Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Silver Jubilee of Priesting

This year it is 25 years since I was ordained priest and I have been in active ministry ever since. I held a little gathering recently and reflected on what I have learnt in 25 years. It largely isn’t great.

I have learned that I have not got any better at what I do but I have learned to cope with my failings, perhaps a little better.
I have learned that however often I tidy my office at home it will always get messy again.
I have learned that even if I write reminders in my diary I always prepare at the very last minute
I have learned that I forget a lot of things and my memory is not getting any better. I meet people in Sainsbury’s and know I know them but can’t remember their name. Often I remember just after they’ve gone.

I sometimes forget to turn up to meetings but not very often.

I have learned that our buildings are a blessing and a curse – I love showing people round, I love the “wow”, I love being able to go on the roof at St Phil’s… I don’t love the constant feeling that I need to work on a funding bid and having to unblock the toilets and put the chairs away and I know it shouldn’t always rely on me but when I’m the one who is here and the toilet is blocked right now, I unblock the toilet!

I count it a privilege to be with people at profound moments in their life. To be with people as they die and to visit a new baby.

I still sometimes cry after a funeral and occasionally during it. I still love doing weddings and am immensely grateful for my own marriage. I love doing baptisms in all the crazy ways they come to us, the gorgeous little babies, the screaming babies, the toddlers who don’t co-operate, the youngsters who ask big questions, the adults who really commit and the adults who aren’t sure but want to be baptized.

I have learned that it is usually good to say yes and usually bad to say no but sometimes I should really have said no. Perhaps it is okay to say no to doing a wedding on Christmas day! But I hope that I always remember the primacy of Love. I believe in a God of love who is at the heart of everything and calls us to love. I have grown to love the community I find myself in and its people. Yes I sometimes get annoyed but I try to remember to love people and usually the more you get to know them the more you love them.


So thank you for putting up with me. I am constantly in need of your forgiveness and the forgiveness of God but despite my own failings I have loved doing what I do. I pray that sometimes God has been at work in me and that somehow together we make the love of God a little more real.

Monday, 7 July 2014

An open letter to those who aspire to be MP for Salford & Eccles

At the moment the Labour Party in Salford is busy selecting the person to be the candidate for Parliament at the next election. Hazel Blears is stepping down and Hazel has generally done a good job with inevitably a few mistakes along the way. I could write about Hazel's record but that would need another post. As a Labour Party member in the constituency I will have a vote on who could replace Hazel and I'm thinking about how to use it. I thought I would write a few thoughts and ask the candidates how they might address the issues that I think are important.

To start with there are some priorities that I expect all the candidates will emphasise, therefore these are important but won't be the deciding factor in selecting a candidate.  I'll make it clear that I believe all the candidates, as Labour Party members, will be keen to promote greater equality and fairness, they will be in favour of Opportunity, Education and the National Health. They will all want greater investment in public services, particularly for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable. They will all want a "sound economy" to pay for these things. The Labour Governments of Blair and Brown had some fantastic achievements and as a long-term resident of Inner City Salford I know very well how much better life got under a Labour government. We had investment in Education, Surestart, much improved policing with reduced crime. We got shiny new hospital facilities and innovative regeneration of challenging housing areas. There was still a lot to do and many mistakes were made along the way, and not just the Iraq War. As we look back the Labour Government was good for the people of Salford.

So what do I want from the next MP for Salford? First and foremost I want someone who cares passionately about the people of Salford. I want someone who will not be seduced by London. Governments generally are far too dominated by the needs and desires of London and the current Labour Party is not showing enough willingness to tackle this. The economy of London has a cancerous effect on the economy of this country and it is time for this to change. Londoners get far higher public subsidy than the rest of the country and this has to change. I hope that our next MP will be willing to challenge unfair distribution of public subsidy to London but we Northerners (Okay I was born in London, but I've lived in Salford and Manchester for 26 years and now count myself as an adopted Salfordian) can't just winge about the North/South divide. We need to work together to build our own vibrant economy. The economy of Salford and Manchester is doing well but many places in the North are doing a lot less well. We need to work together with Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle and the places inbetween. We need better, faster train connections to other Northern cities before we improve the link to London.

I love living in the city but I want to live in a city that feels safe, well-connected, fair and designed for the benefit of all. Salford has over the years been improving but I want to see the improvements accelerated and I'd love to see government supporting this. So; First of all we need at least the same level of investment in public transport that London gets; we need need to be able to organise public transport for people with well organised routes that are strategic and not just organised for private profit. We need simple ticketing that allows multi-mode travelling and at a reasonable price. We need to get away from the idea that buses are for the poor and build a bus, tram and train system that gives a serious choice to everyone. We also need to tackle the problem of aggressive motorists and insist that those who consistently break the speed limit will lose their licence. That means a lot more monitoring of speed and strict action. I walk across the A6 every day and sometimes many times a day. It goes through the heart of my community and it's wonderful that it is limited to 20 MPH but many motorists ignore the speed limit and this should not be an option. Over many years the investment in roads for cars has been huge but we now need to invest more in making our cities safe for walking, cycling and public transport.

It is fantastic that people are moving back into the city but in my community that mainly means new apartment blocks for private rent and at fairly expensive prices. We also need affordable housing. I want to live in a vibrant mixed community where people have genuine choices about where to live. We need a lot of investment in house building and I'm not idealogically tied to allowing councils to build council houses again but we need to ensure that there is affordable rented housing and a mix of housing types in every community.

Finally, politicians aren't held in high esteem by the public and I think it's important that our MPs help build trust in politicians again. The days of deference are long gone but trust is built by honesty, integrity and understanding. I want an MP who will be honest about mistakes as well as successes, I want an MP who will challenge in Westminster and who knows what it is like for ordinary people in Salford. So, I want to know how our prospective MPs propose to stay in touch and safeguard themselves against the corrupting influence of Westminster.

So I might summarise my questions to those who would be MP as:

  • How can the economy of Northern England be strengethened?
  • How would you build local democracy?
  • How would you like to devolve power away from Westminster?
  • Would you be in favour of English Regional Government or strengthened City Regions?
  • How can we get investment in Public transport for the benefit of all?
  • How will we tackle the curse of the private motor car without alienating too many voting motorists?
  • What are the priorities for house building? How can we get more affordable rented properties?
  • How do you intend to stay in touch with the lives of ordinary people?
And a couple of slightly cheeky questions to finish...
  • How often do you use buses?
  • How often have you cycled in Salford?


Thursday, 29 May 2014


I’m feeling like an alien

Last Thursday we had the local elections and the European Parliamentary Elections and as I’ve reflected on the results I’ve realized that I feel like an alien in my own land. In the European election the party that got the largest vote was UKIP: a party that I consider to be xenophobic and possibly racist with homophobic and misogynist leanings. A party that is in favour of tax cuts for the wealthy and wants more grammar schools.  I simply don’t understand why people would vote for them. I suppose I do need to keep things in perspective. The turnout in the European election was very low – just under 34% and so UKIP were actually only supported by about 9% of the population. The media have made bold claims about the rise of UKIP using words such as “earthquake” and “surge” but the facts may not justify the hyperbole. Nonetheless, UKIP did very well in the European Election and surprisingly well in some areas in the local elections. I want to share a few thoughts on low turnout, the appeal of UKIP and what is important to me.

Low turnout. UKIP are very concerned about the EU but it would seem that the majority in this country are not.  I believe that it’s important for people to use their hard won democratic right to vote but a large majority of people in this country disagree with me when it comes to Europe. There are a host of reasons why people may not vote: ignorance of how to; a feeling that it won’t make any difference; a distrust of all the candidates. The European elections have an element of proportional representation in them that does away with some of the arguments against voting that people often cite with regard to UK parliamentary elections. In the first-past-the-post system many people argue that your vote is irrelevant if you don’t live in a marginal constituency but in the European Parliamentary elections smaller parties can be elected. So why don’t more people vote? Possibly, despite the claims of UKIP, most people don’t feel that the EU makes a lot of difference to us. In my opinion they’re wrong, but that seems to be some people’s thinking. If there were an in/out referendum, as some people want, I’d be worried if there weren’t safeguards against low turnout. It would be a bizarre situation if the United Kingdom, (or former United Kingdom if Scotland is independent by then), made a momentous decision like leaving the EU with only a minority voting for it. It would be a real worry because minorities sometimes make decisions. In Salford we have an elected mayor because 10% of the electorate voted for one – 2% more than voted against. In my opinion you shouldn’t introduce significant constitutional change with less than 50% of the electorate in favour.

What is the appeal of UKIP? Clearly UKIP have been helped a great deal by an enthusiastic media. Scare stories about migrants and EU legislation proliferate in the tabloids and even the BBC has been guilty of talking up the success of UKIP. The other parties have tended to respond by pointing out that they too are going to give migrants and the EU a hard time. I’m not sure that this is all that helpful and I’ve been especially disappointed by the Labour Party. UKIP will always be more anti-immigrant than the Labour Party so it isn’t helpful to compete with them on this. Some correction of facts would be helpful but not trying to vie with them on policy.

Another part of the appeal of UKIP is that they are seen as anti-politician politicians. Despite his wealthy, privileged and privately educated background Nigel Farage is portrayed as an “ordinary bloke”.  The Labour Party does need to see this as a serious challenge as it has become too professionalised and too remote from most of the country. National politics are dominated by London’s needs and desires and this can’t be allowed to carry on. During 13 years of Labour Party government there were some moves made to decentralise but nothing like enough. I believe that the Labour Party and others need to reconnect with ordinary people across the country. They need to genuinely listen and we need some more northern, working class voices in there.

So what are the alternatives to the UKIP “earthquake”? The Labour Party had some success in the elections but didn’t do as well as it should have. They want to win next year’s general election and are busy aligning policies with what they think will be popular. Democracy seems to be a constant compromise between ideals and popularity. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for almost all of my adult life and persevered even through the dark days of the Iraq war but I find it hard to be motivated by what I hear recently. I suspect this is because they’re not trying to impress me. They are trying to impress swing voters in marginal constituencies but it feels like they are saying  “look we’re not quite as bad as the Tories so vote for us”. It’s not anything to stir the blood!

On Monday Ed Milliband tweeted: “If you share my values of hard work, fairness and opportunity then help show that we can make Britain work again:” I’m not quite sure what that means. It’s not bad but I don’t think it’s what I would choose as my three prime values… “Hard work, fairness and opportunity?” It got me wondering what I might choose. Perhaps “fulfilling work, justice and freedom”? Freedom and opportunity though, are slippery concepts that can allow one person the freedom to oppress another. With freedom must always come responsibility. Perhaps I could borrow from Brinsley Schwarz and have “Peace, love & Understanding”? Perhaps, to steal from the French, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”? I’d like to remove the masculine implications of “Fraternity” but I would really want something in there about community or solidarity. For me, my political views and my Christian faith are intertwined and in both I believe that we human beings are at our best when we work together for the good of all. I believe that human beings are inherently sociable and I believe that the world will not thrive if we all isolate ourselves and put barriers up. So I believe that even though the EU is flawed it is a good thing. The problem is not that the EU is too big but that in a world that is dominated by global tax-dodging multi-nationals the EU is not big enough! If the human race is to survive and thrive we will need to increasingly find global ways to co-operate. We will need to tackle the injustices of the world and put an end to poverty. If people want to reduce migration to this country, the long-term solution is to make things better in other countries, not strengthen the barriers here. The wealth we have accumulated, and continue to accumulate here, is at least partly dependent on poverty elsewhere. Thomas Piketty and others have argued that increasing inequalities could lead to the collapse of capitalism if they are not tackled. It may well be that this would be a good thing in the long term but it would be painful and isn’t something to rush into.

To me, it seems that UKIP and the Conservative Party have as their core-values selfishness and greed. They might put a positive spin on these by calling them individual freedom and opportunity but selfishness and greed are what they are. And this is where I start to feel like an alien in my own land because it seems that many and possibly most people in this country feel that selfishness and greed are acceptable, or even good, values. I hope I’m wrong but this is what I see in the political sphere. The Labour Party seems to have decided some time ago that in order to get elected it needs to pander to our societal individualism and selfishness. The Liberal Democrats have terminally damaged themselves through their toxic pact with the Tories and although the Green Party courageously recycle old socialist policies alongside their environmental ones, they simply fail to get enough votes. I’d still prefer a Labour government to this current one but I’d love to be truly inspired! I suspect that in the long term either the values I cherish will triumph or our civilisation will come to an unhappy end. In the meantime I’m the oddity in the corner asking with Brinsley Schwarz and Elvis Costello “What’s so funny ‘bout Peace, Love & Understanding?”