Weeks have flown by since I last got to blog though there has been no shortage of things to be opinionated about. And to prove it here are a few random thoughts:
Big Society: David Cameron continues to push the Big Society agenda which asks some pertinent questions about the nature, size and reach of the state on the one hand and the place of communities in responding to the needs around them. Yet the media portrayal lacks a coherent ideological basis for the proposals and specific examples which would enable the government to sell a vision of how things might be better if we embraced it. Meanwhile those charities whose operations are largely funded by Government grant are bewailing cuts in funding (though Guido Fawkes notes “A charity that relies in the main part on taxes is no more a charity than a prostitute is your girlfriend”). Personally I think that the government has got to show how this grand idea matches with what will happen on the ground locally. Even if the welfare state is to become a safety net not a security blanket it still needs to demonstrate how those who are most in need of support to maintain an active place in society are not to be excluded from this brave new world.
Deficit: Contrary to most media reporting public expenditure is still rising and cuts have yet to actually materialise, which is why Kenneth Clark is right to note the middle class haven’t grasped what’s coming. The previous government pushed the envelope of public spending for years before the wheels eventually came off; an inevitability hastened by the stinger of the global financial crisis and so we either need to adjust to lower public expenditure or higher taxes or a mixture of both. I don’t doubt we need to cut public spending but we need a better rationale for what spending to cut. Every politician argues for cutting waste but what about a debate over which areas of public spending we can or should live without rather than a sterile row about the speed of the cuts? For example it is lunacy that locally we have no money to run decent mental health services but have plenty to waste digging up the main roads and replacing it with fancy brick ‘shared space’ paving.
Egypt: The demonstrations of courage, conviction and desire for change have been remarkable. But some of the ‘western’ reaction is worth reflecting on; Baroness Ashton’s call for deep democracy is a case in point. Suggesting Egypt doesn’t have the depth of democratic institutions required for a good democratic government might be true as there are undoubtedly risks and challenges for the country, but the irony of an unelected official from one of the world’s larger bureaucracies lecturing another country should not be lost. Using the adjective deep was probably the clue!
Church: In the light of all this the challenge for the church is to offer a consistent Christian approach to issues of public policy; which recognises the variety of Christian views on many policy questions whilst acknowledging some approaches to be faithful to a Christian understanding of God, creation and society. Behind which lies the question of the degree to which the church should seek to be a transforming influence on society and what it means for us to be a faithful witness to the gospel.
On a lighter note I’ve been preaching through the early chapters of John’s gospel this term and am convinced that John would have made a great catholic charismatic.