Live, love, lobby: Fighting back against Trump

The atmosphere was not unlike a carnival.  We jostled, we smiled.  We read each other’s signs and laughed out loud.  

It was a great meeting of minds and of witty slogans. One man bearing relevant sections of the US declaration of independence on a giant sandwich board offered his M&Ms to the police.  Across nationalities, ethnicities and religions, across what is sometimes a divide between the police and the people they serve, we shared a joyous moment in history.

Protester at demo
So many witty signs, so little room to show them. This picture from Lauren Jones.

And what a moment.  Children on their first march, standing up for love.  Dormant Vietnam War protesters, now in their 60s, dragging themselves out in the face of illness because they had to do something.  Students, professionals, dogs, the occasional intoxicated lady.   People like me, who hadn’t protested against anything else since our teens, or perhaps ever, and had never made a placard in our lives.

Trump has achieved at least one positive thing: he has galavanised the British people in a way that no issue has in a generation.  Middle England is off its sofas and on the march. We share a collective horror not only that Trump is in power, but that our Prime Minister is literally and metaphorically holding hands with him.

And of course, in a way, she has to.  We can’t afford to cut off the EU and the US at the same time.  Brexit means Trump.  And Trump comes with a free Putin.  The EU, NATO, and even the UN are at risk while Putin and Trump are in power.  This emerging axis of evil is not something we should be anywhere near as a nation.  But Brexit forces us to stay close because we need all the friends we can get.

War in our time

So make no mistake: for all the carnival atmosphere at Downing Street and and at the protests throughout the UK, this is war.
We’re not just fighting a deluded narcissist of a president, runnng the US like a toddler having a permanent tantrum (sorry if that’s unfair to toddlers).

We’re also fighting the deadly strategist Putin; we’re fighting the far-right, empowered and salivating across Europe.  Put in the most basic way, we’re fighting evil.  And neither evil, nor Trump, Putin or the European far-right – including our own UKIP – will lie down without a fight.  Neither of course will the evil Daesh, killing, raping and enslaving on their own vile journey of hatred.

It’s war, and war means casualties.  The truth has already fallen.  “Alternative facts” have become a daily reality, spewed even from the official White House podium. Journalists scramble to sort the “true facts” from the lies, but it’s impossible to correct them all or to ever convince people all of them were lies in the first place.

Counter-productive policies

Amid the surge in lies, lives have already been lost.  The terrible attack on a mosque in Canada is borne of the sort of hatred that Trump’s flawed policies nuture and spread.  I fear more people will have died of Trump before we’re done.  His random ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries is also likely to increase the sort of anger which can lead to radicalisation.

It’s not just unjust and frankly bonkers, it’s counter-productive.  In a bizarre twist, it’s possible Trump’s antics will act as a recruiting sergeant for Remain as well as for Daesh: faced with a choice between Brussels or Washington, Brussels is starting to look a lot more attractive.

Even as we gathered in our carnival atmosphere, families who should have been together in the US were continents apart, and families in Quebec as well as Syria were grieving.  Hatred tears people apart and takes lives.
But what last night’s protests have showed (apart from the fantastic power of social media  and the awesome commitment of the organisers) is that many ordinary people are not going to lie down without a fight.

I’m not currently proud of my nation for cosying up to an emerging  tyrant, but am enormously proud of some of its people.  How do we resist what’s happening on the international stage? We live, love and lobby.  And, to paraphrase Thatcher, who for all her faults would have given Trump a bloody good handbagging: “We march on, we march to win.”

In memoriam: Cohen, democracy and decency

Who would have thought there would be a week in which the death of Leonard Cohen was not the saddest thing to have happened to the world.

But round about the same time that Cohen was presenting his broken body and broken hallelujah to the Lord of Song, a hate-spewing sexual assaulter was being shown into his new office in the White House.

The world had lost a man of the beauty, depth, grace and spirituality of Cohen and gained a President-Elect Trump.

Two things are particularly distressing about this revolving-door twist of timing.

The first is the realisation that liberal democracy itself is more under threat than any of us had realised.

A thin black ribbon now links the ballot boxes of the US, UK, the Philippines, Hungary and Russia.

Voters around the world are casting off the shackles of doing the right, decent, thing, and are voting for rabid right-wing ranters.   Call them posher words like populists or demagogues if you prefer, but essentially Trump, Farage, Duterte, Orban and Putin are rabid right-wing ranters.  The spirit of the times is that people are listening to them and voting for them.

Liberal democracy normally relies on self-limiting features like party structures and public decency to weed out the demagogues.  Only that’s not happening any more.  Two Greek words have met in a deadly mash-up, and demagogue-ocracy is born.

This isn’t the first time demagogue-ocracy (OK, mobocracy is shorter) has flourished, and it doesn’t usually end well.  Check out 1930s German electoral history for clarification of this point.

The danger of the appeal of the strongman must never be forgotten.  Neither, as the great Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal pointed out, can we ever allow ourselves to believe that the evil of the Holocaust could not be repeated.  Armistice Day is not just a poignant reminder of past horrors and sacrifice, but a challenge to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The second distressing fact to emerge from Trump’s victory is that he was carried to the White House partly on the shoulders of right-wing evangelical Christians.

In a disturbing logic which seems to place the rights of unborn children above all other considerations, which crosses a line into idolatry of their party (“my party right or wrong”), they seem blind to the hypocricy of choosing a corrupt leader whose campaign was fuelled by hatred, lies and fears, on the single basis that he said he was opposed to abortion.

They’ve strained a gnat, swallowed a camel and elected a monster.   It’s enough to make a Pharisee blush.  It’s good to know that many other courageous Christians are speaking out against this school of thinking – from a theological perspective or a purely personal one.

But it’s extraordinary that the Jewish-born, Zen-Buddhist-leaning Cohen seems to have captured the spirit of Christ more than US Republican Christianity – which merely seems to have captured the spirit of the times.

In one his best-known songs, “Suzanne”, Cohen writes of Jesus as a lonely, broken deity visible only to drowning men.  Other works reverently reference the Sermon on the Mount, the turning of water into wine (always a good miracle in my book), the crucifixion and so on.  I feel he speaks about the Jesus I recognise.

Republican Christians have meanwhile seem to have reverted to an “Old Covenant”, pre-Christ mindset, where God is an avenging, angry, smiting figure, rather than the broken, suffering servant, the God of grace and gentleness we see celebrated by Cohen and of course by the New Testament.

I’m not saying that Cohen would have seen himself as a follower of Christ, but he seems to have had deep love, respect and fascination for him, which seems to be more honouring than the strident, mercy-free message we hear from the evangelical right.

So here’s a hard question.

Is it time to recognise that the Christian Church has its own problem with radicalisation?  No, it’s not usually expressed with weapons and terror.  But the ballot box can do its own damage to the weak, the minorities, the refugees, the vulnerable, gay people and women.  We expect the Muslim community to call out radicalisation, and so should we.

The paradox of the overlap of thinking between extremist Christians and extremist Muslims has been noted before, but shouldn’t be forgotten.  The extremist Muslims have given us jihad and the extremist Christians have helped deliver President Trump.  Heaven help us all.

If they won’t listen to the still small voice of calm, or to Christ’s Beatitudes, maybe they could at least listen to Cohen.  “Democracy is coming to the USA”, he wrote with his usual wry wit, describing himself as “neither left nor right” but pleading for social justice.

“Sail on, sail on,
Oh mighty ship of State.
To the shores of need,
Past the reefs of greed,
Through the Squalls of hate.”

Democracy is sick and demagogue-ocracy is thriving.   The timing of Cohen’s departure was hailed by some as the ultimate comment on Trump’s election victory.  I hope he’s putting in a word for us all with the Lord of Song.  And I hope that if the bad guys are joining forces across national borders, the good guys will do the same.








Brexit: A bluffer’s guide to saving the nation

Amid all the Brexit claim and counter-claim, here’s a single, scary, incontrovertible fact.  That on the day after Britain leaves the EU in 2019 (let’s call it B-Day+1), not a single British firm can tell you the terms on which it will be trading with any other country, anywhere in the world.

No wonder the pound is flinging itself around in a desperate cry for help.  Why would anyone invest in a country that simply doesn’t know its own future?

This B-Day+1 argument runs through issue after issue.  Not a single EU migrant in the UK knows what their status or rights will be on that day.  British migrants abroad, whether working or retired, face the same uncertainty.  Banks and businesses, scientists and students. No-one knows.

Paradoxically,  a parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal would only add to this uncertainty.  If whatever deal Theresa May strikes is rejected by parliament, Britain would leave the EU anyway with no deal.  B-Day+1 in these circumstances would be jolly interesting indeed.

The critical, under-stated fact is that we still have a choice.   We do not have to go down this perilous road.  There is no legal obligation on Theresa May or anyone else, not even parliament, to trigger Article 50.   And certainly not on the basis of a non-binding referendum result fuelled by lies and misinformation.

The referendum was a snapshot of national opinion at a particular moment in history after one of the most mendacious campaigns in British political history, as a friend pointed out the other day.  It should therefore not be enough, on its own, to change the course of British and European history and blight millions of lives.

The government and parliament must act in what they believe are the best interests of the nation – and overwhelmingly they believe our interests lie within the EU.  A free parliamentary vote on whether triggering Article 50 is in the national interest would produce a resounding “no”, based on the known genuine beliefs of MPs.

I once saw an emotional foster parent stand up at a training event to describe how she had finally given into a girl’s repeated desperate pleading to open her Christmas presents early.  She finally relented, believing that doing what the child wanted was appropriate. The child never forgave her.

How much more is it the job of governments, parliaments, even the civil service, to act in the national interest, to hold the line for what is right in the face of pleading and even abuse?

If Brexit was a purchase, we’d legally be allowed a cooling-off period.  How much more do we need a national cooling-off period to avert economic mayhem and the death of the British values most of us grew up with.  Purchasing “freedom” from Brussels will come at a tremendous cost, to be disproportionately borne by the very people who were the most likely to vote for it: the poor, elderly and disadvantaged.  There’s never been a better example of the need to be careful what you wish for.

But more to the point, the threat to Britain is not Brussels, and never was.  It’s the poisonous far-right message of UKIP, which has seeped into everyday thinking and the political mainstream, its toxic spores carried by newspapers which ought to know better.

So what can we do to try to bring our politicians to their senses?

  1. Make your point – Write to your MP and simply tell him/her that you do not believe Article 50 should be triggered, and certainly not without a free parliamentary vote.  Ideally, briefly state your reasons: for example that the vote was merely an indicator of national mood on the day; that people had been lied to, manipulated and misled; that some would now vote differently; that the issue was never really suitable for a referendum question; that the overwhelming vote of young people to stay has been swept aside; that the choice of hard or soft Brexit was not offered; that Brexit will further harm British economic and cultural interests; that the surge in hate crimes will only worsen.  Whatever your reasons, state them.
  2. Make a noise – Use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to state your position, to help build up a head of steam. In years to come, if your grandchildren ask if you tried to stop it, at least be able to say you tried. Make clear that you haven’t yet given up on stopping Brexit.
  3. Make the case – Recognise that your responsibility didn’t end at the ballot box. Whether we voted in, out or neither, we’re all impacted by the outcome.  So be prepared to make the case against Brexit and triggering Article 50 with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
  4. Make a stand – Work against the upsurge in hate and hate crimes. Stop buying newspapers that spread hate. Call out racism and hate crimes and recognise that a national mood of hatred towards Eastern Europeans will not stop there: racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are all in the same stable of hate-filled beliefs.

Meanwhile the image of a fully-laden coach headed for disaster is crystallising.

It’s the annual parish outing, with everyone on board the charabanc.  The passengers have been told they’re going to a 1940s theme park, sort of Grantchester meets Warmington-on-Sea, where everyone is white and English and the women wear pinafores.  Some of them are singing on board the bus.  But the demented Sunday school teacher has taken the wheel and is driving straight towards the bridge she knows is broken.

The EU may not be a caravan of love.  It’s badly in need of reform, and we all need to make a noise about that too.  But it sure beats a charabanc heading for s*** creek.  Let’s work together to try to stop it.



Sticks and stones: Trying to stop the Brexit crash

The worst insult that can now be hurled at anyone in Brexit Britain is the shocking assertion that they are a member of the “liberal elite”.  

Well let me raise my “liberal elitist” hand to try to explain why we are not the enemy within, but the people politely, entirely Britishly, trying to head off a catastrophe.

OK before you reach for your Bremoaner and Bremaniac hashtags, your obsessive/anti-democratic/bad losers slurs and your troll hats, let me explain. Here’s the simple analogy.

A coachload of people is driving headlong towards a broken bridge whose entire centre section has fallen away in the dark, into a deep ravine.

We are the people trying to flag the coach down, ‘tis all.

The people on board may have opted to go on the journey, but the tour operators lied about the weather and more to the point, no one told them the bridge was down.  They are hurtling towards the void, unaware, unafraid but basically stuffed.

So as the #Brewarners, we find ourselves sneered at, despised, “damned”*, feared. “Look at those crazy, dangerous, treacherous, arrogant people waving handkerchiefs at us.  Put your foot on the pedal, driver.”

But the biggest untold tragedy of all is that if hard Brexit happens, the impact will not be on the Goves and the Johnsons, the Farages and the Mays, or probably anyone else in the political classes.

The upper classes – Britain’s true elite – will have ways to avoid the harshest impacts of Brexit and will have resources to see them through.  The middle classes will also be cushioned to a certain extent, with their professional skills giving them options for emigrating, self-employment and adjusting lifestyle choices.

Even us “liberal elitists” will probably conjure up creative solutions over our organic muesli and fairtrade coffee.

No, the supreme irony of all this is that the worst impact will be on the socio-economic groups who were most likely to vote to leave – the old, the least qualified and the lowest earners.

No one told them they were the crash dummies on the coach.   They will be the first to be hit by increasing food prices (coming soon to a supermarket near you), by cuts in the tax take which will feed through into increased pressure on social care and welfare budgets – already under attack by this government – and I would suspect by a likely higher rate of early job losses among unskilled workers.

Oh, and the old people needing care who may find a shortage of migrant workers cheerfully filling low-paid, onerous shifts.

So for now the coach speeds on with Theresa May gripping the wheel and various factions on board shouting at her to speed up or slow down.

I and an increasing number of others are shouting at her to stop.  (And here are 10 reasons why I don’t believe this is undemocratic).

If the pound could talk, it would be screaming its own warning.  In its own way, it’s certainly issuing a loud cry for help on the world currency markets.  Mark Carney, the closest we have to a voice of reason, is talking sense from the helm of the Bank of England but even his position is being attacked. Twitter suggests he may even quit in the face of political sniping at his independent decision-making, removing a key stabilising influence.

The impending coach crash is why I’m not ashamed to believe that the results of the referendum – which was, after all, only advisory – should never be enacted.

It’s why I believe Article 50 should not be triggered, and certainly not by a Lone Ranger of a Prime Minister who seems to have interpreted a single-question referendum as a mandate for all sorts of things.  In other countries we’d characterise it as a power grab.  In the UK it’s portrayed as strong leadership.

It’s why I – with millions of others who voted Remain and Leave – will continue trying to flag that coach down until it tips into the precipice.  We owe it to them, to ourselves and to the nation we love to try to stop it happening.

And rest assured that on that day we won’t peer over and gloat.  We’ll be down there trying to pull the poor sodding victims from the wreckage.

Damned we may be, but we owe it to our nation not to go quietly.

*Being damned by the Daily Mail is a badge of honour I shall wear with pride.

Ten reasons why it’s OK to fight Brexit

Article 50 will be triggered by March 2017, says PM Theresa May, setting the UK onto an irreversible journey out of the European Union and into the unknown. Is it undemocratic to want the Brexit vote reversed and the triggering halted? Here are 10 reasons why it’s right to fight.
1. The referendum was non-binding. In a parliamentary democracy, major decisions rest with parliament – where a majority of MPs support Remain. It is not undemocratic to argue for parliamentary democracy to be applied in, well, a parliamentary democracy.
2. The referendum result was based in part on lies, misinformation and misunderstanding. Alongside the voters with a genuine desire to leave at all costs were those who believed in the bus (£350m a week for the NHS); believed you could biff the migrants and keep the single market; believed a dodgy Christian video “proving” from Biblical prophecies that Brussels was evil; believed that Boris Johnson really wanted to leave. And so on.
3. The question was never suitable for a referendum. Given the complexities of the issue and the impossible task of grasping the consequences of an Out vote, this was simply never an appropriate question. If David Cameron had thought for a moment he would lose, he would never have called the referendum. Internal Tory party politics – a proxy war between two old Etonians – have in effect brought down a nation. Talk about Whoops Apocalyse.
4. The Remain campaign was conducted with complacency. The nation sleepwalked into the vote with the Remain camp expecting it would be alright on the night. The debate, for all its moments of passion, was largely played out in a context where the Remain camp was expected to win by all sides – including Johnson and Farage. A galvanised, high-energy debate among friends, neighbours and colleagues, not to mention with a lot more oomph from our political leaders, could have ended differently.
5. The silent Remainers have not been heard. The millions of eligible voters who didn’t turn can largely be assumed to be Remainers, as those with strong Leave desire would have been more motivated to go to the polls. Of course democracy normally only counts those who bother to vote, but sleepwalking into a historic, irreversible change of direction is a different scenario from electing MPs and a government for four or five years. With the polls predicting a Remain win, and the aforementioned complacency, the Silent Remainers had not grasped the critical need to turn out.
6. The Nigel Farage factor. A man of the calibre of Nigel Farage should not be allowed to determine the whole future of the UK. Nuff said.
7. We owe it to our young people, who voted overwhelmingly to remain. Young people do not see the world in the same way as older generations, and the years to come are their years. The younger generations get the whole idea that, like it or not, we exist in a globalised world.  Work, study, travel, family and friends and now span the globe.  The fundamental interconnected of all things has never been more apparent.  Many older folks just don’t get that.  Some still have a post-colonial mindset, that global power somehow radiates from the UK.  Britannia no longer rules the waves. Sorry but there it is. It’s not all about us.
8. The voter-consequence inverse relationship. The more likely people were to vote to leave, the shorter the time they will have to live with the consequences. The generations who voted to leave will not have to live with the long-term impact of their decision. It is fundamentally undemocratic to allow one generation – which happens to be larger numerically – to wipe out the future of another generation.
9. You gotta serve somebody. Our future outside the EU would almost certainly entail being subservient to Beijing (or whoever) instead of Brussels. Millions of Leave voters will simply not have understood that in a world of seven billion people, a small nation of 64 million people can’t kick global ass. The prospect of Britain – or heaven forbid, the actual royal yacht Britannia –  sailing alone on the high seas seeking trade deals, does not fill many of us with confidence, especially when Fox, Davis and Johnson are on the bridge. Other countries will have us over a barrel, with only a two-year window to come up with solutions:  Small isle (sceptred), GSOH, currently unattached, going through messy divorce, desperately seeks trading partners for meaningful long-term relationship.  All offers considered.
10. The brain drain, the economy and the law of unintended consequences. No one knows the full impact of Brexit, hard, soft of medium-rare. But virtually every credible source – economists, scientists, academics, lawyers, civil servants – do not believe it will be in the best interests of the country. (Neither do most MPs and journalists, but they may not count as credible sources). It is not elitist or undemocratic to listen to those with the most understanding. The high likelihood is of a brain-drain of younger, talented people, a loss of at least some of our valuable migrant workforce, a moderate-to-severe impact on the economy and a consequent sharp reduction in tax intake as a result of all three. Democracy seeks to serve the interests of the people by giving them an informed say on a question whose consequences they could reasonably be expected to foresee. That was simply not the case here.
So should we 48ers should do what the British do best: get over it, accept that we lost, internalise our grief, Keep Calm and Carry On, and pretend we’re fine? Well I am not fine with Brexit. I am not fine with accepting that this was a legitimate democratic mandate to change the course of a nation and possibly a continent. I am not fine with an outcome which plays into a far-right agenda and has already triggered xenophobic attacks and verbal assaults across the country.
Call me undemocratic, deluded, dim, but I believe the biggest service any of us could do for the people of the UK right now is to fight this all the way. And rage, rage against the dying of the EU.

From Babylon to Brussels: Why some Christians voted to leave the EU

The rag-tag army which won the Brexit vote was made up of many battalions:  the rampant racists, the anti-Westminster protest voters, earnest people with random concerns about bees, accounts and deportation policy, even those trying to send a posthumous two-fingered salute to Ted Heath.  And many more besides.  I’ve stopped asking why, as the answers are simply too depressing.

But there’s another regiment too, whose existence seems particularly troubling – the Christians who voted Out on the basis that Brussels is “evil”.    Many Christians of course, voted to remain, but a sub-set of the Christian Outers bought into an extraordinary theory where Brussels takes its place alongside Babel, Baal and Babylon as a source of evil which must be defeated.

The foundations of this thinking were in place long before David Cameron called his ill-fated referendum.  For starters, there’s an unspoken belief in some quarters that God has a special thing for Great Britain, or in particular, for England, and that God sees national boundaries as we do.  Any church that’s ever sung Jerusalem needs to ask itself some serious questions on this point.

Add a vague sense that the “Great” in Great Britain is an adjective relating to global significance and you already have a dangerous mix of theology and nationalism. Prayers for the “nation” to be restored, saved and made great again have rung out, often from sincere lips with an all-too-narrow frame of reference.

Siege mentality

Running alongside the idea that God bats for Britain have come endless doom-laden stories to make any deity fear for his most favoured nation:  floods of migrants, Muslims and mosques, Christians persecuted in the workplace and banned from adopting, a whole way of life under threat.  One recent article even claimed that Andrea Leadsom’s bid to become Prime Minister was scuppered by an anti-Christian conspiracy (particularly surprising, given that a vicar’s daughter went on to win, but hey, we’ll overlook that detail).

A kind of siege mentality has taken hold.  Instead of believing in the Kingdom of God as preached by Jesus – an unstoppable, powerful force of God’s love and presence, which exists outside human power structures and national boundaries, a persecuted but spiritually victorious presence advanced by humble, Spirit-filled followers of Christ – they have come to see the Church as on the back foot, besieged, dying, surrounded, damaged by secularism and threatened by Islam.

In this context, it’s easy to see why some believers became Brexiteers.  Anti-Brussels voices spoke powerfully into the mindset of unrecognised Christian nationalism and a yearning for the restoration of Britain’s greatness and “spiritual heritage”.

But believing Brussels is evil? Or even corrupt? Surely that’s a huge leap of faith.

The idea of the EU as the AntiChrist has in fact been floating around in some church circles for decades.  In 2006 a Christian video called “The Rape of Europe” was released (and I won’t go into the appalling inappropriateness of the word “rape” in this context). It made some striking assertions about the EU and Biblical prophecies, even drawing spiritual conclusions from the shape of its HQ and a statue outside the European Parliament.

I won’t dignify it by detailing its claims, but I would imagine that God’s heart is currently being broken not by Brussels bureaucrats but by the world citizens drowning in their thousands in the Mediterranean. And by how little we care about that.

Be that as it may, the Brussels-Babylon-Baal-Babel video was dusted off for the Brexit debate, enjoying a renaissance in DVD format, and found its way into Christian homes and Christian thinking.  I haven’t watched it, but then I haven’t read Mein Kampf either, and I’m fairly sure I don’t agree with Hitler.

Unholy alliance

Other Christian articles followed up on the theme, as the Brexit debate unfolded.  The vote was portrayed in these quarters as a battle for the soul of the nation.

By the end, the Christians who absorbed the message formed an unholy alliance with the Far Right and the myriad of other Brexiting sub-sets, and voted out.   Some had sincerely sought the “truth” and were, I believe, led astray by “blind guides” and people who should have known better.

Others simply overlaid their existing prejudices with a veneer of dodgy but convenient theology, to justify what they already believed. They preferred a whiter, straighter, more Christian, old-style England with nary a mosque or Polish plumber in sight.

These theological Brexiteers have hailed the result as the Christian nation of Great Britain shaking off the shackles of a foreign oppressor, a great spiritual victory, a miracle. Even the weather on the day was compared by fervent Christian Outers to the weather which aided the Armada and D-Day landings.  For me, it’s a cause for repentance, not celebration.

The idea of Brussels as an oppressive foreign power is of course an insult to all those who have lived under actual oppression, in Europe or anywhere else.  What we understand to be God’s values – justice, fairness, support for the vulnerable, the outsider, the weak, the refugee – are at the heart of the EU’s values.  Not that it’s a perfect institution, far from it, and the great euro experiment has had particularly awful consequences, but the point here is that its goals are unquestionably sound.

The tribe of Trump

Far from carrying out God’s will, it seems to me that the Christians who voted Out have unwittingly played into another major spirit of the times:  the reversion to extremes, a trend of people retreating into camps of an almost tribal nature, a sub-world of people who look and think the same as you do.

From Daesh to Trump, it’s bubbling across the continents: a simplistic world view which demonises those who disagree with you, rendering them suitable candidates for death if you’re Daesh or hatred if you’re Trump.  It’s bubbling across Europe, with the rise in xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant feeling, far-right support, anti-EU sentiment.

In this regard, I “out” myself as someone still struggling to redefine my relationships with Christian friends and neighbours who voted out precisely because Brussels was “evil” and “corrupt”.  They all read the same script, voted with the Far Right, and have left me feeling less than Christ-like towards them.  I continue to work on myself in this regard, as my own tribal instinct is to have nothing more to do with them.

And if I’m wrong and they’re right, and Brussels IS some sort of evil, oppressive, long-prophesied foreign power?  Well, what did Jesus do, faced with an occupying power which ultimately imposed the death penalty on him though he had committed no crime?  He didn’t denounce the oppressors, even when invited to.  He railed not against Rome but against the religious.  He got on with the work of building the Kingdom of God, preaching love, forgiveness and submission to God’s will to his dying breath.  Now there’s an example to us all.



Friends, racists, countrymen

OK so I finally get how it feels to have lost your country.   Brexit has introduced me to a whole set of emotions – mainly depression, but also anger, despair, hopelessness and bewilderment.  Sometimes we simply don’t know how much a thing means to us until we’ve lost it.

But I have learnt something horribly useful about myself.

I now feel towards Outers the way many of them feel towards migrants.  I blame them for taking away our country, our jobs, our futures, our whole way of life.  I blame them for removing everything I took for granted growing up, not least in terms of the choices I could make.   I feel adrift in the country of my birth: I no longer recognise its values or its way of thinking.  I am no longer proud to be part of it.

Closer to home, I’m struggling to work for elderly people who I know voted Out for the dodgiest of reasons, and are now reclining, well-fed and self-satisfied in their ex-council houses, telling me this won’t make any difference to them.  Oh, and mentioning how glad they are that we’ll get fewer refugees now.

So I guess my challenge now is to deal with the Outers the way I feel they should have dealt with immigrants.  Instead of resorting to anger and resentment, I have to find a way to move forward in love and grace.  This may take me a while but the challenges to love one another and love our “enemies” remain – and indeed are more important than ever – in our broken country.

If I’d ever done anything to put a smile on the faces of the likes of Nigel Farage, Marine le Pen, Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and indeed the whole of the European far-right, I would be ashamed.

But I guess I can’t expect people to feel shame for something just because I disagree with them.  We had a contest and my side lost.

I suspect many Inners are going through the classic stages of grief: shock, denial, anger,  bargaining, depression.  We’re not yet at acceptance.  We cling to the hope that the decision will be reversed, or a second vote will be held, or that no sane government would ever actually invoke Article 50 and formally commit the UK to the dark path some of its people have chosen.  There MUST be a way, we think.

But I think at the end we will have to accept that the referendum was not a dress rehearsal.  It was THE vote and we must live together in the new reality.

I suspect that most of us who grew up in England identified ourselves primarily as British.  We never had a distinct English identity – no national dress, no national customs except binge drinking, no national day celebrations. We were proud to be British and only incidentally English.

Now we have to carve out a new identity in a world which has pre-labelled us as insular xenophobes with a drink problem.

To those elderly Outers, to all those who have accidentally or deliberately plunged our country and possibly our continent into crisis, to those few people gloating on Facebook, to those who just don’t get how we are feeling:

Be kind to us. We have just lost something precious.