Monday 28 February 2011

Bradford's response to the EDL

Today I went to a screening of Just West Yorkshire's documentary about the English Defence League's demo in Bradford last summer. It is a remarkably positive film that shows that Bradford has a lot to offer as an example of how to resist fascism. Everyone expected a riot, the media, the nation, the far right, but Bradford offered another reaction. It chose non-violence.

It wasn't easy, it wasn't pretty - there were terrible fall outs amongst the anti-fascist community. The animosity between the 'Hope not Hate' group and virtually every other type of response nearly derailed a lot of good community relations built up over the years.

The Police did an amazing job. When they realised that the line they had been thrown about the 'We Are Bradford' campaign (separate but connected to the Unite Against Fascism national group) was not accurate, the police quickly changed tactics. In Bradford, they listened to the activists.

Our political leaders showed a lot of arrogance during the run up to the EDL gathering, but I do have a growing respect for Ian Greenwood, the leader of council. He is completely honest, even if we do disagree on many issues.

For all our differences, all the approaches, from 'Bradford Women for Peace' to 'Bradford Together's' petition to ban the march, all the strategies worked together in a remarkable synergy. God must have been watching over us that day, because despite ourselves, we managed to turn the EDL's plan of the 'Big One' into their complete 'Big Utter Failure'.

My book looks at the churches reaction to the EDL incursion into our city, and concludes that we must do all we can to support all non-violent responses to the far right. Bradford stands stronger because of this commitment.

Sunday 27 February 2011

RBS/Natwest, far more useful as a 'creche'...

When I was in London for the SPEAK conference, I noticed that facebook was alive with chatter about RBS, Natwest and a certain group called UK Uncut. I went to visit the large RBS near Liverpool St Station to see if I could help liberate a bank for the morning.

The bank was closed off, with a large police presence at the front entrance. They were clearly expecting trouble. UK Uncut has successfully made the banking institutions very nervous indeed. Soon I was reading on the tweets that many banks had been turned into creches and libraries, and that virtually every RBS and Natwest bank had been closed in the city centre.

These banks have taken billions of pounds from the tax payers, they have awarded themselves huge bonuses, and refused to lend to those small businesses that really needed it during the recession. Thank God people are beginning to rise up, and make life difficult for those who have caused the crisis in our society.

If the government fails to sort out the mess, then perhaps it is up to us to turn our banks into temporary hospitals, nurseries and community libraries - and make them work for us for a change!

On taking criticism...

Releasing a book is a very risky thing to do. Its makes you feel extremely vulnerable. For every ten encouraging remarks, it is the one that is harsh that sticks in the craw.

The Yorkshire Post asked for an opinion piece to go along with the launch, and it has not gone down well with some readers. One called my attack on the 'big society' as full of lies and distortions. One claimed that my extreme left wing views was the reason that the number of people going to church was diminishing. He talked of the strong link between the Conservative Party and Anglicanism.

I can deal with criticism from what used to be called the 'Conservative Post', it is to be expected. But suddenly, even minor issues echo loudly in my mind. Did I consult enough people before a particular direct action; did I forget someones name, or fail to ring when I should have done? I am supporting my congregation enough in their prayer life? My failings seem more acute in the searchlights of this publication.

But our Gospel reading today asks me not to worry, to 'consider the lilies of the field'. I worry really well. I can worry for England. How does one release oneself from the need to always please others, from the fact that we are all full of imperfections?

I ask for forgiveness, from others and from God. And I need to forgive those who harm me, directly or indirectly. God give us strength not to be anxious about the past or the future, to be rooted in the present, like the lilies of the field.

Down at the Libyan Embassy.

On Friday, I joined the protests down at the Libyan embassy, hoping desperately that I would be there on the day Gaddafi fell. There were reports circulating through the crowds that 20,000 people were approaching the centre of Tripoli, and everyone was hopeful.

But there were clear signs that the struggle for freedom in Libya will be a long and bloody one. Firstly, the Libyan embassy was clearly back in the hands of supporters of the regime. The pre-Gaddafi flag, which had been triumphantly flown from the embassy flagpole two days before, had been torn down and replaced with the pro-Gaddafi flag once more.

The crowds outside the embassy were segregated as well. A small group of very vocal Islamists shouted and chanted into a noisy sound system. They were calling for an Islamic revolution, perhaps more like the Iranian revolution - they were demanding Shariah Law, and denounced democracy.

A much more hopeful sign was the much bigger crowd of demonstrators calling for freedom and human rights in Libya. They held aloft a huge banner which said 'Shame on those who sell weapons to the dictators,' a clear response to Cameron's recent tour with BAE systems to the Middle East.

I spoke to many in the crowd, and all were determined that though this journey may take longer than Egypt and Tunisia, Libya was on a path to change, and there was no going back to the days when Gaddafi acted as a feared 'God and father' of the nation.

Friday 25 February 2011

Successful Launch of 'A Just Church'!

The Wool Exchange is by far the most beautiful building in Bradford, and lies at the heart of its cultural heritage. It is now a branch of Waterstones, and was a perfect place to launch my new book.

'A Just Church' is the story of Liberation Theology at work in the UK, but it is powered by a contextual approach. This simply means that churches are politically, culturally and economically rooted in the environment they find themselves in. Our church has tried to respond to the concrete issues it has witnessed around itself.

The Wool Exchange was full of some of the very people that make up many of the stories in 'A Just Church' - activists from CND, CAAT, local Sanctuary seekers, artists, storytellers, clergy, police officers. The book is a love story, not simply of my own love for the city - but of God's love for the city. For God's love, never disregards anyplace or any people.

Thankyou to all who came and made it such a special occasion. Now on to London on Saturday (SPEAK conference 12.40pm), Leeds on Monday (Hinsley Hall 5pm), then back to Bradford University on Tuesday 1st March 5pm. Blessings!

The West's bizarre attempts to discredit Venezuela.

Venezuela bashing has always been a favourite sport of Western governments, but the attempt to link Gaddafi to Chavez has been appalling to watch. William Hague tried to suggest Gaddafi was fleeing to Venezuela, a lie spread from the heart of US anti-Chavista networks.

The hope is to discredit Hugo Chavez by association. But Chavez is the democratically elected head of Venezuela (3 times, much to the annoyance of the US government), not a power crazy, unelected despot. Their link is oil, and the US obsession to smash OPEC, and thus ensuring more power over the oil market.

What is ignored is the Venezuelan support for the Egyptian people and their victory over authoritarianism (see the link to the Venezuelan Solidarity Network Chazez simply warns that it should be the people of a nation that decide its outcome, not foreign powers. Venezuelans understand this problem, having beaten off a military coup supported by the US in 2002.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Arming the Dictators: Shame on Cameron and the Arms Industry.

As the citizens of North Africa and the Middle East brave the bullets of their dictators, the world should keep an eye on David Cameron and the arms sellers. Whilst saying one thing in public about 'listening to the people' and 'democratic change' Cameron is on a tour, trying to sell weapons to the very same leaders who turn these weapons on their own people.

The British Prime Minister, in the most disgraceful act of profiteering I can remember, is touring the Middle East with a whole entourage of business leaders including eight representatives of 'defence' firms. Among them, Ian King, the chief executive of BAE systems.

At the same time, over 100 British firms are showcasing weapons and torture equipment in Abu Dhabi 'International Defence Exhibition and Conference', Britain largest ever delegation to an International Arms Fair.

It is hypocritical of Western leaders to go on about peace and democracy whilst at the same time making as much money as possible arming oppressive states. They see the unrest in North Africa as the perfect time to make a killing for their arms industries. Shame on Cameron, and shame on us for not doing more to expose this evil trade. Join 'Campaign Against the Arms Trade' today!

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Whats in 'A Just Church'?

The book is a manifesto for a more radical church, inspired by the 'theology of liberation' (Understanding God and Jesus as liberators of earth and humanity, defending the poor and challenging those who exploit the people and the land)

We explore in very practical terms what a 'just church' would look like, and use the stories generated through our experiences in Bradford as examples. The first half of the book looks at the context of our church, its history and details how we use liberation theology to inform our worship and practice.

It argues that a liberated church is both 'dialogical' and 'inclusive'. It is hard to sum these up briefly, but the book is written in clear language, and you won't have to be a theologian to understand it!

The second half is full of the stories from the last five years. It explores, guerrilla gardening; anti-nuclear protests; our support for the people of Burma, Zimbabwe, Venezuela; how we dealt with the English Defence League demonstration; the anti-war movement; Israel and Palestine; Bradford Street Angels (non-violence in a local context); Being spied on by Menwith Hill; Taking on the Legal Loansharks (the Provident is based in Bradford); How to set up a city of sanctuary and resist dawn raids on sanctuary seekers with kids; resisting 'top down' regeneration in our cities; Learning and listening to our interfaith neighbours.

And lots more besides! We've been busy over the last 5 years, and invite the wider church, and the fresh expressions movement to learn from the theology of liberation. I believe that if we are clearly involved in issues of justice, peace, ecology and human rights, the church will be relevant once more. I describe how the church can be part of the movement of movements that will build a better, fairer world.

It's also both funny and tragic, as we struggle to follow our calling into some of the darker paths of humanity. I hope that the suggestions of 'things to do' and the web links and filmography will be helpful too. They have only printed 900 copies, so be quick to buy it, before my mum buys them all!

Come to the launches, and join in the discussion - 'what is a Just Church?'
24th Feb 6pm Waterstones Bradford
28th Feb 5pm St Pauls, Hinsley Hall, Headingly, Leeds
1st March 5pm Waterstones Bradford Uni Branch
21st March 5pm Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield
22nd March 5pm St Pauls Bookshop, York
28th March, Queens, Birmingham

If you can pay for the ticket, I'll come to other parts of the UK too! Or you can come to Bradford 23/24 July, for the 'Practical Liberation Theology Conference' at Desmond Tutu House.

In the meantime, keep occupying those Topshop stores and Barclays Banks - oppose those cutbacks, and keep supporting the brave people of this world who are striving for freedom!

Monday 21 February 2011

Waiting for Gaddafi to fall...

It's another tense night in North Africa, but nobody would have predicted that Gaddafi could be so vulnerable. When fighter pilots defect, when diplomats walk out of embassies, when Gaddafi resorts to air power, and many cities are in the hands of protesters, it is surely hours, not days before he has to flee.

Of course, it is not over yet. Those who have murdered as many as 600 people in the last few days, will hold desperately on to power. This is the bloodiest of the peoples uprisings, and the biggest test of ruthless despotism we have seen so far.

But when the state resorts to such violence against its people, it is over. Gaddafi is hated by the people and will soon fall. Though despised by his nation, he has been courted by the West. Befriended by our former British Prime Minister, one of the the most disturbing pictures I have in my head is from Dec 2003, when Tony Blair shook Gaddafi's hand in front of the then chairperson of BP - befriending a tyrant for the sake of political gain and an oil deal.

Blair turned his back on the atrocities committed by Gaddafi against his own people, and chose to forgive Gaddafi's arming of violent terrorist throughout the world (including the IRA) for the sake of a few arms deals and an oil deal.

The US and Britain governments must take their share of the blame for arming, trading with, and supporting regimes from Libya to Burma. It must end with the demise of Colonel Gaddafi.

The time of dictators is fast coming to a close.

Saturday 19 February 2011

The Dictators in North Africa and the Middle East have learnt their lessons....

The success of the people's of Egypt and Tunisia are heart warming, though incomplete. Within both countries there is a long way to go before those with power relinquish it fully. Both the military and the establishment are shaken, but still in control.

The North African and Middle Eastern dictators though are learning their lessons, and know now that change can come sooner than previously believed. So we will begin to see other tactics, notably excessive and brutal force. Britain, France and US may well murmur disapproval, but the dictators will be using the weapons we have sold them.

Libya will not change as suddenly as Egypt. Gaddafi will have no self control when it comes to using bullets on his own people, as the snipers killing nearly 100 people today will testify. His state apparatus is much stronger and more ruthless than others. In one British University it is estimated that more than 1 in 10 of Libyan students who came were sent to spy on other Libyan students. Gaddafi is paranoid and murderous, and perhaps now is not the time for a non-violent revolution.

Bahrain may be different, and recent victories over the control of Pearl Square may hint at things to come. Bahrain is more dependent on tourism and money from the West - it cannot get away with too many bloodbaths. The long term oppression of the Shia majority and certain groups of migrant workers will have to be addressed, and those in power will be realising this.

Algeria will be bloody, but Morocco might be ripe for a change, and that could also mean freedom for the persecuted people of Western Sahara, the victims of one of the worlds most forgotten land occupations.

I hope that throughout the region change is coming, but I fear that the dictators will be more violent, and the struggles will be much more protracted than the initial victories in North Africa. We pray and act in solidarity with all those seeking freedom, bread and human dignity.

Taking on Barclays Bank

The news was upsetting - Barclay's had only paid 2.4% tax on their enormous profits of over £4 Billion. Not only that but Bob Diamond, the newly appointed boss of Barclay's had allowed himself a bonus of £9,000,000. On Radio 4 representatives of the banking industry detailed how we were supposed to feel sorry for them - we needed to be more grateful for all they put back into the economy. That is sounding extremely hollow as it was the trillion pound bail out of the banks that has led to the vicious cuts in public spending that we are experiencing now.

If I only paid 2.4% of the tax I owed, I would not expect the state to feel happy at the small contribution I had made!

And so the plans were hatched - and we decided to occupy our local Barclay's Bank and turn it into a community library for a short time. I had expected that our electronic watchdogs would be monitoring the usual channels, so a group of us decided to go 'old school' - we would go word of mouth!

People were asked to bring some spare books, meet near the Bank, then simply march in, leaflet, and read! Books were put on the shelves, and we shushed people if they made too much noise!

The staff called the police, but we were so well behaved that even the police seemed reluctant to move us on or try to arrest us! There were a few moments of tension, once when a police officer got very angry when photographs were being taken of her (they didn't find it ironic that we don't like the police endlessly taking pictures of us!) The other problem arose when two officers turned up wearing everyday clothes, and refused to produce any I.D.

When a senior police officer finally asked us to leave, we had already done an hour of protest, and were about to join the 'Rally against the cuts' in a nearby square. Success - and the local papers responded well - the library theme was clear, as the local authority cuts announced yesterday included the closure of 5 local libraries.

Banners saying 'Books not Bonuses', 'Libraries not legal loansharks' and 'Diamond pay your bonus back' adorned the interior of the Barclay's store - it was amazing, I'm so proud of the way the 30 or so protesters behaved. Non-violent direct action is a very powerful tool indeed!

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Why the Free Bus matters.

The news of the demise of the Free bus service in Leeds will make it easier for the axe to fall in Bradford. Here's why we shouldn't let that happen:

1) Bradford city centre is not flat like Leeds, in fact, its bloody hilly! That is why so many pensioners use the service to get around.

2) Leeds doesn't have a problem attracting people into its centre - Bradford does. The free bus encourages people to shop within the city, making it easy to pop between the markets and the interchange. Without the extra customers the bus provides, many of the smaller market holders would find it harder to remain open during this recession.

3) After the safety problems in Bradford last year, the free bus is vital in allowing many students, especially overseas ones and female students, to travel safely round the city. Unlike in Leeds, the college and uni contribute financially to the bus.

4) Bradford has a high number of people on low incomes who are reliant on the service - Asylum seekers on vouchers who don't get cash for things like buses, pensioners, those with mobility issues, students. Cuts should not penalise the weakest members of our community.

Join the excellent campaign initiated by the college student union - and lobby your councillor today. The final decision about the service will be announced on the 18th Feb, and ratified at the full council meeting on the 24th Feb. Be there to hold them to account!

Crossbow shop - The saga continues!

Despite promises made infront of Canon from the Cathedral, reporters from the local paper, and workers from Bradford Rape Crisis - The shop owner of 'Barkers' decided to put his 'hunting crossbows' back in the display windows of his shop.

I went in to complain, but the liar was unrepentent: "I had to go back on my promise, they're not selling" he cried. Perhaps that is because the only person in Bradford who wants to spend £149 on a hunter crossbow is locked away in a high security prison.

'Barkers' operates within the law. The police have made it clear that they would defend the shops rights in the event of protest, even though they dislike what the place sells (swords, knuckle dusters etc)

We must find a way of protesting against the casual violence and intimidation that is inspired by this kind of shop. A boycott and petition will be the next step - but I ask all of you who live in Bradford to pop in and ask for a packet of cigarettes. Enquire if the owner has taken the crossbows out of the window and when he admits that he hasn't, walk out in disgust. It is only when business people realise that they are losing custom that they are finally forced to do the decent thing.

Protest: Fight the Power

If you live in Bradford, do make time to visit the excellent exhibition of political poster in the University Atrium Building, Richmond Road. It features great art and protest banners from over the last 50 years.

What strikes me is how unusual it is. In South America, you see 'street politics' everywhere, but in the UK, it is hardly a feature in our public realm.

Thought provoking and political art, from Anti-war campaigns to Banksi, needs to be celebrated and discussed - not torn down or painted over. This exhibition certainly makes you think - and includes shocking images from both left and right (I'd never seen the anti-Che posters before!) - But it makes me think that a progressive society should be able to wear it's politics on it's sleeve.

Sunday 13 February 2011

'Big Society': Hard Thatcherism dressed in 'Soft Cameronism'

When the 'Faith in the City' report came out 26 year ago, it shocked the establishment. It was the Churches response to state of British society in the mid eighties. It noted how the policies of the Thatcher administration were deeply divisive to the nation, penalised the poorest in society and were causing an increasingly wide gap between rich and poor. The welfare state was under attack by a government committed to reducing the size of the public sector, and increasingly leaving national and local decision making in the hands of the private sector.

So here we are a quarter of a century later, and once again, the same issues are re-emerging. This time, the only difference appears to be that whilst Thatcher denied that there was actually anything called society, David Cameron keep desperately talking about the 'Big Society'. Many argue that the term is too vague and meaningless, but I think that it is not as vacant a phrase as commentators often make out. In fact, it is very concrete in its ideology. The concept is clear; 'big government' is to axed, and replaced by an overwhelming trust in the free market. The private sector is to be trusted with our woodlands, our schools, our hospitals. Local authorities need to contract and hand over responsibilities to the private and voluntary community. At best, our local councillors should have an oversight role, but not interfere in anything as complicated as regeneration, housing or employment issues.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the second world war, and one of the architects of the welfare state once said of the private sector: 'If they could sell you the air you breathe, they would.' Now though, it is not the corporations selling what isn't theirs, it is the state itself. The government appears to be tearing off its own limbs, almost like someone willing to sell off their own body parts to raise some money for their rich chums.

Cameron appears like a confident, but out of his depth magician. He is trying so hard to cover his tricks by clumsily using the art of 'mis-direction'. While he distracts everyone waving the wand of 'the big society', using all the usual tactics of a beautiful, smiling assistant (Nick Clegg) and a bouquet of flowers, he hopes we will not see what his other hand is doing. But it is increasingly hard to miss the fact that his other hand is butchering the public sector.

The crowd begin to realise what is going on. Liverpool council pulled out from the 'big society' magic show, when it noticed the bodies piling up behind the stage, bodies of voluntary sector jobs being axed because the government were no longer able to support them. 80 Libdem councillors started jeering from the audience as it became clear that 'big society' means little more than massive attacks on the welfare state and the accountability of local government.

'Big Society' is nothing more than an ideological struggle that has been going on since the emergence of the Reagan-Thatcher neo-liberal age. Those with power and links to the wealthy seek to increase their power and influence by handing over huge resources over to the corporate sector. The easiest way to do this, as pointed out by Naomi Klein's book 'The Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' is to create the public perception of continual crisis, creating a climate that allows government and corporations to do whatever they like.

The encouraging and hopeful thing is that people are quickly seeing through the deception. They know that the voluntary sector is interdependent on the public sector. Many of the best community projects and organisations are part financed by the state, and would struggle to do the work they do, or could even disappear without public sector finance. Many people are also seeing the link between cutbacks and to the growth of tax avoidance in the private sector. Why is the government so quick to cut back the public sector and yet so unwilling to seriously take on corporate and banking greed?

The government had better watch out. Tunisia and Egypt are not the only places where the population are ready to flex their muscles in the face of ideologically corrupt regimes.

And where is the church in all of this turmoil? Some see the governments agenda as a 'big opportunity' to show how important a role it still can play in the nation, it desperately wants to be a player in the 'Big Society'. This is the side of the church that seeks to be a buffer against unrest, a comfort to those with power, a side of the church that still seeks to display its importance and power. But the church has a deeper tradition than this. It has a tradition of speaking 'truth to power', of prophetic disruption to the status quo. It has the tradition of entering the place of the money changers and those who profit from the poor, and driving them out. For there can be no holiness without justice and fairness for the whole of society.

The Church is not interested in a 'Big Society' but a 'Healthy and Content Society'. We need to strive for a nation that recognises the interconnectedness of the public and private sector, not a government that wages an ideological war on public services for the benefit of friends in 'Big Business'. As with the Faith in the City report, the Church will be relevant only when it speaks out in defence of the most vulnerable, the biggest victims of these ideologically driven cuts.

Walk like an Egyptian

I have just spent the last few hours in the very pleasant company of my friend Basem, an Egyptian who has lived in Bradford for many years now. He is 29 years old - Hosni Mubarak ruled his country from before he was born. We had decided to walk to the little village of Egypt near Thorton, to celebrate the changes that had taken place, and to remember those who have died in the struggle.

The graciousness of the Egyptian people is astounding. Even though they knew he had to go, many felt sorry for their dictator - almost like that syndrome that affects captives with their captors. Though Basem sounded cautious about the future, it was impossible to hide his pride in his nation and his fellow Egyptians.

They have lost many lives, 350 people in 18 days of struggle, with many more secretly tortured or wounded. But they held firm, and alongside the people of Tunisia, have proven that given the right circumstances and determination, anything is possible. From the fall of Apartheid, to the Berlin Wall, humanity keeps proving that it is capable of remarkable things. Faith, as they say, can really move mountains.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Never underestimate the power of non-violent revolution.

Mubarak has gone, despite his desperate last minute attempts to stay in power. Eventually, even those close to him had to accept that he was part of the problem, not the solution. He did not want to go, this is the reality for all who get used to power and privilege.

Nobody in Tahrir Sqare knew the outcome of their struggle. At any moment, it could have gone terribly wrong. Throughout the 18 day occupation of the centre of Cairo, it was impossible to tell whether it would become another 'Berlin Wall' experience or a Tianamen Square massacre.

The bravery of those involved should not be underestimated. It seems to me that a violent uprising would have been an easy but entirely self defeating response. When the sniper fire killed innocents in the square, revenge would have been the simple answer, and much bloodshed would have been inevitable. But the people of Egypt, including many in the military, chose non-violence.

This gives great hope for the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East, but also for all of humanity. Inspired by this victory of non-violence, in the months and years to come, the dictators will fall, and the people will have their freedom.

Thursday 10 February 2011

Keelham Farm Shop - hope when shopping!

I reluctantly went to a farmshop just outside Thorton today. My wife had been before, and said that it was a great place. I'm not a natural shopper, so had put it off for a while.

It was amazing - located in beautiful scenery, high above Bradford, it provides a genuine antidote to modern supermarket shopping. A wide range of organic, cheap, tasty food, from fruit to beer. The staff were friendly and informative, and there was a chance to try things out; dragon fruit, lemon tarts etc.

Then we discovered the animal bit - goats, turkeys, Vietnamese Potbellied Pigs - my little daughter was delighted!

Without shareholders to appease - small locally owned stores can outperform any supermarket on every level. Keelham Farm Shop is proof of that. They even provide a free bus service on a Tuesday for the nearby people of Thorton. Outstanding - visit if you can, and you'll never go to a supermarket ever again!

Mubarak has let his people down again.

Hosni Mubarak has failed his people. He had an historic opportunity to listen to the demands of the Egyptian people, and the step aside with a degree of dignity. Not only has he failed, but he risks disaster for the citizens of his nation. It seems dictators rarely accept defeat gracefully.

The people of Egypt have shown great nerve, and now their mettle is to be truly tested. They must choose non-violent resistance to the state, or the risk a terrible fightback from a desperate leader. I am hopeful that a democratic transition can still happen, but the chances of more deaths seem greater today.

Malcolm X once said that 'Power never takes a step back, except in the face of an even greater power'. The people of Egypt will show their power in the days and weeks to come.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

What's mine is yours.

Wednesdays Radio 4 'Thought for the day' had a great reflection by Graham Jones, Bishop of Norwich. He was mulling over a book called, 'What's mine is yours' based around the growing idea of 'collaborative consumption'. Ebay, freecycle etc have made trust, swapping and sharing a real opportunity in the electronic age.

Bishop Jones noted that the average power drill is used for only 12 minutes over its entire lifetime. Most things we own, from books to children's toys are mostly stored away for most of the time. Sharing is such an obvious answer to a lack of resources. When I was a lad, I remember carrying a hoover around from house to house in the maisonette block we lived in. Why does every household need a hoover when they only use it for a short period each day? In the 70's, sharing, seemed normal, an everyday activity. Now, everyone feels they must own everything separately.

Rachel Botsman, one of the authors of 'What's mine is yours' believes that the growth of modern electronic 'collaborative consumption' proves that we are 'hardwired for sharing'. We just need the right mechanisms to allow it to take place.

In an age of austerity, it may be the only answer left open to us a society. It may also rebuild a sense of community in our towns and cities. These are new ways of responding to the challenge of one of the great teachers of the New Testament: 'Let the person with two coats give one to the person with none'.

Monday 7 February 2011

UK Uncut, The Police and 'Overstepping the public role of a priest'

I had a very interesting meeting with the police last week, and I am still digesting the content. A group of us met a senior officer from the Bradford force to discuss the last UK uncut demo in Bradford and try to prevent our protests 'getting out of hand.' Having seen the pictures of young activists getting CS gas sprayed in their faces last Sunday, I was keen to make sure that it didn't happen in Bradford.

The police officer described me as 'an instigator' of the protests. They have a constant need to identify 'ring leaders' or 'instigators', I guess it makes it easier to deal with what can seem like chaotic situations. I actually think the 'instigators' are companies that avoid paying taxes while public services are being hacked to death by this government.

They were anxious about the 'fear' our demonstration caused to passersby when we tried to sing carols at the Vodaphone store before Christmas. We had done a similar thing in Topshop, and I'm pretty sure our carol singing had not caused 'fear' to passersby, or indeed to those in the shop -  as we had been extremely courteous. Any alarm or fear can only have occurred when the police and security guards at the shopping centre began throwing people to the ground and shouting at the hundred or so people trying to head towards Vodaphone.

It turns out that their justification for this was that Topshop had complained we had been putting leaflets in the pockets of clothes when we were in their store. This is apparently 'criminal damage'. They alleged several pockets were torn. Those who did the leafleting told me that they had been very careful not to do so, so I am not sure that I can simply believe the stores version of events. Should the police believe everything that Topshop told them?

Certainly the police themselves tried to trump up charges against the two young people they arrested at the Kirkgate centre. Despite the attempts to charge them with 'assualting a police officer' all charges were dropped later that evening.

During our meeting, it was the police officers comment to me about 'overstepping my public role' in taking part in these demonstrations that angered and saddened me. I replied that there was a long list of characters from the bible who had stood up against injustice, some were arrested, some tortured, some even crucified.

It is the tradition of the church to take part in prophetic ministry against injustice, regardless of the consequences. We are not here as an institution to simply defend present day capitalism, big business and the Condem government - that is a job the police hierarchy seem happy to do all by themselves.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Book release!

The email from theologian Anthony Reddie confirmed it. He had been the first person to receive a copy of my book through Amazon. I contacted my publisher, and they let me know that the book had been released slightly early. Five copies, courtesy of Continuum press were winging their way to me.

It's hard to describe the feeling when I opened the package of books. It was real, it was amazing, I am a published author. I left school with no qualifications. I used to pick mushrooms to pay my way. Now I've written a book and I am elated!

Now comes the flip side. People will actually know what I am thinking and doing. There is no disguising it. Every last thought, every bit of theology that I've put into practice. Many of my mistakes, many of my adventures, it is all on show.

I hope that my friends will love the stories that they find themselves the stars of. I'm hoping that some folks will be inspired by all we've got up to over the last few years. I already know that some will find my theology deeply offensive.

Now you can go out and buy the book, and let me know what you think. Be kind.

Stop doing what you're doing.

I'm a big fan of Stephen Cottrell, the new designated Bishop of Chelmsford and former Bishop of Reading. I first met him at Aldermaston, one of the few bishops to make a strong stand against the Trident nuclear missile system (alongside David James, former Bishop of Bradford) He was applauding Keith Hebden for jumping in the road and blocking an entrance to the base.

Though I admire him for that, it is one of his books Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop  that I want to promote here. I have just come back from a retreat at Parcevall Hall, Appletreewick, and I feel great. It could have been the food, which is scrummy. It could have been the company, 24 of us loosely connected to SoulSpace. But I know, that the real joy came from not having to do much at all.

Friends looked after the kids, Barbara Glasson did all the hard work preparing the theme. Others cooked delicious meals. I stopped for a while. I went for walks, I read some newspapers. I took several large baths. As a result, my prayers felt answered, and the quality of my time was greatly enhanced.

The life of an activist priest can be hectic and demanding. Every so often I need to stop, do nothing, and let God do her thing. What do you need to do less of to improve the quality of your life?

Friday 4 February 2011

Privatising the woodlands. Was Cameron the only one not to watch Avatar?

William Temple, one of the instigators of the welfare state and Archbishop of Canterbury until his untimely death in 1944, once said the big business would 'sell you the air you breathe if they could get away with it!'

But now it is not big business who are trying to sell off what we already own, but the state. Thatcherism led the way in the mass privatisation of society, and sales of resources such as housing and the railways had devastating impacts on homelessness and affordability of public transport. From water companies to education, huge segments of the 'common good' went into private hands.

Now, as Rachel Johnson (Boris' sister) described it on Radio 4 yesterday, they are trying to sell, not just the family silver, but the family itself. The sale of woodlands and forests, to raise £250 million for the government, is brutally short sighted. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Caroline Spelman must have been the only people not to have seen the film 'Avatar'. DO NOT TRUST THE PRIVATE SECTOR WITH OUR WOODLANDS. We don't have much of it left, it is not to be messed around with.

This is just another ideological crime being committed by this government, who think that they can use the recession as an excuse to do even the most outrageous acts of neo-liberal vandalism. We must do all in our power to stop them. The other Cameron, James, is busily filming Avatar 2 and 3, about the sale of woodland by the Condem Goverment to their business backers, and how the people of the nation rose up and defeated them.

Sylvia Boyes in prison for anti-nuclear protest.

Many people, if asked of inspirational people, talk of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Che, or perhaps Nelson Mandela. At Desmond Tutu House, you don't have to look back in history or travel abroad to meet inspiring people. I often walk into my chapel and pass Sylvia sitting on the sofa of the CND office.

Sylvia, a grandmother for peace, has long been an activist. As a Quaker, she is convinced of the need for justice and an end to the domination of the arms trade and the nuclear missile industry.

What makes this woman stand out is her commitment to take part in non-violent direct action (alongside her wonderful sense of humour!) Her refusal to pay a fine, having been convicted of aggravated trespass and breach of the peace during a protest at Faslane nuclear base in 2009, has resulted in her imprisonment. At Bingley magistrates court yesterday, she was sentenced to 14 days at her majesties pleasure, the third peace protester imprisoned this month.

The crime is not hers, though she is willing to pay the price for her activities. The crime is a state willing to build such weapons, capable of such horrendous destruction. Not only is it a moral crime, but a financial one during a time of government cutbacks on a massive scale throughout the land. While our nation continues to demonstrate our power with nuclear missiles, we become impotent in any argument to persuade other nations to remain nuclear free.

Sylvia Boyes, you are an inspiration and a source of sanity in a nation of nuclear madness.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Giving credit where its due.

Today we hosted a debate in Bradford about debt and credit - under the shadow of the brand new building housing the HQ of 'Provident Financial', the UK's largest doorstep lender.

Three speakers gave their views on Debt; Alan Thorton from Church Action on Poverty (CAP), Marriane Clough from Christians Against Poverty (confusingly, another CAP) and Karen Bailey from Bradford Metropolitan Credit Union. Amongst the audience, we were joined by a representative from the Provy.

Alan Thorton outlined the case for another type of 'cap' - a cap on overall cost of repayment of debt, (being discussed in Parliament today) and argued that companies such as Provident Financial, should not be allowed to make a killing out of the most vulnerable in society. He described how the Provy made on average £90 profit per person. In Bradford, where they have over 10,000 customers, that means they have made nearly a million pounds of profit from the poor of this one average sized city.

Alan was also critical of the way that 'Christians Against Poverty' accept money from the Provident, especially as the Provy make much use of that fact to show they are a 'caring company'.

Christians Against Poverty argued that their job was not to be political, but just to help those who ended up in debt. Marriane did her best, but it did look like accepting even small amounts of money severely compromised their position. They clearly did not campaign for a cap on loan as an organisation.

Karen Bailey from the Credit union was awesome - she knew her stuff and had gone through times of being in debt herself. When the middle class woman from the Provident tried to criticise the Credit Unions figures, it was Karen who ended up looking far more credible. The woman from the Provident opposed a cap set at any level, and argued that lending rates should be set by the lender, with no limits whatsoever.

That made her and the company she represents look arrogant and offensive. They make huge profits from the poor, and then expect to be able to look like a legitimate and fair business. It simply does not wash.

The debate drew good media coverage, and we learnt that Marsha Singh labour MP sided with the poor and argued for a cap, whilst David Ward, Libdem MP sided with the Provident.

It felt like hard work drawing it all together, but I think the event, drawing crucial players together for the first time, played a vital contribution to the national debate on debt. Access to affordable credit is going to get worse under this government so we'd better work on some solutions before it does. If not, the Provident will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

'From Haiti's Ashes'

'From Haiti's Ashes' is maybe one of the most frightening stories of post disaster reconstruction I have ever seen. Watch it on BBCi while you have the chance. A billionaire Irishman, who has made a fortune in Haiti, decides to put something back.

Does he put his enormous wealth and power behind the construction of a new hospital, or schools, or, God forbid, housing for the 1.5 million displaced people? No, the money is spent on the obsessive rebuilding of the central market.

I love architecture, and I loved the iconic Iron building, I could see the appeal. But really, priorities after a natural disaster should be the practical needs of the suffering people. Markets had sprung up naturally anyway in all the nearby streets.

The documentary follows the Billionaires push to have the building ready so he can use it as the backdrop for his other pressing desire - to launch a program to identify the 'entreprenuer of the year'. While Cuban volunteers focus on health, shelter and education - those that have already made their millions from the poor in one of the poorest nations in the world, choose to focus on rebuilding markets and rewarding the next wave of free marketeers.

From Haiti's Ashes, the mad priorities of neo-liberalism will surely arise.

Uk Uncut on Newsnight

Anyone who saw newsnight last night, may be rightly nervous at the state of policing in the UK. Good, thoughtful, young people get together to take on companies who avoid paying their taxes. Their courageous actions to highlight the issues behind corporate tax havens, are met with extraordinary force.

As groups of bandaged protesters try to occupy a Boots store to highlight money lost that could be spent on the NHS, they are suddenly sprayed with CS gas. It is horrific and disproportional violence. Clearly the police are behaving once more as if the mistakes of the G20 protests had never been rectified.

After the death of Ian Tomlinson, the police were rightly shaken, and began to internally challenge some very dubious tactics. But it has not taken long before heavy policing of protest has reared its ugly head.

I'm meeting with the police tomorrow to discuss how they intend to deal with local UK uncut actions. The last one at Topshop met with bizarre tactics of arresting people and trying to charge them with 'assualting police officers' when it was evidently not the case. Will they continue to get tougher with protesters, or will they accept that tactics of non-violent direct action are legitimate in exposing the antics of these corporations?