politics


This is the basic text of a lecture given at Bradford Cathedral on Sunday 16 February 2020, followed by a Q&A and a sermon (at Choral Evensong) on Revelation 4.

Introductory survey

”The world isn’t working. Things are unravelling, and most of us know it.” So begins the Introduction to Jim Wallis’s book The Soul of Politics. He goes on: “Our intuition tells us the depth of the crisis we face demands more than politics as usual.” He then cites Gandhi’s seven social sins: politics without principle; wealth without work; commerce without morality; pleasure without conscience; education without character; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice.

When did Wallis write this? 1994 – twenty six years ago when Bill Clinton was US President, John Major was Prime Minister, Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor, Mandela was elected as President of South Africa and, while the world was horrified by the Rwandan massacre, the Balkans reminded us that ethnic wipe-outs were not just the stuff of European history. The blurb on the back of the book helpfully says: “As the acquisitive eighties are left behind and we bask in the idea of the more ‘caring’ nineties, Jim Wallis’ book is both a sharp reminder of cold reality and an encouraging manifesto for change.” Remember the ‘caring’ nineties? They came before the nervous noughties and austerity teens, leading us into the world of Trump and Johnson, fake news and unaccountable demagoguery, brazen lying and morality-free manipulation of people and facts.

Well, in my own lifetime I have seen the colour of politics change. The ravages of the Second World War were even to be seen in the buildings and bombsites of Liverpool in the sixties when I went to school. The seventies saw battles for the economic life of this country, leading eventually to Thatcherism and the radical reordering – some would call it destruction – of many communities in the wake of social and economic engineering. And all this was going on while the bipolar world threatened nuclear war and global extinction – the Cold War turning into a very Hot War, as it were. Proxy wars were fought around the world as Right and Left, Capitalism and Communism, fought their corner in places where weapons were the most powerful currency. The eighties ended with the end of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Iron Curtain, leaving a supposedly monopolar world in which liberal free-market Capitalism led an uncontested procession through financial deregulation, globalism and optimism (unless, of course, you lived somewhere that paid the price for all these marvellous benefits to the wealthy West).

The ‘caring’ nineties ended in Blairite optimism, facing a new millennium in which the planet could see only growth, peace and liberal ascendancy. 9/11 put an end to all that. The Twin Towers, almost a visual symbol of the dollar sign itself, collapsed under attack from a form of Islamism of which the world was largely ignorant (despite Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, and other riven countries) and for which the world was unprepared. Assumptions about the inevitability of liberal domination bled into the dust of New York, provoking an awakening awareness of what was going on in the shadows. Economic globalism opened the windows to globalised terrorism and experiences of brutality that most civilised people thought had gone out with the Romans – or, at least, with the horrors of the twentieth century and its Hitlers, Stalins and Pol Pots. Extremist politics began to breathe the fresh air of societies unprepared for the challenges of a brave new world in which migration, once seen in Europe as an economic necessity, turned into a mass movement of people driven by fear to escape oppression, bloody conflict and violence.

At the beginning of the new decade we see the Far Right rising in both west and east, re-running Weimar in an age desperate for nostalgic certainties, but forgetful of how democracies were undermined less than a century ago by demagogues who loved power more than truth, morality or integrity. Brexit has exposed much that we might have preferred to keep hidden beneath the complacent skin of a Europe that assumed its liberal credentials without ever really checking them. Nationalisms are growing, language is being corrupted, lies are deemed acceptable, and, in the USA, people who would have damned Obama for kissing the wrong woman excuse the amorality, stupidity, recklessness and incompetence of Donald Trump (who will probably get re-elected in November). I have said enough elsewhere about Brexit, Boris Johnson, the public discourse and the triumph of slogan over truth.

Where we are now

But, contemporary politics in the UK and wider western world face other challenges. The legitimacy of electoral systems, assumed until very recently to guarantee security and democratic accountability, is now being questioned. A referendum seemed a reasonable mechanism to use in gauging the mood of a nation until, too late, we realised that it has little or no place in a system of parliamentary democracy in which representatives (not delegates) are elected to make decisions together on our behalf. The stability of German political life is currently strained by the presence in both the Bundestag and state parliaments of the Far Right pro-nationalist Alternative für Deutschland – now evoking memories of Weimar: they are getting into power by electoral means, but their manifesto is one that, once in power, will undermine the very democracy that allowed them to be there in the first place. (As I discussed in a sermon in autumn 2019 at Manchester Cathedral for the start of the new legal year, democracy depends not on the rule of law, but the rule of good law.)

The 2019 general election in the UK made clear that, for now at least, old tribal identities and loyalties have been replaced by new alliances around eclectic identities and affections, often based on false associations. As I have said more than once in the House of Lords, the surgery of Brexit will not address the disease that ostensibly caused people to vote for it: most complaints about the EU had little or nothing to do with membership of the EU, but everything to do with Westminster, austerity (a choice of the UK government without any interference by Brussels) and metropolitical complacency. Wealthy Old-Etonian, Oxbridge-educated professionals, immune from any economic consequences of a bad Brexit, persuaded the rest of us that other people were the ‘elite’ ‘establishment’. How did that happen?

Behind this lies a feature of political life that certainly isn’t new. Those profiting now from the reordering of political life and discourse are those who know how to disrupt, cause chaos, kick the furniture around. While everyone else is either distracted or disorientated the disruptors exploit the chaos, capitalise on the collapse, and then proclaim themselves as the saviours from the chaos they caused, but for which they take no responsibility. Trump, Cummings, Salvini, Bolsonaro, Orban: I could go on.

Well, that’s all pretty miserable, isn’t it? And that is only a rather selective thumbnail sketch of where we are and how we got here. Others will see it differently and describe where we have got to as progress. And that is a debate for another time and another place. For today, however, I want to pose questions about the nature of good politics, healthy discourse, and accountable power.

Politics

Politics is simply the discourse of our public life – our common life. Bring two human beings together and you have politics: potentially two different perspectives, two understandings of what matters and what should be done, two parties to a power relationship, and so on. The negotiation of a common life and ordering of how we live is the stuff and raison d’etre of politics. It has to do with people, priorities and principles, praxis, personalities and power. (So many ‘p’s.) Rowan Williams puts it like this in his introduction to an excellent book edited by Nick Spencer and Jonathan Chaplin and entitled ‘God and Government’ (SPCK, 2009): “… if God’s purpose for humanity is a common purpose, not just a set of individual blueprints for escape from a disaster area, we have a duty to ask how the organising of society makes this purpose harder or easier, more or less attainable.”

This is why the rather tedious protestations that religious leaders should keep out of politics is so absurd as to defy rational discussion. (The establishment by law of the Church of England and the place of bishops in the House of Lords are up for debate, but in a completely different category: that of political ordering and democratic accountability.) Speaking for myself, Christian commitment is about human flourishing (the kingdom of God) rooted in a theological anthropology that holds sacred the infinite value of every human being and the need for mutual sacrifice in costly love in the interest of the common good for all in a particular society. Good politics, in this sense, places people and their essential dignity at the heart of the discourse. Made in the image of God. If politics is about people, it is hard to see how religion can have nothing to do with it. If religion is about people, it is hard to see how it can have nothing to do with politics.

You might be wondering where the title of this lecture came from. ‘Waiting for a Miracle‘ is the title of a 1987 song and album by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. It recognises that people keep plugging away at making the world more just and more generous, but all the while waiting for a miracle. The task seems both endless and unachievable. The powermongers keep winning out. Like the lament of the Psalmists and the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, we long for heaven while being chained to earth where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, the weak under the boot of the powerful, the meek in the shadow of the self-interested. But, waiting for a miracle – or someone else to ‘do something’ is an abdication of responsibility on the part of a citizen whose citizenship brings both privilege and obligation.

I remember a number of conversations with Zimbabweans during a visit to that beautiful country over a decade ago. Inflation was around 10,000%, the secret police were everywhere, there was no water in the city of Gweru (all four pumps into the city had broken beyond repair), food was scarce, and social infrastructure was in a state of collapse. And there was real fear. In addition to those who wanted me to give them a job in London (where I was serving as the Bishop of Croydon), others also suggested that “someone must shoot the President”. “We hope there will be change.” I would ask how this hope might be realised and received the same reply: “We pray that God will do something.” I would ask how they might be the answer to their own prayer – not in shooting the President, but in organising and acting to get him out. Somehow. No answer.

Now, I would never be critical of those who live in constant danger and for whom opposition can be hugely costly. My point is simply that hoping and praying should accompany action, not replace it. Citizenship brings responsibility and accountability and that inevitably has political expression because it involves the ordering of society, shaping it for the common good, and the promotion and defence of human flourishing. So, create the miracle, by all means, but don’t just hang around waiting for it. Work at it and for it, but with the patience of waiting.

Wisdom and faith

So, why speak of wisdom and faith in the same sentence as politics?

Well, as I touched on earlier, there is an oft-repeated expression in our society and media of the charge that Christians should stay out of politics – as if neutrality was ever a possibility. I have rehearsed this argument too many times before, so I am not going to flog it again now. But, there is no such thing as a neutral voice and there is no neutral space. Everyone comes at life and politics from a particular perspective, with a particular world view and associated values, and with particular interests at heart. A secular world view is no more neutral than a religious one. (This is something tackled head on, among others, by the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga as far back as the 1960s.)

Wisdom is something we derive from history and from experience. It comes from deep learning and the humility to admit the provisionality of knowledge. Wisdom depersonalises politics, seeks to understand both the polis and the populace, identifies where (and upon which values) integrity lies, discerns which moral framework cannot be negotiated away amid the pragmatic claims of political debate, and informs the reflective conscience that keeps hubris in check.

Which is why faith and wisdom cannot be separated in a consideration of the political task. Because faith is what every individual and society places on certain assumptions about, for example, why people matter, what actually constitutes a good society, what integrity looks like – what I call a ‘theological anthropology’.

Let’s begin to apply some of this to the politics of today. We can start at home, especially in the light of the political behaviour emanating from Downing Street this week. I will be categorical in my language, but you might choose to differ.

Our current Prime Minister is a man who has made a living out of lying. His personal as well as political/professional life betray a set of utilitarian values that revolve around and are oriented towards his own personal ambition, power and hubris. I refer to his admitted invention of stories aimed at misrepresenting and ridiculing the European Union in the Daily Telegraph; his behaviour towards two wives and an uncertain number of children; his deliberate use of misleading language during the 2016 referendum campaign and subsequently; the breaking of too many promises (playing the hero before the DUP, then agreeing a border down the Irish Sea, for example); and his willing subjugation to the strategic will of his Chief-of-Staff, Dominic Cummings.

“Get Brexit Done” was always a slogan disconnected from reality, as the UK will soon find out. “Unleash the potential” assumed that potential had been leashed – and saw the new Chancellor of the Exchequer state only a week or two ago that the UK would now be able to establish freeports for the first time, ignoring the fact that we could already do so and have done so as members of the EU (until we opted out in 2012). I am not arguing here that this is a reason for not leaving the EU; just that the electorate has been repeatedly misled.

Now, why might I be singling him out? Well, basically because the political discourse, so corrupted by the whole Brexit process, has diminished the importance of truth, reality and integrity in our public life. The reshuffle saw the sacking of the one man who has actually achieved anything and who commands the respect of all sides in a deeply divided Northern Ireland – Julian Smith. Threatened by competence? Needing to surround himself with sycophants who will not challenge him? Unwilling to hear what he does not want to hear? Afraid of anyone who might be honest about the costs of policy or who does detail? Fearful of being challenged by the junior prefects? I guess we will eventually find out. But, the point here is that big words and huge ambitions do not compensate for weak character, lack of attention to detail, or the re-discovery of some magic money tree that was absent for the poorest in UK society for a decade. Promises are reneged upon; commitments are laughed off; contradictions are ignored; in a previous age, any one of these would have seen outrage across the political spectrum, action within the party, and a campaign in the media to secure a resignation.

Not any longer. We have now sold the pass by accepting that amoral, immoral and hubristic language and behaviour are acceptable if they promise to deliver on a pragmatic solution to a different problem – whatever the cost, especially to our moral or political culture. It is easy to look across the Pond and mock the Toddler in the White House, marvelling at how, for the Republicans, love of power allows them to dismiss all those things that they would have railed against in a Democratic President. Imagine if Obama had had an affair or told a lie. Remember Clinton’s impeachment. Imagine the response by evangelicals if Clinton or Obama had said something misogynistic or deliberately and openly contradicted reality? But, Trump knows he can get away with anything because morality is selective and power trumps everything else.

The point here is that these guys get away with it because we collude in it. Someone recently complained to me about a ‘culture of deference’ in the Church. I don’t buy this; I think it is a cop-out. When we resort to blaming a ‘culture’ it can only be because we are denying our responsibility as agents who create that culture. A culture is constituted by the behaviour of those involved, and their behaviour is shaped by the choices they make as to how to act – or not act – within it. Not speaking up is a decision; you can’t blame ‘the culture’.

And so it is with politics. If we still value wisdom and accept the claims to responsible action that faith both assumes and imposes, then we must take responsibility for the culture we create. So, when we are told deliberate lies by those in public office (not to be mistaken for errors of information or interpretation), we either allow it to pass – shrugging our shoulders and saying that “this is just how things are” – or we call it out and refuse to bow at this altar of shame.

This is why it is so important for a critical scrutiny to be applied to current political developments. This week’s Church Times carries a commissioned article by me on the danger to democracy and its institutions when a government with a big majority decides to control its own narrative, declining to justify or explain its policies, absenting itself from interrogation by external experts on behalf of the public. In other words, prioritising propaganda over accountability. This is a slippery slope and, if the BBC becomes a casualty of this cultural slide, it will not be for reasons of economics or the vital-but-difficult role of a publicly-funded public service broadcaster, but for reasons of political vindictiveness and a dangerous tendency by the powerful to bypass scrutiny.

Political language, assumptions about the political task, and changes to our political culture all need to be taken more seriously than they are. It is not enough for leaders to ignore challenge in these areas with either hubristic ridicule or sweeping and patronising dismissal. Passivity on the part of the governed brings its own culpability. Visit the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin if you want to revisit how civil society is so easily corrupted by a gradual ceding of territory in language, culture and courage.

Reflections

So, before concluding these provocative reflections, I want to point the way a little further into what a good, ethical politics might look like, and what the place in it of faith and wisdom might be. And I want to do this by commending three books in particular: Rowan Williams, ‘Faith in the Public Square’ – a series of lectures, writings and addresses, some of them easier than others; Luke Bretherton, ‘Christ and the Common Life’ – a recently-published treatment of the theme by a British theologian living and working in the United States; and, briefly, Tom Holland, ‘Dominion’.

The Christian Church has since its beginning held claims against the power of the state. Caesar was not Lord; Jesus is. What Rowan Williams calls ‘procedural secularism’ “was born because Christians insisted that a distinction must be drawn between communities that understand themselves to be faithful to a sacred power and political communities whose task is to sustain the arguments necessary to balance and manage the inevitable differences that constitute our lives.” He goes on to say, effectively that Jesus did not come announcing that the Big Society was at hand.

In other words, the Christian Church – and, particularly, the Church of England established by law – has a responsibility in a democratic society to hold on with both theological and rational confidence to its narrative of the Kingdom of God, being clear how this shapes our understanding of what is either permissible or destructive in and of our particular society. If the narrative told by those in power – that lying is acceptable, that people can be patronised and corrupted by meaningless slogans, that revenge can be taken against judges because the rule of law is to be subjugated to the rule of power, for example – clashes with the narrative of justice, mercy, integrity and accountability, then a stand must be taken.

Hence the role of the Lords Spiritual in the UK Parliament: whether welcome or not, to shine a possibly unique light on matters of our common life and, without fear or favour, to hold power to account. Not with any sense of entitlement or moral superiority, but, rather, with the confident humility that light must be shone.

(I am always struck when in the chamber of the House of Lords that I ’inhabit’ there a remarkable constitution. When (in the Queen’s Speech) the Monarch reads her Government’s legislative agenda before the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – the three legs of a stable parliamentary democracy – she does so in the name of God. The three legs do their work in the name of the monarch who recognises her accountability to God. But, if she looks up, she will see the statues of the twelve barons who drafted the Magna Carta and held King John to account at Runnymede in 1215. That is the political space we inhabit, even if it is difficult to explain.)

So, for example, when we hear language or policies that reduce human beings to economic cogs in someone else’s machine, we need to pay attention and more. When we hear the world spoken of in terms that assume domination instead of dominion, exploitative control instead of accountable stewardship (especially accountability to those generations not yet born), then our voices must be raised in questioning challenge. As John Gray has pointed out (from an atheistic perspective), “The distinctive contribution of Christianity to morality – which is reflected in liberalism now – is that if you think back to the ancient Roman world, then one feature that came in with Christianity was the idea that human beings, reflecting the nature of a Christian god, had some responsibility for not being cruel or not even tolerating cruelty… So this aspect of modern liberal morality – don’t be cruel to people – is hardly found in pre-Christian morality. It’s a gift of Jewish inheritance that Christianity continued.”

Remember who said: “Politics have no relation to morals”? It was Machiavelli. Enough said.

Tom Holland, whose brilliant book ‘Dominion’ describes how the morality of the western world and beyond was uniquely shaped by Christianity, despite the many devastating failures by Christians to live out their distinctive theology, quotes Zhivago’s uncle in Dr Zhivago: “You have to remember that until the dawn of the Christian era, the Mediterranean world was a world of slave empires.” As the new Conservative MP for Devizes, Danny Kruger, implied in his maiden speech in the House of Commons earlier this month, the sort of wisdom that informs and shapes good politics might well be found in the past and not just in the pragmatic present. Good politics needs a good answer to a good question: what is a human being and why do we matter?

These are the matters with which Luke Bretherton wrestles in his book ‘Christ and the Common Life’. I concur with his important observation about secularism and its assumptions: “It is traditions with a cosmic imagery that have the resources to foster the plurality and sense of contingency that is necessary for a faithfully secular, democratic, common-life politics. Without them the state and market have no epistemic, social or institutional limits.”

As Bretherton says: “Sustaining a common life requires commitment to a vision of human flourishing.” Christians – Anglicans in particular – must not be shy in helping to shape that common life by conscious and deliberate engagement in political life as citizens of this world who are drawn by the demands, freedoms and obligations of their citizenship of God’s Kingdom.

This is the text of a commissioned article published last week in the Church Times.

Whenever I go to New Broadcasting House in London I cant avoid the statue of George Orwell and the inscription on the wall beside it: If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. It is taken from Animal Farm, a book that has been selling well in the brave new world of alternative facts and populist politics.

As we know, liberty cannot be the sole preserve of those who claim the power to dictate its terms. Maturity can be identified where people are able to hear what is uncomfortable and reflect on its probity, even if this means changing an opinion or mindset. In other words, citizens, politicians, journalists, personalitiesand anyone else can reasonably be expected to behave like grown-ups, being unafraid to hear a different perspective.

The reason this matters is that we are now seeing before our very eyes a change in how governments handle uncomfortable news. Recently No 10 divided journalists into two lines in the hallway and told one line that they would not be admitted into a press conference. All the journalists walked out in an act of solidarity that in itself became widely seen as a touchstone of liberty. Although No 10 backtracked later and claimed there had been a misunderstanding, every journalist there saw it differently and recognised that this could not be conceded.

This comes on top of the Prime Minister refusing to subject himself to informed policy scrutiny during the general election, then preventing ministers from accepting invitations to appear on BBC Radio 4s Today programme. Petty revenge for past coverage? Fear of detailed analysis of policy or motive? Deliberate strategy to shut out public access to information to which they should, as citizens, be entitled? Well, take your pick.

Anyone in the public eye knows how frustrating it is to be misrepresented, misquoted criticised or ridiculed in the press or broadcast media. A dig into my blog over the last decade will reveal lots of examples of me taking journalists to task and asking for better, more intelligent and less ad hominem journalism. So, I understand why the Prime Minister might, under the direction of his employee Dominic Cummings, decide to communicate directly and without mediation to those with whom he wishes to speak. Digital and social media make this possible. Mainstream media can be bypassed, ignored or belittled in an attempt to control the narrative.

However, this brave new world brings with it significant dangers. As we are already witnessing, direct control of the messaging means avoidance of the sort of scrutiny upon which a genuine democracy depends. A chat show is not the same as being subjected to intelligent, informed and fearless interrogation. Three-word slogans only work so long as no one is allowed to question them, digging beneath the assumptions behind the words, pushing the meanings to see if they contain any substance. One of the lessons of the last three years must be that slogans trump facts where the public accountability of the powerful is simply denied by a refusal to be subject to open scrutiny.

I would say this, wouldnt I? A former professional linguist who worked in the intelligence world prior to ordination, I have not been coy about criticising the corruption of our public discourse, bemoaning the impunity of those who tell lies for a living and know they can get away with it, calling for a recovery of public and individual integrity on the part of public servants – which is what politicians are. US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson reportedly said in 1917, The first casualty when war comes is truth.I am not the first to challenge this: the first casualty is language. We should expect politicians and prime ministers to try to shape their messages in order to communicate well and clearly; but, we should be deeply suspicious when they deliberately avoid scrutiny or examination by experts who, on behalf of the people, hold them to account.

In this context we need to watch very carefully the governments approach to the BBC. If the BBC needs to hear what it doesnt want to hear, then the politicians who want to reform public service broadcasting cannot exempt themselves from scrutiny of their motive. Diminishing those who challenge the integrity or motivation of governments or their policies is what happens in countries not admired for their democratic credentials.

There is much at stake here for those who wish to deepen and not dilute democracy.

 

This is the text of a speech I gave this afternoon in the first day of debate in the House of Lords on the Queen’s Speech (foreign affairs, defence, international development, trade, climate change and the environment). It followed an interpolated debate on a statement about the current crisis over Iran.

My Lords,

I think, following the last debate on Iran, it is wise to take a step back from detail to consider culture and principle.

2020 vision is something that, if claimed, only proves that the claimant is deluded. However, leaving fantasists to one side for a moment, we might take some wisdom from the late former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Schmidt. At the age of 91 he wrote a book called Außer Dienst (Out of Office) in which he advises young Germans considering a career in politics not to do so unless they speak at least two foreign languages to a competent degree. His reason? You can only understand your own culture if you look at it through the eyes of another culture … and to do that you need language. Some things cannot be translated.

On the anniversary this week of Anthony Eden’s resignation in the wake of Suez, and as the UK plans to leave the European Union and unleash its potential on a waiting world, Schmidt’s advice is both prescient and apposite. The British Government should never take for granted that living on an island generates a very particular (if not peculiar) psychology and that this has an impact not only on how we understand ourselves, but also how we perceive the way we are perceived by other nations. I think this is why the first couple of years of the post-referendum Brexit debate led to incredulity and bewilderment in many of those looking at us from the outside.

Behind all the politics and trading technicalities of Brexit lies the ineluctable fact that on this hyper-connected small planet no policy on anything can ignore its implications for the wider picture. Foreign policy is not primarily about ‘us’ directed at ‘them’, but, rather, ‘us’ behaving as part of ‘them’. And integral to this is the first rule of negotiation: to look through the eyes of the interlocutor in order to see ourselves as we are seen.

In other words, we need our Government to go beyond easy slogans – such as ‘Get Brexit Done!’ or ‘Global Britain’- and consider both (a) how actual policy is to be worked out with real people, and (b) how the implications and consequences of that policy are to be understood and responded to by those with whom we claim to be interconnected partners.

I am not seeking here to avoid the pragmatics of policy-making – other noble Lords will attend to that – but to argue that there is an urgent need for this government to look beneath the political game-playing to the deeper, longer-term dynamics of both ethical substance and communication.

I will not be alone in noting that the language of insulting other European Union countries (as if they weren’t listening or couldn’t understand English) has now changed into the language of ‘our friends and partners’ in Europe. Good. But, our friends and partners will not have forgotten, and they are not stupid. The UK’s response to the assassination of General Soleimani in Baghdad last week further exposes both the interconnectedness of foreign policies and the particular impact of trade dependency on the US of Donald Trump – something that won’t be lost on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe or her family.

My Lords, daily reading of the Bible does reinforce a sense of the transience of power in history. Quick and obvious defence alliances often led to terrible longer-term enslavements. Empires came and went, their hubris dribbling away into deserts of exiled misery. And powers and rulers never learned, even when they seduced their people into (what turned out to be) false securities.

Ethics is first and foremost an exercise in sympathy – looking through the eyes of others. The ethics of our foreign policy priorities must begin with an understanding of what drives other countries in their domestic and foreign policies … and a cultivated willingness to shape ours in the light of how we are seen by others.

I hope that this government, with some humility and deeper cultural thinking, might just listen to those who wish to see global justice and peace worked out in this complex world by people who are driven not by claims to power, but by the imperatives of mutual human flourishing.

Thirty years ago today the Berlin Wall fell. What follows is the basic text of a lecture I gave at Bradford Cathedral on Wednesday 6 November. It was followed by a very good Q & A which is not recorded here.

In a crowded field I think Timothy Garton Ash’s books on Europe stand out. His The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of ’89 (just updated this month) is an eye-witness account of these momentous events. His book The File is fascinating. His book of essays Facts Are Subversive repays careful reading (and see my review of it here). Yes, I am a fan.

Here is the (very long) basic text of the lecture:

Memory is not an uncomplicated matter. If my own memory is suspect, then corporate memory offers even more opportunities for selectivity. We select those elements of our past that help construct the narrative that makes sense of, or gives shape to, the life we either think we have had or wish we had had. We all do it, and every society, country or community does it.

If you don’t believe me, then look at any tourist display blurb and ask what it doesn’t tell you. Or, perhaps more pertinently to where we are at in Brexitannia just now, listen to the language. I give two quick examples before getting to my main theme.

First, contrary to assertions by some politicians, England (let alone Britain) did not win the Second World War singlehandedly, pluckily standing in isolated bravery against the Nazi empire: our European neighbours provided huge numbers of people not only in the resistance on the mainland, but also fighting with Allied forces across the globe. Then ask further about Commonwealth citizens whose contribution has not always been acknowledged or rewarded.

Secondly, the British Empire was not primarily an example of “the world’s greatest trading power”. It is shocking how the new Brexit appeal to our imperial past stresses our excellence and success in global trade without any mention of oppression, exploitation or military power. (Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, in his book Inglorious Empire, points out that prior to the British colonising his country India held 23% of global trade; by the time the British left India they had 3%. Draw your own conclusions.)

Now, you might wonder why, in beginning a lecture on where the world is thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, I have begun with these particular examples of selective collective remembering. Well, the answer is simply that it might be easier to think about post-1989 Europe and the competing narratives being spun about it if first we have looked closer to home at our own limitations and failures.

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Two weeks ago I stood outside St Vitus Cathedral at the heart of Prague’s Pražsky Hrad and opposite the residence of the Czech President since independence post-1989. I went over to look at some display boards that tell some of the history of the residence. There is only a single line about the post-war pre-1989 period. It says something like: “Even during the time of unfreedom some important people visited this place, including the famous astronaut Yuri Gagarin.” That is the sole mention of the Communist period. Did Stalin visit? Or Honecker? Or any other head of state? Or just an astronaut?

I cite this example because what is omitted tells a powerful story – for now, at least. 1945-89: 44 years of recent history – lived through by most people alive today – simply ignored.

Yet, go down the hill from the Hrad and there is a special exhibition of photography celebrating events across Eastern Europe in 1989. To get in you have to pass a chunk of the Berlin Wall with a Trabi sat on top of it. You then get to walk around a garden and through a building with an excellent and haunting display of photographs from the GDR, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Of course, these images capture moments when the people involved did not know how the story would end. There was no guarantee that, despite Glasnost in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, the troops wouldn’t once again follow the tanks into Wenceslas Square or down Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. I look at the photographs through a lens that lived (albeit at a not disinterested distance) through the events recorded, and I know what did happen next.

Fall of the Wall exhibition, Prague

I also remember the euphoria. It was hard to believe in late 1989 that the ultimate symbol of division was being demolished by ordinary people while soldiers looked on. The opening of borders between Hungary and Austria, the decade-long demonstrations in the shipyards of Gdansk in Poland, the pressure on the West German Embassy in Prague, to mention just a few phenomena that contributed to the demise of a divided Europe, didn’t quite hold the symbolic power of a wall of death being picked apart.

The world was changing before our eyes, and it wasn’t long before politicians and commentators alike were proclaiming the end of a bi-polar world, the triumph of free-market capitalism, world peace and a glorious future. ‘Freedom’ was the byword and, despite Margaret Thatcher’s serious hesitations about the reunification of Germany, optimism was never going to be defeated by rational judgement.

What happened next might best be related to a parable Jesus told about a man who was delivered of a demon, only to allow a whole community of demons to occupy the now-vacant space. If you want to understand where the Russian oligarchs got all their vast resources of money, this is where to look. The collapse of a structure – not just political, but social and psychological – left a vacuum into which those best equipped to exploit it quietly stepped. As Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 illustrates perfectly, there are particular people whose expertise and instincts lie precisely in exploiting other people’s chaos for their own benefit. We’ll come back to this shortly.

But, first, let’s recall a few facts. Following the defeat of Germany in May 1945, the country was occupied by four powers: America, Britain, France and the USSR – each given their own zone. Berlin, located in the Soviet Zone, was itself divided between the four. The three western zones formed the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, which made the formal establishment of the German Democratic Republic (from the Soviet Zone) inevitable. Movement across borders remained fairly straightforward until the numbers of people migrating out of the GDR into the FRG pushed the authorities into doing the unthinkable: building a wall. On 13 August 1961, Berliners woke to find barbed wire blocking the border roads while workman began to erect a militarised concrete wall across the city. 27 miles long, it eventually held 302 guard towers and 55,000 landmines; 5,000 people escaped over or under the wall (including 1,300 guards). 327 people were killed along the German border, 262 of them in Berlin, including 24 border guards who were shot while on duty (usually for refusing to shoot civilians trying to escape). More than 200 border guards committed suicide, but most deaths involved civilians, 80% of whom were under the age of 35 (of which 10% were women).

The mantra within the GDR was that the wall was needed to prevent people flocking into the workers’ paradise from the western capitalist prison. The real reason was to stop people leaving, especially those needed if the socialist economy was to be built and protected. In 1989 30,000 East Germans fled when Hungary opened its borders temporarily; they sought refuge in West German embassies in other Warsaw Pact countries. The pressure built; Gorbachev, seeing the need for radical economic and political change, had opened the door in people’s imagination, and it would not now be closed. The 40th anniversary of the GDR took place in October 1989. Within a few weeks it began to cease to exist.

There is a strange symmetry to Germany, but one that we might note before looking shortly at what is happening there now. The Holocaust began its public expression and gained public sanction on 9 November 1938 – Kristallnacht, when Jews and their properties were directly attacked by violent Nazis and any pretence at civility in the political sphere died. The nightmare of the Third Reich, followed by the destruction of the war, the subsequent division of Germany and the failure of the Communist experiment in enforced ‘freedom’ – all collapsed into the euphoria of 9 November 1989 when the Wall was finally breached and the prison gates opened at last. Half a century of people’s lives, and now freedom.

The problem with politics is that politicians cannot always afford to tell us the truth. The language of liberation hid the realities and costs of change. Freedom always comes at some cost at some level, but the immediate aftermath of the 1989 Velvet Revolution was the destruction of eastern industry and the loss of a secure way of life. The reunification of Germany took place on 3 October 1990, but was, in fact, a take-over. Overnight many East Germans lost their homeland, their identity, their system, their flag, anthems and institutions, their values and their future. The West was going to put right what had been so wrong in the East; no value was attributed to anything experienced in the GDR between 1949 and 1989. The GDR had been annexed and had to assume the shape of the winners. Christian Wolter, a carpenter, lamented: “There was a uniqueness to East German society that didn’t exist in the West. There was something we had which I can only describe as solidarity.” Gerhard Mertschenk, an official with the East German Olympic Committee and a member of the SED (the Party) was blunt: “There was no unification, there was colonisation. I found myself on the garbage heap at 46.”

Much more could be said – not least that change inevitably brings cost: West Germans paid tax increases in order to invest and transform the former GDR economy and infrastructure. Long-term gain might bring short-term pain. But, if we are to understand what is happening in Eastern Europe today, we must at least try to enter into the experience of many who celebrated the fall of the Wall in 1989 only later to ask if all was as it appeared or, indeed, was promised. The diminishment of memory on the part of the ‘losers’ in the Cold War has only fed the sense of exploitation, resentment and devaluing experienced still by many in the East. (If you want to understand a little more, two films illustrate the phenomenon of change and what life looked like before and after. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and Goodbye Lenin are worth a watch.)

Of the many points that might be made from the experience of the last thirty years, it is the disillusionment that holds the key to much of what we are witnessing now. Yes, living standards improved for most people, but, on average, people in the former GDR territories of Germany earn 75% of people in the west of the country; GDP is 66% of that in the west and unemployment nearly 5% higher; the percentage of young people under 20 is considerably lower in the east than in the west. Although other measures are better (for example, life expectancy, completion of secondary education and employment rates among mothers), the rise of the Far Right and the popularity of populist demagogues across the world suggest that, contrary to western capitalist assumptions, people are actually motivated by more than money, security and consumerism. Westernisation has not led to paradise, after all.

I want to come back later to the role of the churches in all this, but, for now, we need to take a look at what is happening now, thirty years after the fall of the wall. And Germany, which I know best, is illustrative of wider phenomena.

Reunification saw a rise in xenophobia and attacks on migrants and foreigners in the east. Neo-Nazi parties gained traction, but never gained enough open support to make a significant mark on electoral politics. That has all begun to change.

Regional elections in Saxony on 1 September this year saw the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) come second with 25% of the vote. On the same day in Brandenburg the AfD got 27.5% of the vote. On 27 October in Thuringia the Left Party won, but the centre-right CDU (Angela Merkel’s party) fell to third place behind the AfD. How and why are the extremes pulling in the votes while the centre is collapsing?

As usual in these matters, there are many reasons and they are complex. Some are even just speculative: extrapolating future electoral behaviour from a vote today is a dangerous game and should be treated with caution. But, we can be fairly certain that three factors are having a powerful impact on electoral behaviour in these former East German Länder:

First, despite Angela Merkel being an East German, her government has increasingly been seen as an elite who take power for granted. Longevity in government, however successful, breeds a sense of tiredness and a need for change. Secondly, Merkel’s welcoming of North African migrants into Germany demonstrated firm moral integrity and purpose, but it legitimised a growing resentment in Germany about how the nature of the country was changing. This in turn was fed by a similar phenomenon to that in Brexit Britain: that global empowerment was leading to local powerlessness, and that local identity was being diminished and diluted by intrusion. Thirdly, the seeds of authoritarian ‘illiberal democracy’ (to use Viktor Orban’s words) found ready soil in those communities that feel increasingly left behind, neglected or fearful of losing their future.

Of course, these phenomena are not unique to Germany. The winners of globalisation do not have to worry about local identity as they treat the planet as an endless resource for their own economic and personal growth. The losers – or those whose grievances can be massaged by populist leaders, even if the loss is hard to evidence – are reasserting the local over against the global … and the costs, where identified, are regarded as a price worth paying.

This picture is being painted across Eastern Europe. As a number of commentators have been pointing out in recent weeks – in anticipation of the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall – three decades’ experience have persuaded many people that the gods of western free-market liberalism (economic as well as cultural) have proved as illusory as the defeated gods of Communism, Nazism and imperialism. That’s the problem with empires. Disillusionment creates a longing for security, often searched for in the nostalgic reaches of a romanticised memory.

The result is that Germany is now struggling with the end of the Merkel generation, appears unable to find a successful transition, whilst being challenged by a right-wing nationalist movement that is growing in confidence. It might not last, but it is clearly worrying for many Germans whose memory of the early twentieth century is still raw. They know fascism when they see it.

Frank Richter, a theologian and activist in Dresden, has identified the root of dissatisfaction in the experience of drastic change. “These multi-layered factors [young/old, educated/less educated, urban/rural, etc.] are extremely pronounced in East Germany because the people here have already experienced so much drastic change in their lives. Many people feel overwhelmed, and the populists play this tune terrifically.”

When Pegida started marching in Dresden and other cities in Thuringia they chanted “Wir sind das Volk!” To English ears this doesn’t sound very remarkable. But, this was the cry in East Germany in the run up to 1989. “Das Volk” has a resonance and deep connotations in German that “the people” does not quite capture in English. And where you put the stress matters enormously: “Wir sind das Volk!” or “Wir sind das Volk!” And, of course, there are resonances with the Nazis’ appropriation of the term in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. But, what was the cry of the crowds pushing for change in the GDR has now become the slogan of identity for the resurgent far right. In both cases – 1989 and 2019 – “Wir sind das Volk” articulates a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and a statement of intent to reassert identity over against the seemingly powerful neglect of ordinary people and their concerns.

Which brings us to the role of the churches.

I have a friend in Berlin who doesn’t like the film Das Leben der Anderen. He thinks it romanticises the role of the Stasi in the GDR and their impact on ordinary people. He once described to me how, coming home one evening as a young man, he heard his parents’ conversation from inside their apartment … on the radio in the car outside. Instead, he pointed me to a film called simply Nikolaikirche. This, he felt, told a truer story.

The Nikolaikirche in Leipzig was the venue for ‘peace prayers’ held every Monday evening. Christian Führer, the Lutheran pastor of the church, described how these meetings grew from 600 in 1988 to over 4000 by September 1989. There were – reportedly – 28 Stasi officers watching the pastor day and night. These prayer meetings were perceived to be a serious threat to the regime. Christian Führer tells some wonderful stories about this time and these events in his book Und wir sind dabei gewesen: Die Revolution, die aus der Kirche kam. The church events led to peaceful demonstrations and, despite provocation, beatings and threats, Führer’s leadership and moral courage shaped the outcome of these confrontations. On 9 October 1989 – one month before the fall of the Wall – over 70,000 people moved from the church through the city of Leipzig chanting “Wir sind das Volk”. Not a single shot was fired. As Führer said: “There was tremendous relief that there was no Chinese solution and a feeling that if 70,000 could achieve what they wanted, then East Germany was no longer the same country it had been that morning. The regime had been expecting everything. The only thing they weren’t prepared for was candles and prayers.” When the church was occupied by 600 communist officials one day, they were shocked to find that instead of stone-throwing counter-revolutionaries, they actually found people praying and singing hymns.

This is an example of how, not knowing the end of the story (and fearing it might be bloody failure), the church opened up space for conversation, dissent and resistance whilst urging peaceful challenge for constructive change. It is probably worth noting at this point that protestors at this point wanted reform and not necessarily abolition of the state. But, the church’s involvement and leadership was crucial.

However, once the revolution had happened and, eventually, Germany was reunited, the church’s influence slowly declined. Church membership in the east is still well below that in the west, and, according to a recent book by theologian and television journalist Arnd Henze (Kann Kirche Demokratie?), membership of the church is statistically more likely to align with right-wing sentiments than with those that motivated East Germans to seek freedom from communist oppression. It is as if the churches had served their purpose and now had little to offer to those shaping a different political future.

Of course, this isn’t all that can be said about the church in the east. But, there is a marked difference between the churches in the west and the confidence of those in the east. Currently, there is a spat going on in Thuringia because the Protestant (Evangelical-Lutheran) bishop of Saxony, Carsten Rentzing, resigned following discovery of things he had written in the past in support of far-right ideologies. (Saxony is the Landeskirche in which our link Kirchenkreis Erfurt is located.) He was clearly conservative on many social and ethical issues, but when challenged from within the church to respond to criticism of his earlier views, he simply went silent and eventually submitted his resignation. I have read the materials in question – and much of the reportage arising from his resignation – and it is hard not to sympathise with those church members wanting him to explain himself, not least how he might justify his views theologically. He still has not spoken. A petition in favour of him remaining the bishop has reportedly been signed by around 15,000 people.

So, even the church is challenged. The source of dissent and peaceful resistance against the previous regime is now divided over the legitimacy of views that would not shame German ideology of the 1930s. What might this have to say to us – in a country where the Labour Party is being investigated for its anti-semitism, several Labour MPs have either resigned or defected because of this anti-semitism, and Jewish Labour has told Jews not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s party?

Perhaps the first thing is that people are very fickle. Conviction and passion for justice can take terrible turns when the conditions (or the objects of protest) change. Given the nature of Germany’s fairly recent history, it is hard from the outside to work out how anti-semitism, rejection of dispossessed and powerless migrants and resurgent passion for ‘German identity’ have become popular once again. The churches – certainly church leaders – are once again facing questions they thought had been closed down in 1945.

But, perhaps we need to be realistic about human beings and collective memory. In his great autobiography The Time of my Life Denis Healey suggested that politicians who have never fought in or experienced a war are more likely to send our troops into war in the future. We now have a younger generation for whom Hitler and the Holocaust are the stuff of history books and documentaries that relate to a different and long-gone world. Keeping an honest collective memory alive is a difficult task. Living in the present in the light of the past is not straightforward or simple. The building of contemporary walls, ostensibly to protect a nation’s purity and security, might have some popular appeal, but only if we simultaneously forget the real and symbolic power of actual walls in our recent history. Walls do not work.

Eastern Europe is seeing a resurgence of nationalism. Having escaped the suffocating grip of the Soviet bloc, there is little appetite for handing new political freedoms (or sovereignty) over to what some perceive as another empire – the European Union. Those countries that embraced Europe in the aftermath of communism’s demise have grown confident in trumpeting their own identities whilst commandeering Christianity over against the threats from Islam and ‘people not like us’. This defence of Christendom is unlikely to stand in the longer-term when it is linked inextricably with nationalism, xenophobia, a declining birth-rate and fear of those powers growing in confidence: China, India, and so on. However, it might have contemporary appeal at a time of widespread disillusionment, economic stress and identity anxiety.

This is where we might conclude and move on to discussion and questions. When Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev on 12 June 1987 (the 750th anniversary of Berlin) to “tear down this wall!”, he did the easy bit. Knocking down walls is a start; but, shaping the space that is then created is a much more challenging task. And the churches – here, in Germany, in Hungary and elsewhere – face the same old questions, regardless of whether or not we are successful or whether people use us to achieve peace and then forget us. Faithfulness to God’s call to love our neighbour as ourselves and to love even our enemies matters more than packing the pews and winning approval. Times will change and sentiment will move on. But, we read the Bible and the Bible tells a story of transience, unfaithfulness and people who as easily shout “Hosanna!” as they do “Crucify him!”.

Europe faces a challenging future. Thirty years are not long. Things can change quickly. A culture and its institutions can take centuries to build up, but they can be destroyed in days. The Wall should not be forgotten, nor should the reasons for its demolition. But, it should remain not as a mere historical memory of unspeakable division and cruelty in the past, but serve as a living symbol that strikes our imagination as we seek to shape the future.

This is the basic text of a speech given yesterday evening in the Landtag of Niedersachsen in Hannover at a Parliamentary Evening put on by a federation of churches.

Herzliche Grüße aus Brexitannia! Es ist wirklich für mich ein Privileg, noch einmal hier in Hannover zu sein.

Vielen Dank für die Einladung, heute hier in Deutschland England zu erklären. Wir brauchen nur zwei Minuten, denn alles ist einfach und klar. Verstehen Sie, die politische Situation in Großbritannien ändert sich zweimal im Tag, jeden Tag. Aber im ganzen Durcheinander über Brexit bleibt nur eine Tatsache wichtig: FC Liverpool steht an der Spitze des Premier League. Alles ist in Ordnung!

Wie erklärt man England? Oder was in Großbritannien heutzutage passiert? Manche Engländer erkennen ihr Land einfach nicht mehr an. Innerhalb dreieinhalb Jahren ist die politische Kultur schiefgegangen und viele Briten fühlen sich erschrocken – sie verstehen nicht mehr, wer wir tatsächlich sind. Die Chinesen haben ein berühmtes Sprichwort: „Mögest du in interessanten Zeiten leben.“ Aber dieses Sprichwort ist kein Segen, sondern ein Fluch. Wären nicht langweilige Zeiten mal schön?

Ich bin sowohl Bischof als auch Politiker.  Manche Menschen in Großbritannien finden dies ein schwieriges Konzept – sie verstehen das überhaupt nicht. Christen sollten sich auf das Reich des Geistigen beschränken und sich aus der Politik heraushalten, sagen sie.  In der Politik geht es jedoch um das menschliche Leben, die richtige Ordnung der Gesellschaft und das Gemeinwohl.  Ein Christ kann es nicht vermeiden, sich in die Politik einzumischen.  Aber ich bin ein Politiker bestimmt deswegen, weil ich im Oberhaus des Parlaments sitze.  Das Unterhaus wird gewählt;  Das House of Lords wird ernannt, und 26 Bischöfe der Church of England – Diözesanbischöfe – sitzen (aufgrund ihres Dienstalters) im Haus.  Die Bischöfe sind aufgrund des Pfarrsystems mit jeder Gemeinde in England verbunden.  Wir wissen also, was auf dem Boden im ganzen Land vor sich geht.  Im House of Lords vertreten die Bischöfe keine Partei, kein Block, man kann sie nicht peitschen oder ihnen sagen, wie sie wählen sollen. Jede Bischöfin und jeder Bischof muß entscheiden, was sie oder er in einer Debatte sagen sollte und wie sie oder er abstimmen sollte.  Ich „führe“ für die Bischöfe in Sachen Europa und damit den Brexit an.  (Ich führe auch in Sachen Russland, Sicherheit und Geheimdienste wegen meiner vorherigen Karriere in den Geheimdiensten an.)

Ich kann nicht heute Abend alles sagen, was gesagt werden sollte. Zum Beispiel, welche Rolle spielen die Bischöfe und Bischöfinnen im House of Lords und im öffentlichen Gespräch über politische Entwicklungen in Großbritannien? Wir sind nicht parteipolitische Spieler. Deswegen haben wir eine Verantwortung, die Wahrheit auszusprechen, eine klare Licht auf politische Aktivitäten und Kultur zu werfen, und durch eine Evangeliumslinse hinauszuschauen.

Der beste Weg, um zu verstehen, was heute in Großbritannien passiert, ist folgender: Die britische Demokratie wird in einem System parlamentarischer Demokratie ausgeübt.  Dieses System hat keinen Platz für ein Referendum oder Volksabstimmung (direkte Demokratie).  Es ist problematisch, dass Politiker aller Parteien vor dem Referendum in Juni 2016versprachen, dass das Ergebnis gewürdigt und der „Wille des Volkes“ befolgt werde.  Erst als das Ergebnis den „falschen Weg“ einschlug, wurde den Menschen klar, dass (a) in einem parlamentarischen System ein Referendum nur beratend sein kann und (b) die Antwort auf die Frage keinen Hinweis darauf gibt, was „Verlassen der EU“ in der Praxis bedeuten könnte.  Das Parlament hat die Verantwortung, nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen Gesetze im besten Interesse des Landes zu erlassen – aber was passiert, wenn dies der im Referendum getroffenen Wahl widerspricht?  Deshalb sind wir in einem Durcheinander.  “Die Kontrolle zurückerobern” ist ein einfacher Slogan.  “Parlamentarische Souveränität” hört sich wichtig an … am wenigsten bis das Parlament seine Souveränität bestätigt und dann beschuldigt wird, den Willen des Volkes vereitelt zu haben.

Jetzt können Sie vielleicht besser verstehen, warum es so ein Durcheinander ist.  Und die Brexiter verwenden jetzt die Sprache “Parlament gegen das Volk” und “Richter gegen das Volk”. Es scheint, dass ‚das Volk‘ nur die Brexiter beschreibt. Das britische Volk ist gespaltet. Das Parlament spiegelt dieses gespaltene Land wider.

Jetzt aber ist mir klar, dass der Brexit außerhalb der Insel anders aussieht, und viele Beobachter schockiert sind über das, was der britischen politischen Kultur in den letzten drei Jahren widerfahren ist.  Lassen Sie mich kurz einige Punkte ansprechen.

Erstens ist es wichtig zu erkennen, dass der Brexit im Wesentlichen ein englisches und kein britisches Problem ist.  Ein berühmter englischer Journalist schrieb vor zwanzig Jahren ein Buch mit dem Titel “The English”.  Jeremy Paxman erklärt an einer Stelle, dass ein wesentliches Element der irischen oder schottischen oder walisischen Identität besteht darin, dass ich “nicht englisch” bin.  Aber es ist sinnlos, wenn ein Engländer sagt: “Ich bin kein Schotte, usw.” Die Schotten haben ein Parlament, die Waliser eine Versammlung, die Iren auch eine Versammlung;  und die Engländer?  Nur Westminster.  Die letzten drei Jahre haben den Walisern, Schotten und Iren gezeigt, dass die Engländer sich nicht um sie kümmern.  Umfragen zeigen, dass Brexiteer bereit sind, das Ende der Union als geringen Preis für den Brexit zu sehen.  Es ist durchaus möglich, dass der Brexit zu einem vereinigten Irland und einem unabhängigen Schottland führen wird.  Wir erinnern uns daran, dass im Jahre 2014 David Cameron die Schotten überzeugte, gegen die Unabhängigkeit zu stimmen, mit der Begründung, sie müssten die EU verlassen …

Zweitens war der Brexit immer ein Versuch der Konservativen Partei, ein internes Problem zu lösen.  Die EU-Frage hat die Partei jahrzehntelang geteilt, und keine der beiden Hauptparteien hat sich jemals für die EU eingesetzt.  Es gibt auch ein Argument dafür, dass die Natur der EU als eine sich entwickelnde politische Union in Großbritannien niemals ehrlich anerkannt wurde – was zu wachsendem Ressentiment und nachlassendem Vertrauen unter Politiker und Institutionen geführt hat.  Aber es bleibt wahr, dass viele Menschen in Großbritannien glauben, dass der Brexit eine Tory-Lösung für ein Tory-Problem ist, um den Tories zu ermöglichen, an der Macht festzuhalten.  David Cameron glaubte nicht, dass er das Referendum im Jahr 2016 verlieren würde – weshalb er dem öffentlichen Dienst keine Vorbereitungen für eine Leave-abstimmung erlaubte.

Drittens hat der Brexit tiefe Spaltungen in der britischen Gesellschaft aufgedeckt. Brexit hat sie aber nicht erschaffen.  Der neoliberale Globalisierungstraum ließ viele Gebiete des Landes und viele Gemeinschaften mit dem Gefühl, dass sie übersehen, vergessen oder ignoriert seien.  Ja, die ärmsten Gebiete des Vereinigten Königreichs haben für den Austritt aus der EU gestimmt, obwohl sie über vier Jahrzehnte hinweg in hohem Maße von EU-Subventionen und Projektfinanzierungen profitiert haben.  Warum?  Einige sagen, dass das Leben für sie einfach nicht schlimmer werden kann. Warum also nicht die Gelegenheit nehmen, gegen die Politiker zu treten?  Dies wurde von denjenigen ausgenutzt, die sich als “gegen die Eliten und gegen das Establishment” positionieren – obwohl die meisten von ihnen wohlhabend, privilegiert und von keinem durch den Brexit verursachten Schaden betroffen werden.  Kurz gesagt, das Problem besteht darin, dass die EU nicht für die Dinge verantwortlich ist, gegen die gestimmt wurde. Deshalb wird die Operation des Brexit die Krankheit nicht heilen oder ihr Leben verbessern.  Aber Brexit hat wenig mit Realität oder Fakten zu tun; Brexit geht um etwas vitzerales. Also, was machen wir dann?

Viertens hat der Brexit nicht nur das Vertrauen in unsere Institutionen und Politiker geschädigt, sondern auch die Rechtsstaatlichkeit wurde von einer Regierung bedroht, die für schuldig im Supreme Court befunden wurde, gegen das Gesetz verstoßen zu haben.  In der Vergangenheit hätte dies zu einem Rücktritt geführt.  Heute aber gibt es keine Schande mehr;  und Lügen, Manipulation und falsche Darstellung sind die akzeptablen Merkmale eines politischen Spiels geworden.  Unser öffentlicher Diskurs wurde korrumpiert.  Schlimmer noch, unsere Abgeordneten werden täglich mit Gewalt und Tod bedroht – genau wie ihre Familienmitglieder.  Ich erinnere mich gut an den Mord an Jo Cox eine Woche vor dem Referendum im Jahre 2016 – ich war innerhalb einer Stunde dabei;  es geschah in meiner Diözese und nur acht Meilen von meinem Wohnort entfernt. Ich kenne ihre Familie.

Also, die Zukunft?

Erstens: Wir werden wahrscheinlich die Europäische Union verlassen, aber wir werden Europa nicht verlassen.  Unsere starken Verbindungen in ganz Europa werden in den kommenden Jahren noch wichtiger.  Großbritannien musste sich seit dem zweiten Weltkrieg nie damit abfinden, bloß eine kleine Nordatlantikinsel ohne Imperium zu sein.  Der Brexit wird, denke ich, das Ende des Mythos vom britischen Imperium bedeuten.  Britische Zeitungen und Politiker erinnern sich immer wieder daran, wie wir den Krieg (alleine) gewonnen haben.  Endlich müssen wir jetzt mit der Realität leben und nicht mit romantisierten Erinnerungen des letzten Jahrhunderts.  Nach 1945 mussten sich die Deutschen mit ihrer Geschichte, Identität und ihren Fehlern auseinandersetzen.  Die Briten mussten das noch nie tun.  Wir werden es jetzt tun müssen. Ich stimme mit der Philosophin Susan Neiman überein, als sie sagt in ihrem neuen Buch Learning from the Germans: „Nostalgische Sehnsüchte nach Imperium und Sentimentalismus im Zusammenhang mit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg weisen nicht nur auf außergewöhnliche Mängel des öffentlichen Gedächtnisses in Großbritannien hin, sondern auch auf die Unfähigkeit, mit der Geschichte reif zu rechnen. Neil MacGregor hat gesagt: „Die Deutschen nutzen ihre Geschichte, um über die Zukunft nachzudenken, während die Briten ihre Geschichte nutzen, um sich zu trösten“.

Zweitens: Die Europäer müssen anerkennen, dass fast die Hälfte der Wähler für einen Verbleib in der EU gestimmt hat – und auch dass die Verbundenheit mit der EU seit dem Referendum gewachsen ist.  Deutschland und Europa haben viele Freunde in Großbritannien und wir brauchen Ihre Freundschaft, um eine andere Zukunft zu gestalten.

Drittens: Ich denke (aber ich könnte mich irren), dass die Union nicht lange überleben wird.  Alles deutet darauf hin, dass Schottland jetzt für die Unabhängigkeit stimmen würde;  Irland könnte sich gut vereinen – etwas, was die IRA in vierzig Jahren Terrorismus und Gewalt nicht erreichen konnte;  sogar Wales spricht von einer Trennung von England.  Wir werden mal sehen. Aber der Prozess und die Abwicklung des Brexits haben alles geändert und viel geschädigt.

Letztens: Niemand kann die Zukunft vorhersagen.  Wir erleben heute im Westen einen großen Konflikt zwischen Liberalismus und anderen Mächten.  Der Liberalismus ist in Zukunft keine Selbstverständlichkeit.  Die Kirchen müssen Orte der Begegnung und Unterhaltung, der Debatte und der Wahrheitsfindung sein, wenn die Welt über Trump und Johnson, Bolsonaro und Orban und so weiter verhandelt.  Der Illiberalismus wird die Westeuropäer dazu zwingen, die Wurzeln ihrer Annahmen über Menschenrechte und Verantwortlichkeiten wieder zu entdecken, und das könnte letztendlich eine gute Sache sein.

Zum Schluss möchte ich ein Buch empfehlen.  Der britische Historiker Tom Holland: “Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind” ist ein brillanter Lauf durch die christliche Geschichte, in dem deutlich wird, wie sehr selbst die säkulare Kultur im Westen von christlichen Annahmen geprägt ist.  (Das letzte Kapitel ist ziemlich seltsam, aber der Rest des Buches ist ausgezeichnet.)

Die politische Spannungen in Deutschland sind anders als diejenigen in Großbritannien, aber die hinterlegenden Fragen über Links/Rechts weisen einige Ähnlichkeiten auf. Die Herausforderungen, vor denen jedes Land in Bezug auf Stabilität und den Machtwechsel zu einer neuen Generation steht, sind klar. Das Buch von Tom Holland fordert uns implizit und explizit dazu auf, unsere gemeinsamen Wurzeln wieder zu entdecken, uns den aktuellen Umwälzungen dieser Wurzeln zu stellen und die Zukunft mit Mut, Entschlossenheit und Weitblick zu gestalten. In Großbritannien und Deutschland stehen wir vor Identitätsfragen: wer sind wir und woher stammen wir. Die Antworten sind wichtig.

Und ich habe gerade einen SMS bekommen. Boris Johnson wird am kommenden Montag noch einmal versuchen, eine Parlamentswahl anzukündigen.

Und FC Liverpool steht immer noch an der Spitze des Premier League.

I was invited by the Dean of Manchester to preach in his Cathedral at the annual Service to mark the beginning of the Legal Year this morning. There was a large turnout of judges, lawyers and civic dignitories. The Bible readings were from Job 28:1-12 and John 1:1-14. What follows is the basic text of my address.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here this morning and to preach at a time of ‘interesting’ developments in the life of our nation. It is particularly good that different faiths are represented as we mark the importance of justice and law in a society that is in danger of treating both with casual utilitarian pragmatism.

You don’t have to be a Christian or a Jew to recognise that the English legal system is based on and derived from the Judeao-Christian tradition seen in the Scriptures – although a reading of historian Tom Holland’s new book Dominion makes the point powerfully. According to the biblical witness, justice lies at the heart of God’s character and is measured by how the powerful and the powerless are treated in society.

If you break justice, you are left with just ice. So says Scouse poet and Radio 4 presenter Stewart Henderson. I am glad he has come to that realisation as one of my earliest memories of him was being beaten up by him and Billy Mason when I was nine during a Sunday School holiday in Saltburn from my church in Liverpool. Not that it still hurts, you understand…

The point he makes in his poem is a suggestive one: it is a cold world where justice is a commodity to be bought and sold, or where lip service is paid to a justice that has become a means of privilege on the part of those who either are powerful enough or have the skill to manipulate it.

I speak here from experience – not here in Manchester, I hasten to add, or even in England.

During my time as the Bishop of Croydon in the Diocese of Southwark I was closely connected with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, and particularly with the Diocese of Central Zimbabwe. I visited many times. This was during a period of considerable challenge in Zimbabwe, when President Mugabe was living with the consequences of his bizarre land policy, when inflation was rising to over 10,000 per cent (not the final figure), when water was scarce and food in short supply in Gweru. The secret police were everywhere – stories for another time – and political oppression was evident. Even the Church suffered as a renegade Bishop of Harare (a corrupt Mugabe beneficiary called Nolbert Kunonga) declared UDI, stole money and properties, and lied his way through the courts. He is no longer there; the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe is.

One of the points I kept having to argue in and for Zimbabwe was that the restoration of the rule of law was essential. There could be no justice, no democracy, no prosperity and no freedom until the rule of law was re-established and respected. It is the rule of law that guarantees impartiality and consistency, thus allowing society and the economy to tread an honest path to prosperity and peaceful coexistence. The rule of law guarantees integrity.

Or does it?

There are many countries where the rule of law holds firm, but life is not free or fair. Which surely teaches us that the rule of law is vital, but also inadequate in and of itself: it is the content of the law that establishes the colour, the complexion, the integrity of the culture. I know Godwin’s law all too well – that when, as a last resort, you refer to Adolf Hitler, you have lost the argument – but it is salutary to recall that National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s had little problem with the rule of law; they just made laws that legitimised what they wanted to do anyway. (I am afraid I am student of German politics and I recognise that this is a bit ‘niche’.)

So, what a good society actually needs is the rule of good law. The Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz) that the Reichstag passed on 23 March 1933 made perfect sense within the internal circular logic of a Weimar Republic that had run into the ground – allowing the Führer to bypass other laws in order to break the logjam and, in exceptional circumstances, to get things moving. “Just get it done” was the sentiment that opened the door to the institution of injustice by a Nazi Party that shaped law by a worldview that was essentially dehumanising. The Law of Unintended Consequences? (Or were the consequences entirely intended?)

Well, I had the joy of working through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords and spoke in debates at each stage (one with 192 speakers over two days). In the last few weeks, in order to get the Benn Bill through the Lords before the ‘prorogation that never was’, we once again had to anticipate how a government might handle its own defeat over against the promises it had made about delivering Brexit. At every stage of debate a large number of judges, former law lords and other lawyers spoke eloquently (and even comprehensibly), often drawing attention to the inadequacies of draft legislation received from the House of Commons – especially in relation to the constitutional and legal elements of the proposed legislation. You know what happened next.

The point I want to make before moving on to a bit of theology is that our attention has now been drawn to a threat that must be taken seriously if our democracy is to be upheld and not simply sold down the river on a boat called expediency. If politicians refuse to define properly how decisions about primary legislation are to be made – that is, not leaving to undefined ministerial discretion such terms as “appropriate” – then it will be left to the courts; and then judges will be accused of going beyond their brief by establishing law instead of interpreting it. You see the point? You recall the sniping at judges in the Supreme Court. The proper scrutiny of legislation – the very purpose of an upper house – and the deliberative activity of an independent judiciary are non-negotiable elements of a mature democracy … something forgotten or ignored by those newspapers that disgracefully and dangerously mock judges or denounce them as ‘Enemies of the People’. Unlike some politicians or newspapers, judges have to pay attention not only to the legal precision of the immediately presenting issue, but also to how the UK will live and move and have its being in the future (after we have left the EU, for example). Arguments about “freedom from” whatever ills the EU is believed to have caused us have to be replaced by the much harder and more complex task of shaping what we have been “freed for”.

So, again, law is not enough. It is good law that matters. And good law cannot be either assumed by default, or merely wished for.

Now, this is what is illustrated in our readings. Ancient Wisdom literature assumes that even the highest courts and the most powerful politicians, governors, rulers and legislators are not ultimate. Even they are accountable. Even if they evade accountability to the people whose interests and security they are called to serve, they cannot escape their accountability to God. As soon as any culture or society convinces itself that it can do what it wants and is accountable only to itself, watch hubris – and its bedfellow corruption – emerge. In other words, accountability to God keeps people and nations honest to themselves.

We then see in the reading from John chapter 1 (the ‘Christmas Gospel’) that any outworking of a recognition of human accountability to God is messy. It was all OK when “in the beginning was the Word”, but the trouble started when “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us”. As soon as flesh, blood, opinions, cultures and passions got involved, things began to get sticky. The birth of Jesus can get romanticised, but even as a baby he was targeted, hunted by a fearful Herod, exiled as a refugee in Egypt (a place actually synonymous with captivity and oppression, but now – perversely – the place of rescue and asylum), and was seemingly in trouble from the word go. Read the gospels and his major problem seems to have been with lawyers who, at the behest of the powers-that-be, kept using the law to try to catch him out, trip him up, get him to condemn himself out of his own mouth.

They nailed him in the end. But, even then, those putting him on trial found themselves – their humanity, their integrity, their faith – being judged by the silent victim. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?

The failure of the lawyers of the day was to lose sight of the big picture – what we might call ‘the point of it all’. In relation to current challenges I have repeatedly tried to make the point that once we have “Got Brexit Done” – whatever it looks like – what then? What was it all for? The debate has been almost totally framed around economics and trade, and yet the economy is a means to an end, not the end in itself. An economy should thrive in order to allow a society to thrive, for the common good to be served and for individual human beings to flourish. They are the ends to which an economy should point. To reverse the priority is to turn people into servants of the interests of the economically powerful and to lose sight of any vision or value. It was not for nothing that Jesus warned us about gaining the world and losing our soul.

Too many of the lawyers of Jesus’s day lost sight of humanity. Rather than celebrate the fact that someone had been healed, they condemned Jesus for doing “work” on the Sabbath Day – missing the point of what the Sabbath was for and, more importantly, who it was for. I guess it was what Edmund Burke had in mind when he wrote: “It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do.”

The reading goes on to speak of light shining in the darkness. We should be asking what that looks like in a messy world of human fragility and moral contradiction. Again, it isn’t some romantic fantasy. It means that those who bear the name of Christ and attempt to shape their life, their politics, their relationships, their behaviour and their values around the character and nature of the Jesus we read about in the gospels should shine as a light in a world that, frankly is riddled with lies and is too easily willing to crucify its prophets. If we dare to bear the name of Christ – to own what it means to be his Body – we must be willing to shine … even when that shining provokes some to extinguish the light and restore the twilight or darkness where clarity of vision can be lost and the common good be submerged under the games power plays.

Law must live. Law must go beyond text and inspire life. But, if it is to do that, the text must be got right. Justice can turn on a phrase – it is that important. And a good and just society depends on good lawyers who interpret good law and thereby promote the common good.

I rest my case, m’lud. I want to see an inextinguishable light shine when darkness threatens. It will be cross-shaped, but haunted by resurrection. It will not be dulled by threat or neglect. Or, as the Psalmist put it: “Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the oath that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)

The language used in the House of Commons last night is probably unprecedented. Drawing the name of a murdered MP into the fight was, at the very least, questionable. To describe the contribution of female MPs, pleading with the PM to moderate his language in the light of violence and death threats, as ‘humbug’ is appalling.

I am the bishop of a diocese in which Jo Cox is remembered with massive affection and in which there is great sensitivity to utilisation of her for political purposes. Her family are not just names to be traded.

Words are not neutral – they can become weapons. Words in the mouth of leaders can shape the language and behaviour of all sorts of people, and not always positively. The challenge of leadership is to lead, to behave like the adult in the room, to see the big picture, to hold the long-term perspective, and not to lose sight of the key issue.

The Prime Minister has a particular and weighty responsibility in our current crisis to lead by example. A fundamental element of strong leadership, rooted in character, is to demonstrate humility. The language he is using is destructive and has caused distress. An apology would be in order. More importantly, he needs to lead a recalibration of language, mood and relationship. What we are witnessing currently is the further corruption of our public discourse and the norms of democratic debate.

A colleague said to me this morning that we are in urgent need of recovering the three Rs: respect, responsibility and restraint. Respect for people (opponents as well as friends), the law and language; taking responsibility for our own language and behaviour as well as the common good; restraint even when provoked.

It is incumbent on those who lead to tell the truth, use language wisely (with a view to consequences) and behave with responsibility and respect.

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