Saturday 28 January 2012

Stephen Hester - worth every penny?

Today we learnt that even Phillip Hampton, the chair of Royal Bank of Scotland has been too embarrassed to accept his £1.4m handout. This is in stark contrast to the greed of Stephen Hester, the other RBS bigwig, who happily accepted a £1m bonus this week.

The Prime Minister simply blamed the last Labour government, and tried to sound like he was actually doing something about the banking bonus culture. There is much the PM could do. The RBS is effectively a publicly owned bank. The state could easily intervene if it really wanted to. But this goes against every fibre of Cameron's ideology. He is happy to cut or freeze public sector wages, whilst allowing the bankers to do as they please.

Stephen Hester was effectively rewarded for 'reducing the risks' of the RBS. This amounts to failing to lend to British industry at a time when it desperately needs investment. It was the failure of RBS to renegotiate a loan to the Peacock chain of shops that led them to go under, costing 1000's of jobs and another gap on the highstreet. For this, and many other crimes against the British economy, Mr Hester should be ashamed of himself, and certainly he should not accept a £1m bonus.

There is little point of Cameron condemning this publicly, but doing nothing to change the situation. Let us do all we can to shorten the life of this bourgeois government and the influence of their friends in financial high places.

Saturday 21 January 2012

'A Ring of Prayer' around Occupy LSX!

When Symon Hill of Ecclesia texted me about this idea last week, I immediately said I would support it if at all possible.  Now the high court has given the green light for an eviction of the occupy tent community camped outside St Paul's Cathedral, it is clear that at some point in the coming weeks, a showdown is inevitable.

Our sincere hope it that it will be a negotiated and peaceful end. It is not in the interests of the protesters, the Cathedral or indeed the city of London Corporation for it all to finish in violence. So the ideas of the ring of prayer is simply; should a forceful eviction take place, people of faith should get to the site if possible, and pray and witness throughout all that occurs.

Prayer is a proven source of successful Nonviolent Direct Action - it reduces conflict and forces each side to examine their behaviour. Christians in London should prepare themselves to head to St Paul's and show the power of Christ the peace maker. Christians and people of all faiths who can't get down there should organise localised prayers as a sign of solidarity should a forced eviction take place.

The reason is clear - the occupy movement has been the most important movement in decades in challenging the appalling state of modern capitalism - and we should do all we can to recognise the significance of this protest. We can not read 'Those with two coats must give one to the one with none' in our Bibles and fail to realise that God calls us to a life of sharing, not a world of inequality and greed.

Friday 20 January 2012

Preserve Bradford's Greenbelt!

It was disturbing indeed to sit in on the Bradford Council as they made up their minds on the development plan from Holmewood and Tong. They voted to build 600 new houses within the Holmewood and a staggering 2100 new homes on the greenbelt land around it.

The previous council determination to build new housing only on brownfield sites seems to have gone out of the window. The council officers made a number of points to assert their position. 1) the plan is the only way to develop the Holmewood estate 2) That Leeds Council and people have no right to influence Bradford's position 3) That young people need housing 4) That those opposed to the decision were simply a noisy minority 5) that the land was simply 'farmland' so not such an important part of the Greenbelt

The clear and obvious case against building nearly 3000 new homes around the estate, is that it will do little to improve the conditions of the people who live there. In fact, it will add to the pressure on local amenities and take away one of the few advantages to living on the estate - access to beautiful greenbelt.

Of course Holmewood needs improvements, but the new estates already built on the edge of area have proven disastrous, and not improved social integration in the area. Yes, young people need new houses, but they need low cost, starter homes and flats - closer to the city centre. They don't need 3/4 bedroom expensive houses, the ones developers are hoping to make a killing from out of this development.

To call those who bothered to come to the meetings and 'consultations' a noisy minority was disingenuous indeed. Those in favour of the scheme had not got thousands of names on a petition, or proven that it was what the area really needed. It seems that any protest that the council disagrees with is far too easily dismissed. Holmewood folk are losing their greenbelt because it is easier to screw over working class communities rather than encroaching on the greenbelt surrounding some of the more affluent areas of Bradford.

It is not over yet.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Occupy LSX faces eviction, but not defeat.

Today's high court judgement to allow the eviction of the Occupy camp at St Paul's was not entirely unexpected. There will be a chance for an appeal tomorrow, and the corporation will not enforce the eviction till 16.00 on the 27th Jan, but eviction will come.

Over 100 have quickly signed a petition to form a 'circle of prayer' around the camp should a forced eviction be enacted. People will physically 'pray in the way' if they can get to London in time, or pray for a peaceful outcome where ever they happen to be when the time comes.

These brave people in central London have illuminated the horrors of unregulated capitalism. We have a system built on inequality and greed, and the state needs to intervene if we have a chance of reining in the excesses of the financial district. The campers down at St Paul's have done the world a great justice, as uncomfortable as it has been for some. The Church needs to show it's solidarity with this movement, even if this feels difficult and against the status quo. I believe that the occupy movement has been a blessing to the church, and one of the most important protest movements of the modern age.

They may eventually be moved on, but they are not defeated. They have left their mark, and the financial district and the church will never be the same. The occupiers may get kicked out, but they will simply do something more imaginative - the 'bank of ideas' and the law courts occupation shows their determination and creativity. Despite the imminent eviction, the occupy movement is here to stay!

The world's best Dad

I have just finished reading 'Danny, Champion of the World' to my two little girls, and what a pleasure it was. I had never read it before, and the story is both moving and surprising. Danny's mum has died whilst he was quite young, and his dad brings him up in a little caravan on a country lane. The surprise is the joy taken in the art of poaching, and the evasion from the 'keepers'. Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was such a subversive children's author in so many ways.

He had endured tragedy, and this makes all his stories feel so honest and real. His eldest daughter, Olivia, died when she was just seven, so he doesn't shy away from issues such as death. Somehow he seems to just 'get' what kids need from a story, and he never patronises them.

The story made me want to be a better dad. Taking Angela and Clara for there first swimming lessons this week made me feel extremely proud. They tried so hard, and were sooo brave. I'm not the world's best dad. I get shouty when Angela keeps getting out of bed at night (a quick cuddle would be a better solution.) I don't spend enough time helping them with their homework. But I do love them to bits, and try to spend quality time with them each day - reading a story and saying a prayer at night is perhaps the highlight of my day - so a special thank you to Mr Dahl!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Licence to kill - No one should be able to have guns in the house, let alone 6

The story emerging of the killing of three women in Co Durham is as horrific as it is predicable. I strongly believe that nobody should be able to possess a licence for a gun unless very strict guidelines are imposed. Call me a kill joy, but shooting for fun should never be encouraged. If gun clubs must exist, then guns should remain on site.

Under no circumstances should people be able to keep firearms in their houses, let alone multiple weapons.
Michael Atherton was legally allowed to possess 6 weapons; 3 shotguns plus 3 'section one' weapons. He had them briefly taken off him after he had previously threatened to take his own life in 2008.

Michael killed his wife, her sister and her niece before turning the gun on himself. One woman escaped through an upstairs window before raising the alarm. But the alarm bells should have been ringing a long time ago. No one needs to 'collect' guns. No one should have them at home (that includes farmers). No one should be able to buy crossbows or weapons of deadly force.  Finally, the possession of any weapon designed to kill should hold a hefty penalty.

It may not end the death of innocents at the hands of those who 'breakdown' or have evil intent - but it would certainly make it harder for the death toll to be so high. Lets end the licence to kill - lets put our guns in the ground.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Let's 'Occupy' 2012!

Despite the economic nightmares of 2011, and the woeful efforts of world leaders to sort out the problems caused by the banking elite, new hope has emerged. The 'occupy' movement showed that people refuse to be ruled unjustly.

Inspired by an international movement, this spontaneous action saw people taking part in creative forms of protest the length and breadth of the UK.

Actions included taking over banks, courts, and many other public spaces. Thousands of activists declared an open disgust of the policies aimed at supporting the lifestyles of the 1%. They represented a huge swathes of the population battered by the recession and the government policies that are hurting the poorest hardest.

This was protest in its purest state - 'pro' another way of living, a more communal and compassionate future; 'test' - a new 'testament', a new story for our world and nation.

Now we have to find ways of 'occupying' 2012. That means continuing to expose the way the banking and political elite  are wrecking civilised society. It means defending the NHS, education, benefits and the all that remains of our welfare state. It means hearing the stories of the poorest and making sure that their voice is not silenced by the media and the powerful. We have power too. We need to 'occupy' any space we can manage, and make the case for a greener, more equal world.

That is our job in 2012 and beyond. If we don't, the technocrats and neo-liberals will continue to destroy all that we have built up over centuries of workers struggles. Let us take heart - we are much stronger than we often realise.