Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Category: Social Justice

Reimagining Church

It is important to distinguish between belonging to the church (to a community of fellow-followers founded by Jesus that exists invisibly and universally, throughout time and space) and belonging to a church (a particular denomination, structure, congregation or place).

Belonging to the church is integral to the christian life. If we have decided, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to follow Jesus’ Way, Truth and Life, then we are necessarily members of the universal church.

But I’m not so sure about ‘church’ in the ‘sitting in pews on a Sunday morning listening to the man at the front and giving him your money’ sense of the word. Belonging to a church might be helpful for some, at certain times, and in certain ways, but it is not always necessary for everyone. I don’t see any clear mandate from Jesus that the universal, invisible church should take any particular institutional form. There is an assumption in the New Testament that fellow-followers will gather together to encourage and support one another. But no requirement that it be done in a dusty building with a leaking roof, that there be a ‘worship team’ with electric guitars, or that there should be a pastor who calls all the shots and does all the talking.

In other words, being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life is not dependent on being written in the membership rolls of any particular congregation. For many, membership of a local congregation can be a source of help, blessing and community. I don’t doubt it. For some, however, it can become an idol. It’s all about building ‘our’ church, expanding, raising more money, doing ‘exciting’ things. It’s just empire-building, and its endemic in the institutional church. It’s this sort of thing (coupled with intellectually shallow, brittle, conservative preaching) that makes the institutional church a source of frustration, misgivings and disillusionment for some of us. It actually gets in the way, for us, of authentically following Jesus.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about how I am done and disillusioned with the institutional church, so I will not labour that point further here. I would like to reflect a little, however, on possible alternatives. How might it be possible to achieve a specific incarnated community of members of the universal church in a way that doesn’t just become institutional cash-cow?

I have no definite answers to this question, although it is one that I think about very often. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer some preliminary ideas, if only as a spark to further thought and discussion, on the principles on which such a community might be built.

1. Intellectually robust teaching that takes modern biblical scholarship, science, comparative religions, and the findings of history and anthropology seriously. We cannot have a church in which the message of Jesus is contingent on accepting 1st century worldviews about the origins or nature of existence.

2. Recognition of plurality and difference. Christianity is complex and many faceted. We don’t all have to agree on everything. The core on which we do have to agree might, in fact, be very small indeed: ‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first creed, and perhaps the best that has very been devised. There should be room for different soteriologies, christologies, eschatologies – as long as we can learn from one another, remain open to one another, and not condemn one another for such differences of opinion. We should place Jesus at the centre, not doctrines.

3. A firm commitment to tackling poverty, homelessness, racism, exploitation, slavery, war, and abuse of power at the heart of everything we do. Christianity is about standing on the side of freedom, peace, justice and love. If we get this wrong, we might as well pack up and go home, because we will have missed the point of what the gospel is about: liberation and transformation, setting captives free, wiping away tears, bringing love and joy and hope and life and abundance – in practical (and most often edible) ways, in the here and now.

4. Democratic, plural leadership. No one person in charge. No ‘senior pastor’ who claims to be primus-inter-pares but runs the show like a dictator. Congregationalism should be taken seriously – not just in business meetings, but also in meetings for worship: that is, everyone should be able to contribute, to share in the preaching, testifying, singing and music making.

5. Following from point 4, no paid clergy, no paid staff, no church buildings. Once a church has a building, so much of their time, work and money is put into serving the building, and not into serving the community. The church can meet in people’s homes. Larger conservations, gatherings and events can take place in venues hired for the occasion.

6. Limitations on size. Each congregation should be no bigger than can meet comfortably in a large living room. But several of these congregations co-operate in order to achieve common goals (particularly in terms of serving the community, doing charitable outreach etc). Keeping it small prevents empire building. Of course we want the church (universal and invisible) to grow, but we can do that by creating new small congregations that branch off like amoeba, not by building massive mega-churches that are invariably filled with tithing pew-sitters being lectured at by a millionaire pastor-entreprenuer who is only in it for the private jet.

7. Just as I see the future church as post-evangelical, I also see it as post-Catholic and post-Orthodox; that is to say, the little house church is a manifestation not of the Protestant branch of christianity, but of the whole universal christian experience. I can envisage a combination that pairs progressive theology with the cycles of the liturgical year, action for social justice with the Common Lectionary, fully egalitarian participatory congregationalism with Gregorian chants, and sermons on environmental stewardship with icons and candles.

8. I envisage a ‘rule’ for christian communities, a little bit like a monastic rule (but obviously much shorter, and not necessarily intended for a residential community) in which these principles could be embodied. This rule would be replicable, thereby providing a simple and accessible basis for the incorporation of independent house-church congregations in keeping with these principles. It wouldn’t be necessary to constitute each house church from scratch – any group of people could download the rule and use it as a baseline for establishing their own little congregation on these lines.

 

 

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On the limits of markets

Markets work, for the achievement of certain purposes, to a certain extent, in certain contexts. When markets are applied to other purposes, or are allowed to go beyond their proper extent, or are applied to wrong contexts, they cause havoc and destruction.

Or, to put it another way, markets are like fire: a good servant, but a bad master. The state’s function is, in part, to be a fire-guard and fire-extinguisher. If we forget that, then instead of being nice and warm we’ll burn the whole house down.

And that, basically, is what happened 1979-2008.

Draft Constitution for the Commonwealth of England

The broad left in the United Kingdom, north and south of the border, is caught between three conversations. One conversation is about tackling poverty, rolling back the power of the corporate and financial oligarchies that now seem to dominate both policy-making and public discourse, reducing economic inequality, and opposing austerity. This conversation focuses on bread-and-butter issues: banking regulation and housing costs, environmental protection and wages, working conditions and public services, schools and hospitals, library closures and council redundancies. This conversation is championed by the Corbynite wing of the Labour Party, as well as by groups such as UK Uncut, the New Economics Foundation and others, who seek – while rejecting the dull collectivism of 20th century socialism – to promote a more humane and communitarian vision of society, in which we each help secure the economic well-being of all our fellow-citizens by the pooling of risks and the sharing of rewards.

The second conversation is about democracy and participation, accountability and transparency, corruption and privilege. This conversation focuses on the structures and processes of government, and on the relationship between the state and the citizen. Its concerns are electoral reform and referendums, localism and civil liberties, privy councils and legal aid. This conversation comes most easily to the Liberal Democrat wing of the broad left (what remains of it), the Greens, the Electoral Reform Society, Liberty, and the sort of people who – like me – remember Charter 88 with a certain degree of fondness.

The third conversation is about the future of the UK and its place in the world. Should England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain unequally yoked together in this lopsided Union? Should we be moving towards ‘home rule all round’, with a view to creating a ‘loosely united’ kingdom? Or should the United Kingdom be brought quietly and gently to its natural end, so that each of its constituent countries can take their place as free, equal and friendly neighbours? Should we – whoever ‘we’ are – be in or out of the European Union? Should we retain the power to nuke all of human civilisation out of existence? Or is it better just to concentrate our efforts on neo-colonial wars in far-off sandy places with plenty of oil? This conversation divides people who might find themselves on the same side in the first two conversations. People who agree on opposition to austerity may be bitter enemies over the future of the United Kingdom, on leaving or remaining in the EU, or on replacing Trident.

Despite the efforts of some to keep these three conversations separate, and thereby to maintain the boundaries of party tribalism, my contention is that they are inextricably interlaced. There is a clear and unavoidable connection between the core nature and identity of the state, its form of government, and the type of policies it will tend to pursue. A war-forged dynastic imperial state, which exists only as the remnant of a once-mighty empire, will tend towards a closed, oligarchic and increasingly paranoid form of government, and will pursue policies that favour the maintenance of existing hierarchies of wealth and privilege; being founded in conquest and in the subjugation of the peasantry, it will be bellicose towards others and remorseless in the harrying of its own poor citizens. On the other hand, a nation-state that is born of peace and compact, is founded upon common-right and justice, and is constituted on civic, democratic, principles, will usually pursue policies that promote the common good.

This interlacing of the conversations, and this intimate connection between the identity of the state, its form of government, and the policies to be pursued, was most clearly expressed in the Scottish independence referendum. The Yes alliance that arose during the referendum campaign started to connect the dots. The SNP, the Yes Campaign, the Radical Independence Campaign, the Scottish Green Party, Labour for Independence, Nordic Horizons, National Collective, Women for Independence, and Common Weal, all recognised that state-identity, constitution and policy were closely connected. These organisations appreciated that the constitution and structures of the state determine who has power, how they handle that power, to whom they are accountable, and, therefore, how the state will respond, in policy terms, to people’s needs. The unjust, short­sighted, elitist, London­centric policy outcomes of the UK were deemed by the supporters of independence to be an inevitable product of its ramshackle and oligarchic political structure.

Independence, to its advocates, was seen as a way of changing not only the locus, but also the nature, of government, through the creation of a new state built on a democratic constitutional basis. This is why the SNP made a commitment to a written constitution for Scotland such an integral part of the independence campaign. What was on offer was not just the rejection of rule from Westminster, but a more fundamental reassessment of the Westminster way of ruling. The imperial, dynastic, oligarchic, warlike British state would be replaced by a peaceful, democratic, rights-respecting Scottish state. From this change in inner nature, a change in external behaviour – in terms of policy processes and outcomes – would follow.

In England, breaking away from the UK and creating a new state has hardly seemed like a viable option. Instead, all the effort is focused on who will be the next Prime Minister. But those who expect the UK to start delivering progressive policies, if only there were a new Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street, are expecting a bad tree to bring forth good fruit: they are expecting an oligarchic system to behave and to deliver like a good democracy should. But that cannot and will not happen. Oligarchy does as oligarchy is: it brings forth rotten policies and rotten behaviour from its rotten nature. To enjoy good fruit, in policy terms, we do not need a new government, but a new state: not another rotten fruit from the same corrupt tree, but a new tree.

The year 2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, an event of great historical significance in England. The ruling establishment have attempted to use this anniversary as a way of showing that all is rosy in the garden, and has been for a very long time. Rather than smug congratulation, the people of England should use this anniversary as an opportunity for deep introspection. Why is it that the UK is celebrating an 800­year­old royal charter, and not – say – the sixtieth anniversary of a decent democratic Constitution? What have we achieved since the middle ages, in the sphere of constitutional advancement? What guarantees does the citizen now have, against the abuse of power, corruption, and other forms of misrule? If the people of England would think on these questions, and reflect on the very inadequate answers that the establishment gives, then they should come to the conclusion that they, like the Scots, are ill-served by the institutions of the UK as currently constituted.

A progressive and democratic English national movement against the establishment is the one thing that can bring the rotten tree down. England’s best hope – and the best hope for the left in England – is to reject the British imperialism that is institutionally embodied in the UK, and to search instead for a new, democratic, post-imperial, sense of English identity. If the English left could be induced to give up its misplaced loyalty to the institutions of the UK, and if it could join together its three disparate conversations, such that bread-and-butter issues and constitutional issues are treated in a holistic way, then there would be a chance for a democratic revival across these islands.

A civic English nationalism would reject the imperialist superiority of British nationalism, as well as the all xenophobia, chauvinism and racism that has in the past been associated with it. Instead, it would embrace an inclusive political community united by democratic values and by a sense of decency and the common good. It would not even require abandoning a residual notion of Britishness, understood in a cultural and geographical rather than political sense. As independent countries, England and Scotland (and Wales, even Northern Ireland, and maybe Cornwall too if they so wish) would continue to share a common physical space and would continue to be closely connected by social, historical and economic ties. It is simply that that connection would no longer be based on domination and dynastic loyalties, but instead on the equality of peoples, friendship, mutual respect, genuine democracy, and co-operation.

The first shoots of such an ‘English spring’ can be detected in the resurgence of interest amongst parts of the English left in the radical democratic constitutionalist movements of the Civil War era. Beneath the last three centuries of Britishness, pomp, capitalism and empire, lies another England – an England in which the claims of prelates and princes are drowned out by the folkish prayers of the Lollards and the steely pikes of the Levellers fighting for the ‘Good Old Cause’.

It is closer today than it’s ever been since 1649, when the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords brought England to the brink of throwing off the Norman Yoke. But the events of 1649, while providing inspiration, also offer a salutary warning. Sadly, the written Constitution which would have made the Commonwealth (republic) of England last – the ‘Agreement of the People’ – was not adopted, and the rest is the history of reaction by the landowning classes. The lesson learned from 1649, and all other revolutions, is this: it is not enough to ding down Babylonian and Pharoanic monarchies, you also have to build up sound republican institutions that will establish and preserve a free and civic way of life. Cut down the old tree, by all means, but make sure that there is a new one, firmly planted by the waters.

With that in mind, I’ve drafted a democratic republican constitution for England. The draft is based on what might be described as ‘neo-Leveller’ principles. It envisions a democratic, socially just, peaceful and equalitarian England, in contrast to the oligarchic, privileged, militaristic and hierarchical United Kingdom. It sets out to imagine what a reconstituted England might look like, were the Norman Yoke at last to be cast off, and the barons of the City, Oligarchy, and the Establishment, reduced from their mighty stations. In short, it conceives of a ‘new England’: no longer the last remnant of a dying and increasingly dysfunctional empire, but now the home of a flourishing, free and thriving republic.

The basic features of the draft Constitution are as follows:

(1) It is a written, codified and entrenched constitution, which proclaims itself a supreme law, is judicially enforceable, and can be amended only be a special process (requiring in most cases a referendum).

(2) It would vest sovereignty in the people, as the source and ultimate controller of all powers.

(3) It envisages England as a ‘Commonwealth’ (republic) with an indirectly elected figurehead president as Head of State.

(4) It would establish a unicameral Parliament, elected by proportional representation for four year terms.

(5) It would enshrine European Convention rights as justiciable fundamental rights.

(6) It would also proclaim a range of social and economic rights which, although not directly judicially enforceable, would be politically binding on the Government.

(7) It would allow members of the public to recall their members of Parliament.

(8) It would make provision for the optional use of electoral quotas to promote gender parity and to ensure the inclusion of marginalised sections of society in Parliament.

(9) It would limit the Prime Minister to a maximum of two (four-year) terms of office.

(10) It would enable the people to repeal legislation by means of abrogative referendums.

(11) It would establish a novel system of participatory democracy designed to empower citizens through deliberative ‘People’s Assemblies’. These would enable panels of citizens, selected annually by lot, to discuss public affairs and to hold their elected representatives to account.

(12) It would relocate the capital to the North of England as part of a plan to redistribute the power geographically as well as between the classes.

(13) It would abolish the City of London Corporation.

(14) It would place constitutional restraints on the use of military force.

(15) It would provide for the disestablishment of the Church of England.

Some of these provisions are very standard – the usual stuff of contemporary constitution-making; a few, such as the institution of randomly selected People’s Assemblies, are novel.

It should be noted, finally, that this draft Constitution is presented simply as a spur for debate. It is offered merely as an illustrative example, and certainly not as a prescription. Most people in England, even those who would quite like a written constitution, have never actually seen a constitution, and have little idea what one looks like. In my experience, presenting a draft text, even if it is a somewhat hypothetical one, helps to clarify the debate, turning abstract notions into specific constitutional terms that can then be constructively argued over. Having thrown this text out for debate, it is up to the commons of England, whose country is still in the hands of the descendants of a conqueror, and whose sovereignty is as yet unvoiced, to make of it and do with it what they will.

constitution-of-the-commonwealth-of-england4_WEB(<– Downloads .pfd – distributed on a Creative Commons basis; I retain the copyright, but you can use it and share it for non-commercial purposes with attribution. Thanks.)

Magic Kingdom

If you haven’t read ‘The Magic Kingdom: Property, Monarchy and the Maximum Republic’ by Dan Hinds, get a copy and read it.

Dan Hinds is possibly the first English writer since Tom Paine to frankly expose how the British Oligarchy works, and how the monarchy, Parliament, the City, the BBC, the security apparatus, and the elite schools all sustain the same corrupt, parasitic, class of financial oligarchs – and why the lack of a proper Constitution is at the heart of it.

This is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read on the state of contemporary British politics. It is short, accessible and passionate. It also shows how the civic republican traditional of thought can provide both a damning critique of existing institutions and a potential way ahead.

He also – rarely, for a London-based writer – understands Scottish independence and what we were trying to achieve in the foundation of a new state.

Seriously, read this book.

Babylon is Fallen

A splendid rendition of one of my favourite songs:

 

‘Babylon’ represents the imperial systems of the world – systems of politics and economics that rely on violence and deceit, that deny the common good, that diminish life, and that treat people in an exploitative, dehumanising way. Like the current empires, Babylon is outwardly golden, but rotten to the core; rich, but drenched in poverty and squalor; powerful in terms of military and commercial might, but weak in legitimacy.

The image of the fall of Babylon references the historical liberation of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. It is a story of return, of coming home, of restoration. Yet it also looks forward in hopeful expectation, to a coming day when the ‘Babylonian’ systems of our own time and place will fall, when alienation and exploitation will end, and when peace, justice and freedom will prevail.

 

 

Should emergency foodbanks receive public funding?

In a fairer, more just society, there would be little or no need for foodbanks, because the social security system (coupled with an active policy of full employment, through Keynesian demand management, state investment in industry etc.) would provide everyone with an adequate income to meet their needs.

However, the reality at present is that we are stuck with a neo-liberal economic system that thrives on insecure, low-wage employment, and a begrudging and punitive welfare system that relies on social stigma and a harsh and absurd system of ‘sanctions’. This causes real hardship for those who fall through the ever-widening cracks. Foodbanks play a much-needed role in keeping wolves from doors.

However, foodbanks are instruments of private charity. They exist only where there are volunteers, and resources, to support them. Some are struggling to meet demand. The private charity on which existing foodbanks are dependent goes a long way, but simply not far enough. Some foobanks do receive public funding. It is estimated that local authorities across the UK have spent about 3 million pounds on support to foodbanks over the past two years. However, this support is variable, sporadic, and patchy. I do not have figures for Scotland, but two-thirds of Councils in England & Wales provide no support at all – and they have no legal obligation to do so [source]. Given this reality, it seems obvious that the current surge in poverty demands – in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity – a more extensive and coordinated response, backed by a stronger commitment of public money.

The Scottish Government has already committed to providing free school meals for primary-age children: a step that could help to reduce the instances of child malnutrition. But perhaps it would also be a good idea (if only as an interim measure, pending more systemic reform of the social security system) for the Scottish Government to provide direct financial support for foodbanks. Should there be a Foodbank Access Act that would require local authorities to assess the need for foodbanks and to provide funds to support their establishment or expansion in areas where those needs are not being adequately met?

Alternatively, should the Scottish Government adopt a Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (‘food stamp’) system, whereby local authorities would be obliged to provide families in poverty with vouchers, redeemable in local supermarkets, shops and markets, for the purchase of food and essential toiletries? This would extend the effective purchasing power of our poorest fellow-citizens, such that they don’t have to routinely rely on foodbanks (leaving voluntary foodbanks to deal only with the most pressing emergency cases).

These are questions for discussion. I am aware of cost constraints, especially in light of the Scottish Parliament’s inability to control its own sources of finance. I have no clear answers. I’m just trying to think open-endedly and pragmatically about how the Scottish Government could more effectively work with and alongside the charitable sector to meet immediate needs.

Starting our first works over.

We are now, after 30+ years of basically unquestioned neo-liberal doctrine, having to re-learn a lot of things that were widely understood in the early and mid twentieth century:

(1) If you want a good society, where most people enjoy the capacity for a healthy, flourishing life, you cannot base that on a system of selfish greed that enriches the few and enslaves and degrades the many.

(2) The market has a place, but it’s place must be limited by a system of law and regulation that reflects public ethics and protects workers and consumers.

(3) Freedom is not achieved by unrestrained competition amongst people with vastly unequal bargaining power, and so trade unions and collective labour agreements have an active role in protecting those in weak positions from abuse.

(4) There are some public services that are good for overall prosperity and well-being, which should be paid for out of general taxation and should be rationed according to need, not price.

(5) A healthy democracy requires a broad equality of wealth, otherwise it degenerates into oligarchy.

(6) The rich should pay more tax than the middle class, and the middle class should pay more than the poor.

(7) People have families. They need some economic stability. Short term or zero hours contracts are not good.

(8) People also need time off and reasonable working hours. A good life involves a balance of work, rest and play. The eight hour day, the weekend,  paid holiday: all brought to you by the combination of social democracy and trade unions.

(9) If you want people to be healthy, they need safe, dry, warm, affordable houses, preferably with a garden.

(10) Risks such as illness and unemployment can befall – and ruin – anyone, and it makes sense to pool these risks on a mutual and reciprocal basis, and it makes sense to use the state to facilitate that risk pooling.

During the last few decades, these propositions have been perceived as more-or-less ‘leftist’ statements, which most politicians dare not utter. But if you go back a little bit further, to the world before 1979, they would have been commonplace notions, which were widely accepted by all but the most extreme and reactionary conservatives.

The challenge for the left today, as I see it, is not to shout at the fringes, but to occupy and reclaim the centre – to drag the whole political spectrum back into a sane place.

How to oppose a budget

This speech was delivered by an opposition parliamentarian, quite recently, in the context of a budget debate. I will not tell you which country. The fascinating, perhaps worrying, thing is that it is such a familiar tale – it could have come from almost anywhere:

It is a great misfortune in our country that 98% of the masses are held hostage by 2% of the ruling elite. The feudal, intellectuals, industrialists, senior bureaucrats, business tycoons – along with the land and money  barons – which  constitute  this  dreaded  to  2%  have  held  the  poor, meek,  humble,  oppressed  and  suppressed  98%  of  the  populace  hostage […].

All budgets in the past have therefore represented the privileged 2%  population and this one is no exception. They have always been feudal, industrial,  multinational bankers  and  business  oriented.  In spite  of  having  a  brilliant  financial  vision [….],  the  honourable  Finance  Minister , a  dream  team at the  helm  of  affairs,  a  heavy  mandate  and  ample  opportunity  the Government has  miserably failed to provide a budget that offers  any relief whatsoever to the poor or the middle class of the country.

It seems to be the Government found it impossible to break this strangle hold of the powerful ruling elite and the bureaucrats; it can only be claimed to be a budget  of the elite,  by the elite and for the elite, and it will only make the rich richer, and the poor poorer.

Mr. Chairman! cries of anguish can be heard  at  the length and breadth of this fair  land of ours, while inflation marches relentlessly on and the people are desperately attempting to manage the personal budgets an  apparently  wild  and  apparently  merciless  Government  demands  more from the people than they have to give. How are the poor and the humble masses  suppose  to  manage  when  prices  are  not  controlled,  subsidies  are removed on consumer items and tariff on utilities used  by the poor are so harshly and heartlessly raised.

Environmentalism 101: Destroying the planet is bad

I might come across as a wee clueless here, but what is the point of the elite in continuing to scar, damage and destroy our environment in order that that small group of people can continue to hoard their millions? Surely, there will come a point when they will be living in some gated community, surrounded by emblems of wealth, staring out to the remains of a barren, scorched and smouldering planet. Does not seem like a lot of fun.

 

This is from Angela Constance MSP (SNP, Almond Valley):


The right to plunder the land beneath the homes of millions of Scots is being sold to the highest bidder by Westminster where the power over such matters is greedily retained. It is a democratic outrage. And Westminster politicians wonder why they aren’t trusted.

What is the justification for fracking? Energy security they say. Well the last time I looked, Scotland’s energy supply was looking pretty secure to me.

Our oil, which was allegedly running out prior to the Referendum, will last for decades based on recently reported discoveries – and there is plenty more waiting to be found in our Atlantic waters. Then there is the oil that was found years ago in the Clyde basin but which Westminster says can’t be recovered because it might risk Trident operations.

So, at the same time as proposing that fracking could be carried out beneath your house without your consent or knowledge, Westminster is telling us that the oil that lies beneath the operating routes of nuclear submarines is off limits. That tells you all you need to know about where you lie in Westminster’s priorities.

The case for fracking is already looking pretty flimsy and I haven’t even mentioned our second energy lottery jackpot – renewables. We’re already generating a large proportion of our energy through hydro and wind based systems and we are only scratching the surface of the potential offered by solar, wave and tidal sources.

It is telling that Germany, already committed to phasing out nuclear power within a decade and with only a fraction of our oil resources, currently has a moratorium on fracking in place and is considering an outright ban.

But there’s more. The evidence from the USA and elsewhere demonstrates that fracking poses a great pollution risk to that most precious natural resource of all; our water. Of course it is argued that everything will be regulated but, the world over, the record of regulation to protect the environment is far from comforting. And once that water table is polluted, all bets are off. We’re not just going to stop drinking water, right?

Some cite jobs as a justification. Jobs will be created all right but they will be akin to those of the navvies that built our canals years ago. They will come, they will dig and when their work is done they will go. Some local businesses will benefit temporarily but, in the long run, all that will be left behind is a hole in the ground and the hope that our health has not been sold as part of the bargain.

Fracking is not needed in Scotland. Fracking risks ruining our water supply. Fracking will have no lasting economic value to the communities that suffer it. And Scotland, clearly, does not want fracking. But we’re getting it because Westminster says so. If you are starting to feel a little exploited, I don’t blame you.

I believe that this will be a touchstone issue at the coming General Election. No sooner was the Referendum over than Westminster announced plans to remove homeowners rights to object to fracking beneath their property. I don’t recall that being included in ‘the Vow’.

So, if anyone wondered what Alasdair Darling meant by sharing risk and reward, now they know. We get all the risks and someone else reaps the rewards. I don’t think that is what the people of Scotland voted for in September and they will make that clear in May next year.

© 2014 Angela Constance for Deputy

Why I am not a conservative

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In many ways, I am a ‘small-c’ conservative. I am fairly skeptical of utopian social engineering. I recognise the importance to human well-being of rootedness, tradition, locality, family and (to many) faith. I believe that history and culture must be valued and recognised, not ignored (or, at the other extreme, idolised), and that the traditional social fabric and social morality have an important role in sustaining the good life. I have a mostly Aristotelian and organic view of society, that opposes with equal vigour both the centralism associated with certain forms of socialism, and the atomistic rational-egoist individualism of liberalism.

I’m quite culturally and aesthetically conservative too, with a penchant for real ale, folk and sacred music, gothic architecture, and old books. I’m somewhat (although not completely) suspicious of new technologies, and I’d rate an Amish craftsman, who can make things with his hands, above the likes of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs any day. I’m a bit of an amateur medievalist and I reject the pervasive modernism that thinks the past is to be forgotten rather than learned from.

But none of this makes be a Conservative (in the sense that is now meant) politically and economically. Conservatism of the sort peddled since the Thatcher era is utterly corrosive of the good society. It is nothing more than doctrinaire neo-liberalism put into the service of a rapacious, selfish, greedy oligarchy. Nothing destroys society faster, or is more harmful to the good life, than that.

If we had a moderate, centrist Christian Democratic party – one that embraced the major aspects of Christian Social Teaching within the framework of a mixed, regulated, social-market economy, and that took seriously its duties of full employment, social justice, subsidiarity, environmental stewardship, and peace – then I wouldn’t need to be such a ‘raving lefty’. I’m only on the left because the political spectrum has veered so far to the neo-liberal oligarchic and imperialist right.

Likewise, I wouldn’t need to be such a red-bonnetted ‘Tom Paine’, if only we had a decent written constitution (broadly comparable to the constitutions of most other Northern European countries). Such a constitution, founded upon ‘common right and freedom’, would enable our country and our communities to democratically manage themselves for the common good, while protecting the rights that are essential to an open society and to human dignity.

Unfortunately, however, we are not in that position. We are stuck with a grossly oligarchic political and economic system, which, according to its corrupt nature, has no regard for social justice, democracy, or the environment, and which uses its hegemonic power to maintain itself for the benefit of a rich and privileged few. I cannot be content or complacent to live in a society where the lives of so many are scarred by inequality, exclusion, poverty and insecurity.

So, in opposing that oligarchy, I am compelled (in my own small-c conservative, warm beer, village green way) to take my stand on the left. This is not, however, the ineffective ‘Guardianista‘ left of individualist, bourgeois liberalism, with its petty symbolic obsessions, its hotch-potch philosophy of Hobbes and Bentham, and its self-defeating mantra of ‘more choice’. We’ve been there and seen that doesn’t get us anywhere. Although most of those Guardianistas would probably regard me as socially conservative and maybe a bit of a traditionalist dinosaur (I don’t even like much modern art), what I have in mind is much more radical than anything they can imagine.

The left I embrace is a Christian left, perhaps even an ‘Aristotelian-Thomist’ left: a type of left-wing radical politics that says ‘there is such as thing as society’, there is such a thing as the common good, and there is such a thing as ‘righteousness’ in economic life and in politics. It is that righteousness for which I hunger and thirst. Achieving that righteousness embraces political action through democratic means (works of justice) with social action (works of charity), and roots both in a community through which faith, hope and love are sustained. That’s my vision.

(Vive le révolution! Aux barricades, citoyens! And all that.)