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Christmas Reading – what kind of politicians do we have or need?

Christmas Reading – what kind of politicians do we have or need?

I wonder what you will dip into over this holiday season by way of escape or relaxation?

I took a risk with this book. The title was arresting and the author the recognisable voice of BBC Radio 4s Westminster  Hour. Of course we live in a complex and contested world and one where the quality of public narrative is inevitably variable but what are we to make of modern politics and those who choose this profession?

Hardman is a skilled guide for anyone who wants to understand how our political system works. It is baffling and full of pitfalls and ( to be frank ) shocking and at times unbelievable limitations and subjectivities. The most informative  section of the book is its examination of how politicians get selected as candidates and then elected to parliament.  Hardman draws upon her experience of listening to many candidates who did not succeed in getting elected. The cost and culture of this process reveals a deeply unsatisfactory collusion with a small group of unelected  people who demand collusion and approval rather than independence and a spirit of service. The costs associated with the search for a nomination to a seat in a constituency  limits the scope and character of those who succeed. In this and other ways, Hardman argues, our politics has real power to force individuals to be good or bad. Many examples are shared about the latter category. The core thesis that we get the wrong ‘sorts’ of people in politics is starkly put within this examination of the selection procedure.

Hardman turns her attention to political patronage and parliamentary one-upmanship. The system for passing laws is exposed as inadequate and she uses the example of housing policy to expose the flaws of reform that has not been work through.

We all want to make a difference and for some the search for and exercise of power is an important part of this (seemingly ) altruistic ethic. How does politics stay in touch with communities especially when we have such a lack of diversity on parliament? What kind of reality do politicians inhabit? What might it be reasonable of us to expect from them?

The prospect of 2019 is uncertain. Politics has the capacity to bind up, resolve, unite, reconcile and transform. Hardman asks us to listen more carefully to motivations and limitations. We need to engage and inform and take responsibility for the humanising of this power. What do we need to do to make a difference to our work and our communities ?

Hardman has offered a convincing analysis of the Westminster workplace. We glimpse something of the way politics does and does not work. Hardman offers a range of characters where we find obsessive souls, tortured hearts, hopes and dreams along with the inevitable ( perhaps? ) sex, love and scandal. But that as our Mothers would say is life – as we get over the problems this book challenges its reader to examine what we might do to get on with a better kind of politics.

James Woodward

Holiday reading (1) Gordon Brown My life, Our Times Bodley Head 2017.

Holiday reading (1) Gordon Brown My life, Our Times Bodley Head 2017.



Having  successfully downsized my living and therefore ‘storage’ arrangements I  think twice about buying a book! I was, however,  immediately drawn to this political autobiography, not least because on the two occasions I met Gordon Brown I found him humane, reflective and generous. Retired politicians, we are told, are generally more attractive than practising ones because possibly they can no longer do any harm.

This is a life meticulously well written with a careful attention to detail. There is an openness and self-awareness to his narrative alongside some inspiringly articulated set of  convictions about wanting to create a better and more equal world,

Politics was more than the art of the possible; it was about making the desirable possible’.

Interesting to ask how any of us maintain a balance between the pragmatic and the ideal. In this at the beginning of the first chapter Brown describes the leadership in this way:

‘leaders need a command of substance, mastery of detail, problem-solving skills and an ability to see the big picture… Leaders need to communicate a positive vision of the future that can inspire and motivate people and mobilise enthusiasm for progress and change’.

I share some sympathy with Brown as is honest about the relationship between the public and the private in his life and character. Over and again he stresses how private he is, how out of sympathy with what he calls “public displays of emotion” in a “touchy-feely era”.

And lest we moved too quickly into judgement or condemnation we all want to feel that ours is a life well lived and even perhaps that we have left the world a better place as a result of our energy and passion? It is understandable therefore that Brown wants to put the record straight and indeed go further in articulating what he felt he achieved in high public office.

Brown tells us very clearly that Blair did break a promise that he would step down as prime minister in favour of Brown during the second term. We also learn, despite a wide variety of accounts to the contrary that she and Blair were not permanently at loggerheads. Brown put some distance between his role in the Iraqi war and informs his reader that it was he that saved Britain from membership of the euro. It is, perhaps, impossible for any reader to evaluate some of these judgements except to say for this one  there is a quality of reflectiveness in this text that was encouraging, illuminating and  convincing. We glimpse a picture of the almost impossibility of survival in 10 Downing Street given the sheer pace of change and movement in communication. The relentlessness of it all is tiring even in the reading of events, challenges and difficulties.

Brown is most disarming when he describes his upbringing. The security and influence of being born a minister’s son clearly shaped his values and worldview. His passion for Scotland and especially Fife where he now lives. His fortitude and driven us at Edinburgh University. His love for John Smith and a reminder of the sheer unpredictability of politics. His heart-breaking loss of the death of his baby daughter Jennifer and his own, quite literal, blindness in one of his eyes. Brown’s honesty and vulnerability are disarming and attractive in equal measure.

Brown reveals himself as a profound intellect and thinker. He knows about the depth and seriousness of our alienation from politics. He describes accurately the fraudulent Tory rhetoric misrepresenting a global banking collapse as a failure of Labour politics. He connects this decade’s two referendums (Scotland and Brexit) on the consequence of previous political dishonesty. His anger, his greatest anger is kept for what he describes as a callous enforcement of austerity that has generated inequality and inflicted needless suffering on the poor and unprotected. We would all do well to consider, whatever our political allegiances, the fact that the financial sector has paid out a total of £128 billion in bonuses since 2008.

Such a life narrated will have its limitations, its shortcomings and even flaws. The reader will take a variety of judgements on those. We need more stories that can help us understand the world we are living in. We need more people to empower individuals and communities to work together for sustainable inclusion and change. Politics is part of the picture not the whole canvas and we would be right to be cautious in so assigning responsibility for failure in the direction of politicians that we absolve ourselves of any part in working for solutions to some of the serious challenges that face us.

We all have partial sight and live with significant dollops of ignorance which constrain and limit us. Self-knowledge is a long, a lifelong journey. Honesty is painful. With this in mind we might forgive Gordon some of his own limitations but also be prepared to honour and respect his contribution, his struggle, his challenge to us all to play our part in delivering a bigger, fairer and more equal society.

people vote for different reasons!

people vote for different reasons!





I am unjust, but I can strive for justice.
My life’s unkind, but I can vote for kindness.
I, the unloving, say life should be lovely.
I, that am blind, cry out against my blindness.

Man is a curious brute — he pets his fancies —
Fighting mankind, to win sweet luxury.
So he will be, tho’ law be clear as crystal,
Tho’ all men plan to live in harmony.

Come, let us vote against our human nature,
Crying to God in all the polling places
To heal our everlasting sinfulness
And make us sages with transfigured faces.


Vachel Lindsay, Why I Voted the Socialist Ticket

What makes a great politician?

What makes a great politician?


Disraeli, or The Two Lives

Douglas Hurd and Edward Young
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2013 £20

Friends will know of my mild obsession with post second world ward political biographies and autobiographies. They are a strange and mildly unsatisfying genre with few jewels on the shelves. It is difficult to write a life that is completely honest and that seems especially to be the case with politicians.


I have long been an admirer of Hurd who adds another volume to his list ( his memoirs are interesting but a little high handed about some events – but his biography of Peel is a great book).


Amazon offered me this volume at a reasonable price and it was a good read on holiday. Hurd turns his attention to the myths that have grown up around Disraeli – a politician who achieved fame for what he said, not for what he did.


You may have had the experience of meeting someone in public life and wondering how on earth they have managed to achieve so much. This is the underlying thesis in this book. For example, Disraeli has been credited with passing the Second Reform Act of 1867, giving the vote to the working man in the boroughs, because he believed in “Tory Democracy”. Not so, write the authors. He never used the phrase, nor did he think democracy was a good thing. It is often said that Disraeli was the author of Tory social reform, but this too turns out to be a myth. Social legislation was introduced on his watch as Prime Minister, but he took little interest, falling asleep in Cabinet when matters such as working-class housing were discussed.

The legend of Disraeli was created largely by the Conservative party, which needed a hero on whom to pin its ideas about making the party electable in a democracy. The process began with the Primrose League, a party organisation which was created in Disraeli’s memory after Queen Victoria sent a bunch of primroses to his funeral inscribed “his favourite flower” (the wording was ambivalent – some thought she was referring to Albert and not to Disraeli at all).


There is some understandable admiration for the man and his achievements.For Disraeli to have climbed to the top of the greasy pole was an extraordinary feat. The son of a wealthy Jewish man of letters, Disraeli was baptised aged 12 when his father broke with the synagogue. As a young man, Disraeli played the dandy, wearing outlandish clothes and dyed black curls, running up vast debts and claiming that the Jews were the master race.

The transition came in his forties. “I get duller every day,” sighed Disraeli. He ceased to write fiction. Instead, he poured his creativity into politics. This is not to say that he wanted to make the world a better place through reforming legislation, as Peel or Gladstone did. He was not a man of compassion. Disraeli, ever the social climber, filled his notebooks with lists of the famous people he had met.

The key to Disraeli’s politics was a genius with words. This is what he meant when he described himself as a man of imagination. Words, as the authors explain, are not the same as ideas. Disraeli possessed a stock of ideas, many of them preposterous, on matters such as neo-feudalism and religion. But he used them like silver, bringing them out on special occasions for display; not as a working political creed. Epigrams, wit and oratory were his weapons.

When Disraeli won his first (and only) general election in 1874 and became Prime Minister at the age of 69, his colleagues were dismayed to discover that he had absolutely nothing in the way of a plan. This was partly because he was old, tired and gouty. But there was something else too. For him, just being Prime Minister was enough. Power was an end in itself.

Part biography, part polemic, this is an engaging and enjoyable book. One of the questions they investigate is: what, if anything, can we learn today from Disraeli? Surprisingly, the answer is quite a lot. Disraeli brought qualities to politics which are conspicuously absent among Westminster’s dull clones of 2013: wit and, above all, extraordinary political courage. We need a bit more difference and risk and eccentricity to all aspects of our lives – and not least the Church!


Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

a He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams (The Poems of Rowan Williams, Perpetua Press 2002)

Writing your life honestly?

Writing your life honestly?

The autobiography of Jack Straw – an MP for thirty-three years and at the heart of government throughout the longest-serving Labour administration in history

As a small boy in Epping Forest, Jack Straw could never have imagined that one day he would become Britain’s Lord Chancellor. As one of five children of divorced parents, he was bright enough to get a scholarship to a direct-grant school, but spent his holidays as a plumbers’ mate for his uncles to bring in some much-needed extra income. And where did he end up ? He spent 13 years and 11 days in government, including long and influential spells as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. This is the story of how he got there.

It was  Barbara Castle who appointed  Jack Straw as her special adviser at the social services department in 1974, she said she wanted him for his “guile and low cunning”.  Straw went on to be a Labour frontbencher – in either the cabinet or shadow cabinet – for 23 consecutive years. In all that time, he resisted categorisation into any of the party’s many strands of opinion and faction.  Remarkably thirteen years later, he managed Tony Blair’s leadership campaign. Thirteen years after that, he managed Gordon Brown’s.

He was privy to most of the serious plotting against Brown and even emerged as the favourite not only to succeed the failing leader but to deliver the bad news to him. To dismiss Straw as an unprincipled and narrowly ambitious politician is to miss the point. Straw is tribal Labour; his maternal grandfather was a Transport and General Workers’ Union shop steward, his mother a Labour councillor. At 13, he decided, while delivering leaflets in pouring rain during the 1959 election campaign, that he’d like to be an MP. The abiding principle of Straw’s life is that Labour should be in power. 

The big philosophical issues of politics – the role of the state, the limits of markets, the merits of egalitarianism – are scarcely on Straw’s radar. Big pictures and big ideas are not for him. His habit is to amble along in roughly the same direction as everyone else. Still an MP, Straw voted for David Miliband as Labour leader, as most Labour MPs did, but now, like most Labour MPs, thinks Ed has “shown himself to be decisive and … made some difficult moves well”.

These memoirs are better written than most. There is ample gossip and genuinely funny stories, for example, when the Labour government won a Commons division on top-up university fees by just five votes, Straw warned Blair not to push his luck too far. “‘Jack,’ he replied, with blue eyes blazing, ‘I’m always lucky.'”

The most absorbing part of the book concerns his traumatic childhood and early adulthood. He recalls, without self-pity, how his parents quarrelled bitterly and eventually parted; how, aged nine, he saw a maternal uncle beat up his father and, next day, found his father attempting suicide; how he was initially so unhappy at boarding school (to which he won a free scholarship) that he ran away three times in one week. Later, Straw’s first wife developed anorexia and their child died at six days old. Straw himself suffered chronic tinnitus after an ear infection. Depression led him to consult a psychoanalyst whom he still sees occasionally.

The secret of what makes Straw tick may lie in his school holidays, when he worked for his uncle as a plumber’s mate. He learned “to cut, bend and solder pipes, and much else”. That was how he approached government and policy-making: he aimed to keep the water flowing and the boiler flues clear. He was New Labour’s safe pair of hands, its trusty plumber, a much more competent than average minister.  But it isn’t a plumber’s job to worry about the architecture.

Now – isnt that part of our problem too as individuals and groups?

Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell

If anyone has any doubt about the sheer complexity and difficulty of the work of a modern-day Prime Minister then this book and all 730 pages of it should dispel any lingering lack of understanding! It takes us into the heart of the work of government, the handling of the press, the management of a political party and the holding together of complex personalities and egos of politicians, their ambitions and their fantasies.

It is the fourth in a series of books completing this particular stage of Campbell’s work. It begins with the harrowing circumstances around 9/11 and ends with Campbell’s resignation. It is properly entitled ‘The Burden of Power’ and the reader can see the way 10 years of holding the office of Prime Minister has aged Mr Blair. Whatever you think of his politics then you will come out of this journey through the days and weeks of political struggle with some greater sympathy of the huge pressure that comes with responsibility.

The relationship with Brown is splashed out across the pages and little is spared – speculation, argument, disappointment, anger and even despair – it is surprisingly that government worked as well as it did considering the dysfunction between number 10 and number 11 Downing Street! Campbell is not of course an unbiased commentator and we await other narratives that might provide perhaps a more balanced perspective on this relationship, including, of course that of Mr Brown.

Campbell is reflective about himself, his depression and the pressures that working in 10 Downing Street put upon his relationship with his partner and his children. Despite the extraordinary aggressive and unrelenting style of Campbell there is a rather endearing vulnerability, self doubt, and redemptive self-knowledge about his strengths and weaknesses.

Campbell is sour about the media and these pages will make unpleasant   reading for many journalists – some of whom he dismisses with brutal and sneering disregard.

Any historian of the conflict over Iraq will certainly need to examine the course of events as described in some detail here. No doubt strategists working for the Labour Party will look at some of what Campbell says in relation to evaluating the success of new Labour and the prospects of what may lie ahead of the present Conservative and Liberal coalition.

It was certainly a long read but hugely worthwhile. When I get some time I shall have too cross reference some what Campbell says with Mr Blair’s memoir – in the meantime the grisly business of politics  continues and we need to ask ourselves what kind of political culture best supports our living and aspirations as individuals, families and communities.

We have not heard the last of Mr Campbell – there’s another story waiting to be told. A good read and worth persevering with as the nights draw in.

The seven deadly sins CEOs won’t admit

The seven deadly sins CEOs won’t admit

It’s a classic job interview question: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

At the top of the business world, people seem to have taken to heart the advice to admit no negative traits, just positives in disguise, says Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times. Every week for the past year and a half, the Financial Times has asked business leaders 20 questions including: “What are your three worst features?” Here are the findings:

 CEO Sins

They are:

Control freaks



Bad at listening Bullies

Afraid of conflict

 No good at small talk

The three worst traits of chief executives are a lack of self-knowledge, a lack of self-knowledge and a quite extraordinary willingness to give themselves the benefit of the doubt.

When it comes to describing their dark sides, 58 out of 60 leaders felt bound by the same rule – any weakness is perfectly admissible, so long as it is really a strength. They almost all cite impatience, perfectionism and being too demanding – all of which turn out to be things that it’s rather good for a CEO to be.

What is particularly interesting about this mass outpouring of faux weaknesses is that there is no difference between men and women, and no difference between Americans and Europeans. All are as bad as each other. Psychobabble Anyone who has ever spent five minutes talking to a CEO can tell you that they have more faults than the next person, because they are extreme versions of humanity. 

Given that most of the 60 interview candidates were probably guilty of at least one of the above, why did none of them own up? The first possibility is that they didn’t dare. But I suspect the real problem is worse: they don’t know what their faults are. A decade of psychobabble, coaching and 360-degree feedback has made no difference.

It has not changed the most basic truth – people never speak truth to power.

Honesty prize This denial of flaws is a pity. We like people better when they wear their blemishes openly. It makes them seem more human. There is only one senior leader I know who has no obvious faults at all. His lack of weaknesses does not make me think him the most brilliant executive I’ve ever met. Instead it makes me think him flimsy and slightly untrustworthy.

Marcus Wareing owned up to one of the most common yet unmentionable sins – he doesn’t listen. But then he’s a chef, and chefs aren’t meant to be listening. They are meant to be making sure the iles flottantes are taken to table six – now!

My prize for honesty goes to Jon Moulton, the private equity tycoon, who has made enough money to be able to say what he likes. His declared weakness is absolutely taboo, yet goes with the territory. Indeed, it is a weakness the other 59 leaders demonstrated through the self-serving answers they gave. His stated fault – “excess of ego”.

The women who make it possible

The women who make it possible

As someone who has always admired and liked Sarah Brown – for the dignity she showed through the death of a child and her self-respect whilst her husband was under attack from just about everybody on an almost daily basis – I was looking forward to reading this book.

The title was fascinating. What was this tome going to tell me? Scandalous gossip? Cloak-and-dagger political revelations? Sadly, neither.

What it did give me was an insight into a role that few of us would relish. A role where if you put one foot wrong you are likely to be castigated for life; a role where if you express your own opinion, especially as a woman – think Cherie Blair – you’ll be pilloried. You have to be the constant adoring wife with no views of your own, well at least in front of the camera. And, it’s a role hardly anybody will thank you for doing.

This is not a political blockbuster, nor is it the girly book some people were expecting, but is probably halfway between the two.

There were some light hearted moments, some loving family moments, and you get to find out that politicians talk about the same things “ordinary” people do and are fascinated by the same people many of us are – Nelson Mandela, to name but one.

What I think it lacks is what she really thinks of those people who conspired against her husband. What she really thinks of the media for their hounding of him. I get the impression that she wants to say much more than she has. It’s sad that she didn’t, because it leaves you with the feeling that something is missing from the book.

An interseting read from a good woman with insight, courage and morals.

Power and Influence?

Power and Influence?

This rates very high amongst the endless pages of political memoirs produced in recent months…..

Taking Machiavelli first, Powell marshals voices from Napoleon to Isaiah Berlin to remind us what an extraordinary work Machiavelli’s The Prince is. It grapples with the political arts in states made up of real people, as opposed to peddling high principles for idealised citizens as other philosophers do. “Machiavellian”, Powell explains, need not always mean double-dealing cruelty, for there are times when straight-talking mercy is, in the New Labour phrase, “what works” best in power play.

At home, Powell argues Blair bequeathed a high-quality mixed economy in public services that will endure as the “Butskellist” settlement when the 1950s Conservatives accepted Attlee’s reforms. With vast cuts looming, however, this seems naive. Dissatisfaction with the total resourcing available for education, social care and the rest of it will soon overwhelm arguments about the merits of foundation hospitals or academy schools.

Powell, whom Peter Mandelson dubbed Jeeves, echoes his master’s recent identification of Freedom of Information and the hunting ban as his great blunders. On the first, Powell makes a more reasoned argument than his boss – about the confused job spec of the information commissioner – for the arch-insider’s perspective.

If Powell falters in salvaging two reputations, he is persuasive in shredding a third – that of Gordon Brown. There are some tribal judgments: Blair’s courting of Murdoch was shrewd, whereas Brown should have “saved his dignity” with Paul Dacre. There is also some hammed-up history, with Brown’s aide Ed Balls likened to “Quintus Fabius, who fell under the influence of the tyrant Appius”.

But Powell is more devastating when he calmly tells tales about the neighbour from hell: how Brown would blame Blair for Cameron’s rise, question his Christianity and demand that he “stop” journalists writing mean things. The boss, however, was not psychologically capable of a Machiavellian response, and there is a rare Blairite admission that Tony had indeed “given Gordon to understand” that he would soon take over. When Powell asked Blair why he wasted so long talking to someone who makes his life miserable, Blair asks whether his top aide has ever been “in love”.

Blair himself has told most of the best stories, but Powell adds colour and insight. His endearing inclusion of personally unflattering stories, such as his demand for a special red box with “chief of staff” emblazoned on it, lend the book credibility. He has an eye for droll detail, recalling being barred from a royal barbeque because of fears that his unmarried relationship would set Prince Charles a bad example, and recounting security blowing up a box of fudge that Charles had sent to Tony.

So there are several good reasons to pick up this book, even if you are one of those idealists whose political interests go beyond “how to acquire a princedom and how to hang on to it”. That was Machiavelli’s interest, and Powell leaves me wondering whether it was really Blair’s too.

The Legacy of Brown?

The Legacy of Brown?

I think that one of my New Year resolutions will be to give up reading  more news, views and reflections on what did or did not happen to the Blair/ Brown partnership during the New Labour Regime! I made an exception with Richards book as he is one of the few political commentators who I beleive offers an authentic and fair voice. I love his coherance and insight.

The book is a balanced misture of criticism and compassion. Richards understands what a messy world politics is and has some (proper) sympathy with the strength and even genius of both Blair and Brown.

Listen to this:

 ‘our changing views of Brown are partly explained by the contradictions in his character and his attempts to create so many false trails. He was a cautious risk taker, sweating neurotically over incremental moves and yet presiding over a revolution in the Treasury. he was hated by some of his colleagues, while others were so devoted to him they would have died for him. He was the greatest bibliophile in Downing Street since Gladstone, and yet struggled to write a decent speech. he entered politics with a desire above all to alleviate poverty and yet became an admiring ally of Alan Greenspan, the evangelist for the lightly regulated marketplace. He wanted Blairs job with an ambition that tortured him and yet he waited for more than a decade to make his move’ (page 440)

For those who are quick to judge, to dismiss, and to write off – beware – the future of this coalition Goverment is less that certain. Whether Goverment can afford to provide public services and at what level is part of our present struggle. What can be sacrificed for electoral popularity , how to reform effectively remain reall challenges for any Government!

I share Richards conviction that time will help the often confused picture of these years of achievement and failure to emerge and that a warmer and bolder and more understanding of Browns contribution will be allowed to be seen.

Whatever the case – this is a good book. Political commentary at its best.

Britain is unequal and deeply divided

Britain is unequal and deeply divided

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is today publishing a 700 page report that shows Britain to be a deeply divided country.

The most comprehensive report on UK inequality ever published, ‘How Fair is Britain?’ charts the divergence of life chances from birth through to retirement – illustrating that the gulf in opportunity and outcomes is widening not narrowing.

The report reveals that disabled children are more likely to be bullied, that pay disparity between men and women continues to be a major problem, and that boys are underperforming academically.

Social class is highlighted as a key characteristic influencing measurable outcomes in health, educational attainment, and prosperity as it is passed down the generations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report shows that in this and many other ways, long-standing inequalities remain undiminished while new social and economic fault lines are emerging.

EHRC Chairman Trevor Phillips commented: “Inequality and disadvantage don’t come neatly packaged in parcels marked age, or disability, or gender, or race. They emerge often as a subset of a strand – not as a disability issue, but as a mental health issue; not as a generalized ethnic penalty, but as a result of being Pakistani; not a pay gap for working women, but a pay gap for working mothers.”

EHRC researchers discovered that men and women from the highest social class can expect to live up to seven years longer than those from lower socio-economic groups.

The report also identifies five critical ‘gateways to opportunity’ which the Commission says make a key difference between success and failure in life for millions of citizens.

These gatesways are health and well-being, education, work and wealth, security and autonomy.

In a speech today, Mr Philips will argue that while significant strides have been made in promoting equality and combatting prejudice in recent years, a great deal of work remains to be done – and politicians must make the struggle against growing inequality a priority.

Read the report and summaries here:

poverty and poetry

poverty and poetry


Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

from Wallace Stevens, The planet on the table

Financial crisis leaves over 200 million on less than 2 dollars a day

Financial crisis leaves over 200 million on less than 2 dollars a day

As world leaders meet for the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, 20-22 September, a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) highlights that because of the financial crisis around 120 million more people may now be living on less than US$2 a day and 89 million more on less than US$1.25 a day.

The report shows that as a direct result of the crisis, output, exports, migrant remittances, capital inflows and aid have all been lower than expected over the last three years.

African countries will see only US$11 billion of the US$25 billion in increased aid promised for 2010 at the Gleneagles G8 and Millennium +5 meetings in 2005.

As governments struggle to live up to their MDG commitments, the Robin Hood Tax campaign is calling for banks to step into the breach they created. Taxes on financial transactions – which have become known as ‘Robin Hood’ taxes – could raise hundreds of billions a year from the financial sector and put us back on course for achieving the MDGs.

David Hillman, spokesperson of the Robin Hood Tax campaign, said: “The behaviour of the financial sector has jeopardised our chances of achieving the MDGs. Whilst banks return to record-breaking profit, for years to come, millions of people around the world will be feeling the negative effects of the financial crisis they did nothing to cause. Banks must face up to the problems they caused and pay their fair share.”

Tony Dolphin, Senior Economist at ippr, said: “The global financial crisis has had a devastating effect on emerging and developing economies. We estimate that their output over the last three years has been a cumulative US$2.5 trillion lower than it would otherwise have been.

“Although the worst of the crisis appears to be in the past, its effect on emerging and developing economies will continue well into the future.

“Lower employment rates and a lack of social safety nets mean that poverty is higher than it would otherwise have been and achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 will be that much harder.”

The report also shows that the GDP of developing and emerging economies will be around US$1.3 trillion lower in 2010 than was expected in 2007 and the cumulative loss of output over the three years 2008 to 2010 will amount to US$2.6 trillion.

Exports will be about 20 per cent – over US$1 trillion – lower in 2010 than was being forecast before the crisis began. Remittances in 2009 and 2010 have been more than US$100 billion short of what might have been expected had there been no crisis.

Dementia cost ‘to top 1% of GDP’

Dementia cost ‘to top 1% of GDP’

An economic, moral and spiritual challenge to us all:

The costs associated with dementia will amount to more than 1% of the world’s gross domestic product this year at $604bn (£388bn), a report says.

The World Alzheimer Report says this is more than the revenue of retail giant Wal-Mart or oil firm Exxon Mobil.

The authors say dementia poses the most significant health and social crisis of the century as its global financial burden continues to escalate

They want the World Health Organization to make dementia a world priority.


A large part of the problem is people living longer – as life expectancy goes up around the world there will be more people who will develop dementia.

The number of people with dementia is expected to double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050.

But experts say the costs of caring for people with dementia are likely to rise even faster than the prevalence, especially in the developing world, as more formal social care systems emerge and rising incomes lead to higher opportunity costs.

Data from individual countries such as the UK suggests that dementia is already one of the costliest illnesses. 

The report brings together the best available data and the most recent insights regarding the worldwide economic cost of dementia.

It calls on the World Health Organization to declare dementia as a world health priority.

Professor Martin Prince, of the UK’s Institute of Psychiatry and who co-authored the report, urged nations to develop better plans for caring for the millions who have the disease. 

“Governments must show greater leadership, working with all stakeholders, to drive solutions to the long term care issue.”

Marc Wortmann, head of Alzheimer’s Disease International, an umbrella group of organisations, said: “The scale of this crisis cries out for global action 

“History shows that major diseases can be made manageable – and even preventable – with sufficient global awareness and the political will to make substantial investments in research and care options.”

Dementia experts say governments must lead the way in ensuring national dementia strategies are fully implemented and dementia research is given enough funding to find new tests, treatments and possibly a cure.

Social Justice?

Social Justice?

A piece of research published today reveals a clear north-south divide.

The Tees Valley in general and Middlesbrough in particular are places which became rich on heavy industry.William Gladstone famously went to the original town hall in Middlesbrough and proclaimed it an “infant Hercules”.

Go to the same spot now and you find a sad, boarded-up building surrounded by wasteland and a few abandoned, crumbling houses.

The area found it increasingly hard to compete in global markets and, over time, government felt obliged to pump in state support to prop up and regenerate the declining economy.

It will be a mark of our ‘big society’ if we are able todeal with the challenges that face places across the North East – here is a summary of the findings.

Middlesbrough is the area of England least resilient to economic shocks, according to BBC-commissioned research.

The study, carried out by Experian, looks at the ability of each local authority area to withstand and respond to sudden changes in the economy.

With further public sector cuts on the cards, it suggests how England’s regions may cope.

Each area is ranked in order of resilience, and a clear north-south divide is evident.

Middlesbrough on Teesside is followed by Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, which is the second least resilient area according to the research, and then Stoke-on-Trent which is the third.

Elmbridge in Surrey is the most resilient area in England, followed by St Albans in Hertfordshire and then Waverley in Surrey, the information suggests. 

The research looks at four key themes; business, community, people and place.

Within these categories, a number of factors have been analysed, including the amount of vulnerable and resilient industry within an area, the life expectancy of residents, earnings of workers, unemployment and crime rates.

The BBC commissioned the research as part of The Spending Review: Making it Clear season, which looks at the government’s plans to make deep public sector savings.

The results of the coalition government’s spending review will be announced in October, when it will be revealed which departments will see their budgets cut and by how much.

The Experian research suggests Middlesbrough will be the least resilient to such public sector cuts.

It is ranked at number 324 out of 324 council areas. The Teesside town also appears as the least resilient in the business section.

Holiday reading…..

Holiday reading…..

Part One –

I hardly dare admit that I purchased this book but it proved a stimulating read….. as I continue to struggle what it is that makes for a respected politician of first rank. For those believers in the present paradise of coalition politics there will be much more of this legacy writing! And for those quick to dismiss beware – we all want to be remembered for something.

Having just spent four weeks reading a daily newspaper I am led to the belief that todays journalism is full of  fabrications, myths, gossip, fixing, power, legacy making.  In this book we have a glimpse of  a great schemer for whom nothing went to plan.

 He reached the cabinet, but his career at the top table was short and fragmented, terminated twice by scandal and a third time by election defeat. A very brief stint holding the, now defunct, title of trade and industry secretary ended in the disgrace of the home loan scandal. He was brought back as Northern Ireland secretary only to be defenestrated again. His cabinet career under Tony Blair amounted to a span of just 19 months. He then went to Brussels where he became one of the more effective and more disliked commissioners.  If you want proper accounts of what really happened over the Iraq war and many other crucial episodes, you won’t find them here.

He settles scores. We learn that Alastair Campbell, for all his declarations of loyalty to the Labour clan, only agreed to help at the recent election grudgingly because he thought it was a “lost cause”. This book claims  to be a frank  autobiography  but  much of it is  cold and  impersonal.  Inside the confidence and legacy making is a fearful and very secretive person struggling to be effective in this crazy world of claim and counter claim.

What did become of him? His friend, Charles Clarke, once : “Peter is the ultimate courtier.” His influence flowed from making himself very useful to whoever was the most important figure in the Labour party of the day. First, it was Neil Kinnock, whom he helped to rescue Labour from the pit into which it had descended in the early 1980s. Then, he was consigliere to Tony Blair, whom he assisted with the creation of New Labour. These were both significant contributions to political history. He relished the power and notoriety, but there is also a hint of self-loathing just below the surface of the text. He is not happy that “through much of our time in government, my influence was exercised largely behind the scenes”. He wanted to be the star, but wound up as the stage manager.  

Does he make sense of it all? Not really. He doesn’t even explain himself properly. Having spent more than 500 pages in his slippery company, the reader doesn’t feel that he has met the real Mandelson.  But the judgement is easy to make and   too obvious perhaps – the question for us is our legacy and the shape of the political system.

Now then – when will Mr Blairs pages arrive? To be continued.

The search for dignity

The search for dignity

 I thought this well worth pondering from 

Katharine Jefferts Schori  ( the Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church in the United States of America. She is the first woman elected primate in the Anglican Communion)


There’s an institution in New York City called the Doe Fund. Its motto is Ready, Willing and Able. Early in the morning, trucks bearing that logo can be found on the streets of Manhattan, and out of those trucks come workers with garbage cans, brooms, and equipment for collecting litter. Some of the trucks disgorge workers with pumps and containers for collecting used cooking oil to be recycled into biodiesel. The Doe Fund takes its name from John Doe, the traditional moniker for a person whose name is a mystery. Its founder is a Roman Catholic layman who’s convinced that employment and learning personal responsibility are the key to ending homelessness. The fund assists people who are trying to leave homelessness by providing jobs, support in sobriety, and help with developing employment skills and a sense of their basic human dignity. Each year the Doe Fund helps several hundred people transform their lives.

Those people are overwhelmingly from minority populations, more than half have been in prison, and most have substance addiction issues. That motto, Ready, Willing and Able, is a proud witness to dignity gained. That’s also pretty much what we hear when Jesus asks James and his brother John if they are able to drink the cup that he will drink. Yep, they say, “we’re ready, willing, and able.” Their journey in some sense moves in the opposite direction, but it is about the same kind of vocation. James’ and John’s charge to fish for people is about serving whoever turns up, and following a leader who has nowhere to lay his head. They are becoming workers without a permanent home because they’re focused on worldwide cleanup and the transformation of all communities. The goal is a healed society where all have the dignity that comes of right relationship with God and neighbour. We usually call it the reign of God, or the common weal of God.

That commonweal of God work is a prophetic vocation, often deeply unpopular and challenging, and born of the dream that dignity for all is a deeply divine warrant. That kind of prophetic witness, in both word and deed, is what made Jesus so offensive to the powers at hand. The same kind of prophetic witness got James executed by Herod, the first of the inner circle of disciples to be martyred. It is what Jesus himself pointed to when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37). But prophetic work is not primarily about death and homelessness, even though either may be a byproduct. Prophetic work is about more abundant life for the whole world, and it is about a home everywhere, a home for all. When Agabus and the prophets go down to Antioch and tell of a looming famine in Judea, the whole community shows itself willing and able to respond to that demand of the moment. The people in Judea are losing their ability to build a home of the sort that God intends for all – enough to eat, freedom from oppressive government, the ability to worship. Together the company of prophets and the early Christians in Antioch determine to respond in the way they are able. They are helping to gather the chicks under God’s wings.

Prophets and disciples are meant to be ready and willing to respond to the challenge and opportunity of the moment, in whatever way the spirit is calling. We continue to tell their stories and celebrate their lives so that we might be encouraged, and literally given a little more heart-strength to challenge indignity that results from injustice. Dignity means a sense of worth, suitability, or honour, and it is the state in which God created all that is. The indignities came later. One of the eucharistic prayers in the Episcopal church’s prayer book says that we have been created worthy to stand in God’s presence. When we treat others as less than that, we reject God’s good creation, and in a very real sense, we deny our own dignity. Prophetic work helps to restore the dignity of creation, and acknowledges that creation reflects the utter dignity of the creator. We get in trouble when we limit dignity to lesser things, or deny dignity to some. Dignity is really what James’ mother is after when she pesters Jesus to put her boys first when he becomes king. She wants them to have the important chairs closest to Jesus. Jesus responds by asking if they’re willing and able to suffer indignity, even die, in order to restore dignity to others. What do the English call the circle of greatest dignity in this realm but the Court of St James’s? It’s not just the site of royal courtesies and where the monarch receives emissaries from other realms.

 The Court of St James’s takes its name originally from a place of healing, the Hospital of St James, a leper hospital dating from at least the 13th century. The dignity originally offered to lepers is carried on in the dignity and courtesies extended to representatives of other nations, whatever their political reputation. All those lesser dignities have their roots in the dignity of human creatures who bear the image of God. We miss something essential when we mistake the lesser dignities for the divine one we all bear. The other difficulty we all know too well is the human tendency to insist that some are not worthy of respect, that dignity doesn’t apply to the poor, or to immigrants, or to women, or Muslims, or gay and lesbian people.

Prophetic work is about challenging human systems that ignore or deny the innate dignity of all of God’s creation. That’s the aspect of prophetic work that’s dangerous, for those systems often respond with violence – the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the disappearance of righteous gentiles who rescued Jews during the Second World War, or the expulsion of a Ugandan bishop because he asked the church to treat the gay and lesbian members of his society with dignity. Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) are engaged in prophetic work right now. The IFI is in full communion with TEC and the Anglican Communion. A month ago, two lay leaders were assassinated by masked men on motorcycles. Four years ago a retired bishop was assassinated in his kitchen. Two priests have been similarly murdered, as have leaders in other denominations. All have been working to bring dignity and basic human rights to farm workers and labourers. Our own prophetic solidarity and advocacy just might bring some accountability from the former government and justice from the present one.

Can you imagine what might happen if a good number of Anglicans and Episcopalians insisted that our governments pay attention to human rights in the Philippines? The search for dignity is work that all members of Christ’s body share. We’re invited to join the band of prophets, share the meal and drink the cup. It can be dangerous work, but most prophets I know are also filled with joy. Prophets generally decide that it’s not worth living in a system without dignity. Better to lose that life, and exchange it for one that builds up, because we lose our own dignity when we tolerate indignity for some. The journey down to Antioch and back to Jerusalem led our ancestors to discover that one’s own dignity is mixed up with that of every other human being, and indeed all of creation. James made the same discovery. The work of the cross is the most life-giving journey we know. Are you ready, willing, and able?

This is the text of a sermon delivered at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on Sunday 25 July 2010, the feast of St James

What are the limits of Government?

What are the limits of Government?

An assumption has grown that ‘the government’ carries the responsibility for making our world a better place, and then blaming ‘the government’ when it fails to deliver. This is one of the decadent habits in our society because the public domain is everyone’s responsibility: that is the essence of the polis – a body of citizens. However, the public domain has lost credibility. Even democracy, in the fragmented environment of globalising nations, fails to build social cohesion. As is now often the case, the majority of people are ‘middling’ in terms of resources, but increasingly insecure and without the moral stretch to put the needs of others  above their own, and therefore voting ceases to be an integrative force.

Rather, it becomes the very opposite: it becomes a driver that widens the gap between richer and poorer, as the interests of the poor, although numerically significant, cannot match the political clout of the ‘middling majority. This can in turn trigger a further nasty process, because when the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider, everyone experiences a loss of well-being, including the rich.

 This is the finding made by Richard Wilkinson, an epidemi­ologist and specialist in public health. His extensive cross-cultural research highlights the deep cost of the growing gap between rich and poor across the globe. Wilkinson’s research identifies the mutuality and interconnectedness of our interests and well-being, and suggests that when things are grim the inclination is to become protective and defensive rather than attentive and generous in relation to the needs of others.

Bothered and Bewildered, Enacting Hope in Troubled Times

Ann Morisy, Continuum page 13