I love the 90’s Channel 4 sit-com Father Ted. The show is based around 3 hapless Catholic Priests exiled to a barren place called Craggy Island. In one episode the feared Bishop Len Brennan orders them to go to the local cinema to protest against a film that is being shown. As a result Father Ted and Father Dougal turn up with placards saying ‘Down with this sort of thing’ and ‘Careful now’ and chain themselves to the railings. The joke is that the protest leads to a huge increase in curious people turning up to see the film.
Whether it’s in the church or politics just opposing things isn’t very helpful.
It’s often said that been said that the British Parliament lends itself to adversarial politics with the parties facing each other across the chamber. It usually descends to the regular bear-pit of shouting and abuse we see at Prime Ministers questions. Once in a while, a new party leader will be elected pledging to avoid this with ‘a new kind of politics’ but soon enough we’ve back to Punch and Judy.
Most other governments sit in a horseshoe so that the emphasis is on debate not eyeballing the other side. Personally I’m all for turning Westminster into a museum and building a new fit for purpose Parliament somewhere central – maybe on an industrial estate near Kettering – but I imagine I’m in a minority there.
The point is, that more than ever, we are locked in the politics of opposition when we need to find something more grown up more urgently than ever. Whatever your political persuasion no-one can argue that Brexit is a car crash. The most astute comment I heard when the governments Brexit plan was resoundingly defeated was that Theresa May had united the country – against her plan. The problem is that there is no majority for any credible alternative. Unsurprisingly, we cannot find a clear and advantageous approach to Brexit because what was put forward at the referendum was not a coherent proposal but a nationalistic slogan.
Following the governments defeat, Theresa May offered to meet Jeremy Corbyn who refused to do so without his terms being met. We are in a national crisis and the leader of the opposition wouldn’t engage in a discussion about what to do. Following a typical dust up in Parliament, they met yesterday for 45 minutes of ‘cordial’ discussions – I’d love to be wrong but the journey so far doesn’t fill me with optimism about finding a new way forward in the national interest.
It is a common tactic of the opposition to sit back, oppose and watch the government implode so you can take your turn at the reigns. Ed Milband typified the ‘down with this sort of thing’ politics whilst doing very little to come up with any sort of meaningful alternative. He had no clear message for the electorate in 2015 and is best remembered for the tragicomedy of the ‘Edstone’. Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of doing the same, of sitting back and waiting for the government to collapse when we need him to put forward some meaningful solutions.
Brexit is so much bigger and more important than who the next government is. Politicians of all persuasions need to see beyond electioneering and focus on how we sort this mess out.
I’ve been interested in the past couple of days to read about government plans to address teacher shortages and the workload that is driving people, including my wife, out of the profession (1). I am encouraged that Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary is talking about this. I am even more encouraged that he is talking to the teaching unions and coming up with some practical suggestions, including reducing data collection and lesson planning resources. It suggests he has engaged with the reality of what is actually happening in schools.
To be clear, I think this governments cuts to education are a disgrace and the money in the budget for ‘little extras’ (2) was an insult when schools are cutting support staff and often functioning in ramshackle buildings. I am instinctively cynical when it comes to Tory politics but in this instance I think the initiative is worthy of a cautious welcome. Labour needs to do better than just use this as another platform to criticise.
It’s easy to criticise and oppose but it doesn’t get us very far. Too often the church has been known as a place of disapproval rather than one where everyone is welcomed and the offer of a new life is set out.
As we were reminded at my church on Sunday the Bible says that ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5)
Where we recognise that we don’t know it all, we realise our need for help, our need to listen and learn from others. When we do genuinely believe we have answers to offer, we need to offer them in dialogue rather than hurling them at the other side. There is nothing more futile in these times than protestors trying to shout the loudest and social media echo chambers.
If we truly love this country we need to recognise our shared ownership of it and find some common ground.