to have come out worst.

In Texas, Wendy Davis who made her name insisting that there was a “War on Women” under-polled by 10 points amongst women. She came to be known as” Abortion Barbie” and her Colorado colleague Mark Udell attempted the same thing with the same result, being tagged along the way with the nickname “Mark Uterus” because he never addressed any of the other issues in the race and lost.

If this was not bad enough, Democrats lost Governorships in their heartlands, in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts. Whatever the Democrat’s problems are in these States, Voter ID is not the answer.

Parties need to look carefully at where they went wrong. The Republicans did and have returned as a viable election force. The Democrats must do the same. A balanced functional democracy needs viable alternatives.

Complaining to the media about voter ID requirements is not the way forward.

Alistair Cooke wrote often and movingly about students bussing down to the Deep South literally risking their lives to register poor black voters. Life is infinitely easier now in that regard. Approximately $3.8billion dollars have been spent on these elections. $100 million in Kentucky alone. The Democrats have been the bigger spenders.

If securing photo ID to register voters was seen as any problem of significance why has not a goodly portion of that money been used over the last 6 years to address it? Why were voters overwhelmed by campaign adds if what they really needed was photographic ID? It is a poor excuse and the BBC has bought it.

At the end of their coverage on the Today programme we had Jim Naughtie bemoaning that the American Political process is “divided”. Had Alistair Cook been alive he would surely have reminded him that it is “balanced”. It is deliberately so.

The English Gentlemen who devised the Constitution had seen despotism in the English Monarchy and resolved to make it difficult to replicate in the Republic. They deliberately divided the powers between President the House or Representatives and Senate. In the latter, each of the States has but 2 votes regardless of size.

The merit of such a settlement is that no party and certainly no President gets all of his way all of the time. The system functions through compromise and all Presidents have to deal with this,  especially as the mid-term elections often unsettle the balance against them. It is part of the merit of the system.

Both George W Bush and Bill Clinton had to manage without total control. It improved them. They lived with it.

President Obama forced through his Health Scheme Obamacare using a “supermajority in both House and Senate and without a single bi-partisan vote. Unimproved by intelligent civilised debate it has resulted in more people losing health care than gaining it. The losers are the folks paying for it. What exactly did he expect in mid-term elections? THere is a raft of other failures and discontents.

What we are seeing here is not a broken system, despite what Mr Naughtie seems to think, but rather but one working as it was intended. A wise President listens to the electorate when he loses and especially when he loses big time and in places where where he ought to be impregnable.

The old ways of calling support from the ghettos into which folks were compartmentalised for the purpose of locking them into permanent compliance is going. The people want a more rational politics, proper debate. problem solving and accordingly give and take is required of those elected yesterday.

The President is famous for spending much of his leisure time on the golf course.

He ought perhaps to enrol onto the next American series of “Dancing with the Stars” where he can be patiently taught that it takes two to tango. It may be just as well for him that Craig Revel Horwood remains on this side of the Atlantic.

 

The ” What is truth?” question returns

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One cannot get away from it, and nobody who steps into a pulpit can avoid Pilate’s famous question if they seek to do justice to the text.

Preachers quickly earn that the answer is usually subtle and we often find ourselves refining the question to ” Which of the truths within this text speaks to our circumstances and needs today?”

People of faith are habituated to thinking in this way but sadly the secular world, particularly the political world, is more utilitarian than philosophical in its collective approach to the question.

“How can I tell the truth whilst not compromising myself?”  becomes the subtext of the Special Advisors briefing notes to his or her political master.

Brother Ivo has been brought to ponder the ancient question by a number of recent events, which remind us how much of the Bible is indeed relevant today.

Let him briefly outline them,

On the early morning radio, the BBC Today programme interviewed Professor David Miles of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee about the recent data on the economy and what it might mean. It was an interesting and intelligent piece, and it seems a pity that it was not on much later when more people would have heard it.

This Committee is charged with giving the best and informed advice to the Chancellor, and as one would hope, the Professor was low key ,scholarly and a good, if not exciting communicator on his complex subject.

Brother Ivo could no help but contrast this careful and nuanced examination of the truth with what usually comes later, when the politicians are asked to interpret the news.

When the greater part of the population – and perhaps one should say “electorate” is listening, one gets the “sound bite” the “talking point ” and the “spin”. Unlike the delivery of Professor Miles, too often one is getting not news or analysis, but party propaganda.

Readers may find Brother Ivo’s criticism of the BBC tiresome but it is well meant and intended to be corrective and constructive. When economic news is in the forefront of programmes, we should be presented with much more of the examination and less of the comment.

A classic example is over the report that “average incomes have fallen”. That is no doubt accurate, but it is not the whole truth. Many people on a regular wage will have received the same in their wage packet this month as any other.

On another programme Professor Art Laffer ( famous for the Laffer curve on tax receipts) explained that  there will be some who are worse off , and some who will doubtless suffer as a result of the economic situation. Yet another commentator pointed out that the ‘fall” is partly arithmetic.

If many people join the work force from lower benefits, they may be better off, but their addition to the workforce, if below the former average, will depress the average whilst comparatively few are actually worse off.

This is not to deny that wages are not keeping up with prices but that is a different, if equally important question which ought to be left for another day.

The point of Brother Ivo’s thought today is that we in the faith Community should bring our openness to subtlety into the everyday world. We ought to challenge the culture of the repetitious part truth – from whatever side it comes, and we should require our broadcasters to be harder on those who come, not to enlighten but to repeat a pre-prepared soundbite.

Brother Ivo flirted with the idea of suggesting that the Broadcasters might flash a “sound bite warning” on our screens whenever the well worn phrases are trotted out or a new one is obviously coined for the purpose of obfuscation.

Another news item illustrated the kind of truth problem we have in public life.

Some may know that there is a serious scandal in the USA arising out of an investigation of the Revenue Service which may have targeted certain political groups. This was one of the charges that brought down President Nixon who also famously ” lost ” 18 minutes of the famous Watergate tapes, which were “accidentally” erased.

In the latest scandal, all the emails of 20 Internal Revenue Services employees, over a two year period, have all “accidentally” been erased in simultaneous but independent hard drive crashes which have mysteriously coincided with the host servers not holding duplicates and none of the employees complying with a Federal law to keep and preserve hard copies of any erased documents.

The Judge investigating this alongside the Congressional Committee recently required an affidavit from the IRS to place on record the events, staff involved , technical explanation, and timeline so that he can begin to piece together the truth.

The document he received was remarked upon as being a masterpiece of what Brother Ivo is currently highlighting. It told the Judge nothing but the truth – but also told him nothing he did not already know; most of it was already in the public domain. We shall see how this plays out.

Here as people of faith we need to be counter cultural.

Whoever we may like or dislike politically, the commitment to hearing truth,  and to promoting integrity in public life is surely the starting point for us. Our political  constitutions have arisen out of much discord – a great deal of it was religious. It was because ultra partisanship resulted in war (and still does across the world)  that we agreed to live together with integrity under plain rules that need adherence if trust is to survive.

A commitment to truth and honest speaking is the sine qua non of a peaceful civil society.

It may not look as if there is a close relationship between the conduct of our politicians and commentators and the chaos in the Middle East and Africa but surely one of the key components of functional democracy is bona fides between opponents.

People of different opinions must be opponents not enemies.

A cynical friend once said to Brother Ivo “Truth is a precious commodity- we must use it sparingly”. That way lies not only perdition  but the political distrust and chaos that blights much of the world.

Christians should be foremost in both living and reminding the world that our “Yea should be Yea, and our Nay, Nay”. At least we shall in that manner, contribute to becoming conveyors and guardians of the truth, however subtle and elusive it may be.

Hound of the Basket Cases

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Copyright Getty images

It was Brother Ivo’s own fault for falling asleep with the radio on.

He was woken by the sound of a BBC  “comedy quiz”, which has come to mean a group of four left of centre people talking to an uncritical audience which regards the height of wit as being  someone asking ” Isn’t Sarah Pallin stupid?”. That always goes down well.

Before he could turn it off, he had been irritated into wakefulness  by one of the contributors, Mr Rufus Hound, fulminating against “balance” in the public space and the publicly funded national media.

Mr Hound is not a man of tolerant judgement. He showed himself to be foolishly prejudiced when, in the course of an earlier controversy over how the aspirations of the National Health Service might best be delivered, he declared that the Prime Minister “wants your children to die-unless you’re rich”.

He was later reported to be standing in this year’s European Elections to “defend the NHS”. What exactly the EU can do about this issue remains unclear and unexplained. 

Brother Ivo fears that he would take an unworthy pleasure in watching Mr Hound on election night, trailing in, tens of thousands of votes behind UKIP and others he purports to loathe. Tsk Tsk.

The more he has thought about it, however, the more he has realised that as with many other issues, his reaction is more complicated than at first appears.

The problem is partly about Mr Hound and his shallow views but that is not the end of it.

There is the underlying problem with the BBC which, by constantly commissioning such shows  is steadily slipping from the previous standards of maintaining balance within its public service broadcasting role. There are many witty people of more diverse views than Mr Hound, only the BBC just can’t seem to find them.

The problem goes beyond the light entertainment and current affairs programing and even touches Breakfast television

Recently, three three major Labour figures were regrettably implicated in excessive liberal attitudes towards the Paedophile Information Exchange. It had laid inadequately explored for years. The facts are largely un-controversial because they have been minuted with occasional notes in the politicians’ own handwriting. Specifically, the current Director of the National Council for Civil Liberties has already offered an unqualified apology for the organisation. Shami Chacrabarti enjoys a high reputation for integrity, not least at the BBC.

When newspaper headlines linked these Labour figures to the promotion of paedophilia, the front pages were studiously omitted from the array of front pages displayed on breakfast television, yet barely a week later, when an adviser to the Conservative government was arrested in connection with the alleged possession of child abuse computer images, there was no such reticence.

Without labouring the matter, we could readily agree a long list of issues on which the BBC has a broadly discernible cultural bias.

EU – pro
Abortion – pro
Israel – anti
Democrat – pro
Republican – anti
Atheism -pro
Cannabis legalisation – pro.
Anthropomorphic Climate Change scepticism – anti

Yet happily, there does still seem to be a conscious inclination by the BBC to offer contributors from both sides of a debate on prominent issues. It may not always be fair and equal, there may be some bias, but some respect is shown to balance. That was always the intention of Lord Reith who shaped its ethos during the 1930’s when intolerances were also prevalent in politics.

Mr Hound evidently finds this irksome. He would like it to change and lets be clear. This is not comedic exaggeration. Many on the Left think that they are so obviously right, that opposing views are not only wrong but morally repugnant. That is why they call their approach “political correctness”. There is no nuance, no room for reaching across to one’s opponent to seek find common ground.

There are, according to Mr Hound and his uncritical audience, issues where one opinion is so obviously correct that offering a tangential view is unacceptable and serves only to confer unworthy credilibilty upon deceivers and fools.

Brother Ivo wonders how much history Mr Hound knows.

Galileo was vilified when he first dared to suggest that the earth was not the static centre of the universe. “Everybody” knew that was nonsense. “What a dangerous fool!”

Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce were similarly regarded as dangerously eccentric for threatening the economic order of the day by campaigning against slavery. Wasn’t slavery part of the Natural Law identified by Plato and Aristotle? It was to be found in almost every country from Africa to Mexico, China to New Zealand, though oddly, since 1102, not in England.

This was thanks to Archbishop Anselm, a  fact that is frequently overlooked by progressives. We need a film about that, perhaps with the working title ” 900 years not a slave”

The Big Bang theory proposed by George’s Lemaitre was similarly initially offensive to the scientific consensus of the day because of its worrying echo of Genesis; it overturned the scientific assumption of a solid state universe and re-opened the philosophical question about how everything emerges from nothing. Atheists still haven’t cracked that problem so they rarely talk about it on comedy shows and prefer to vilify Creationists.

All of these ideas offended the received wisdom of the day, and would have fallen foul of Mr Hound’s ostracising  of the innovative.

Brother Ivo is all for diversity of opinion and tolerance. He opposes the democratic basket cases like Mr Hound who are uncurious about received wisdom especially when it comes from the Left.

Brother Ivo tries to be fair.

He did explore the idea to see if there was any merit in it, and in one regard he has to  concede that Mr Hound might potentially have a point.

Karl Marx never held down a job, could not feed his family and was depended for much of his life upon the  fortune of the mill owning family of Friedrich Engles. Whenever his theories have been put into practice they have failed miserably, and more importantly,they have always brought misery to millions.

Brother Ivo has never heard Mr Hound or any in the progressive movement treating Marxism and its followers to the same kind of visceral rejection and scorn that he reserves for David Cameron or Sarah Pallin.

As Venezuela falls into as much unrest as Ukraine, none of our cultural warriors of the Left are contrasting the outcomes there with the salutes and praise heaped upon the Chavez Government by Diane Abbott and George Galloway.

“Hugo Chavez was a democrat, not a dictator, and showed a progressive alternative to neo-liberalism is both possible and popular” Owen Jones.

Venezuela is an oil rich country where Mr Chavez supporters have created riots on the streets and a toilet paper shortage. You need $40,000 to contemplate buying a car. What do you think are the chances of Mr Hound and his fellow BBC panellists of building a comedy routine references these facts and the premise, “Isn’t Owen Jones stupid?”

The problem is that without balance there is no progress of human thought. Mr Hound and the Left prefer a pre-primed default cultural laughter for their propositions.  It is incidentally a lazy approach. Thus they will never explore the concept ” Isn’t Marxism dreadful”.

Marxists like Mark Thomas are still feted, whereas Ms Palin – who did actually identify the risks to Ukraine from Russia – continue to be reviled.

Despite being sorely tempted to support the notion that the nations comedians should be hounding Marxism from our airwaves and cultural respectability, Brother Ivo is a passionate believer in open and respectful debate, and subscribes to the view that he must defend the rights of all shades of opinion to be expressed proportionately and lawfully whether he agrees with them or not.

This is not entirely as noble as it sounds.

Once, maybe just once, Rufus Hound, by pure chance, must one day say something sensible -or funny.

Brother Ivo would hate to miss it.

Immigration – Fact and Fiction

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Brother Ivo recalls the very opening episodes of Coronation Street which began with unpromising critical reviews but is now the longest running television series in the world.

Its grainy black and white images captured post-war Britain perfectly, from the trio of old ladies nursing their milk stouts in the “snug” of the Rovers Return, to the character working all hours running a back street motor repair shop. The adoption of the local dialect was ground breaking in a broadcasting world where news readers had only comparatively recently put aside the donning of evening dress before reading the bulletins. It was both strikingly original and authentic as it depicted northern life in Salford thinly disguised as “Weatherfield”.

Although the culture it depicted was new to the television screens,  it was an all white affair, but then, why wouldn’t it have been?

The early Coronation Street was very recognisable to anyone with experience of Northern working class life of the time. Brother Ivo’s grandparents lived in just such a community and one could have identified real people on whom the fictional characters might easily have been based. The original programme could have been called Correlation Street in those early days.

Since then, Salford has become the home to the thoroughly un-working class BBC whose late contribution to the genre ” Eastenders” is also set on the fringes of a major city, and purports to similarly reflect the lives of the urban working class. It is now multi-cultural, but in a very sanitised fashion.

Brother Ivo has been contemplating how that fictional community might develop in the next few months. Shall we be seeing homeless Roma characters setting up camp in the gardens at the centre of Albert Square?

Might they vie for GP services with ladies of indeterminate age and character who  are hidden under head to toe Middle Eastern dress? Might the Queen Vic be transformed from the hub of the community to a Gastro pub because its original business model of purveying beer to the masses is unsustainable thanks to Excise duties and parking restrictions?

It seems unlikely.

One can imagine the responses of the television editors and producers if, as part of the negotiations for the next BBC settlement, they were asked to produce a community narrative more closely mirroring the modern East End. We might add to their woes by asking them to introduce some Sharia Law campaigners, and a few crowded households of Polish builders who work every hour that God sends and send the money home.  We might add a requirement that they grapple with story lines that explore the difficulties of the local school trying to meet a National Curriculum within classrooms filled with a hundred different languages.

Forced to adapt their programme rapidly to such a pace of change, one might readily imagine the producers rebelling against the impossibility of the task.

Yet theirs is an imaginary community: the course of the outcome is theirs to invent. It is a universe in which a happy outcome may be guaranteed.

In considering the complexities of fashioning a credible fictional community out of such disparate elements, one begins to understand why there might be genuine concern at the addition of additional cultures into the complex mix that is now this world city. Those who live there may not view the changes negotiated by Governments in the high principled fashion or in quite the same disinterested light as the politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats who are accelerating the changes at this time.

Every new element adds to the problem exponentially.

The Roma must not only accommodate with the English neighbour, but also  the Polish tradesman, the Pakistani shopkeeper, the Nigerian teacher, the Iraqi doctor and the Afro-Caribean nurse. Trying to imagine the cultural institutions and contexts in which community will build is not easy; it is not impossible, but it is certainly not going to be problem free or quick. Whilst that is developing, the scope for fear, suspicion, and resentment will increase with every newcomer, and with each added inter-cultural complexity.

Christians are obliged to find ways of overcoming such problems as His Grace Archbishop Cranmer has already ”explained”. Yet those responsible for creating such problems rarely find themselves in close proximity to the consequences of their actions. One wonders how many of the new arrivals will find their way to live in Chipping Norton, Primrose Hill or Notting Hill. How will their lives be impacted in any meaningful way?

Herein lies a social and democratic deficit.

Abraham Lincoln famously observed that “Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

Brother Ivo wonders whether the same principle should be applied to politicians and all who uncritically embrace open door immigration policies. 

This is not a call to be in any way uncharitable towards those who arrive from conditions of privation with hope in their hearts. It is easy to empathise with them. It is higher up the chain of responsibility that Brother Ivo becomes a little more critical.

One might legitimately be less charitable towards those who impose un-comprehended change upon others without adequate preparation, resource or regard for what might be necessary to ease their worries and difficulties. Those anxieties are very far from fictional.

One might similarly wish that those in the “creative industries” be more sympathetic towards those who grapple in real life with that which the artistic community shies from, in the world of their imagination. If it can’t be made to work in Walford or Weatherfield, one should begin to worry for Walthamstowe or Whalley Range.

 

Why are there no bloggers in the New Year Honours list?

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Brother Ivo has only been blogging for a short time and so writes disinterestedly in this matter, so he can ask the question -“Why are there no bloggers in the New Year Honours list?”

When the eulogies were written for the late David Frost, the assessments of his life went far beyond his original comedic talents and centred upon his role in ushering in significant media and social change. He and his friends of the satire boom of the 1960’s were credited with hastening the demise of deference and the dismantling of the rigid class structures.

Beyond this, Frost was central to the dismantling of the rigid structures of broadcasting with his role in developing breakfast television in the UK: his independent production company was also groundbreaking, not least in the winning gamble which he took by risking much of his personal fortune to produce the historic interviews with President Nixon.

The tributes were framed in terms of he and his associates being unappreciated and ahead of their time – which US Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy once wryly observed, only denotes one as having “lousy timing”.

While this was happening, the “radio pirates” took on the BBC monopoly and attracted rapid following because they did not follow the convention of the restricted “play list” system which would scarcely be believed by young people today.

Through a near monopoly position in Broadcasting, there was a cosy cartel between a handful of BBC producers, and the record company record “pluggers”. Each week, the BBC had a meeting at which a restricted play list was negotiated. On the list – you received exposure,- off the list you had no chance to sell records and grow your career. There was no alternative, no competition.

Only when the illegal stations and their motley collection of anarchic DJ’s introduced  wider unregulated variety was the old order forced into change.

It was a textbook illustration of the responsiveness of supply and demand.

Brother Ivo’s mind went these DJ’s, Frost and other pioneers of the modern media environment as he scrolled through the 125 pages of names constituting the New Years Honours List. As a “moderniser” the Prime Minister broke some ground by honouring more women than men, and he was also ahead of the field by choosing to recognise whistleblowers.

Yet still missing from the Honours List were the latest incarnation of innovators, the internet bloggers.

If you read Brother Ivo’s opening post  ” Welcome to the Tumbrel”  (you still can) you will know that Brother Ivo reads a number of bloggers on a regular basis. They are not necessarily the most popular and he does not always agree with them, yet some entered the genre at a very early stage exploring, developing and demonstrating how the democratisation of the new medium might work.

He will not invidiously name names,  but readers can consider their own candidates for significant counter cultural innovation and influence.

Such pioneers have developed a challenge to the establishment media narrative, which changes the social power balance in exactly the same way that Frost & Co.- together with the pirate radio DJs- did in their day.

It took years before those pioneers became formally recognised, yet they at least often had early financial reward for their groundbreaking efforts.  Earlier media revolutions always had a potential for monetarisation. Fortunes could be made, and were.

The new innovators tend to have a very different motivation.

The lowly blogger has no such plan or expectation. Whatever the motivation, it is unlikely to be financial and few of them will make friends by speaking truth unto power. For no reward, the innovators think, write and disseminate original and challenging ideas in order to improve the public debate.

If they write well, they prosper, if not, they fail, it is all highly meritocratic and philanthropic. It is a larger version of “Speakers’ Corner”

You might think this would appeal to a Conservative Prime Minister. He probably views them with too short a perspective at present, for few will be demonstrating unqualified support and admiration for him. It would be foolish if they did, for it would scarcely be interesting.

When he constructs his Honours List on the next occasion however David Cameron ought to consider recognising one or two of the blogging pioneers who showed us what is possible, how to achieve it, and moreover, daily demonstrate, commitment, talent, and originality as they offer new ways of looking at Society and its structures.

Their absence from recognition in a Conservative Prime Minister’s honours List is a significant lacuna.

“Thought for the Day” and a question of balance

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Well, it didn’t take long.

Having failed in their annual ambition to remove the birth of Christ from the Christmas season,  the atheists returned on Boxing Day with assistance from their cheerleaders at the Today programme,  who invited Sir Tim Berners Lee to guest edit the programme. We were not only offered an “alternative” Thought for the Day from an atheist “minister” but also a Thought for the Day from a Unitarian whose views could not be considered representative of Orthodox Christianity.

Like a resentful child showing off after attention has been centred upon a sibling, there had to be a cultural response from the atheist opinion formers at our State Broadcaster, and so there was.

Presenter Evan Harris noted that he could ask questions of their invented Thought for the Day presenter but not of the regular contributors: it was an implied criticism of the status quo, overlooking that there is no prohibition or inhibition upon the programme editors exploring religious matters anytime they choose 365 days of the year during the daily two hour programme.

Tim Berners Lee explained that he included the atheist spot as a “challenge” to the BBC establishment, as if the cultural ethos of the faith following majority were somehow dominating the everyday programme. Plainly this is not the case.

Brother Ivo’s much admired Thomas Sowell makes an interesting related contribution here.

“The next time some academic tells you how important diversity is is, ask how many Republicans there are in there sociology department”

Ask a similar question of the BBC Today team. How many Christians are to be found amongst their presenters and editorial team?
Actually, somebody already did.
Martin David Sewell (@martindsewell)
@BBCr4today @MishalHusainBBC @JustinOnWeb Does your programme have any believing/practising presenters or editors? If not ” diversity”?
justin webb (@JustinOnWeb)
@martindsewell @BBCr4today @MishalHusainBBC I’m a lapsed Quaker — does that count ?
Martin David Sewell (@martindsewell)
@JustinOnWeb @BBCr4today @MishalHusainBBC Plainly not- got any lapsed atheists?
The exchange appears to end here. The question hangs in the air.
The Today programme is, and is intended to be an opinion forming vehicle, and that is not Brother Ivo’s interpretation. When its latest recruit Mishal Hussain was recruited to the team of presenters her profile records her delight.
” The programme has unparalleled influence across BBC News and on our national conversation.”
She is unquestionably right. This is why the composition of the programme team is important.

We know that the BBC talks a very good game when it speaks of diversity, and its diversity strategy paperwork is better weighed than counted. In this regard it is bureaucratically beyond reproach save in one respect; in faith terms it is is utterly non-functional.

Given the faith profile of the country which the programme and its publicly funded network purports to serve and represent in all its diversity, would one not expect to see the occasional “out there” Christian on the team?

One would be a start.

Brother Ivo does not seek special treatment or quotas. Like Margaret Thatcher, he is all for success based upon merit. He simply does not believe that a complete absence of Christians from the cohort of qualified and competent contributors to such a programme, is any more statistically probable or acceptable than would be a complete absence of women.

If an influential  programme with so many listeners, deliberately and proudly sets out to form the news agenda and shape the social attitudes of the nation, with due regard to reflecting that nations nature and character, it ought to include a smattering of believers of varying faiths based purely upon hazard. That it fails to recognise that its current  failure  do so in the face of its mountain of po-faced politically correct paperwork, is odd.

Yet there is more.

The programme, like its guiding principles, can be relied upon to dissect the problems caused by religion; yet there is a complete absence of curiosity amongst its producers,  and indeed the entire atheist community, about the contribution of Atheism to society’s ills.

Because Atheism is perceived as the alternative mindset to faith, the rejection of faith appears to render Atheism completely immune from critical examination. Having become a default position, it gets a complete and utter pass from the supposed cream of intellectual journalists.

Never is the contribution of Atheism to the great evils of the last century ever considered, The totalitarian State emerged within a philosophical context, a context in which the “death of God” could and did result in the liberation of Man to do his worst. The big atheist States have plainly killed tens of millions of people. Their growing sense of entitlement to reduce our privacy rights will also have components derived from atheistic philosophy.

We will hear religion heaped with opprobrium for its involvement in historic wrongs, such a slavery, without a celebration of religions unique contribution to its ending. Atheism played no part. Worse, we do not see any interest in identifying Atheism’s contribution to forming the tragedies for which future generation will probably be giving future historic apologies on our behalf. Chief amongst these will be the abortion holocaust.

The problem with having a poorly furnished religious mind is that one has not learnt from religion’s merits in this regard.

Few appreciate that criticism of religion, its practices and institutions began with Jesus himself who invited scepticism of religious elites, over reliance on forms and practices, and warned that not everyone who invoked His name would be received into the Kingdom of Heaven which he was ushering in.

One of the prime features of religious practice is confession. Christians are constantly invited and challenged to review their lives, their Church, and their attitudes. If you want a deep and well informed critique of the Church and its influences, ask the Pope or the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

As Brother Ivo writes in the early morning, our friends at the BBC are announcing that they will be acceding to the Independent newspaper’s call for Atheists to participate in “Thought for the Day”.

Gosh, that was hard won!

Brother Ivo will listen with interest. A default philosophical position should not be an unexamined one, yet the likelihood is that the mindset of the programme will prove to be as institutionally blind and unable to ask critical questions of its underpinning attitudes, as its superior hierarchy was disinclined to take child abuse seriously.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, so the unexamined philosophical underpinnings of our National Broadcaster could render it not worth paying heed to.

The inclusion of Atheism in “Thought for the Day” may feel like a victory. There was a note of triumphalism in Evan Harris’ voice as he announced it, but if it results in exactly the same level of critical appraisal and scepticism being applied to Atheism as it is to Christianity (though interestingly not Islam) , it may prove interesting.

We might even have to end up with equality and balance.

So here is Brother Ivo’s “Thought for the Day”
Dear Atheists
Be careful what you wish for
Yours sincerely
Brother Ivo