Category Archives: UK Politics

#Brexit? God Save the Queen!

Brother Ivo loves exploring paradox, and the time since Britain voted to exit the EU has left him èmbarrased for choice; where to begin?

Let’s begin on a musical note.

As the remarkable news came through, one might almost have expected Nigel Farrage to celebrate the UK ” Indpendence Day” with the words of the French National Anthem- ” Allons enfants de la patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé!” – “Children of the fatherland, the time of glory has arrived” It has all the bombast of the Euro-Elite who believed in the Bonapartist vision and project which is the EU, but Mr Farrage had rejected the substance whist perhaps entitled to appropriate a little of the sentiment.

Elsewhere we might enjoy the irony of young progressives demonstrating their radical credentials by joining Jeremy Còrbyn as he supported the power of unelected EU Presidents doing the bidding of lobbyists from Goldman Sachs.

As the morning extended, advocates of the new ” gentler less divisive” politics gathered outside the home of Boris Johnson to abuse him for the temerity of being part of a multi-party coalition that had just contested a binary choice referendum and – Quelle horreur – emerged with the support of the majority of UK electors. Paradox abounds.

As he and others were castigated for their “right wing” stance, their opponents were seemingly ignoring the fact òf that success being rooted in the Labour heartlands from Bury to Boston, from Swansea to Hartlepool. It may not suit the narrative of many of the liberal elite but the result transends politics, classes, regions, origins and generations.

However confident anyone may be in the majority decision there will be uncertainty; that much was always inevitable.

There is one further massive paradox.

The United Kingdom has an unelected Head of State yet unlike the EU Presidents, our Queen does not attempt to steer politics in any direct form. She stands quietly outside the fray but represents a formidable asset on the side of her peoples in these uncertain times.

Whilst young people may hold on to a high opinion of their own importance in these matters, it is the nonagenarian Queen Elizabeth who will see us through. It is worth spending a few moments counting our blessings.

Our Queen learned her “trade” from Winston Churchill ; she saw us move from an Empire spanning the world, to a Commonwealth of Nations that even countries never part of the Empire have wanted to join. She remembers the inception of the EU, its idealism and its initial purpose, she knew De Gaulle and Adenaur. She discussed potential nuclear war with JFK. She has overseen wars and negòtiated peace. She remembers the Windrush, the Notting Hill riots and was on friendly terms with Nelson Mandela. US Presidents shuffle nervously as they await an audience with her.

So here is the greatest paradox.

Our young express anxiety about the future. Our Queen draws on her experience, wisdom, and faith, and whilst others hesitate she will greet our new a Prime Minister and ensure that he or  stay on the path which is best for her peoples.

So never mind EU grandiosity La Patrie and la gloire -” God save the Queen”!

Where are the French Human Rights Lawyers?

Brother Ivo was listening to a Conservative MP speaking on the radio who discharged her responsibility towards holding Government to account by challenging the policy not to accept unaccompanied children from the Calais migrant camp known as ” The Jungle”.

Readers may may know that Brother Ivo has advised that such acceptances must not be based upon an arbitrary number but calibrated to the recruitment of suitable foster carers who are properly supported and resourced.

The State is notoriously a bad parent, and the ranks of the homeless, the depressed, the imprisoned, the suicidal and the parents of children taken into care, are disproportionately represented by those who were once children in the care of institutional parents.

Children from war zones who are let down by poorly managed processes will be especially vulnerable to future radicalisation. By all means be generous, but let us recognise that compassion on the cheap will not end well. If it is going to be done. let it be done with competence as well as compassion.

The lady MP  pressing her Government was very persuasive however, especially as she spoke of children being abused daily in the camps and needing to be ” sewn up ” after abuse. That was a “game changing image”.

Who could not be moved to act as the nature of the problem was thus described? Two small words, but  a horrific and unforgettable image imparted.

The Government has shifted under such advocacy: one only hopes that they will heed a Brother Ivo’s warning and do what is necessary to make the policy a long term success and not just a short term sop to the public conscience.

Yet, the description of the lady MP – whose name Brother Ivo regrettably did not catch – raises two important collateral matters.

First, it does impact on the view which ordinary people may have of the adult inhabitants of the Jungle: if this is happening on a nightly basis, why is not the adult population of that camp not taking some responsibility for the war zone young?

We are told that they are talented people who, given the chance, will be net improvers of British society.  Doubtless there will be those who are acting to protect the young, but evidently there are many whose resonse to vulnerability is to exploit it.

“Open borders” is not a policy assisted by such stories.

There is a second implication.

If this is what is so widely and blatantly occurring to the very young, what are the French authorities doing about it? If the French State is protectively absent where is the French outcry?

More specifically, where is the French Human Right lobby and it’s associated lawyers?

French jurisprudence has traditionally been very strong on ” The Rights of Man”. They may have been inspired in this by the English Thomas Paine, but we’ll let that pass.

When Paris terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Belgium, he was immediately assisted by a lawyer there,  and when he was transferred to France, a French lawyer was promptly engaged. This tradition of leaping to the defence of the unpopular is deeply engaged in the legal/political class of France

The late french Left wing Lawyer Jacques Verges was legendary for his defence of human rights violators from terrorist “Carlos the Jackel” through ” the butcher of Lyons ” Klause Barbie, to the head of the Khmyr Rouge Khieu Samphan. Maitre Verges volunteered to represent each of them. He inspired generations of politically motivated lawyers.

Human Rights lawyers are very good at defending monsters creatively against  perceived threats to their human rights violations, real or imagined .

So where are they, in calling to account the French Government for its failure to protect these unaccompanied children? In England, Social Services would not be allowed to stand idly by such “no go zones” whilst small children are nightly abused; they consider removing children from foster carers who smoke or flirt with voting UKIP.

So what is the story in France?

Advocates of the UK remaining in the EU are currently suggesting that were we to leave, UK Human Rights jurisprudence would grind to a halt. So here is the question-

if European Human Right Jurisprudence is so superior, so activist in defence of Human Rights, so confronting of State injustice – why is it not being deployed to protect the children of “The Jungle”?


Is Donald Trump the new Cassius Clay?

Brash, boastful, boorish, successful, not much of a gentleman, riding for a fall, hated – all words and phrases that might be applied to Donald Trump at a time when many British people have petitioned Parliament to ban from entry to the UK, the man who could become the next President of the United States of America.

Was it not only a few weeks ago that we entertained the Chinese Premier without any such foolishness, notwithstanding that the Chinese Government is infinitely less congenial to British values than ” The Donald ” will ever be?

What his detractors appear to miss is that Mr Trump thrives on the disapproval of those who dislike him. Both in this, and the full set of unflattering epithets listed above, Mr Trump resembles none other than another upstart braggart hated on these shores – one Cassius Marcellus Clay, the ” Louisville Lip” whose outrageous pronouncements propelled him to become both the heavyweight boxing champion of the world – and in later life, to the status of “National Treasure”, under his new name, Mohammed Ali.

In public perception as in theology, one can be “born again”.

Along the way, Ali flirted with some borderline racism in his association with the Black Power movement. He upset the Establishment, sporting and political, and eventually won his detractors round by doing exactly what he said he was going to do.

America loves success and forgives winners.

Could this be the fate of Donald Trump? He is certainly talking a similarly good game. He also has the media dancing to his tune.

His promise to ” Make America Great Again” resonates with many of those who once threw reason and caution to the winds to deliver with acclamation a landslide victory to Barrack Obama, who had similarly stepped onto the National political stage with no record of political achievement but a lot of populist rhetoric.

The public is fickle and may be again. Nevertheless, from time to time they take to an outsider. That certainly applies to the Republican Party field which is dominated by successes from outsider cañdidates. Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina have all performed better than expected. Even Hillary Clinton now tries to step aside from her First Lady and Secretary of State status, and attempts portray herself as outsider champion whilst being challenged by another genuine candidate from ” Left field” in Bernie Sanders.

A dissection of the proletarians claims of Ms Clinton is best left to another time.

Like Ali, Trump is the master of the counter punch. Opponents who attack him see their subsequent poll ratings fall. You can’t best him on one liners and if you try to fight ugly, he can roll in the gutter with the best ( ie the worst) of them.

When Hillary Clinton accused him of sexism, he showed no squeamishness, and put into play her own complicity and lack of feminist outrage over the multiple women abused by her husband, and silenced by the Clinton “War Room”. Asked if his own less than pristine marital history was also in play Trump disarmingly answered ” Of course”.

Like Ali, he dominates both the centre of the ring, and the pre and post match interviews. He intimidates many, so that they are emotionally beaten before they begin. What is especially alarming to the political Establishment of both parties is his extraordinary personal resources- which he has not even begun to spend yet. Ms Clinton is very rich woman – her net worth is about $38m : her husband is worth around $80m. Mr Trump’s income last year was approximately $400k

Getting into a financial battle with a Donald Trump is like entering a bleeding competition with a blood bank. This even intimidates National Parties, especially the GOP that is terrified of him running as a third party candidate.

Unlike the British, Americans love this.

For the first time, the inner beltway Washington political machine and the lobbyists who work within it are bemused; they have  an opponent they don’t like, who they can’t outspend, can’t crush, can’t shame, doesn’t need their money and can dictate the terms of fight as a complete loose cannon. Joe Public USA loves the sport.

So does this make him the next GOP President?

Possibly, but far from certainly.

Those who think Ms Clinton invincible are drawn largely from those who thought the same when she fought Barrack Obama. Her husband’s legendary campaigning skills nor their formidable campaigning machine  did not save her then, and not only does she have her own vulnerabilities today, but her husband’s charm may not cut it with the new generation of PC voters they helped to create: they may be less charitable towards his predatory behaviour than the electorate of 16 years ago.

If you talk to Boxing fans about which fighters from another era could live with the supreme Mohammed Ali only two names are offered.

Rocky Marciano’s record is better, but those he fought were inferior to those with whom Ali contended.

In more recent times only one name recurs, that of the Canadian born Lennox Lewis. He was never so popular, but had a formidable physique, great technical ability, was equally resilient and of greater stature. He might have had what it takes to defeat the self proclaimed “Greatest”.

Of Donald Trump’s opponents there is also one whose raw intellect outguns even “The Donald’s” intimidating 154 IQ. He too is a Washington outsider, one who can draw and hold not only those who dislike Donald Trump, but those who adore him : that should not be underestimated.

He is younger, even more hungry, forensically equipped to dissect the Clinton record and has a cleaner record than either of his possible opponents. His name is Ted Cruz: he too was born in Canada.

Let’s replace Cecil Rhodes statue with one of Engels Foxhunting!

Brother Ivo is undoubtedly a “Christmas person”, much preferring the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord to merely that of the turning of the year. Granted, New Years Eve has a jollity and optimism about it amongst the young, but for those of older years, it tends towards the rather mawkish and sentimental.

Our Scottish cousins have a different view, and may they have a thoroughly good time of it, but it is not for Brother Ivo.

Notwithstanding this, the turn of the year traditionally challenges us to focus upon some improving notion and the one that currently draws Brother Ivo’s thoughts is that of tolerance.

The context of this is the recent furore created by some rather over privileged students at Oriel College Oxford who wish to to do away with a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

Brother Ivo is no expert on Rhodes, but it is undeniably the fact that he left significant funds for the benefit of future generations and they now seem now seem intent on repaying his generosity with priggish ingratitude.

Many other philanthropists had enemies. Andrew Carnegie, for example,  endowed libraries across the world but was so hated for his tough line with Trades Unions, that the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to kill him. Plainly philanthropy never did equate to perfect morality.

The problem with Rhodes is that the controversy is intergenerational. The new generation feels entitled to judge out of time, out of context ,  and all too often out of ignorance.

This is a pity because we need to be reminded of our history, and to have important figures set within it like landmarks by which we orientate our way through its twists and turns. The present controversy appears to turn upon this generations lack of tolerance towards those of another time with which it currently feels out of tune. There is much moral vanity on display and no great subtlety of understanding.

It is not a uniquely British phenomenon, indeed there appears to be a rather desperate ” me too” element involved: if New Orleans can reject Robert E Lee (forgetting his role in post American Civil War healing) , then we too must show ourselves no less diligent in repudiating historic wrongs.

Pondering the question of such memorials set Brother Ivo to reflect upon some odd quasi-juxtapositions.

Parliament Square / Whitehall sees memorials to both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Past generations appear to have lived comfortably enough with that. The fact we do so does us credit. The most difficult of disputes to resolve are those where each side “has a point”.

The Embankment has both William Tyndale and Thomas Moore memorialised. One wonders if the passing crowds ever reflect upon how remarkable that equality of honour might appear to those who fought over religion, in past eras,

In Parliament Square we have comparatively recently raised a statue to Nelson Mandela without having felt the need to evict that of Jan Smuts with whom he might have had have several differences of opinion. Happily for the General, most Oxford students won’t know who he is, so he will probably hold his place.

In the same vicinity we have Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill who were far from close friends or political soul mates, indeed a recent book about them bore the sub title “The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire”.

Indian sub-continental rivalries are further memorialised with statues of Nehru and Jinnah almost within hailing distance of each other around the Law Courts, Nehru outside Kings College, and Jinnah over the road in Lincoln Inn Fields.

As far as Brother Ivo recalls, there is no enthusiasm from the Human Rights lobby to remove the statue of Che Guevara from its place on the Embankment despite the jolly homophobe’s penchant for killing political prisoners. Similarly, there is no apparent pressure to rename the two Stalin Avenues in Chatham and Colchester.

We have not yet called to mind the bust of Karl Marx, set appropriately enough in a cemetery, but no doubt were we to do so, Diane Abbott would argue that he did more good than harm, though her accountancy methods might attract some scrutiny on that point.

Such benevolence to the heroes of the Left continues. There is a plan to erect a statue of Friedrich Engels’ beard at Salford University, ( yes,  seriously  ) presumably not to far from the BBC so it will have plenty of visitors.

Looking at the plan, Brother Ivo could not help but mischievously note that they have not felt it necessary to depict space for a brain, but actually there is more fun to be had than that .

The spokesman for the design group responsible, Engine, declared that “We aren’t interested in making a “hero on horseback” which is something Engels would have been horrified by”.

Except he probably wouldn’t.

Engles declared himself never happier than when on horseback – riding to hounds!   He once wrote to Marx “On Saturday I went out fox hunting – seven hours in the saddle….That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days: its the greatest physical pleasure I know…. I was in at the death”.

It is this kind of dichotomy that delights the English. it is probably why we are content to have a degree of incoherence in our historical statuary. We take what we like and put up with what we don’t – and there is a lesson for many in this world.

We are happy to celebrate, in death, aspects of character of those who were bitter opponents in life. We know there is nothing pure or logical in history and that Marx was wrong – there is no historical determinism. We got where we are in a muddled way but somehow we manage ok without continually tearing each other apart. It is this penchant for tolerance that so exasperates the ideologues.

Tolerant peoples are better than “black and white” in their judgements and thank God for that.

It was this acknowledgement of complexity that enabled Mandela and De Klerk to find a way forwards in South Africa – though sadly less broad minds may yet put an end to the hope.

Some of us recall the bonhomie that unexpectedly broke out between the late Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams after they had concluded the Northern Ireland Peace process.

The ability to avoid stiff necked principle is a virtue that has to be learned with age and experience. It is plainly not a common one amongst the self styled elite of younger generation which seems certain it is right about everything, not least where historic statuary is concerned.

In the interests of fostering an ability to compromise. perhaps the way forward for Oriel College, is to offer a historic compromise. They should offer to remove the Cecil Rhodes statue together with all the finance with which he endowed the University, upon condition that it is replaced by a mounted statue of Friedrich Engels riding to hounds.

such a solution would simultaneously be a triumph of the Left, an affirmation of  the importance of truthfulness in historic matters, a tribute to an indispensible feature of the English countryside and a reminder that few of us are as predictable as some would have it believed.

On that quirky note, may you have a Happy and idiosyncratic New Year

Redcar is all about Chinese growth and Chinese jobs

It used to be said that when the American economy sneezed, Europe caught a cold. Plainly that is now an out of date notion, and today we must all take note of the news that the Chinese economy has slowed to its lowest growth rate for six years.

The signal was there for us to see earlier in the year, when there was considerable volatility on the Shanghai stock exchange: even if Chinese growth figures look healthy by old world standards, they are plainly heading into worrying times and this will effect us all.

More topically, if the price of keeping their economy moving is the dumping of commodities onto the world market, then that is what a command economy does. The notion of workers fraternal links across the world plainly do not extend to Redcar no matter how some of our quainter politicians may envision the world.

China is now the workshop of the world. We all need it to prosper, not least because it, in its turn, is an increasingly important destination for British exports. Europe is still in the economic doldrums and whilst America is doing slightly better than it was, the uncertainty of the US electoral cycle will soon be upon us. Regardless of which decision the UK makes in the oncoming EU referendum, China’s health remains a matter of concern to us all.

As he pondered the problem Brother Ivo called to mind a passage in “Deciion Points” the book written shortly after leaving office by President George W Bush. It is a far more interesting and enlightening book than many of his detractors would predict.

In it, he writes that all world leaders need to get to know each other a little before they settle down to serious business. They need ” ice breaker ” questions.

Brother Ivo hears that when meeting her subjects, the Queen’s opening gambit ( for, by tradition she must speak first) is ” Have you come far?” Whilst that may be an warm and appropriate question for such meetings: it might, however seem a little worrying to the visitor if he happened to be the President of China!

President Bush’s question of choice was a little more searching. “What problem keeps you awake at night?”

The answer he recieved from the then Chinese President was both precise and startling in its implication.

” How do I create 22 million jobs every year?”

That figure is approximately the current stubbornly fixed unemployment statistic for the entire EU. We cannot shift it into downward motion over decades, yet our Chinese friends must achieve that every year. Success ensures political peace; failure would risk social unrest and inevitable repression, which we know the Chinese Communist party is capable of, but modestly to its credit, it does not seem enthusiastically to wish to deploy.

Given the pragmatic choice of repressive ideologogical purity, or the embracing of free trade and a large slice of capitalism, the People’s Congress did make the right decision in their people’s interests and both by their hard work and example, that compromise has been responsible for lifting more people out of absolute poverty in the world than almost any other in modern times.

During this same period of economic growth, there has been a degree of lifting of party suspicions in religious matters, so that Christianity is becoming increasingly trusted by China’s leaders as a benign influence which will not destabilise the country, as it pursues its secular economic priorities. That too can be cautiously welcomed.

It is not only their own people who have benefitted. Not only are the UK poor advantaged by low priced good quality manufactured goods, but other countries have seen what works in the real world, and are following the example.

It began with a willingness to compromise.

In the more comfortable West, political compromise has become a dirty word, not least on each extreme of the political spectrum. Perhaps we have the luxury of getting it wrong. It is still possible in the UK to be a welfare claimant and still be within the statistical “richest 5% ” in the world. China has no such cushioning. Absolute grinding poverty is remembered and feared; so is its ideological cause. The Party knows that it’s interests are best served by continuing to deliver the goods. If that hurst a trivial number of workers in Redcar (by their standards) then sobeit.

Reflecting upon the problems of managing a behemoth economy for a population three times larger than that of the USA, it probably makes sense to tone down the moralising rhetoric. Of course, we wish China was more democratic, more attuned to western notions of human rights and ecological concern.

Yet the imperative for those jobs to be created this year, next year, and every year into the foreseeable future, ought perhaps to be calming influence on our more confrontational instincts. We in Europe have been unable to close that 22million employment gap once; the Chinese Premier, whom the Prime Minister will be in discussion with this week, needs to do this every year.

Asked whether he expected to be challenged about human rights by Jeremy Corbyn, as some have speculated, the Chinese Premier remarked that the Britsh are a polite people who know how to act properly towards guests. If Mr Corbyn decides to not to press matters too quickly Brother Ivo will not blame him.

He hopes they have an interesting conversation. Perhap’s someone in the Chinese delegation will ask him what future challenges might keep him awake at night. It would be fascinating to hear the answer.

We can all agree with Mr Cameron that ……

Whatever one’s politics, there is little doubt that in his Party Conference speech the Prime Minister set out his agenda for the next five years with clarity and no small degree of passion.

In the following hours and weeks it will be examined, questioned, praised an/or sceptically evaluated, and in future months and years he will be held to account, as indeed he should be.

There was one section of his address however,  where there can surely be widespread consensus, and one upon which the Church of England’s incoming General Synod might perhaps take a supportive position without risk of accusation of political partisanship.

I refer to that section in which the Prime Minister addressed the problems of those whose start in life was blighted, leading to institutional care.

The prognosis for such young people is unbelievably bleak. The PM was absolutely right to identify this as a priority.

If you have had such a poor start to life, so that the State intervened in your family and became your “Statutory Parent”, your life prospects have plunged from that point on. One does not have to apportion blame as one remarks upon this, but simply look at the historical statistical outcomes.

Such a young person will be highly unlikely to achieve 5 reasonable GSE’s; university education is incredibly rare.

One’s prospects of falling into crime, homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, mental illness  or suicide, are very high indeed, and if there are children – which is more likely than not, they will statistically be highly likely to repeat the cycle. Few areas of publicly funded failure have such long lasting or cruel consequences.

When we hear folk speak of the alienated “under-class”, those with a history of being parented by the State will feature with excessive prominence within the cohort.

These outcomes will occur despite the whole process having cost the State a fortune. It is wasteful on every level, not least in the spoiling of human potential.

Yet it does not have to be like this. There are rare examples of people from difficult backgrounds making it against the odds, and no better example currently exists, than the present Justice Minister, Michael Gove who was himself an adopted child.

That gives Brother Ivo hope.

Mr Gove has responsibility for the prison service in which so many of those who began life like him currently languish. He seems to have a sense that ” there but for the grace of God go I’ and if he ever appears to  lose that sense, he may be properly reminded of it as he goes about his reforming work. Such work will complement the work of the Home Secretary and Children’s Minister in this multi-faceted field.

Surely nothing the Prime Minister said on this subject can be controversial or sensibly denied?

Neither Party has a decent record on the subject so political point scoring by either side is unsustainable; one hopes a joint determination to go forward from here is possible.

Our Churches should be at the forefront of encouraging the Government  in its endeavours within this area, yet we also need to be sympathetic critics, monitoring performance of the specific policies that flesh out the fine aspirations.

If we are to lift the alienated underclass, which all politicians aspire to achieve, it plainly makes sense to first stop adding to it. Already there are moves to preserve such youngsters within a stable family orbit beyond technical adulthood, but we need to do so much more.

This is one of those areas where strong supportive funding does make sense; such is the accumulation of costs “downstream” if early intervention is unsuccessful, that a focus on intensive  investment, innovation and the developing of consistent, long lasting, supportive relationships is wholly justified.

If the Churches cannot find a supportive role within this project, it will scarcely be able to lecture either Government or Society on the “socially relevant Gospel” again.

Does ” Boiling Frog Syndrome” apply to the “Migrant Crisis”

How are we to think clearly about the problems presented to us by migration?

Can we be best directed by our feelings?

Our feelings might be – should be –  instinctively sympathetic for those who have been displaced, but there will be others feeling a fear of the unknown , concerned if an indeterminate number of people with different backgrounds histories and values seek refuge amongst us.

Maybe we are better to bring cold hearted logic to bear if a solution is to be reached with the necessary swiftness?

But is it is a cerebral matter only? Should we try to to work out optimal numbers, calculating our economic costs or gains?  Is that even possible in a plural democracy where there will be many views? It certainly cannot be done quickly. It thus falls to a worried Government to make a decision how to respond quickly to that dreadful picture of a drowned toddler on a beach.

Rarely will a Prime Minister have better understood Harold Macmillan’s summation of the Prime Ministerial nightmare ” Events, dear boy, events”

There will be some who will see the opportunity for political advantage, either to brand the Prime Minister an unfeeling brute or to bolster their argument against the EU. We may try to resist getting sucked too far into those areas if we are true to the mission of trying to reach a practical solution that does not affront our values, but few will succeed. Each and every decision will bleed political consequence into the body politic,

Brother Ivo ‘s abiding sense, as the various dimensions and complexities of the problem unfolds is simple, though not immediately practical. If you or I feel totally comfortable with our position in this dreadful crisis, we are probably not thinking hard enough.

It is a good discipline for us all to go to the position in the debate where we feel least comfortable and ask ourselves ” Where is there merit in this quarter of the discussion?” The more Brother Ivo has turned the issues over in his mind,  the more he has come to appreciate that this is one where most “sides” have a point. This is always the worst kind of dispute to be embroiled in; the worst civil wars occur where there is indeed a degree of merit on both sides.

So today Brother Ivo will challenge the instincts of perhaps  a majority in his Church whose instinct is dismiss fears about migration, and its consequences.

In an attempt to find a way of thinking clearly on the subject, Brother Ivo turned briefly to a rather obscure Harvard academic Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld whose work attempted to encourage a careful definition of concepts for use in legal analysis so that we do not confuse the argument with imprecision. He developed his language tools for use in civil disputes but as will be seen, they may assist in carrying our thinking when discussing immigration and the related Human Rights issues.

In a nutshell, Hohfeld identified that there are always two sides to a legal relationship which he called “correlatives” If one person has a legal right somebody else must have a  corresponding duty. He went further and identified four distinct pairs of necessary relationship,

So we have :-

Right – Duty

Privilege – No Right

Power – disability

Immunity – Liability.

To discuss a matter in Hohfeldian terms, you keep within those language rules; this is especially the case when considering “privilege” which is purely used in an analytical sense and has no class or wealth connotation. If you cannot clear your mind of other preconceptions about these words – stop reading now,

Looking at the migration issue through such a lens we begin to see more clearly where the current problems – and resentments arise.

In Hofeldian terms  British Citizenship  conferred  a “privilege”. If you were born here, nobody had any right to deny it to you. We legislated for others to petition to enjoy that “privilege” , by citizenship application or marriage; the “powers that be” had an absolute discretion to grant or withhold the privilege . Those petitioning were under disability; they might have a right to be considered, and the State might have a duty to consider the application, but it was the State alone which had the arbitrary legal “power”  to reject,  and a failed applicant was under “disability” in terms of challenging the discretion,

Within such a legal environment, the Executive, guided by the Legislature, would have enjoyed uncomplicated discretion in cases such as the present immigration crisis.

Provided the electorate approved, the Government could have been as mean or as generous as it wished with a true sense of control over the problem. The numbers who entered the country and the character thereof was a decision for the UK and above all for its peoples. Those peoples have been historically very welcoming and generous as Kenan Malik has written about here .

Yet we are not in the same age when such generosity was exercised, we are now in the world of the EU, and the Human Rights Act, and that makes a huge difference in terms of how confidently and quickly the Prime Minister feels able to act.

As Nigel Farage constantly points out – perfectly accurately – the Prime Minister is no longer in charge of the borders. The ( Hohfeldian ) “privilege” of the right of residence has been greatly extended, it has certainly been ceed to every person within the European Union – hundreds of millions of people.

Some hundreds of thousands have  already  exercised their “privilege”. We may not be accustomed to using the word in that context but it is le mot juste.

The UK is currently attractive to our EU neighbours because its language is the second language of many, its economy is thriving, it society diverse and welcoming; there is stability and residents enjoy a higher degree of welfare than many in the EU. A welfare claim is also a “legal privilege” – the Government has “no right” to withhold it from anyone within the extended class of those “privileged” in this way. There is the current irony that David Cameron has created more jobs for the French than Francois Holland.

There is currently no lawful mechanism for removing or restricting the privilege currently enjoyed by all EU residents.

Yet that “privilege” in not limited to those born or currently residing within the EU.

As Douglas Carswell  has written, anyone currently admitted by any of the member states to residence, automatically joins the numbers of those with a potential claim on the British State and economy. What he does not add is that any dependants  subsequently passported to residence, via s 8 of the Human Rights Act ” Right to Family Life”, must also be afforded the same status. If a newly arrived resident has a significant family tie. there is a duty to respect it. How many may subsequently claim that right is both unknown and unknowable, so people worry.

The class of those entitled to insist upon the privilege of residence was further extended under both the asylum and refugee conventions of the UN and Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention to anyone from a war zone,

Through those legally enforceable rights, the class of those who are “immune” from British Government control, and can make the British Government and taxpayer “liable” for their welfare is equally unknown and unknowable.

Every person who can reach the UK from a country where an oppressive Government infringes Human Rights has the “right” to claim asylum and the Government has a “duty” to grant it. Legal Aid must be afforded those whom it challenges because the right under dispute is an “absolute” one and access to the Courts must be resourced.

An “asylum seeker” has a well founded fear of his or her own Government. It encompasses persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of any political group. Sadly, the numbers of those afflicted is not in short supply,

A refugee is an asylum seeker who has fled his or her homeland through unrest civil war or natural disaster . a useful exploration of the definitions and all too frequent confusions,  by Mr Harry Mitchell QC is to be found here .

It does not take much reflection to appreciate that the class of those who are or maybe entitled to the privilege of UK residence and the ancillary rights and entitlements that go with it is vast. It certainly encompasses not only all 4 million Syrian refugees but also every gay person in Uganda, Pakistan, Iran ( to name but a few), every atheist in a Muslim State  and every woman at risk of sexual violence from Boko Haram or Islamic State. It encompasses many citizens of countries which sit on the UN Human Rights panel which only goes to prove that satire is not dead.

We may want – and choose-  to help every one who arrives; we are a generous people as the response to the single picture of the drowned Syrian child testifies. yet it is rather disingenuous to pretend that those who worry about numbers do not have a point.

That point primarily arises out of the legal context in which these crises arise which makes it different from virtually every other mass movement that preceded it.

When Huguenot, Irish and Jewish and Commonwealth migrations occurred in previous centuries, there was not the same context of enforceable “rights”,” privileges” “immunities” etc – nor indeed was there a welfare State of such attraction to the migrant choosing where to go. There was not the means by which the attractions of the UK were so graphically and instantly available.

This context matters when comparing the current situation with the past. If the Government appears to hesitate before acting, given the enormity of the problem and consequences of getting it wrong, Brother Ivo will be slow to criticise.

In the context of  the General Synod Climate Change debate, much weight was attached to “boiling frog syndrome” : we were told that “by the time you recognise the severity of the problem it is too late to do anything about it”.

One is bound to enquire whether the same principle applies, uncomfortably, in this debate.

The culture, attitudes, values, and institutions  of the United Kingdom have evolved over centuries. Despite many disagreements between us, we have a modus vivendi which many in the world find either attractive or at least convenient to enjoy. It has not proved as easy to replicate in other cultures as enlightened rationalists once assumed it would be.

Our current legal structures mean that we afford equal protection to the scarred woman fleeing an acid attack, the persecuted Christian, the gay African – and many who are in sympathy with the perpetrators of such persecution. We have amongst us those who perpetrated genocide, resisting exclusion because they might face the death penalty. We have advocates of the the values and systems that caused the crises ready to add such diversity to our public life.

We may decide that is a price worth paying, but it is hard to think that the debate about it is not worth having.

At the very least, it may be appropriate to introduce into our public considerations the notion that this current crisis might cause us to reconsider whether our legal structures are fit for the purpose of maintaining Britain as a place of welcome and refuge. Remember the frog.




Legal Aid is vital to avoid transience within communities

Whilst visiting a local church in one of the poorest parishes in the Diocese, Brother Ivo enjoyed a conversation over coffee with a lady who was deeply involved in outreach to her local community.

The Church ran a cafe ensuring a good affordable hot meal on a daily basis in sociable surroundings. They were very supportive of debt counselling but struggling to find enough time and advisors to meet the need. There was good work offered to children and young people. They were perhaps the last stable institution staring in an impoverished areas and they were anxious to stay, and serve the poor the lonely and the outcast.

It is the kind of church which makes one proud to be. Christian.

They had built their presence thanks to the receipt of grants, including good support from the local Diocese, and the Local Council, yet therein lies the problems. All such grants are limited in scope and time. Having built a functioning project for the benefit of the poor, it was threatened by an approaching end to funding streams.

The church remained dedicated and optimistic and were praying for support.

Should they be forced to contract their activities, the church will join a long list of sectors to have withdrawn from the community.

Once, the parish had housed the skilled workers for a large local defence establishment. Decline in the areas began when that facility had been closed, sacrificed to sustain another community in another part of the country. Shops closed, mutual associations and friendly societies were raided by carpet baggers intent on short term profit; pubs disappeared, and with them, local sports and other voluntary organisations all of which ceased to be active. Little by little, the structures of society ebbed away, until only the Church remains.

It is not only the public infrastructure which has departed, so have traditional local families.

That had always been the case in a modest form. As families “got on” they tended to move up the hill to slightly better or bigger houses, and young people moved to other parts of the country after going to university, but this natural turnover became worse and accelerated faster.

When the local economy sunk into depression,  house prices dropped and were bought up by ” buy to let ” landlords. Their client group reflected demographic change. Set in an area close to London the community experienced a squeeze from two directions; from recent European immigrants arriving from the Channel ports, and from others moving out of London as rental costs continue to rise in the capital.

With a ready supply of poorer, socially disadvantaged, often unsophisticated renters available, absentee landlords have no difficulty letting sub-standard properties.  the Local Council has other pressing priorities and are slow to enforce the law. People don’t like living there and move when they can even though the “grass is not greener” in the next property.

It is in this context, that Brother Ivo draws attention to the recently published Theos report arguing that there is a need to restore Legal Aid. You may read the story here –

It is precisely because tenants can no longer enforce the law relating to housing law, because Legal Aid is not available, that the quality of the housing stock has declined. If you cannot enforce rights and standards, your only recourse is to move on – if you can. you have no pride of place, few places of common ground, and frequently no common language or culture with those about you.

It is in transient communities that drug dealing, human trafficking, and many other anti-social activities can flourish.

In the 1990’s,  New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pioneered policing methods which transformed first that city then Los Angeles, based upon the premise that dealing with the smaller problems of a local community paid huge dividends with the higher profile concerns. He famously demonstrated that by zero tolerance of petty crime, such as little , broken windows and graffiti, you established a social climate in which the murder rate markedly reduced.

Our Victorian forebears who founded such communities originally put it a different way. “Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves.’

The same principle applies with the building of community and Legal Aid has an important place which is easily overlooked in anti-lawyer rhetoric.

Stable community cannot be built out of transience, because so many other social problems flow from it.

This is not a party political issue. The savage cutting of Legal Aid happened under Labour after many years of persistent neglect. The Conservative/Liberal coalition has maintained that policy of deliberately ignoring the enforcement of the law by and on behalf of the poor.

Damage has already been done. Law firms have closed in such areas, as have Community Law Centres. The expertise which had been developed in earlier decades in specialist areas of law has already been lost.

In public finance terms, the savings are small but disproportionately harmful.

Community requires local identification because only if local people are cohesive and care for each other can they have the kind of society in which they demonstrate love for their neighbour by reporting the drug dealer, the violent partner, the neglected child or the exploited immigrant.

We need to identify transience as an important factor in righting these social problems, and whilst it is not popular to speak of the need for Legal Aid we probably cannot address many of the issues driving social exclusion adequately without it.

Enter the Bishop of Clacton?

The growing dispute over MP’s outside jobs and interests must surely be a suitable occasion to take up the challenge from our Anglican Bishops in their recent Pastoral Letter, in which they urged us to step aside from partisanship and to analyse exactly what it is that will best promote the public good.

Rarely can this be more important than when the free composition of our ancient Parliament is being considered, in the light of what may – or may not – be breaches of the rules by two senior Parliamentarians

The Bishops’ letter covers a range of issues but must be relevant in relation to this topical question about securing the best representatives and legislators to serve the nation. The Bishops encourage us, whether we be Christian or not, to engage in the conversation, so Brother Ivo takes up the challenge.

The exercise begins with the hope that at the end of the enquiry,  we shall be fearlessly represented by free men and women of character. competence, experience integrity  and dedication to the task. Ultimately securing that outcome can never be about the making of rules but the exercise of judgement by those choosing the representatives , whether for the candidates list or ultimately by the wider electorate.

How we shall best ensure that those representing us bring the necessary  qualities to their role is important. Breadth of representation by the most talented is also an important objective.

The exercise surely begins with personal responsibility, not of the would be politician but with the electorate. If we do not participate in political parties ourselves, not least in their selection committees and processes, then we can scarcely complain at the character of those in the House of Commons?

Jesus told us that “in my father’s house there are many mansions”, and there was a range of character and both his disciples and early followers so perhaps we should predispose ourselves to the idea that diversity has more to offer than uniformity of any kind.

Love them or loath them, Sir Nicholas Soames, Dennis Skinner, David Lammy, Sajid Javid, Nadine Dorries and Sarah Teather are vastly different characters, and yet each represents a part of British life that needs representing in the House of Commons. Some have outside interests or affiliations, some have independent means, others do not. All types of MP bring important perspectives to a variety of questions, social, economic constitutional, and religious. It is odd to outwardly promote diversity whilst simultaneously excluding those whose personal circumstances don’t match a 9-5 working mentality.

Flexible and creative minds are surely to be encouraged?

It is the function performed rather than the uniformity of the mould that best guarantees the availability of a multiplicity of skills from which the welfare of the nation may be formed.

Brother Ivo is frankly concerned that to restrictive a drawing of rules will compress the pool from which MP’s may be drawn. It is, after all, a bit rum, for the present Party Leadership to fulminate against those who have second jobs.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both wealthy and have high earning wives: second jobs were always irrelevant to them. Nick Clegg has been described as one of the few people who can make both look positively middle class, having both inherited wealth, and a rich wife. George Osborne, Harriett Harman and many others are similarly hardly dependent on Parliamentary salary; Gordon Brown and George Galloway have been amongst the richest of outside earners whilst advocating for the common man. Bans on outside work will not touch any of these but may deter political engagement by many ordinary folk considering putting their careers on hold to contest seats that may never offer job security for an income less than many secondary head teachers enjoy.

There was a time, paradoxically when the estimation of MP’s was higher than it is today; it was when we did not pay MP’s at all.

Even that had its merits: if a man owned half of Berwickshire he might not empathise much with the rat catcher of Romford ( a task once performed by Brother Ivo’s grandfather!) but at least one did not have to worry over much about his selling his opinion to the highest bidder.

On the other hand, the paying of MP’s enabled the curmudgeonly Mr Skinner to bring an entirely different approach to the steering of the ship of state.

Every solution to the conundrum of how to remunerate and constrain our legislators has pluses and minuses, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater just to satisfy political spitefulness or to solve a passing  problem of the moment.

An early question must surely be whether we want to promote a fully professionalised dedicated political class?

The polls suggest a public inconsistency, not to say immaturity.

At one and the same time. many of us seem to be simultaneously complaining that our MP’s are out of touch with ordinary life – whilst also insisting that they should spend all their time working in the Westminster bubble.

We need to flag up this weak thinking.

Neither do we seem to be entirely clear on what the task a “full time MP” might look like. Is it enough that they work 35 hours, 40 or 45 hours? If so, is it really so outrageous if they earn money outside of those times rather than say, watching Netflix? As Dt Jonson said, a man is never so innocently employed as when he is making money. This is, provided there is transparency. When that is missing, then impropriety arises soon after.

One of the prickly questions one might even ask is whether this ” full time commitment” is compatible with being the mother of young children? Brother Ivo accepts that it is, but wonders whether the pressures, distractions and crisis management inherent in the multi-tasking of such ladies is actually less of a distraction to them than a once a week Board Meeting of a family business?

The value of current and ongoing outside experiences brought by farmers, duty solicitors, GP’s and military reservists is surely much appreciated by the public when they hear their parliamentarians examining issues with real life understanding, rather than the reading of briefings from special advisors, time serving before their opportunity to step up another rung on the career ladder that began with the PPE degree at Oxford.

A Parliamentary salary is greater than many earn in the country. That is no reason to conclude that those of talent are grasping. exploitative, and “only in it for themselves”. The rules may need modification but ultimately does it not depend upon the character and caliber of those whom we ultimately have a responsibility to vet and hold to account?

It is transparency and accountability that was at the heart of Zac Goldsmith’s recall bill which was emasculated by the party hierarchies – the folk who are currently vying to occupy the moral high ground.

If the local electorate choose candidates in open primaries and can recall an MP via a by election triggered by a petition of 10% of the electorate, the behaviour of Messrs Straw and Rifkind are surely best judged in the court of their most local public opinion.

Brother Ivo finds the idea of artificially restricting outside activities deeply unattractive. Many of our best politicians have been polymaths, people of exceptional breadth organisational skills and energy.

A simple analogy to put before the electorate is that of professional football and the maximum wage.

Were we to return to the old days of the “maximum wage” and legislate that football players be paid only an MP’s salary with no International duties or outside sponsorships, can you imagine the uproar? Would not fans instantly see that it would result in an exit of talent, a “dumbing down” and a resulting mediocrity of journeyman without flair?

Brother Ivo does not want to be only represented by the very rich or those whose ambition is limited to holding onto a lifelong job on a respectable but not spectacular salary. He sees such MP’s as excessively prone to influence by the Whips Office: the model of those who have to hold onto their jobs through compliance, contrasted with those free from economic fear looks suspiciously like the old  “gentlemen and players” model of yesteryear: one we should be slow to go back to.

Nothing illustrates the distain of the patrician class for the ordinary folk more than the entry in the members Register of Interests, which records a gift to Andy Burnham of a day at the Wimbledon tennis from Harriet Harman. It cost £2000.

It may be a pretty gesture between wealthy friends, but it surely sits ill for them to then rail against the ambition of more workaday MP’s who want and can suitably work for their families to have what the richest MP’s can so easily take for granted. Think of that day, when criticising the MP who put 400 hours  at night and weekends as a duty solicitor on not much money for his firm

Brother Ivo wants representation by the businessman who knows whether regulation is ” just right” or holding back enterprise and job creation. He likes the awkward ex Union Official whose members may not be as monolithic – or PC – as the party hierarchy. He wants farmers to speak for the countryside. He wants the GP or that  duty solicitor who can talk to the drug addict, and Police Sergeant alike at 3 in the morning and encounter what it is like trying to get a bed for the mentally ill under those circumstances, rather than hearing a civil servant’s regurgitation of  statistics.

All this is applying the spirit of the Bishops’ letter to this current problem. They seem to be encouraging us to engage more, and put in another way, it reminds us that the real problem is not that MP’s are not paying enough attention to their job, but rather that it is the electorate which is sloppy, and under performing. WE should have been more outraged when the recall bill was defeated by party interests who wanted to keep their power over the people’s representatives and did not want the electorate to exercise the discipline over its MP’S

Surely Christians seeking to improve the body politic need to be saying -“get involved, vet your candidates before you elect them. Hold your MP to account for poor standards. If they let you down, don’t hold to tribal loyalty – ‘ throw the bums out!” -as our American friends say.

We soon reach one of Brother Ivo’s beloved paradoxes – or in this case, perhaps an irony.

In such encouragement to take responsibility for our democracy, the Bishops are aligning themselves intellectually with no one on the current political scene so much as Douglas Carswell of UKIP, who has written persuasively on the subject

Now, who would have thought that?

When Judges and Bishops “rebel”

Sir Nicholas Creighton is not a politician, neither is he a bishop. Brother Ivo does not know if he is a Christian, but as he discharges his duties as a District Judge in the specialist Drug and Alcohol Family Court in London, he demonstrates much that is similar in approach to that of the Anglicans Bishops whose recently published pastoral letter urges a fresh approach upon those about to contest the general election.

If you do not know about Sir Nicholas’ innovative work in resolving intractable family problems you can read about it here.

In a nutshell the Court which he has created in a pilot scheme, targets the most complex and intractable of cases where parents have failed their children through misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Many of the parents will have been brought up by neglectful cruel or incompetent parents themselves, so the problems are compounded by emotional issues which would be difficult enough to resolve as stand alone problems, even before substance abuse and inevitable poverty potentiated the difficulties.

These “families” are characterised by lack of routine, multiple relationships, and state dependency, and having been neglected or actively subverted by societal messaging that drug use and single parenthood is perfectly capable of delivering ” good enough” parenting.

Such parents are shocked when State and its agents suddenly turn from being indulgent provider to aggressive accuser, giving such fragile parents just 6 months to turn around the habits of a lifetime,  with the penalty of losing their children forever should they be incapable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Sir Nicholas identifies the problem succinctly.

“A system that goes on removing children because of drug and alcohol issues, but does nothing about the core problem, is a ‘failing system’, he adds: ‘We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss.’

They inevitably return , they cannot heal themselves : “if they knew better, they’d do better”.

These are people with tragic lives, often the product of poor decisions – many their own. Whilst we are enjoined not to be judgemental, they have almost invariably failed to follow the very simple basic rules for avoiding poverty, and family chaos.

1) Don’t drop out of school
2) Don’t have children under 21 years
3) Get married before having children
4) Don’t engage in substance abuse

Our societal failure to promulgate these simple basic rules is at the heart of many of tragedies that arrive in the family courts. Our Bishops could help in this regard but rarely do so with clarity.

Sir Nicholas  tired of seeing the pain of families being administered into heartbreaking separation, and of his part in letting it happen. Having seen the value of joined up thinking in the Courts of Santa Barbara California, he started a bold initiative to do things better in London. He convinced Government Departments and Local Authorities to give him enough free rein and funding – “peanuts” – to do things differently,

When Court proceedings are started, parents are brought to him quickly. He sets out a programme in consultation with independent social workers, therapists, child and adult psychiatrists, substance abuse experts and a clinical nurse. He talks plainly, offering failing parents a promise of a fair chance and real support in return for determined engagement and total honesty. If the parents agree, they enter a programme of intensive change, support and regular drug testing.

It is not perfect, it has many failures when even these efforts cannot rescue parents from deep habits and emotional fragility. The project has, however, markedly improved the prospects of success for families staying together- and when this happens the case ends with congratulations and applause for all the hard work – led by the Judge.

So what has this to do with our Bishop’s pastoral letter enjoining politicians to change their modus operandi?

The Judge, like the Bishops, recognised that standing imperiously above the process and passing judgement, was not enough. To achieve what was needed required him to re-define his role. Our Bishops seem of similar mind.

He engages the failing families with direct and refreshing honesty. One might say that he engages them with equality, and refreshing respect: he does not condescend or dissemble. He put the challenge bluntly, offered a hand up, but does not shirk from making a tough decision when the primary interest of the children required it.

He sees that the common good – of the families and the wider community – have a mutual interest in investing time effort and resources  to reverse the cycle of failure, which frequently cascades down through the generations.

He plainly believes that the failed families before him were worth the effort of redemption.

He recognises that the people he has spend years judging have a culture of failure; it is not, as our politically correct friends would have us believe, an equally valid life style choice. Nevertheless he offers them respect though a real choice: nobody can do this  for them, although if they accept the challenge they may succeed. Nothing is guaranteed, nobody can succeed for them, but the specialist Court gives them their best chance.

Neither the Judge, nor the bishops have got it all right. Both are venturing outside of their traditional roles. Both are motivated by a combination of compassion and informed practicality. We should welcome the good that can come out of it, yet this can only happen if we too fully engage with the process.

There is much to approve in the Bishop’s initiative, yet also a strand of paternalism and trust in the benefits State intervention that many find jarring, especially when they look at our own past and the French present.

Sir Nicholas seems to have struck the balance rather better.

Help is offered – but accompanied by realistic expectation.

Personal responsibility is not overlooked.

Bad destructive values are bluntly challenged.

Resources are targeted in a timely manner, but contractually based, and for carefully defined purpose.

There is compassion, but not indulgent sentimentality.

It is a blend of optimism, tempered by real world experience.

With a Judges talent for succinct communication Sir Nicholas can also encapsulate his thinking in considerably less than 52 pages, Our Bishops might do well to learn by this example.