Tag Archives: right wing politics

Opinion regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to lead the Labour party

By stopwar.org.uk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By stopwar.org.uk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It has been with some interest that I have viewed, as an outsider, the Labour leadership contest. One name has been spoken of far more than any other: Jeremy Corbyn. It seems quite possible, as is often the way by self-fulfilling prophetic medium that is the media, the attention paid to him may result in the success of his leadership bid.

Because the media has, under the direction of a small number of men, moved to the political right, that which is reasonable and formerly regarded as “centrist” is now called ‘the left’, often with a pejorative overtone. After all, how often do we hear of politicians or political commentators being introduced as ‘right wing’? The reason they’re not is that it is the assumed position. It is only those who differ from the prescribed political view who need to be labelled as different, as an outsider, as a threat.

It is precisely in this role that the media has cast Jeremy Corbyn, which has certainly gone some way to dilute attention paid to the campaigns of Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall. As has been evidenced by the ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign, the Conservatives are taking a risk that the media on whom they have been able to count for faithful support (in return for certain favours) will be able to cast such aspersions upon Corbyn that he will be seen as unelectable. And if anyone is seen to be unelectable, then they become unelectable.

Yet it is a gamble.

If it doesn’t come off then we will have, for the first time in many decades, a prime minister who doesn’t kowtow to the god of neoliberalism. What support Corbyn has is strong, but is it widespread? For a widespread but half-hearted support will always win an election against a fervent minority. For an example of this, I would point you to the result of last year’s Scottish independence referendum.

Corbyn’s campaign has undoubtedly stirred up the imaginations of those on the fringes of the party whose views have been marginalised in the last 20 years. But is he likely to win over the floating voters in the marginal constituencies in England and Wales that Labour would need, as well as win back the voters of Scotland who voted SNP in May?

The idea that Corbyn would be unable to do so is the main argument used against his leadership bid. There are some within the Labour party who think it is better to choose someone who could win an election; so long as they are in charge of a party called Labour, it doesn’t matter what their principles are. The idea being that a party called Labour is better in charge than the Conservative party, regardless of whether or not their policies are indistinguishable. Such a view is indicative of the collective move to the political right where power is the end goal, not service to society.

So for some, there is little good about Corbyn. To some in the Labour party, he must be stopped as he represents a possible hindrance to regaining power. To this end, he ought to be demonised and every flaw pointed out and made known so as to dissuade people from voting for him. Appeals are made back to Tony Blair, the only leader of a party called Labour who has won any general in the last 30+ years. The argument goes roughly like this: people may have hated Thatcher but she won elections; people may hate Blair but he won elections; people hate Cameron and he’s won an election; so it doesn’t matter what your policies are – so long as you have a good PR machine you can win power. That is far more important than having The Other Party in power.

It is partly because Corbyn represents a break from this hegemony that he is so popular, though one would be naive to think that he doesn’t have some advisors in his ear, telling him what to wear, how to make sure he is listened to and how to combat any negativity he may face.

Yet there is a danger inherent in choosing someone who makes a break from the norm. That is, that the reason they get chosen is because they are the only alternative. This can foster the belief that they are the best person for the job, when in fact they may not be, but the novelty factor may supersede any scrutiny that they may be placed under. With Corbyn, one factor that has been brought up is his unwillingness to condemn some terrorist organisations such the IRA and Hamas.

That said, the ‘Friends with Terrorists’ label never did Thatcher too much harm, given her support for Pinochet’s reign of terror in Argentina or Blair’s endorsement and participation in the illegal war against Iraq.

Still, the fact that he represents something different, could attract those who want ‘just anything different’. i.e. that people are so fed up with the norm that they accept the first new thing that comes along.

Whoever does win the Labour leadership (and at this point, my expectation is that Corbyn will win), they will not be perfect. They’ll make errors of judgement both in matters of policy and of PR. They are not the person who will be able to undo the Conservatives’ legacy of public sector cuts, underfunded services, selling off government property to the private sector at cut prices and a massive increase in the use of foodbanks.

The only advice I have is to beware of those who speak uncritically of Corbyn or any other candidate. If they portray their chosen candidate as the person to solve all of Labour’s ills, then they are not a person to listen to. For support is not the same as sycophancy and no one is perfect.

The election happened, what next for the left?

Since last week’s general election, many have been quick off the mark with writing the post mortem, suggesting what went wrong and a few early hats have been thrown into the ring for the vacant party leadership roles.

I hope you’ve not become bored of reading such articles. I’ve written this over the course of the weekend; so I’m sorry that’s not been as quick off the mark as others have been. The plan is to look at the disparity between what was widely expected to happen and what did happen, try to look at some of the reasons behind this, suggest how the UK political left might start the fightback and what the ordinary citizens of this country can do in the meantime.

What was expected to happen?

With the opinion polls that were published prior to the election, there was no clear winner. It seemed likely that the Conservatives would win the most seats but fall short of an overall majority. Labour were expected to suffer heavily at the hands of the SNP in Scotland, but that they might gain a fair few from the Liberal Democrats, meaning an overall small loss in the net number of seats.

My own particular guess was that in the Lib/Con marginals, the Liberal Democrat voters would, in spite of their party’s betrayal, remain loyal. After all, their sin was to go into coalition with the Conservatives, so it would make no sense for voters to go from Lib Dem to Conservative. I thought they might lose some voters to Labour, ultimately diluting the Lib+Lab vote and allowing the Conservatives a few wins, but not many, as they would vote with the Lib Dems as a tactical manoeuvre.

I also thought that, given the cuts the Conservatives unleashed in the last 5 years that Labour would pick up some Lab/Con marginals. Further Labour gains would result from the rise of UKIP which would dilute the Conservative vote.

The result would be that the Conservatives wouldn’t be able to win a majority and that another attempted coalition with the Liberal Democrats would still fall short. The other possibility was that Labour would try to form a coalition with the SNP but that too would fall short of a majority. Yet crucially, Lab+SNP would be greater than Con+Lib.

As a result, I thought that we would end up with a minority government. Such a government would not last long, being unable to pass a queen’s speech and losing a vote of no confidence, triggering a second election this year. Given a quick failure, whoever formed the minority government would likely lose the subsequent election, making this May a good election to lose. My hope then was that since the Conservatives had the most seats, they would be the ones to drink from the poisoned chalice.

What happened?

My estimate was wrong. I’d bought in too much to the published opinion polls prior to the election and when the exit polled showed a clear lead (though not quite a majority) for the Conservatives, I didn’t believe it.

The expected windfall of seats for the SNP did happen, with a number of high profile people losing their seats, including Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy and Charles Kennedy.

The first real warning sign, though, was in Nuneaton. It was a target Labour seat that they needed to win if they were going to beat the Conservatives. But instead of that happening, the Conservatives won the seat with an increased majority. This happened in several marginals, though Labour did take some (and the Conservatives won a few Labour-held marginals). This was not a case of a significant victory (though I would say it was a notable victory) for the Conservatives; more a stern defence of that which they held most precariously. Also, the success that UKIP had in the last round of local elections was not replicated, meaning that they did not dilute Conservative support as much as had been expected. A case in example was my incorrect prediction about what would happen in Crawley, where I lived for 7 years.

The real surprise was what happened in the Lib Dem dominated area of South-West England. Here, contrary to my (and others’) expectations, the Lib Dem voters did abandon their party in droves, and went to the Conservatives. It was these wins that really helped to ensure the Conservatives won a majority.

Why it happened?

We have to acknowledge that this is now a highly divided country. Scotland is undoubtedly the country of the SNP. London is predominantly a Labour city. In England, outside of London, the Conservatives are the dominant party except for in former mining communities. Wales is predominantly Labour, by population, at least. As with London, their support is greater in more urban areas, though the constituencies with larger areas are more mixed, so the Labour majority doesn’t show up well on a map. Northern Ireland has a quite different politics altogether, which has a far deeper and more painful history than I can reasonably go into here.

I would need to add: the SNP ensured that Labour had a bad night. But the SNP are not to blame for allowing David Cameron back into Downing Street. If they had increased their share of the vote, yet not won a single extra seat, then David Cameron would still have a majority. The difference would be that Labour would have a greater share of the opposition benches.

I have long maintained the idea that governments are not so much voted in as they are voted out. In 1997, the Conservatives had lost any shred of credibility and all Labour needed to do was present a credible alternative. They did that successfully and won the election with a landslide. At the time, people asked if it was the end of the Conservative party. It wasn’t. It was damaging, yes, and they were unlikely to win the next election either. But then Labour took 418 seats, with the Conservatives on 165. Compare that to last week, when the Conservatives won 331 and Labour won 232. So I think one cannot say that 2015 was as bad for Labour as 1997 was for the Conservatives.

In 2010, Labour were the ones who had lost credibility, so it should have been a cake-walk for the Conservatives to win a majority, but it was a reflection of their electoral failure that we ended up with a hung parliament, resulting in a coalition. A part of this may well be due to the fact that the Conservatives came off worse than Labour did in the expenses scandal. Though trust in both sides was severely dented by that episode.

They key thing that happened in electoral terms was where the disaffected Lib Dem voters went. In London, having looked through some of the constituency results (I haven’t done a full numerical analysis yet), they seem to have gone largely to Labour and the Greens, with some to UKIP and a handful to the Conservatives. This is what I expected to happen nationwide, but elsewhere, particularly in the south-west, the largest chunk of Lib Dem voters went Conservative. I confess, I don’t understand why they would really do this. It’s not a part of the country I live in and I haven’t been able to speak to anyone who did switch their vote that way.

Beyond that, though, my view is that the Labour message was too piecemeal. They were chasing the agenda set by the mainstream media (see below), coming up with policies in response to what others had said, instead of leading the way with an alternative vision. Much of the discussion over the last few days has asked whether they were too far left (which doesn’t wash with Scotland, nor with the opposition to their ‘control immigration’ mug) or too far right (which doesn’t explain why they didn’t take the English marginals that were ripe for the picking).

How to fix it?

There has to be a long term strategy from the left. Ideally, this should be a 13 year strategy, starting from now. Why 13? Well, there should be 3 phases: the first starts now and needs to establish a plan for bringing down the Conservatives at the next election, replacing them with a credible, progress and egalitarian government. But it would be too short term to say the aim is to be elected. The strategy has to include a full 5 year plan for government. Yet we know what the Conservatives have done in the last 5 years of coalition, and we have some idea about what they will do, untethered, in the next 5 years. Will a single term be enough to unwind the legacy of the David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith? Maybe not. So we need to think about how to start undoing the damage they’ve done as well as the further damage they will do; this will entail fixing the country and preparing for a 2nd term.

The strategy has to be two-fold: national and local.

On the national level, there has to be a whole, coherent and credible alternative. The first thing is the substance of the message, be it on business, on housing, on debt, on immigration, on debt, on taxation, on education, on defence, on health, etc. More than that, though, any election strategy has to incorporate the media. While there has been some progress with social media, it remains the BBC and the newspapers who set the agenda. Given these are largely Conservative biased (the BBC’s main political team of Nick Robinson, David Dimbleby, Andrew Marr and Andrew Neill being the most notable of the pro-Tory group) then an infiltration strategy is partly what’s needed. One can combat the right-wing hegemony head on, to sing a different tune. Yet one can also attempt to change the tune from within the choir. In the wake of the election, people have been joining both the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Yet party members are unlikely to find employment in press run by Murdoch, Dacre or the Barclay brothers. A little more subtlety is required. In short, to be as clever as a fox, whilst remaining as innocent as a dove.

Then we have the matter of the Independent’s betrayal, as they encouraged a continuation of a Conservative-led coalition, while the Evening Standard, owned by the same tycoon who runs the Independent, backed the Conservatives. My proposition is that we need a new left-leaning national newspaper. I suggested this on social media on the election and was subsequently trolled for saying it. Amongst the irrational rantings that were aimed at me, they said that the Guardian and the Mirror were sufficient and that there was nothing wrong with the over-arching dominance of the newspaper market by a very small number of very rich men with a vested in interest in keeping the Conservatives singing their tune.

On the local level, the obvious answer is to set about targeting the seats to win. However, there has been a strong suspicion that to counter this, the Conservatives will attempt to rig the next election by changing the constituency boundaries so as to favour them. I’ve read comments from Conservative supporters saying that their primary aim is to make sure than Labour are locked out of government for decades. As an example of how this could be done, they might enlarge the London constituencies (making sure they are larger both in terms of population and area), thus reducing their number; or they might take two adjacent Conservative constituencies and make them into three.

For the Liberal Democrats, they have space to come back. First of all, though, they need to acknowledge their responsibility for helping to introduce the bedroom tax, for Sure Start centres, for cuts to disability benefits, for targeted sanctions against the unemployed. They can’t say that because they were in coalition they were forced to do those things. They need to acknowledge that they were wrong. Then, depending on how the majority Conservative government play things out, they can (as some have before the election) list out the things they prevented happening during the coalition’s reign. Things like the Conservative plan to repeal the Human Rights Act, to change the boundaries, to make even deeper cuts or further and faster privatisation of the NHS. If they can do this, then they stand a chance of taking back some of the Lib/Con marginals they lost, particularly those in south-west England and south-west London.

In the mean time

I am not a politician. I am not a journalist. I am someone who cares. Someone who is worried and fearful of the harm that this government will do.

On Saturday there was protest held in Westminster. I had looked around to see if I could find any plan for a protest but could find none. The first I heard about it was on Twitter after it had begun, by which time it seemed a little late to go and join. I supported that protest, and let me say why.

Democracy should not be an event that happens one day every five years. Democracy should be woven into the fabric of the society we live in. When we’re not at the ballot box, we can protest, we can petition, we can march, we can write letters, we can go and see our MPs at their local surgeries. Such expressions of democracy can be firm, they can be loud and at times, they can be disruptive. There are lines to be drawn, though. I do not advocate violence, nor do I advocate inappropriate protest, such as the graffiti that one person put on a war memorial.

Protests against austerity or against the removal of human rights are not, as some Conservatives have been saying, moaning or whinging about the result of the election. While there is a debate to be had over the effectiveness of our current democratic system (c.f. the referendum debate and the outcome of every close election – my particular favourite example is 1951), I do not dispute the Conservative’s right to govern. It has been suggested to me, by several on the political right, that accepting the legitimacy of the result means that we shouldn’t protest. I cannot agree with that.

When Labour won the 1997 general election and sought to introduce a national minimum wage, Conservatives would have been well within their rights to take to the streets to demand that employers should be allowed to employ people for as little pay as they saw fit.

Nor do I agree with the accusation that protest is in any way sanctimonious or self-righteous. To speak out against the Conservatives is an act of compassion; of standing up for those who have been, and will be hurt, by the acting out of Conservative policy. To turn one’s back or adopt an “I’m alright, Jack” attitude is an act of wilful negligence. There will be a time for gentler persuasion, but right now the time is right to give Conservative voters a metaphorical slap across the face, show them what they have allowed to happen. So that, like the end of The Bridge On The River Kwai, they may realise what they have done. I do not wish to demonise Conservative voters. Instead, my prayer for them is “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

The Rochester & Strood by-election: a prediction

I must confess from the start that the title is a little misleading as the purpose of this blog is not really to predict the precise number of votes and therefore who will win the forthcoming by-election. Rather, this is a prediction about the fallout after the result.

For what it’s worth though, I think it will be a close-run election and that the Conservatives and UKIP will be the top two parties. The Labour proportion of the vote will go down, as will the Lib Dems, with a small, but insignificant increase for the Greens. If the opinion polls are to be believed, then UKIP look set to come out on top.

However it goes, the fallout is what will be more interesting. The fact is that Rochester and Strood has been a safe Conservative seat. Though given the change in British politics that we have witnessed in last few years, it seems reasonable to suppose that a lot of those on the far-right, which the Conservatives rely on for electoral success, will switch to UKIP, thus eroding the Conservative vote.

As a result, whether or not they win, the relentless optimism of the UKIP leadership will be declaring this a success. The extent to which that celebration takes place will, of course, depend on whether Mark Reckless wins the seat he previously won for the Conservatives. I would predict that Nigel Farage will be given plenty of air time and column space to enunciate his view that this is indicative of a sea change in public opinion, that people are fed up with traditional Westminster politics and that UKIP are the ones to deliver change.

The Tories, having either lost the seat or seen their majority severely dented, will need to have their spin on it. And of course, that spin will be: “[what a disaster for Ed Miliband]”. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Tory playbook would parrot the same line even if Labour were to have an unlikely win. If I were a Labour voter in the constituency I might even be tempted to vote UKIP as a tactical vote, though given the proximity to the 2015 general election I might just not bother this time around, as it won’t change who’s in government. Either way, the Conservatives should have a tough job on their hands, but they will look not to their own failings but will react like a wounded beast to lash out at those around them. Don’t expect David Cameron to be put in front of the cameras and interviewed extensively; that job will fall to someone else, offered up as a sacrificial goat to the right wing media who are increasingly finding their loyalties split between an ailing Tory party and the strengthening, yet still dilute, poison of UKIP.

In a seat where the Tories have had a majority of just under 10,000 any movement in the votes for Labour, the Lib Dems or the Greens is of such comparative insignificance that any attempt to make generalisations about the state of the parties and of the country as a whole will likely have an extremely high conjecture-to-fact ratio.

It is interesting to note that in the last general election, the English Democrats polled higher than the Greens in the constituency but that they’re not standing in this election. Instead, there are 4 independent candidates as well as representatives of the Monster Raving Loony Party, Britain First, People Before Profit and the Patriotic Socialist Party. I wouldn’t expect many of these to have a significant effect on the outcome, and indeed most will probably lose their deposit.

What might be most interesting is the Labour reaction. In some ways, being the previous runners-up but with no realistic chance of winning, they’re in a no-lose situation. The ground would be set for an attack on David Cameron’s lack of leadership, just as the right wing press have attacked Ed Miliband recently on the basis of journalists passing off rumours from other journalists as news. However, given that this looks set to be a two-horse race between the two right wing parties, it seems likely that the media will grant them the lion’s share of the coverage. As such, if there is to be any comment from Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Greens on the outcome of the election, don’t expect them to make the headlines.

What we’ll get is airtime afforded primarily to Nigel Farage with maybe the odd comment from Mark Reckless, though he’ll mostly be silent so as to not steal the limelight from his party leader. The upper echelons of the Tory party will be strangely quiet and none of the main media outlets will question why. They’ll put up someone to take any flak for them, though any questioning will tend to be along the lines of “[are you not far enough to the political right on immigration]”.

In other words, no change from what we’ve grown used to over the last couple of years.

A question about UKIP and the left

Is it really such a good idea for those of us on the left to urge people not to vote for UKIP? 

A lot is made about the publicity that UKIP get these, not least the amount of airtime they are given in proportion to their current level of representation in the House of Commons. This is often contrasted with the Green Party (though oddly not so often with Plaid Cymru, the SNP or the Democratic Unionists).

With the European and some local elections coming up, things are getting ever more heated and partisan. I have seen people urged to mail bricks to UKIP’s offices on the basis that they use a freepost address and so will be made to pay for the delivery costs, rather than the person posting the bricks. Though amusing, it strikes me as rather childish.

One could examine their policies, as some have done, and point out areas of disagreement with an apparent sense of ridicule. One tactic I haven’t seen and wondered “why not” is to point out the contradiction that they don’t want the UK to be a part of Europe and yet they still put candidates forward for the European elections!

But so what? Those who have a tendency to stick to the left of British politics are never likely to vote for UKIP anyway. Who are we trying to persuade?

After the failure of the “Yes to AV” campaign to reform the voting system, we are stuck with the less democratic First Past The Post system. The downside of this system is that where you have multiple parties standing on similar principles, the vote can be diluted so that an overall less popular, but very different, view may win.

If UKIP were to gain a majority in the House of Commons (or be part of a coalition) then one might have a genuine cause for concern, but that really doesn’t seem like a probably outcome. One asks, where are the UKIP supporters coming from?

Some may be protest votes, but it seems reasonable that quite a few are coming over from the Conservatives. This is why David Cameron should be worried. The loony right wing section of racists and xenophobes who helped put him into number 10 are one of the legs upon the Tories stand. Take it away from them and you get the right wing vote diluted, which will favour the likes of Labour, the Greens and even possibly the Lib Dems (though I believe their credibility has been dashed by their role in the present coalition and that after the next election Nick Clegg will be a pariah, resigned from the party leader leadership and will be blamed for the next decade of poor outcomes for the Lib Dems).

So if we persuade those who are currently tempted to vote for UKIP not to do so, where might they turn? I would posit that the obvious place is to go for the party which has the most similar policies, the Conservatives. And do we really want to encourage people to vote Tory? I think not!

God loves a Tory

Inspiration for this post

Last week’s Theos report on the voting habits of christians, catholics and those of other faiths seemed to prompt a bit of comment. I haven’t witnessed a hornet’s nest, more the recognition of some uncomfortable truths. The headline that got the most attention was that the Church of England remains the Tory party at prayer.

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect was about the variability in nonconformist churches. I’ve written before a little about my political views and how they relate to my faith, but I want to take an alternative look at here.

Background to my thinking

To those who would claim that christianity is inherently apolitical, I would recommend reading through the New Testament after some reading literature about Roman culture in the first centuries BC & AD, playing a game of “spot the counter imperial rhetoric”.

To give something of an order of priorities, to me as a christian, Christ comes first. How we understand the person, teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are paramount. We may use a variety of tools (variously coming the umbrella term ‘theology’, though some are identifiable by other names such as history or philosophy) to understand him, but this is the way to approach questions of faith and God. To drive straight at these topics without going via Jesus is like trying to walk through a brick wall while ignoring the door. This task is not individualistic, but is to be undertaken as a community, an ekklesia, a church. That is not to be corporatist, either; we each have our own responsibility, just as I have my particular duties within my company. I am not my company and could not possibly fulfill all its duties. I need the help of my colleagues.

Out of this understanding comes a revised worldview. This, to my understanding, is the sort of thing Paul refers to in Romans 12 where he speaks of the renewal of the mind. This worldview expresses itself a variety of ways. Amongst the many colours, shades, shapes and flavours this manifests itself, politics is one them. To try to remove politics from the worldview strikes me as artificial. It says “I will let this thing called christianity inform and potentially change my views on A, B and C, but not X, Y and Z”.

From this revised mindset we can then ask what kind of politics this entails. I have given a sketch of what this mindset looks like before. To summarise, I find the position I am in can broadly be described as left-wing. This statement must be understood carefully. I would not claim that christianity is inherently left wing or right wing. These are terms that came into our language from the French Revolution. To apply them retrospectively to Jesus and his early followers is anachronistic. What I do is find my worldview based on my best understanding of the relevant issues involved and then look at who my nearest neighbours are.

From political views to party politics

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. That much seems clear from the Theos report. But there is a factor missing here, which is the link between political views and political parties. While I describe myself as left-wing and have views on various topics that could be described similarly, it does not follow that that means I should wholly and unequivocally support a particular political party.

This was epitomised last week during a Twitter exchange with the organisation, Christians on the Left (formerly the Christian Socialists). I stated that I could not become a member because they are affiliated to the Labour party. Some take the view that it is better to be a part of a party with whom you disagree so that you can attempt to change it, others like that is idealistic and foolhardy, preferring to stand on your own principles rather than kowtow to the whims of the party leaders and whatever manifesto their spin doctors have produced. You won’t be surprised to read that I fall into the latter group. I will not be a member of a political party nor be a member of an organisation that has a close affiliation with a political party.

That doesn’t mean I abstain from voting for people who members of political parties. As I went some way to explaining before the referendum on the alternative vote system I am also a pragmatist and have voted tactically in the past. This has led, in the past, to me voting for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and independent candidates, at one election or another. Ideally, I would like to be able to vote for individual local representatives, based on their own policies and ideas as well as to vote for cabinet members who, having met a requirement for suitable experience (e.g. an education secretary who has worked in a school or a health secretary who has worked as a doctor or a nurse). That’s my kind of idealism, but I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

For now, I settle with trying to make the best of bad system. Though it may surprise some, I bite my tongue a lot when it comes to political matters. No more so than in the office where I am surrounded by conservatives (indeed Conservatives) who views sicken me. But this is not the place to moan about my workmates.

The main point

So, with that slightly lengthy preamble over, what of the title of this piece? If I find the values of individualism and greed which lie at the heart of what it means to be a right-winger to be an anathema to my christian beliefs, why am I happy to worship alongside conservatives?

It is because of the order of things referred to above. First and foremost, the ecclesiology I hold to is one of inclusiveness and unity. We are to be one Church abiding in Jesus Christ. Everything else comes second. We may disagree about some of the consequences of what it means to be a christian, but so long as we are looking at the same Jesus, then we can stand side by side.

It is because of this that I am happy to worship alongside conservatives, creationists, homophobes, misogynists and any other type of person who holds views contrary to me own. Yes, I think they are all wrong and would dearly love them to think through their views, but that should not be an obstacle to fellowship. Yes, it may cause difficulties and make us all assess what the tone should be that we use when univocally declare the gospel of the coming of kingdom of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, but that doesn’t mean we should stay silent on the matter until we agree on every secondary or tertiary matter.

Unity in the Church (including cooperation and shared fellowship between churches) is something I have, in recent months, come to prioritise more than I have done before.

To look at it the other way round, imagine if churches were not welcoming to those who disagreed with one or two points of emphasis. We would end up shutting people out. The first people I want in churches are sinners, a category in which I include myself. Just as I may view conservatives as the “weaker brother” I know they probably view me similarly, thinking that my left-wing ideas of caring for people are immature or naive.

If we are to understand that the CofE leadership is broadly liberal, then having a conservative membership may actually speak to the leadership’s credit. If they have fostered an environment where any and all feel welcome, then that is something to be commended. I might not agree with someone’s voting patterns, and I am glad I live in a country where I can say so. OK, the Tories may have just pushed through a gagging law preventing religious organisations and other charities from criticising their policies, which is rather worrying. However, as that was not part of their manifesto or the coalition agreement, those who voted for the Tories last time cannot really be held responsible for the passing of such a draconian measure.

We can have our discussions over party politics, over matters of socio-economic policy and I think it’s fine in the short term for us to disagree over how the gospel impacts those. But when it comes to church, let us put aside those differences and worship the risen and living God together.

Why I love the EDL

I am not Tommy Robinson.

Yet I might well have been.

The self-styled leader of the English Defence League (EDL) and I were born in the same town, less than a year apart. Though I do not have memory of having known Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Lennon) it is quite possible that our paths crossed as children, playing in the same parks, going to same shops in the Arndale centre, being fascinated by the flamingo fountain there, and repulsed by the fishy smell of the market which adjoined the shopping centre.

Luton was, and still is, I understand, a town divided. For personal reasons, I promised never to set foot there again; a promise I have kept for 10 years now. But one could hardly fail to spot the wildly different characters of the estates of Bury Park and Marsh Farm, not least in the ethnicity of those you would meet there. It is here that one finds the roots of the EDL, but it is also where I find my roots. For that reason, I take special interest in this group, their activities and their coverage; I can’t help but think from time to time, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’  

One of the greatest weapons that is used in modern rhetoric is the demonization of The Other. Any person or group that does not match our demographic, our religious or political views, is visualised and spoken of as an enemy. The EDL employ this tactic when they talk of Islam. Yet at the same time, I also see generalisations made about the EDL which are equally as unhelpful. As long as we consider (and hence treat) them as The Other, then there will be little progress and much more antagonisation.

If we can slap a label on someone, it makes it all the easier to make generalisation based on that label; in effect, dehumanising them.

The EDL should not be treated as the bad guys, irrespective of what we think of their ideology. They are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins and neighbours. [According to a Nov 2011 Demos report, there is an 81:19 ratio of men:women in the EDL] Incidentally, the rest of that report is well worth reading, in order get a better understanding of the EDL than one might otherwise gain from following any news coverage they may get.

In order to break the cycle of alienation that is felt by those on the far right, we must not shun them and push them further to the fringes of society. The people at the mosque in York, who offered tea and biscuits and a game of football were the ones with the right idea.

I didn’t get a chance to listen to the interview with Robinson/Lennon that the BBC broadcast on the Today programme the other day. If the reports I have read are faithful, then the interview was not that brilliant, with not enough challenges being made and some coming away with the impression that the BBC had provided a platform for propaganda. One interesting point hit me with a great deal of irony. Apparently, Robinson/Lennon claimed that the writing of ‘EDL’ that was allegedly found at the site of the burnt down Islamic centre in Muswell Hill in no way indicated that the EDL could be faulted for the fire. Instead, he posed the question “[what if someone had written ‘David Cameron’? Would that make him at fault?]”. In essence, his argument is that the arson was not sanctioned by the EDL, but may instead have been perpetrated by someone who sees in the EDL an ideology similar to their own and who then ‘claims the name’ – much as we have seen some violent people carry out horrific and vile acts whilst acting in what they saw as the name of Islam.

The term ‘extremist’ is frequently used in conjunction with the EDL, not without good reason. Yet the root word ‘extreme’ can only really be used in conjunction with another word; extreme what?  Extreme ironing? Extreme violence? Extreme hatred? What about extreme love? Why can’t an extremist be someone who is self-emptying and compassionate in the extreme?

So why love the EDL?

Is it because of their ideology? Certainly not.

Is it because the people are inherently warm-hearted and likeable? To some maybe, though I find it tough.

I love the people of the EDL because I am a christian and am therefore compelled to. There is no act of violence, intolerance or hatred that one human being can do to another which is unforgiveable. The scandal of the gospel of grace is that no one is persona non grata, no one is beyond the pale. In thinking through the parable of the Good Samaritan, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that today’s Samaritans might well include the EDL. They are the last people we might think of as helping others. But that’s the point that Jesus gave in answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’

How can this love be demonstrated?

This is not a manifesto; I hope you can come up with your own (and better ideas) than I can.

To me, the first step in demonstrating love has to be a change in the language used when talking to and about the EDL. There may be good reason why the label of “extremist” might fit, but I do not think it helps. To do so only alienates them further.

I am painfully aware that even in the rest of this post I have used the language of ‘us’ and ‘them’, though I have done so more clarity than anything else. It’s only if we can move away from this that we can really hope to heal the wounds of social discord that have led to this group feeling liking persecuted outsiders in their own community, before then inflicting that feeling on others.

There are many issues to be tackled and there is much more that can and should be done. I understand organisation like Hope Not Hate have been fairly prominent in simultaneously denouncing violence and being open to discussion with the EDL.

My belief is that the church (as a whole) should be open to welcome in members of the EDL, even though that may cause ructions in some communities. Unless the church is open to welcoming the ostracised, the frowned-upon and the intolerant, we would not be faithfully practising the gospel of grace. Grace is costly, that’s a point driven home by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Maybe now we need another of his ilk; a voice of love, humanism and grace.