I was around in Southwark for the 40th anniversary memories of the publication of John Robinson's Honest to God. This year is the 50th anniversary. In this week's Church Times the excellent Mark Vernon runs though the issues again before Richard Harries puts it all in to a personal context.

Honest to God caused a huge debate. Robinson called for a re-think of theology and the purpose of the church. En route he drew on Bonhoeffer's thinking, but didn't quite go where I think Bonhoeffer himself might have been heading. Big headlines didn't help the seriousness of his case, but it did lead to discussions everywhere about God. (In today's world this is the responsibility of the New Atheists who, in trying to diss God and theists end up getting people talking about God and theism – fulfilling the Law of Unintended Consequences, I guess.)

What Richard Harries does is place the phenomenon into the wider cultural and political context of the 1960s, and particularly its idealism. Which, of course, immediately points up the danger of reading history through a contemporary lens. The debates about Margaret Thatcher did the same: it was easy to spot those who hadn't lived through the 1970s and those who had.

The loss of idealism is troubling. Students these days are hardly likely to annoy the hell out of taxpayers by demonstrating; they have to concentrate on minimising and then paying off massive debts before they have even started.

The contrast is acute for me when I go to Kazakhstan and talk with young people who, whilst being realistic about the 'challenges', are immensely proud of their 22 year old country and seriously optimistic about the future. The only way I have been able to think about this is that they are building something and shaping a future – a bit like European countries after 1945. Contrast that with the tired cynicism that characterises Europe and we seem not to be building something, but merely trying half-heatedly on to something we have inherited.

This is also true of European ecumenism. At a round-table discussion with Herman von Rumpoy last year in Brussels, I ventured to suggest that the European narrative derived from two world wars and the shedding of oceans of blood had run its course. Yes, we must learn from our recent history, and, as Bertolt Brecht says in the conclusion of his play The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui, recognise that 'the bitch [of fascism] is on heat again. But, I fear that the narrative emerging from mid-20th century Europe does not hold the same power for my children's generation as it does for those of us shaped by the war. We need to create a new narrative that engages the subconscious psyche of a new generation for whom the twentieth century is 'history' and not 'memory'.

OK, it is not exactly a deep observation; but, it is one that haunts me. I think it is a task that is urgent and yet being largely ignored. All efforts go into trying to secure what we have (largely, the institutions that define Europe in terms of administration and process), rather than creating something imaginatively new.

This is on my mind also because I have just finished reading Cees Nooteboom's book Roads to Berlin. It is a strange book. In three parts, the bulk of the text comprises reportage and memoir from immediately before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989/90. It is immediate and has the vivid benefit of recreating the atmosphere in Berlin as the world changed – all seen through the eyes of an outsider (he is Dutch) living through, yet detached from, those epic events. In parts 2 and 3 he reflects back on those events and on Germany and 'Germanness' twenty years later.

It is an uneven book, but better for it. It is unpretentious – although there were many references I didn't get, and this made me feel both uneducated and a bit stupid. But, it is a good read for anyone who wants to think about history, how we live through and reflect on it, how we need to look at ourselves through the eyes of an other if we are to think clearly about who we are and how/why we have become who and what we are.

The trouble with history is that we always think that 'now' is the ultimate – the end – when it is only tomorrow's yesterday and will look different when looked back upon by outsiders.

Oh well. Back to contemplating the future of Luis Suarez…


Sometimes I lose the will to write anything. A full and demanding diary doesn't exactly help, but then a pile of events coincide to leave me wondering if anything is worth saying. Say something – anything – and you get a shedload of stuff back for which there is little time to respond properly or appropriately. Read on and you'll probably wish I'd heeded my own caution.

Welfare cuts bite harder in the north than the south of England. Not exactly a surprise. But, the north doesn't really count, does it? The City counts… because the destruction of our manufacturing base, the lack of job opportunities, the creation of a service economy and our complete dependence on financial services and banking means that nothing else can take priority. The market economy has led to the market society in which people serve money and not the other way round.

The Church of England publishes a report on marriage which provokes scorn from all sides. And again we find ourselves reacting to the agenda rather than setting it. It is well nigh impossible to have a rational and respectful conversation about marriage, etc. when positions are polarised. It probably doesn't help when the Church pronounces in a context where everybody else is conversing. Culture change needed.

But, back to big news. Margaret Thatcher is dead. Is there anything further to be said? Why she is being given special treatment in death is beyond me. Does this now set a precedent for other dying former Prime Ministers: Tony Blair, David Cameron, Gordon Brown? There is something worrying about this whole phenomenon – and a million other commentators have speculated on what that might be.

However, my problem has not to do with whether or not we should speak ill of the dead, nor about whether public figures should expect a criticism-free ride on their demise. My problem is two-fold: the selective lionisation of her (and the demonisation of anyone who disagrees) by the right, and the angry demonisation of her (and anyone who disagrees) by the left. Let me explain.

I grew up in Liverpool. I am no stranger to the damage Thatcher did to the lives and communities of millions of people in this country. I was not surprised that members of her Cabinet suggested simply abandoning Liverpool and walking away. I still cannot understand how later governments can penalise people for not having jobs where jobs are not to be had – 7 people to every 1 job in Bradford, for example. One reason jobs are not to be had is because Thatcher's destruction of manufacturing and her ideologically-driven war against unions (not without some justification – although I was a union member at GCHQ when she banned the unions and removed our employment rights as a gift to Ronald Reagan) devastated communities in the north without laying the ground for anything to take their place. Obsessive and ideological deregulation of the City has led us directly to where we are today and that link should never be lost.

In other words, I am no fan of Margaret Thatcher's politics or most of what her governments did. Yet, I fear the response of some to her death says more about them than about her. If you argue that she created a nasty, impersonal and unjust society, you don't have to prove it by being nasty, impersonal and unjust. Seeing some of the vitriol aimed at this dead woman, you have to wonder at the character of the vitriol-aimers. Sure, people can protest (even if they weren't even born when she was in power; we still live with the consequences of her change to British politics, economics, society and culture). But, I do wonder what protest is expected to achieve. He time for this was when she left power, not when she dies at 87.

I started to write: “Wouldn't a more appropriate response be for her opponents simply to respect her demise by silently ignoring all the ceremony and debate, the put their efforts into opposing the pernicious policies of her political children today? Or donating a day to filling food banks, etc.?” But, then I remembered that public figures are subject in death as in life to public comment and scrutiny. That said, however, the evidence that she created a nasty, vitriolic, dehumanising and utterly divided culture and society is to be seen in the response her death has provoked.

I wish her family well as they mourn the loss of a mother, etc. But, I will put my energies into sorting out the present human mess rather than wasting it in pointless protest about someone who by definition cannot do anything about it. The appropriate response to her policies is to work to ensure we create a better, kinder, more just society for our children and grandchildren – and that will involve a rejection of divisiveness, commodification of people, nastiness and misplaced vitriol.

(And I think Jonathan Freedland has probably got it about right.)


How interesting.

Papers released today from Margaret Thatcher's personal archive reveal that not everyone in her cabinet was in favour of sending the Task Force to the South Atlantic in 1982 to reclaim the Falkland Islands from the dastardly Argentinian invaders.

I was working in Cheltenham at the time and remember well many of the details of it all. Most of us also remember that the UK had given off many signals that our interest in maintaining the Falklands was weak – for example, the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic. Not that this justifies the invasion, but you know how politics work.

However, that's not the interesting bit of today's news reporting.

Apparently, Thatcher's cabinet was 'split'. In other words, not everyone shared the same point of view as to how to respond to the invasion. We have discovered – much to our apparent shock or surprise – that opinions ranged from 'just let the islands go' to 'stick it up 'em, Captain Mainwaring'. But, what is shocking is simply that anybody should think of being shocked.

Do we not think that adults disagree – even when in government and faced with a quick decision about war? Isn't the whole point of collective cabinet government that different opinions are represented and given space for being voiced? Shouldn't we expect our leaders to be a little bit clever, a little bit concerned to look at all options, a little bit open to having views changed and developed as well as potentially confirmed by argument? This is why confidentiality matters: people with responsibility need a safe space within which to rehearse even their heresies in order to see what holds water and what doesn't.

Our problem is that we live in a culture where adults holding differing opinions is called 'division' or 'split'. Goodness knows we understand how all this language plays out in representation of the church. it is a little bit pathetic, but it also has the effect of inhibiting grown-up debate. 'Difference' is not the same as 'division' – it just doesn't sound as dramatic.

When will we grow up?