Monday, June 27, 2011

What All Politicos Can Learn From Christopher Shale's Memo

It would take a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for David Cameron and the West Oxfordshire Conservatives today as they are still recovering from Christopher Shale's death this weekend. The Chairman of the West Oxfordshire Conservative Association was to all accounts a warm and generous individual who was much loved. He also seems to have been wise and understanding of the electorate where some tend to feel dismissive, feeling that voters do not understand and are too impressionable and not intelligent enough. The tragedy in our political system is that the more tribal one is, the more the temptation to feel angry at the electorate and finding it difficult to forgive for failing to vote the "right way" on occasion.
Christopher Shale seems to have been aware of such attitudes and bemoaned the acceptance of their existence. He referred to fellow local Conservatives as sometimes "crass" and "graceless". To be fair tho, much as those of us who are members of other political parties like to think of Tories in such terms, anyone with a passing knowledge of the letters from the public that the Speaker of the House of Commons recieves, will know that can apply to heavy tribal elements in all mainstream political parties.
It would be a fitting tribute to one of politics more gracious activists if we all; Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems, took a leaf out of Shale's memo and used it as a warning against bad behaviour. Cameron and Osborne would make good example where the Tories are concerned, but all of us must learn. My fear is many of us will not for we love the Gladiatorial arena too much, but if we fail to heed the warnings it will reflect badly on all of us

Monday, June 20, 2011

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them…”

As someone who has always had high standards when it comes to the kind of character I’d allow to father my children, you’d have thought I’d have some sympathy with David Cameron’s Father’s Day message on absent fathers.

Twelve months in Family Law taught me otherwise.  Very rarely did I come across a father with little or no desire to be involved in his children’s lives. Even in those situations where the child was the product of a “one night stand” I was often stunned at the willingness of often very young fathers to “man up” and be a father.

What was much more common was the “fortress mother” scenario whereby the parents ended up in court fighting over the length of time the non-resident parent could see their children. On every occasion, the non-resident parent wanted more contact with the children than the resident parent would allow. Outside of court, these battles could be unbelievably petty with family squabbles being fought out through solicitors’ letters. It was clear that for some, the children were being used as a pawn in their parents’ feud with each other.

In some cases, the resident parent had every right to keep the non-resident parent as far from their child as possible. I knew one lady whose ex-husband had sexually abused their infant daughter. In the end, she too lost custody of her daughter, though for other reasons. It was a real tragedy but also a sobering reminder that fatherhood is a privilege that can be squandered as well as a duty to be upheld.

The amount of financial support a non-resident parent has to pay for their children bears no relation to the amount of contact they have with them. I knew one woman who, having fought for years to reduce the father’s contact to one letter a month, then proceeded to spend several more years fighting for the father to pay private school fees for his son who was by then living 300 miles away. This required the father to sell a significant chunk of the family’s small carpet business. The combination of these demands and the never-ending legal fees brought this man almost to the brink of bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the son was only getting his mother’s version of events – and in his mind, his father was damned regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings.

The worst cases I came across were those where residency itself was being fought over. It was a reminder of the Old Testament King Solomon who, having been presented with two women who both claimed to be the mother of a baby, is said to have suggested cutting the child in half. One of them immediately begged him to give the baby to her rival, demonstrating that she was the true mother.  The moral of the tale, of course, is that sometimes the most loving thing that any parent can do is give residency to the other parent – a moral that David Cameron should have given some thought to before making blanket statements about absent fathers. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lord Sugar Demands Arrest for Editors' in Phone Hacking Scandal

Totally agree, but will be incredible for some  given Lord Sugar's regard for Rupert Murdoch. But this is a strong moral issue and we have a duty to get to the bottom of this and who is linked, no matter how loosely.
Good to see Conservative Peer Lord Fowler agreeing with this as well

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Putting Politics Before Faith

Further to yesterday's blog post. Check out this piece from US Pundit Roland S. Martin's blog where there is a debate involving Jim Wallis as to whether there is too much politics amoung Christian groups before faith issues.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Respecting the Pulpit

One of the things that concerns me about the possibility of my being called to be an ordained minister is that if that happens then I shall reluctantly cancel my membership of the Labour Party and try my best to take a public neutral stance. Why? Because being a minister is a vocation and one which deals sensitively with people of a wide variety of backgrounds. To stand in a pulpit or behind a lectern and show almost naked or naked bias towards a political party reflects badly on the Christian faith and indeed is an abuse of power. It gives the impression that Christ backs a political party or narrow creed.
Sometimes some fail on this, or skirt close to the line. For example I hold a high regard for Jim Wallis and his wife Joy Carroll, but before leaving for the US in 1997, Joy Carroll, an ordained priest, stated that she was pleased to leave the UK under a Labour government. This was said whilst conducting a service, now as I said I have a high regard for Joy Carroll, but on this she was wrong.
So it is that Rowan Williams waded close to the edge when he made his comments last weekend. I believe he was right to mention those concerns, they are pastoral concerns and he did point out that they were not in the Party manifesto, and he did not endorse the Labour Party, but he did sail close to the wind and received criticism from Tory activists to the point where whilst I think they are unfounded, they do have my sympathy.One stated that to me that he should stick to Church matters, but had no answer when I asked what if it been a Tory Archbishop of Canterbury and a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.
The thing is, political abuse of the pulpit whilst rare, does happen. Last weekend Rachel and I went to a church service in London where a Vicar, rather smugly I thought, made a catty aside to Gordon Brown's spending as Chancellor to the build up of reserves David made for Solomon to build the Temple. Rachel said afterwards that had she brought one or two of her atheist Labour friends along they would have walked out in disgust. It was sad because the said Vicar made some very good points elsewhere. So much for winning people over!
One friend gave another example which I will republish below:

In January 2010 I attended a joint service at a church in a very disadvantaged area of a “key marginal” constituency. The Equality Act was making its way through parliament and the vicar took the opportunity to preach what only could be described as a “party political broadcast against the Labour Party”. The vicar in question was someone I respected and he had done brilliant work to build up a struggling congregation, so I was very taken aback. I spoke to him afterwards and it seemed he knew exactly what he was doing. Since he knew me as a Labour activist, the conversation was awkward: he had no respect whatsoever for what I was seeking to achieve within the local Labour Party. What was worse was that a labourer whose job would definitely be on the line under a Tory government had swallowed the sermon whole and now considered it his Christian duty to vote Tory, be a Turkey and vote for Christmas.
There were many ironies in this scenario. Despite the influence of the local vicar and the national picture, we found more Labour promises in this ward than in any other ward in the constituency. On many canvassing sessions we received a genuinely enthusiastic response.
In contrast to this local vicar, I’d only had positive dealings with the local Labour MP and had seen first-hand the positive contribution he had made to his constituency. What’s more, I had found him remarkably open about matters of faith. It was a mystery to me why the vicar claimed things were otherwise.
Or maybe there was no mystery at all…

To those who are ordained and think I am making a fuss about nothing, I ask you. Does this win people over? Are you creating unfair barriers between people and the Church/The Christian Faith? In being a priest/minister/pastor, one deals with people who are in vulnerable positions. I am training for the lay ministry, which is somewhat different, and yet I am so careful, or try to be, in making sure I do not cause undue offence. In ministering to others we must take care of people's souls first and foremost. For an ordained minister or priest that means being as neutral as the Speaker of the House of Commons

Monday, June 13, 2011

Loyalty. The Important Weapon

I didn't vote for Ed Miliband, I voted for his brother David. However once he was elected I decided to fully support him because first and foremost when it comes to political loyalty I am a member of the Labour Party.If I started complaining about people I didn't like to see elected in any position in the Party where would that leave me, or indeed any other member who felt the same way.
Being leader of the opposition is a tough job for anyone and if we are in the same Party, that leader needs our support and advice. Not sniping from malcontents. Luke Akehurst has put it well when he says that we must learn from the 1980s, not benefit the Tories, and have a realistic view of the electorate in general. Kudos too to Jessica Asato, like me a David Miliband voter, who defended Ed on Newsnight with typical decent robustness.
If you want to help the Conservative Party and the newspapers which support them then fine, otherwise I suggest you stop and think about helping the Labour Party during difficult times (and simply being in opposition constitutes that) instead of sniping from the sidelines

Trailer for Speilberg Tintin film

Yea :-D

Friday, June 10, 2011

There's been an election

Gerry Adams presents new MP Paul Maskey with a Hurley
It may have passed you by but yesterday there was a Westminster by election. Although like his predecessor I don't think you can expect to see the new member in the chamber of the House of Common's anytime soon.

You see what has passed much of the UK-wide (an indeed much of the Northern Irish media) by has been the occurrence of the race to replace a former Steward of the Manor of Northstead or  Maor an Mhainéir naNorthstead in Gaeilge.

Even the voters didn't seem too impressed the turnout of 37.53% was a record low for Northern Ireland beating the 38.6% recorded in the 1995 North Down by election. There were fears that without Gerry Adams standing in the seat the Sinn Féin vote would go down. Well it did all of 0.5% to 70.6%, which is still a larger share that Adams got in 2005 or any of the previous times that he earned the support of the people of West Belfast for a seat in Westminster he never took.

So Paul Maskey MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) becomes the MP also for West Belfast in succession of the man who is now a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth in the Dáil Éireann. He secured more votes even on the reduced turnout than all the other candidates got in Belfast West last may.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) came second with People Before Profit in third, followed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and Alliance Party.

The next election which may get more of your attention and coverage UK-wide is on 30 June in Inverclyde to replace Labour's David Cairns. Labour's council leader Iain MacKenzie is hoping to defend the 14,416 majority, the SNP's former list MSP Anne McLaughlin is hoping to continue the storming success of Alex Salmond's party last month. The Conservatives are standing deputy provost David Wilson, the Lib Dems will be announcing their candidate next week, after a sad week in which the party has been coming to terms with the sudden death of their Scottish Deputy Director for Campaigns Andrew Reeves.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Welcome the “Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness”

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. "Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters." The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, "I have installed my King on Zion [Jesus], my holy hill." I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son [Jesus]; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son [Jesus], lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2, The Holy Bible)

Welcome to the Bible; a book about God’s dealings with nations, kings, queens, judges and rulers; a book which finds its ultimate denouement - as the psalmist above prophesies - in the person of Jesus Christ – King of Kings and Lord of Lords who, right now, sits enthroned at the right hand of God the Father as ruler of nations. It is in this context that the bible is presented to a British monarch at their coronation with the words:

Here is wisdom, this is the royal Law, these are the lively Oracles of God.'

The bible is certainly a book which non-Christians take issue with but it is, nevertheless, a book which doesn’t merely permit church leaders to engage with politicians on matters of state but compels them to.

Flick through the pages of the prophet Isaiah and see him address nation after nation not (contrary to popular belief) primarily on “sexual sins” but on issues of economic justice, care for widows, orphans and immigrants.

In short, Archbishop Rowan Williams acts squarely within his jurisdiction when he addresses the leaders of this nation on issues of economic justice. We might not agree with everything he says but there’s no question he has the duty to say it.

Exactly how Christians most effectively engage with political leaders is a different question – and I have more than my fair share of horror stories to tell. In fact many of them could be filed in a folder marked “How not to be an Effective Opposition”: a narrow agenda which fails to address the pressing concerns of the majority of people, a tendency to resort to carping negatively from the side-lines, a lack of positive and constructive personal engagement, a failure to find “common ground” and a shortage of community involvement are issues that bedevil unsuccessful political parties as much as they characterise some parts of the Church. Indeed, Rowan Williams’ intervention stands in contrast to much of this by directly addressing issues that affect millions of British people as the cuts start to bite. We should welcome it – and encourage other church leaders to do the same.

Rachel Stalker is Women’s Officer of Hertford & Stortford CLP and is active in the Christian Socialist Movement.

This article was first published here:

Message of the Mountains

Rosemary Moore on her recent holiday and the inspiration she finds there:

I’m one of those slightly crazy types who loves throwing on a backpack, hauling myself up the highest hill I can find, and then scrambling down an almost sheer drop path to reach the pub at the bottom (2 miles below!!) Well, that’s what I did last week, anyway...!!  See photo from Red Screes (and the sunnier photos from Wansfell Pike), both climbed from Ambleside.
I have loved hillwalking since I was 10 years old, when my parents took me to the Derbyshire Peak District and introduced me to the joys and challenges of walking to the highest trig point, seeing the far-reaching views and feeling the wind on my face!  From then on, I was hooked, and wanted to climb ever higher peaks to see ever more inspiring scenery! But also being the type who has a constant battle to stay in shape, it hasn’t always been easy.  I have joined local, London-based walking groups only to find that their idea of fun was to walk at 90mph and bag 10 peaks in one day, not just one or two...
So when I get the chance to walk at a nice easy pace, I love it! Must admit I find descending much easier than ascending, even (or especially!) on rocks!  I know that many people are in fact the opposite, but on a steep rocky scramble you can always just sit down and use both hands as well as feet.  I find this much more fun than just walking on grass! It can even be easier sometimes, especially during steep ascents, because rocks often contain footholds which allow you to put your feet flat, unlike grass slopes which can be a constant strain on the ankles.  This, however, does NOT mean that I enjoy rock-climbing with ropes and belays, since having tried it, I find it MUCH harder and not right for me at all! (The rocks are usually much more vertical and have very limited hand and footholds...!!)
Much as I love the challenge of hillwalking, what I love most is the scenery.  I try to capture the vastness and sense of freedom on my camera, which is no small feat in itself!  I love taking photos that really make you feel as if you’re flying, soaring above the landscape like a paraglider! Not too many pretty flowers for me. The bleaker, the better! And the rockier. An awesome view reminds me of an awesome God.  When you stand on the summit and see the wide open vista before you, with the cloud shadows moving across the vast hills, you realise how small you are and how big God is!  Somehow, it reassures you of His power and might.
Sometimes though, when you wake in the morning to find it’s pouring with rain, all you can see of the mountains is a dark, looming presence bearing down on you through the swirling mists.  It feels like its eyes are on you!  Scary!!!  It can make you tremble!  You don’t feel like going anywhere near the mountain in that weather!  But when the rain stops, the mists lift and the mountain reveals its face in glorious splendour, that also reminds me of God.  When we can’t see or understand Him properly, he can seem scary too.  But when we see Him clearly – Wow!  How beautiful He can be! J

News and Twitter Subject of the Day - 09/06/11

Ministers hit back at Archbishop Rowan Williams. Following his comments about unelected government

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Not Only, But Also...

Have changed settings so iPhone readers find it easier to access this blog

New Style Blog

Blogs tend to be like everything else. Unless they adapt and evolve they can go stale and die out. So it is that I felt it was time for Mars Hill to go through a change. From now on it is more of a magazine current affairs blog, with the same ethos of encouraging debate and discussion rather than a singular effort.
So now it is a multi authored blog (albeit with myself as Editor). Joining us is Stephen Glenn, an Ulsterman and Lib Dem activist, who will be discussing Lib Dem issues, electoral reform, and N.Ireland affairs. Raeven is a friend of mine who will be discussing health issues and arts/culture with occasional geeky fan stuff, and soon to join us, Rachel Stalker, who will be discussing Labour politics, history, and social issues, as well as Tim Roll-Pickering who will be discussing Conservative Party politics and political history.
We will also be publishing guest posts from other people and will hope to expand our team in the coming weeks.
Welcome to the regenerated Mars Hill, hope you enjoy it :-)

Friday, June 03, 2011


I appreciate this is a long break from my blog, but I am invoolved in making some major changes as I am sure you may have noticed. All will be revealed before long as Mars Hill undergoes a major regeneration