“It’s the economy stupid!”

 This phrase started life in 1992 in Bill Clinton’s election operations room as an internal memo, when he was running against George Bush (snr).  At yesterday’s hustings in Wimbledon, (Cannon Hill ward is in the Wimbledon constituency) we simply did not face the significance of the economic storm that still faces Britain, let alone the rest of the world.  The national TV debate between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg did focus more on the subject, but there was no real answer to the huge problem Britain faces with a debt of one and a half trillion pounds, give or take a few billion. The National Institute of Economic & Social Research forecasts an income tax rise of 6p in the £.

There is no doubt at all that by far the main concern of the new Merton council will be how to manage deep cuts in expenditure, let alone the inevitable rise in council tax that will also be needed.  Whatever the outcome of the General Election on May 6th, in our Borough we are in for very stormy economic weather.

Mrs Duffy and Mr Brown

Mrs Duffy had only slipped out to buy a loaf of bread, but met the Prime Minister out on the election trail in her home town of Rochdale. She expressed her views on immigration, and they parted company amicably. Mr Brown got into his car, and in what he naturally assumed was a private remark to an aide, described Mrs Duffy unguardedly as ‘a bigoted woman’. But he was still being recorded from a microphone clipped to his jacket, and the course of the 2010 British General Election was possibly changed.

Leaving to one side the immigration issue, I have a major concern that the place for privacy in life is getting ever smaller.  Jesus teaches us that our very thoughts will one day be judged by God, and yes, Mr Brown was wrong to even think what he said. But are we not now to be allowed a little space for sorting out our thoughts before expressing them publically? Parents allow children such a space, gently guiding them into socially acceptable attitudes – well, they used to, although school-teachers complain that increasingly that job is left to them. As adults, in a private conversation with someone we trust, most of us when tired and exasperated, used to be able to ‘let our hair down’, hopefully being open to correction. 

Martin Luther once said: “you can’t stop birds flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair” to describe how a wrong thought can come out of nowhere, but a God-fearing person should dismiss it, and not dwell on it. Sometimes we need the help of others, in private, to sort out our thoughts. It would be good to think that Mr Brown’s private remark about Mrs Duffy would simply have been corrected by a friend, and he could have then thought as positively of her, as she of him – before a reporter caught up with her and told her she had been called a bigot. 

The world of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is increasingly with us. ‘Big brother’ is a media out of control, and while some CCTV cameras give limited security, to have our every move recorded on camera, and even our spoken, unguarded thoughts recorded and played back to the world, makes us a very sad country. Of course, a free press is an important element of the ‘free speech’ that defines our Britishness, but I despair of the situation where, usually for money , others are happy to sell our privacy, and persuade themselves they act ‘in the public interest’ for doing so. 

A politician should know better? I hope that standing for my local council does not expose me to more scrutiny than as a clergyman!  I had better get on with my parish magazine, this weblog comment should fill a column…

Tax rises and public spending cuts:

In my election leaflet, I said that the main concern of the next council will be how to manage a shrinking budget – thanks to the world recession, triggered by American (among others) bankers’ greed. Realistically, it is going to be a fast shrink. Redundancy notices have just been handed out to the two part-time workers for Friends in St Helier – FISH, as their small council grant was cut last year, and alternative funding could not be found. FISH runs three lunch clubs a week for the elderly with the all-important social interaction offered, and with transport to and from the clubs, also a summer holiday. It is a marvelous example of care in the community, and has to be among the most cost-effective, value for money agencies supported with our council tax.

I can only say if elected, I would do all in my power to ensure such groups continue to be supported. I would look first to experienced Independents already on the council, for advice as to where savings can best be made; holding the balance of power in this last council term, they prevented some excess.

Morden Primary school, St George’s day

I began asking the children what they knew about St George’s Day, I was impressed that one girl knew he was a Palestinian Christian martyr.  I then asked: “What is the one of most important things about England?”  This time, unsurprisingly, no-one volunteered: “our freedom to live in a democracy” so I had to tell them!  Oliver Cromwell got a mention, being in my mind after I had put his picture on this weblog.

Last night was open youth-club night, after a two week break; numbers usually tail off in the summer with the light evenings.  We offer football and basketball in our small church hall, table tennis and pool, tuck-shop, just a place for youngsters to chill out in a safe environment with friends.  The club is run by volunteers from St Lawrence – mainly grandparents, with one or two ex-members.  I like to think that the lack of vandalism in our immediate area is because youngsters in the area respect our care for them.

 Today I must complete my local election leaflet delivering!

Two weeks to go

Two weeks time and it will be all over, bar the counting. The General Election result may be clear, then again we may be into a hung parliament situation. Merton Council election count should be announced, and the Cannon Hill Ward result, by the end of the day.  Last night was the second Party Leaders ‘head to head’ on television, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, I envied their ability to think and speak so quickly. Fortunately Merton Council should not demand such a high skill.

Delivering my election leaflet has been an interesting experience, nearly all households should be covered by tomorrow evening. Met a few people: an American lady who took the trouble on her way to work to stop and check out Caleb the dog’s phone number, I had left him at the bottom of a staircase up to some flats (Caleb is always desperate for exercise, and enjoys sniffing gate-posts, so accompanies me delivering to the quieter roads). I met one of my ‘opponents’ – Miles Windsor, won’t mind working with him if it comes to it. A few people who said they would vote for me. With the General Election, it will be interesting to see if disillusionment with Labour and Tory parties gives more votes to Lib Dems, and even Independents. One or two were genuinely concerned about how I will manage, if elected, to be an effective councillor alongside my day job. I tried to explain that part of my ‘charge’ is to care for the whole community, not just my congregations.

Why Oliver Cromwell posing with me?  The Grade 1 listed church of St Lawrence, Morden was rebuilt by Puritan parishioners, for whom our parliamentary processes were very important, founded on the Biblical understanding of the equality of humankind under God.