Saturday, 25 July 2015

Consolation from religion, in a bad week for politics

It’s been a bit of a dismal week for politics, so it’s a comfort to be able to turn to some rather better news from the world of religion.

The bad news politically has been the rediscovery by the British Labour Party of an apparent death wish.

First, the interim leader Harriet Harman decided that the best response to a planned new government attack on the most vulnerable members of society, by cutting their benefits, was to abstain. Since many see the purpose of the Labour Party as being to speak for the mass of the people, and especially for those, including the poorest, who can’t generally speak for themselves, this position could really only be described as craven.

Secondly, the party moved closer towards selecting as its new leader a man, Jeremy Corbyn, from its far left. Labour did the same thing after its defeat in 1979 and went down to the worst beating it has had since World War 2 in 1983. It was then in opposition for a further fourteen years.

Now, I find myself in agreement with most of what Corbyn says. But I’m a Labour Party member. We have a lot in common.

Like him, I for instance see absolutely no value in Britain maintaining its nuclear deterrent – it’s so minute, it deters no one, but it costs a fortune. However I know that a lot of people outside the Labour Party who might, at a pinch, vote for us, will be put off doing so if we make dropping the “deterrent" a central plank in our programme. Since scrapping it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference to the safety of the world – precisely because our deterrent is so small and the main nuclear arsenals would be unaffected – it strikes me as sensible to leave that policy on the back burner.

That would mean we could focus on saving the National Health Service. Or even taking a million children out of poverty, as Labour did last time it was in office, instead of plunging a million back in, as this government seems intent on doing. However, we won’t get a chance to do either if we put off people who might otherwise support us.

Electing Corbyn will, I fear, get us George Osborne (currently Chancellor of the Exchequer: David Cameron plans to stand down after this parliament.) And it could be worse: we have one of the most authoritarian Home Secretaries to have graced that office in Theresa May, and she’s a contender to take over from Cameron; so is Boris Johnson, the apparently amusing buffoon who’s shown as Mayor of London that he’s a thoroughly toxic politician.

Vote Corbyn, get May or Boris? Not a pleasing prospect.

Thirdly, and finally, Tony Blair, the most successful Labour leader there has ever been (three election victories) but also entirely discredited after taking Britain into an unwinnable and probably illegal war, decided to get stuck into the leadership contest. He did it with wit – he advised anyone whose heart is inclined towards Corbyn to “get a transplant” – but he obviously hasn’t gauged just how discredited he is. His intervention only made it more likely that Corbyn would win.

Corbyn, left, is under attack from Blair
And it will do him nothing but good
All this made the political landscape depressing, so I turned for consolation to religion. What, after all, could be more appropriate? People have done that for ages.

The first piece of good religious news was the discovery in a University of Birmingham library of what may well be the oldest fragment of the Qu’ran still in existence. It was missed before because it was bound in with other material. A PhD student, Alba Fedeli, noticed two pages that didn’t belong, and pointed the fact out. Carbon dating on the parchment establishes that it may have been produced within the lifetime of Muhammad; the words may have been written soon after his death.

A lovely piece of serendipity. A heck of a boost for a PhD student. And a major discovery of the Muslim community.

The other encouraging event was the consecration as Church of England Bishops of Rachel Treweek (Bishop of Gloucester) and Dame Sarah Mullaly (Bishop of Crediton). They are actually the third and fourth women Bishops of the Church, but what makes Treweek’s consecration particularly important is that she is the first woman to take one of the Bishoprics that brings with it a seat in the House of Lords.

Mulally and Treweek, consecrated bishops 
Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, spoke well, expressing the hope that “women bishops will disturb us. I hope they will challenge the conventions of the Church of England, which continues to be led and directed by too many people like me: white, male, middle-aged professionals.”

A laudable desire in a week where too much just seemed same old, same old.

Of course, even if it’s gratifying to see a woman in the post, one does have to wonder why any Bishops, simply by being Bishops, get to sit in the House of Lords. With power to legislate for all of us. Without being answerable to any of us.

But that takes me back into politics. And I’m not going there any more this week.

No comments: