Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paul and Rachel Discuss Greenbelt 11

Click here to hear the Mars Hill Podcast where Rachel and I discuss what has been Rachel's first Greenbelt experience

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Podcast Interview with Lord Glasman

Click here to listen to my podcast interview at Greenbelt with Lord Glasman, where he talks about Blue Labour and his hopes for the role that Labour can work with churches cam play in reaching local communities blighted by poverty

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fantasy Twitter Cabinet, or Just for Fun

Recently Archbishop Cramner has published a list of what his fantasy cabinet of bloggers would consist of. Something I myself did some years ago, although this one was a coalition, it was one where, with all respect to Tom Harris, Iain Dale, and some others listed, would cause me to want to emigrate given who else was primarily on the list (Melanie Phillips among other hard right-wingers)It did make me think though, who would your fantasy coalition cabinet would consist of. So given Twitter is the main medium, I thought I would respond with a centerist dominated coalition full of fellow tweeters. Some are friends, some are not political, but are popular on Twitter, and obviously I had to be careful which Tories got which jobs. Some would not get along with each other at all, in fact some would be working closely together where one wondered at the possibility of fireworks, but it would hardly be a dull coalition of fellow tweeters as I am sure you will agree. So here it is:

Prime Minister - Paul Burgin (@Paul_Burgin)
Deputy Prime Minister and Constitutional Affairs Secretary - Rachel Stalker (@rdstalker)
First Secretary of State and Leader of the Lords - John Prescott (@johnprescott)
Foreign Secretary - Karin Robinson (@karinjr)
Chancellor of the Exchequer - Jessica Asato (@jessica_Asato)
Justice Secretary - Tim Roll-Pickering (@timrollpickerin)
Home Secretary - Kevin Bonavia (@kevinbonavia)
Minister for Women - Simone Webb (@santaevita)
Defence Secretary - Malcolm Mann (@myrmicatforever)
Business Secretary - Chris Burgin (@tristophe)
Work and Pensions Secretary - Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire)
Energy and Climate Change Secretary - Jamie Reed (@jreedmp)
Health Secretary - Linda Jack (@lindylooz)
Education Secretary - Sara Batts (@Batty_Towers)
Environment and Rural Affairs Secretary - Colin Baker (@sawboneshex)
Communities and Local Government Secretary - Emily Hewson (@emilyhewson)
Transport Secretary - Iain Dale (@iaindale)
International Development Secretary - Steve Richards (@steverichards14)
Northern Ireland Secretary - Stephen Glenn (@stephenpglenn)
Scotland Secretary - Tom Harris (@TomHarrisMP)
Welsh Secretary - Owen Jones (owenjones84)
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary - Fiona Laird (@fionalaird)
Leader of the Commons - Michael Bater (@greenleftie)
Minister Without Portfolio - Tim Montgomerie (@timmontgomerie)
Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Alex Hilton (@alexhilton)
Chief Whip- - Raeven (@raevenm)

Attending Cabinet Meetings, but not members

Paymaster General - Claire G (@angliasolutions)
Cabinet Office Ministers- Mark Ferguson (@markfergusonuk) and Walaa Idris (@walaaidris)
Minister for Universities and Science - Chris Meadows (@kiff76)
Attorney General - Sara Ibrahim - (@sara_e_ibrahim)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Not Forget Gaddafi's Victims

Whilst this is all splendid news and Colonel Gaddafi is now more or less on the run, let us not forget that he has yet to be caught and that there are still pockets of Gaddafi supporters about, let us also not forget those who suffered under his regime and the victims of those who died as a result of his actions, and how mixed the feelings of the relatives of those victims feel. Whether it is the families of those who opposed Gaddafi and disappeared, or the relatives of those who died in the Berlin nightclub bombing of 1986, or the relatives of the four Beirut hostages who were killed after the Tripoli bombing, or the relatives of those who were killed at Lockerbie, and many others. For them it is likely a bittersweet week and my thoughts and prayers are with them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Murdoch, Desmond, or neither!

I once predicted some years ago that when the Murdoch empire would collapse there would be champagne parties in several parts of London. Okay that was hyperbole, but given the response to News International's problems this summer I don't think I was far wrong.
But whatever happens next we must ask ourselves that if Murdoch's empire falls or he sells off his newspapers, who will fill the vacuum, and given which newspaper has been filling in the News of the World's shoes, according to Stephen Glover, it is a disturbing possibility that it could be Richard Desmond.
Let's face it. The media in this country could do with less Richard Desmond's and less Rupert Murdoch's, and more businessmen who have a Reithian mindset in putting forward an agenda compared to a Northcliffe mindset. That is not to say Reith was faultless, but his view of the BBC to educate, entertain, and inform, as opposed to Northcliffe's (founder of The Daily Mail and The Daily Herald, later The Sun), which was to give people bits of gossip and something to hate, is a far nobler aim to go for. In short, to use old fashioned language, the communications industry in this country is in danger of being run by too many spivs and not enough gentlemen.
The sad aspect to this though is twofold. The first is that, in the understandable desire to rid themselves of Murdoch, people are not aware of the looming presence of Richard Desmond, a porn baron, and someone who seems to hardly conduct himself well at critical moments. His newspapers aren't exactly what any sensible person would call a newspaper in the traditional sense (more redundant gossip about Princess Diana than actual news) and in short, someone not quite up to the mark. For anyone who loathes Murdoch, ask yourself if you want an individual such as Desmond, or others like him, to dominate the media in this country?
The second is that we need to look at the people's media tastes. It is, for me anyway, a sad scenario that a newspaper, sorry I meant tabloid, will savage a celebrity, print salacious gossip, (not always with foundation) and that paper will be rewarded because some individual wants to do the crossword or like to read about the private lives of others when they themselves would resent any such intrusion into their own lives.
We need to look at how our media is regulated and how we need to get rid of the cancer that pervades our media culture, and News International's problems have given us a good moment to do that, let us not waste it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Russia: Twenty Years On

I remember well waking up in the small hours of the 19th August 1991. It was a school day, and I could hear my parents talking outside the bathroom as Dad was about to get ready for work in London.He usually listened to the BBC World Service as he started to get ready and the news that shocked him and Mum was that there was a coup in the USSR and Gorbachev was under house arrest. This was going to have a severe effect on the Markets and it was the fear in the back of our minds and those who were into politics who wanted to see the end of communist domination in Russia. That those who were against reforms would rear their heads and take over, after all it happened to Khrushchev over less.
At the time I was doing my GCSEs and one of the options I had taken was History. At around that time or shortly before we had been looking at the Russian civil War and I feared that the same could happen again. When the end did come, when the Coup Plotters realised they had no support, it was not only swift and brutal for them but also for the Soviet Union. To everyone's joy and amazement the USSR was over and Russia was going to be a multi-party republic. What was beginning in 1917 and was cruelly extinguished by the October Revolution that year, had resumed.
So what now, twenty years on? Well Communism is still no longer a dominant force, the free market economy still reigns in Russia, bit there is organised crime which has had it's tentacles in Russian society for years and there are still pains around the birth of Democracy
in Russia. The irony is that Gorbachev, with his political commitments today, seems more of a
Democratic alternative to Putin. The last Secretary General of the USSR vs the elected Prime Minister of Russia

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CLII: Stephen Glenn

Stephen was born in Northern Ireland, went to University in England and spend most of a decade in Scotland, where he stood twice for Westminster, fell in love with Livingston Football Club and started blogging in 2005. He's been an active Liberal Democrat for most of the last 23 years, so much so that he often spends his birthday at or travelling to/from Autumn Federal Conference. Stephen is one of Mars Hill's bloggers and runs his own blog Stephen's Liberal Journal..

What made you decide to start blogging?

I started back in 2005. It was just after the general election, in which I stood for Linlithgow and East Falkirk for the first time, and I knew that I would be standing again for public office. So I started out basically trying to talk about local issues. Within a month though one of the local MPs Robin Cook had died and my readership numbers then went through the roof as being the only blogger on the spot for that particular by election. I then realised that as much as, no more so, my local issues people did want to read about my take on national issues so that carried on.

What is your best blogging experience?

Checking my stats one day at lunchtime and seeing numbers had gone through the roof. The reason was that my take on the Prince of Wales calling his friend Sooty had been added as the an finally article on the Independent's round up of the coverage. When a small blog can get over 3,000 hits by lunchtime it is a good day 

And your worst?

During the Dunfermline and West Fife by election I came back on a Sunday Morning after doing a delivery to find some of the smokers out in the car park telling me I was quoted in the Scotland on Sunday. It was during the leadership election to replace Charels Kennedy and it was a line, or rather a part of a line, taken from my blog Simon Hughes coming cleam about his sexuality. The conditional clauses from the sentence were all taken out, so instead of a supportive statement as written it appeared to be one of condemnation. Therefore it was mixed feelings to have one of my first quotes lifted by a national title.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

With almost 3000 of them down the years it is difficult to pin point an absolute best, though those that tend to be rather personal seem to be the ones that give most to readers, they also tend to be the hardest to write. Although one that a lot of people tell me still has an impact on them and has been the start of a rather ongoing series down the years on the subject.

Favourite blogs?

I like the blog of my friend Caron especially as back in the day, I used to get all sorts of how do you do that questions as she was starting out. But she really has come on as a blogging voice not just in Scotland but for the Lib Dems.
Three Scottish friends from different parties got together to merge their blogging into Better Nation last year.
I think I'd better include another Northern Irish blog and try and avoid nepotism so there is Ed Simpson who whenever he says something tends to not hold back.

What inspired you to go into politics?

Growing up in Northern Ireland the politics there never really inspired me much, it was all so negative against the 'others' whoever they might be. At the time there was no devolved powers and Maggie was in control. There was the excitement of the new SDP working with the Liberal party. They were standing up for social justice and democracy while at the same time tackling the environment and embracing Europe in a way that would benefit the UK. It was therefore a straightforward matter at my first Freshers Fair having been away from home less than a week to sign up for the Liberal Democrats.  

What was the best and the worst thing about running the Yes2AV campaign in Northern Ireland?

The best thing was the way this really was a cross community campaign here in Northern Ireland. Even though the unionist parties didn't officially come on board there were many good contacts within the unionist parties that were doing their bit. The worst thing would have to have been the result, reading the news coming in from all over the country and knowing the voite was lost before I even had the first declaration of my long day. However, it was somewhat tempered by Northern Ireland having the best overall regional result. 

Do you have any personal political ambitions regarding the Liberal Democrats or Northern Ireland politics?

Having stood in the last 2 general elections I'm looking forward to standing once again as a Liberal Democrat. As the Lib Dems don't currently stand in Northern Ireland my involvement in Northern Ireland politics is currently ensuring that there is liberal voice being heard. Before the Yes2AV Campaign I was involved in responding to consultations based firmly on Lib Dem principles. I'm doing that again, plus also involved as the co-ordinator of LGBT Lib Dems NI in getting the equality message across.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

I'd love to go to New Zealand, and that come from before Peter Jackson made it Middle-Earth. It has a mix of beautiful scenery, history and fully merges it's native population into hits modern society.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

A hidden gem of Europe is certainly Malta. I've been there twice and could still go back. There is so much history all happening on that one little island and all of it is respected and looked after.

Who, excluding the present leader, do you regard as the best Liberal Democrat/Liberal/SDP Party leader, and if different, the best Prime Minister?

I'd have loved to have seen Paddy Ashdown getting a chance in Government. In some of the early televised PMQs he was the one who often stole the show. He was a natural leader who still very much has his finger on the pulse of so many things. He took on the party from the brink of bankruptcy and led us along the path that eventually led to almost one in four people voting for us. 

Which Christian figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Growing up in Bangor, Northern Ireland I had the benefit every August if attending the World Wide Missionary convention so had heard many of the mission leaders of well known organisations speaking. Seeing as I ended up spending a year with Operataion Mobilisation and so many Summer and Easter campaigns with them I would say that George Verwer and his world map jacket had the biggest influence and inspiration on me. George and the OM prayer emphasis on the world at large has also shaped the way I look at the world, the news and prayerfully approach things. It isn't always the headlines that get my attention but the little small paragraphs that get me looking up a less well known country in Operation World.

Favourite Bond movie?

Going out on a limb here but Daniel Craig's Casino Royale really blew the cobwebs off the old franchise. It came with an explosion just when the franchise needed it and presented a Bond more like the one Fleming wrote about in the books (yes I have read them). 

Favourite Doctor Who?

I used to always answer this with Tom Baker, but David Tennant is now up there. May have to rewatch more of my classics collection.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?


Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Would have loved to have seen The Doors and could never tire of seeing Crowded House 

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

Would tend to go for a weekend away where I have friends, although I do in the first two, I have friends I'd like to see eslewhere first. Also as this is August and I'm having withdrawal symptoms from the Fringe it would have to be Edinburgh.

Favourite national newspaper?


What would you say your hobbies were?

Lawn Bowls, geneaology, reading and following sport (yeah most sports)

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Three favourite songs are always subjective based on current mood as there are too many to like

Summer in the City by Aztec Camera
I Like by Divine Comedy
Gave it All Away by Boyzone

Although ask me on the last night of Lib Dem conference and I'll mention three favourites from the Liberator Songbook.
Three books though are set in stone
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: A trilogy in five parts (yeah didn't like part 6)
The Lord of the Rings
Any Terry Pratchett 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Of Riots and Revolution

So everyone has been talking about the riots since they occurred - and indeed the TwitterSphere was buzzing as it happened. There were panicked messages back and forth between friends and families, checking if they were ok. There were suggestions to those on the frontline from those safe at home - use a watercannon, plastic bullets, call in the Army, call back parliament, call Boris. Some fled the city till the worst blew over, some stood their ground armed with homemade weapons, some banded together in peace marches to appeal to the better natures of the protesters. And once the worst of it had died down, there was the angry aftermath, thousands of voices of accusation and blame fired in all directions at all peoples. It seemed that anyone who had a political opinion found something in the riots to pin on the other side, and each section of society further divided itself against the rest.

I was at home, watching the tweets, reading the blogs, listening to the news, the interviews, the assessments and proclamations. I could hear the fire engine sirens and the police choppers overhead for nights in a row, and I began getting the bus to work and leaving early to avoid any potential trouble. I watched from the window the semi-apocalyptic scene of business closing early and boarding up their windows and bringing down the iron grills, from the small local stores to the Waitrose in Angel. I was worried, I was angry, I was shocked and appalled and disbelieving that this sort of thing could happen, while at the same time entirely unsurprised. To keep me company and drown out the world outside, I put on an episode of the West Wing - the one where there is a shooting in a divided community, and the Presidential candidate struggles through the entire show to find something to say that will make the situation better. Me makes a speech in the end about blame and compassion, of which this is a small part:

"You know, I find myself on days like this casting about for someone to blame... I blame every one I can think of and I am filled with rage. And then I try and find compassion. Compassion for the people I blame. Compassion for the people I do not understand, compassion. It doesn't always work so well... Blame will not rid our streets of crime and drugs and fear ... will not strengthen our schools or our families or our workforce. Blame will rob us of those things and we have had enough of that. And so I ask you today to dig down deep with me and find that compassion in your hearts. Because it will keep us on the road."

I have felt the anger and fear, and then I have tried to exercise compassion, and not play the blame game that comes so easily - and makes for such good television debates and political campaigns. I think our churches are good at teaching us to respond with compassion, and to make that compassion into action, to go out and help those who have been hurt, and those who have done the hurting. I loved the pictures of the crowds hitting the streets with brooms and shovels to clear up the mess - but one thing struck me as I watched.

I admired those who helped, but as they talked, they still spoke in terms of 'us' and 'them'. The people who had done the rioting and the looting were still so 'other'...the implication being that they were not like that. Yet when I see those people going to court, forming their excuses and giving their validations for their criminal actions, I can't help but wonder what part I played in this. These people are all our people, part of our society, part of our school system and local community - and we contribute to those things just as much as they. Until we can stop wanting so much, how can we blame those who grabbed a new hi-fi from a looted store? Until we can calmly respond with love to injustice, how can we blame those who become so angry that they stampede in the streets? If we rationalise to ourselves the little white lie, how can we judge those who rationalise other criminal behaviour?

We can feel so powerless when these extreme situations arise - but we always have just as much power as we have always had. We can choose to make a different decision, form a new response, and cultivate compassion in all things - we can change ourselves, and take responsibility for who we are in the world, and how we effect it. We can model our best selves, and then share our time, our energy and our compassion with others, and in so doing start the same kind of revolution as a lone carpenter from Galilee once did. I think that he is the best model for compassion - he meets everyone where they are, accepts them in themselves, but leaves no-one unchanged.

What would it be like if we did the same?

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CLI: Raeven

As Mars Hill is becoming a team effort, I felt it was good that you got to know some of the team a bit, so it is that they have agreed to be interviewed for the Twenty Questions series. First up is Raeven, who also runs the A Rose in the Wilderness blog

 What made you decide to start blogging?

I had been skeptical about blogging in the past - so many people with so little to say - but actually, everyone has a unique voice that should be heard, and while I was encouraging others to speak out, I was reminded that my voice is special too - and how better to articulate the things you believe than in the Blogosphere?

What is your best blogging experience?

I once wrote a response to a 'Thought for the Day' type piece, and a vicar friend of mine decided he wanted to include my ideas in a Sunday sermon!

And your worst?

None yet, but even if I do get some negative/hurtful responses to what I say, at least I've said it!

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Each blog post of mine is my favourite until I write the next, because it resonated with me at that moment, and I think that    is what matters to me...I think my best blog posts are those that resonate with others too, perhaps realising that the small,  silent opinion you hold is shared by other like minded souls. 

Favourite blogs?

I have a few favourites, but my top three of the moment:  – Politics, brains, social action and the day to day life of the RSA's chief executive. - Bloggers of the Round Table - everyday reflections from unconventional minds - from my favourite performance poet

What inspired you to start writing?

Strange thing is, I don't remember a time when I didn't write, so I'm not sure what inspired me to start...but there are a lot of people who inspire me to continue - my top two are Sarah de Nordwall of Bardschool fame and  Emi Beth Caddy, my writing buddy who is incredibly talented herself, but there are many, many others...Thanks!

You seem to have a yen for poetry, do you have any favourite poets?

I tend to have favourite poems, rather than favourite poets, and this is the one that resonated with me most:

Freedom, William Stafford
Freedom is not following a river.
                 Freedom is following a river
                      though, if you want to.

                 It is deciding now by what happens now.
                 It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

                 No leader is free; no follower is free--
                      the rest of us can often be free.
                 Most of the world are living by 
                 creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
                      to be worth arguing about by reason.

                 If you are oppressed, wake up about
                 four in the morning; most places
                 you can usually be free some of the time 

if you wake up before other people. 

What are the best and worst things about living in London?

The best things are the reasons everyone comes to London - the sheer amount of life and colour and magic happening all the time that can be sought out or stumbled upon every day.  The worst things come back to me when I'm feeling homesick for a small Island, like the lack of true, close community, the air of cynicism that descends too often, and the lack of space, silence and sky - hard to see the stars with streetlights drowning out the sky.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

I'm not much of a traveler - I've been to Europe and Canada and enjoyed it so much at the time, but I find so much richness just outside my front door that I don't dream of far horizons often! If I had the chance I would return to Italy and see more of the artistic and architectural legacy of a rich and beautiful religion - though maybe not in tourist season!

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

Oops...answered that one above!

Do you have a favourite political figure in history?


Which Christian figure has been your greatest inspiration?

I think I'm going to answer these two questions with the same answer. Jesus seems to have had the best way of dealing with the politics of his day, and the politicians - I don't think anyone sense has been so talented at cutting through the crap (am I allowed to say crap on this blog?) and getting to the real issues. I think this inspires me too...I love dealing with people when they are being real, and open and honest about where they are and what they of the reasons I write too.

Favourite Bond movie?

The World Is Not Enough

Favorite Doctor Who?

I'm really liking the current Doctor - I think Matt Smith has really nailed the genius child aspect of the character!

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

If its ice-cream, then mint every time...though milk-choc-chip swirl makes the choice irrelevant...

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

I fulfilled a dream last year by going to see my all time favourite band - Jon Bon Jovi! It really was an incredible experience...and one I wouldn't mind repeating!

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

 Cambridge, definitely...I love the richness and academic insanity...and the lazy days on the river...

Favourite national newspaper?

I don't actually read the newspaper - I get all my news from the BBC website every morning.

What would you say your hobbies were?

 Reading, cooking, writing 

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

I'm a total book geek, and go through a book every two days, so this is a tough question! I love Lisa Jewell, because her writing is so honest and real - Jasper Fforde creates amazing worlds that it is so easy to get drawn into...I think those two count for about 20 books so...

Songs again is a tough question, because what I listen to matches my mood, but Karl Jenkins, Andrea Bocielli and Lady Gaga are