“Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?”
Fr. Martin Magill
The standing ovation for Martin Magill at Lyra McKee’s funeral last week did not begin at the front of the church, where the politicians were seated listening to his address: it started with the people back in the congregation, and moved forward. The last to stand were Arlene Foster, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar.
Likewise, it took a 16 year-old Swedish schoolgirl to bring the Extinction Rebellion into sharp relief, and get the top politicians to pay attention.
It is said that war and violence are the result of the failure of diplomacy and politics: the last resort when big issues cannot be resolved. However too often they are eclipsed by business as usual, and we fail to see 'the wood for the trees’. We look at some key big issues today, and the appeal for action.
Climate Change: the biggest issue, which will impact the lives of all our descendants. Everyone is agreed that we need to take action, and the scorecard so far is not good. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are the latest in a long line of calls for action.
But this is one of the main big issues where we don’t need to wait for Government action: we can do it ourselves. Each one of us is a carbon generator, even most of those taking part in the Extinction Rebellion. But there’s no point in getting mentally overstressed about it or, at the other extreme, dismissing it as a global problem beyond our scope. We can all contribute, by using less energy, converting to carbon-free solutions for transport and heating, turning off the lights when not in use.
The financial world is now pushing business very hard indeed to change, with the Transition Pathway Initiative, making a huge difference: the sheer weight of investment money now lined up against fossil fuels is enormous. Politicians take note .. much more action is needed.
Economics: and this has to include economic and political structures. The Occupy Movement, started by Micah White in New York in 2011, led the charge here ; but arguably we are picking up the baton with our call for egalitarian capitalism.
For the United Kingdom and Europe, Brexit is not the big issue: the big underlying issue is Eurozone dysfunctionality. So far as Brexit is concerned, it’s a sad reflection on the depths to which we have sunk that even the Electoral Commission is deploring the holding of meaningless European Parliament elections: diverting energy still further away the big issues, and undermining democracy.
As we wrote in this commentary on 4th March, Leo Varadkar is in a key position to help both the EU and the UK to focus on this big issue, by clearing away the impasse over Brexit. Can he rise to the challenge of becoming a statesman rather than a regional politician? If so, he would plan a constructive and peaceful path forward with the United Kingdom, in which the British Isles can work together in partnership. This may mean drawing some lines between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the Eurozone, but that may be a sensible next step bearing in mind the impending fragmentation of the single currency bloc, after which London will need to be on hand to pick up the pieces.
Social Justice: We have to look back to people such as Martin Luther King to find that prophetic call for social justice, but because there is such a close correlation between ethnic minorities and poverty he is as good place a place as any to start.
Wealth polarisation, and our failure to empower young people particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, is a chronic indictment on the failure of modern politics. Neither socialism nor institutional capitalism, which between them speak for the two major political parties in the United Kingdom, have found the solution, which is staring us in the face: egalitarian capitalism.
It has no recent cheerleader like Greta Thunberg or Martin Magill, but social injustice stokes the fires which then break out as Brexit and populism.
The solutions are very pragmatic and, as with Climate Change, there’s a lot that individuals can do. That’s why The Share Foundation is waking up the Child Trust Fund, and it’s why The Share Centre is pushing hard for a major drive for direct share ownership, particularly embracing the tech giants.
But again, politics must rise to the challenge. One of the key areas to address is universal benefits, since these are the enemy of targeted support for the most disadvantaged. In the past week, we have seen a few comments looking forwards in this respect: steps to re-align freebies such as TV licences and bus passes for the elderly, where those who can pay, should pay for their annual season ticket, and provide much more support for the young.
Life and Death: the final big issue is violence - whether between people or nations - which is spawned by fear, greed and distrust. Because these motives are seen as inevitable, politicians automatically turn to law and order and defence to address them.
But, here again, there is another more radical solution. For this, a much deeper appreciation of the role that unconditional love can play is needed, and the world most recently witnessed such a call from Bishop Michael Curry nearly a year ago at the royal wedding.
It is, of course, the big issue where faith can contribute so much; so it’s also worth bearing in mind the words of William Gladstone as long ago as 1879 -
“Remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, are as sacred in the eye of Almighty God as are your own. Remember that He who has united you together as human beings in the same flesh and blood, has bound you by the law of mutual love, that that mutual love is not limited by the shores of this island, is not limited by the boundaries of Christian civilisation, that it passes over the whole surface of the earth, and embraces the meanest along with the greatest in its wide scope.”
We all know that it’s much easier to spend inordinate amounts of time on inconsequential matters when sitting in meetings. Politicians are no different to all the rest of us in this respect. However, David Willetts pointed out over the weekend that there is a symbiotic relationship between hot politics (public protest) and cold politics (those seemingly endless deliberations). What we need is more prophetic voices in the hot politics arena, such as Greta Thunberg and Martin Magill, Martin Luther King and Michael Curry, in order to warm up those cold political deliberations.
Gavin Oldham OBE