Archives for posts with tag: Italy

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]

‘But I thought you were our friends’, said a German friend when I was in Hamburg soon after the Brexit referendum in June 2016. ‘So did I – and you are’, I answered, churning with embarrassment.

Since then I have been puzzled and disappointed by the fact that not everyone, whom I would have expected to be, is solidly opposed to Brexit, which fact, in my view, flies in the face of the EU’s worth, as the most successful movement for peace, security and comity between peoples ever in Europe. 

I believe that the European Union has brought 70 years of peace in Europe; that it has brought about a consensus, which has become law in all member states, that human rights (defined by a British-drafted convention) shall be upheld and the exploitation of workers outlawed; introduced limits on working hours and requirements for the active provision of safe places in which to work and play. It is an area where students can study freely in any member country, and academics are free to work in whatever nationality of university they choose. The vision of Europe United seems to me to be profoundly Christian, in that it espouses the idea of a brotherhood of mankind, that all humans are children of God and dear to Him, irrespective where they come from. This is the ‘human values’ side of EU membership, if I can put it like that.

There are economic benefits of membership in the EU, based on free trade and the absence of customs duties for movement of goods between EU countries, as well as freedom of movement and common standards for food and various types of hardware: the ‘four freedoms’ – movement of goods, capital, services and labour – guaranteed by the Single European Act of 1993. The ‘single market’ this has created has become one of the biggest trading blocs in the world.  None of the proposed forms of Brexit would avoid major harm to the UK economy when compared with the status quo.  This is the economic side of EU membership. We are better off remaining where we are. It is true that the nations who are members have given up some of their individual sovereignty, but this is in return for being part of a much greater collective whole, and therefore they are actually more powerful as such than they would be on their own.

But yet there are people who, one would think, would agree with all this and be enthusiastic about it, but who favour Brexit. One such is Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser, and another (probably) is Jeremy Corbyn. There has recently been a podcast discussion between Giles Fraser and Baron Glasman, Dr Maurice Glasman, the founder of the so-called ‘Blue Labour’ movement (listen at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/confessions-with-giles-fraser-unherd/id1445038441?mt=2&i=1000426741962) in which they both ‘confessed’ – or rather, celebrated – that they were both in favour of Brexit, despite both being generally in favour of the ‘human values’ side of the EU. Both are Labour Party members, and both practise their religious faiths.

This was – is – because they both see the EU as a powerful instrument of neoliberal economics, under which the rich get richer and the poor poorer, big corporations have unfettered power to harm our lives, and the values of the market trump all others. They both see value in nationhood and patriotism, and they believe that the rules of the Single Market would prevent a future Labour government from giving state aid including borrowing to invest in the steps necessary to rectify the effects of the current Conservative government’s austerity programme. They distance themselves from the overtones of racism and xenophobia which often seem to arise in the context of Brexit.

Fraser is, otherwise, a caring social liberal. His most recent article for the ‘UnHerd’ website created by the founder of ‘Conservative Home’, Tim Montgomerie, is ‘Why Brexit Britain should welcome more Refugees’ [https://unherd.com/2019/01/why-brexit-britain-should-welcome-more-refugees/]. 

As an aside, I am rather unsure whether I like ‘UnHerd’. Apart from Giles Fraser, its contributors all seem to be right-wing. In the body of Fraser’s article are suggestions for further reading. I show these links above. One gets an uneasy feeling that this is not really an enlightened, liberal publication in the way that Dr Fraser’s previous home, the Guardian, is. Some of the images used are quite disturbing. ‘Economic rationalists … immigration’ is alongside a picture of our leading black – British – politician, Diane Abbott. ‘How bigoted is Brexit?’ appears alongside a picture of orthodox Jews playing what looks like a playground game. In both cases, one asks why these images were used, if there is not some appeal to unenlightened instincts.

Pace what the Brexit faction alleges, the EU is democratic, and upholds democracy. There is an elected European Parliament and an elected Council of Ministers, which bodies are sovereign. The European Commission is the civil service, the administrative arm, of the EU. Its powers are analogous with those of our British civil service as between themselves and the elected bodies. We currently enjoy considerable influence on the policy-making of the EU. Brexit would deny us any representation or control of EU policy in future. In ‘taking back control’, Britain would risk being governed by people who are not so committed to human rights, for example. One recalls that when he was a justice minister, Dominic Raab wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act.

It seems to me that we would have more chance of being able to put right the cruel excesses of austerity if we are inside the EU and able to benefit from its collective strength. If Jeremy Corbyn feels that, if he were Prime Minister, he would be able to negotiate more favourable Brexit terms than those obtained by Theresa May, then surely he ought to be confident that, among his many socialist colleagues in European parties, if we remained in the EU, he would be able to build a consensus away from neoliberalism.  After all, just as neoliberalism has failed in the UK, it has clearly not succeeded in several parts of the EU: certainly in Greece, and probably also in Italy, Spain and Portugal, the case for a change to Keynsian economics is strong. Note, incidentally, that the leading economist and former Finance Minister of Greece, Prof. Yanis Varoufakis, does not think that either his own country, Greece, or the UK, where he teaches, should leave the EU. Reform from within is the better route.

The argument that EU rules on state aid would frustrate Labour policy on rebuilding a fair and humane welfare state has been demolished by the leading competition lawyer, George Peretz QC. See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/27/four-reasons-jeremy-corbyn-wrong-eu-state-aid. 

Now, with weeks to go before the date recklessly set by the government for Britain to leave the EU, I do hope that those respected thinkers on the Left such as Giles Fraser and Baron Glasman, as well as the Labour leadership, will come round to a similar view to that held by Yanis Varoufakis, that reform from within is possible, that the EU need not necessarily always be in thrall to neoliberalism, and that Brexit is ‘a disaster for Britain’ – see https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/2018/12/22/talking-brexit-bernie-and-left-internationalism-with-yanis-varoufakis-vice/. Then the Labour Party can solidly oppose Brexit and ensure that the Article 50 clock is stopped in order to allow a further referendum to take place, in which the people can decide whether they really want to make our country catastrophically poorer and less influential in the world, by leaving the EU (either under the current May ‘deal’ or without a deal), or whether, now that they can see what Brexit actually involves, they would prefer to remain in the EU.  Then I can hope to greet my friend in Hamburg and be recognised again as his true friend.

Hugh Bryant

5th January 2019 

Sermon for Evensong on the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, 12th November 2017 at St Mary’s, Stoke D’Abernon

Judges 7:2-22; John 15:9-17 – see http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=377554049

This morning we held our Remembrance Day Services. Godfrey, in his sermon, said that, when he had first been ordained, in the 1970s, people had not expected remembrance services to carry on being held after the year 2000. There would be no-one still alive who had served in either of the World Wars. So the memory, the ‘remembrance’, would just be an impersonal one, a collective celebration of something we had learned about from history. It would be like our celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Reformation, or Guy Fawkes Night, perhaps.

But as Godfrey pointed out, since the end of WW2, there has been only one year during which members of the British armed forces have not been engaged in conflict, somewhere in the world. So there is still a reason to be thankful for their bravery, to remember them, and to pray that, through our bringing to mind their sacrifice, we will gradually and finally turn away from war and strife.

Now in this evening service, as we turn towards the ending of this day of remembrance, I want to reflect on some of the many things that challenge us – or which, I suggest, ought to challenge us, as we enter the 100th year after the promise was made that the First World War was the ‘war to end all wars’. Because, 99 years later, very sadly, that still isn’t true. Wars haven’t ended.

So I want to reflect, to look carefully at some of the things we have said and done in relation to war, and see if perhaps we can discern any factors which might help towards bringing peace in future. You may not agree that I am asking the right questions: but I hope that what I say may start you thinking critically and, I hope, constructively. I very much doubt whether there are any automatically right answers here, at least so far as mortal men and women are concerned, but I think we ought to try.

Love one another. On Remembrance Sunday. Lest we forget. And, to pick up both our lessons tonight, you don’t need a big army to win a battle against overwhelming odds, if God is on your side.

How to make sense of all this. This morning we stood in silence by the war memorial and tried to commemorate all those who, in one sense, had not loved one another. They had killed each other. We honoured those who fell. We do honour, usually, those who fell fighting, fighting for our side. We don’t usually pray for the people who were the enemy, although there have been good exceptions, like the prayers at the service in Westminster Abbey after the Falklands War, for example, when the then Archbishop of Canterbury insisted that there should be prayers for the Argentines too.

After all, Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,’ (Matt. 5:44). But we – and mankind generally – never have. Indeed, we love to rake up, in a rather triumphal way, the history of the First and Second World Wars. We thank our ancestors for being brave and standing up against the enemy – Germany in both cases – and keeping us independent.


The enemy’ wasn’t just Germany, in fact: it also included Turkey, Japan, Austria, and Italy as well, at various times. Most of those countries have been friends and allies for far longer than they were enemies in one or other of the World Wars. The same countries, at different times, have been both allies and enemies.

It’s difficult to generalise about countries, whether they are always going to be friends or foes. But what we can say about most wars is, that in most cases, it wasn’t personal. Even in the terrible trench warfare of WW1, people weren’t fighting people whom they knew, and whom they’d fallen out with.

That should perhaps be something we could think about, when we’re tempted to think of the Germans as baddies, or someone makes a joke about them not having a sense of humour or wanting to extend their territory round a swimming pool on holiday. People were not fighting people they hated personally, but fighting for ideas, or for their country’s sovereignty. Our soldiers fought because our leaders thought that otherwise, we would be overrun by Germany – sovereignty; and, in WW2, to avoid being turned into Nazis, a question of ideas. Remember the Christmas Day truce in 1914, when the soldiers got out of their trenches and played football, exchanged cigarettes and gifts. They had nothing personal against each other.

Again, I think that, as we reflect on the sad fact that no amount of ‘Remembrance’ has stopped wars from breaking out, we might try to identify some of the ideas which seem to have led to war. Sovereignty, for instance: not wanting someone else, foreigners, to dictate our laws. But think about this. A pooling, a watering down, of sovereignty, to some extent, in the European Union, has brought about the longest ever unbroken period of peace in Europe. And every treaty between countries, for any purpose, involves the parties giving up a little of their individual autonomy in order to agree together.

And allied to that, perhaps we should reflect on what it is that makes us British, or French, or Chinese, or whatever nationality we are. In the majority of cases, it is an accident of birth. There is no special distinction, it confers no special entitlement by itself, just to be born. You certainly might say that the miracle of life itself, of being brought to birth, is itself hugely valuable. But whether you’re born in poverty in a Calcutta slum or in a mansion on St George’s Hill, that fact of itself doesn’t entitle you to do better or worse than another human being.

We are all children of God, equally. So aggressively putting up barriers to keep people out of ‘our’ country – and I’ve put the word ‘our’ in inverted commas, because although people use that expression, ‘our’ country, I’m not sure what it really should mean – aggressively keeping others out may not be a good, or a right, thing to do. But millions of people have died, effectively to uphold that principle.

We sense that there must be some reasonable limit, some reasonable extent of nationalism. In WW2, we would not have wanted our government to be in Berlin, or to have had to speak German instead of being able to speak English, (loudly if necessary, if people don’t understand us), to everyone we meet, wherever we happen to be. So where is the right balance?

The bravery and sacrifices made in the World Wars kept us free, and we are thankful. But if today the same instincts for independence result in our driving out from our midst people who have come to live and work here, and who provide such valuable contributions to our health service, to our farmers, in our hotels and restaurants and so on, if those people feel we no longer welcome them and accept them, this is not the ‘love’ that Jesus was talking about. It was αγάπη [agape], brotherly love, charity and kindness that he meant.

‘Greater love hath no man .. Jesus’ next sentence in St John’s Gospel, after the great command that we should love one another, is ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ As Canon Giles Fraser pointed out on the radio on Friday, some war memorials don’t say ‘lay down his life for his friends’, but ‘for his country’ instead. But really, the context in the Bible is, of course, that Jesus is looking forward to his own death, to the crucifixion. ‘As I have loved you, so you must love each other.’

That is a sacrificial kind of love. Making sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice, for someone you love. There are all those stories of heroism and sacrifice in war.

Jack Cornwell, the under-age naval hero who stayed at his post during the Battle of Jutland, severely wounded himself, even though everyone around him had been killed or wounded, quietly waiting for orders.

My own relative, Dr John Fisher, who won the MC at Arnhem as a medic, by going into a minefield to treat wounded soldiers, laying a tape behind him so that the stretcher bearers could safely get through the minefield to the casualties and bring them to safety. Every step could have been his last, if he had trodden on a mine. But he was willing to risk death, in order to save others. He survived, fortunately.

Or other heroes, who weren’t soldiers. ‘Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died as prisoner 16770 in Auschwitz, on August 14, 1941. When a prisoner escaped from the camp, the Nazis selected 10 others to be killed by starvation in reprisal for the escape. One of the 10 selected to die, Franciszek Gajowniczek, began to cry: My wife! My children! I will never see them again! At this Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and asked to die in his place. His request was granted’. [ http://auschwitz.dk/kolbe.htm]

We should try always to remember them, and to be grateful for their sacrifice. And as well, we should realise that Jesus wasn’t just talking about supreme, life and death, sacrifices. Love means giving things up for your friends, small sacrifices as well as big ones.

And what about Gideon, and his battle against the Midianites? Why did he go through this bizarre process of whittling his army down to 300 champions only, instead of the thousands he had at his disposal? God didn’t want the Israelites to be so powerful that they could boast that their own strength had brought them victory. To show the power of God, they had to be seen to win against impossible odds.

But the puzzling thing is the thought that, as so often in war, it is said that both sides are praying to God, to the same God, that their side will prevail. Will God support one side against the other? And if so, why? It is a version of the theological conundrum called ‘theodicy’ (θεοδικη), the question why a good God would allow bad things to happen. The answer in this story from the Old Testament is that God favours his chosen people, the people who worship him rather than any other, false gods.

There is also the story of the Roman emperor Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge in the fourth century, who had a dream about Jesus Christ and decided to paint his soldiers’ shields with a symbol of the cross. They won the battle, and Constantine, in gratitude, adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire – which was a major factor in making Christianity spread throughout the world.

But – but there’s something uneasy about this rather crude, almost superstitious approach to God. Having God as a kind of nuclear weapon, the ultimate ‘game changer’, seems wrong. Granted that we believe that God cares for us, knows all of our names, and so on: but why would He almost justify a war, by determining its outcome? Or to put it another way, why would the good God become involved in the evil that is warfare? The hymn says, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?’ Not, ‘Whose side is the Lord on?’

Enough for one Sunday evening, I think. Lest we forget. Let us love one another, as Jesus has loved us.