Rigging the EU referendum. It wasn’t Dave.

I confess to a sense of bafflement by all these claims by the leave camp that Cameron has tried to “rig” the EU referendum.

Cameron had a choice whether to propose that 16 year olds could vote. This idea horrified the leavers, because all polls suggest that young people, if they vote, will vote to remain. Cameron gave way to their protests, despite the evidence of the Scottish referendum that this helped engage a generation in politics.

Cameron had a choice – though it probably seemed a theoretical one rather than a real one – to insist on collective cabinet responsibility, and invite the leavers to, well, leave. Even the remote possibility of this brought howls of protest from the leavers, and so appeared to render the choice to confer respectability on ministers who wanted out an inevitable one. It’s hard to see Tory turmoil and division would have been any less had he gone the other way, but now he has to live with the fact that lower tier ministers like Patel and Raab (whose occupation of office seems mainly to illustrate the shallowness of the talent pool) seem happily to abuse him, and any sense of cabinet collegiality.

Cameron had a choice to propose that as well as British citizens (except those who haven’t lived here for 15 years or more) those of other nationalities who live, work and pay taxes here, should have a right to vote. He might, if he remembered his political history, have heard of the slogan “no taxation without representation”. Sure this would increase those who want Britain to remain in the EU, the anti-EU brigade pressured him to the point where this was never really raised for debate.

Three big choices, all of which are likely to influence the referendum result, probably quite significantly. In each case, Cameron gave the ground to a leave campaign supported by big battalions at the Mail, Express, Telegraph, and Sun.

So yes, there are reasons to suspect that some rigging of this referendum went on in the way it was set up. And that Cameron’s main action was to let the leavers have their way in the hope of maintaining some semblance of party unity. It would be very strange if he didn’t now regret that optimistic pusillanimity in the face of his opponents’ vehement rhetoric laced as it is with personal bile.

The evidence, then, suggests that any rigging that was done was done in favour of those who want to leave. Not that evidence figures largely in the rhetoric of VoteLeave. But it is still there for those who want a measure of fact with their politics.

Why bother with #EU arguments when you can shout?

Earlier today I tweeted a link to an article by John Major in which he patiently explains the arguments for Remain, and points out how much the Leave campaign is engaged in lying, scaremongering and generally playing the man and not the ball.

Do read it, because clearly the people who responded to my tweet didn’t. I confess to being taken aback by the instantaneous and virulent response, which seemed to be occasioned more by the fact that it was John Major making the argument than by my tweet. My timeline busied itself with a relatively small group of people retweeting each other’s tweets, few of which were worth tweeting once.

I illustrate a couple with reference to what John Major said.

Those who challenge statements that are flimsy or demonstrably untrue are either personally disparaged, or accused of being part of a mythical ‘Establishment plot’

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So they personally disparage him and link him to an establishment plot.

Major pointed out the playing of the man (they do all seem to be men) and not the ball:

When Michael Heseltine voiced dismay over foolish and inflammatory references to Hitler, he was dismissed as being ‘from another era’, the clear implication being that, because of his age, his views don’t matter. On that basis, one can only assume that Vote Leave believes the arguments put forward by Michael’s contemporary, Nigel Lawson, don’t matter either.

What response occurred to this group of committed leavers? Yep, you guessed (and with added anti-Eton chippiness):

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But perhaps most baffling was the orthographically challenged personal attack on Major himself:

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Why, you might ask, did I find this particularly baffling? Well, because the cheerleader who kicked off this little storm of response describes herself, in a pithy but grammatically challenged sentence, as “I am a staunch Tory, and in particular of Boris Johnson” and “active in both Boris Johnson campaigns [for mayor]”. This is, of course, the Boris Johnson who is said to be:

“… inordinately proud of his Turkish ancestry and his views on matters such as monogamy are decidedly Eastern,” she writes. “‘I find it genuinely unreasonable that men should be confined to one woman,’ he has grumbled to me, and cannot understand the media’s reaction to his personal affairs”.

But even more so this is the Boris Johnson who, until a few weeks ago was a supporter of staying in the EU. For a fascinating and well-constructed illustration of that, take a look at this Boris vs Boris Great EU Debate.

All of this suggests to me that John Major is quite right that the Leave campaign is not that interested in reasoned argument. It is, I suspect, the fact that John Major is more trusted than most ex-politicians, and makes his interventions rarely, that has caused a particularly outraged and outrageous response to him. As he effectively prophesied,

The tactics of Vote Leave are clear: to ignore the arguments and abuse their critics.

But he really does make the case against Brexit very reasonably and patiently. So, please, go and read that article.

A prayer for Dementia Awareness week

dementiaDementia Awareness week begins on Sunday. Do take a look at the material on the Alzheimer’s Society site. (The picture above comes from them.)

If anyone’s still looking for resources, here’s a prayer you can use.

God of hope and resurrection,
you know us better than we know ourselves,
and draw us to peace and wholeness in your love.
We remember before you
those who are unable to remember their own lives.
Guard and treasure their lost memories for them,
and hold their past in your safe hands,
that when the death of the body comes,
you may bring them to the full life of the resurrection,
restore and heal the memories of their lives,
and give them back to themselves,
that we with them may rejoice in your love,
and find the fullness of life in your presence,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Really, what have vocations got to do with God?

This has now officially been announced as a mistake: (Christian) Vocation Advisers wanted 

It is a pretty astonishing mistake to make, for not only is the lack of a Christian commitment crystal clear in the advert, but also implicit in the role description and person specification. 

You might think that the clue is in the word “vocation”. It means a call, and in traditional church use, the identity of the primary caller was taken to be God. It was therefore a little strange already when the Archbishop’s Council announced a target of increasing ordinations by 50% by 2020 (PDF here). Who exactly is going to carry out God’s performance appraisal if he fails to meet this target?

Being charitable (and telling my inner outdated traditionalist to “shut up”), I assumed that this was primarily about developing new ways to help people (and especially younger people) see that God could be calling someone like them. This might be an invitation or challenge they would never hear unless it was presented in fresh ways, with some imaginative resourcing. It might also be the case that the church, in exercising discernment for what God was calling people to, needed to be less hidebound by traditional patterns of education, or inherited models of ministry. All of that might offer interesting and rewarding routes for exploration.

However, if the church really believes the vocation comes from God, setting targets for increases in vocations seem, shall we say, at least mildly presumptuous.

But perhaps the Church of England no longer believes vocations are from God. Perhaps it’s just a job in the church. For it has now advertised for a National Young Vocations Adviser. God is optional.

We are looking for someone who can create change by inspiring and supporting others in a wide network with a strong track record of delivery. Professional knowledge of Millennial Christianity and/or recruitment marketing would be an advantage. This role does not have an occupational requirement to be a Christian. (My emphasis)

You need knowledge of recruitment and marketing technique to encourage people to what has traditionally been presented as responding to God’s call. You have to persuade people to answer an invitation from someone you don’t have to believe is there to offer one. Who needs faith when you’ve got marketing technique?

In fact, if you look at the desirable characteristics of the role, the person will ideally have:

Knowledge of the characteristics of the Millennial generation, how they understand career-paths and/or faith (my emphasis again)

After that, I can only end in gobsmacked speechlessness.


An evening walk in Magdeburg with camera

A short pause this evening in a busy working schedule coincided with a lovely warm Spring evening. A couple of things I saw struck me.

The first was a piece of graffiti, which seemed well-fitted to multiple readings. The context is (or contexts are) that this is written on a fairly ugly concrete wall supporting a walkway. The walkway is around part of the old city wall of Magdeburg below the (Protestant) cathedral. And the site as a whole is in what was East Germany. Just the other side of the cathedral is a piece of the Berlin Wall which was given to Magdeburg in 2009 – marking the 20th anniversary of its being pulled down.

Sorry for the wall 1

Sorry for the wall 2

The second thing I found interesting were some statues beside the Elbe, on a strip of grass separating a busy dual carriageway from an almost equally busy footpath and cycle way. (There’s an awful lot of public art around the city, much of it fascinating.) The stillness of the statues in the busyness of the vehicular and foot traffic struck me as a contrast worth trying to capture in camera. So here’s an unconventional group of “still life” shots.

Still life 1

Still life 3 Still life 2