Two interesting articles have appeared today in my inbox, and one (less interesting) piece of card has appeared through my letterbox. The first article, by Daniel Finkelstein, writing for the Times, argues cogently that whatever else we think of Barack Obama, and whatever we think about what he thinks, he has a right to comment about whether or not the UK should leave the European Union or not. It is a central US concern, how the UK positions itself with respect to the rest of Europe and the US has a huge political and financial stake in it. So whilst 100 pro-Leave campaign MPs have told Obama to shut up whilst he is here, Finkelstein argues it would be a travesty of our relationship if he were to keep quiet on this issue, even though, like all US presidents before him, Obama is in favour of us staying in the EU, and not just for US self-interest, either.
The second article was a blog post by Patrick Curran from the excellent Reimagining Europe site. The site is a forum for wide-ranging, polite and informed Christian comment on the EU debate, and is the go-to place for thoughtful, relatively unselfish thinking on the issues we face in the June referendum. Do read it, because it highlights some historical and theological as well as political issues with remarkable clarity, and the breadth of voices and opinions is surprisingly wide.
Curran’s post is helpful because he is a Brit working as a pastor in Vienna and sees many sides to this debate, like, I suspect, most of us. He is clear-eyed about the impact of migration on Austria, yet lauds their public spirit and policy in dealing compassionately with what they are able. He makes the assumption, which I am tempted to make, and I think that God must make at some level, that other-centredness, willingness to serve, giving up our own rights for the common good – these are all attitudes that must govern our thinking and be allowed to have “head-room” along with the desire to “get the best deal for Britain”:
A vote to simply stay in the European Union without a change of attitude is only a short-term gain unless a positive and constructively critical narrative is allowed to emerge, which in turn will strengthen the European Union for all her citizens and those who live on her borders. The peace that the European Union has contributed towards is under threat. See the recent Balkan wars. See the annexation of Crimea. See war in Ukraine. See the continuing migration from Africa and Asia. This is not a time to weaken the European Union. John the Baptist is reported to have said, “He must increase, but I must decrease”. This is not the way of the world, but it shows a way forward for the member states of the European Union, which all could do more than pay lip service to their Christian Heritage.
I have pretty well made up my mind in this debate, and this type of thinking and challenge forces me to consider well the implications of my choice.
Commissioners and why we need to elect them
Through the letterbox comes a poll card. We are electing, apparently, councillors to Milton Keynes Council for the Bradwell ward, and this is genuinely interesting and important. We have a hung council with Labour as the largest group, and I would like to see it kept that way. They have had a huge amount of flak from the press and other parties about the way they have managed the council budget, but that goes with the territory, and one can only imagine what would have happened if we had continued with a Conservative majority.
However, we are also being invited to elect the Police and Crime Commissioner for the TVP area. This is really a bad name, by the way. Do they actually commission specific crimes? Could we write and ask for certain public eyesores to be pulled down or set on fire (I have some in mind)? Can we see a list of crimes that they have commissioned, and then vote for them on their success rate? The names of these commissioner-candidates have not been published and so I have no clue about who to vote for. It seems like a democratic exercise for the sake of it. Their CVs are usually published, but how easily can the public access this information?
Who we are not being asked to vote for are the Regional Schools Commissioners. These people have as big a misnomer as their judicial non-counterparts. No democracy here, because the public simply can’t be trusted anywhere near education policy, and far more power. The RSCs do not commission schools, in the same way that (so far as I know) the PCCs do not commission crimes. However, whilst the PCCs definitely do not commission schools, it does seem from time to time that RSCs do commission crimes, against school staff, parents and the communities they serve. Their key performance indicators centre on turning schools into academies and they are run directly from the DfE. They have a headteacher board which works with them, principally composed of academy heads, so they are pre-disposed to the same agenda as the RSCs, but in a few of these people some sanity lies (I know some of the heads on the boards and they are good people). It feels deeply undemocratic, though. At a time when accountability to local authorities is under threat, you would have thought that a democratically-elected government would make a particular effort to keep the level of local accountability for schools at the same level it does for crime or hospitals, all of which affect every single person in a local area. But democratic accountability has never been something about which the current government talks much, and with a scared and wool-headed electorate such as us, do they ever need to?