Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Reflection On Pope Paul VI

Given that Pope Benedict XVI will resign this evening and a new Pope may well be elected within days, Mars Hill is looking at the reigns of the more recent Popes over the last fifty years.
Today we are looking at the reign of Pope Paul VI (1963-1978). Pope Paul was Archbishop of Milan when elected in 1963 and continued to carry out the reforms initiated by Pope John XXIII and continued the Second Vatican Council until 1965. The Council brought forward documents allowing Mass to be said in the vernacular, for more informality, spoke of the value of each person and the importance of religious freedom, which did much to help the Roman Catholic Churches in Eastern Europe. Pope Paul is also remembered for two of the Encyclicals he wrote Populorum Progressio in 1967, which called on the value of the Poor in the Third World, and Humanae Vitae in 1968, which reinforced the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on birth control and was understandably highly controversial. The anger and backlash from many quarters is said to have distressed Pope Paul to the point that he never wrote another encyclical.
Pope Paul VI was also the first Pope in over a Century to travel outside Italy and the first to visit countries outside Europe and the Middle East, including the United States, Uganda, and the Phillippines and the first to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Below is a brief overview of his Papacy, although they are wrong on one point. Giovanni Battista Montini (as Paul VI was known) was made Cardinal in 1958, not 1962

SPADS, Bullying, Michael Gove, and Dominic Cummings

One of the uncomfortable truths of political satire is that it is a small exaggeration about some of what goes on and in The Thick of It one of those uncomfortable truths involved Malcolm Tucker's inability to conduct a proper civilised conversation in a day minus threats and insults
As it is there is a growth in this to a point where it becomes a problem and usually from some SPADS. The former Prime Minister, Sir John Major has brilliantly put forward the downsides we have with SPADS  recently, as it is we have seen that more closely with the Department of Education under Michael Gove.
Gove seems surprised at the accusations of bullying from his SPADS, notably Dominic Cummings, but I would respectfully suggest that when Gove is not busy alienating teachers with altering the History syllabus amongst other things he takes a look at The Independent and it's piece on Feb 20th, where Cummings allegedly makes the charming suggestion to the newspaper's Political Editor that he seeks psychiatric help!
If things continue as they are then Cummings is in for a heap of trouble if he isn't already, and Gove had better rethink how he picks his advisers

Tim Montgomerie To Leave ConservativeHome

Saddened but not surprised to see Tim Montgomerie leave ConservativeHome, and disappointed but not surprised to see him join a Murdoch newspaper, but C'est la vie perhaps!
There are not many people on the Right of the Conservative Party I have time for but Iain Dale is one (although I understand that technically he is no longer a member of the Conservative Party) and Tim Montgomerie is another. Sometimes I strongly disagree with him, but find him to be polite and gracious most of the time and will always be impressed by the way he took on Donal Blaney over his support for Pinochet on the 18 Doughty Street programme (and I was in the building at the time, with Kerron Cross and Stephen Tall, both of us waiting to be interviewed by Iain Dale) At last, I thought, a Tory who sees the situation for what it is and how damaging it is for a political party in this country when some of it's members publicly support tyrants
In politics it is easy to be snide and unpleasant and readers of this blog will know it is a failing of mine, although I try not to be. Tim however equips himself well and my thoughts and prayers for him and I wish him well for the future

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Reflection On Pope John XXIII

Given that Pope Benedict XVI will resign tomorrow and that the new Pope may well be elected within days, for the next few days we will be looking at recent Popes over the past fifty plus years.
Today we look at Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) who was previously Patriarch of Venice and was elected possibly by Cardinals with a view to being a stop-gap Pope following a deadlock. He was seventy-seven years old and whilst he reigned for nearly five years, he quickly won over many people and brought forward the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) which revolutionised the Roman Catholic Church and brought forward many positive changes. Here is an overview

Why Was Lord Rennard Removed?

Nick Clegg seems to be prevaricating over why Lord Rennard resigned. Was his health really the only major reason or not? Did Lord Rennard resign of his own free will or was he pushed with ill-health given as a reason. One way or another, whether Lord Rennard is guilty or not, I suspect the Liberal Democrats are in big trouble, and that Nick Clegg is especially in trouble

Pope Benedict's Final Audience

Usually a Pope holds his Wednesday General Audience in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall within the Vatican, or in St Peters Basilica. Today it was held in St Peters Square due to the large crowds and heavy demand to see him one last time.
Obviously this is a unique occasion. Most Popes die in office and the last Pope to have abdicated was in 1415, the last Pope to voluntarily abdicate was Celestine V in 1294, so there is a lot here that is fairly unprecedented, not least for the Pope to knowingly give his final speech as Pope and for the faithful to know they are seeing him for the last time as Pope. Sometimes with terminally ill Popes, such as John XXIII and John Paul II, one had a good idea but this is different, in this case we know for sure that this is the final audience.
As expected it was a hardly controversial speech, but he did say that when the votes were stacked in his favour at the Conclave that elected him eight years ago he felt daunted (something John Paul I also admitted to the day after he was elected) and that sometimes the waters were choppyand overwhelming, but one thing I think both Liberals and Conservatives within the Roman Catholic Church can agree on is that whoever succeeds Benedict XVI is in a vulnerable position, will likely feel vulnerable, and needs all the prayers he can get from Christians everywhere. One gets the feeling that this morning was the serene calm before a major storm hits the Roman Catholic Church which will lead to radical changes

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Review: The Evil of the Daleks

Every month until December, Mars Hill will be doing a review of one story from Doctor Who from each of the Doctors' televised adventures. This month Tim Roll-Pickering picks The Evil of the Daleks from the Patrick Troughton era!

It all starts with a mystery involving a police box. Two familiar figures make their way through London until they come to a location dedicated to old items. There a mysterious man activates a time machine and they are all thrust back in time...

Whilst in the past our heroes struggle for freedom and there's a dramatic fight. Then they all travel again to the planet Skaro, home of the Daleks. There's a journey through caves, a location where an ally plummets to his death, and a dramatic showdown in the Dalek control room. As our heroes depart, it seems to be the final end of the Daleks. And throughout it all the Doctor's actions are repeatedly suspect, resulting in him being strongly confronted by a fellow traveller.

And in the original outline there was going to be a sequence involving a visit to prehistoric times where they would encounter a cave man...

The Evil of the Daleks is the first great homage in Doctor Who's history. Written by the show's original story editor David Whitaker (a man whose contribution to the show's development and success is all too often overlooked), it harks back to themes from the very first two stories, and also draws upon ideas from the Dalek comic strip Whitaker wrote for TV Century 21 (not only the idea of Daleks infected with human traits but also the Emperor, who was transferred to a large static casing in one of the various Dalek books). The timing for such a homage was also good.

A huge amount of attention and debate is focused on the Hiatuses/Cancellations of 1985 & 1989. Slightly less is given to the show's position in 1970 with a make-or-break last chance season (to the point it's sometimes mistakenly assumed the show nearly disappeared in 1969). Very little attention is given to the precarious position the show was in in 1966 when ratings plummeted and it briefly went out of production without the next season having been commissioned. Then the role of the Doctor was recast, with the character steadily refined in response to initial hostile public reaction, and the series revitalised into ever more sci-fi territory. Having weathered the storm, the summer of 1967 was the perfect time for the series to celebrate its roots and offer up a final dose of the Daleks before Terry Nation took them off in search of their own series.

Whitaker had not only been the story editor who oversaw both the launch of the series and the introduction of the Daleks, but had also handled much of the Dalek spin-off material of the mid 1960s, writing novelisations, comic strips, annuals and even a play. His understanding of the series's premier monsters was arguably even stronger than their own creator's, and he was perfectly placed to write a tale that literally delves into just what makes the Daleks operate the way they do. The actual science involved may be as fanciful as alchemy, but the result is amazing as the Doctor faces the prospect of the human race being transformed into humanoid Daleks. And then he succumbs himself...

Or not. For the Doctor is in fact operating with subterfuge and mystery, manipulating and tricking others. Nowadays this approach is associated with Sylvester McCoy's incarnation, but uncertainties about the Doctor go right back to the start. The Doctor may appear an annoying clown at times but behind the facade is a cunning mind working to outthink his foes. Patrick Trough had been playing the Doctor for less than a year at this stage but he had clearly nailed the part (once some of the excesses of the first few stories had been reign in) and successfully manages to portray the ever contradictory elements of this incarnation. Even Jamie is fooled at times, which allows him to be manipulated, and the result is a fierce confrontation between the two, made all the stronger for the hurt between friends and the usually good rapport between Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. The Doctor doesn't get much time in the story with new companion Victoria - indeed they don't even meet until the final episode - but she and Jamie hit it off well and it points to a strong team for the coming season.

With the story set in three separate locations there's a lot of characters floating about, but wisely several are transported between locations providing continuity and characterisation. Easily the standouts are John Bailey as Edward Waterfield, a man betrayed by his friends and forced into a nightmare for the sake of his daughter, but he shows remorse and finds redemption first in confronting the human villain and later when he gives his life to save the Doctor. Marius Goring was a sign that the series could attract big name actors even in 1967, and brings the mad scientist Theodore Maxtible vividly to life as a man driven in the pursuit of his goals, with the revelation that they are not solely to expand knowledge. The other characters largely serve to witness and endure the mystery and horror around them. The settings also work well, with a return to Earth's own history for the middle part of the story as we arrive in a country house in Victorian times, a setting that may now seem obvious but one which the classic series rarely came to.

It's the concepts that make the story stand out the most, primarily the basic idea of the "Human Factor" and the "Dalek Factor". By exploring just what it is that makes the two races so different, and exploring the consequences when Daleks are humanised and humans are Dalekised, we get perhaps the most in-depth study of the nature of the Daleks and a tale that couldn't have had any other monster substituted. For a story that was intended to be the final Dalek tale in the series, it's fitting that we get a showdown on Skaro and get to see the Daleks' ultimate leader as civil war and destruction engulfs the Dalek race.

The Evil of the Daleks was the very first Doctor Who story to get a full repeat the following summer and it truly deserved this accolade. Even the 1970s wipings couldn't completely suppress the tale with the second episode having subsequently been found. In 1992 it was one of the first missing stories to be released on audio and I found that release a delight. It's since appeared again with new narration hence the two cover images. And elements of the story continue to recur in the new series, most obviously humanised Daleks with names and the towering Emperor. The story is truly one of the all time greats of Doctor Who.

Italian General Election Results

This is concerning, however, what is needed now in Italy is a Left Centrist coalition government formed by Mario Monti and involving Pier Bersani that is acceptable to Europe and North America and one that keeps a wide berth from Berlusconi as possible! (why do Italians vote for this man?) It is a pity that Proportional Representation as a form of election in Italy leads to such deadlocks and volatile governments

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

There are many approaches one must take with the situation regarding Cardinal O'Brien. The first has been well put by Iain Dale about the fact we live in a culture where guilt is automatically assumed. I would add to that that it is compounded if anyone dislikes the accused for whatever major reason. For example I suspect more was made over the David Mellor/Antonia De Sancha scandal because Mellor inspires dislike in many area, whereas with regards to the Sir John Major/Edwina Currie scandal, that was not so bad for Major as many people, although shocked and disappointed, quite like Major as a person, although maybe that's not quite the case with Edwina Currie.
The second regards the comments on homosexuality made beforehand by Cardinal O'Brien. Let me say immediately that I am not saying or suggesting Cardinal O'Brien is gay, he may be, he may not be, that is that the point as such that I wish to make. Rather that it is interesting that some, not all, of the most virulent homophobic comments seem to come from those who have their own struggles with sexuality
But the overall point is a similar one to the problem facing the Liberal Democrats. The Roman Catholic Church, whilst thankfully working at changing this from what we have seen, seems to have a problem with dealing with such accusations. In light of it's abuse and sexual scandals and the forthcoming resignation of the Pope I would gently, and with prayer, suggest to the Cardinals voting in the forthcoming Conclave, that they elect a Pope who not only cares for the Church and adheres to scripture, but also is tough in dealing with problems and is prepared to use the right procedures in doing so, who is prepared to deal with the infighting within the Roman Curia, and open the doors to greater relations towards ecumenism and also in tacking the economic and social and moral issues in the Third World. I appreciate recent Popes have gone some way towards doing this, but far more needs to be done. Cardinal O'Brien's resignation is sad in a no of ways, but highlights some of the problems the Roman Catholic Church faces

Monday, February 25, 2013

Daniel Day-Lewis Winning Best Actor Oscar

This was much deserved. To be honest I had my fears on him winning this as now Actor has won the Best Actor Oscar on three different occasions, and I was worried that there might have been some pro-american bias in the voting as a result, but am glad that this has not been the case and that Daniel Day-Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln has got the reward it deserves

Clegg and Renard and the Lib Dems In Trouble!

To be fair I think Nick Clegg may have a point. If allegations are made anonymously and there is not enough to go on there is not much one can do. Not only that he is right, this is a bit of a trial by media. However it would be easy to accept that and not feel there are some basic concerns and that some facts were overlooked. Namely

  • When the "non specific" allegations were made. Did Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, and/or Jo Swinson ask for those making allegations to be more specific? If not then why not?
  • Why were there no proper structures in place in further investigating such concerns?

  • Equalities Minister Jo Swinson says she took actions after allegations were made. What action did she take?

I am pleased the Lib Dems are now doing to lines of enquiry. One into Lord Renard, the other into why the inital allegations were not properly handled, but this could not come at a worse time for the Liberal Democrats with an important by-election on Thursday, caused by a Lib Dem cabinet minister being engulfed in scandal

Saturday, February 23, 2013

UK Loses It's AAA Credit Rating

Some of us could say "I told you so!" some of us could point out what we have pointed out for years, that Osborne would mess things up and blame others, but this is not the main tragedy. The main tragedy are the many decent people who have lost jobs and livelihoods over the past few years and are struggling to clamber back to the surface and are finding it hard because of the messing around with the economy and not making cuts where they are needed. Yes we should attack Osborne for his arrogant and catastrophic failings as Chancellor, but let us not forget who is suffering!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Galloway and Israel

You wouldn't have thought it would you! The man who saluted Saddam Hussein's strength and courage, the man who has said Hezbollah are not a terrorist group, or said that Julian Assange was merely guilty of bad etiquette, has managed to cause offence and shock!
But last night Galloway managed it again! He walked out of a debate at Christchurch, Oxford on whether Israel should withdraw from the West Bank on finding the opposing speaker was an Israeli by stating that he did not debate Israelis and did not recognise the state of Israel.
I suggest to George Galloway that he lie in a darkened room and reflect on the following. He knew what the debate was about and that there would be an opposing motion, and yet refused to debate with an individual because of his heritage and national background. As if it was okay for someone else to say the same things so long as he was not Israeli! That was racism pure and simple! The people of Bradford West should feel ashamed for having voted for him and I know many MP's are feeling revolted that someone with such views is among them! I suggest he does the decent thing and send a public apology to the Oxford Union and to all Israelis

The Art of Dubbing

This piece from the BBC news website shows us how fascinating the World of dubbing is in European Movie Theatres, where many actors who voice dub Hollywood and UK movies are as renowned as the stars they do the voiceovers for. One German actor being as well known in his home country for doing the voice of 007 as Daniel Craig is for playing him.
My favourite however is the German dubbing of Doctor Who. Just seeing scenes from a globally popular UK TV programme in another language makes me smile

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We Need to Change How To Deal With Our Jurors

I have read that when Jeffrey Archer won his libel case in 1986, the Jury demanded £500.000 from the Daily Star. I have sometimes wondered about these jurors. Was the foreman still alive fourteen years later when Archer was imprisoned for perjury, did he and other Jurors boast to friends dinner parties afterwards and feel a fool afterwards, did any of the Jury feel a bit stupid! I am sure that some of them did and in this particular case felt used!
It is very easy, especially in politics and the media, to mock those who do not share our judgements and our knowledge if they do and say things we do not agree with! But how many of us have made public pronouncements out of ignorance and pre-conceived prejudices and have made an error of judgement in the process! I for one certainly feel a bit queasy about that, particularly if I have been condescending and high handed in my views
So it is that I am not prepared to write off the Jury in the Vicky Pryce case as being thick as many on Twitter have done this afternoon! Yes they showed breathtaking ignorance, but equally they showed that they wanted to do the right thing. What could be argued is that perhaps in future, particularly with important and also high profile cases, Jurors are given a crash beginners legal course in a week or fortnight leading up to a trial, and those who do not do so well are filtered out! It's a casual idea, but while I do believe in selecting twelve people from all walks of life in listening to a case and making a judgement, I do believe the system needs some reform

Evangelical Pastor Tony Campolo on Pope Benedict's Resignation, Gay Marriage, and the Magdalene Laundries

Tony Campolo is that rare breed. An evangelical pastor that does not fit into crude stereotype and has a desire for social concern and feels there is much bigotry in the church, whilst holding some Conservative views. Here are his comments on the recent resignation of Pope Benedict and the Magdalene Laundries and here is his view on Steve Chalke's comments on Gay marriage. You may or may not agree with him but I think some of his comments are worth reading and listening to as there is a different slant

Kelvin Mackenzie to be sued by Hillsborough relatives

To be honest, few people are going to be surprised by this and many will feel that Mackenzie has only himself to blame. Mackenzie himself has stated that he was fed false information by South Yorkshire Police and they should pay for the suffering he has received for running the story, so he is suing them
The thing is Mackenzie did not apologise for years when common decency, common sense, and good taste, would suggest he should. He put his own pride before the sufferings of the relatives of those who died and the survivors by doing so, he initially apologised and then took it back by saying he only apologised because Murdoch told him to (which is enough to make anyone wonder if his apology in the face of public opinion is genuine), when he did give his second apology last year he then tried to turn it round and add insult to injury to the Liverpool football fans by claiming the attacks on The Sun were motivated by political bias Roy Greenslade has pointed out that Mackenzie has an "Anti scouse bias"
This strikes me as the acts of someone who has no compassion and empathy for the fans, or for anyone in Liverpool and who has repeatedly insulted and trashed the memories of those who died, their family and friends, and those who survived. It seems inevitable for a man who edited The Sun paper and ran it the way he did with the type of stories they produced, but how sad that one individual has ended up screwed up and twisted the way he is and has ended up becoming, as a result of his stupid actions, a national pariah.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Patrick Troughton

As part of the 50th Anniversary Year of Doctor Who, Mars Hill will be looking at each of the actors and their interpretation of the role of the Doctor, culminating with Matt Smith in Nov. This month we are looking at Patrick Troughton.

Patrick Troughton is seen by some as a brave actor. For some of his successors in the role his interpretation outside their own is their favourite. As Colin Baker once put it in an episode of Doctor Who Confidential, Patrick Troughton showed that you could take over the role and do your own interpretation and win over an audience.
His Doctor was noticeably different to his predecessor. Younger, shorter, (seemingly) more clumsy, more nervous, and yet there were the similarities. Wise, carrying an air of authority, a rebellious streak, a love of travel and in particular the planet Earth, curious, a sense of righteousness and the desire to fight evil wherever it is. Qualities that we would also see in future Doctors.
We also saw the Second Doctor visit Earth's history less often and visit Earth's present day on an almost regular basis. A precursor of things to come and also this was the Doctor who first dealt with on more than one occasion, enemies other than the Daleks (or the Meddling Monk), such as Cybermen, Ice Warriors, and Yeti, as well as seeing a Doctor partly defined by who their companions are, in this case the loyal Jamie McCrimmon from 18th Century Scotland (played by Fraser Hines)
The Patrick Troughton era set a lot of trends in Doctor Who, maybe in some respects the real 50th Anniversary will be in 2016

Monday, February 18, 2013

Votes At 16? Sorry But No!

I have been challenged via Twitter, from Kiff no less, to blog on Votes at 16, as he has done so himself. I recommend you read his well thought out piece
I think there are good arguments for and against, but overall I am against on the basis that at 16 you are just on the cusp of adulthood and need time to make mature decisions about things. Some will argue about the fact that at 16 you can have sex and fight for your country and get a job and there is an anomaly there, and they are right and for a long while I agreed. Perhaps, I thought, we should therefore raise the 16 bar for permissible things to 17 and lower the permissible stuff for 18 year olds down one year
But writing this now I wonder. Is it not best that these laws of permissibility are done gradually, otherwise it is like giving a green light to a child in a sweet shop and saying you can have it all it once! Far better perhaps to enjoy what is left of one's adolescence and gradually wade into adulthood. After all it takes time to learn how to swim!

New Look Mars Hill

I do tend to think that long standing blogs need a facelift every so often, so it is that I feel the time has come for Mars Hill to have one. I hope you like it, I appreciate there are some glitches but they will be dealt with, and if you have any advice or suggestions then let me know

Iain Duncan Smith and Shelf Stacking

I really do take issue with what Iain Duncan Smith has said here. Not having been in this situation, I imagine Duncan Smith may not have first hand experience, so let me help him here!

  • First of all personal experience. I come from a middle class family and am a University graduate, and have experienced periods of unemployment and have been prepared to take any job within reason. I have cleaned floors in Tesco's, helped stack at Sainsbury's among other jobs I did not envisage doing. 
  • I know various friends who hold better degrees than me and who have been turned down from better jobs than shelf-staking for being "overqualified" the painful word many University graduates hear and read
  • At least Cait Reilly had the guts to take Poundland on. Many in her position who have less aspirations would not have dared, after all what do they have to fall back on?

  • Many in politics who make pronouncements on poverty and unemployment do so having never had the experience. Trust me it saps at your confidence, can make you feel frustrated and bitter, and makes you fearful as well as hopeful, for your future

  • Getting people to work for nothing in Poundland undercuts the existing staff and drives down their wages. Is that right? Is that ideal? Is it good?

I agree with Iain Duncan Smith that one should not be snobbish about jobs on offer, but I do think he should look more closely at a problem that isn't so cut and dried!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Maria Hutchings. Should She Be MP for Eastleigh!

Much is being made on this and it is easy to make knee jerk comments either way, so let's get down to some brass tacs

If Maria Hutchings is that concerned why does she not take a leaf out of John O'Farrell's comments, where he states:- “Ten years ago, when I was concerned about the lack of suitable local schools, I organised with other parents to set up a new non-selective state school.“My own children went there and I served as chair of governors for eight years. Maria Hutchings claims to ‘get things done’ – but in actual fact the opposite is true. All she’s shown is that she’s just as out of touch as the rest of the Conservative party, whether on education, tax cuts for millionaires or trebling tuition fees.” In other words she should use her clout to help campaign for better schooling instead of insulting the parents of other children in Eastleigh. Rather like when she did her usual shoot first ask questions later and was appallingly offensive about the Third World and immigrants 

What we need from any local MP, no matter what political party they are from, is an ability to empathise and help one's community and indeed the wider World, and not behave like the sort of common snobby envy ridden type of person who blindly accepts Mail and Express and Sun newspaper editorials!

ADDENIUM: I should point out that I appreciate that Maria Hutchings has at least one autistic child and share her concern regarding provision for her children, but she should not bring her children into political campaigning, as Mark Thompson wisely states, nor should she by her comments, show a lack of regard for others who through no choice are tied to state schooling

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Doctor Who Clip from the Patrick Troughton era

As part of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who, below is a clip from the Doctor Who story, The Tomb of the Cybermen from the Patrick Troughton era


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Harold Wilson Elected Leader, 50 Years On!

I have mentioned much on Harold Wilson before, but he is one of my political heroes and achieved much as Prime Minister. Yes he could be opportunist and yes he could be sly, but he was also considerate, wise, and brought much needed reform to this country. He also won Labour four general elections and as a Party we must do more to honour his memory! I am glad the BBC at least, are remembering him today

The Eastleigh By-Election

Much has been said on this and much more, and yet unusual for a by election there is an obvious moral dimension here.
We have an MP who has had to resign in disgrace and a Conservative Candidate who has shown a lack of due thought, care, and consideration, to what her duties as an MP. That is if you take into account her comments recorded by David Aaronovich in 2005, for which, I fail to see, we have seen an apology for.

In it she is quoted as saying:

'With an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers,' she told one newspaper, 'then the pot is reduced for the rest of us.' This, of course, is inaccurate as far as immigrants go, but I've interrupted her. She went on: 'Mr Blair has got to stop focusing on issues around the world such as Afghanistan and Aids in Africa and concentrate on the issues that affect the people of Middle England, like myself who pay the taxes which keep the country going.' Then came this line. 'I don't care about refugees. I care about my little boy and I want the treatment he deserves.' 

As Aaronovich stated later, her concern for autism has been blighted by these unfortunate comments.
The fact is this does not only show a general lack of concern and consideration on her part, it also shows a lack of judgement, a lack of foresight, a lack of understanding and empathy of issues outside her own immediate environment and those are not qualities an MP should have! I ask the people of Eastleigh who are inclined to vote Conservative, do you really want an MP with such a scatter gun approach and an insulting repertoire towards global issues!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


In a guest post, Malcolm Mann (a Roman Catholic), gives his views on the forthcoming Papal Conclave.

As you know, Pope Benedict XVI resigned on Monday. I was received into the Catholic Church in 1996 so the upcoming conclave will be my second as one of her children. Paul Burgin has kindly invited me to say a few words about the meeting that will elect Benedict's successor.

First of all, I have to admit I have no idea who it will be. At the last conclave, in 2005, Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) was the stand-out candidate; this time, however, none of the cardinals strike me as an obvious choice. Here, though, is a list of the men who Business Insider think are papabile.

In his resignation speech , Benedict referred to the world being,

subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith

It might be thought that if we can identify what those 'rapid changes' and 'questions' are we could make an educated guess as to which cardinal will walk out onto the Loggia of the Blessings to greet the faithful when the conclave finishes.

To do so, however, we would need to shake off the biases that come from our geographic location, political and economic views, social concerns and so on. The elector cardinals come from around the world; the worldwide Church, therefore, will be their perspective not just what is important in one part of it.

By-the-bye, it is for this reason that we would do very well to drop any talk of cardinal such-and-such being the leading 'conservative' candidate and cardinal so-and-so being his opposite number in the 'liberal' camp. Their global view can make the cardinals socially conservative and economically radical. Such was Bl. John Paul II the Great.

This blog post is not the place to analyse the leading candidates for the papacy. But I will say who I think should win. As Benedict said, the world is changing fast and there are great questions to be answered. The Catholic Church is fundamentally a spiritual organisation so we need a pope whose life is firmly rooted in prayer and liturgy. It is only a pope who is seeks his strength in both who will have the interior strength to be up to performing the outward job. Of the various candidates mentioned by  Business Insider, Cardinal Bagnasco seems to me to be the one who understands the importance of the Liturgy most and therefore the one who should be pope. We will see if the Holy Spirit agrees.

As an addendum to the above, and further to my point about the cardinals' worldwide perspective, we would do well in the run-up to the conclave to stop thinking that the next pope will, once elected, reverse established Church teaching as The Daily Beast seems to think might happen. Anyone who thinks that he will declare the contraception or abortion acceptable, homosexuality / same sex marriage good in the eyes of God or female priests possible is deluding themselves. Rome has spoken, and nuances aside, her position is settled. Even if that was not the case, though, I do not think that the next pope will be elected on the basis of his views of the above as they are principally western concerns. These are my views; ultimately, it is God who will decide who leads the Church next and I, personally, am very happy to entrust this most grave of responsibilities to Him.

Malcolm Mann runs the Myrmicat Forever blog

What Defines Pope Benedict XVI's Papacy

Now the initial shock seems to be subsiding, it is fair to ask what has defined Pope Benedict's papacy.
Certainly he has been less energetic than Pope John Paul II, and less charismatic, but then if you look at the Popes we have had since the Second World War you can see each of the six Popes is fairly different in character, albeit with some similarities
But what Benedict XVI and John Paul II do have in common, aside from being theologically conservative, are the capacity to surprise and the capacity to say and do things which impress liberals as well, as BBC Correspondent Edward Stourton has pointed out in this piece. Over the past eight years Pope Benedict has somewhat softened his hardline approach, has echoed Pope John Paul I (three of whose general audiences were on faith, hope, and love) by writing just three encyclicals on Faith, Hope, and Love (hardly what you'd expect from a stereotypical hardline conservative), and has attacked western consumerism. He has also, so we are told, worked hard to see reform for the better following the sex abuse allegations, (although perhaps not bringing in enough reforms). Plus he has had the grace and humility to know when it is time to step aside from the throne of Peter
Time will tell ultimately however, just what sort of Pope he was, for better or worse

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Interview with Andrew Gwynne MP

A few days ago I interviewed Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish, concerning the recent boundary changes that were defeated in the House of Commons.

What was it about the governments boundary proposals that your party objected to?

I think the biggest issue was the arbitrary nature of the proposals. No one really answered why a Commons of 600 was any more acceptable than a Commons of 500 or of 650.  Also the rigidity of the review by having strict electoral quotas meant that the new constituency boundaries were based less on natural and identifiable communities, but rather on a strict number of electors.  That in itself is flawed when you consider that the numbers of people of voting age, but not on the electoral register, in mainly inner city areas, are excluded from any quota. Finally, cutting the 'cost' of politics by removing 50 MPs from the next Parliament would be more truthful if the Government hadn't increased the size of the Lords at the same time!

Do you have any alternative suggestions?

I would like to see us return to the old periodic review process. There is far too much disruption in changing constituency boundaries every five years, as was proposed.  Under the old rules, the Boundary Commission would review each county every 10 years or so, and could be flexible at how to draw boundaries within that county so that it could better reflect actual communities on the ground. That meant that whilst each county would have the correct amount of Parliamentary representation under the quota, each seat would be determined according to local circumstances.

Given the recent Commons vote what will happen next?

All that has happened is this review is now killed off. The next 5 year review will take place in 2018, and every five years after that, unless the next Government alters the law to reinstate periodic reviews, and retain a 650 seat Commons.

Can we do something about the population differences between some seats?

Two things: one, is to get more people registered - or at least allow the Boundary Commission to consider other registers such as the Census data so that we don't end up with under representation of urban areas in Parliament. The second thing is to loosen the rules so that seats can reflect proper communities again. As long as each county retains its correct quota of MPs, then it should be for the Boundary Commission to decide which pattern of seats best fits that county, to avoid arbitrarily splitting communities up, as the last set of proposals did.

One Peer suggested this was part of Nick Clegg's sulk as he did not get what he wanted over Lords Reform, how much of that do you think is true?

Personally I think there is a great deal of truth in this.  I also think there was a convenient exit for the LibDems to avoid a bad set of boundary changes for them.  I don't think they had envisaged how their key seats - where they do benefit from incumbency - would be carved up, making winning the new seats much more difficult. At least for them, now the boundaries aren't changing, their sitting MPs (who tend to be bedded in more solidly than the current opinion polls would suggest) stand a greater chance at holding their seats than they perhaps did!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Interview With Iain Dale

Recently I interviewed political pundit Iain Dale on his return to the blogosphere. Below are his views on the current state of blogging and of where he is politically at the moment:

 In 2010 you seemed to land a blow in the political blogosphere by deciding to quit. Remind us why you made that decision and do you feel you made the right decision for that time in hindsight?

 I absolutely made the right decision at the time. I had fallen out of love with blogging, I wasn’t doing it properly and something had to give. I was working at Biteback during the day and doing LBC at night and to be honest I was floundering. I had made a rod for my own back as I was doing 5-10 posts a day. I knew if I reduced it to one or two I would just get moans, so I decided to finish altogether. I never said it would be forever, though, and always intended to start again when the time was right.

What made you decide to start blogging again?

In July 2011 I launched Dale & Co, a group blog, but to be honest I was never happy with it. It started well enough but I only wrote occasionally and that was the only time the traffic spiked. It’s not that it didn’t have readers, it did, but the quality and frequency of contributions was erratic and there wasn’t a newsy element to it. It did make stars out of one or two people, but I never enjoyed it. It needed someone to grip it. So in about August last year I decided to scrap it and start a new blog. I talked to my web guy and he started on a new design and eventually we launched again just after Christmas. I decided very early on not to try to replicate the old blog. I’d blog when I wanted to and not when others seemed to demand it. After a two year gap, people would by and large have forgotten the prolificness of the old site. I decided not to make a big announcement, or make a big thing of it, just to start and see how it went. I do want people to read the blog, but I am not going to chase traffic for the sake of it.

Would you say blogging has changed over the past seven or eight years?

A lot of my old contemporaries have disappeared, which make it slightly less fun. I miss Tom Harris especially. I think blogging has also been usurped by Twitter. I love Twitter and find it very useful in so many ways but there is only so much you can say in 140 characters. I’m ashamed to say that I more or less stopped reading blogs. Even Guido and ConservativeHome lost their appeal. I’d look at those sites several times a week as opposed to several times a day. I got out of the habit of looking at my Google Feed Reader. I’m now back in the habit but to be honest most of what I see is a load of old tat. I have a rolling Daley Dozen on my new blog but it is rare that I can find 12 entries to fill it.

Many well known political bloggers have hung up their keyboard over the last four years or so, at one point there was a flurry of them; Tom Harris, Alex Hilton, Sadie Smith, Donal Blaney among others! What would you say is the secret of survival and how should bloggers adapt to the current changing scene?

I don’t think there is a secret of survival. Some of us quit when we don’t really have anything more interesting to say. Dizzy, possibly my favourite blogger, is quite happy to go through fallow periods and the start up again. That seems to be happening to a lot of people. I think every blogger is unique and must decide what is right for them. No amount of pressure from anyone can force someone into doing something they don’t want to do. If you’ve got nothing further to say, and you’re boring even yourself, it’s probably time for a break or even stop altogether.

As one reviewer of your book The Blogfather put it, you have moved on from a blogger who was trying to enter Parliament to being somewhat politically semi-detached, how comfortable do you feel with that?

I got the LBC job. The radio provides me with the adrenaline fix which politics used to provide and I am totally comfortable. Yes, I would love to have been an MP, but since I made the decision not to try for a seat again, I feel almost liberated. I never did really hold back too much, which may be one reason why I never made it (!), but now I am beholden to no one and can say what I like. I did think I might regret the decision, but two and a half years later I haven’t at all. Indeed, I am positively pleased I made it. I sometimes wonder what I would feel like if I hadn’t .

Would you say, depending on how things look at this moment, your return is short or long term?

It’s difficult to say. I don’t really think of things like that. I may well go through fallow periods, but I hope I will be around for a long time to come. Six weeks on I really enjoy being back. I seem to have caused a stir with a few things I have written and while the new blog is not quite the same as the old one, it has attracted a much higher audience than I expected it to. I don’t expect ever to get back to the heights of 150,000 absolute uniques a month and I shan’t attempt to. For some reason I am writing much longer blogposts than I used to. Many of my old blogs were only three or four lines long. On the new blog I seem to write mini essays. I used to do a lot of lists. So far I haven’t done many of those. Some people will no doubt be relieved!

Pope Benedict XVI To Quit!

I was stunned to read this news. Whilst there has been a precedent for this, notably Celestine V in 1294, every Pope since the 15th Century has died in office. But then we have seen in recent times the decline of Pope Paul VI, the seeming lack of care and observation with regards to the health of Pope John Paul I and the very visible decline of Pope John Paul II, to the point where, in many other walks of life, a resignation wouldn't just be expected, but demanded!
Pope Benedict likely wants to avoid that, having seen Pope John Paul's decline at close quarters, and feels, in fact he has said, that the challenges presented to the Christian faith at the moment need to be met by a Pope with more energy! Expect the next Papal Conclave therefore to elect a much younger Pope. In fact it could well be one of the following Cardinals:

Vinko Pulj: Achbishop of Vhrbosna
Nationality: Bosnian
Born: 1945
Experience: Former Spiritual Director, helped many refugees during the Croatian War of Independence, putting his own life at risk, once being imprisoned by the Serbian Millitary for twelve hours

Christoph Schnborn: Archbishop of Vienna
Nationality: Czech born Austrian
Born: 1945
Experience: Studied under the current Pope when he was a University Professor, is a moderate, has questioned Priestly celibacy and attacked elements of the Vatican over the child sex abuse scandals, wants to see an end to theological differences with the Eastern Orthodox Church

Peter Turkson: President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Nationality: Ghanaian
Born: 1948
Experience: Former Archbishop of Cape Coast, highly energetic individual, wants to see major international financial reforms in light of the banking crisis five years ago. Also in favour of condoms being used in certain circumstances

Antonio Lloveria: Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship
Nationality: Spanish
Born: 1945
Experience: Former Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain. He is mentioned here as he has a reputation for being a more spritghtly version of the current Pope. Nickname is "Little Ratzinger"

Fransisco Robles Ortega: Archbishop of Guadalajara
Nationality: Mexican
Experience: Has warned political parties and organisations in Mexico to be on the alert for potential infiltration by drug dealers

Luis Antonio Tagle: Archbishop of Manilla
Nationality: Phillipino
Born: 1957
Experience: Keen on family and sacramental issues, as well as issues to do with poverty. Has a reputation for being a very charismatic figure

I would not be surprised if none of these men got to be elected Pope, there is always the expect the unexpected about these things, but these are the Cardinals to watch

Thursday, February 07, 2013

When politics meets real life

I've just seen this posted on Facebook by someone who I have never previously seen comment on politics:

"Would just like to say a huge thank you to the bloody horrible government for wrecking our lives.. For the government who are making my mam move from her home of 35 years because we aren't rich enough to pay extra for the rooms they now have an issue with being there! Another thanks to the government for slowly increasing the pension age which means even though my mam is 60, won't be entitled to pension til she's 63.. Another thanks to the government who made local councils take down one bedroom houses saying they were of no use or need which now because of this new scheme in place because of the bedroom tax people like my mam can't win coz there will always be an extra room to pay for.. Another thanks to the government because this now will probably mean she can't take her very old and frail pets.. Another thanks to the government for putting extra stress on an already ill woman with epilepsy who's health doesn't come into consideration of the new law that wants you to pay for the rooms. And an extra special thanks to government for making myself and stu feel so extra shit for my mam not wanting to move her we have even considered giving up our own house to move in and pay for my mams therefore putting our own lives on hold! Thanks very much government. And thanks everyone who voted conservatives as well who have always been in favour of the rich not the paupers like us! Life is fucking great. It's not the prime minister who has to look at my mam in absolute bits at losing her home of all her memories of my dad!"

Changes in the Peerage Law

I don't see this as a primary piece of legislation on Parliament's table, but it is important and aside from the importance of gender equality we need to be consistent with our politics and structures. If a female can be in line to the throne and, as of recently, on an equal footing to the line of succession as of men, then the same should apply to members of the nobility

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Doctor Who: The First Regeneration

As part of the Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who, Mars Hill will be looking at each Doctor each month. This month therefore, we will be looking at Patrick Troughton. Below was the moment when the First Doctor regenerated into the second and the first regeneration scene shown in the Series

Chris Huhne's Downfall

It would be easy to gloat about this, but I find it sad that someone has lied, tried to get his wife to lie, in court, over something like a speeding fine just to protect one's political career, I also feel sad that many gloat about this simply because he is a Liberal Democrat and/or they dislike him! Some politicians have been guilty of far worse!
What a miserable end to a high flying political career!

Royal Burials

Richard III was not the only British Monarch whose body is believed to be missing. There is some doubt about the bones of Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower) in Westminster Abbey, and not to mention Stephen, James II, and others. Below is a list of where every English monarch since 1066 is believed to be buried. The word probably, denotes that the location of the remains are in doubt

William I 1066-1087 (Caen, France)
William II 1087-1100 (Winchester Cathedral)
Henry I 1100-1135 (Prob under St James's School, Berkshire)
Matilda (disputed reign) (Rouén Cathedral, France)
Stephen 1135-1154 (Prob Faversham Church, Kent)
Henry II 1154-1189 (Fontevraud Abbey, France)
Richard I 1189-1199 (Fontevraud Abbey, France)
John 1199-1216 (Worcester Cathedral)
Henry III 1216-1272 (Westminster Abbey)
Edward I 1272-1307 (Westminster Abbey)
Edward II 1307-1327 (Gloucester Cathedral)
Edward III 1327-1377 (Westminster Abbey)
Richard II 1377-1399 (Westminster Abbey)
Henry IV 1399-1413 (Westminster Abbey)
Henry V 1413-1422 (Westminster Abbey)
Henry VI 1422-1461, 1470-1471 (Windsor Castle)
Edward IV 1461-1470, 1471-1483 (Windsor Castle)
Edward V 1483 (Probably Westminster Abbey)
Richard III 1483-1485 (Leicester University, due to be reburied at Leicester Cathedral, or at York)
Henry VII 1485-1509 (Westminster Abbey)
Henry VIII 1509-1547 (Windsor Castle)
Edward VI 1547-1553 (Westminster Abbey)
Jane 1553 (Tower of London)
Mary I 1553-1558 (Westminster Abbey)
Elizabeth I 1558-1603 (Westminster Abbey)
James I 1603-1625 (Westminster Abbey)
Charles I 1625-1649 (Windsor Castle)
Charles II 1660-1685 (Westminster Abbey)
James II 1685-1688 (Probably St Germain Le Laye, France)
William III 1689-1702 and Mary II 1689-1694 (Westminster Abbey)
Anne 1702-1714 (Westminster Abbey)
George I 1714-1727 (Herrinhausen, Germany)
George II 1727-1760 (Westminster Abbey)
George III 1760-1820 (Windsor Castle)
George IV 1820-1830 (Windsor Castle)
William IV 1830-1837 (Windsor Castle)
Victoria 1837-1901 (Windsor Castle)
Edward VII 1901-1910 (Windsor Castle)
George V 1910-1936 (Windsor Castle)
Edward VIII 1936 (Windsor Castle)
George VI 1936-1952 (Windsor Castle)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Richard III: The King In The Car Park

Having seen the news yesterday and followed the documentary shown on Channel 4 last night, I have to say it confirmed what we guessed. The evidence, DNA aside, points overwhelmingly towards the skeleton being that of the mortal remains of Richard III.
That said, I certainly do not think he should have a state funeral. A quiet funeral and then being buried in Leicester Cathedral would be sufficient. For one thing it would be unfair on the taxpayer burying someone who died over 500 years ago, and for another, if the remains in that Urn in Westminster Abbey are those of the Princes in the Tower, then given the ages of the bones it is probable that Richard III was responsible for their deaths. With that in mind should we publicly bury someone guilty or likely guilty of the murder of two boys!

Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury

Anyone who has been given this position has my sympathy. It is a thankless position and many will want him made in their image, but my thoughts and prayers are with him and I wish him well. I just hope that those who will be quick to criticise him in this role will realise what a strenuous and thankless role it is

Monday, February 04, 2013

Same Sex Marriage and Radioactive Waste

On 18th March 2012, the Labour MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed tweeted the following:
“7 years as an MP. Still waiting for a 'Christian' to send me a letter on child poverty. Plenty on homosexuality and abortion.”
Remarkably, almost a year later, the tweet is still circulating on Twitter. It clearly resonated with a lot of people.

As a Christian who was also an active member of Copeland CLP, I often found myself engaged in these kind of discussions. I have meant to blog about it for some time. Oddly enough, the recent decision by Cumbria County Council to reject moving to Stage 4 of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, provided the impetus.

You see, I believe that there are reasons why God has strong opinions about how we conduct our sex lives. It is because He loves us, cares for us and doesn’t want to see us get hurt. I also believe – and this is abundantly clear from the biblical narrative – that God also loves and cares for our children, our children’s children – in fact, all our descendants. We can really mess up the lives or our descendants if we conduct our sex lives without giving any thought to them. If you don’t believe me, go and work in a Family Law office for 12 months.  Seen from this vantage point, I do sometimes wonder whether God perhaps has bigger fish to fry than same sex couples wanting to get married. And besides, I’m not entirely convinced that West Cumbria’s biggest problem is that there isn’t enough homophobia.

But if we agree that, as Christians, we should live our lives conscious of our impact on future generations, how much more should Christians living in the shadow of Sellafield care about what happens to the radioactive waste stored there? We should care about threats to their health from radioactive substances – but those threats should be real not imagined. We should care that we bequeath the beautiful landscape that we have inherited – but not as a mausoleum or a playground for the wealthy. We cannot allow the landscape to become an idol at the expense of the prosperity of its people. Nothing scars the landscape – or our consciences – more than those left by multiple deprivation.

It is a common fallacy in Christian circles to believe that God only cares for our spiritual well-being. This sort of asceticism is as old as the Christian faith itself - even St. Paul criticized the Colossians for it in the Epistles. Moreover, Christians are explicitly exhorted to care for people’s physical needs:

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2: 15-16)

It is wrong to believe that it is acceptable for West Cumbria to decline economically provided it revives spiritually. When the Israelites were carried off to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah exhorted them to:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29: 5-7)

Babylon was hardly a Godly nation – they were the enemies, but God’s people were exhorted to work – and pray – for Babylon’s prosperity. If God cares for Babylon’s prosperity, how much more does He care about West Cumbria!

West Cumbria faces numerous threats to its future viability as a local economy. It has faced these threats for at least the last fifty years – and will continue to face them for many generations to come. The decisions we make in this generation – for good or evil – will determine the prosperity of future generations of West Cumbrians. It will determine whether they are even living in West Cumbria. A geological disposal facility could bring an additional £20 billion to the West Cumbrian economy; a new nuclear power station could bring many billions more.  It is possible that these may not be the right answers but it is the duty of every West Cumbrian Christian to labour for a more prosperous future.

Rachel Burgin

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Is there a ‘Religious Right’ Emerging in Britain? My perspective

Andy Walton’s recently published thesis on the UK’s Religious Right is both thoughtful and well-researched. He concludes that there isn’t a Religious Right – at least not one that remotely resembles that in the USA. Reflecting back on my own life, I would only half agree with him.

I grew up deep in the Tory Shires. The local village churches which I attended as a child and teenager were the absolute epitome of the “Tory Party at Prayer”. Indeed, it was reading the Sermon on the Mount as a teenager that forced me to question whether their politics squared with their religion.

At university in Birmingham, things were very different. People wore jeans to church and we’d head for a curry after an evening service. If my university Christian friends had been representative of the nation at large then the Liberal Democrats would have won the 1997 election by a landslide. I knew nobody who openly admitted to voting Tory. I got the impression back then that Christians saw voting Liberal Democrat as the equivalent to voting Labour but with the added advantage that they were morally untarnished by power (how times have changed!). That being said, I never felt disapproved of for being in the Labour Party per se. It was more a case of seeing politics as a worldly activity that distracted from the real work of the Kingdom.

At Keele University I encountered two very different groups: liberal Christians who were instinctively leftwing and conservative Christians who had been influenced by the US Religious Right. I seemed to spend my life arguing doctrine with the first group and politics with the second group! But even within the second group, things weren’t always as they seemed. One friend married a woman from a missionary family who hailed from Kansas. She was a qualified nurse and after she married she worked for many years in the NHS. Whilst she gave indication of being conservative, as a Wesleyan, she couldn’t buy wholesale into the agenda of the US Religious Right.

I spent a year in Bristol where I attended a Baptist Church. Whilst it was a very traditional church in many ways, it served a multicultural area of deep deprivation. It was about as far away from the “Tory Party at Prayer” of my childhood that it was possible to get. If there was one political issue the pastor was passionate about it was racial equality. He would have made an important ally in Anti-BNP campaigning. At a time when the Tory Party were dog whistling on immigration, I doubt his sermons would have moved people to the right politically.

I had a friend at that time who was a Christian and a member of the Tory Party. He invited me to a meeting of the then fledgling Christian Institute. This was my first encounter with anything resembling an organised Religious Right. At that meeting I asked what the Christian Institute’s policy on immigration was. Immigration was a central plank of the Tory’s 2001 manifesto and the bible takes a very unambiguous view on the issue. They replied that they did not have a view on immigration because they did not want to duplicate the work of other Christian organisations. I always remembered this when, years later, they started developing a database of MPs assessing them on how they had voted on what, even they would admit, is a very narrow political agenda. Needless to say, Anne Widdecombe came out very well on this database while the obviously deeply devout Christian, Stephen Timms, didn’t.

Oddly, it was only when I found myself deep in Copeland’s Labour heartlands that I began to see the Religious Right really take a foothold in the Church. At meeting after meeting of the Parochial Church Council, we would get updates from the Christian Institute and we were frequently encouraged to sign petitions. This, in a congregation which produced two key Labour Party activists (including the current CLP Chair), several more party members and vast numbers of tribal Labour voters. Perhaps this was Blue Labour in all its glory, or perhaps churches are more complex places than we give them credit for. Church leaders wield tremendous influence over their flock, but churches are not bloc votes – and shouldn’t be seen that way. Equally, one awkward fact that the media always ignores is that those “nice” Christians who run foodbanks, debt counselling services and campaign against traffiking and those “horrid” Christians who sign petitions against Same Sex Marriage are often the same people.

I wish I had known back then just how bipartisan the Conservative Christian Fellowship, the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum and the Christian Socialist Movement are in the way they work together. At one joint event, Baroness Berridge – of all people – stood up and said that if you were a Christian and had voted Labour at the 2010 election you should join the Christian Socialist Movement. Such a statement would be utterly inconceivable coming from a member of the US Religious Right. Moreover, the CCF have done themselves great credit in distancing themselves from some of the more unsavoury campaigns coming from hardline Christian groups.

And while a trustee of high-profile conservative evangelical church, St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, Michael Farmer, is also a leading donor to the Conservative Party, it is hard to know in that context whether that is evidence of the “Religious Right” or the “Tory Party at Prayer”. In many parts of the Home Counties and London, in congregations full of wealthy and successful people, it is often hard to tell the difference and it is hard to escape the words of John Kenneth Galbraith that:

“the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

In my Cumbrian parish, in contrast, the “Religious Right” stood out like a sore thumb – and, in that sense, caused more havoc by appearing to encourage poor Christians to vote against their economic self-interest.

So, what I have learnt on my journey is that, yes there is a Religious Right which is hugely influential in some circles on issues of human sexuality, religious freedom and abortion. However, the vast majority of British Evangelicals that I have met are leftwing on economic issues – and this is borne out by Andy Walton’s research. But both the Religious Right and the Secular Left make the mistake of polarizing things and grossly exaggerating the importance of the “Culture Wars” in ordinary people’s lives. The people who suffer most from this are ordinary working class religious folk who, too often find themselves guilt-tripped into voting against their economic interests. It breaks my heart to see West Virginian coal miners used as pawns in the political games of the Republican Party as they were when they appeared in a Mitt Romney speech having been forced by their employer to take a day of unpaid leave. Please don’t let us do the same to British workers.

Rachel Burgin

The Bedroom Tax and Family Values: A True Story

In the 1950s a couple moved into in a 3 bedroomed council house with their two sons and one daughter. All of their children married quite young and they were “empty nesters” before they were 50. Under the current “bedroom tax” proposals, they would have either been subject to a rental premium or they would have been forced to move house to a smaller property.

It was a very good thing they were able to stay in that house because not long afterwards, it meant that they could adopt their grandson, who otherwise might have ended up in care.

The couple brought their grandson up as if he was their own until their untimely deaths when he was still a very young adult. Fortunately, he was able to inherit the tenancy and soon afterwards, he married and had children of his own. His successful career in the nuclear industry meant that he was eventually able to buy the council house. When he had finished renovating the house to a very high standard, he traded up to a Victorian Villa in town and he is renovating that house too.

Last time I checked, he was a Tory voter (“Nana and Grandad would be turning in their grave”). But other than that, his life is pretty sorted. How different things would have been with a bedroom tax!

Rachel Burgin

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CLVII: Archbishop Cranmer

Archbishop Cranmer takes as his inspiration the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby: ‘It’s interesting,’ he observes, ‘that nowadays politicians want to talk about moral issues, and bishops want to talk politics.’  It is the fusion of the two in public life, and the necessity for a wider understanding of their complex symbiosis, which leads His Grace to write on very sensitive issues ‘with moral seriousness and intellectual rigour’. His Grace is an Oxbridge-educated theologian who, in the religious realm, is a member of the Church of England, and in the political realm, a supporter of the Conservative Party. Since the Church of England long ceased to be the Conservative Party at prayer, he holds the two ‘in tension’; the latter increasingly at arms length (at least). He has written on issues of Anglican thought and his works have been widely disseminated and published. His forays into the political realm have occasionally landed him in hot water, and these have been known to result in martyrdom which appeared terminal.  But, never one to doubt the reality of resurrection, he now lives on ‘to investigate and expose religio-politics or politico-religiosity, whatever the cost'.

What made you decide to start blogging?

At the time (2006), there was no platform at all which dealt with the intersection between politics and religion. As Sir Humphrey observed, "It’s interesting that nowadays politicians want to talk about moral issues, and bishops want to talk politics." An awful lot of voters want to discuss both. His Grace explains upon his blog: 'It is the fusion of the two in public life, and the necessity for a wider understanding of their complex symbiosis, which leads His Grace to write on these very sensitive issues.'

What is your best blogging experience?

It depends how you're defining 'best'. In terms of objective blog 'hits', it must be this. In terms of widespread publicity, it must be this and this. In terms of subjective satisfaction, it is this

And your worst?

Dealing with incessant spam, irritating trolls, and the hordes who descend daily in order to impugn motives, misrepresent content, or attack the messenger instead of dealing with the message.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Again, it depends how you're defining 'best'. The 'Royal foetus' blog went global, but took no time at all to write. His Grace's preferred 'best' are those that have usually taken hours to write and attempt to deal with more nuanced matters of theology or philosophy. But these tend to attract few comments, generate little Twitter interest, and generally don't sit well at all in the blogging medium. Here's a couple: Mainstream Conservatism and Gay Gordon, Camp David and Gay Shame

Favourite blogs?

Those His Grace reads frequently, if not daily: ConservativeHome, RightMinds, Harry's Place, Daniel Hannan, Norman Tebbit..

Where should religion and politics mix and where should they stay seperate?

When religion is properly understood and applied, it is acutely political because it manifests itself in the public sphere. Where politics is properly understood and rightly concerned with peace and justice, it touches upon fundamentally religious themes. Bishops have every right to speak out against governments, and Margaret Thatcher had every right to deliver her 'Sermon on the Mound'. The two realms may sharpen each other, like iron upon iron. Christians are commanded to be salt and light - not in their places of worship, but in the world. For the true believer, there can be no 'separation', though there may be perfectly acceptable limits of fusion and intrusion. 

Given the current problems facing the Church of England, how do you see it's future?
The Church of England has faced problems since its foundation: its opponents have prophesied its demise for five centuries. Under Archbishop Justin Welby, it will do as it has always done - feed the poor, house the homeless, comfort the weak, educate the ignorant, worship Jesus and glorify God. The media will ignore all this, preferring the interminable debates over second-order ecclesiological issues and peripheral theological minutiae.

How do you see ecumenical relations between the Christian denominations developing within the next forty years?
Wandering in the Wilderness of Zin.

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


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

Jerusalem - again, again and again.

Who, excluding the present one, do you think is the best Prime Minister and if different, the best Conservative Party leader?

Benjamin Disraeli - for both.

Which political figure (apart from Margaret Thatcher) has been your greatest inspiration?

It's odd that you specifically exclude Margaret Thatcher, as though all 'right-wing bloggers' are myopically unable to see beyond the Britain of the the past 30 years. The answer is Aung San Suu Kyi. Thank you for not excluding her. 

Favourite Bond movie?


Favorite Doctor Who?
Jon Pertwee.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

They all have their place, depending on if it's a drink, ice cream or Easter egg.

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

Beethoven conducting his Ninth Symphony in Vienna's Kärntnertortheater.

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

Cambridge - they were the happiest of days. Oxford holds too many bad memories. Bud God still loves Barsby.

Favourite national newspaper?

The Catholic Herald.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Praying, blogging and drinking wine - not necessarily in that order

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

Songs: Amazing Grace; When I survey the Wondrous Cross;
Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien 

Books: The Book of Common Prayer (1662); Thomas Cranmer (by Diarmaid MacCulloch); Thayer's Life of Beethoven