St James’s Day – a potpourri….
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St James Day 25th June 2014

St James is not only the patron of Spain the St James in question is the Great. He was martyred in 44 AD by Herod Antipas as described in the Acts of the Apostles. His body taken to Santiago de Compostela where it still lies in a magnificent shrine. It was the focus of the greatest and most popular pilgrim way for the greater part of middle ages. My sister and I hope to walk it some day soon. 

The cockleshell which pilgrims who reach the cathedral may wear remains St James’s symbol. It is also the symbol referred to in the nursery rhyme – ” Mary Mary quite contrary….where does your garden grow; with silver bells (“sanctus” bells) and cockleshells and pretty maids all in a row.” Some historians attribute the contrary Mary in question to the Stewart Queen of Scots. On the contrary the Queen in question was Mary Tudor who kept a court full of fun young things which is quite unlike its reputation as painted by a largely unsympathetic male Victorian Protestant historical profession much enamoured of Elizabeth I’s gaudy.

St James the Great was the brother of John (Evangelist and Beloved) both the sons of Zebedee – Christ called them sons of thunder. Zebedee in question is no relation to the bouncy figure at centre of goings on in the Magic Roundabout. This one is thought to have been a priest in the Temple. James was with John and Peter one of the three leading apostles and was a witness to the Transfiguration according to the gospels. James was also witness to the passion and death and is again prominent in the Resurrection accounts and early part of Acts.
Why the pictures below – well Mary I (Tudor) married King Philip (Hapsburg) of Naples & Jerusalem (later Philip II of Spain when his father Charles V abdicated in 1556) in Winchester Cathedral on St James Day 1554. Mary’s mother was also “Spanish” – Katherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand. Katherine of Aragon’s elder sister Joanna married Philip the Fair son of HRE Emperor Maximilian II and who himself was briefly King of Castile (Philip I). As son of Mary of burgundy Philip the Fair brought the Netherlands into the Hapsburg patrimony. By his wife Joanna (the Mad) he had several children including Charles who became both HRE Charles V in succession to his grandfather Maximilian II and the first monarch to unite the Spanish kingdoms under the single title – King of Spain.
Charles V ‘s son, Philip II, named for Philip the Fair,  in his time would be in addition to all the other agglomeration of lands and titles amassed under the Hapsburg dynasty, both King of Portugal and King of England.
 His marriage to his cousin Mary I (Tudor) was one of the great ceremonial occasions in England of Tudor age – the king’s personal retinue doubled the size of the Royal household. Philip’s wardrobe arrived in Southampton it its own ship – together with enough South American silver and gold to pay hundreds of English pensions. The king was not at all the dour prince of the Escorial famoulsy sleeping with huis coffin in his bedchamber- but in these young days was a bit of a dandy and dancer and had an eye for pretty women. At the wedding he wore silver cloth and cloth of gold and buckskin sewed with ruby pomegranate seeds. The queen wore tissue of cloth of gold sewn with pearls and cockleshells and the famous pearl which was her favourite jewel and a gift from Charles V. This jewel was returned to Philip by a very reluctant Elizabeth who was never one easily parted from other’s jewelry. viz, Mary Stuart’s pearls. The pearl later fell into the hands of Liz Taylor.
Mary I  -"Bloody Mary" -  still history's bad witch

Mary I -”Bloody Mary” – still history’s bad witch

Today there will be a big ceremony in St James Spanish Place here in London which was the site of the Spanish Ambassador’s chapel and has I believe two thrones for the king and queen as part of its patronal possessions. The music will be by Spanish composer Victoria – a master of late polyphony – a sound we often associate with Palestrina and the Counter Reformation.

Philip & Mary shortly after their marriage in Winchester Cathedral by Bishop Stephen Gardiner on St James's Day, 1554

Philip & Mary shortly after their marriage in Winchester Cathedral by Bishop Stephen Gardiner on St James’s Day, 1554

This St James’s Day also brought political tribute to the feast -
The government crows about growth figures which show GDP larger than in 2008 – therefore never bigger – but the income dsitribution over the last 6 years means the richerest are richer and the poorest poorer and the middle on a diet of worms. The conservative cock crows nonetheless.  Meanwwhile, in Ed Miliband’s real world we have a real election result to ponder:
Edenthorpe, Kirk Sandall and Barnby Dun on Doncaster (Lab Defence)
Result: UKIP 1,203 (41%), Labour 1,109 (38% unchanged), Conservatives 479 (16% +2%), Greens 160 (5%)
UKIP GAIN from Labour with a majority of 94 (3%) on a swing of 20.5% from Labour to UKIP since 2012
Turnout: 28%.
I heard Ed Miliband  talk about image in politics today at the Institute of Architects – it could be Doncaster North may have something to add to the image problem if Ed isn’t careful.  whether this all adds up to more than a basket of cockleshells on a hot July day only time will tell……
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Has Lovvie Labour already Lost?

alogosdownload (1)Has Labour already Lost

I understand EM gives quite important speech later this week. It will mark the beginning of the pre-election campaign which will climax – if that is a suitable word to employ in relation to Ed Miliband’s speaking skills – at the Party Conference in September. Beyond his slightly nasal strangulation of vowels Mr Milliband struggles on a number of fronts in this world of slick Media-driven bubble where appearance is everything –  in which we exist. He also has had pretty dreadful personal poll numbers since his election as Labour leader and there is no reason to think they will change.

The question that preoccupies the chatterati of the political class in the UK is  - Has Labour already Lost?

Labour enter this election with little Media support. Miliband is not their story. Unlike its most successful election winners –  Wilson and Blair – he has not got a good press and little traction in the elites that shape opinion in the Media. Labour’s poll number run ahead of the leader but still are upper mid thirties at best. These were the sorts of number Labour had in 91-92 against John Major and we know where that tragedy ended.

alogosdownload (1)The government is coming good in economic terms and the concerns over immigration play better to the right wing zeitgeist than to those on the left. No government but Ted Heath’s has lost after only a single term.Economic growth will continue to strengthen and wages will rise. There’s maybe a boomlet on the way – if not quite on the scale of Barber or Lawson.

All of these things are true and all of them may add up to no more than a row of beans. Why?

Sometimes elections work in cycles of in and out like 1950 and 1951;1959 and 1964; sometimes elections – like 1945;1979; and 1997 immediately come to represent a decisive break with the recent political past. Sometimes elections dully reinforce an earlier decision – 1974( Oct) – 1983 – 2001. Sometimes elections stick with nurse fearing worse – 1987 – 1992 – 2005. Very very occasionally elections reflect a change in the political structure: 1901;1910;1924;1945;1974 (Feb).

By any of these measures the election on 2010 was out of the usual. It is perhaps difficult to believe that when government since has gone on very much as usual – this coalition behaving very much like a majority government with none of the political or personal tensions often associated by pundits with party coalitions.That too is remarkable. The election in 2010 was also remarkable for any number of reasons.

alogosdownload (1)It gave us a coalition government for the first time since the 1920′s. (The National governments of the 1930′s must be seen in a different light.) The Conservative Party polled one of their worst ever national percentages – beaten only by 1997, 2001, 2005 and 1974 – against one of the most unpopular ever of governments in polling history. Between 1974 and 1979 the Conservatives had gained 8.1% of the national vote; in 1997 Blair’s Labour Party gained a similar 8%. By comparison the Conservative party vote rose a meager 3.5% from what was by then a historically terrible base of 32.4%. This relatively small gain was over Brown’s Labour Party polling a ghastly 29% – 7% down on its squeak in 2006 – but worse only just marginally better than its humiliating defeat in 1983 when Michael Foot led it to an ignominious defeat from which it took 13 years to recover. This was not a good election for two party politics.Unlike previous cycles the country had not turned decisively back to the Conservative Party. In many ways the questions about Conservatives have remained essentially the same since 1997. The difference was the collapse of Labour’s vote from 43% to 29%.

In 2010 the LibDems had their best election since 1983 although their 23% was only one point more than they had achieved in 2005 under Charles Kennedy. The Greens elected their first MP. The Nationalists and Unionist kept their share of votes and roughly their number of MP’s. The more disparate structure of multiparty politics established in 1974 was if anything decisively reinforced once again as the new normative – with two larger weaker parties and third party dangerously close to be equaling the other two and a good number of regional MP’s representing a fragmented local interest.

What the polls tell us is that this essential structure remains unchanged. Labour has gained something around 6% on average since 2010. Some of this may disappear as May 2015 approaches but it seems highly unlikely it will do significantly as badly as 2010. The Conservatives have yet to cross the Rubicon into the higher 30′s and on this form will do well to repeat something akin to their 2010 result. The LibDems – as history warned them – have been seriously damaged by the coalition politics.Their current numbers of  a couple of points either side of 10% seem very low but the polls for the present are nothing but consistent. That said they held on to Eastleigh and have held on to good parts of their local government base. The chance is they will hold on to many of their seats but nothing like as many as their total of 57 – which was itself down on their 63 seats in 2005. The problem will come later this year – if the percentages do not edge up towards 13-15% it is hard to see how they can hold on to more than 25 of their current seats.

alogosdownload (1)Finally there is a new girl on the block – UKIP. Here again polls may mean nothing but the rise of UKIP feels very much like the rise of the Liberals between 1972-1974. It would be a foolish to suppose they too will not poll somewhere around 10-12% of the vote. Thus from the math it seems highly unlikely there’s room for either of the big parties to squeeze the other enough to emerge with a clear working majority. If the Conservatives could not hit the magic 40% in 2006 there is little reason to believe they will gain 6% in the next 10 months to achieve this feat. Moreover, the coalition means inevitably if there is glory for the golden economy it is not all theirs to claim.

Labour has had its best period in opposition in an entire Parliament in my lifetime. In 70-74 there were quite a lot of growing divisions between the Left led by Benn and Wilson and the remainder of the party. It split over joining Europe then too. The 80′s into the 90′s are well known and there was plenty of murmuring when john Smith was briefly leader. The sixties too had their divisions before Gaitskill’s death in 1963. Given that history and the fineness of EM’s narrow victory that deserves comment and note. In many ways the fissisaprous Conservative Party need a figure like Cameron who can straddle opinion rather as Wilson did for Labour.

I am no clever reader of polls but it still surprises me given all the drift in economy in govt’s favour that Labour is in with a shout let alone still ahead at this stage.

The truth is often boring but in the end 2015 will all come down to the LibDem vote.This election is likely to see a further rise in Green vote as well as UKIP’s entry into political mainstream. There will be a modest rise in the Labour vote and with as little as 34% each Labour could emerge with more seats than the Conservatives.

It is hard to doubt that PR referendum will be a price of any new coalition formal or informal – though Labour and Conservatives may finesse this with an offer of AV. That would be easier for Labour than the Conservatives but it could equally be accompanied by the revised boundary package the Conservatives desperately want.

I guess the best hope for Conservatives is to be so close that a deal with NI Unionists would see them safely over the 326 seats. The problem is unless Labour gets well below 34% that is hard to do. Similarly, a rise in LibDem vote over 13% to somewhere in mid teens makes the arithmetic just as problematic. Not only is another hung Parliament likely it seems they will remain likely well into the next decade or so – unless one of the larger parties implodes. And that too has happened in recent history – first to the old Liberal Party in 1930′s and it almost happened to Labour in the 1980′s. Strangely, it may well be the Conservative Party that is more at risk if against all expectations they do not win in 2015 and instead do worse than 2010. No party since the war has increased its percentage of votes cast in a subsequent election outside Labour in 1966 and again in October 1974.

alogosdownload (1)So to answer the question – has Labour already lost – the answer is most definitely not and it still looks likely to gain most advantages from the vagaries of the electoral system. The local elections were not as bad for Labour as the Media portrayed them to be and in an era of four party politics its practical electoral advantages are not to be disregarded. The coalition row over House of Lords reform may turn out to have been the very means to help Labour back into power.

Stranger things have happened – ask Harold Wilson in February 1974…..

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Manifest Destiny Reshuffles in the shadow of Bastille Day

The cuckold’s Horns or those of a Dilemma?

aversailles2french-revolution-1789-grangerPolitical parties are like gay bachelors – always looking for a partner who will take their promises as good and smile when they break them. In most of the Western democracies the two parties in the largely two-party systems that emerged from World War II were in this sense always serial adulterers. The electorates’ have wearied of their infidelities with truth and over the last fifty years all over the West voters have turned their backs on the old love and looked to new loves to take their place.

Much of this courtship has been conducted in the shadow of wars – larger and smaller –  colder and hotter. However, the collapse of the old Soviet Union brought an abrupt end to the military two-step and the world was meant to be a much safer place. Safety is always relative and the irony is that the event which Francis Fukuyama told us was meant to end history in fact inaugurated a period of political and institutional instability across all the most unstable regions of the world.

The end of the restraints of the old ideological armed neutrality of the nuclear powers and their allies that divided the world into two camps and kept order between east and West has left the West bereft. Its collapse unmasked an older order of division well known to history –  religious extremism or fundamentalism or revolutionary nihilism – depending on your sympathies. Forces forced underground for much of the twentieth century have come back to the surface. It turns out the visceral hatreds which haunted societies touched by the Reformations and Counter Reformations now again stalks this modern world still wearing its matchless apparel of intolerance with heavily accessorised beliefs.

This should not have surprised us or caught us off guard since it has happened repeatedly in all three of the three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has also been a byproduct of the last two great secular philosophies – in Republican France and in Communist Russia. In very recent times violent certainties have again played themselves out in violent actions –  in the former Yugoslavia – along the northern coast of Africa – in the Middle East. – in Pakistan, in Afghanistan –  along the border lands of what was once Soviet Russia – in Tibet and China – and most tragically and terribly of all in central and west Africa. Everywhere the collapse of civic society has brought bestowed on people a bloody chaos.Even in the western democracies long immune to these spasms of violent upheaval there is unrest and disillusionment and fear. The over arching system of Free Market Economics which is the under-girding philosophy of the cultural elite of these prosperous nations has been shaken by its own inherent failures and contradictions. We have no answers to the problem – save more of the same. Like the alcoholic  for whom the solution always lies in the next bottle of booze, our political masters can only advise us to trust more and more in a system that is delivering less and less to more and more of its people..

aversailles1imagesCelebrity and its fascinations are the opiate traded by the masters of our Universe to keep the people in good order – bread and circuses of Rome still after all these millennia. Yet the secular neo-agnostic-consumerism manufactured by the West is suddenly under a much more profound threat from those who reject the very moral basis of the market economies that now dominate the world and command its resources. This is a threat weapons cannot match nor diplomacy play. This is a world of ideas that is not sated on delights of fast food and even faster sexual morality.Rather it walks to the pace with an older sensibility informed by religious fundamentalism.

The West is aghast as it seems to us who hold that the world of  things is the only substantial world and the world of ideas is a shadow world hardly worth a breath of recognition let alone worth wasting a last breath upon. That rational men and women might die in a just cause seems irrational to those resting on the soft couches of plenty stuffed as they are by dint others’ poorly paid efforts.

It is these new zealots look at us as savages consumed by immorality and slaves to luxury. We see them as ideologues consumed by fundamentalism and burning with alien ideas. They are weirdly indifferent to glossy couture labels that we wear. They cover their women and practice Sharia law. To us, they’re all nascent terrorists. We invoke the word Islamist as once we shrieked from under the bedclothes – Jacobin or Communist or even IRA terrorist.

Of course because we are so pragmatically worldly we will in time wish to accommodate them into our value systems. Whether they will be bought so easily is a piece of market economics for which we have as yet no balanced equation. The missiles fire; the gun fire rounds on innocents; the bombs explode the brokered peace – such peace as there is – in the desert made of Iraq and the inferno of Syria and in the Lebanon and Palestine and Egypt and even Israel.

Midst this mayhem our neutered political institutions – the parties which govern us – if increasingly unrepresentative of us –  flap uselessly around like eunuchs in a harem. Like all those who  power dress they try to be like the Mighty Oz something they’re not. Pulling the levers of patronage and applying ever thicker veneers of so called policy they make-it-up as they go along in the hope no one will see the Emperor has no clothes.

The vainest of all these petty vanities is the reshuffle which largely consists of handing out plums of office to a select few and taking them from select others. As theatre is commands the stage of comedy. As politics it holds the mask of tragedy. As a sign of effective government it is a meaningless sham designed to grab headlines and pass off old peas long past their sell by date as the newly minted peas of summer.The public is so inured by these powerless rights and so contemptuous of the Punch and Judy politics which we are offered it has ceased to believe matters can ever be changed let alone be different or even made better by good old human endeavour.

aversailles3In history these long trails of decline and fall – of courts and courtiers – stories of governing classes who can no longer govern themselves let alone anything else – sad tales of their petty corruptions and endless self-obsessions – and their ever narrowing cultural and social base – when the socialite has become the philosopher king – then the path leads to only one end: Revolution. When societies are governed by elites who can no longer fulfill their elite function as the Red Queen in Alice memorably might have put it – there’s only one way for them to end – off with their heads….

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Silver-tongued Jubilee
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Silver-tongued jubilee

 
The ancient meaning of Jubilee
Is – a trumpet blast of liberty -
In olden days jubilee forgave old wrongs with blessings;
Remitted debts, freely amended wrongs by right.
Plenty’s  horn sounded for better times; joyously
Polishing old days anew in memory’s perfect recall.
Today Time strikes its silver bell to ring out this anniversary:
And, like trumpet blast of liberty, let its repeal recall
Those jubilees of old.
Anniversary is a banquet,
A glad repast toasting old tales with present laughter;
Burnishing anew our best days shared with better friends.
Those we love we honour – our memories recalling back
Those we’ve sadly left in past’s remains to a new life.
Words gild golden speeches but the heart leaves unspoken
Sweeter tokens -
Of days freely spent and  more than quickly lost,
Leaving us so little time in hand – borrowed times -
Days spent as easily as a wastrel’s promise.
To chase days’ end – our golden days forgot -
Time may yet, like noble rot, distill days sweeter still,
Sunset days, still as succulent, still as well beloved
As any lasting savour of sweet liberty.
So, enjoy this day; freely,
Liberate the past’s short bounds; bind all to the future’s leap;
For what is left undone only the future might put to right.
If Time divides us from the persons we once were
It may yet join us to the better ones we may become.
Award gold medals to past regrets for their race is run.
Eastward rising like today new days set new races running;
Every rising day is some other’s jubilee as becoming as today’s.
As with old jubilee let this anniversary make friends of enemies;
May it companion the lonely; may it bless the company.  
By this jubilee, may every day be a trumpet blast of liberty
By God’s good grace;
And may we embrace its daily blessings with all our hearts;
With all our love; in all our days. Amen. 

 

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Ember days from my 18th century French Antiphonal
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Ember Days -

Times for quiet reflection and for solace the so called “ember days” were observed as days of fast and abstinence four times each year….

.”Fasting days and Emberings be, Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.” 

Thus being kept between the first and second Sundays of lent; the week between Pentecost and trinity; the week after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (holyrood) ; and the week of the feast of St Lucy – usually  falls in between the second and third Sundays of Advent. In eastern rite Wednesday and Fridays were usually observed by full fast and abstinence. in the western rite that became consolidated into the weekly abstinence of Friday – fish on Fridays. The fast lasted on in monastic communities and amongst the friars. somehow these all got lost in the New Order of Paul VI although they were not specifically abolished.

 Qui procedis ab utroque-1Qui procedis ab utroque-2Qui procedis ab utroque-3Qui procedis ab utroque-4Qui procedis ab utroque-5 

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Whitsuntide – second day…..
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Veni, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende: qui per diversitatem linguarum cunctarum, gentes in unitatem fidei congregasti, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

The Pentecost Dome of the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle within them the fire of Thy love; who through the variety of all tongues, didst gather the nations into the unity of the faith, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.  (The antiphon for the Psalms of First Vespers of Pentecost in the Dominican Breviary.)

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A week is a long time in politics

alogosdownload (1)Newark is in and all bets are off -

alogosdownload (1)Harold Wilson’s famous dictum was crafted in the aftermath of his and Labour’s unexpected election defeat in 1970. It was my first general election – I was sixteen and I sat up all night with mum watching the results – heartbroken. It then Creena decided to join the Labour Party. I joined when I was in sixth form – at eighteen.

At the time we entered into party politics Mr Wilson entered upon one of his unhappiest periods as an active politician. The Labour Party was – under the push me of the Unions and the pull me of an newly emergent left-wing activist cadre – being decoupled from the managerial socialism-cum social-democracy –  which Wilson, Crossland, Castle, Crossman and Benn had used between 1964-1970 as the means to update the bureaucratic centralism of Attlee’s post war economic and social model.

This must seem a long way from Newark. On one level it is on another it is not. Labour’s unhappy period of internal and intellectual uncertainty ran parallel to Edward Heath’s serious flirtation with market-driven economic and social policy. In the event in face of the miners and others they backed off but the wheels came off their government chariot and they careered out of control into the elections of 1974 when they went down to a famous if very narrow consecutive defeats. The way was cleared for Sir Keith Joseph and Mrs thatcher –  newly made true believers in the cult of markets.

alogosdownload (1)Mrs Thatcher until the Falklands saved her looked as if she might repeat the same stupidity. Sadly, for Britain and the Labour Party, Labour was even more determined than Mrs Thatcher to throw aside the old order and seize the commanding heights of the British economy as the late Tony Benn would have put in – eyes swiveling, fist banging on a desk.

These upheavals gave impetus to the rise the Liberals under Grimond and then the flashy not-quite-a-gentleman, Jeremy Thorpe. In time it also split the Labour party and Jenkins, Williams, Owen – and Bill Rogers – the man history forgot even at the time they were making history – went off to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP thought it would be big brother to the Liberals little Joey. It turned out that the SDP brought with it too many of the old Labour traditions of in-fighting and the resurgent Liberals who built up from the ground ended the stronger part of the new third force.

The three party politics emergent played straight into Conservative hands who in every election between 1979 and 1997 prospered on that split vote. In the  south west and south east Labour’s vote eroded and passed into the hands of the LIbDems and in the East and Midlands it passed directly into the hands of the Conservatives. In the North and Scotland and Wales it was the Conservatives whose vote ebbed into the nationalist and other parties and Labour who emerged dominant.  Thus, underneath the unchanging blue of the political landscape there were tectonic forces moving slowly which were gradually as undermining of the Conservative Party as they had been of the Labour Party. The sun was about to set on the Empire of two party politics whose imperium had never been quite as boundless as it had appeared briefly to be in its post-war heyday.

UKIP has a particular view of post war history. Like blinkered Marxists its version overlooks inconvenient facts which do not fit into its theory of past misdeeds leading to present woe. This comedy of fact and fiction should actually lead only to present laughter. It warrants no serious conclusions of any sort.

For most of the nineteenth century England’s two party politics was in fact a complicated foursome with remnant Whigs and Tories in the Lords; and the Irish nationalists and unionists supplying the two smaller parties in the Commons. With Home Rule the unionism of the protestant Irish mainly in the north of the Ireland spilled out into Unionism in the great cities of England and in Scotland and Wales. At the turn of the century Labour entered into this complex political world.

alogosdownload (1)Two party politics as we know it lasted from 1945 to 1974 and it was already on the wane by 1964. Last night marks the waxing of a four party politics of an uneven nature.

Last night’s result in Newark tells us three important things which will alter play in May next year. First, UKIP has for the moment replaced the LibDems as the larger force in England. It has no local roots and finds it hard to win seats in elections.  The Newark result represents a serious set back for the Farage inflatable. Secondly, the Conservative Party looks certain the regain most if not all the voters it had in 2010. Thirdly, Labour looks set to gain unevenly from the emergence of UKIP but because the electoral system is skewed in Labour’s favour it would take only a small numbers of voters in fifty seats to swing back to Labour and still leave Labour as the largest party or even with a small overall majority on a minority of the vote. Look back at the election results in the 1920′s to see how seats can switch quite dramatically in a four party political system in the first past the post system of voting.

Coalitions were part and parcel of the politics of the UK for much of its modern political history. Prepare yourself for another coalition – for at the moment it seems politically impossible for any single party to win outright next May. Mr Cameron as Prime minister has the first go –  and we know how well prepared he and his colleagues were last time for such and eventuality. You can stuff a game old bird with a lot of Patronage.

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A second coming-out: Part II – from here to eternity
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A second coming -out

Part II – from here to eternity

Wilde’s iconic Lady Bracknell disapproved of argument of all kinds on the grounds they were always vulgar and often convincing. She, therefore, would never have approved of admitting religion into polite discourse.

As My life has been lived outside the usual realms of the conventional and respectable. I, therefore, dare to go where Lady Bracknell would never have gone – boldly or otherwise. Most cordially, I invite you to dare to travel with me.

Before reaching the point I’ve reached – the point of no return – it’s impossible not to discuss this second coming-out without considering my first and therefore reviewing the Church’s largely negatively expressed view of human sexuality in general and gay sexuality in particular.

It is now about three years now since I started back going to Church. It took me almost a year to get to Confession. Confession is culturally simplified as the Catholic’s get-out-of-hell-free-card. It’s the place where priests dispense penance with a wrap on the wrist and the penitent, duty done, is let off Scott free and leaves with a clear conscience ready to sin all over again. Confession is also presented as the means of social control through guilt. It cannot be denied both confession and the confessional loom large in the imaginations of Roman Catholics and the secularist imaginings of Roman Catholics.

As it happens the confessional arrived late in history of the church – it is part of St Charles Borromeo’s reforms in Milan in the 1570′s after the closure of the Council of Trent. Borromeo, in addition to being both a papal nephew and a saint, was also responsible for the placing of the tabernacle in the centre of the altar. Thus, two of the most iconic images of Roman Catholicism are relative newcomers to their church interiors – just as the elevations of the bread and the chalice that have come to symbolise Roman Catholic worship did not arrive in the Mass until the twelfth century and fourteenth centuries respectively. We are apt to think traditions are older than they often turn out to be. It’s as true of the ceremonial of monarchy or state as its is of religion’s ceremony.

I digress – coming late to confession and after I had taken communion was not the order in which I should have done things. Indeed the Church takes a stern view of such misconduct. The Church has a long history of taking a stern view of human misconduct. It would much have preferred I started with regular confession before resuming a fitful communion. I accept that I did it the wrong way around. I honestly cannot say why exactly – it is just how it happened. I did not plan it that way. I did not plan any of it in fact.

As I write this I’m quite unsure the unplanned nature of all these things is only too evident. It was and is easier talking to others about being gay than engaging them – and maybe myself – in what I believe and what I believe has happened to me. Yet, outside that formative choice – becoming as it were glad to be gay – this is the most profound experience of my life. I’m inclined to see everything in terms of this change in me – but we’ve not actually yet got to the hard bit – what is the change in me?

It is much more than simply going back to Church. I’m lost for words. Best perhaps just to take the plunge and hope for the best.

Love is a funny business as those who have had the happy misfortune to have been in love will know first hand. Well, this is a bit – or maybe a lot –  like I’ve got myself involved with someone of whom I know everyone I know will disapprove. It is how I felt when I was thirteen or fourteen and was first aware I was really gay – almost a dark secret – this is my new dark secret – something I’m avoiding talking about because I don’t want to scare the horses or shock my friends.

St Matthew:  For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law..

I always thought this was a bit of an odd thing for Jesus – meek and mild Jesus – to say. Well I now know a sense of its truth. Nothing divides you from those you love like talking about your religious experience. Shutters shut; drawbridges are pulled up and portcullises fall.

People inwardly cringe – when there’s God talk – I know – I did – part of me still does. My best friends talk very little about this to my face. I think they think it’s all very odd but probably on balance, harmless. My family are also politely bemused.

No more delaying tactics, this is my Confessio: I’ve met someone – been fascinated – been drawn by – attracted to – and with whom I’ve gradually fallen more and more in love. Let’s call him by his prophetic name – Emmanuel – God with us. I confess I am in love. Saying this out loud – it’s quite shocking.

Many will say that’s actually what this is really all about – I’m lonely and I need to be loved – what I really need to do is get out more and find someone with whom to fall in love – preferably with a real tangible person – not some facet of my over-active spiritual imagination. They will also say I’m sublimating that very natural desire for such real consummation to an apparently spiritual experience which parodies it and after all a good psychiatrist can sort me out – maybe with some tablets if only to tide me over….until I get a grip…

All I can say is I have seriously considered this myself.

The truth feels to me to be exactly the reverse. This spiritual love is for me the real experience of being loved and valued – the experience I have always sought and never found. This I suppose is why it is difficult for me to talk or write about this and I suppose difficult for others to talk to me about it. It brings tears to my eyes – often – tears of joy. I’ve become an ecstatic…not quite in the class of St John of God or St Theresa of Avila…in fact not even in spiritual kindergarten by comparison….but definitely in the same Mall.

My many gay friends will be horrified because admitting this in the context of the institution where I’ve found it makes me an apologist for that Institution – an institution which many gay people believe thinks of gay people only in terms of their unnatural sexuality; and only then unremittingly negatively. The Church oftentimes affects not to see this. For many more practicing Christians gay activists are the barbarians at the gates. Some in Africa I’m sure would go a deal further and in Uganda they’ve done so. I for one am appalled we’ve prayed so  little for a gay brothers and sisters in Christ suffering persecution for their sexuality when we have prayed for those in Sudan. That distinction speaks to a discrimination so deeply rooted that it is blind to homophobia. This becomes my cause now because I am bound by my experience to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

There’s some very disturbing literature on the general subject of ‘homosexuality’ put out by Christian and Catholic agencies. Reading it,  it is not difficult to see why gay men and women are so bitter and resentful and angry. I found this one without any difficulty on the Internet.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/life-and-family/homosexuality/the-homosexual-condition-can-it-be-changed-prevented –

It gives a prefect foretaste of the mentality of firmly closed minds. There are some in the Church who genuinely believe they know all there is to know about ‘homosexuality’. They peddle stereotypes which conveniently overlook what gay studies have revealed in the last fifty years – namely that the gay men and gay women have enriched the world in many ways which we are only now beginning to appreciate and celebrate. I might venture further and seek anathema – that God most particularly loves and values what might be termed the ‘complete gay sensibility’ of which sexuality is only one component and, therefore, its partial expression. The gay community was forged in the fires of hatred and of AIDS. It is remarkably nonjudgmental of others despite or perhaps because of “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely”.

The Victorians gave us the word homosexuality – as if human love might be simply classified. It is the classification which reduces human beings to the sum of their sexual acts not the acts themselves. It is an unscientific word with no authentic biblical use or origin. As they say on certain packages – open with caution. Many prelates in many Church Councils took the same view of the scripture – as Shakespeare has it,

Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

Yet there can be no denying that Christian churches teach and have taught consistently that beyond marriage sexual continence is insufficient, rather true chastity is the ideal, the Christian’s true calling. It may call prettily in theory but to most gay men and women it is not a pleasing summons in practice  - indeed it’s not a pleasing summons to any men or to any women. Chastity is out of fashion in our age.

It is also clear that beyond the very early age of the saints - as the early Christians were called in Apostolic times – when many believed God’s Kingdom was imminently about to come – so that once newly converted these Christians even eschewed marriage and sex in all shapes or forms – if we’re honest with the evidence – chastity has never been that fashionable in any human society, even avowedly Christian ones. The notion that this is worse or made markedly different today because of the advent of gay rights or gay civil partnerships or even gay marriage is to play fast with evidence and loose with fact.

The extrinsic value the Church attaches to the state of chastity reflects a reality of it being something all human beings struggle to achieve or even struggle to accept as being normative. It seems outside the natural order of our desires and therefore of our created nature. Yet, outside marriage, the Church solemnly teaches this chastity is the normative state for all men and all women regardless of sexuality. Chastity is a state that’s also much more than the physical abstinence from sex which is its attribute. Even within marriage, as sex is to be both consensual and directed to procreation, chastity continues to reflect a normative part of the expression of conjugal love within marriage. Thus, rape may still occur in marriage and may be as grave a sin as it is outside marriage. Indeed because there is an additional breach of sacramental love and trust, it might be regarded as much more serious. Jesus very specifically answered the Pharisees’ legalism over adultery with his injunction that once adultery is committed in the heart the sin is already committed.  A hierarchy of sin is a man made edifice and like the Tower of Babel it ends in confusion. God’s holy love has made us a new creation. John Henry Newman gives the great chorus of Angelicals these words in Dream of Gerontius:

O Wisest love! that flesh and blood
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s Presence and His very Self,
And Essence all divine.
O generous love!

Surely, the point is, sin, any sin, is not the last word. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the guarantee they are not the last word. His plenary forgiveness has left sin to die with death. Any genuine confession of any personal failure accesses the plenty of that absolute grace. One singular sacrifice for all sin in all time has set us all free. His wounded hands reach out to take hold of our wounded hearts. There’s nothing such a love cannot heal. We can abandon ourselves entirely in that bottomless love. It is the love who knows us not only as we are and loves us as we are; it knows us as we are meant to be and reveals that new us to us.

All our lives and life choices all fall short. We none of us are made to measure-up on any level. We do not need to measure up for God. He has made us all equally of perfect value and places us in the kaleidoscope of love commonly called grace. We fit together, one to another and in Him we are finally set perfectly and finally perfectly free to be lovers and beloved. Knowing this as we certainly do, to elevate the single strictures about particular sexual acts above that governing principle enjoined equally on all, is really to do exactly what the Pharisees were doing –  and like the Pharisees we my not be seeking to do evil by this but misapplying the code of the law for its spirit reflects the same misplaced reliance on specifics of ‘doing’. The coin, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath isn’t a clever paradox that means nothing.

Jesus wants for us to freely observe both the letter and spirit but cautions us with the obsession of one, the letter of the law over the other, the spirit of the law. He warns us we are only making another golden calf to worship. It will lead us to the same fall. We must have faith in the power of his sacrifice. Its love can be accessed forever; by all and in all times. It is a matter of trust – we must trust in Him, alone. The Creed states: He will judge the living and the dead. The Church is the custodian of His absolute capacity to forgive. The Church is not entrusted to be judge on his behalf. It is entrusted to determine what is wrong absolutely. It is not to substitute that for His right alone to be judge. The sacrament of reconciliation – confession – penance – requires us to examine our action and inaction, commissions and omissions in good of conscience. What we lack in our endless imperfections His love renews, again and again. Trusting in being loved always makes it possible for us to safely face our limitations. In that trust we grow into something better.

It is in the context of the shared obligation to the tall order of chastity that the predispositions of human sexuality should be examined. They are elements of our shared vocation to love God and to love our neighbor as our self. Many of the explicit biblical prohibitions in detail apply equally to heterosexual couples as to homosexual couples. Buggery is forbidden to all and anal intercourse is as wrong between man and woman and husband and wife as it is wrong between men. The use of  male prostitutes or Temple catamites which seems to be at the heart of the matter in St Paul’s epistles is as much about abusive relationships as about performance of specific sexual acts. As money contaminates love so promiscuous sex degrades consent between contracting sexual partners. It is corrosive because it makes less of love by making sex substitute for love. The Church may rightly take a particular strict view on homosexual acts themselves but all of these particulars also sit in their own cultural context. They also sit inside a particular person whom God particularly loves. God’s motives are made explicit to us. He died for all of us; each of us being as valuable Him as the other. To us, in our world, in our place in our worlds, conditioned by its hierarchies of wealth, power and celebrity – such a love is beyond our wildest dreams; beyond comprehension.

It is however really there and it reaches out and pulls towards it. I cannot persuade anyone of the truth of any of this; it is not for me to persuade by argument. I can bear witness to its truth only because I know it and I know it to be true.

Thus, chaste loving relationships between parties of the same sex may well be exclusive, be honoured and honourable. There would be no reason not to bless such a relationship. It is already a blessing. It does not compromise the desirability for chastity. Equally, the Church might easily regard civil partnerships between gay men and gay women as something to be desired in civil society.

Promoting fidelity and sexual exclusivity in all circumstances of all human relationships as normative is a relative good as it is opposed to the greater evil of its opposite. After all civil marriage is already quite distinct from ecclesiastical marriage; its norms are set by a shared developed, legal, political and social context for all in civil society. Civil marriage is permitted to those who have multiple divorces and have had multiple partners. Civil marriage approves that state where the church holds to a different moral standard. Yet, from one perspective cherishing fidelity and exclusivity in all our relationships encoded by love and its sacred trusts, elevates what matters above the utilitarian of the civil. The church can encourage civil marriage in that sense without approving of its model or its application.

All this will led inevitably to a discussion of equality. I want x or y or z because I want to be treated as equal. Render those thing unto Caesar – and in that spirit the civil society makes its laws and those laws must be observed. Personally, I am for equality. I also believe in God and I embrace a world of love posited on theosophical inequity. These surely may paradoxically co-exist for the conditions of our brief existence are themselves paradoxical. And there’s no part of our personal existence more paradoxical than how we regard sex.

I offer no final conclusions and define no limits for what love may be for others. Good fellowship requires of all of us integrity. Our selfish actions may hurt others in a thousand ways we may never see but we may still wish to be sorry for them. Today the fashion is to apologise for this or that….a mechanical gesture we empty of meaning by endless repetition.

Yet, when we honestly bring ourselves to say sorry to those we love and have hurt or upset trivially – we are often rewarded with an easy kiss or smile that makes us feel immeasurably better and bigger hearted than our petty offence made us look. When we would do that for the least of our friends why not for the greatest? It’s never hard to be wrong; it’s never difficult to be right but that always makes it harder to forgive. But for us hardest of all is to admit we are wrong. That’s the unqualified admission that we evade. Yet we know it is the truth.

Without that interior sense of our imperfection how do we love – only as a glutton loves his lunch.

Its heartbreaking to see someone settle for so little love when it’s possible for love to be so much more. Left to our own devices all we devise is this disappointing roundel of passing fancy – amazingly, we’ve not been left to our own devices or for a moment been abandoned to this lesser self of our own devising…that is what I’ve discovered and it’s rather beautiful to share it…like love itself – all good things are better shared.

 

 

 

 

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Part I. A second coming-out – or perhaps Confiteor; Confessio; Credo
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Part I – I confess….

I confess I am unsure why I am writing this. It doesn’t seem a good idea. It doesn’t seem a good idea at all. I fear I lack words to explain myself. Perhaps if I start back with my first coming-out I will lead you and me to the point of embarkation for this – my second. I apologise if this partly revisits some previous material.

My first-coming out was all about being gay. I felt vulnerable but I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew it had to be said.

This time, my second coming-out is very different. It is about God and Catholicism. Baldly stated I will already have lost half my readers which shows just how toxic this subject is. It will make many of those who love me a little uncomfortable. It may even loose me some of my friends who will be shocked and disappointed.

In the eyes of most gay men and women the Roman Catholic Church, is, par excellence, the representative organisation for negative or even homophobic attitudes towards gay people and their human rights. This church has been seen actively to thwart social progress for forty years. As an institution, it has bee seen systematically to shelter clerical sexual and physical abusers from civil justice whilst simultaneously  avoiding open discussion of dark practices that led to the widespread culture of abuse within the institutional Church itself. Hypocrisy is a word often applied by gay activists to this situation. As gay rights are both more subtle and more diverse than some activists articulate, so I say too is the Church. That said, Cardinal O’Brien’s personal tragedy in the gay community is widely seen to personify every element that justifies their application of the term.

Hypocrites…  it is the same term Jesus applied so witheringly to some of Pharisees so it has to accepted its use is legitimate. Legitimacy, alike legally permissible, cuts courtesy from discourse. It trims humanity to the bone. It is never helpful to judge others. It is more effective to deploy argument to assist us in judging ourselves rather than each other.

I left school in 1972 and spent a year between sixth form and University in Leeds. I then went to Leeds and studied history. In the crowd of those four years I came to terms first, with being gay and then, gradually, with telling all the people I loved and knew that I was gay. This bitter-sweet process has been dubbed coming-out, as in coming out of the closet. Until the 1970′s generally this meant liberation only amongst a coterie of trusted gay friends and acquaintance. That limited freedom was the theme of Boys in the Band – a not very nice play (later, movie) about a not very nice group of gay friends. My experience of life as a gay man and gay friends was destined to be so very different.  I did not know then I would look back on that as remarkable. That I’m alive to look back is in itself remarkable and cause for reflection – certainly miraculous if not quite a miracle..

Before 1967 if gay men and  gay women who accepted their “queer” sexuality they still felt the need to keep their privates lives private. Those who did not need to know were never formally told –  a group that usually included family, work colleagues and straight –  heterosexual – friends and acquaintance. The sexual revolution of the late 1960′s and early 1970′s made coming-out to everyone - shockingly chic. It dared us inside the legal and social closet to make ours a love that would no longer be unnamed. It was a social revolution.  I was in that revolutionary vanguard – velvet loons and flamboyant all.

Coming-out was the moment of truth in one’s life and important in that profound sense – there is still and was then an understanding of this being a life changing choice for each and every man or woman who makes it – there was to be a life before and a life after and from this it was understood a different person would emerge. Once out, Jack or Jill could definitely never be put back into the box or into the closet.

We are all empowered when we refuse to be governed by fear.

Christmas day 1976 is alive now in my memory. Over presents and Croft Original sherry I told mum officially that I was gay. Like most presents at Christmas it wasn’t exactly a surprise. Creena cried. It was obviously not the present for which she had hoped. It certainly wasn’t  my best timing. Important stuff often comes out at the wrong time. That’s life. And I’m sure mum blamed herself for me being gay and I’m sure she wondered why it had happened. In her heart she wanted so much more for me and so much to be different. But, tears aside, she never faltered in her love, support and faith in me. I little deserved that but, unstintingly, as mothers give to their children, mum gave to me. So too, I should add immediately did both my brother and my sister. And in 1976 that wasn’t an easy or obvious thing for them all to have done.

My family are heroic. They had values they didn’t just espouse but they lived them out.  That is very special. The Jewish tradition owns a word for that sort of special – a blessing…

For quite a large chunk of my adult life since I’ve been a guiltless, godless, hedonist. Being gay and an activist  - if only in a passive sense – I battled both religious prohibitions and sexual demons. I never considered my two loves to be incompatible. In my troubled adolescence and early twenties I did not seriously consider that I might one day have to trade one of these for the other. I switched quite easily from being the rather serious, religious boy into being a quite irreligious, racy one. Given what Catholics often experience about guilt – oddly I was shamelessly guiltless about being gay and about doing something about it. I’ve had a bad conscience about many things in my life but not about being gay  - well at least not since I was fifteen.

I did have a grueling experience at school when in a sense I was outed by my own manners and by association with the friends I chose to keep. There was nothing wrong or immoral about those friends – again they were truly, a blessing. With them I discovered Mozart, Handel and Haydn. I discovered choral music and I discovered the joy of sharing such things with others. Like fine food and fine wine, culture, highbrow or lowbrow is sweet only in the sharing.

My school in Reading was rather obsessed with homosexuality – in the wrong sort of way. It held a mirror up to many unforgiving judgments that are still applied by some prominent figures in the church.  In those times school was a bit like being in the army – conformity to all norms at the pinnacle of most admired – only set a little lower than the Deity itself.

I behaved much as I do today and it did not go down well with my classmates or in the wider school. Bullying is a kind description for what I endured for three long years. Being spat on; jeered at; the relentless catcalls and the occasional slap they were part of my  carefree school days. It didn’t feel carefree to me. Homophobia wasn’t even a word in those days.

Sexual nonconformity permits the majority to be cruel notionally in order to be kind. I knew early the price had to be paid for being different. Of course it hurt. Of course I felt desperate and at times desperately alone. I lacked intellectual confidence in myself. I preferred to hide my sexuality and hope it might go away. I knew it wouldn’t. I knew I was stuck with it. I also felt ashamed for not being normal. All of this happened in the swirl of the violent denouement of my parent’s marital breakdown and even if I felt I could talk about these feelings – at least to my mum and to my sister –  I felt even more strongly a sense that I should not burden either of them with another horrendous problem.

That said, intuitively they knew and through all of this I was never short of love. I was always secure in that sense. I am still. All my life I have had the most wonderful experience of a loving family. And as my family has grown that sense has grown. It is remarkable: my extended family is become just as close as my family nucleus. In-laws, in love, in friendship, all are all composed in one sense of my greater family. Unashamedly, I thank God for it because it is such an honour; a privilege; and, yes, that word again, a blessing.

After school I was always also blessed with many, many close friendships. True friendship is life’s truest gift. Its colour composes the picture of our lives. Friendship is the pattern for all our loving relationships. I cannot tell you how many true friends I have had –  and still have today –  all stalwart; all kind; all gifted; all good; all patient of my many faults. There’s a particular oddity in this gift I’ve been given – and over which  I have often puzzled – many of the most important people in my life life – important in the sense of being loved by and loving them –  my most intimate friendships, if you like – turned out to be Catholic converts. I love that –  especially now –  my religion came to me on a plate and they rather chose it from a menu, as in one sense I was allowed to choose them. How delicate is that?

All this said I would add that although I was religious in these early years of my life I would also say that my religious ardour was pretty conventional. I was a tribal, traditionalist Catholic – hot for Latin Mass and transubstantiation.

Ah, what has changed I know some sagely will say! What indeed…

My church going in those years was ordinary and conventional. I believed and I argued for those beliefs with conviction. I still do. I’m not sure my convictions then carried much in the way of warmth – or dare I say it –  true love. Religious debate like political debate was a cut and thrust of my intellectual rapier. I loved that rhetorical swish through the air –  but I’m unsure I really loved God.

Maybe looking back, I loved the church – Catholic and Apostolic –  more than God because – it was part of my imaginings – my heritage – the unspoken love the Irish hold for those things they were told by their overlords they might not own. Defiantly, in owning them we Irish held to our ancient faith as part of holding on to who we were as a people. But this is cult religion – a thing of folk sentiment. In my lifetime the Catholic Church’s hegemony in Ireland built on that shallow foundation had been toppled by the scandals of clerical abuse and their more scandalous cover-ups which grew from this misplaced religious sensibility. We set up the clergy too high and when they fell low, we angrily abandoned them as false gods, forgetting too easily they were the gods of our imaginings too.

Yet making the active choice to be gay – to come-out – closed down for me at least other things I felt I might have wanted – the priesthood and religious life; and yes, I think children and in that sense family life. All our choices impose limitations upon us. Integrity is never cost free. I know that is a very unfashionable view these days when we are encouraged to believe we are entitled to everything we want and everything we can afford to buy in one way or another. Those values are not based not on mutuality but on the cult of the selfish. Self-centred individualism always believes “I” to be the only real person worthy of consideration.

The things that really fulfill us are those we give-up for something or share with someone. The best of life is assembled from unnumbered small acts of kindness – these small denials of self make love. The expensive presents, the good-times, the fine dinners  - they’re representative of other feelings, all fine in themselves, but no matter what they cost they do not buy love or replicate the delicate beauty of its minute thoughtfulness.

I grew away from my religious observance and some of their feelings after I cam to live here in London. Gradually left that world behind – not with anger or self righteousness – but as a child leaves toys and fairy tales – with nostalgic regret. I became increasingly distant from a religion to which I knew my mother was being drawn back. I will add, I also had the intellectual’s grand condescension for my mother’s simple faith.  It proved to be the worst sort of intellectual vanity. For here I am no further forward with all my many, fancy words than she had in her few simple, well-chosen ones. I also focused my legitimate disgust at some of the church’s teachings on AIDS – particularly by some of the African bishops who were fast and loose with the truth of scientific fact – as a noble reason for my abandonment of the Church.

Yet, through AIDS and all it wrought of my friends in death rather than in life – I looked back on my faith with a serene indifference blended with affection. Faithless, I was never unfaithful to the part religion played in the diminuendo of life’s closing amongst many of my friends. I held to the rituals of Requiem long after I had ceased to believe in Resurrection.

When I was very sick with cancer, this is twelve years ago, mum gave me a mass card a family friend had sent her from Cashel. I was touched, even a bit surprised, but, to be frank, it was the first time in the melee of surgery and chemotherapy I had considered God. If in my life there was an obvious moment to have re-found my faith it might have been then when I was looking death straight in the eye. We blinked and I moved on. After my minuet with the Grim Reaper I think, intellectually, I consciously became atheist – not  an angry atheist ranting at a notion of God – perhaps like Richard Dawkins – though I just adore his books – but a convinced atheist –  intellectually convinced this Universe only makes sense in its randomness.

Then in a moment, in the twinkling of any eye, something changed.

I found myself aware of a gentle nudging….maybe like someone tugging your sleeve to get your attention…maybe like dozing off some sunny afternoon and gradually coming too feeling a whispering breeze on your face – and then in your sleepy consciousness becoming aware someone’s blowing gently on your face – and, expectantly, you open your eyes to see…..

I confess, just like realising I was gay all those years ago I was as awkwardly aware what I was seeing. And I was equally aware that I didn’t really want this to be true. It is true and I confess, I don’t know what to do about it.

In my small mind as a small child I learned in catechism class God is everywhere. Then it puzzled me how one never met Him. Now I’m puzzled I never managed to notice Him before –  when He’s s so alive in me and around me…….

To be continued…..

 

 

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UK, Downing Street, May 2015 – who has won the prize?
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Winners and losers and elections…..and the Newark by election

alogosdownload (1)Even if the Scots have chosen to be liberated like their Irish cousins,  by next May there will still be a United Kingdom…just….

Watching the ghastly coverage on the BBC of the Local and Euro elections made me realise it was time to crank up the political pace and write a essay on the events to come. I do not know whether I will have the endurance or stomach to compose a weekly journal of the sort I did for the US elections in 2012. I’m pretty sure if I can there will be very few who will read them. Anonymity bestows upon me liberation to boldly go wherever the fancy takes me…

First let’s state some obvious points – history tells us governments rarely lose their first election. In my life time only Ted Heath in 1974 has managed that feat. It was forty years ago and so I think it’s safe to say it’s unusual. Secondly, no party polling 30% or less in an election has ever recovered sufficiently to win the subsequent election. Thirdly, no opposition has ever managed to win power with a leader significantly more unpopular than the party itself – though again Ted Heath in 1970 and Mrs Thatcher in 1979 at times were less popular than their party. Fourthly and finally, no opposition with such a small lead over the government a year out from an election has gone on to win the general election.

Therefore the answer to the question posed above ought to be, first prize to David Cameron and second prize to the Conservative Party for obtaining a clear working majority in the House of Commons.

This brings us neatly to the problem – we are not in the usual situation.

alogosdownload (1)Take the Conservative Party as an example. In 2010 it did not win the election despite Gordon Brown being the most unpopular PM in post war history. It achieved power in coalition with the LibDems having won just over 36% of the total vote. Thus in its 13 long years in opposition the Conservative Party managed only to get 6% more of votes cast in 2010 than when it lost catastrophically in 1997. It had a larger percentage of the popular vote when it twice lost in 1974 to Harold Wilson. It had gained a mere 3% more of the popular vote than when it lost to a very unpopular Tony Blair in 2005. This despite Gordon Brown and the largest financial crisis since the banking collapse in the early 1930′s.

To win in 2015 the Conservative Party needs at least to replicate that percentage of the popular vote. Outside Harold Wilson in 1966 no incumbent government has ever won a subsequent election with an increase in its percentage of the popular vote in the last fifty years. Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives won more votes in 1979 – 700,000 more of them – than they polled in their landslide in 1983. Moreover, because of its failure to change the boundaries for this election – the Conservatives will need to be clear of the Labour opposition by about 7% in order to win even a small overall majority. Thus wining 37-8% with Labour on 30% will only just eek out a Conservative victory. It is true they will be able to govern since the NI Unionists will probably given them supply and censure but they will be left at a serious disadvantage in the Lords without the support of LibDem peers. This government – the coalition – has had the advantage of having an effective majority of working peers. Thus, without the LibDems, getting through the cherished boundary changes the Conservatives would need to implement to have a chance of gaining future majorities, looks slim. Long used to being masters of the UK’s political universe, the post 1997 Conservative Party is today a tabby cat by comparison with Mrs Thatcher’s lion.

alogosdownload (1)Labour’s problems are almost the reverse. They have both a voting system working in their electoral favour and they have concentrations of friendly voters in their urban and Northern heartlands. The Labour vote is helpfully concentrated where it does most damage. Does this matter – you bet it does. Michael Foot’s Labour Party got around 28% of the vote in 1983 and won 200 or so seats in Parliament. Brown’s Labour Party got a miserable 29% of the vote and won 255 seats. That’s the difference distribution makes and it matters. Labour’s problems are not rooted in the advantage or disadvantage of a current bias of the electoral system in their favour. This was a problem for the party in the 1960′s and in the 1980′s. No longer, the problems for Labour are otherwise, two fold and inter-linked: their leader and their leadership.

Ed Miliband is many things – including a pretty ruthless operator. He has Mrs Thatcher’s knack of sensing the popular zeitgeist – after all immigration was in the heart of his leadership campaign. He has repeatedly wrong footed the government, over energy prices, over cost of living and famously over the Murdoch press but he does not resonate with the voters and the more they get to know him the less they like him.

From Labour’s viewpoint that is alarmingly most true of the ‘blue collar’ traditional Labour voters drawn to UKIP and least true of the metro-sexual educated who are numerous in London and other cities like Manchester, Cambridge and Oxford. These voters might answer Ed’s knock but the traditional working class vote, never much impressed with Blair, looks likely to leave Ed waiting by the door. It turns out this group likes Ed Balls even less than Ed Miliband. This presents Labour with a second problem – the remainder of the Labour leadership is hardly more appealing – Ed Balls has the charm of of blunderbuss and learned too many of the tricks of the trade from his mentor Gordon Brown. Yvette Cooper has Ed Balls for her husband. The rest don’t light up the TV screens with their presence and in the absence of another obvious choice – like David Miliband – a leadership election is both unlikely and unlikely to solve Labour’s problem. Next time will be different – watch for Chukka Umunna…like Blair he has the self confidence and the easy style to appeal to non-political voters – and to get out the immigrant vote.

Thus, against the odds oddly it’s time for Labour collectively to cross fingers and hope for the best – hope maybe the debates do for Ed what they did for Nick Clegg in 2010. Drowning men tend to hold on to anything that comes to hand.

alogosdownload (1)Mention of Mr Clegg and drowning men takes us neatly to the LibDems. In power for the first time in seventy years they one more entered into a coalition with the Conservative Party in order to get there. History has not been kind to Liberals in Conservative led coalitions. The Liberal Parties were virtually wiped out in the 1940′s because of their toxic association with Baldwin and Chamberlain. Mr Clegg clearly intended to buck this historical trend. However, two things probably have conspired against his noble ambition: Tuition Fees and NHS reform. The irony is Mr Clegg need never have let either happen. He was intoxicated by his own heady brew of taking tough decisions and taking himself way too seriously. He took decisions which a wiser head might have left undecided  -  and for the decidedly silliest of reasons – just to be seen to be as tough as the Tories. In that vanity glass the LIbDem brand lost its public reflection.

Since then the LIbDem performance in every national election has been dismal. This last set were in many ways no worse than the first in 2011. For the LibDems coalition was meant to be the dawn of the brave new world they had worked for for but for which they were strangely unprepared. Inexplicably the only party well prepared for this political novelty of coalition was the Conservative Party. It seized its advantage and has cleverly held the LIbDems to it since. The LibDems thought all would be fair and electoral sweet reason would be seasoned with the Alternative Vote by 2015.  Unreasonably voters took a different view. The whole enterprise now seems and feels doomed. Like risk-averse Brown and Major before, Clegg clings on for fear of losing everything. It is rarely a good springboard for electoral success.

However, just when this collapse of stout third party seemed ready to hand Ed the keys of the kingdom, enter the 21st century’s authentic cheeky chappie – yes, Nigel Farage and UKIP.

It is a mistake to believe because someone is a fool and a knave no one will ever vote for him or her or his or her party in significant numbers. History actually teaches us the contrary –  fools and knaves are made to win elections. Mr Farage has stamped his personality all over the post-coalition politics and in a world where every novelty is a celebrity opportunity Mr Farage has not disappointed on the downside. The electorate accustomed to fads sees no harm in following one and voting for it.

UKIP under Farage might win an election – and not just one about Europe. It might certainly win a by election or two or three or more. Survation polling has UKIP within 8 % of the conservatives in Newark. With a majority of 16,000 Newark is one of England’s safest Conservative seats. If last week’s electoral tremors betoken an earthquake wait and see the panic if the Tories loose Newark.

Realistically, however, the political system runs against UKIP and Farage. Nationwide UKIP gained 168 Councillors last week. Labour gained over 2100 – 350 new ones to boot. Even the LibDems had over 400 seats at the night’s gloomy end. Hard truth is it’s hard to win seats on First Past the Post in any circumstances; harder still for for small parties; hardest of all for new parties without local organisation. LibDem success when it came in 1997 was built of three decades of hard slog on the streets of council wards.

That, however, is not the last word on the matter. We live in an age of Media hyperbole and celebrity. Politics like much else is viewed and consumed through these prisms. Farage has a traction that might pull down the old three party system…

Evidence – well who in politics does Farage most resemble. I suggest a name, Boris Jonson. Boris has won two elections in London. This is very significant - London is becoming a less and less Conservative city. In London last week Labour had its best results since 1971 – outdoing even the glory days of the 1990′s. Still in 2012 it lost London mayoralty to Boris for a second time. To win in addition to overcoming the fact of being a Conservative, Boris had to overcome the handicaps of being an old Etonian and being extremely bright.  He has hidden his privileged bright lights from the public gaze by  giving them something else to look at – Boris has cultivated a certain affected clownishness. He cultivated this television image before he ran for city-wide office. The image was a-political and it worked for Boris, the politician….

alogosdownload (1)Farage has the same effortless ease on camera – a natural, one might say. Modern politics – fairly or unfairly – turns much more on how you say something than what you say. Blair like Bill Clinton were class acts being able to do both – both natural performers on TV and politicians with something to say. Others like Thatcher, Wilson and even Churchill  sculpted a public persona from their own clay feet and shaped images the public were willing to buy. Others like Hague, Kinnock and even Heath never quite got their image fired in the ovens of popular imagination.

UKIP therefore should be treated less as a phenomenon of right wing demagoguery – though it has plenty of nasty demagoguery in its train – and more as a phenomenon of the consumerist politics of celebrity and novelty which has a powerful undertow in modern political life. The politician most likely to succeed is the one who appears to be the one with the X-Factor; the one who puts voters at their ease –  more Ant or Dec than Bill or Benn….as Bill’s wife Hilary found to her cost in 2008 when running against the easy, charming Barak Obama.

So here we have it all – an election in the offing – and a choice between Cameron, Miliband, Farage or Clegg. Mr Farage will probably have to be allowed into the leaders’ debates. Mr Farage will most likely give a good account of himself and UKIP will get a boost much as Jeremy Thorpe got a boost in 1974. Mr Clegg’s army will be reduced to tears but probably half the LibDems will survive. UKIP could win 10 seats but unless it polls in percentage terms in the higher twenties it is unlikely to make a breakthrough in Parliament. There will be nationalists and there will be unionists and there will be a government – probably like the 1970′s a government which will duck and dive to survive.

alogosdownload (1)Who will be PM my head says Cameron….my heart says…..just remember sometimes unlikely people win elections – ask Ted Heath, Harold Wilson in February 1974 and John Major…

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