The mantra of ‘business knows best’

Mantras are not usually popular in Baptist circles. But there is a mantra accepted by far too many Christians and non-Christians alike, a mantra whose chanted rhythms are becoming more pervasive by the day. It says: ‘Big business knows best,’ and it’s been echoing for decades throughout the western world. A recent amplification came from Tony Blair and it has found something of a devotee – no, a Swami in David Cameron (with side-kick Fakir assistance from Nick Clegg). If (to extend the metaphor), during the years of New Labour, Westminster became something of a flower-power teen’s bedroom of tentative occasional chanting, the Con-Dem government has turned it into an Ashram.

Everywhere, in almost every decision our new government takes, one hears it and variations on it: ‘Big business knows best.’ ‘Profits mean progress.’ ‘The private sector is our salvation.’ Businessmen are appointed to oversee restructuring of public departments and business principles deployed in spending public money. Indeed, big businesses will soon be running much of what used to be publicly owned. The chanting of the mantra has become so loud, so ubiquitous, that ordinarily balanced people, even economic ‘atheists’ seem to have got religion, at least in terms of believing in the mantra.

Even when discussing the war in Afghanistan, NATO last week complained that all the positive stories are missed by a negative media. Examples given on the radio included building projects and economic recovery. So much of the proverbial Kool-aid has been imbibed that we are really willing to see the destruction of homes and infrastructure (with the loss of life that entails) as a positive thing, because it is good for the business of reconstruction.

But let’s not be unfair. Big business does know best about some things. Making a profit, mostly. And if a profit is what you want, the big business world has some pretty good ideas to offer. But most of those ideas involve charging as much as possible for what you provide, cutting jobs or paying people the very minimum you can get away with to cut costs and focusing every decision about quality on whether it will, in the end, make more money.

This is all perfectly respectable within the narrow world of commerce. One would not run a family that way, though. Asking little toddler Jimmy how he has contributed to the family bottom line and regretfully informing him his services will no longer be required is something most parents would prefer to avoid. When a mother becomes pregnant a second time we don’t immediately commiserate because her costs have gone up. The very idea of applying big business principles to the family (at least exclusively) is obviously ridiculous. And yet, there are many in our government who believe that big business knows best for public services and parts of government. Their faith in the infallibility of big business is amazing. After all, the economic crisis was caused by big business, and their network, the markets. The oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico? A business called BP.

The high-priests of this mantra would have us believe that we have to choose between a world in which everything is run by big business or a totalitarian state. This is not true. Many things work better without business and don’t result in us becoming North Korea. The police are not privatised, ambulance and rescue services are not expected to make profits and making the fire department a business would obviously return us to a world where only those with money would receive help when they needed it most. It’s unthinkable in terms of burning houses. But when it comes to the lives of those who rely on public services most, we seem pretty open to it. I wonder if that’s the fault of the mantra, or just because we’re selfish and indifferent to change that is unlikely to threaten ourselves. Either way, as the Beatles eventually lost faith in the Maharishi, a little skepticism might be healthy about now.

Powell to the people?

enorchpowellEnoch Powell: Was he: A) A dangerous bigot and blot on the history of the Conservative Party? Or B) A bit of a hero?

To answer ‘B’, you have to one of those people who think it was a mistake to intern British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Or a regular reader of The Daily Mail. Or Daniel Hannan.

Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP, who last week, on American TV, cited Enoch ‘rivers of blood’ Powell as one of his political heroes.

In the American context, that would be like praising Strom Thurmond, a symbol of America’s struggle against civil rights and for segregation of the races. In Britain, Powell’s name carries similar baggage, and while there may be aspects of his politics or career that were untouched by racism, praising him (let alone calling him a ‘hero’) sends as clear a message as a Communist who praises Stalin for his agrarian policies or a Cambodian who thinks Pol Pot was a snappy dresser. No unlobotomised British politician could fail to see what praising him suggests.

The point is that even though America may have missed the significance of the remark, we should not.

The reason we should not ignore the remark is because Mr Hannan represents Britain in the European Parliament and he represents a political party that is widely tipped to win the next election. What he says and how he is treated for saying it by his superiors should be of concern to us. A few weeks before praising Enoch Powell, Daniel Hannan was also in the American media, this time attacking the NHS, calling it ‘a 60 year mistake’.

At the time, David Cameron distanced himself from the comment, calling Hannan ‘eccentric’.

And the fact that Hannan has not been punished or even reprimanded by the Conservative Party at the time I write this makes me wonder about the polls that show the Tories in the lead in public opinion. Labour has certainly made gross and disgusting errors during its time in power. So many, in fact, that many disillusioned leftists, liberals and citizens concerned with the social justice that Labour has traditionally fought for have deserted the party and are dismissive of its politicians as hypocrites, liars, and, worst of all from their perspective, Tories.

In many ways, unfortunately, they are right. But is the answer, for a liberal, to vote for a party that has many of the same faults you despise in New Labour, just amplified? Is the answer, for a Christian who is more concerned for the lives of the poor in Asia and Africa than the bankers Gordon Brown has supported rather than punished, to vote for a party that has consistently decreased the UK’s international aid budget and whose members don’t see international development as important?

Who do we vote for when none of the three main parties are even considering a platform of zero economic growth (essential, many academics believe, if we are to combat climate change and the worst excesses of unfair trade)?

I refuse to believe that the answer lies in doing nothing and absenting ourselves from politics to pray in a corner. If party politics is how decisions are made, then that is what we must get involved with, denouncing racism, a lack of concern for the poor and unjust wars as we go, in whatever party we support.

I know who i’m not going to vote for.

Save the minimum wage!

I recently signed a petition about saving the minimum wage. Yes, hard as it is to believe, in ‘the current economic climate’ (and there’s a phrase that just doesn’t get old, does it?) some Tory MPs ar putting forward legislation that would mean an end to the minmum wage. Visions of Dickensian working conditions and the lowest paid workers in society being paid even less spring to mind.

Christians can not accept this as a positive move. If you believe in justice, please read the message below and take some time to do what it asks. It will take a few minutes, but it will also probably never benefit you directly. With that kind of sales pitch, what Christian can refuse?

Messgae from John Prescott and Wage Concern:

Firstly, I want to thank you for all your help in our campaign to save the minimum wage.

Thanks to you, our Wage Concern shamed the Tories into pulling the Employment Opportunities Bill last month.

But it’s still not dead – it’s down on the order paper for this Friday, June 12th in the House of Commons.

That means the proposed legislation to effectively abolish the minimum wage is still very much alive.

We still need your help to raise awareness of this retrogressive and unfair bill.

So can you spare me five minutes to send an email to the 11 Tory MPs sponsoring this bill?

Step 1: Draft an email

Here’s a draft email you can use to send to the Tories:

“I am very concerned to hear about the Private Members Bill, Employment Opportunities, down for its second reading on Friday 10th June, that will seek to abolish the mandatory national minimum wage.

“You are listed as one of the Bill’s sponsors.

“The national minimum wage has benefitted more than a million people since it was introduced and your Bill would effectively undermine it by allowing unscrupulous bosses to pay what they like.

“Please could you let me know as a matter of urgency whether you still plan to support this Bill and if so, why you back it. I am respectfully asking you to withdraw your backing.

“Could you also let me know whether you believe it is right for paid MPs to call for the minimum wage to be effectively abolished whilst holding second jobs themselves as many of the Bill’s sponsors do.”

Step 2 – Send the email

You can send it to the 11 Tory MPs sponsoring the Bill. They are:

Christopher Chope (Christchurch) chopec@parliament.uk
Peter Bone (Wellingborough, Northants) bonep@parliament.uk
Philip Davies (Shipley, West Yorkshire) daviesp@parliament.uk
Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Wales) evansn@parliament.uk
Greg Knight (Yorkshire East) knightg@parliament.uk
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Lincolnshire) leighe@parliament.uk
Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater, Somerset) liddelli@parliament.uk
Brian Binley (Northampton South, Northants) binleyb@parliament.uk
William Cash (Stone, Staffs) cashw@parliament.uk
Robert Syms (Poole, Dorset) symsr@parliament.uk
David Wilshire (Spelthorne, Surrey) wilshired@parliament.uk

Or you can cut and paste the email addresses and send it to them all

chopec@parliament.uk
bonep@parliament.uk
daviesp@parliament.uk
evansn@parliament.uk
knightg@parliament.uk
leighe@parliament.uk
liddelli@parliament.uk
binleyb@parliament.uk
cashw@parliament.uk
symsr@parliament.uk
wilshired@parliament.uk

Step 3 Get your friends to do it too

Forward on this email to your friends, asking them to do the same.

Let’s see if we can get the MPs to withdraw their support and send a message that though times are difficult, scrapping the minimum wage is not an option.

Thanks for your support and I’ll keep you updated. You can also find out more at www.wageconcern.com

Cheers, Joan

Versus

‘The honourable Joan Ryan’ anagrams into: ‘Enjoy heartburn on a halo’. I like to think it means ‘enjoy looking all righteous now, but later it’s going to smart.’ I didn’t work the anagram out myself. I got it from a cheap, tacky website for people who are not terribly smart with such things (kinda like the one Ms Ryan apparently gets her political decisions from).

Joan Ryan MP has been fired by Gordon Brown for publicly calling for a leadership contest again. She won’t get it. What she has already got is a lazy and blood-loving media (which has already decided that their line on Gordon Brown must be his failures, real or imagined) all hot and sweaty. Why? Because Gordon was doing okay for the first week in living memory.

His rather silly (but utterly necessary in a society where people who are told their approval of someone is dropping tend to stop approving of them) ‘relaunch’ of his personal brand this week has been derailed by that Ryan woman. But when a train that was until very recently on fire is derailed, it’s not just a transporting incident. People get hurt.

I’m not a prophet. I can’t predict or prove that this incident will be the nail in the coffin for Brown. But if it is, then it is a nail in the coffin of Labour, more than likely. Take a minute to think what that means. The Tories in charge. The people, the interests they represent, with the ear of government and the laws of the land supporting them.

I’m no unquestioning fan of New Labour and their pathetic bowing and scraping to money, power and privilege. But there is still a difference between them and the Tories. I just wish Joan Ryan had remembered that before she put the boot in. Because if the Conservative Party gets in in the next election, she will be partly to blame.

Now let’s be fair. Maybe our Joan is really all about the ideology and not the limelight. And maybe that ideology is not unbridled capitalism or some aristocratic (in the new, not Platonic sense) rot. Maybe she’s rebelling because she’s a woman of conscience, a real lefty renegade…

Um… No. Check out her record at TheyWorkForYou.com and see if that fits. If she’s all about expressing her conscience and not sticking the knife in, why did she vote ‘very strongly’ for the Iraq war and ‘very strongly’ against an investigation into it? And very strongly for the liberty-eroding anti-terror laws. And ‘strongly against a transparent parliament‘ [italics mine][all mine! miiiiiine!]. And for introducing top-up fees.

Admittedly, this hardly sets her far apart from a lot of Labour MPs. Or many Conservatives. But it does kinda disprove that her motivation is to move towards something more oriented towards workers, poor people, socialism or pretty, fluffy kittens of good politics.

Just remember. When the Tories win and the country is handed over to private business interests, when taxes for the rich are cut and the poor have spending on their welfare reduced, remember Joan Ryan. And Charles Clarke. And the rest of them.

Bile-elections (tabloids in politcs)

It’s a sad week when both the Tories and the Americans look better than you when it comes to civil liberties and terrorism. Last week, in part two of the ’42 days detention without trial’ saga (so called because it is old enough to retire and yet doesn’t seem to want to), David Davis resigned as shadow home secretary in order to fight a by-election that he says will be all about civil liberties in Britain.

Last week, a comic on a BBC radio show pointed out, the government spent much of its time in the news telling the public not to panic with regard to possible fuel shortages (some tabloids of course responded with headlines like: ‘Panic!’). The rest of the week was spent trying to drum up panic about terrorism so as to get their 42 days bill passed. It was an odd juxtaposition.

So was the oft-mentioned fact that America allows just one day, rather than 42. Being trumped by the Americans on civil liberties is a tad embarrassing, but then, we don’t have Guantanemo Bay and the convenient ruse of ‘enemy combatants’ allowing us to interrogate (or ‘bully’ as one Radio 4 caller put it) people under scarily permissive military law.

daveThe big news was, of course, David Davis, a Conservative member of the shadow cabinet and a man not known for being terribly liberal himself (his parliamentary record, according to theyworkforyou.com, shows him to be pro Iraq war, against equal rights for gay people and only moderately against terror legislation), resigning because he wants to champion civil liberties.

This, in turn, prompted Sun journalist, Kelvin MacKenzie, to intimate that he might stand against Davis bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch.

And this is where yet another concern should surface for Christians. Many commentators said that the significance of MacKenzie (and, by proxy, Murdoch) potentially throwing his (pointy white) hat in the ring would be the ‘circus’ it would create, a sign that nobody was taking Davis’ gesture seriously. Would that that were all.

from www.pixelmarx.comWhat if the step, even just the statement of intent, was a toe in the proverbial water for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.? What if uncle Rupert wants more direct control of our lives than he already enjoys?

‘Paranoia!’ you cry, ‘ridiculous!’ Really? Murdoch’s News Corp. owns The Times, The Sun, News of the World, The London Paper, Sky, Fox News, MySpace, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, Harper Collins publishers, and a raft of other content providers with unparalleled access to the minds of virtually every demographic in the western world. His willingness to dictate the content of the news is legendary and has been widely reported. His papers, tv and web presence create opinions and influence news agendas more than any other individual in Europe or America, and now he’s thinking of fielding a candidate? Do you see how very frightening that should be?

from www.cuppatea.orgYou may say that New Labour has been in his pocket for years. I would say you’d be right. But Labour is still, in some respects, Labour. It is still answerable to institutions that stand for the rights of the poor like trades unions. It still occasionally acts like a party set up to represent the workers in a world too often biased towards the rich, however many compromises it makes with the media devil.

But imagine a country run entirely on the knee-jerk politics, fear-mongering and anti-Grace philosophy of the tabloid press. Imagine The Sun not only forming opinions but acting on them. Imagine the effect on immigrants, young offenders, international relations. Imagine that and then pray. Pray fervently that News Corp. is not making a play for parliament.

What ho, Boris!

Boris Johnson is going to be Prime Minister one day. You watch him. News last week that he had beaten Ken Livingstone to become the new Mayor of London told serious political analysts what most viewers of Have I Got News For You have known for years: Boris is possibly the most likeable politician in Britain.

Lazy (and possibly racist) media shorthand that endlessly trots out the ‘dour Scotsman’ cliché aside, Gordon Brown is simply less of a laugh. Crucially, so is David Cameron. And the smartest thing the Tories could do now is ditch their current bicycle-bothering leader in favour of one who doesn’t just cycle for an environmental photo-op but publicly suggests getting in Navy Seals or Sharia law to deal with bicycle thieves in London.

There, Boris was, of course, not taking the traditional Tory line of being tough on crime to a new level, but joking. And a comment posted on the Guardian website shows how important this is. ‘There is hardly anything Boris Johnson appears to believe that I support,’ the comment said, ‘But at least Boris makes me laugh…’ And that sentiment is one I have heard again and again from friends in London: ‘I wouldn’t ever normally vote Conservative, but I do love Boris.’

This is more than a comment on one man’s popularity, though. It demonstrates a societal shift from politics to personality. Labour understood it with Blair and then started resting on their laurels, presuming they were still in power because the electorate cared about social welfare. The Conservatives have been more savvy recently, but have also been hamstrung by old-style thinking that anyone but media commentators and politicians themselves give a monkey’s about anything as prosaic as political philosophies.

For a few years now we’ve been hearing how David Cameron is a shoe-in for Downing Street and a perfect choice for Tory Grand High Vizier, mainly because he’s ‘nice’. But let’s be honest: how many of us believe that just because he’s ‘nice’ that changes anything about the Conservative Party that we may not have liked? But with Boris it’s a different story. Compared to him, Cameron’s ‘niceness’ is just a charisma-void on a bike. Boris is an original. Boris is a star. Hang his policies (or lack thereof)!

Of course, Red Ken’s defeat had much to do with people being sick of Labour and his foolish decision to rejoin them. One commentator last week said that Livingstone got in as a result of voters wanting to punish New Labour, and he was dumped for exactly the same reason. There’s something in that. And one hopes that while both parties clearly need to take stock again of what the public want from them, Labour will take a different tack.

In a social climate where the environment is on the top of everyone’s agenda, where selfishness is being challenged by the powerful idea of justice, not just for ourselves but for our poor neighbours; in a country where people are increasingly sick of the wealthy and their businesses riding roughshod over the poor and the ordinary; Labour could safely go left again.

And in a culture where celebrity is worshipped , where ideals are considered ‘boring’ and many people have given up their political responsibility, no longer caring about politics, the Conservatives could genuinely go glamorous and win.

And in the spirit of contemporary politics, both parties could borrow from each other, returning to their political roots and engaging with a dumbed-down celebrity culture.

Think of it: parties actually saying what they mean and being entertaining in the process. Boris and Clarkson vs Mark Steele and Bono. The public’s ever-receding interest in democracy, while ultimately ruinous, could at least prove entertaining.

Are American Christians stupid?

niceMy favourite headline last week: ‘Southern Baptist Leaders Not Getting Any Younger’. Like a midget who failed all his GCSEs, it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it did make me laugh (the headline, not the midget). It also provided much-needed respite from stories about American pre-election elections (or whatever it is that they’ve been doing in Iowa).

Much of last week’s debate raged over whether Mike Huckabee, one of the Republican candidates, had lied about having a degree in theology. My initial reaction was: ‘A politician, lie? Shock! Horror!’ And you may agree with my cynicism. Perhaps politicians, like newspaper columnists, white South Africans abroad and BT phone operators telling you when a line will be installed, should rarely be trusted. But that attitude is simply not helpful. If I am sick to the gills of hearing Christians say to me ‘Oh, I don’t really get involved in politics,’ when I am talking to them about issues of justice or freedom (and I am), aren’t I perpetuating it by perpetuating the myth that all politicians are liars? Don’t I deserve the unrestrained beating I wish to administer to them?this seems silly

Christians should care about politics as much as they care about justice, about feeding the hungry, about caring for widows and orphans, an end to war and terrorism or the right to preach the Gospel. They should be concerned with politics because politics is concerned with all these things.

You’re pulling a face, aren’t you? You’re pulling that freakish, dysfunctional face, making like the village idiot and saying: ’really?’ in an ironic and unkind tone of voice. Harsh, man. Fine: generally speaking, I think most Christians realise all this already. When the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly denounces American foreign policy and most of us have been involved in campaigns to make trade fair, erase debt, stop the people traffic (or at least introduce congestion charging) and protect the planet, aren’t we sufficiently political?Christian commies

Alright, bright-briefs, if you’re so okay with Christians being political, tell me how you feel about the following statement: ‘It is a sin to vote Conservative in the next election.’ Is it: a) ‘Uncomfortable’; b) ‘Extremely uncomfortable’ or c) ‘I agree, but please don’t say it out loud, it makes me uncomfortable’? Admittedly, the statement above is hideously simplistic and theologically problematic (and Baptist Times and Jonathan Langley in no way advocate or support the sentiments, blah blah blah), but it illustrates a point. We are seemingly fine with Christians being political, but not party political. Or if they are, it must be private and we should never try to bring religious morality into it.

The assumption is either that political parties are all equal in the sight of God (particularly if they count Christians in their ranks, as is the clarion call of every party justifying its religious cred’) or perhaps we’re not really that open to politics after all.rightwing

If it’s okay to campaign on religious grounds against poverty we should not just feel free to assess party political choices on the grounds of their attitude to the poor, it is our duty. All parties are not equal in God’s sight. Some represent interests that run counter to the Gospel. And while the issues are unlikely to be black and white, the correct response is not to run away from the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff of political policies. If we apply our faith to this area of our lives as much as we apply it elsewhere, if we truly engage with politics (rather than playing at it without offending anyone) we could have an effect. The time is ripe. And like Southern Baptists, we’re not getting any younger.