Thursday, April 16, 2015

Libdem Manifesto: Green Monster with Medicinal Purposes

The smaller the party, the bigger the manifesto. Labour, the Conservative, Green and UKIP all clock in at around 80 pages, but Nick Cleggs little monster, channeling a 70s wallpaper designer, is 158. The pages are a bit smaller, and a couple of them are taken up with an index (bravo!). As with Labour, and the Conservatives, here are a few things which stood out.

1. There is some genuinely radical stuff in here, which the Libdems have either been a bit coy about, or the mainstream media aren't interested in because they'd rather have arguments about maths. That's a shame, because the radical stuff is potentially the most significant.

2. At the same time, spot the consensus: more free childcare, more nhs funding, 0/7% on overseas aid, control immigration, devolve power both to the countries of the UK and to local governments and cities, reduce tax on the low paid, build more houses. All 3 main Westminster parties are saying the same thing in these areas. They all use the word 'plan' on their first page as well. Snore....

3. It may be that the other parties have put their detail elsewhere, or just left it out of public gaze entirely, but there is a lot of detailed thinking and policy here. This document has the only fully-fledged strategy on climate change and the environment, nearly a fully-fledged strategy on mental health (see below), and a lot more finesse in several areas than Labour or the Conservatives. Before you think I'm getting carried away, there are several things I'm completely opposed to....

4. Greenery: there are more nods from Labour towards this than the Tories, but the Libdems tackle climate change and the environment head on. It's one of their 5 'front page' priorities, along with education, balancing the budget, fair taxes and the nhs, and there are '5 Green Laws' which cover a whole raft of stuff, from conservation areas, to zero emission cars to renewable energy. 60% of energy from renewables by 2030, zero carbon economy by 2050 with zero carbon traffic, 70% recycling rate by 2020 and (I liked this) a commission to look at what resources we're using in an unsustainable way, with power to push us to cut consumption. At the same time there's the only proposals I've seen to build houses resilient to rising temperatures, and a lot more incentives towards insulation, energy efficiency etc. And every time a child is born, a tree will be planted. Not many of these will be popular, or cheap, or give a short-term gain, but the Libdems seem to be the only party who are thinking beyond the 8th of May in these areas. Well done.

5. The other one I really like, and you'd expect me to say this, is their policies on mental health - more money, better standards of care, clear waiting time targets. There's a target of getting 25% of of those suffering mental illness into appropriate counselling treatment - that seems a very low target, but perhaps its symptomatic of how poor the support currently is. Imagine of only 25% of people with a broken leg got a plaster cast.... But, for a party which has clearly done a lot of thinking, there wasn't enough on prevention. Yes there's a plan for a '5 a day' type public health campaign on mental health, more on reducing stigma etc. But a lot of mental illness is rooted in what happens when you're young: family breakdown, poor parenting, poor relationships with main carers. As with Labour, and the Tories, this seemed to be a no-go area. Nobody has the courage, or the ideas, to tackle the epidemic of fatherlessness and family breakdown, or to use the network of health visitors and new mums support to give input on parenting and relationships, as well as caring for the new baby. The Libdems are streets ahead of the rest on mental health, but there are still some streets that are no-go areas, and until we walk them, we'll always have a massive problem on our hands. To be fair, the Libdems say more than the Conservatives about promoting and expanding the Troubled Families programme, and want mediation for all separating couples, but wouldn't it be better to build stronger relationships to start with?

6. Cunning plans: everyone is offering more free childcare, the Libdems is are a bit more tailored - 20 hours per week from age 2, but if you're a working parent then it's available from 9 months in, which is when a lot of new mums go back to work part-time after having a child. Discount bus travel for students aged 16-21 is good, to get them into the habit, out of cars, and support the bus network. Getting landlords to insulate houses to an approved standard, putting RE back into the core curriculum alongside some key life skills like finance management.  Oh yes, and giving local authorities more power to cut down on betting shops and the use of addictive betting terminals in their communities.

7. A few contentious ones: minimum unit pricing on alcohol (which has been suggested for a while but nobody has done it), legalising cannabis for medicinal use, and a looser drugs law put under the Health department rather than the Home Office. Decriminalising having drugs for personal use would raise a storm of protest at other times, but there hasn't been a peep about it (yet). Perhaps the Daily Mail is too busy looking for celebrities in badly-fitting bikinis.

8. Being liberals, there's quite a bit on civil liberties, control over what data people can hold about you, freedom to be rude about people and to swim where you like, more support and promotion of equality for people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and gay, bisexual and transgender people. The cuts to legal aid are going to be reviewed,  and different forms of punishment trialled (badoom-tish) for crime. 'A large prison population is a sign of failure to rehabilitate, not a sign of success'. So they want more tagging, curfews, weekend prison etc., and if you go to prison there's a skills and education assesment in your first week. After the confiscation of books by the Tories, this is a welcome change of direction.

9. Fair play to Clegg, he hasn't given up on proportional representation, there it is again, alongside an elected Lords, more devolution, caps on donations to parties, and a formal process for working out who is in the leaders debates (tick).

10. One which elevated my eyebrows: 'liberalise rules about the location, timing and content of wedding ceremonies'. I guess it depends how liberal, but the gay marriage reforms raised question marks over whether the government even knew how to define marriage, and this takes it a step further. At what point does marriage stop being marriage, and start being something else? There's a difference between pledging 'all that I have I share with you...till death us do part' and singing each other something by Robbie Williams.

11. Housing - again, plenty of detail and evidence of a lot of thinking. Right to Buy is there, but left up to local authorities not enforced by central government. But again, it's frustrating that a party which has done so much work misses some obvious issues. One is housing density - new estates are crammed, with every home overlooked, miniature gardens, and short on facilities. Many new homes have more space for the plasma telly than for a meal table. Joined up thinking on mental health and wellbeing would ask for a maximum housing density and a minimum standard on social space within a home. The Libdems mention loneliness as a problem - well at least give people the space to invite friends round then!

12. There's some thinking on faith, discrimination etc., mostly around supporting interfaith work, protecting Jews and Muslims from hate crime, but also putting RE back in a more central role at schools and giving freedom for 'religious doctrines' to be explained.

13. British Sign Language will be recognised as an official language of the UK. Excellent. Now offer it at GCSE. Outside London and premiership football, most of us are more likely to come across a deaf person than a Frenchman.

And great news for anyone from the SW who likes the Brecon Beacons - once the debts on the Severn Bridge are paid off, the tolls will be scrapped.

Overall, I was quite impressed. Much more than either of the other two parties, the policies seem to be designed with people in mind, and the stress on the environment and mental health is the kind of long-term thinking we need from our politicians, but rarely get. There are some sensible policy reviews (e.g. the constitutional convention on devolution, rather than Camerons divisive populism, legal aid),  and more of a sense that this is rooted in vision and values, rather than managerialism and presentation. It's the nearest thing to what the bishops were asking for a few weeks ago, and is mercifully free of the snide political bashing you find throughout the other manifestoes. I wonder if somewhere in a backroom there are Labour and Conservative strategists going 'why didn't we think of that?'

Because of course, that's the context. Clegg is pitching to 2 sets of people. One is us, the voter. The other is the two other main parties. The Libdems main shot at power is to be a more attractive coalition partner than either the SNP or UKIP. To do that he needs as many votes and MPs as possible, and as many policies as possible which the other parties think they can work with. Given all that's in the manifestoes, a coalition with Labour looks much the better fit: the Conservatives will spend 2 years taken up with an EU referendum and take their eye off the ball, and Labour is offering much less in terms of policy anyway, so there are plenty of gaps for the Libdems to fill. Libdems and Labour are both ok with borrowing to invest, and the Conservatives are riddled with people who simply don't get climate change and green energy, from Owen Paterson to Eric Pickles.

However, I still think that doing all this is a massive challenge if 300,000 new people are arriving in the UK every year; all the money and effort that goes into the nhs, housing and education will only enable us to stand still. Meanwhile there aren't any big ideas, from anyone, on how we integrate communities at a local level. Nobody is producing an evidence-based immigration policy (why do people come here, how many will stop coming if we do x or y) based on a sustainable level of immigration, and leaving the EU is a blunt instrument with too much collateral damage. So we still need UKIP to keep this debate on the table, but probably not UKIPs solution.

AND IT DOESN'T MENTION HARD WORKING FAMILIES ONCE! YIPPEEE! If you're as intermittently lazy as I am, at last, a party you can vote for.....

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Conservative Manifesto: The Longest Coalition Document in History?

Hot on the heels of Labour, David Cameron published the Conservative manifesto yesterday. What was most immediately striking, apart from proposals to create social housing ghettoes (see below), was how much overlap the headline policies had with someone else:

 - no tax on people earning the minimum wage (UKIP)
 - raise bottom tax threshold to £12.5k (libdems)
 - extra £8bn on the nhs (Libdems, except it isn't, Clegg is promising £8bn per year, the Conservatives promise 'a minimum of £8bn over the next 5 years', which isn't the same thing)
 - freeze rail fares (Labour)
 - 30 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds (Labour, though they only offer 25)
 - build more houses (everyone)
 - Right to Buy (Mrs Thatcher)

With the exception of the SNP, there are bones thrown in all directions, which either highlights political consensus, or flags up the scope for coalition discussions, depending on how you look at it.

Compared to Labour, it was a much easier document to work through, with some pretty detailed policy sections, and what looked like a comprehensive programme in a lot of areas. Here's what stood out for me:

1. Of the £30bn needed to reduce the deficit - it's 'fiscal consolidation', not cuts folks - £25bn is coming from public services, roughly half from welfare and half from other departments. There's no detail of where most of the welfare cuts will come from, apart from a reduced cap on total welfare income and scrapping Job seekers allowance for under-21s. There'll be a temporary Youth Allowance instead which stops if you don't take one of the 3m apprenticeships or a job.

2. There's a lot of specific regional and infrastructure spending, which makes me wonder why we couldn't have done some of it in the last 5 years. This is a bit of a dividing line with Labour, who despite talking about using borrowing to invest more, don't have the same commitments on infrastructure investment. Curious. However, it does allow them to name drop pretty much every region in the UK, which is politically clever.

3. A lot of devolution - more powers for all the bits of the UK, and for anywhere that chooses to have an elected mayor (and not if you don't!).

4. Tony Blairs Labour had a reputation as the champions of reannouncement, repeating declarations of new spending on several different occasions as though it wasn't the same cash over and over again. The Conservatives go one better, repeating the same announcement within the same paragraph. The pledge not to tax the minimum wage is basically the same as the pledge to raise the income tax threshold to £12,500 per year. At the moment, if you work on the minimum wage for 30 hours a week you earn £10, 452. And the threshold is 10.6k. How convenient! The Tories pledge to get the minimum wage up to £8 an hour, which will earn you £20 per year shy of the £12.5k threshold. So effectively it's the same policy, but announced in two different ways.

5. The married couples allowance stays, and rises marginally, and this is what qualifies as supporting relationships. There's passing mention of the 'troubled families' programme, but no indication of whether it will be renewed, expanded or scaled back. No mention of epidemic rates of relationship breakdown, fatherless families, and the effect all this has on the mental and emotional health of the adults and children involved. There is almost a conspiracy of silence around the family and how to support and invest in it.

6. On education, it looks like things will get a bit quieter - more of the same, rather than revolution. Worryingly for students, there is no mention of the level of the tuition fee cap, so it's left open for this to be increased. Watch this space. There'll also be loans for postgraduate degrees. The education budget is 'protected' - which means that if the number of pupils rises, so will the amount of money. It's not protected against inflation. So there will be a real terms cut in money going into schools under the Conservatives if inflation ever rises above 0%. So the word 'protected' actually means 'cut'. Again and again I was frustrated at the slippery way things were presented in this document, which then made it harder to give credit where it was due. Interesting that they keep the two flagship Libdem policies, free school meals for infants and the pupil premium.

7. The NHS - I really struggled to get my head round how politicians think about this. There's no point recruiting extra doctors and nurses if they're leaving as quickly as they arrive. 5000 nurses are leaving the NHS each year, mid-career. But responding to that entails accepting there's a problem, and like every other section, the bit on the NHS starts with a section on how poorly Labour did and how well the Conservatives have done. Sorry, but there needs to be more reality here. The section on mental health, apart from supporting mums during and after pregnancy (good) had very little. No specific targets, money, or policies. Not good enough.

8. The Big Society is back! All quiet for 3 years, whilst most of us got on with staffing food banks, there's now the new initiative to encourage volunteering (you'll need those extra 3 days a year if you're a governor of an academy, it's a couple of leagues up from being governor of a normal school, and that was demanding enough). I wonder what the Italian paymaster of Westlands, whose workers here in Yeovil will all be entitled to 3 days a year off, will think of that! It's an odd policy, but I think I like it. What I didn't like was the manifesto taking credit for £8bn a year going into heritage art and sport. It claimed this was 'public and lottery funding', but since the lottery puts in £1.6bn a year, that doesn't leave much for the government! In fact, it gets a tax from the lottery, so it makes a profit. Better controls on online pornography are welcome, but I'd have liked to see something on gambling and payday loans.

9. Not many people have picked up on the plan to cut the number of MPs to 600 and revise parliamentary boundaries. That could be quite significant in the long run.

10. Sorry but the Right To Buy plans are like the AV referendum (remember that?) a potentially ok plan scuppered by dreadful delivery. The AV option put to the vote was probably the worst form of proportional representation, and there are a lot of things wrong with the RtB format. Forcing the most expensive properties to be sold off? Well lets have a think. They'll either be the biggest ones (which Housing Associations have previously pulled down to build more, smaller units), or those in the nicest neighbourhoods. Smaller dwellings, and poorer neighbourhoods, will remain social housing. The long term effect is obvious: nicer areas will become almost 100% owner-occupied, and social housing will become more concentrated in areas of lower value. Around here, house prices in Sherborne were recently shown to be £100k higher on average than those in Yeovil. So if you applied the policy locally, all the social housing tenants would end up in Yeovil.

There's also an inevitable time-lag. It takes 10-20 years round here to find and buy land, get planning permission, and build new houses. Without being able to take out big loans, the housing associations won't have the money to buy land and build houses until the RtB units are sold, you can't replace them like tins on a shelf. So RtB will build in an extra shortage on top of the 1.4m that currently exists, around the time it takes to build the replacement properties.

11. Goodbye wind turbines. Subsidies for onshore wind will be scrapped, and they will 'change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications'. Giving local people 'the final say' is a nimbys charter, nobody is campaigning for wind farms to be built on their skyline. What will Eric Pickles do with his time now that he hasn't got all those wind farms to veto? Words about 'cost effective' green technology suggest that economics, rather than carbon emissions, will be the deciding factor for any Tory greenery.

12. I'm worried about propsals to ban 'extremists' from working with children. We all know they mean ISIS sympathisers and the like,  but the way the cultural wind is blowing, anyone like me who takes the 'traditional' line on marriage is seen as a phobe and an extremist. Will there be unintended consequences?

13. The manifesto alludes to 'space for resentment to fester' over Scottish MPs voting on English laws. As I recall, this wasn't that much of an issue until Cameron stoked it up after the referendum last year. Standard marketing practice, create a demand ex nihilo then produce a product that meets the manufactured need. Shabby.

14. I was glad to see the case being made for keeping overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP, with some stats on lives saved, children immunised, access to clean water etc. This needs to keep being said. Well done.

There is a lot more to get your teeth into here than the Labour manifesto, but aside from the economy and infrastructure, where there seems to be a fair bit of thinking, other areas of policy get a token nod. There's nowhere near enough on climate change, family support, and mental health. The loud silences in some areas (food banks, details of welfare cuts) the slippery presentation in others (tax on minimum wage, EVEL, school and NHS funding) and the awful ideas around Right to Buy, don't inspire me with confidence. There's a programme of action, but true to Cameron there isn't much of an underlying philosophy.

Despite the levels of detail in some areas, it just doesn't leave me with a sense of a party which has really got to grips with all the issues we face. It's not just about the economy. The Bishops call for an 'attractive vision' of a society has fallen on deaf ears. The most eye-catching policies are of the 'retail politics' variety - vote for us and we'll give you this. There isn't much here, aside from the aid target and the volunteering scheme, that calls on us to put others first, to think of 'us' rather than 'I'.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Labour Manifesto - Working Hard for The Kingdom of Ed

I wonder if its ever struck politicians that if 'hard working families' are as hard working as they're cracked up to be, most won't have the time or the energy to read an 86 page manifesto, even if a lot of it is pictures. They/we are too busy working hard, getting on, doing the right thing, or whatever it is the Stakhanovs do most of the time.

Maybe Labour knew they wouldn't get beyond page 1, so they stuck this on the cover:

Britain only succeeds when working people succeed. this is a plan to reward hard work, share prosperity and build a better Britain

Odd that they pitch the manifesto to a minority of the British population, given that over half of us aren't working, being too young, too old, too ill, or too busy volunteering (of which more later)

It's a clear pitch to be the Labour party, the party of working people, but with a lot less socialism and toff-bashing than in the good old days. There's a brief swipe at the Conservatives, and no mention of the LibDems (keeping the door open for the coalition negotiations which are bound to begin on 8th May).

There's plenty of commentary elsewhere, but a few things really stuck out to me:

1. There are pledges to increase the number of GPs, nurses and midwives. Unless there's a big change to GP training in the pipeline, it takes longer than a single parliament to train a new GP. So, where do they come from? Will Labour be trying to get health professionals who have quit the NHS to return, or (as under Blair) will they be recruiting overseas? There is a massive moral question mark over this, we have one of the best health services in the world, most other countries need their doctors and nurses more than we do. The Labour manifesto makes much of the UK re-engaging with the world, promoting the Millenium Development Goals (good) but if we poach doctors from developing countries then white man speak with forked tongue. 

2. Kids, wave goodbye to your parents. You'll see them again in 18 years. Labour wants an education system that starts with 25 hours free childcare at age 3 (provided by your renewed Sure Start centre), extends to 50 hours by the time you are 4 (yes, 50 hours. schools will have to provide access to 'wraparound' childcare from 8am - 6pm), and continues until you are 21. Out of work benefits won't begin until you turn 21, prior to that it's a Youth Allowance dependent on whether you're in training. Some of this will be welcome news to parents who need more flexibility so that they can work to bring in the pennies, some of this will simply mean families spending less time together. It's bizarre that in a document which declareLabour believes a decent society grows out of family life and relationships the main policy direction is one which will mean families seeing less of each other. Does Ed Miliband not get on with the rest of his family? 

3. The wraparound school clubs are all going to be provided by volunteers. Really? How? It's a nice aspiration, but there's no suggestion of how it could be achieved. Worse, if it is achieved, where do those volunteers come from? There's no national strategy for encouraging volunteering, so they will have to come from the existing volunteer pool. That's the folk who look after the elderly, run playgroups, staff foodbanks, pop in on neighbours etc. Good luck on either score. We can't even find the handful of adults needed locally to keep a single council youth club up and running for one evening a week.

4. Also on family policy, there are warm words about 'strengthing the institutions that help individuals, families and communities to thrive' but nothing about strengthening families themselves. Sure Start will be resurrected, but mainly as a national childcare agency. 'Early years intervention' is fine, but there's no suggestion of tackling the reasons why this might be needed. Family breakdown remains the elephant in the room, responsible for vast levels of misery, mental illness, educational failure, substance abuse etc. Labour wants a constitutional convention to look at how the UK can hold together, but when did it (or any other party) ever give serious thought about how to hold families together?  

5. One oddity: Labour want to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners, but set up an equivalent version in education, a local Director of School Standards who monitors performance, intervenes in underperforming schools and can commission new schools. Local authorities will continue to be players in the school system, so I'm not quite sure where that leaves LEAs. The roles of PCC and DSS are slightly different, but it seemed odd to be scrapping one and inventing the other!

6. 200k new houses a year won't go very far if 300k people are being added to the population each year. There are no targets for sensible immigration, just a few policies around benefits and controls. This is a real problem. Yes we need immigrants, but there is surely an optimum rate at which people can be assimilated, and infrastructure be put in place? We are adding a new county's worth of people every 3 years to the UK, but short of a specific cap, I haven't yet seen a policy that amounts to more than hoping the problem will go away if we look tough. That hasn't worked yet.

7. Foreign policy: Labour propose a 'global envoy for religious freedom'. Good. Gordon Browns next job perhaps? It would be good to see a specific role though: they also propose an envoy for LGBT rights whose goal will be to secure the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide. I'd be thrilled if the goal for the religious freedom envoy was to secure the decriminalisation of conversion to Christianity.

8. Labour seem to be taking climate change more seriously - there's a welcome goal of a zero-carbon electricity supply by 2030, and interest free loans for energy improvements will reboot the domestic solar energy market. Right noises, but I don't see enough on, for example, public transport (most of the policies are devolved to local level) to see a thorough response. There's a welcome commitment to keep the 0.7% aid target and refocus it on the poorest countries.

9. Mental health: will be 'given the same priority as physical health'. I wonder what that means in practice? The document says there'll be the same right to psychological therapies as to drugs. If true, that means free, lifelong access, rather than 8 weeks after a 5 month wait, as is the current (approximate) situation. Do they really mean that? Access to drugs doesn't stop after a set number of weeks, so if that's what's really being promised for talking therapies, then that's a very hefty commitment. And please, not just CBT, it doesn't fix everything. And if you do offer CBT, please lets have proper professional counsellors, not a nurse who's done a short course. Labour wants more access to counselling at schools (good) and there's a suggestion of putting mindfulness on the national curriculum. There's no extra money committed here, only a promise that a higher % of the mental health budget will be spent on children. That, of course, means a lower percentage on adults, so without a significant rise in the overall budget, there's the prospect of a cut to adult mental health funding. Surely not?

Overall Labour are trying not to frighten the horses, but I'm not sure whether the horses will be very inspired either. I guess a proper rationale for the policies (e.g. the 50 hour school week), or proper details of how they'll work (adult mental health) would have needed a longer document. Labour seem more aware of the vulnerable - disabled, users of food banks, low wages - than the current government, but I don't see much of a great vision here. It's a bit more of an engineers budget, how do we make this system work better, and produce more of what we want (houses, good healthcare, clean energy at affordable prices). I can't see it setting many pulses racing, and as the first page states, its a 'plan...for a better Britain'. The P-word again. The 2015 election is the Battle of the Plans.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Contortionist skills of local Tory candidate

I'm not sure which of these is more unnerving, George Osborne's expression, or the fact that local Conservative candidate Marcus Fysh has managed to fit his whole body into a vacuum cleaner.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Happy Easter everyone

(this is the sign that greets you as you turn to leave the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem)

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Coalition Spirituality

Caroline Wyatt has done an impressive job as the BBC's religion correspondent, and has an interesting reflection on Easter observance in the UK
Perhaps Lent is now seen by some as a secular opportunity to cleanse the body from daily abundance, if not the soul.
Yet while many of us may be able to sate our hunger for treats more often than in earlier decades, and the majority in the UK are either avowedly not religious or far less religious than in previous decades, there is a hunger that remains.
It is a hunger for some kind of meaning in life, above and beyond the materialistic.
From the growing popularity of humanism and mindfulness, of non-religious "Sunday services" or "kabbalah", and the enduring popularity of yoga, not to mention the growth of some of the non-established churches, and books such as Alain de Botton's 'Religion for Atheists', many in the west are clearly still searching for the answer to the question "why are we here?", even if they no longer believe the answer lies in organised religion.
The new organisations and individuals offering answers could perhaps be seen as the "independent retailers" in this market for higher meaning, as the former established retailers of the Christian Church in the UK lose worshippers, albeit more gradually than the steep decline of previous decades.
The founder of the 'atheist church' Sunday Assembly recently visited 3 London churches including Hillsong. I was struck by how positive he was about all three. It also sounds like he experienced God in various ways, though he wouldn't put it in those terms. 
Spiritually we have done what the party system is doing. There isn't a binary choice between Christianity and Atheism, though there are spokesmen on both sides who like to present it that way. There are 7, actually more like 77 alternative voices, and many people's spirituality is a coalition: a mixture of afterlife, fate, morality, mysticism, belonging, family traditions and prayer. The challenge for the church is how to encourage people to consider Jesus as a candidate, let alone prime minister. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Christianity: Public Benefit, Personal Benefit

The contrast between the Christianity I see our culture belittle nightly, and the Christianity I see our country benefit from daily, could not be greater.
The reality of Christian mission in today’s churches is a story of thousands of quiet kindnesses. In many of our most disadvantaged communities it is the churches that provide warmth, food, friendship and support for individuals who have fallen on the worst of times. The homeless, those in the grip of alcoholism or drug addiction, individuals with undiagnosed mental health problems and those overwhelmed by multiple crises are all helped — in innumerable ways — by Christians....
...genuine Christian faith — far from making any individual more invincibly convinced of their own righteousness — makes us realise just how flawed and fallible we all are. I am selfish, lazy, greedy, hypocritical, confused, self-deceiving, impatient and weak. And that’s just on a good day. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…And there is no health in us.’
Christianity helps us recognise and confront those weaknesses with a resolution — albeit imperfect and fragile — to do better. But more importantly, it encourages us to feel a sense of empathy rather than superiority towards others because we recognise that we are as guilty of selfishness and open to temptation as anyone.
More than that, Christianity encourages us to see that, while all of us are prey to weakness, there is a potential for good in everyone. Every individual is precious
guess the author? It's worth reading the whole article. He probably has a slightly better grasp of the heart of Christian faith than his boss

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mental health manifesto

Keeping his word, Nick Clegg has put mental health at the top of the agenda for the LibDems election campaign. Today they published a short manifesto on mental health, the first (as far as I know) manifesto document from any of the parties so far.

It's tempting to look askew at the promises made today, given the poor record of the Coalition in mental health funding and practice. But I hope they keep banging on about it. Instead of the usual bidding wars about immigration, cuts and borrowing, it would be great if the parties got into a bidding war about who would secure the best provision for mental illness.

If there are any Libdems reading this, one thing Manifesto for the Mind missed: the NHS needs to stop using the same discharge model that it applies to people with physical aches and breaks. A broken leg heals, a broken mind can recover but remains susceptible. Mental illness is more like cancer, it is a chronic condition more than it is an acute one, discharging patients and then re-assessing them from scratch each time they re-enter the system is bad for the patient and a waste of resources for the system. Mental illness needs to be treated properly, not on models borrowed from clinical practice elsewhere.

Now all we need is a proper debate about family breakdown, which is both a significant cause of mental illness, and a serious problem in its own right. Dave? Ed? Nigel?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Chocolate Easter Talk

A retelling of the Christmas story through chocolate bars was quite popular on this blog a few years back, so here's an Easter version, using a mixture of brands of chocolate Easter egg and other sweets. There is even a Marmite flavoured chocolate Easter egg this year, and that's found its way into the talk. All the choccies and sweets are in red, as are the dreadful egg-related puns. Trial run with a couple of school assemblies tomorrow.....

Feel free to plagiarise, if you can stand it! Any improvements gratefully recieved.

Chocolate Easter
What do Easter eggs, have to do with the very first Easter?
What does all this chocolate have to do with the very first Easter?
Listen, and you will hear. It’s quite eggstraordinary.

There was a man called Jesus.
A Kinder man you couldn’t wish to meet
He loved everyone, welcomed everyone, helped everyone

HobNobbed with the very rich and the very poor and everyone in between
He did amazing things: made sick people better, helped blind people see, made storms into calm
And he said amazing things: if you want to know the God who made the Galaxy, get to know me, said Jesus. I can show you what he’s like better than anyone.
If God and God’s love are the Topic, then I can tell you everything you need to know.

The ripples from Jesus went far and wide, thousands of people came to see him, hear him, touch him, be near him, learn from him

But some people didn’t like him. The crème de la crème, the top priests and the top politicians, realised they couldn’t Eggnore Jesus, they couldn’t outfox him, so they Clubbed together and hatched a nasty plan. In the middle of the night they arrested Jesus, Eggsamined him and put him on trial. The leaders didn’t believe in him, and decided he should die.

They put Jesus on a wooden cross and left him there to die. But even on the cross, Jesus love was so Extra Strong, that they heard him Whispa ‘Father God, forgive them’.  You can chocolate (chuck a lot) of nasty stuff at Jesus but he will go on loving you, forgiving you.

Jesus friends looked for somewhere they Cadbury him, and put him in a cave in a rock face with a huge stone rolled across the entrance, then they went away to cry and comfort each other.

On Easter morning, Jesus friends came to the place he was Lion buried. But the grave was open, the great rock across the entrance had been moved, and they wondered who on earth would Rolo way the stone.

Suddenly, there was an Angel. Delight filled them as he told them ‘Jesus isn’t dead any more, he’s alive!’ Then there Jesus was, standing with them. His friends were so Eggcited that they started telling everyone, and soon lots and lots of people heard that Jesus was alive. 2000 years later the story is still spreading, and people are still meeting Jesus. Some people love it, some people hate it, but Easter shows us that Jesus is Marmighty than death.

And the Eggs still Eggsplain the Easter story.   
  •          The shape of the egg reminds us of the stone which rolled away from Jesus tomb.
  •        The hollow inside the egg reminds us that the tomb was empty because Jesus was alive.
  •        And an egg is a place where a new life begins, and at Easter Jesus was given new life, and he promises new life to everyone who comes to  him and trust him and asks for his help.

And that’s a great thing to chew on this Easter. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Evidence to Action website - worth breaking a fast for

I'm still off blogging for Lent, honest, just a brief interruption to commend the new Evidence to Action website. It's a set of resources for the main themes identified by the CofE's research into church growth 'From Anecdote to Evidence', to help churches reflect on how they rate on each factor, and then to identify what to do about it. It won't do the work for you, but it's a cracking site, not too cluttered, and very very helpful.

It would have saved me a lot of work as Deanery Missioner to have had something like this to point people to, but I'm glad it's there now!

Drat, have to restart the 40 days now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


see you after Lent

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

British Values

40% of schoolgirls report being coerced into sexual activity by their boyfriends, and we release a film on Valentines Day telling us that submitting to male coercion and power is sexy.

On the 5th anniversary of the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, a £5.14bn deal is agreed to show premier league football on TV. That's enough to kit out every one of the nearly 4m refugees with tents, blankets, kitchen equipment, and have some spare for food. Our government is doing its bit, usually greeted with howls of protest for spending 'our' money on foreign aid.

We all champion free speech on Twitter, but at the beating heart of Britians secular deity there's not a lot of it about.

People like me complain about things on social media but do nothing practical to fix them. Blogging is the easy short-cut to feeling righteous....