I want to share with you an exchange I had with a faraway friend. It seems to say a lot about what’s wrong in the world – and a bit about what’s right too.
You may remember Jamie Allen, if you saw the BBC series A Country Parish back in 2003. He was the vicar whose daily life and work the programme revolved around. Since then he’s emigrated to New Zealand, where he was dean of Taranaki cathedral and is now an advocate for poverty relief charity Tearfund. Having built himself and his family a wonderful-looking home he then sold it to help pay for a suicide-prevention project. It’s fair to say he’s one of the good guys.
Jamie wrote: “Some days I find that the ache for the sheer scale of social injustice and the extreme rich/extreme poor divide is almost unbearable. There is a temptation to close your eyes to it and be swept along. The conversations and progress seem constantly, of late, to have been derailed by political machinations too ridiculous and self-serving for belief.”
Well said, that man.
As a good Christian, he was promoting something called The Justice Conference in Auckland. The flyer for the conference reads: “Now, more than ever, people of faith need to come together to wrestle with the injustice in our world.”
Take out the words “of faith” and that remains true. In fact, it becomes truer.
I know only too well that ache Jamie speaks of. Revulsion at the rich/poor divide and the way power works to widen it is a very real, very familiar sensation.
It is by no means exclusive to “people of faith”. And I’m sure it’s not universal among them, either, whatever faith they may proclaim.
I’m glad to see people – any people – standing up against injustice. I’m less thrilled when any group appears to claim special status in that cause. Whether they are people of faith generally, or any particular creed – or none.
Decency and humanity are not the special preserve of any one club or tribe, religious or otherwise.
Jamie, I know, would say “amen” to that.
Hard Brexit, soft Brexit - or no Brexit at all?
Am I reading the runes right or am I just imagining that the chances of Britain actually pulling out of Europe are declining fast? This may be wishful thinking, but there are a number of reasons for it.
One is the brilliant manoeuvring north of the border. When it comes to playing the politics game, the SNP leaves every party at Westminster flat-footed.
If the UK leaves the EU, Scotland will leave the UK. This, obviously, is not certain – but it’s much more than an idle threat. And, from a Scots perspective, it would be only right and proper.
So we have the real prospect of Scotland prospering in the EU while its neighbour to the south dives down the economic plughole. A prospect that should concentrate a few minds.
Then there’s the suggestion that Scottish universities should let EU students study free. Which might leave English students at Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews mired in debt, surrounded by Scots and other Europeans with no such burden to bear. You have to admit, it’s brilliant.
Last week’s Economist – hardly the most anti-Establishment publication – gave a detailed breakdown of how public opinion has swung away from Brexit since the referendum.
And, let’s remember, only 27 per cent of potential voters actually voted Leave then. Just a few more than the 24pc who voted Conservative last year (although a lot more than the precisely nil who voted for Theresa May to be prime minister).
Some leading Brexiteers have called for anyone still expressing support for remaining in Europe to be charged with treason. Which is so hysterical it can only stem from fear. Fear of not getting their own way, like kids in the playground.
But the biggest remaining hope for the Remain camp lies with Parliament. A majority of MPs always did back that side. And if “bringing democracy back to Britain” means anything, it surely means letting our elected representatives do what they were elected to do. Decide stuff, so we don’t have to.
Because – in theory, anyway – they know more than the rest of us do about the big things. Things like Europe, what we can get out of it – and whether we should.
Very little about Brexit is certain, but some things are. It’s a mess that will run and run. And while it may sometimes be amusing, it will never be pretty.
It will continue to be a massive distraction from things that really matter, like climate change, the wanton destruction of public services, the rampant enrichment of the rich at the expense of the poor, a crazily cock-eyed energy policy and its unconfessed links to nuclear weapons – none of which is likely to handled better out of Europe than in it.