It is liberty to growl

3 July 2008

When I accompanied the Bishop of Lincoln earlier this week to his introduction into the House of Lords, Anthony Trollope’s words in Phineas Flynn about the British Constitution  came to mind, “It is liberty to growl about the iron fleet, or the ballot, or the taxes, or the peers, or the bishops, or anything else, except the House of Commons. That’s the British Constitution”.

There is something amazingly civilised about enabling an unrepresentative, wholly undemocratic but amazingly experienced group of people to make comment on and contribute to the governance of our nation.  As I gazed down upon the proceedings I recognised so many faces from the political establishment of the past 25 years, joined by other slightly less familiar faces, but leading lights in so many facets of our society.  The gender balance was far more evident than when I last visited the House of Lords, as was the diversity ……. and then of course there were bishops.

I am among those who find it difficult to mount a really coherent argument as to why we have this institution in a modern, democratic and egalitarian society, save that it is wonderful to have a place in the structures of our legislature where people have the ‘liberty to growl’.  The House of Lords brings together so much experience and wisdom to growl at the government.  To growl,  not because of the expedience of democratic process, but because they have the liberty and the place to express opinion, concern and disapproval.  To all of this, we hope and pray that the Bishops will bring the harmony of Kingdom of God to the sounds coming from that place.

How the people of Zimbabwe would relish having a place where the ‘liberty to growl’ is enshrined.

Spare a thought

23 June 2008

My contribution to BBC Radio Humberside’s Breakfast programme on Monday 23/06/08

The news from Zimbabwe that the Movement for Democratic Change has decided, in the face of mounting violence and intimidation across the country, not to contest the presidential election run-off, is a salutary reminder of Lord Acton’s observation, as far back as 1887, that ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  It is a desperate situation for the people of this country – a place so full of natural resources and potential, yet held in the vice like grip of a corrupt regime which presides over the economic chaos which gives rise to so much poverty and injustice.

The people of Zimbabwe join with those of Burma and Tibet in experiencing the political impotence which comes when those who have power have no real interest in the long-term flourishing of the individual, but are consumed with retaining power for themselves.

Of course on a Monday morning in Humberside all this seems a long way away and it is tempting to relegate the plight of the Zimbabweans to the background chatter of the news headlines.  There are other things more pressing on our time and demanding of our attention – yet one of the strengths of our age is that the plight and sufferings of others has an immediacy which draws us into their situation.

Freedom is a precious commodity, which I believe is God-given.  It gives us the dignity of making choices about how we shape our lives and our futures.  In a democracy we surrender something of that freedom every time we go and vote. Elections give us the opportunity to comment on the way in which our freedom is being used by the government and if we feel that they are wasting the opportunities we’ve given them, then we can remove them from power.

It has taken us a long time to reach the point where the democratic choice of each and every adult is part and parcel of our freedom and a sign of our dignity with in our community.

We quickly forget the struggles that we had in our own country for everyone – male and female to be able to vote.  Indeed it wasn’t until 1928, only some 80 years ago, that women in England got the same voting rights as men.  The struggles for the right to vote where about status — to be given the vote confirmed that a person mattered – they had status.

The way in which the people of Zimbabwe are being treated by their government just says that the people don’t matter – in the eyes of a corrupt regime the people have no status.  And as our week gets underway we may well feel that there is nothing we can do to change this situation – but there is – we can give them status by just pausing to think about them.  Those of faith can hold the Zimbabweans in their prayers and those who don’t have faith can still stop and give the people of is Zimbabwe a status by keeping them in their hearts and minds.

One might feel that this is a rather small and inconsequential response to the plight of a people so abused by the powerful — but deeds of darkness flourish when the world is preoccupied with its own busyness.  Robert Mugabe’s regime will fall, but its end will be hastened by a world which recognizes that people of that country, each of them, have a status which cannot be removed by the corruption of politicians and in the meantime we gave a small amount of our time each day to think of them because they may not matter to your Robert – but they do to us.