Archives for posts with tag: British Army

Sir Keir Starmer: So what is Labour going to do? You know, we keep being told that we are world-class in this and that, and probably the only thing that we can think of that fits that description is the vaccine programme. We have brilliant scientists who have developed the vaccine and our super-efficient NHS is distributing it faster than anyone else.

But you don’t need me to tell you that not much else is world-class at the moment. The number of people who have died in the UK is the highest in Europe and our economy is doing worst among the developed nations. 

Literally millions of people are having to go to food banks, and thousands are homeless on the streets, even in winter time. Universal Credit, to pay everything for a family of four, comes to less than a typical middle-class family will spend just on groceries in the supermarket. 

At the same time some people are getting massively richer through their private contacts with the Conservative party, making contracts to supply things which they know nothing about and which they fail to do, trousering billions in the process.

You know all that. What did you vote for in connection with Brexit? I can’t believe that you really wanted our farmers and fishermen to be unable to export to the EU, or our performing artists, actors, musicians, opera singers, orchestral players or dancers to be unable to go on tour anywhere in Europe, or for none of the stars that we used to welcome from Europe to be able to come here. The Brexit deal leaves out not only the performers but also our financial services industry – together that means half our economic output is effectively subject to a no-deal Brexit. Is that really what people wanted?

Let’s start thinking about what we in Labour could do, if we were in government. People liked the idea of an extra £350 million per week for the NHS as a result of our leaving the EU. Leaving the EU has actually cost us far more than this each week so far. But let’s stay with the idea that the NHS does need more money. Because it does! 

So people were right to vote for more money for the NHS; and Labour will give the NHS the funding that it needs, which is much more than £350 million per week. There needs to be enough investment to ensure that we have sufficient hospital beds – at the moment we have the lowest number per head of population in Europe – enough doctors – we have a shortage of several thousand – enough nurses – we have a shortage of 40,000 nurses – and all the necessary equipment and facilities that the NHS needs. The NHS needs massive extra investment, and Labour will provide it. 

Just remember the Nightingale hospitals. The army came in and very efficiently did what they are very good at, creating instant buildings, and the government managed to cobble together enough ventilators – but we didn’t have any doctors or nurses to staff these new hospitals. It was an illusion. Labour is not in the business of illusions. We want to give you the real thing, something solid and reliable.

What about our housing? When did you last meet someone who lives in a council house? We need to build hundreds of thousands of council houses. Yes, council houses, not so-called ‘affordable’ houses. Because current housing is not affordable. For somebody on an ordinary income even the deposit for a private rented flat may be out of reach. To buy an ‘affordable’ house, as it is defined, in parts of the south-east, costs half a million pounds. 

The government needs to invest in things which provide solid, lasting benefits for society and at the same time provide real jobs. If we built another half million council houses, as they did at the end of the Second World War, this would employ thousands of people and provide work for many subcontractors and manufacturers all over the country. Labour will provide the necessary finance to local authorities so that they can afford to do this.  

And local authorities need the proper funding – which they used to have – in order to do all the things which they can do to make our lives more civilised. We need to make sure that they have enough funds to pay properly for social care which can work closely with the National Health Service, so that old people are not just dumped.

We need children to be properly catered for. The Sure Start scheme needs to be reinstated and properly funded. Our schools and their teachers must have proper funding. It’s interesting that if you send a kid to a private school (or what is called a ‘public school’), it’s going to cost over £30,000 per year, whereas in the state system the budget for each pupil is around £4,000. 

Nearly eight times less! We need to invest in our schools, so that our teachers can take their proper place in society – and indeed so that we can attract the best and most talented people to become teachers – and so that those schools can have all the facilities to educate our children to the highest standard. It’s no good when Dame Louise Casey, the Children’s Commissioner, says in her leaving report that a fifth of children leaving school cannot read and write. We are the sixth richest country in the world, and that is disgraceful. Teachers need to be in the same league as other professionals.Every child should have a proper amount spent on them. We should rejoin the Erasmus educational exchange scheme. Labour will do this.

We must get away from this idea that public is bad and private is good. Think where you would rather live, if you couldn’t live where you do now. Which country? I expect quite a lot of people would say Italy, France, Germany, or Spain, where every town has an elegant square and fine buildings around it; fine public facilities – in Germany even modest sized towns have their own opera house – whereas our whole country has only three major opera houses.

We have to get through this pandemic. It seems wrong to us in Labour that there are still hundreds of thousands of people who have fallen through the net and are not receiving any kind of state benefits even though they are prevented from working, perhaps because they have just changed their job or they have gone self-employed – and by the way, being self-employed, we think, is often a scam, so their employers can cheat the tax-man. 

We are very pleased to see the judgement in the Uber case which is, we hope, going to outlaw much of the ‘gig economy’ so that everyone who works hard can have paid holidays and sick leave when they need it. Good work by the trades unions got this result, and Labour will legislate to make sure of it.

But, you will say, Labour is always very good at spending other people’s money. We need government to be prudent. Frankly, you need to know, that is an over-simplification. As Mr Sunak has proved, when the money is needed, money can be easily found. If you compare our situation now with that at the end of World War II, we were far worse off then and borrowing was much higher – and yet the Labour government successfully started the NHS, built half a million council houses and created the modern welfare state. Margaret Thatcher and her handbag are not a good economic model!

And what about our relations with Europe? We don’t think that people voted to leave the Customs Union and Single Market. Indeed the Brexit campaigners constantly assured us that there would be no question of this happening. 

Again, people wanting to stop immigration have perhaps forgotten how many immigrants keep the NHS going. How many doctors and nurses there are from other countries all around the world. How many teachers and researchers in our leading universities – and indeed how many plumbers and fruit pickers – there are from our friends and neighbours in other countries.

Immigrants, as a group, contribute over 10% more in tax than people who were born in this country. We should welcome them. Freedom of movement would actually be a very good thing for our country, so long as we have proper resources in place. 

If there is a competition for public services, it is because those services have been cut to the bone. If we had properly funded public services, then everybody would be able to benefit, wherever they have come from. 

Labour wants this country to be really world-class, not just world-class for the spivs. A Labour government would lead the country, all the country, into a better place. We know that it will cost money, at least in the short run, and we need to look again at the taxation of the giant multinational companies who use our public facilities but contribute hardly anything in tax.

There is a reason why it is cheaper to shop online than to visit a shop on the High Street. It is because the likes of Amazon and Apple and Google play the market in international tax and pay little or nothing in this country. Labour will put a stop to this and will tax the multinational companies not on profits but on turnover from sales in this country. 

And yes, we will introduce higher rates of income tax for the wealthy. It’s true that the wealthy already pay a lot of tax. But frankly if you earn several hundred thousand pounds a year you can afford to pay some more.

We will look sympathetically at the idea of universal basic income. It is frankly wrong that anyone in work should have to go to a food bank, as many nurses do. It is wrong that people who are disabled or unable to work for whatever reason should have less to cover all their living expenses than what many people spend every week just on groceries in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose.

Mention those shop names; what’s happening on the High Street is something which Labour wants to address too. The great department shops can’t survive if people can buy everything online at a cheaper price. Your local bookshop won’t survive if Amazon can sell books for less than the local book shop can buy them wholesale. Labour will ensure that online retailers have to bear the same costs as physical shops who employ local people and provide real service face-to-face.

Labour will invest in our justice system. We will actively seek to rejoin the European criminal intelligence network; we will reopen courts and provide properly resourced Legal Aid, including for family cases, so that justice is no longer open only to the rich, and people charged in criminal cases do not have to wait for up to a year to be tried. Justice delayed is justice denied, and Labour agrees. Labour will uphold the Human Rights Act.

Welcome to our world – to the Labour world. Really world-class.

[Applause]

Sermon for Evening Prayer on Saturday 7th March 2020 for the Prayer Book Society Guildford Branch, at the Founder’s Chapel, Charterhouse

Jeremiah 7:1-20; John 6:27-40 (see http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=450504242)

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

I want to speak to you not just about the bread of life, but also about baked beans and sausages. At the same time we can’t ignore that it is the end of the first week in Lent.

The baked beans and sausage, you might be a bit surprised to hear, bring into consideration two theologians, one ancient and one modern, and the bread and the Lent give us a topical Christian context for that food, which is, fasting.

And I suppose that the other ingredient which I need to work in is some reference to our beloved Book of Common Prayer, and the theological developments which Cranmer was influenced by in writing it.

The first thing to reassure you about is that there is no command to fast in the Gospels – except that Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfil it. So the days laid down for fasting in Leviticus, for example on the Day of Atonement, mean that it’s not strictly true that there’s no Biblical justification for fasting.

As you will know, the Reformation, which greatly influenced Cranmer, was led certainly by Martin Luther in Germany but also by Zwingli and Calvin in Switzerland.

Diarmaid MacCulloch has written, ‘It was a sausage that proved to be the rallying-cry for the Swiss Reformation.’ A Zurich printer, Christoph Froschauer, with Zwingli and 12 of his followers in Zurich sat down on the first Sunday in Lent in 1522 and ate two large sausages. Zwingli followed up by preaching a sermon in which he argued that it was unnecessary to follow the church’s traditional teaching about not eating meat during Lent. It was a human command introduced by the Church, which might or might not be observed, but which ‘obscured the real laws of God in the Gospel if it was made compulsory’. [MacCulloch, D., 2003, Reformation, London, Allen Lane, p139]. Cranmer and Zwingli are supposed to have met, and the Swiss reformer is thought to have influenced the English archbishop.

So that’s the sausage. In the Reformation context, according to Zwingli, fasting is not divinely ordained. It’s up to you.

Not but what by the time of the Second Book of Homilies, published in the Church of England in Queen Elizabeth’s time, in 1563, whose author was Bishop Jewel, there was a published sermon – a Homily – called ‘Of Fasting’, Homily number 16. The Homilies were intended for the use of vicars who were not good at preaching, so they didn’t make any theological mistakes. We tend to think of a ‘homily’ as a short sermon – the sort that the vicar doesn’t get into the pulpit to deliver, but perhaps hovers invisibly on the chancel steps for; something like Thought for the Day in size and weight. Not so in 1563! ‘An Homily of Good Works and of Fasting’ is in two parts, the first being about fasting, and in the modern edition which I have, it occupies 8 ½ pages of very dense small type!

Some of the early Christian Fathers such as Irenaeus or Chrysostom or Tertullian or Gregory the Great all debated how long a fast should go on for. The possibilities included one day, as on the Jewish Day of Atonement, or 40 hours, mirroring Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, or indeed 40 days of fasting.

The ‘Annotated Book of Common Prayer’, edited by the Revd John Henry Blunt, published in 1872, which I’m very fortunate to have a copy of, says this.

The general mode of fasting seems to have been to abstain from food until after 6 o’clock in the afternoon and even then not to partake of animal food or wine. Yet it may be doubted whether such a mode of life could have been continued day after day for six weeks by those whose duties called upon them for much physical exertion… and although it may seem at first that men ought to be able to fast in the 19th century as strictly as they did in the 16th, the 12th, or the third, yet it should be remembered that the continuous labour of life was unknown to the great majority of persons in ancient days, as it is at the present time in the eastern church and in southern Europe; and that the quantity and quality of the food which now forms a full meal is only equivalent to what would have been an extremely spare one until comparatively modern days.’

The Victorians were too busy safely to fast, and their meals were cuisine minceur by comparison with the groaning boards enjoyed in olden times. Think of what we know of Henry VIII’s diet, or Sir John Falstaff’s. Having a rest from eating was probably very good for them, and there was no risk of starving. Come the industrial revolution, however, and meat and two veg in the works canteen was all you might have. If you gave that up, ‘night starvation’, as the Horlicks advert used to warn, was a real possibility unless you had some nourishment at least.

But it’s at least arguable that Jesus, in our lesson from St John’s Gospel, wasn’t talking about the ins and outs of fasting. [6:27] ‘Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you..’ This leads up to one of the great ‘I am’ sayings in St John’s Gospel, ‘I am the bread of life’. Just as the name of God as He spoke to Moses in the Old Testament was ‘I am’, so in these sayings, Jesus is using the same form of words, giving a sign of his divine nature. And we are no longer thinking about whether or not to eat a sausage. This is spiritual, divine food, ‘meat which endureth unto everlasting life’.

And that, you’ll be amazed to know, brings us to baked beans, and to our second theologian. He is Jürgen Moltmann, the great German theologian, some time Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. (That is the same university at which Pope Benedict taught, once upon a time.) Moltmann is in his 90s now, and so it was a great honour for me to attend his lecture this week at Westminster Abbey, called ‘Theology of Hope’. This was the title of one of his famous books.

Prof. Moltmann comes originally from Hamburg. His excellent English still has the same accent that I know so well from my friends there in the shipping world. He was a boy when Hamburg was bombed, bombed by us, when there was the terrible ‘fire storm’ about which Kurt Vonnegut and others have written so eloquently. Moltmann was conscripted into the German army, and on Monday night he told us he had carefully learned two words of English, which he used when his platoon encountered the British Army for the first time. They were, ‘I surrender’. He told his audience that the abiding memory of his time as a prisoner of war was baked beans – which like all boys, he liked, and I think he still likes, very much.

So if the sausage in our baked beans and sausage is redolent of the Reformation, and the creation of the Book of Common Prayer, so the baked beans lead us to Jürgen Moltmann, and his Theology of Hope. What is this hope?

Moltmann saw, and still sees in the world today, great challenges in our life. They represent death, or even separation from God, which is another way of describing sin. Climate change, the destruction of God’s creation; nuclear war, where the use of nuclear weapons would end the world as we know it, because no-one could survive the nuclear winter. Division and separation among peoples instead of unity and co-operation; the erection or rebuilding of borders in contravention of God’s creation of all peoples as equals. The end time – what will happen when we die?

Maybe it’s not fanciful to say that this, this climate of despair, is somewhat reminiscent of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Lent is the right time for this kind of reflection.

Moltmann has argued that we should not despair or become nihilistic in the face of these challenges. Whereas we are often encouraged to have ‘faith’ when we have to confront these existential threats, Moltmann has suggested that what we really need, and what really reflects the presence of God in our lives, is hope. Hope, rather than faith.

For example, in the committal prayer at a funeral, the body is buried ‘in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’. You might think that what you need at that end time, at the end of life, is faith, a strong faith. But Moltmann says no, not faith, but hope is what we need. The fact, the great revelation, of Jesus’ life on earth gives us the grounds for hope. It is more than a bare belief, more than blind faith. If I hope for something, I reasonably expect that it will be possible. It’s more than an intellectual construct.

So there we are. Baked Beans and Sausages. Should we abstain from bread, or meat, or drink? Certainly not from the Bread of Life. But if even our spiritual bread is disappearing, overwhelmed in the apocalypse, in what looks like the end time, then what? 500 years ago Zwingli said, don’t stop enjoying your sausage – give thanks to God for his bounty. In the smoking ruins of that great city of Hamburg at the end of WW2, Moltmann discovered Baked Beans, and with them, divine hope. I hope that that will give you some food for thought this Lent.

Sermon for Evensong on the 11th Sunday after Trinity, 12th August 2018

Job 30:1-40:4, Hebrews 12:1-17, Psalm 91

Through the great kindness and generosity of one of my St Mary’s friends, I spent a wonderful day yesterday at Lords watching the Test Match between England and India. As you will know, there was a lot to celebrate, at least if you were an English fan. But what must have poor old Sharma, the Indian fast bowler, have been feeling? More than anybody else in the team, except the other pace bowler, Shami, he was running vast distances to bowl at over 80 miles an hour, spot on target, over and over again – but it wasn’t working. He only got one wicket.

Once Bairstow and Woakes were in, there didn’t seem to be anything that he could do. I can imagine that, when he got to the end of the day, over his biryani, Ishant Sharma would have felt a little bit like Job. ‘Why me, Lord? Why is everything going so badly? I’m doing all the right things, but nevertheless I keep getting hit all over the ground.’ That’s what I want to look at tonight: how things can go wrong for us, whether God has anything to do with it, and how we can come to terms with it.

I’m not quite sure how far I can pursue the cricketing metaphor, but of course God goes on to answer Job, by giving lots of illustrations of divine power: all the things that God can make animals do, interestingly including unicorns (at least in the King James version of the Bible which we had tonight). Unfortunately in all the more modern, mundane versions of the Bible, the unicorns have turned into some special kind of ox or heifer; the unicorns have disappeared. Nevertheless, it’s God that makes them do whatever they do, not man.

Similarly at Lord’s today, and on Friday, God made the rain come down. That really changed the way the game was going. It wasn’t anything that either of the teams did which changed the course of the game, when it rained: it was the rain.

There is only so far that I can go with this cricketing analogy with the book of Job, but the point about the passage which Len have been reading tonight is that with divinity comes omnipotence. There is no limit to God’s power. Let’s leave aside for a minute the question who is talking in the book of Job – the question who is God in this context. How realistic is it that someone can write a book saying that so-and-so so had a dialogue with God, in the way that is portrayed in this book in the Bible?

Let’s leave that on one side for minute and just say that, however it came to be written, the book gives a perfectly plausible illustration of the workings of the divine. God is omnipotent, God can do anything. God can make all the animals in the world do what those animals do; and the corollary is that God may not regard the needs of a particular human being as being very high up the list of priorities, so that human being may lose out if it fits God’s cosmic programme for him to lose out.

Job has to accept his position and not rail against it – however unreasonable that might seem, particularly if you’re Job. There are connotations of zero-sums in this as well. Just as in a cricket game, somebody has to win, and somebody has to lose, (unless, of course, it’s a draw), so in the world of nature, for all the sunny days, some rain has to fall at some time.

I think the implication is also that, as between God and man, God and Job, between the Indians and the weather forecast, there is nothing personal. The suffering that is caused, the suffering that is a spin-off of the operation of creation, of the natural order, is not in any way intended, directed against anyone – although that was Job’s beef: he thought God had got it in for him, and he didn’t feel that he deserved it.

But I think that the message of the Book of Job is that there is nothing personal. God has not got it in for Job. This is just the way that God makes nature work. But then contrast the situation in the book of Hebrews. There is, if you like, a different sort of engagement with the divine, ‘seeing we have such a great cloud of witnesses’. Everyone is looking at us. Poor old Sharma: everyone is looking at him. Things may be tough for us. In order for us to achieve the goals which we have set ourselves or to do justice to the calling we feel to follow the example of Jesus, say, as Christians, it’s not easy. We have to persevere to the end.

The metaphor in Hebrews is an athletic one; running a tough race. But this is where it gets complicated. In Job’s case the tough stuff, the suffering, is nothing personal, as between Job and God, as Job has really done nothing wrong, and God is not punishing Job. It’s just that, in the wider compass of things, things have to go badly as well as well, there has to be black as well as white.

But there is also a sense where difficulties are to some extent intended. This is where there is a training purpose involved. The Letter to the Hebrews suggests that God sometimes is – and should be – like a father who follows the old idea about ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child’. It’s supposed to be a sign of parental love if the father whacks the children by way of punishment. Thank goodness, we don’t do that any more. I think that now we know that simply hurting people when they won’t stop doing something doesn’t in any sense train them not to do whatever it is. In a sense, indeed, it may be, in a microcosm, like the beginnings of wars.

A war often starts with a ultimatum: If you invade Poland, we will declare war on you. What it means is, if we can’t persuade you by argument, we will compel you by force. If you throw golf balls at Mr Jones’ greenhouse, I will smack your bottom. The problem is, that whereas possibly in the case of Mr Jones’ greenhouse, the threat to smack bottoms may be effective in stopping you doing it, in the case of modern warfare, it’s arguable that all you do by waging war is add to death and destruction, and perhaps store up resentments and enmity for the future.

Think of the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought about the end of the First World War. It was so hard, it exacted such a harsh penalty in reparations on Germany, that Germany was reduced to its knees economically, and the seeds of Nazism were sown. The war did not achieve its peaceful or practical objective. Think of the wars in Afghanistan, since the time of British India, when it was the ‘North-West Frontier.’ The British Army in Victorian times couldn’t defeat the Afghans. The Russians couldn’t do it. And we and the Americans haven’t done it more recently either.

So we might query the efficacy of the ideas behind this passage in Hebrews. ‘Spare the rod, and spoil the child’, is not what we believe in today: but we can understand the idea, the theory. If we, who are supposed to have seen the light, who are supposed to be believers, to be Christians, behave badly – if ‘…there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright, ..’ if we are sinful, God will punish us, will give us a hard time, says Hebrews.

Maybe that’s a point to ponder. Would a loving God hurt his chosen people? However naughty they were? And what if they repented, if they sought forgiveness? I have a feeling that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews – who wasn’t St Paul, according to a number of scholars – may have been wrong here. Surely a loving God would not hurt people. So perhaps, actually, the Job model, that suffering doesn’t necessarily result from bad behaviour, from sin, is more apt, even in the light of Christ. Bad things just happen. It doesn’t mean that God is angry with us. So do run the race, do go into training for the race to run the good life. But don’t give up if rain stops play. God doesn’t have it in for you and your team.