Monday 31 December 2012

Predictions for 2013....

January. Starbucks go bust. The general public make a national New Years resolution to 'evade' Starbucks whilst they continue to 'evade' taxes and 'evade' making decent coffee. After pretending that they have been making a loss in the UK for the last few years, and only paying tax in one year out of 14, Star*ucks finally give up and go home. Good riddance

February. Obama decides to bring peace to the Middle East by bombing Syria and arming most of the sides in the civil war. Until free and fair elections can produce a new leader acceptable to the United States, Tony Blair is appointed Governor General Viceroy, due to his expertise at bringing peaceful resolutions to the region.

March. The wise senior management of the University of Sunderland allow me to erect a 'peace yurt' in the University Quad. It instantly becomes a huge success, and I am nominated for the 'University of Sunderland, Full time Chaplain of the Year award.' This becomes part of my pitch to become the new Bishop of Durham, pledging to move the 'See' of the Diocese to the new and exotic yurt headquarters in Sunderland. My manifesto also promises to have Bede's remains disinterred from Durham Cathedral and returned to it's rightful home in Makem land.

April turns out to be no joke, and the Government's new wave of austerity cuts involve taking away walking sticks from the elderly, and stealing candy from small children. George Osborne closes the last of the Remploy factories, selling the equipment and workers to sweatshops in China. 'That'll get them for booing me at the Olympics' sneers the Chancellor at a press launch. Rumours abound that he is secretly auditioning for the villain's role in the new James Bond movie.

May. Despite George Galloway's continued gaffes (he earlier declared that bestiality was just 'bad sexual kittiquette'') Respect councillors sweep to victory in several Bradford districts. They begin to turn the former Westfield site into a people's park and a huge outdoor bazaar.  However, the pledge to hold a referendum on independence, with the hope of granting asylum to Julian Assange recieves a less welcome response from the good people of the city.

June. To safeguard the wellbeing of the G8 superhero conference being held in Enniskillen, Britain  completely seals the borders of Northern Ireland. 'That should ensure that any terrorist threat is kept well and truly out of this peace loving part of the nation.' confirmed the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness....

Sunday 30 December 2012

2012, a poor year for mainstream films?

Was it just me, or was 2012 a poor year for film? Here are just some of the films that disappointed me over the last 12 months and some of the promising films of 2013:

The Hunger Games. Awful disappointment. Perhaps if I had been 12, I might of enjoyed this more. poor acting, dubious morality and just mostly dull.

The Avengers Assemble. I went purely out of loyalty to Joss Whedon, and will continue to admire him despite this over hyped study in 'event' cinema.

Prometheus. Even great actors and fantastic special effects could not stop the words 'plot holes' and 'turkey' flashing up in my mind throughout the screening.

Brave. It didn't make me laugh or cry, I thought it was just going through the motions. And does everything have to end with violence solving all the world's problems? In fairness, my wife and kids loved it. Maybe it had more of an appeal to the kinder sex.

Looper. Horrible, horrible, horrible. One or two good ideas do not make a whole movie. If it was so damn hard to kill people in the future, why did they shoot his future wife. One of far too many 'looper' holes.

Skyfall. I know what you are thinking - surely everybody liked this movie? I enjoyed it, and thought it was probably the best James Bond movie in a 'feel good about being British in 2012' sort of way. But I just wanted things to add up a bit more, and (spoiler alert) they shouldn't have killed her off! Sam Mendes? Just don't give the next 'Bond' to Ang Lee. Which brings us on to:

Life of Pi. Beautiful and pretentious waffle. Again, some impressive/stunning scenes and some worthy/good intentions does not make it 'the cinematic experience of the age'.

In fairness to 2012, I failed to see Argo, Dredd, The Dark Knight Rises or The Hobbit, so it might be that these films may have evened things out a bit. But having listened to my friends comments, I'm not so sure that spending money on these movies would have changed my mind about 2012 (with the exception perhaps of Argo). I much preferred to spend money in Fopp or HMV stores (they actually pay taxes unlike Amazon...) on the documentary films coming out of 'Dogwoof Ltd'.

Lets hope 2013 is an improvement: 'Cloud Atlas' and 'The Impossible' do look promising, though perhaps too ambitious. The films I'm most expectant about are 'Sons of the Clouds', a film about the forgotten war in Sahara, 'Oblivion' with a sci-fi tale that looks stunning; and of course Star Trek, Into Darkness, starring our very own Sherlock Holmes. Though perhaps instead, more of us should simply stop watching so many films and get more involved with the revolutionary struggle for a fairer and greener world? No? What a shame.

A Personal Review of 2012 Part III

We arrived at 2 Thornhill Terrace on the 31st August 2012. Sunderland is surprising beautiful, and despite the image problem, is a great place to live. Thornhill Terrace lies 1 minute walk from the Ivy House Pub, 2 mins walk from the Metro University Station, 3 mins from the city centre, 4 mins from the University and 5 minutes from the Minster. Ideal.

My new job is based at the Uni, a down to earth place with a real dedication to the region. I'm also attached to the city's Minster Church, which already has great clergy team, including my old friend Martin Anderson, and a dynamic and progressive new 'Provost' Sheila Bamber.

September saw lots of unpacking, a trip to London for the national gathering of Uni Chaplains, and some exciting discoveries (such as Barnes Park and Tunstall Hill). Fr John Dear came to talk in Sunderland on his national tour promoting non-violent direct action for peace. He was inspiring and challenging, even for me! The York gathering of the SPEAK network of social activist Christians was equally so. The Spilt music festival was the highlight of the month, especially hanging out with my favourite band - the Unthanks, who happened to do their rehearsals in the Minster.

At the very beginning of October I got to explore the area when I joined the Bede's Way walk for Christian Aid from St Peter's Church in Wearside to St Pauls in Jarrow. October saw the arrival of the 'Tax Justice Bus', and a debate with the local MP in the Minster. Tax Justice is the most important area to campaign about both in terms of global and local poverty (poor countries unable to raise revenue from greedy multinationals for development, and rich nations making cuts hitting the poor whilst big companies and individuals are allowed to evade taxes) There was also a planning meeting for a new Winter Nightshelter in Sunderland, which gave me the opportunity to network with those on the side of the disadvantaged in the city.

Amid all the meetings with Uni staff and local activists, I found time to be the theological reflector for the National Social Responsibility Board, which allowed me to get to know Basingstoke! Met some lovely folk who reminded me why I'm still in the Church of England.

I travelled up to Edinburgh to speak to the regional Student Christian Movement, and attended the National Demo against the Cuts, though this time, in Glasgow, not London - how a move shifts your geographical focus. On the march, I had the honour of walking with the Remploy workers section. It reminded me how vicious this government has been - axing 1000's of jobs for those with disabilities. Mental note; never forget how despicable the Condems have been to the most vulnerable.

October also saw two wonderful trips back to Bradford, first for 'Apple day' (nobody does it as well as Bradford!) and for the wedding of two dear friends, Ben and Tansy. They have been  a backbone of community activism and non-violent direct action for peace, and it was a real privilege to marry them!

November saw a memorable Diversity week at the Uni, and an exhausting bus journey to London with some Sunderland and Newcastle students for the national demo for a free and fair education. There was also a stay at Hazelwood Castle with the Harrogate Deanery - Liberation Theologians get themselves in very strange situations indeed.

Back in Sunderland, I began to make connections with the various anti-fascist groups. We will all have our work cut out as the far right have targeted the city in the hope of regaining some support. I think that the job of the church is to help both 'We are Sunderland' and 'Sunderland Together' unite in their common aim of diminishing the scope of the fascists coming into the city. The EDL, BNP, NPF and NF are all using the siting of a second mosque to create tensions within the area. They will be defeated by the left coming together, not fighting amongst themselves.

The University Memorial Service and a visit from Revd Barbara Glasson also stand out in a very busy month indeed. November included the Launch of our very own 'fresh expression' Church called 'SPACE'; Sunderland, Peace And Christianity Explored! During term time, it meets every Sunday evening in he Minster, and has already attracted some great folk. All very promising.

On an international front - the situation got much worse in both Palestine and Syria, and I really fear for the Middle East in the coming years. At least Mitt Romney was not elected, and despite my reservations about Obama, he at least may be able to resist the march towards a disastrous war against Iran.

December began with lots of fun, with a series of excellent 'World Aids day' events (thanks especially to Stephen Canning who spent a week living with us to help out) It was a month of singing, with a very well attended University Carol service, Carols and Cider in a local pub, and a fun 'flashmob' carol service in the Bridges shopping centre.

The joy of the new job and the obvious happiness of my wife and kids (great house, good school, and living near the sea) is marred by only two things. Firstly; the work prospects for my wife are grim. The local paper revealed at the end of December that Sunderland is the second worst place to be for jobhunting in the UK, and is one of the areas worst hit by this government's economic policies.

The Second problem is that the Church of England seems to be trying to commit suicide. At synod it was unable to pass legislation allowing women to become bishops, and then it made itself look nasty and backward in the debate about allowing same sex marriages in church buildings. The census results showing a massive decline in those willing to call themselves Christian should be a wake up call to the church.

The one bit of good news for the national church is that they have appointed the present Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby to be Rowan William's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is a wise choice, and will oversee some much needed changes. The day after the announcement, I handed him a copy of a book about Archbishop Romero, a great man who became less conservative and more committed to the people as he gained high office. One can live in hope!

2012 - what a great year for the Howson family! Now, lets get on and work for faith, hope and peace in 2013!

Friday 28 December 2012

Personal Review of 2012 part II

The decision to head off for a new adventure in Sunderland meant slowly letting friends and colleagues know that after 23 years of 'always being there', it was finally time to leave Bradford. I had 3 months notice to work through, so I deliberately set about making sure that it was a proper ending. Big parties, and lovely walks in my favourite places.

The Month of May saw local elections, and in Bradford, several Respect candidates upset the political apple cart once again. Everyone worried that Respect would 'bus in' councillors from further afield, but actually they simply went for the best local candidates who could sign up to their broadly left manifesto.  A few friends stood, and sadly lost, but many excellent new councillors appeared in the council chambers. Even a few labour councillors secretly cheered at the demise of the autocratic former city council leader.

May also saw the surprise election of Francios Hollande, a left wing president vowing to end the era of 'austerity' by promising investment and social improvements.  After economic right wing coups in Greece and Italy, finally some hope on the European front at long last.

June saw 'The Big Lunch' street party on Ashgrove - our most successful community event ever, with hundreds of people turning out to celebrate Bradford's diverse culture, and hardly a royalist in site. In a lovely turn of events, the group of trainee clergy who were helping me for the day were mostly from Sunderland! It gave me some great contacts for my journey to the North East.

The other interesting early Summer event, was the occupation of the Westfield site. The protest camp was aimed at the failure of Westfield to develop the city centre site, and it was met with strong support by local people. Because of George Galloway's support for the occupation, most of the local councillors condemned the action. Along with the 'occupy Menwith Hill Camp' that also sprang up during the summer - it seemed the natural way for the 'occupy' movement to go. Small, autonomous actions that showed up the failings of the Capitalist and Military rulers. Unstoppable and inspiring.

June also saw my last ever Street Angels shift - a project I had seen come to fruition over the last 5 years. It was sad to do my last evening with the gang - but I did feel I was getting ready to let go - and the current chair, Matt Dowson is a very capable chap. June also saw the third (and my final) 'Walk for Justice' to show solidarity with 'Sanctuary seekers' (sanctuary as opposed to the derogatory term used by the government; 'asylum seekers') This walk between Bradford and Leeds has been a real joy, allowing some quality time with people who have endured so much to come to the UK for safety.

June also saw the coup in Paraguay, bringing down President Lugo, the only fully blown Liberation Theologian to have ever been elected to power. On a happier note - Bob Diamond, chair of the corrupt Barclay's Bank was finally forced to resign. Lugo probably didn't get the kind of golden handshake that these corporate criminals get away with.

In July, there was a final party at Desmond Tutu House, and a beautiful service at SoulSpace. There I was presented with some wonderful bunting - each piece made by a different member of the church. It was all very moving, and I wept heavily during the final Eucharist. The end of an era.

I managed to avoid all of the Olympic fever by departing for a superb and much needed family holiday in Uruguay. It was a very special time, filled with many walks, good family fun, horse riding and even some drawing time.

Back in England, the last act of the summer was heading to the Greenbelt Festival, which was as inspiring and joyful as ever. August over, all my goodbyes said - it was time to head to Sunderland

Sunday 23 December 2012

A Personal Review of 2012: Part I

January began with an assault on the surviving occupy camps around the UK, and it was inevitable that the London camp would end in a mess. Many made noble attempts to keep it going as a statement against some of the cruelest excesses of Capitalism - but it was not to be. Locally, we were battling to save some vital services for severely disabled people, but the cuts seemed relentless and were clearly hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

The early part of 2012 saw some important work exposing the role of the US spy base at Menwith Hill - and my admiration for those at CND increases year on year. Dominic at the Yorkshire and Humberside office just impressed me over and over again - certainly in my book, he was one of the activists of the year.

March saw the airing of the Channel 4 documentary 'Make Bradford British', which many in the city had dreaded. (it did have a terrible name!) It turned out to be quite humane, and honest about the city. Many of us saw the programme in a positive light, and my blog title 'Make Britain Bradfordian' was even adopted by some of the participants.  Bradfordians could be proud of being flawed, but open to the possibilities of change and hope.

March also saw the opening of the new pool in the city centre - which was a triumphant act, and coincided with the opening of the much needed 'Home Made' art store and community centre.(which Cat and I helped paint!) Bradford felt like it was on the up. The city was also attracting international attention because George Galloway had chosen to stand for the Respect Party at the by-election caused by the previous incumbents alcohol related illness.

In early March, a few weeks before the election, a local Respect Party activist, suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Abu Bakr was young and well liked. I had known him through the Palestinian Solidarity campaign and he, his wife and their newly born child were regulars at Desmond Tutu House. I remember going to the wake at the local Mosque, to pay my respects to his family. George was there, and was clearly hurting. He had even considered cancelling the campaign. It was Abu Bakr's wife Kauser, who urged everyone to carry on - to make Galloways election a tribute to her husband. And so it was to be. I was at the Respect HQ with Sarah Cartin when the news of the huge victory became known. It was a momentous occasion, and my blog about the reason people abandoned the big three parties became the most read piece I had ever written, partly because the then Chair of Respect, the wonderful Salma Yaqoob kept retweeting my blogs on the subject.

The retweeting caused mayhem in April as Salma helped make my April fool blog, (suggesting Galloway was turning the much loved Odeon building into a 'Turkish bath and mosque') become the biggest scam I had ever orchestrated. I was on a high.

April was a great month. Our church organised a very special foot washing service in the new mirror pool for Maundy Thursday, and Bradford felt like it was sending me off with a terrific high.

Later in the month, I was to have an interview with Sunderland University for the post of Chaplain. When I went to have a wander around the city before the interview, something wonderful happened. I had never been to the place before, but something deep inside felt absolutely right. I finally felt that God was actively working alongside me on the next stage of the journey.

All would be well, I simply had to have a little trust and a little faith. Surely not too much to ask from a priest!

Preaching on 'The Magnificat' (Mary's radical song)

Advent Sermon based on the Magnificat, preached 10am; 23rd Dec 2012 in Sunderland Minster:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

In a few short days it will be Christmas itself – not Advent, the season of waiting, but the big day where we focus on the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. The Incarnation simply means; God becoming one of us, so that we are completely and utterly connected to God. No more is God a big thing up there or out there – but intimately, God becomes one of us.

And the passage we have just heard from Luke, makes it all a bit clearer how that actually happens. You know the old saying, behind every God Man, is an amazing woman – and here in Luke chapter 1 v 39-56, we have the scriptural evidence.

We have this coming together of these two great women, Elizabeth and Mary, at the time when God is being knitted together in the womb – both women are going to help bring up extraordinary people who will change the face of the earth.

Elizabeth, has already had the strange story of thinking that she wouldn't ever have kids, then suddenly becoming a mum late on in life. We know that she is a righteous woman, blameless, and that she is the one who perhaps most powerfully shapes the person of John the Baptist. John becomes the great revolutionary from the desert, who challenges the people with power and begins saying ground breaking things like 'whoever has two coats must give to the one who has none, and whoever has bread must share it with those who go without'. Behind John is his mother Elizabeth, with her trust in the Lord and her absolute love for God.

Mary and Elizabeth meet up and spend 3 months together. Mary, is quite obviously an incredible woman. I'm not interested in 'Mary' the woman of myth, depicted in such a saintly, virginal way in certain art and literature. I'm fascinated by the real, down to earth Mary who recognises that God is at work in her life, and then strives to do the best she can. A woman who may well have  had to bring up most of her children on her own, as her husband Joseph simply disappears from the story. According to some stories, Joseph was killed by the Roman's, as were thousands of his country folk at the hands of the occupying army.

And here in 'the Magnificat', in this most extraordinary of songs (the church calls them canticles because it needs a fancy name for everything) in this great song, we get some incredible hints at who this woman was, and what she really was about;

“My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in the Lord my Saviour”

Firstly we see that she is a great poet and mystic, these are intensely beautiful words, timeless and wonderful. She is a woman of great joy and she knows that God is at work in her and she rejoices. Her very being is one that tells of the great goodness of God, her very soul magnifies the Lord, she makes him known in the world and she rejoices in that.

We also know that she was someone who spent time listening to scripture and the holy words of her faith – she knows her traditions well – this song is based on the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel – and she sings it to Elizabeth, knowing full well that it is also the story of another woman who didn't think she would have a child, but then goes on to be honoured by God with the responsibility of bringing up a great leader.

Mary is also a wise scholar. She adapts scripture to make sense of her situation, she updates it. This is not a copy of Hannah's song, but a modern retelling of it. Over the years, she will help Jesus to make sense of his traditions but help him to not be a slave to it, something that we all desperately need to be able to do!

In the song, we also see her humility as she talks of the lowliness of herself as his servant. She is humble, but not passive, she recognising that God has done amazing things for her and for all the 'lowly ones' of history.

Then we see the revolutionary words of a peasant women 2000 year ago. She reveals that God is the one who has brought down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.

So from the very start of Jesus life – he is exposed to the radical teachings of this woman, who knows what life is really about, and will sing to Jesus radical songs as he grows, keeping him on the straight and narrow path of God's justice and peace.

Jesus knows from the very start that society is an unfair place, that it does not reveal the way that God wants the world to be. Hence his life is spent calling for revolution, repentance, a turning from the ways of this world and then building God's kingdom, where there will no hungry people any more, and an end to inequalities.

I think we often fall into the trap of believing that Jesus was born with super human powers, and that he already had within him the memories of the beginning of the universe and even the knowledge of the end of it. I don't think that that is what an incarnational God is all about. Jesus, has to grow up, has to learn wisdom, scripture, humility and what it is that God needs of him. And Mary is the one who does it.

It is up to each of us as parents, each of us as educators who deal with children, who have this great responsibility of bringing God into this world, one child at a time.

It is perhaps because of this that we feel the suffering of the parents of the 20 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School who were so brutally slain. We give thanks to the brave 6 women who died trying to protect these little ones. Dawn Hochsprung, the head teacher who rushed to the scene and tried to stop this man slaughtering the innocents. When the shooting started, it was another saintly Mary that jumped in to care for the little ones. The school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, ran to the scene and tried to rush the man with the gun, and died in a hail of bullets. She was a dedicated educator driven by her faith. Her husband William told the media “she considered what she was doing to be God's work – that is all you need to know about her.”

Our duty is to bring up our children and the children around us in a way that constantly reminds us that God's love is the only reason for our existence, and that everything in our bodies must yearn for God's kingdom of love, despite the horrors of this world. Mary Sherlach was willing to give her life for that belief.

The 'Magnificat' will help us to do this. We should long to be poets and mystics who rejoice in our souls, and tell of Gods love for us, and do so with humility and dedication. We should not shirk from saying that God is about changing this world completely. It must turn away from being a place of greed and hunger, where violence rains down on the little ones in Syria, in Pakistan, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We must stop being nations that run by the strength of the barrel of a gun and put an end to a world where powerful people can do as they please.

This Christmas it all ends. Instead, we must turn to a God whose power is demonstrated not with a sword or a gun, but through a child, born in poverty, and raised by the radical songs and wisdom of a peasant woman 2000 years ago.

Monday 17 December 2012

The United States is addicted to guns, and there is only one cure...

There is a sickness at the heart of the United States of America. As we watch the disturbing pictures of the killing spree in Newtown Connecticut, it is hard not to cry. As a parent of two young children, the thought of such a terrible ending to such innocent lives is almost too unbearable to cope with.

Yet despite the choked up reaction of Barack Obama, and the rhetoric that 'words are not enough', it is hard to imagine anything much changing in the US. They have more Gun stores than branches of McDonald's. They sold over 2 million guns in November 2012 alone. There are almost as many legal firearms as people in the US (311 million people)

The gun carrying culture is enshrined in their constitution, and, perhaps even worse, is entrenched in the US psyche. And as the incredible 'Bowling for Columbine' documentary by Michael Moore tries to show, the problem is so much deeper than just a few disaffected kids who have watched too many violent video games. US society and internal/foreign policy has been based around killing and destroying for well over 150 years. It is no wonder that they as a nation have been involved in or have been responsible for more wars than any other nation since 1900.

The US government is seemingly addicted to war, and while that continues, then the belief in the importance of 'bearing arms' will forever be part of the 'American way of life'.

It doesn't have to be this way.

Even the biggest drug/alcohol/gambling addict has an opportunity to change. The answer is almost always a total cessation. For an addict - there cannot be a partial 'cut down'. So if we see gun ownership as an addiction, the answer is not to 'tinker' around with minor gun control. There needs to be a full reversal of gun policy - heading towards  a virtual zero tolerance of weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of any citizen.

It is unlikely that Obama will have the wisdom or the power to make such a stand. He is having to deal with the first major block to any addict making a serious attempt at recovery: Denial.

Friday 14 December 2012

The CofE must embrace same sex marriage

The government has played a very clever card. On the back of the the widespread public distaste at the failure of the Church of England to pass legislation on women bishops, it is now seeking to appease its own members who are opposed to gay marriage, by stopping the C of E from ever conducting such marriages. This helps them pass the legislation by keeping ultra Conservatives happy, whilst putting the blame squarely at the feet of the already unpopular C of E institution.

This is a terrible blow to all of us who are pushing for the opportunity to be able to perform same sex marriages within the Anglican tradition.

I had hoped that the legislation coming might lead to that eventuality. It seems correct to allow churches to make up their own minds, even if the process seems tortuous. I can cope with the fact that Quakers and Methodists are quicker of the mark on social justice issues, mostly because they 'pave the way' and make it easier for the larger denominations to eventually catch up.

The proposed legislation though, would never allow us to 'catch up' with our more progressive friends. It would be 'illegal' for us to ever perform same sex marriages, despite the fact that nearly 45% of clergy are not opposed to the idea.

It would eventually lead some of us to 'push the bouondaries' of the law and risk losing our jobs, or even facing convictions. This is truly absurd, and needs to be resisted by all, regardless of their position on gay marriages.

To exempt the Churches of England and Wales from the possibility of opting to perform same sex marriages will just lead to many of us eventually leaving for more progressive Anglican shores, or joining other denominations. This is crazy. I am an Anglican priest. I am proud of the fact that the Holy Spirit has moved in our Church and helped us to move from positions of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

It does take time, and the move to ordain female bishops shows these frustrations. Change though is possible, and we will see female bishops in 2/3 years. We cannot allow this government use legislation to stop the Church of England from ever allowing some of it's diocese's, parishes or clergy to endorse same sex marriage.

I hope that those in the leadership of the C of E will recognise that their position must change. Otherwise we will lose another generation, as our institution looks more and more irrelevant and unkind. It does not bode well for us that the 'nasty party' can easily pass us off as the 'nasty church'.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Why we should boycott Starbucks despite their 'kind offer' to pay some taxes.

How very nice of Starbucks to offer to pay some money to make up for the fact that they are an evil tax evading corporation. I guess £20 million is something, considering that they allege to have made a loss for the last 14 out of 15 years trading. Oh, and apparently, despite a turn over of nearly £400 million last year - they didn't pay a penny in tax over the 12 months of trading (nor have they for the last 3 years)

In fact, they have only paid just over £8 million in corporation tax over the last 15 years. By some estimates, they have managed to avoid almost £300 million in taxes over that period, so the offer of £20 million over the next 2 years is peanuts. If I were to offer to voluntarily pay under 10% of the tax I owe - then I would soon be on the way to prison.

Corporations such as Starbucks, Amazon, Boots, Barclays, Topshop, Tesco and Google seem to be getting away with murder. Murder? Well, because these big boys find ways of not paying taxes, and their friends in the ConDem free market party aren't doing much about it, then it is the poor who are paying the price - sometimes with their lives. If you cut spending on the Health service, then people die - especially poor people who have worse access to services already.

I recently had to step foot in a Starbucks. I was a guest at one of those churches who think a 'fresh expression' of church means meeting in a shop that denies access to unions for its staff, and happily avoids paying taxes. I was very courteous, but everyone kept offering to by me a drink, and I kept refusing. How can we condone their behaviour? How could any Christian or indeed any sane human being think that Starbucks behaviour is at all justifiable?

The answer is to boycott until they pay their corporation tax in full. (a measly 21% due to this governments Autumn budget, making the rich pay less whilst squeezing the poor) This payment should include back pay in taxes for the last 15 years.

The Tory argument, is that if you force them to pay their taxes, then they may go and do their business else where. Good, let them go. it might make more space for smaller, local and ethical coffee shops. Ones that are more likely to pay their taxes and employ more people.

UK Uncut are planning a day to highlight Starbucks tax avoidance this coming Saturday. It is perhaps why Starbucks have eventually made this very public offer to pay some tax at last. I'll certainly be looking out for my nearest expression of disgust at these moral criminals. Let's protest at these outrages and boycott Starbucks along with the rest of these greedy corporations, until there is some tax justice!