On voting Labour…

I have always voted Labour.

For a while, my passion for a kind of politics that fought for liberty and equality was indistinguishable from my faith. Both drove me in the same direction.

I believed in a God who was more interested in the gutters of society than the doings of the well to do and famous. I became convinced that Jesus was a revolutionary, sent to call us to a way of life that promoted the last to be first and the first to be last. My heros were people who sought to live out this radical path- even where I failed.

And you know what- I still believe those things.

In the 80’s and 90’s the only party that seemed to embrace some of these views was the Labour party. It was a party in turmoil- arguing over it’s very soul. But still deep in it’s DNA was this passion for social justice and compassion for the weak and poor.

The years of power and compromise have soured so much of this image. The dispicable war in Iraq, the aparent surrender to the ‘free market’, the loss of identity in a changing world. The accommodation with the worst elements of the press on immigration.

Like many of us, I have been struggling to decide how to vote in this coming election. Could I vote for the Liberal Democrats, who are saying some things that I like? Or was there anything about the leadership of Brown that I could still believe in and celebrate?

I am not swayed by the leadership debates. They are televisual circuses that might yet lead us down a kind of politics that has dominated the USA. Beware voting for a well polished public image. We vote for policies and principles, not personalities.

I heard a story about Atlee, the labour leader who did so much to introduce the Welfare State and National Health Service. Someone quipped that an empty taxi arrived at Westminster, and he got out. But his legacy is with us still.

But still, my trust in Brown had reached a low ebb. He seemed so shambolic, so defeated.

I know a lot of men like Brown up here in Scotland. Sober, dignified, private men, who suffer no fools nor enjoy the social life. Taciturn and truculent. Men who believe still in public service.

I watched this (Thanks Jonny) and saw for the first time in this election something that really stirred me.

And made my voting choice a lot easier.

RIP Michael Foot…

I was saddened today to hear of the death of Michael Foot, journalist, writer and former leader of the Labour Party whilst in opposition from 1980 to 1983.

Foot was the leader of the Labour party at the time I discovered politics. It was a time that we can barely remember let alone understand- when great ideologies confronted each other across the dispatch box. On the one side, Thatcherism– in all its free market elitism and on the other, a Labour ideal of the rise of moral egalitarianism, and the battle for a fairer and more equal society.

It was a time before sound bites, and when media manipulation was not the primary skill required by a political leader. Rather, the ability to debate with passion and integrity, and to move people by the power of your voice- these things were still of value.

And Foot was part of this long tradition- a Labour man from a very non working class background, who nevertheless will forever be associated with ‘Old Labour’, whose core principles still have a hold over me.

Foot also presided over a party whose radical policies of nuclear disarmament and opposition to war in the Falkland islands were formed in a time of chaotic social change. It was a time when the left wing of the party, under the strong influence of supporters of Tony Benn.

And yet Labour suffered their heaviest ever defeat in the General Election in 1983.

Foot, aged 67, frail and always scruffy in his Donkey Jackets, crumpled suits and wild hair, resigned soon afterwards.

Principled, passionate, intelligent and perhaps a little eccentric. How I miss politicians like Foot. I suspect we will not see his like again…

By way of a tribute- here are some clips. Each one a little time capsule from a different time. From the dark years of mass unemployment, the decimation of Britain’s industrial base, and before the euphoria (then betrayal) many of us felt under Tony Blair…


house of commons

So, the politics in the UK takes another strange turn.

The papers are full of details of expenses claimed by Members of Parliament- from the maintenance of moats, to pornographic videos.

The Speaker of the house has resigned during a sitting of parliament- for the first time ever.

Change is in the air- both in terms of the party in power, who may yet be forced to call an early election- and also the pressing need for reform of some aspects of our political system. Whether or not there will be real change, it remains to be seen. The British tend to change constitutional things slowly, and pragmatically.

Is this crisis a good thing? A good shake up and clear out of the system is sometimes good- although the moral and ethical tone of the current debate tends to be a little difficult to stomach- coming as it does from the Daily Telegraph. It is not so long ago that the out-going Conservative party fell into a trough of sleaze and allegations of ministers being bribed with envelopes stuffed with money. The Telegraph had a different set of priorities then.

But the current scandal seems to confirm a base view of politics that views all politicians as ‘the same’, feeding from the same honey pot, out for what they can get. If such a view persists, then our system of democracy is under threat.

The problem with this view for many of us, is that for many years, we believed that all politicians were NOT the same. There were ours, and theirs. Ours were politicians of conscience- men (and women) of passion and integrity- committed to an ideal of social justice and socialist principles. Theirs were out to protect their privileges- slaves to big business and multinationals- committed to maintaining inequality.

This simplistic, dualistic view of the world defined my life for years. It was a comfortable, safe place- which allowed easy categorisation according to ideology for just about everything. Things were either politically correct, or they were not. There is a naive simplicity which is still attractive to me as I remember these things-

Food– chosen according to origin. South Africa and Israel (Apartheid and Palestine) were to be avoided, as was anything by Nestle (Because of their promotion of Baby milk to sub Saharan Africa, with devastating effects.) Meat was forsaken because of the cutting of rainforests to grow beefburgers for MacDonalds, and Tuna was bad because Dolphins died in drift nets.

Clothing– was based on cheap jeans and slogan- laden tee shirts, carrying ‘radical’ messages. Accessories came from Oxfam, or the embryonic fair trade movement.

Music- had a message, or it was not worth listening to. And it had to be out message. There were some exceptions- allowed because they were good fun, and did not explicitly support the enemy.

And so on- you get the picture! All of life was seen through a world view that was defined by a particular politico-ideological perspective.

It was not simple for long. Our Heroes had clay feet. We had Kinnock, who blew it, Smith, who died on us, Blair who sold out and got in bed with Bush, and finally Brown who is merely presiding over the death throes of a party who long ago lost any sense of ideology and value base.

The thing is, I was (and am) a Christian. What I found was that it was possible to approach Jesus through the same narrow perspective. I genuinely believed that it was next to impossible to be a Christian and a Conservative. One meant life and justice for the oppressed, the other meant siding with the oppressors, which Jesus never would. For us, Jesus joined the Labour Movement. He was one of the boys. God was a socialist.

So how much harder is it then, to see the death of ideology over the last 20years? The end of politics driven by passion, and instead the easy slick accommodation of Blair- followed by the brutal prudence of Brown. A Labour Movement that found it possible to join a modern day American Crusade in Iraq and Afghanistan. That thought increased expenditure on health and education was the sum of it’s ambition. That presided over a widening gulf between the rich and poor of the nation.

And now a Labour government that came into power in 1997 promised to clean up politics. It promised a ethical foreign policy, and transparent funding processes…. and yet it ended up 12 years later with- this.

So, to the point of this piece.

Ideology can bring life. It can inspire enormous collective endevour. It pushed us towards a dream of living a better, more sustainable, ethical life. But is always falls short.

And when we promote an ideology above the author of everything- then this becomes, idolatry.

brazen serpent

So let us watch the political twistings and turnings with interest. But let us watch as people whose allegiance is not first to an ideology, but to a King and a New Kingdom.