Dissenting Radical

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

Socialist, Dovish, Liberal, Progressive

Socialist Dovish Liberal Progressive

Anyone surprised by this result?

Echoes of a past life

“As some of you will already know, I have decided to leave the Navy. There are various reasons for this decision, not least the fact that I’m fed up with living in a submarine. A life of heat, grime, sea-sickness, no sleep, and no showers, is simply not for me anymore. Besides, I joined the Navy to keep the West free, because I believe that freedom is a great and glorious thing which is worth fighting for. But the threats to freedom have changed, and I am no longer convinced that our free and civic way of life can be preserved by warships and submarines: we need to re-establish the value and primacy of freedom, enlarge our understanding of it, and not let this “war on terrorism” destroy the civil liberties that have made Western civilisation what it is. This was always my mission, and the mission remains unchanged. The only thing that differs is the method. No more militarism. Now I must shift my attentions to winning the intellectual, moral and ideological battle. That is why I have decided to do a PhD in Civic Republican Political Theory and become a politics lecturer. I will research, teach and write, and so leave a lasting testimony to liberty that might (perhaps) inspire reforms.” <– Me, in an email to a friend, 2005. 

The plan sort of worked out.

On Pubs and Bars

A pub is somewhere you should feel comfortable to spend the whole day and even take children during earlier hours. It should be a cosy place, decorated in a friendly and welcoming manner. There should be games available such as pool, darts and a quiz machine. The better ones will even have dominoes, chess and backgammon sets behind the bar. There ought to be a jukebox around with the entire Led Zeppelin discography or at least get the lads to bring their guitars and fiddles and we’ll kick up a tune ourselves. If you’re there at lunchtime hours expect pies, fish & chips and a half-decent tikka masala to be available. If the pub takes even the least amount of pride in what they do there will be a good choice of real ales served at cellar temperature as these actually taste of something unlike near-frozen mass-produced lagers. 

A bar, on the other hand, is a truly dreadful place. Tastelessly decked out in chrome, pine and mood-lighting, this hell-hole is full of wankers from the City getting shitfaced on shite like Bud and Kronenburg whilst listening to god-awful repetitive pop music at near deafing volumes.


What might have been…

Since everyone is looking back to the 1980s (Theresa May being the retro-Thatcher revival and all that), I’m somewhat lamenting the fact that the UK didn’t get a SDP-Liberal Alliance government in 1983. Maybe it was never very likely, but that was the closest the UK came in its post-war history to breaking the two party duopoly.

It could have set us off on a different course: the selfish amoralism of the market could have been corrected and restrained by an old fashioned Non-Conformist social conscience; necessary industrial restructuring could have been carried out in a less blind, brutal and doctrinaire way, with more emphasis on the needs of communities in industrial areas; the inevitable inequalities of capitalism could have been more intelligently mitigated and ameliorated by a decent welfare system; our political institutions could have been fundamentally reformed, to build a modern, constitutional, proportional and federal democracy. We could have achieved a more balanced, moderate, harmonious and humane relationship between the government and the citizen, the market and the community, the city and the unions, the north and the south, the present and the future.

I’m not saying these things would have happened, but the SDP-Liberal Alliance had a lot of good ideas, at the right time; they might, if they’d been elected, and been true to their word (big ‘ifs’), made a difference. They might have made the UK not only salvageable, but worth saving. But that didn’t happen. We are where we are. And I think the chance of reform has passed. The UK cannot be saved and is not worth saving, because it has lost the ability to change itself within its existing framework. The change must come from new states.

Reclaiming the centre

It’s a strange world. I am against nuclear weapons destroying the planet, and against fracking poisoning the water supply and causing earthquakes, and against wars that kill people in faraway places for not much of an apparent reason, and against economic policies that allow a handful of rich investors to rake in grotesque profits while ordinary working people suffer declining wages and loss of job security, and against torturing people, and against treating unemployed people or the sick and the old as if they were less than fully human – and somehow, for reasons I do not understand, this makes me the radical lefty. This shouldn’t make me a lefty. This should be normal ethical baselines of civilised interaction.

On this day: 4 April

4 April 2016:

“Countries are like fish: they rot from the head downwards. They are also like barrels: all the bad apples float to the top. If only getting rid of this corrupt oligarchy were as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.”

4 April 2015:

“The British state is seeking to appear on the surface to agree to give Scots a free and democratic choice, while using every dirty trick to subvert that choice. Those tricks range from complete control of state and corporate media to the darker arts of the security services.”

4 April 2013: 

“Peckish. Went to kitchen, maybe to get a banana, or a bowl of cereal, or something like that. Discover, at the back of the fridge, some chicken that needs eating soon or will go to waste. Hmm. Chicken. Chilli, check. Peppers, check. Onions, check. Soft tortillas, check. Spices, check. Lime, holy-molly, check, there’s even a single, forlorn, lime hiding there. Right, that settles it. Midnight chicken fajitas it is.”

4 April 2010:

“I am to banjo playing what John Daker is to singing. Two hours of finger-ripping and deep concentration it still sounds like I’m throwing the banjo downstairs rather than playing it! There are semi-literate hill people in Georgia who have mastered this.”

Municipal Socialism and Social Democracy

This is a very encouraging article. My only criticism is that it seems to place Municipal Socialism and Social Democracy in opposition to one another, whereas I don’t think they need necessarily be. Municipal Socialism is the common ownership of services and resources by democratic local public bodies that hold them and manage them in trust for the people. Social Democracy is the mitigation of market inequalities, primarily through forms of public social insurance and transfer payments. To me, the two seem to complement each other quite naturally – perhaps even necessarily.


From the Presbytery of Lanark to the Parliament of Scotland, 1706:

“As ministers, Scotsmen, and subjects of this free and independent kingdom, we cannot but wish and pray that our civil government may be rectified as to the execution of good laws without being dissolved; our monarchy may be regulated and limited, without being suppressed; our Parliament may be secured from English influence, without being extinguished; and the just rights and liberties of the Nation … may be asserted, without being resigned in bulk, to the will and disposal of a British parliament, who are strangers to our constitution.”

Goodbye to old boots


This weekend I said goodbye to my old boots.

These were the boots I wore in Iraq. They are ventilated with breathable canvas panels which makes them comfortable in the heat (although completely unsuited to wet climates). I found them much better than the issue ‘Desert Boots’.

Anyway, they’ve been living on a shelf for more than a decade now, and I wouldn’t wear them again (although they have plenty of wear left in them), so my wife suggested that I might get rid of them. I agreed, but I was ill prepared for the emotional response of actually seeing them packed in a box to go to the charity shop. It’s one thing to say ‘yes, they can go’, another to actually see them go.

It felt like part of me, part of my past, my story, was being ripped away, leaving a very raw wound. I have so few connections now to that part of me. It was an important part, a formative part, of my life – even if it was one that I had to put behind me. I invaded a country in these boots. I got shot at in these boots. I was complicit in great evil in these boots. I put a gun to a man’s head in these boots with my finger on the trigger (he surrendered). I walked past people being tortured in these boots and didn’t say anything because I thought it was normal and I didn’t know what to say or who to tell. I almost put the same gun to my own head in these boots. And it’s hard just to let all that go.

Today is the first day in about three years when I’ve had a serious PTSD attack. I thought I was over it. But that same crushing nausea and self-loathing that I used to know so well came rushing back to me. Barely made it to work. I’m sitting here numb, just rambling about these old boots.

I don’t want sympathy or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes a pair of old boots is more than just a pair of old boots. Sometimes, those old boots represent something that’s hard to carry and even harder to put down. And sometimes its easier to express these things in writing than to actually say them.

Clinging Desperately to Hope

Today I am clinging desperately to hope. I watch what the Tories are doing, what the bankers are doing, what the US Government and the Russians are, what ISIS is doing, and it nearly overwhelms me. I look at the poverty, ugliness, despair and destruction around us (not just in far-flung places shown on TV, but worryingly close to home as well) and I am tempted to give up hope.

But then I remember Vaclav Havel, “Work not for something because it is likely to be successful, but because it is good”. I keep going because I know it is the right thing to do, even when the future looks so relentlessly bleak.

I cling to hope because, somehow, in ways I cannot quantify and do not begin to understand, I believe that ‘crucifixions’ can be turned into ‘resurrections’. What looks like certain death is not necessarily the end. All things are being made new.

This is all that enables my fragile hope to be kept alive in a world that seems – if we walk by sight and not by faith – so utterly hopeless. We might have lost the garden, but we are stumbling and shuffling our way towards the distant vision of a ‘shining city’, a place where the common good abounds, and where no one hungers because they cannot make a decent living, or dies alone in a squalid bedsit, or suffers from a preventable or curable disease.

That is the highest vocation of humanity, as sentient, morally responsible stewards of the world: to take part in this process of making all things new. To restore the world, to bring healing and peace and love, to realise that the way of war, exploitation and destruction is not the right way. Slowly, creakingly, in the midst of this great and enfolding darkness, we can be little shafts of grace that break in and change things for the better.

My heart aches and breaks today. I am crushed and weeping for humanity. But my belief in hope is sustained when I remember that there are people all over the world, in great ways and small, in political action and charitable deeds, who are doing their best to make life better. 

The Spirit and the Bride say come.