Wednesday, 27 July 2016

What is the future for justice and peace at parish level?

Justice and Peace activists gathered at the Hayes centre in Swanwick a couple of weeks ago for their annual conference with the topical subject of democracy up for discussion.
The event has been organised by the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) for the past 38 years, bringing together activists from across the country. There are usually around 300 attending with activities for children provided during the weekend. However, one subject that strangely never comes up for debate is what is the future of justice and peace in this country?
We have been reminded of the fragility of the movement, with the recent passing of Theresa Helm, the director of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary’s centre for Justice and Peace in Chigwell, Essex. Theresa had been director of the centre since 2007, working together with Fran Marshall prior to that since 1997. Both women progressed to full time work for justice and peace in the Brentwood diocese from a parish group in Hornchurch, Essex.
Many other people over the years have followed a similar path, starting doing their bit in the parish before progressing on to work full time on some aspect of the work. Former chair of Brentwood J&P Commission Kathy Piper, who died in 2013, was another who followed a similar root.
In her case going from a parish group to work for what was then the Catholic Institute for International Relations, prior to returning to work for the Brentwood Commission after leaving CIIR. Former Labour MP John Battle has trod a similar path, beginning in grassroots justice and peace – he has returned to that work now with the Leeds J&P Commission.
The question today, as some of these outstanding individuals leave us is where are their replacements coming from?  Justice and Peace is becoming a threadbare movement in the Church. Many parishes these days don’t have J&P groups, with parish priests generally far more comfortable with charitable based enterprises than those that seek to educate and question structural injustice. CAFOD has not helped matters, largely negating its role in education and formation for justice and peace across the country in favour of becoming simply a charitable aid provider.
Previously, CAFOD had played a major role in the sustenance of the J&P network, funding workers, NJPN and work in parishes. The previous visionary director Julian Filochowski saw the value of this network which would become a basis of support for CAFOD across the country, entrenched in the parishes and diocese.
NJPN and the justice and peace movement has continued to struggle on. Many expected that with the arrival of Pope Francis with his social justice message that this might renew and revive justice and peace. However, it does not seem to be the case. The movement has aged, with little new blood coming through.
The lack of formation amongst clergy and laity on justice and peace has stopped the spread of the teachings across the Church at grass roots level. The problem recently became crystal clear to me when I met a couple who had given fantastic support to my mum over her final years. They had visited her weekly, helped out with trips to the hospital and generally made life more bearable.
They continue to do fantastic work, with the SVP and others, in the Church. The charitable nature of their lives cannot be faulted. However, sit down with them and talk about any major issue of the day, whether it be migration, multiculturalism or the economy and the line will not resonate with the social teachings of the Church. Indeed, some would think their views the exact opposite. They have very little formation in the social teachings of the Church. Or to put it another way, without wanting to sound too patronising, they have not grown up in the faith. They are workers for charity not justice.
The recent meeting with this couple just reminded me of the massive job of work of formation in social justice that still needs to be done. Many of the people attending mass on a weekly basis do not know the social teachings of the Church. Some of those who do, go outside Church structures to fulfil this aspect of their faith. Certainly younger people on the whole do not seek to do social justice within a parish context.
There are big questions over what is going on with formation at all levels of life, from child to adult. We have established there is a lack of formation at adult level but what is happening with the schools? Are they providing any formation in social justice or is it still all orientated toward the exam factory model?
The fate of justice and peace and formation in the social justice teachings of the Church is an issue that has been kicking around for some years now.

There are variants on the justice and peace theme like community organising but they do not really address the question of formation in the faith. There are centres doing formation work across the country, which is an excellent development, but what of the grass roots at parish level?  These roots are being left to wither and die.
There is probably the need for a new model of justice and peace formation, since the present approach dates back to the 1960s. What is for sure is that there needs to be some significant effort made to breath new life into this work at grass roots level.
The social justice teachings are the lifeblood of the Church, a failure to pursue them is a crucial failing in the faith. Something needs to be done to revive the work of social justice at grass roots level across the Church. Otherwise where does the future lie, where will the next Theresa Helm, Kathy Piper or John Battle come from?

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Jenny Sinclair seeks to walk in father's footsteps to create common good vision

Jenny Sinclair, the founder and director of the Together for the Common Good project, has called for the establishment of a relationship based model grounded in the common good.

Addressing the annual National Justice and Peace Network in Swanwick last weekend, Sinclair said: “It’s time to climb out of our silos and see what else is going on – looking across sectors, and ecumenically – from parish to boardroom.” 

The challenge, she declared, for those in the Church working on social justice issues is how to get more people involved.

The daughter of former Bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard, outlined the challenge of working for the common good as being prepared to work with any and everyone, from whatever walk of life. “It starts with conversation. Locally, by people talking to each other. I cannot create the common good on my own, or by just talking with friends. To build a common good requires people who may disagree, and whose interests and circumstances are different, to encounter each other in relationship. The results are surprising, It’s kind of alchemy,” said Sinclair, who stressed that the demand was all the more pressing post EU referendum, which had highlighted how polarised and excluded large parts of the UK have become.

Sinclair highlighted how the Church is well placed to play “a special role in strengthening civil society.”

“We can foster a culture of encounter, where people of different experience meet – at all levels and in all sectors. We can build the links between local institutions and between estranged groups,” said Sinclair, who highlighted how her father and Archbishop Derek Worlock had played just such a role a generation ago.

She recalled how they listened to all voices, which led to being castigated by both left and right. However, their approach meant they were able to bring mutually suspicious groups like the police and black community groups, business and unions together. “So the Church was in the street, in factories, in offices, in business – not only in the pews,” she said.

Sinclair praised proponents of the common good in the world today such as Citizens UK, the Church Urban Fund and the Catholic Worker Movement.

She also praised the Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative To Your Credit, which includes the Church Credit Champions network – teaching about money and debt in parishes. “It is on target to bring in more than 3,000 credit union members by the end of the year; since To Your Credit started, payday lending has declined by 68%,”said Sinclair, who urged people to invest ethically.
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Polly Jones, head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, outlined the dangers of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which would enable corporations to sue governments if they do something that cuts profits.

Under a similar agreement, the Egyptian government has been sued by waste and energy company Veolia, after it brought in a minimum wage. This was deemed to eat into profits.

Jones warned of the possible implication for the common good in terms of how these agreements can bite into public service provision.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Jon Cruddas warns Labour faces biggest crisis in history and could split

Labour MP Jon Cruddas declared that Labour is facing the biggest crisis in its history, prior to apologising for the way the party has been behaving over recent weeks.
Addressing the annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network at Swanwick last weekend,  Cruddas suggested the party could fragment if the present damaging conflict between much of the Parliamentary party and members continues.

He predicted that leader Jeremy Corbyn could lead one part of the party, whilst the right went off in another direction. He warned that UKIP could then transform itself into a worker’s party sweeping up the working classes. “Neither Corbyn or the right of labour are appealing to the working classes,” said Cruddas, who said he had no truck with the Parliamentary parties vote of no confidence.

The MP outlined how the party had experienced an emptying out over the Blair and Brown years, leading to a preoccupation with money and transactional relations between people. “We had a compact with the bankers to skim off some of the money and give that back to the poorer parts of society,” said Cruddas. “In 2008, the music stopped, and we were culpable in creating that system.”

The Dagenham and Rainham MP declared that Labour has “lost its soul” and “ethical base of approach.”
Cruddas called for a new virtue based model of politics grounded in the common good.  This would look to a more holistic vision of a person living in society, as part of community – rather than simply a commodified being judged almost entirely on a transactional basis of money exchange.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Distorted media take on immigration may sell papers but it also has pernicious repercussions on the street

“Lurid immigration front pages sell papers,” said a fellow journalist, who had just joined a mainstream tabloid. This was many years ago, when the journalist in question responded to my question as to how he could join such a newspaper at a time, when it seemed to be running as many front page asylum scare stories as it could get away with. The response was dispiriting, namely that every time an asylum front page was run, sales increased. The argument was difficult to refute in economic terms but when it comes to the other roles of the media such as to educate and inform, it represented a clear failure.

So today sitting in a country that has just voted to leave the EU, primarily on the premise of the need to reduce immigration, it can be argued that Britain has reaped what it has sown. The consequences could be dire for a country that has skill shortages in vital areas and a rapidly ageing population, so needs a significant inflow of migrant labour every year to retain present standards of living. 

It has been the positive side of immigration that has failed to register in the public consciousness as a result of the way in which the subject has been covered in the media.

Let’s make no claims that everything about migration is positive. Migration over the past 20 years has been badly handled by successive governments of both political persuasions. The Labour government allowed migrants from the EU accession countries to come into the UK in the early noughties with very little control. There were no minimum standards of pay, terms or conditions of work, so migrant labour could come in and undercut the indigenous workforce. The failure to set and enforce minimum standards meant that migration effectively became an incomes policy to keep wages down. This bred resentment in many areas of the country.  Many of the problems today could have been avoided had those minimum standards been enforced. Also migrants should have been encouraged to join trade unions. In addition, the revenues being generated from the migrant workforce should have been used for public services, including importantly housing provision. 

Politicians have also singularly failed to tell a positive story about the benefits of migration. The government’s own figures show that net migration of 250,000 a year boosts annual GDP by 0.5%. This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit. Many of the jobs created over recent years have been done by migrants, with figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that three quarters of employment growth for the year to August 2015 being accounted for by non-UK citizens. So the economic boom, pre Brexit vote, was largely migrant driven.

Migrants tend to be younger, contributing more tax revenue than they consume in public services, and the majority leave before they get older when they would become more reliant.

According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, migrants contribute 64% more in taxes than they take out in benefits. A study by University College London found that EU migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion to UK finances between 2000 and 2011

A large part of the migrant population of recent years have been students coming to study. A study for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that since 2011, students had contributed more than £14 billion to the economy. 

These though are facts that you won’t find in much of our media, determined as it seems to be to present a totally negative view of migration.

So many tabloid papers will put the fact that a migrant has committed some crime up in lights on the front page, sending a subliminal message that migrant equals criminal. There is more negative coverage about migrants getting benefits. What is lacking is any balancing good news on migration. The net tax revenues that migrants provide to the exchequer, the huge benefits flowing to the education sector, diversity, the positive stories every day of different migrant workers contributing to our health, education and social services. This failure to present a balanced view on migration means that many of the readers have a totally negative view of immigrants.

The disconnect was well illustrated during the EU referendum campaign, when BBC home affairs editor Mark Easton got together a group of old and young voters in Eastbourne.  The concern of many in the older group was migration, yet they live in a town where the care homes, hospitals and social services are propped up by migrant labour. The disconnect between perceptions and reality was breath taking to behold.

Equally, if a nationwide view is taken, we find the somewhat ludicrous notion of high hostility to migrants in areas where there are very few actually living. So Clacton elects UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, on that parties anti-migrant ticket, yet levels of migrant workers in that town are low. Comparatively, in London, where many of the migrant workers who come to the UK to live and work, anti-migrant sentiment is lower.

The result of a public debate on immigration driven by a media trying to sell its products and pander to racism in the process has been to poison the public well on the subject. It has resulted in the starting point for any public discussion on migration being the reduction of numbers. Success on migration is apparently to be judged according to how many migrants can be stopped from coming to the UK.

The Conservative government has not helped matters in this respect, setting unachievable targets of cutting migration to the 10,000s, then palpably failing to get anywhere near that target.

The only way migration will decline is if the economy plunges into recession because then there will not be the jobs available in the UK for migrants to come here to do. And this is where another one of our media myths kicks in. The total misrepresentation of the immigration question has led to a public perception that migrants come here to get benefits not work.

Prime Minister David Cameron made great play of his attaining changes relating to benefits for migrants as party of his renegotiation of membership of the EU. This did not seem to make any difference to the populace, no doubt only underlining the false premise that migrants come to the UK for benefits.

The reality is somewhat different, most come here to work. If there is no work because the British economy has bombed then there will be fewer migrants – the archetypal perfect storm.

Those of us who work in the media have now to question the role played by our sector over recent years in totally failing to represent a balanced and informative picture on migration. Newspapers, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, have helped build the anti-migrant atmosphere that exploded following the EU vote to leave. Broadcast media have also played their part, adopting the anti-migrant lexicon for its coverage also. The wobbling lid that has been kept on anti-migrant racism over recent years has blown off revealing a particularly ugly side of society.  Responsibility for much of the violent racist incidents seen on our streets resides in the editor’s offices up and down the land. Politicians too have been complicit in creating this situation by failing to speak positively about immigration.
The responsibility now moving forward is to repel that anti-migrant racism. One way of doing such a thing is to start telling a more positive story about migrants, not the simple lopsided hysterical view that may sell papers but also has pernicious consequences. The media has a responsibility to tell the good news on immigration, whilst the politicians must join that discussion. The politicians too must stop migrant labour being used to under cut indigenous workers and encourage migrants  to join trade unions. They must also use the revenues coming in from migrant labour to provide the services that the migrants and the wider community need and deserve – including housing. It is no doubt late to be making these moves with to a large degree the racist genie already out of the bottle but a start has to be made, otherwise we will all be staring into a particularly unpleasant looking abyss

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Neil Kinnock calling Jeremy Corbyn vain is a bad joke

How extraordinary to hear Neil Kinnock of all people attack Jeremy Corbyn for being vain- the man who gave us the disasterous Sheffield rally back in 1992.
Kinnock calls for more members to join but he is of the old school. Join but don't expect to play an active part - donate and volunteer but don't expect to make policy or shape the world in which we live - that's for the proffessional politician class.
Kinnock represents many of the facets of the political class that has brought such disillusionment amongst the electorate.
Corbyn represents the hope of millions, excited by a modest and principled man who addresses issues of concern in an open and honest way

Friday, 8 July 2016

Parliament has power to take back control on EU

The main chant of those who wanted to leave the EU was take back control, well now MPs have the chance to do just that. The law passed last year to set up the EU referendum underlined the advisory nature of the vote, sovereignty remains with “the Queen in Parliament.” So despite all the bleating from the leave side about loss of sovereignty that very power still rests squarely with Mps and peers.

Before Brexit can happen the European Communities Act 1972, which took us into the EU has to be repealed. This will mean a Parliamentary vote. Given that most of the Labour and Conservative Party’s were for remain, as were the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists, the Mps can stop exit from the EU.

There could ofcourse be populist concerns about such an outcome, with people arguing what was the point of a referendum if the results is to be ignored?

However, on the balance surely the MPs must put the national security and common good of the people of these islands ahead of such concerns. The fundamental point is that referendum should only ever be given the credence of advisory instruments. In a democracy we elect MPs to govern on our behalf. It is noticeable that the referendum over history has been the friend of dictators everywhere, a device used to summon up populist support for a particular policy. We are not a dictatorship, at least , not yet, so it should now be for the MPs to decide.

If the leave camp still has problems with a perceived democratic deficit the way forward would be to have a general election where the EU question was the central issue. After such a general election it would then be for the Parliament to decide by two thirds majority if going ahead and leaving the EU is the right course to follow. Again this could open up the possibility of a mass UKIP party but that is a risk that must be taken. Certainly, the present course of taking the country out of the EU on a narrow populist referendum vote is reckless and probably  illegal. So let’s take back control in Parliament.

published - Ilford Recorder/ Wanstead & Woodford Guardian - 7/7/2016

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Chilcot report provides important analysis but war as first resort lobby still carries undue influence in public lexicon

The Chilcot report provides a damning condemnation of the decision making process that led to the Iraq war, let's hope its words penetrate politicians and media operatives. It is fine to come up with such conclusions 13 years after the event but what of those voices warning at the time of the consequences of this ludicrous war ..the 2 million who marched on the streets..ignored by Blair and his ruling cabal, MPs like Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Robin Cook and Charles Kennedy and journalists like John Pilger. What of the peace movement ignored by Blair, the BBC and other influential parts of the media.
There are also few signs of lessons learned as a result of Iraq. Britain has jumped in with further hasty ill advised military interventions in Libya and Syria.
Labour MP Paul Flynn, who voted against the Iraq war, rightly identified the "war as first resort" group. that still exists and carries undue influence in Parliament. This group was most recently seen in action over the bombing of Syria.
Yes Chilcot provides valuable analysis but there is still much that needs to be done if the lessons of the past are to be truly learned in order that they are not repeated in the future.