Archives for posts with tag: Democracy

People who are fleeing violence and persecution, who have no safe place to live, are willing to risk their lives and to pay thousands of pounds to risk drowning in freezing seas as they cross the Mediterranean and the English Channel.

It is not a question of ‘pull factors’. These are people fleeing – they are subject rather to ‘push’ factors, if anything. Some of them choose to seek asylum in the UK, but this is a smaller number than those who have gone to France, Italy, Germany and Greece. All those countries have granted asylum to greater numbers than those trying to reach the UK.

Refugees who choose to come to the UK usually do so because they speak English or have relatives already living here. When they have been allowed to remain here and work, the statistic is that on average immigrants pay 10% more tax – and earn and spend that much more – than indigenous Britons. The NHS would not survive without its many thousands of immigrant doctors and nurses. 

There is no ‘legal’ way to claim asylum in the UK. There is no way to apply unless you are already in the UK. Under the Refugee Convention 1951 refugees are not obliged to claim asylum in the first place where they flee to, but if they do claim asylum in a country, that country is obliged under the Convention to consider their claim. It would be a breach of the Convention to deport asylum seekers to an offshore processing centre, as Australia did.

But we miss the point if we get bogged down in the mechanism of how asylum claims are made. The point is that since time immemorial people have fled from country to country, from continent to continent, if the place where they were born becomes dangerous or they are unable to earn enough to feed themselves. A distinction is made between asylum seekers and ‘economic migrants’, but it is specious. If you have been driven from your home in fear of your life, of course you are an ‘economic migrant’ as well. 

The point is that this migration in search of safety and prosperity is all right. Immigration is a Good Thing. Why am I entitled to live in the UK? Because I was born here. But does that entail entitlement? I think not. The fact that I was born here is sheer luck. 

So why should I try to assert entitlement to live here as against other human beings who happen not to have been born here, but rather have been born in poor or dangerous places? If I benefit, by sheer luck, from living in the fifth-richest country in the world, why should other human beings, who are not so lucky, not join me in this earthly paradise? What right have I to deny them?

But, people say, our islands are too crowded. We can’t afford to share our schools and hospitals and universities with foreigners. This is nonsense. The indigenous population of the UK is shrinking in numbers, as our birthrate is too low. We need more people – not just doctors and nurses (although we certainly need them, to fill the shortage of over 100,000 staff in the NHS today), but we need people in all walks of life, professions and trades.

We have plenty of room. Half an hour from the centre of London in any direction one is in green countryside. The same is true of all our conurbations. There may be 67m people in the UK, but there is plenty of room for more – and plenty of need for the economic boost that extra people will create.

But ‘they’ won’t integrate, they say. They keep themselves to themselves and some don’t even learn English. But do we try to get to know them? Do we welcome them into our homes – or do we ostracise them, shrinking away from them and avoiding contact? No wonder they are separate – we drive them away into themselves. The latest racism scandal, affecting Yorkshire cricket, could, in some aspects, have been repeated all over the country.

Yet our politicians compete to be ‘tough’ on immigration. Disgracefully, Theresa May started a ‘hostile environment’ policy towards immigrants which continues under Priti Patel. Imagine what it must feel like: driven out of your homeland in fear of your life, you reach the country which drafted the Human Rights Convention and most of the Refugee Convention, which welcomed the Jewish refugee children fleeing Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport – and you are received, not with a compassionate welcome, but with a ‘hostile environment’.

With climate change, this pressure of population, shifting from poverty and violence towards comfort and abundance, from Africa and the Middle East towards northern Europe, will be many times greater. People will flee those countries where it is 50 degrees in the shade. And again, they will benefit the northern countries where they go to.

But we are a democracy, and 55% of those polled say they are against immigration, and would vote for politicians who are ‘tough’, who restrict immigration and show a hostile face to poor asylum seekers. This unenlightened, if not actually racist, attitude is said to prevail in the ‘Northern Red Wall’ of parliamentary seats formerly held by Labour and now narrowly Conservative, because these voters supported Brexit, largely in order to stop immigration. The Conservatives are afraid of offending these voters, and Labour want to regain their affections, so neither party dares to tell the electors what is right and good.

This will not do. There is room in a democracy for elected representatives to offer leadership and inspiration. They ought not lamely to follow their constituents’ unenlightened and unjustified bigotry. Most of these people have never met an immigrant, let alone tried to get to know one. If he or she is wearing medical scrubs and cures their pain, they conveniently forget that it was a ‘foreigner’ who helped them. 

The same goes for all that fruit that didn’t get picked, all those lorries that didn’t get driven, all those plumbing jobs which didn’t get done. All done by immigrants – until Brexit stopped freedom of movement and the ‘hostile environment’ was the best the government could offer in order to ‘take control’.

So much of this is attributable to fears of the unknown, or the ‘other’. Surely our leaders can address this. The people of the Red Wall are racists, if they are so, because of what they don’t know. What they don’t know they fear and shun. We need to challenge this. 

No Red Wall temporary Tory is happy to see children, their mothers and fathers, drowning in the freezing English Channel. Even at this lowest common level, their common humanity is something we can all recognise. So if they are like us in not wanting to be drowned, what other similarities are there? 

They are human beings, in every respect just like us. They love their children; they feel hunger, and cold, if they are not in their houses. Just like we do. They enjoy having nice meals to eat; they love music and stories. Just as we would miss these things if we were deprived of them, so do they.

Immigrants and refugees are just as much entitled to live in a safe place – indeed, in our safe place – as we are. It is just our good luck that we got here first.

Think of Emma Lazarus’ words on the foot of the Statue of Liberty: 

‘Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’

And think of what Jesus said.“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:31-45)

Which do you think our leaders resemble today? The sheep, or the goats? And, for that matter, what do you think the British electorate looks like? ‘Come on’, they might say. ‘When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ Because ‘you’, in this, are a refugee, or an immigrant. 

We need leaders, politicians, who have the guts to dare to remind everyone what that mythical British character is supposed to be all about. Fair play; protect the underdog; not, certainly not, to meet him as he emerges freezing from the sea with a ‘hostile environment’.

Hugh Bryant

25th November 2021

Today the Archbishop of York writes in the Daily Telegraph (see https://www.archbishopofyork.org/news/latest-news/courageous-and-compassionate-search-english) that English people should celebrate and cultivate

‘the courageous, entrepreneurial spirit of a trading, island nation; and the compassion of a nation slowly facing up to some of the failings of its colonial past; a pioneer of common suffrage and healthcare for all; the birthplace of the World Service.’

But if these admirable objectives are supposed to be what Englishness is all about, why has England (for it is primarily England rather than the whole of the UK) elected a government which works hard against every one of those virtues?

‘Courageous … entrepreneurial… trading’ are not adjectives I would use to describe the policy of slamming the door on free trade with the EU on our doorstep, over 40% of our exports, in exchange for a woolly search for more trade with our former colonies on the other side of the globe, which with a fair wind might amount to less than 5% of exports.

‘Compassion’ is not an adjective I would use to describe a 28% cut in our overseas aid, resulting in death by starvation, disease and lack of education, especially in countries which figure in our ‘colonial past’. ‘Facing up to our failings’ is not how I would describe what is actually happening. Both the government and, if polls are to be believed, two-thirds of the English support this murderous meanness.

‘Common suffrage’ is under attack from the government’s plan to require voters to prove their ID – when there is no evidence of voter fraud and a substantial minority (largely poorer people) do not possess such ID.

‘Healthcare for all’ is also under threat from this government, members of which, including the previous and current Health Secretaries, have expressed admiration for US-style privatised healthcare paid for by private insurance. Meanwhile the government spends less on healthcare than any other major European country, and insults our nurses by offering pay which has not even matched inflation, and is in effect a pay cut.

Mention of the World Service recalls this government’s regular attacks on the BBC, requirement for it to fund TV licences for the elderly out of its own resources instead of providing government funding – which amounts to a 20% cut in overall funding; and as the World Service is funded by the Foreign Office, its funding has been cut as well, and five foreign-language services ditched (see https://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jan/26/bbc-world-service-cuts?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other).

Maybe the Archbishop is writing about, wishing for, what he would like ‘Englishness’ to be about. Whatever these elusive qualities are, the result of the last general election and the policies of the current Conservative government do not reflect them. Indeed, it seems somewhat naïve to publish his prescription in a newspaper which, in its comment section, has seized on his Grace’s piece as a prayer in aid in its “war on ‘woke’”. It risks being a misdirected arrow, I fear.

Sermon for Evensong at St Mary’s on the Sunday before Advent, 24th November 2013
1 Samuel 8:1-20, John 18:33-37 – What it is to be a King

‘He will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.’ Confectionaries – from our first lesson, from the First Book of Samuel. I love the idea of one’s daughters being makers of confectionery, sweeties; Yum Yum.

But we’re not talking about the Mikado, but rather, about kings. This is the Sunday next before Advent, when we also celebrate Christ the King, so our hymns are all about crowns and kingship, and the second lesson has Pontius Pilate asking Jesus whether He is a king.

The relevance of this is in the very interesting conversation which Samuel the old prophet has with the elders of Israel, about the best form of government. At that stage in their early history, the tribes of Israel did not have an overall leader, a king. They just had their tribal elders, and they had judges. The judges did what judges do today. ‘Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life, and he went from year to year in circuit, to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places’. [1 Samuel 7:15f]

When Samuel got old, he appointed his two sons as judges under him. This is a forerunner of what we understand as the rule of law. Moses had received the law: the prophets and the judges who came after him interpreted the law and prayed directly to the Lord.

So in this discussion between the elders of Israel and Samuel, all sorts of things come up, which are still directly relevant and very topical today. You will remember the interview that the comedian Russell Brand had with Jeremy Paxman recently, when he said that he didn’t think there was any point in voting. There’s a lot of disillusionment with politics today.

It’s interesting to look at the list of things which Samuel brings up for discussion in this context. ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow in your way’. The sons were corrupt: they ‘turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgement.’ So the elders said, ‘We don’t want the judges any more to create policy for us: we need a king.’ I think they were proposing something like what Bismarck arranged in Germany and what Garibaldi arranged in Italy – and perhaps what the Romans did in relation to the city states of the Greeks.

Whereas in the time of Moses, the nation of Israel was made up of the 12 tribes, and there was no overall leadership, now Samuel is being asked to appoint a king, who will oversee all of them together, so that collectively they can be stronger.

Notice that there’s no discussion of democracy. Democracy came pretty late. It’s usually said that it started in classical Athens around 500BC, whereas this discussion with Samuel took place before 1,000BC. Interestingly, the ancient authors were not particularly enthusiastic about democracy. They thought it had tendencies to be populist, rabble-rousing rather than a wise way of governing.

So here the difference was between having a king, a monarchy, an absolute monarchy, and continuing in their small tribal units. The Lord told Samuel that the Israelites had rejected Him, the Lord; even though He had saved them from the Egyptians, they had turned aside and worshipped other gods.

Just as these ancient Israelites didn’t know about democracy, we don’t really know about theocracy; theocracy, which is, being governed by God. In the ancient world, nobody would do anything serious without consulting an oracle, or in the Jewish tradition, without consulting a prophet, to find out what the will of God was: whether in fact the proposed course of action was what God wanted.

The Lord accepted that the people of Israel were not going to continue to come to the tabernacle and worship in the old-fashioned way. The people of Israel were rejecting the idea of trying to discern the will of God as their main method of government. They simply wanted a king.

Today we in the west try to keep a separation between matters of religion and matters of politics or government, although the line does get blurred. In France they are very keen on saying that they have a secular state – but the state pays for the upkeep of the churches. In this country, of course, the Church of England is the ‘established’ church, the state church, and the Queen is the head of the church, so church and state are very much bound together.

God tells Samuel to warn the elders of Israel about all the things that could go wrong if they had a king over them. This is where ‘making your daughters to be confectionaries’ comes in. More seriously, he will ‘appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties … He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and olive orchards, and give them to his courtiers. He will take one tenth of your grain, and of your vineyards, and give it to his officers and his courtiers.’ The King would lord it over the people.

Now we have Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman agreeing with each other to turn their backs on politics. I wonder if there could be the same sort of conversation if we had a prophet today, or if Jesus himself came among us and saw how we were getting on. Would the rulers of the world today, and in particular our rulers, be guilty of any of the things that Samuel was warning about? Or does democracy tend to rule out the worst excesses of an absolute monarch? Did King John at Runnymede get it right in Magna Carta, with the separation of the powers?

With the movement to have independence in Scotland and the popularity of UKIP, wanting to pull us out of the European Union, are we yearning for an era where we were like the tribes of Israel, small, standing by themselves with no overall king?

Remember that what was wrong with the Israelites at that point was that they had forgotten that they did have a King in heaven, that God was their King, and that they were supposed to worship the one true God alone. They had forgotten that, and they were worshipping all sorts of other gods who were not real.

So then we come to Pontius Pilate’s famous dialogue with Jesus.

‘So you are a king?’ ‘Art thou a king then?
‘Thou sayest that I am a king’. You say that I am a king.

Jesus points out that if He were the sort of king that Pontius Pilate had in mind, then his followers would be fighting for Him, to stop Him from being handed over to the Jews. Instead of which, of course, His followers had melted away: none more so than St Peter.

I wonder if Prince Charles is thinking about all this. Or Prince William, indeed. What is it to be a king today? Perhaps it’s sensible for anyone who is going to be in government, in any way, to think about all the reflections which these passages produce.

The government has a balance of power with the rule of law, the judges. It’s important that judges should not be corrupt. It’s important that the rulers shouldn’t oppress the people – take their sons and put them in the Army, forcing them to fight wars. Will the government take your daughters to be confectionaries?

What is the right tax rate? One tenth of your grain and in your vineyards to go to the civil service. The best products that you make, the Rolls-Royces, the Jaguars, pressed into government service. ‘In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’

Do we think that Russell Brand was being somewhat prophetic, and that perhaps the original conversation between God and Samuel is the one to listen to – that the best way of government is a government that listens to God and forsakes all other gods?

As Jesus said, ‘For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Let’s hope that our leaders will listen too.