Archives for category: Politics

So my Lockdown lesson #2 concerns Fake news. After a lifetime of being an avid news hound, Lockdown has proved the ideal cure for my ‘news habit’. I am now ‘clean’, and no longer suffer withdrawals and an irresistable demand to newswatch.

My wife has had Covid-19. Not that she knew initially. She had no symptons that have been reported as indicators of Covid-19. No temperature, no cough, no breathing difficulties. Yet, she was unwell. Eventually she was ordered to take a test, which came back negative. However, those administering the test said it was only 80% accurate. Not heard that reported on the media or by government ministers indicating testing is a an essential tool in the war against Covd-19.

But now she did have pain in her lungs, trouble with breathing and she struggled with her voice.

The GP reuested to see her. Like a secret assignation she had to divulge the colour of her car and its registration number. On entering the surgery car park she was met by the GP in full PPE. Somewhat eery and a very different world to the one we’d left a few weeks previously.

Still no satisfactory answer. She returned home and a week later the GP phoned to see how she was. Reporting things were much the same, she was now directed to A&E. Here a four hour examination, bloods, chest X-rays, heart monitors, established she’d definitely had Covid-19 and was now left with a sever infection of the lungs and heart. Viral in nature and so no treatment possible. The body must fight as best it could and she was to rest.

Interestingly, in conversation with the medics, she learned that there were no guaranteed signs that indicated Covid-19. This viral infection attacked as it wished and took life whenever it could.

So what’s this to do with the media? Well, eight weeks into Lockdown I note the media seems to be pushing for a return to normality. Of course none of us knows what the new normal will be. In reality we listen to the news and must decide which ‘experts’ we choose to believe. Some say this pandemic will only be controlled through strict Lockdown. Others that we must take the risk, even if we keep the elderly under lock and key, fearing the economic collapse will prove more catastrophic than loss of life.

Cabinet politicians stepping up to the podium to offer a daily briefing, look as though they are struggling to conceal more than they actually reveal. No-one looks assured. The health ‘experts’ flanking the esteemed minister themselves sound less than convincing as they present clourful charts that, as with all statistics, tell the story the statistician wants to peddle. As someone once said, ‘A politician uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost; for support rather than illumination’.

So, I’ve concluded that I cannot fathom anything useful from watching the news. A Prime Minister speaks of conquering Covid-19, whilst medical specialists explain you don’t defeat a disease, you only ever manage a disease. No-one can tell us whether PPE is available or not. The self employed patiently wait to see if there wil be any financial help come June. And major companies, such as the airlines, clamour for government bail outs to shield their shareholders from their responsibility for sustaining the business through these bad times in return for the rewards they’ve enjoyed during the good.

I however remain happy and optimisti; like a man freed from an addictive habit, for I no longer watch the news. I glance at the BBC headlines on my phone, yet again most of the information is confusing at best, deceitful at worst.

Now I am confident in one thing alone. As the Psalmist declares, ‘You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed‘.

So I ignore the news, and accept the truth that in reality my days are already determined by God, and so there’s no point in anxiety. I could not be in safer hands; and I pray that once my allotted time runs out I embrace my departure with courage and conviction.

 

Fr. Santo, chaplain of a hospital in Bologna, witnesses a great desire for God among the sick, doctors, and nurses during the Covid emergency.

Fr. Santo Merlini

My name is Fr. Santo Merlini, I belong to the Fraternity of Saint Charles and since 2013 I’ve been the chaplain of Sant’Orsola Hospital. The situation of the pandemic has called me to a new step and a new beginning, in the span of a few days the hospital has assumed a new face and I wasn’t able to do my work in the same way I could before, in front of many people sick and alone, in front of so many that die without their loved ones. Different wards of the hospital had to equip themselves in order to confront a situation for which they weren’t prepared, so that the surgical, ENT, emergency, and other departments transformed into COVID wards, having to rethink the entire department. Then in the span of a few days they put in place exceptional intensive therapy to respond to the growing need.

Little by little, even without knowing these departments being that I worked prevalently for the pediatric and OB wards, I searched for ways to enter in, pushed by our Bishop whom I thank for sustaining and encouraging me. I speak with him almost every evening and he is very concerned for the many patients who are alone, he pushes me to not stop in front of the difficulties that I encounter.

I began to visit the COVID intensive therapy patients and I was immediately struck by the doctors’ and nurses’ desire to take a short break to say a prayer. At my invitation to pray the personnel stopped, making the sign of the cross to pray with me. Finding almost all of the patients in a sedated state I blessed them and I pronounced the formula for extreme absolution. Then little by little I am getting to know some of the head nurses in order to organize my time and activity in the department. I began to enter into some COVID wards, only some, but it’s an important start while sometimes I receive calls from other wards from people who desire to receive the comfort of the sacraments.

Entering into the COVID ward is very tiring, you need to undergo to many laborious procedures of dressing and undressing, often even more than once in the same ward to go from one room to another. When you have all of those clothes on you sweat a lot and the two masks that you have to wear make it difficult to breath. It’s a struggle that I share with the doctors, nurses and social workers that have to wear those clothes for many more hours than I do. But I was struck by the desire for God that I found in the people that I visited. Almost all of them desired to say a prayer with me, the many elderly but also the younger patients, that are much more that we would expect. It’s not true that the virus only affects the elderly.

Sometimes we think that there’s no more faith, that no one desires to pray anymore. I hear it said often even by people of the Church. In these past few weeks I’ve seen that there’s a great desire for God, a desire that emerges strongly in the fragile condition of an illness that forces you to be alone for many days and surrounded only by suits and masks that make those around you unrecognizable. I was struck by the witness of one patient’s suffering – an over-eighty-year-old that lost her husband, him as well for the coronavirus, with which she had been together since they were 16. They spent an entire life together but at the moment of their separation they found themselves alone, in two different wards. While the other day a sick woman continued to ask me “God didn’t forget me, right?” I was there to tell her and the other patients that God hadn’t forgotten them, that in fact through their suffering they are closer to Him.

To make myself recognizable I draw with a marker or tape a cross on my scrubs and in this way people recognize me as a priest. Some patients, upon seeing me, have said “Finally!” I administer the collective absolution to the eldest or most critical patients, inviting them to confess themselves as soon as possible.

This work is asking me to sacrifice from a personal standpoint as well, the first of which consists in having gone to live by myself, depriving me of the companionship of my brothers Fr. Peppino and Fr. Marco. The fact that I’m doing this work for obedience, not for a desire to be heroic, comforts me. It wasn’t my idea to enter into the hospitals, and a year ago I would’ve never thought to find myself in a real and true battlefield, in which I have to defend myself from the attack of the mortal enemy: the virus. I feel myself one who simply responds to his obligation. I find, however, a great support in the presence of some doctor and nurse friends, with whom I share different moments of my day and especially a moment of prayer together every day. We are careful to respect the distances as the rules say: a distance, though, that is eliminated by the decisiveness of our prayer. Their presence reminds me that I’m not alone and that I’m not the only one risking my skin to bring a little bit of comfort to the sick. There are the doctors, the nurses, the social workers, but also all of the cleaning and maintenance staff that heroically risk getting sick in order to put their lives in service of the sick.

 

Captain Tom Moore is a bright ray of hope bursting upon a gloomy landscape. The exploits of this 99 year old army veteran have taken the country by storm. A great example that age is never an impediment to action. And action never needs to be imagined upon the grand scale to make a significant difference. I trust each one of us whose been inspired has also contributed to his cause. I’m personally pleased as Tom and I share the same birthday, April 30.

Of course, whilst this is a brilliant story, it also highlights the power of the media. What semed to him and his family an ambitious goal of £1000 for his walk of one hundred 25m lengths in his back garden has, at time of writing, grown to a massive £26,479,945; and still growing. Media attention has also led to the launch of his first single, a collaboration with Michael Ball, and this has charted at #1. And a public petition launched requesting the honours office to Knight Tom has received 852,000 signatures and is growing by the moment.

Good News

So a great ‘good news’ story at just the right time. Yet, it is a story fuelled by news media. Without this media hype, then perhaps Tom’s efforts would have remained at a very creditable £1000. It shows just how important the media is, and how easy it can be to seek to manipulate media for some personal advantage. In Tom’s case this has been accidental, not manipulativr, and is for the general good, both as regards our sense of well being and for the NHS, which is the most highly regarded institution in the UK, scoring higher than the monarchy in every opinion poll.

24/7 media remains infatuated with endless reporting of coronavirus, much of it not news but tedious ‘expert’ opinion. The majority of this opinion is ‘finger in the wind’ prediction, since the very nature of an unknown virus means it’s unknown, so all predictions must be subject to a high percentage of doubt.

This reveals both how negative and limited our news reporting is. We must become increasingly skilled at discerning fact from opinion; this latter is never news. Perhaps one lesson from this period is that we would be more highly motivated and the national mood lifted if an equal amount of news coverage were given to upbeat everyday stories such as Tom Moore’s.

Two Grave Errors

As those who pursue Jesus in our everyday lives, we must also learn to steer away from an abuse of media. Today it is easy to make two grave errors. The first is to conceive of something as ‘good ‘ purely in the light of how well it wil play on the media. In other words we are looking to generate the audience through the means of some good, saleable Christian end. I’d suggest that the idea, if it is of value, is worthy of practising regardless of whether anyone else notices or not. For is it not God alone whom we serve? And is it not God alone who oberves our activities?

So beware, for media has made us assume that only if an activity is scaleable and becomes established in the marketplace of ideas and activities is it of proven value. Not so. God has little interest if our activity is known anywhere beyond ourselves and the Trinity. For what larger audience can there be but the Trinity, within which the entirety of existence is contained?

Beware the deception that popular success is the equivalent of Kingdom impact. That is the lie from the enemy of truth itself.

The second great error to which our media consciousness directs us toward are the fear of ending shipwrecked upon rocks of financial ruin. Every project or programme is assessed upon its financial viability. Much of which is in meeting the costs of those people designing and managing said projects and programmes. Tom has it right, he takes not one penny for himself for the only investment he needs to make is his human effort required to walk, with the aid of a frame, 250 metres (10x 25m); the bite sized chunks that made up his epic pilgrimage. Bite sized is a better approach than financial viability.

Great Ideas are Priceless

It was Oscar Wilde who is reported as saying that, ‘People know know the price of everything and the value of nothing‘. Fortunately in this season of Easter, God demonstrates that value is of far more importance than price as the Crucifixion makes plain.

A great idea requires neither an audience nor an income stream. And great ideas are always those that benefit another rarher than myself. So inspired by Captain Tom, look to see how in this Lockdown season you might do some very simple things to support and encourage others. For this is the heart of what Tm has done. And whilst his story has enjoyed media magnification, it is so that millions of great ideas birthed throughout the British Isles, and around the world, might celebrate the fact that God is the God of the great ideas.

And for each one of us the only audience that matters, and indeed counts, is the Trinity of Father Son and Holy Spirit. Ideas expressed through action are the channels along which God’s mercy and love flow. And this is priceless as well as much needed in our world.

It is not yor business to succeed, but to do right;

when you have done so,the rest lies with God‘.

C. S. Lewis

 

As media and others press government over when to loosen the Lockdown Rules, how is God reshaping our understanding of how we, the colony of heaven on earth, emerge?

Clement of Rome

Walk like a Christian

I, together with my friend Stuart, am looking at the Pre Constantinian church in some detail. Form the few surviving texts, it’s encouraging and challenging to discern how those first Christian comunities lived. Let me quote from St. Clement of Rome writing to the church in Corinth, perhaps as early as 65 CE.

‘…a complete absence of self assertion were common to you all…giving was dearer to your hearts than receiving…you paid careful heed to His words, treasured them in your hearts, and kept his sufferings constantly before your eyes.The reward was a deep and shining peace, a quenchless ardour for well-doing, and a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you all.You were full of aspirations to holiness…you harboured no resentments; any kind of faction or schism was an abomination to you. You mourned for a neighbour’s faults, and regarded their failings as your own. Never did you grudge a kindly action; always you were ready for any deed of goodness. In the beauty of a pure and lovely citizenship, whatever you did was done in the fear of God, and the statutes and judgements of the Lord were engraved on the tablets of your hearts.’

In the economic ‘crisis’ introduced through the Lockdown, many churches, charities and Christian events have been looking to find some safe economic harbour to secure their future. Yet, this is an opportunity to take stock. The future will require a people of faith who have the courage and the conviction to return to living after the pattern of those early Christians.

‘It’s no longer I who live…’

These first followers knew no earthly security. They banked upon Christ’s message of hope alone. They lived to illustrate the truths they gave voice to. They enjoyed no earthly security. I ask myself can I dare to live in that way? If not what do I truly believe of the Christian message I espouse and claim to practice? As Bonheoffer stated in his ‘Letters and Papers from Prison‘,

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

A message for those on the front line

So it was that I was struck by what Pope Francis wrote to all those working in popular movements and organisations in encouragement and support of those on the margins of our society. That number may greatly increase following the economic hit of Lockdown. I quote,

If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalizing at a time when no one can save themselves alone. As I told you in our meetings, to me you are social poets because, from the forgotten peripheries where you live, you create admirable solutions for the most pressing problems afflicting the marginalised“.

Is this not the same ‘invisble army’ that St Clement describes? Is it not the same ‘invisible army’ that you and I, as disciples, are members of?

As Pope Francie goes on to say,

I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.

Practical response

Perhaps the best we can do during Lockdown is to engage in a serious audit of our lives with God. Here we can determine our lifestyle choices, how best we might live in service of the belief we hold, once we emerge from Lockdown. There will be enormous pressure to resume business as usual. There will be a great temptation to turn a blind eye to the many casualties who stumble out of Lockdown. A significant opportunity will present itself to recalibrate the life and message we as church present to a troubled post pandemic world.

I’m remeinded, in this American Presidential election year, of the ianaugral address of President John F. Kennedy,

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country‘.

This is the very moment when we, the church, we who have chosen to shoulder the cross of discipleship, to carry the reputation of God upon our shoulders, must decide how we might live if we are to make any sense in the world and become something other than a clanging cymbal of futile sounds with no impact upon the eveils of our world.

I have included the full text of the Pope’s address, which I commend for a reflective reading and a provocation to prayer. Do let me know, stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com, how you are arising from the ashes of the pandemic lockdown, and be assured we are praying here in the Oratory for a bright and blessed future.

Pope Francis’ Easter Sunday Letter, 12 April 2020

To our brothers and sisters of popular movements and organizations 

Dear Friends,
I often recall our previous meetings: two at the Vatican and one in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and I must tell you that this “souvenir” warms my heart. It brings me closer to you, and helps me re-live so many dialogues we had during those times. I think of all the beautiful projects that emerged from those conversations and took shape and have become reality. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, I think of you in a special way and wish to express my closeness to you.

In these days of great anxiety and hardship, many have used war-like metaphors to refer to the pandemic we are experiencing. If the struggle against COVID-19 is a war, then you are truly an invisible army, fighting in the most dangerous trenches; an army whose only weapons are
solidarity, hope, and community spirit, all revitalizing at a time when no one can save themselves alone. As I told you in our meetings, to me you are social poets because, from the forgotten peripheries where you live, you create admirable solutions for the most pressing
problems afflicting the marginalized.

I know that you nearly never receive the recognition that you deserve, because you are truly invisible to the system. Market solutions do not reach the peripheries, and State protection is hardly visible there. Nor do you have the resources to substitute for its functioning. You are looked upon with suspicion when through community organization you try to move beyond philanthropy or when, instead of resigning and hoping to catch some crumbs that fall from the table of economic power, you claim your rights. You often feel rage and powerlessness at the sight of persistent inequalities and when any excuse at all is sufficient for maintaining those privileges. Nevertheless, you do not resign yourselves to complaining: you roll up your sleeves and keep working for your families, your communities, and the common good. Your resilience helps me, challenges me, and teaches me a great deal.

I think of all the people, especially women, who multiply loaves of bread in soup kitchens: two onions and a package of rice make up a delicious stew for hundreds of children. I think of the sick, I think of the elderly. They never appear in the news, nor do small farmers and their
families who work hard to produce healthy food without destroying nature, without hoarding, without exploiting people’s needs. I want you to know that our Heavenly Father watches over you, values you, appreciates you, and supports you in your commitment.

How difficult it is to stay at home for those who live in tiny, ramshackle dwellings, or for the homeless! How difficult it is for migrants, those who are deprived of freedom, and those in rehabilitation from an addiction. You are there shoulder to shoulder with them, helping them to make things less difficult, less painful. I congratulate and thank you with all my heart.

My hope is that governments understand that technocratic paradigms (whether state-centred or market-driven) are not enough to address this crisis or the other great problems affecting humankind. Now more than ever, persons, communities and peoples must be put at the centre, united to heal, to care and to share. I know that you have been excluded from the benefits of globalization. You do not enjoy the superficial pleasures that anesthetize so many consciences, yet you always suffer from the harm they produce. The ills that afflict everyone hit you twice as hard. Many of you live from day to day, without any type of legal guarantee to protect you. Street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers: you who are informal, working on your own or in the grassroots economy, you have no steady
income to get you through this hard time … and the lockdowns are becoming unbearable. This may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out. It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once
so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights.

Moreover, I urge you to reflect on “life after the pandemic,” for while this storm shall pass, its grave consequences are already being felt. You are not helpless. You have the culture, the method, and most of all, the wisdom that are kneaded with the leaven of feeling the suffering
of others as your own. I want all of us to think about the project of integral human development that we long for and that is based on the central role and initiative of the people in all their diversity, as well as on universal access to those three Ts that you defend: Trabajo (work), Techo (housing), and Tierra (land and food).

I hope that this time of danger will free us from operating on automatic pilot, shake our sleepy consciences and allow a humanist and ecological conversion that puts an end to the idolatry of money and places human life and dignity at the centre. Our civilization — so competitive, so
individualistic, with its frenetic rhythms of production and consumption, its extravagant luxuries, its disproportionate profits for just a few — needs to downshift, take stock, and renew itself.

You are the indispensable builders of this change that can no longer be put off. Moreover, when you testify that to change is possible, your voice is authoritative. You have known crises and hardships … that you manage to transform — with modesty, dignity, commitment, hard work and solidarity — into a promise of life for your families and your communities. Stand firm in your struggle and care for each other as brothers and sisters. I pray for you, I pray with you. I want to ask God our Father to bless you, to fill you with his love, and to defend you on this path, giving you the strength that keeps us standing tall and that never disappoints: hope. Please pray for me, because I need it too. Fraternally,

Vatican City, Easter Sunday, 12 April 2020

 

 

Today is Good Friday. Unusual this year for we are all under lockdown in our own homes. The normal church services are only available online. Yet, one benefit arising from our restricted movement is more time to reflect upon the events surrounding our redemption.

Such reflections may well prove both helpful and necessary for our peace of mind. In many conversations, now all conducted over the internet, it is clear that this is a time of anxiety for people. Legitimate anxieties such as how might I earn income, how vulnerable am I to catch covid-19, the pain of being unable to gather with immediate family or friends? Others face the pressures of living within a confined space, with no means to find time and space alone.

On rare excursions out, the world has changed. Few cars, social distancing maintaining gaps between neighbours and friends, and long, queues snaking around supermarkets. Everything is different and this very quickly begins to play upon our fears and stir up anxieties within.

Finding and sustaining faith during such times can prove challenging. Much depends upon the level of intimacy we have built between ourselves and Jesus over the years. This sudden change in our life experience can only highlight for us the character of the friendship we enjoy with God.

Today many of us will reflect upon the long and brutal walk Jesus was forced to take. Bearing the instrument of his own torture and death upon his back, he was experiencing the greatest test to his faith to date. Like Abraham had to hold a knife aloft above his only son, bound in readiness for sacrifice, so Jesus must face this the greatest test to his self professed claim to be the Son of God and his total confidence that God would neither fail nor forsake him.

Many of us find ourselves in just such a situation. This is a season of our own Passion or season of enduring suffering, the actual meaning of the word. We are invited to persevere and the ‘not knowing’ what the future holds for any of us can unleash a host of ‘demons’ that continually torment our minds and depress our mood.

Our confidence can only lie in recognising that in agreeing to follow Jesus, a voluntary decision that is within the power of everyone of us to take or reject, we also agreed to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Therefore, today of all days, whilst sombre in tone, is also a source of our instruction and encouragement. We are only living where Jesus has been before us.

Whilst painful, this is a safe place. Our lives are hid with Christ in God. And whilst we cannot know the future in any practical detail, we do know, like Jesus, that our lives are ultimately in safe hands, those of our God and Creator. What we have to do is turn our gaze from considering the many possibilities that flood our minds about our unknown tomorrows and direct our full attention to how and where we are today.

The remarkable thng about Jesus, who remember had never experienced resurrection and only had his Father’s promise to go on, maintained a very present focus. In the Stations of the Cross, which many traditions will contemplate today, Jesus, amidst the beatings and his stumbling beneath the weight of the cross, has time to comfort both Mary his mother and the women of Jerusalem. The point being he remained focussed upon the present. This was true once crucified and raised aloft as he took time both to forgive those who’d engineered and carried out his execution as well as welcome a penitent thief into paradise, an eternal embrace conducted within the social distancing execution demanded.

All I can ever respond to is my present. However, my mind fills with thousands of anxieties as I imagine, and seek to navigate my future. Sadly tomorrow does not exist. Only NOW is real. Naturally the circumstances of my now will raise the specter of those issues I have willfully buried beneath the busyness my normal life affords. But maybe, these days of enforced solitude are an opportunity not simply to clean the house and tidy the garden, for those fortunate enough to have one. They are perhaps a heaven sent opportunity to dig up and dust off all those unresolved fears. Time to consider what it is I really need to worry about and why.

My own reflections have helped me see more clearly than ever that so many of the ‘givens’ of my pre lockdown life are the shadows of idols that merely distract me from living a full and complete life. Too many of the aspirations I pursue prove empty promises. They simply evaporate the moment I lay hold of them and prove themselves to be of no lasting or substantial value; they are no help when I face more signifcant questions such as who I am and who has my back in this crisis?

Media directs our gaze toward government, yet what can they do? Despite their essential assurances to quel potential social meltdown, they, like us, are mortal and have no knowledge of what the future holds. Daily briefings from government ministers and an array of ‘experts’ remind us that they are only ever talking about the present, for, as I’ve said, the present is all that any of us can deal with.

So like Jesus, trudging toward Golgotha under the weight of his greatest fears, we are to follow the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘.

If we solely look to government this only presents us with the classic misdirect of the illusionist, for we fail to see the source of our help and health, who is God alone. So as we enter this Easter weekend, let’s take the time to place those unrealised fears, stirred by an unknown tomorrow, into the hands of God and pray for both ourselves and those throughout the world who share these troubling times with us.

‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Amen’

It’s now clear that COVID-19 is a deadly serious global pandemic, and all necessary precautions should be taken. Still, C. S. Lewis’s words—written 72 years ago—ring with some relevance for us. Just replace “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Brexit is sinking in. The UK has left the European Union, although that Referendum outcome may in fact trigger Scotland to seek permission of its citizens to leave the Union and find a way of joining the EU in its own right.

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Sadly, the anger that followed the outcome has only revealed just how conflicted the English, in particular, are. To claim that those who voted to leave are either racist or more accurately, xenophobic, is simply to reinforce the unhelpful polarity of the ‘In or Out’ Referendum question. There is a case to make that the EU itself and the apparent high handed behaviour of its institutions has enriched the soil in which nationalism and right wing politics flourishes. Austria only just avoided electing an extreme right wing President.

Sadly, the whole Referendum was unnecessary given that it was a vanity project for the Conservative Party. Having surprisingly seized victory from the jaws of defeat in a General Election just over a year ago, Prime Minister Cameron had no need to invoke his manifesto promise of a referendum, After all when previously elected he instituted a top down reform of the NHS, something not in the manifesto. The assumption in the establishment that the Remain vote would carry the day largely relied on inherent conservatism across the electorate fanned into flame through the dire warnings of ‘Project Fear‘, the economic melt done that would follow any exit from the EU.

So what have we learnt? The Brussels Trinity of Council, Commission and Parliament never saw Brexit as a likely outcome as simple moves to have their books independently audited or showing a face of flexible negotiation as available for any member state seeking to influence the Union going forward would have been well received by the UK electorate. As a result Cameron’s mock ‘re-negotiation’ carried no authority and the UK electorate lost faith that the Union was subject to the normal rule of political engagement, which is negotiation between competing needs and preferences between member States. It appears that critical decisions lie in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who perhaps profit personally too well from their appointment. As a result all claims that it is better to influence from within than to leave proved unbelievable to a majority of the electorate and the EU must accept some responsibility for that and its failure to play anything but hard ball, a policy it appears to want to continue post the Brexit vote, is to my mind, a strategic error, or deserving of the overworked use of the word ‘arrogance’.

I would like to think that given the narrow win for Brexit, the EU and the British negotiating team might recognise now is the time to explore a constructive working relationship between the EU and the UK. Continuing with a binary approach surely has no place in a mature democratic debate. Big questions face the leaders both within the UK and across the remaining twenty seven members as well as the EU unelected officers. The initial comments from the latter are not encouraging and only further fuel anger across the UK and incite movements to leave throughout the remaining EU member nations.

As for Scotland, can the SNP really say that it is in everyone’s best interests to exploit the voting figures to push for another Independence Referendum? Now is surely the moment when a party that actually enjoys the trust of their supporters and has engaged a large electorate in the reality of politics, to act as an effective honest broker in a fractured relationship between the UK and EU. Why would any right minded political figure want to destabilise the world more completely? Time will reveal how self centred and self satisfied the Scottish nation and political establishment has become.

Obviously, little will change in real terms. Immigration will continue, and to paint Brexit as a xenophobic reaction is plain wrong. However, there is a need for a clearly understandable Immigration Policy, something successive UK governments have refused to grapple with. There are plenty of examples elsewhere in the world such as USA and Australia, but in both confusion and challenge will always surround such complex issues. Overall the issue in the UK is less about a refusal to offer hospitality to victims of war and terror, and far more about businesses exploiting migrant labour and driving wages down in the lowest paid sectors in our economy. No right minded person wants to support such exploitation, yet I guess many are guilty of purchasing from Amazon, whose employees speak clearly of the terrible employment conditions they experience. I would be thrilled if the indignation this Referendum has stirred up might act as a creative challenge to all of us so that we might invest our leisure time into campaigning and working for justice and peace, using our diverse skills and different resource levels to work on behalf of those marginalised through no fault of their own. This truly is a consequence of globalisation that requires compassionate engagement.

The Media has shown itself highly irresponsible in the way it has fuelled polarisation within the debate. The result can be laid at its feet, even though after the outcome it acts both surprised and unhappy uk_regionalisationat the outcome.

The good news is that we may now invite those who are sixteen to be enfranchised in any future UK wide election. It has woken those who’ve lost interest and trust in politicians to the power and purpose of politics, that is young people, and they must be offered critical roles throughout all our political institutions. Just looking at the Commission and much of the critical officers who manage our political life, they are grey haired and out of touch with emerging trends in culture. Time to move people out of public life earlier and create more opportunities for the young.

I am very optimistic regarding the future for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. We are wrestling with the end of the Nation State, the battle to give up on an idea birthed in 800 and which we thought had ended in 1806. I speak of the Holy Roman Empire. Europe has been fascinated with being joined together for centuries, and maybe this is the last attempt at establishing this expression of a mega state. In fact, just as Scotland seeks independence so do the regions throughout the UK. It means the movement of power from the centre, London and Westminster, to elected, representative bodies in the regions. If the Referendum revealed anything it revealed the privileged position of London, other urban centres to a lesser degree, and then what have been allowed to become the wastelands of our historic industrial landscapes. Yet government seems to have no policy for addressing manufacture, engineering and industrial development.

So the future isn’t bleak. It may be uncertain, yet this is a great opportunity and let’s demonstrate international leadership in building a political, social and economic model that offers hope to all our children and grandchildren, gives the necessary ability to respond to fast changing global change without being saddled with a bureaucratic response. Its a time for belief not bitterness and recrimination.

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