Thursday, December 20, 2007

Please help Mahmoud Salehi

Jailed Iranian Trade Unionist and human rights campaign, Mahmoud Salehi, whom Amnesty International believes is a prisoner of conscience, has long-term medical concerns. A request by his doctor in May 2007 that he be accorded specialist treatment outside the prison has been ignored.

He suffers from chronic kidney disease, for which he requires dialysis. He is also said to suffer from a heart disorder. This month it was reported that Salehi has grave intestinal edema or swelling that may be connected with his renal disease.

"Our father has committed no "crime" other than defending the rights of the working class and struggling for creation of free worker's organizations! We urge you all to fight vigorously and wholeheartedly for his freedom from prison." Samarand Salehi, Mahmoud's son

Please join the campaign for compassion and humane treatment for Mahmoud Salehi by visiting:

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Nick Clegg on Darfur

An impressive and politically sophisticated speech on Darfur from Nick Clegg this week which I commend to you.

The story we have heard today – and the stories we hear thanks to the work of the Aegis Trust and other campaigners, show how badly the government has got its asylum system wrong.

The situation for Darfuri asylum seekers

Almost all displaced Darfuris remain in camps inside Sudan. Less than 1 in 1000 have made it to the UK. You would think, therefore, that the government would have shown some compassion in dealing with this small number of people.
But now, between 300-600 have failed to be granted asylum and could be in danger of removal thanks to the decision by the House of Lords to lift the deportation ban.
The Home Office is flying in the face of recommendations from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees which states that ‘no non-Arab Sudanese originating from Darfur should be forcibly returned until there is a significant improvement in the security situation in Darfur’.
They seem determined to exploit every last legal loophole to deport people from Britain.

The government’s incompetence

The government’s attitude towards Darfuri asylum seekers is representative of the way they have got the whole asylum system wrong.
Their moral compass is broken.
While nine out of ten asylum applications are initially refused, 20 per cent of cases that go to appeal are successful. For some countries, the rate of successful appeals is over 40%. This indicates a very high error rate in initial decisions and poor levels of training of caseworkers and interview staff. It also implies political pressure on caseworkers to refuse applications which amounts to what refugee support organisations have called a ‘culture of rejection’.

The government’s lack of moral compass
The issue is not, as Tony Blair shamelessly sought to suggest for the past 10 years, whether a government is "tough" enough on asylum-seekers. They’ve made it about being tough simply because they’re incompetent.
They recently added a host of new countries to the so-called "white list", where asylum applications are assumed to be, in the technical jargon, "clearly unfounded", and rejected applicants must return to the country they fled before they can appeal. That list of "safe" countries now includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mauritius, Montenegro, Peru and Serbia, plus Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone for men applicants.
They make repeated efforts to deport people to Iraq, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo and more.

Many of those who cannot be removed because of these court decisions, but have been refused asylum, are left in a legal limbo and condemned to a life on the streets. Government policy is literally to starve them out of the country.
The UK has refused to admit any of the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria, and has turned down thousands of applications from those few Kurds who have made it to Britain.
And we must adopt a wholly different attitude to those fleeing Darfur. It's not enough for Gordon Brown to claim to care about Darfuris on our TV screens, thousands of miles away, when there are Darfuris in this country now, in need of our help.

What must change
We need a fair, effective and compassionate approach to asylum. Every case should be decided on its individual merits. We should find ways to accommodate some of the refugees we have helped to displace in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we should be flexible about halting temporarily deportations to countries that are manifestly dangerous, instead of exploiting every last legal loophole to remove people. We should reintroduce a “blacklist” of countries to which we do not deport people.

We would take responsibility for asylum away from the Home Office and give it to an independent agency, guaranteeing decision making which is free from political considerations. The UNHCR would be heavily involved. The independent Canadian asylum agency has only 1% of decisions overturned at appeal. As well as fast-tracking manifestly unfounded claims, we would also adopt the Canadian model and fast-track claims which are clearly well-founded (e.g. known human rights activists fleeing oppressive regimes).
We must work with the EU to develop safe routes. Even the United States accepts refugees from around the world, in numbers decided by Congress every year, for resettlement. Applications can be made in US embassies anywhere, and the government works with NGOs to identify groups who are in particular need of assistance. Targeted programmes to identify and assist refugees in this way could reduce the numbers in the hands of people-traffickers, reduce the burden on developing countries in caring for refugees, and mobilise the British public in support of refugees as was the case of those evacuated from Kosovo.

How students are vital to take the battle on
And we must campaign, together, to highlight the serious problems in Darfur. The stories of people like we have heard today will help us to win the argument.

Students have been front and centre of the campaign for Darfur – the campaign for action in Sudan, and for compassion here at home.
In the US, organisations like STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) and Save Darfur forced the issue into the forefront of the last year's US midterms.
Here in the UK, groups like Aegis Students and students from Amnesty International have mobilised to bring the issue onto our political agenda – and the Liberal Democrat Youth and Student movement has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with you.
It’s no surprise to me that students have played such a role. Every major liberal and progressive movement around the world for the past half century has been led by young people and students.
From campaigns to end segregation in the American South, to the struggle for gay rights and women's rights, from the heroism of the students who demonstrated in Tiananmen Square to those who marched against the Iraq War in 2003.

There is something in the nature of young people that rejects prejudice and unfairness, and has the sheer audacity to challenge the status quo – an innate humanitarianism, a commitment to liberal values by instinct.
I want to make sure my party lives up to young people's expectations of us – to be the driving force for humanitarianism in politics.
By organising further amongst students and young people, articulating our values of humanitarianism, optimism and hope in everything we do, we can convert the liberal and progressive values of Britain's young people into support for the Liberal Democrats – and give your generation the political leadership you deserve.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Some people argue that politics and religion should not be mixed. In reality the two can never be separated.

In Burma, it is Buddist monks and nuns who are leading the series of peaceful demonstrations demanding recognition of human rights and democratic reform. It is impossible for the watching world not to be humbled by their integrity, courage and dignity, their flowing coloured robes in contrast to the drab military garb around them. As they march they sing, meditate and pray; their alms bowls turned upside down, a symbol of a boycott of alms from the military regime and its supporters. In refusing offerings from those they brand "pitiless soldier kings", they are excommunicating them - an act only undertaken in the most compelling moral circumstances. Undeterred by the beatings and threats, they signal that they are prepared to spill blood or die for the cause of democracy and human rights and the end of abject poverty, censorship and injustice. Respected with “special status” the military junta has previously hesitated to crack down on the monks. That is beginning to change in a drastic and dangerous way.

Even though the brutal authoritarian regime has responded with terrifying and indiscriminate violence, arrests and brutal torture, hundreds of thousands of students and other ordinary people have been emboldened to join monks and nuns in their protests, also taking to the streets in defiance of the regime and its’ threats. The momentum gaining day-by-day. They need and deserve international support, not only in word, but also practical and co-ordinated action.

It is time for action from the international community. The EU’s current “Common Position” calling for democratic change must be strengthened and backed-up by political, economic and diplomatic action against the regime if no progress is forthcoming. The UN must do likewise, continuing their demands for the immediate release of democracy movement leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (whose landslide election victory led her not to power but to house arrest) and other political prisoners, making the case for change.

The stakes are high but it is a privilege to stand in solidarity and compassion with the nuns and monks who are not just supporters of this great progressive movement for change but are that movement. No amount of brutality and intimidation can distinguish their righteousness and determination that one day their people will be free.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stop the execution of child offender Sina Paymard in Iran

Iran: Stop the execution of child offender Sina Paymard

Amnesty International has just heard of the imminent execution of Sina Paymard, who was sentenced to death in Iran for a crime committed when he was just 16 years old. Sina may be executed within the next few hours.

According to reports, he has been moved from Reja'i Shahr prison in Karaj, to Tehran's Evin prison, for his execution to be carried out.


Sina Paymard, a musician, was due to be executed in September last year for murder. On the gallows, Sina's last request was to play the ney (a Middle Eastern flute) just one more time. The family of the victim were so moved by his playing that they granted him a last minute reprieve. They asked for 150 million toumans (over $US 160,000) as compensation instead. Sina's family have been unable to raise the full amount.

Iran continues to have one of the highest rates of executions in the world. Amnesty International has recorded at least 124 executions since the beginning of 2007, suggesting that by the end of this year the total number of executions could exceed the total of 177 executions that Amnesty International recorded in 2006.

Two recent victims of the Iranian authorities' use of the death penalty were child offenders, whose alleged crimes were committed before the age of 18, and a third was a man who was stoned to death. The two child offenders - Mohammad Mousavi and Sa'id Qanbar Zahi - were executed in April and May respectively, in direct contravention of international law, which requires that no-one should be executed for crimes committed while under the age of 18.

Amnesty International has just heard of the imminent execution of Sina Paymard, who was sentenced to death in Iran for a crime committed when he was just 16 years old. Sina may be executed within the next few hours.

According to reports, he has been moved from Reja'i Shahr prison in Karaj, to Tehran's Evin prison, for his execution to be carried out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Please pray for release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston

For Alan Johnston

We pray our Father for Alan Johnston whose freedom has been taken away from him and now suffers abduction for the sake of his good and peaceable conscience.

We pray for Alan and all whose vision of your world is seen in captivity, and in whose heart the lamp of hope burns low.

God of mercy, give Alan help, according to his need,

And bring him home in safety we pray.

Hear our prayer for Jesus Christ’s sake


O God our father, whose son forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death; strengthen those who suffer for the sake of a good and peaceable conscience.

When they are accused, save them from speaking in haste;

when they are rejected, save them from bitterness;

when they are imprisoned, save them from despair;

and to us your servants give grace to respect their witness

and to discern the truth;

For the sake of Jesus Christ, our merciful and righteous judge


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Social Responsibility Matters

Social Responsibility-one of Dave Cameron’s latest buzz-phrases, one that can mean very different things to different people and groups. Another cynical attempt to invade liberal (and Liberal) space or a renewed commitment to transform society for good? It also sums up my ministry relating to social and community concerns in the Anglican Diocese of Norwich.

What follows is an extract from the first in a series of occasional articles originally written for the July issue of Across the See- the monthly publication of the Diocese, focusing on aspects of the mission of the Church in this Diocese and beyond in relation to social and community concerns. But I ask anyone reading this or exploring these issues to share with me how you see the definitions and scope of social responsibility in its widest and narrowest senses. Dialogue is vital as is the development of broadbased alliances and the emergence of a grass roots up narrative, identifying problems and suggesting sustainable solutions
I want to start by introducing myself as the (part-time) co-ordinator of the Diocese of Norwich’s newly established Forum for Social and Community Concerns. Having previously studied for a degree in politics at Portsmouth Polytechnic and worked in politics for several years, I trained for ordained ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham before serving in the Barnham Broom/Upper Yare group and at Hellesdon, before moving to Foulsham last autumn where my wife, Veronica is Rector of a multi-parish rural benefice. I have always felt God calling me towards this area of ministry and this was confirmed whilst studying for a post-graduate diploma in Pastoral Theology which equipped me to be a reflective practitioner. I am also Chaplain to Norfolk Constabulary and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service.

The Diocesan Forum for Social and Community Concerns aims to facilitate a wide network of projects, groups, churches and individual activists and contemplators working on relevant issues of concern to world, church and community. The Forum should be seen to be a focus for prophetic oversight and contact, disseminating information and resources and receiving feedback from existing work, as well identifying need, exploring the bigger picture and seeking to make a difference through activity, dialogue, theological reflection, prayer, encouragement and resource allocation. There is lots of good work going on already-we have no intention of reinventing any wheels!

The Forum is chaired by the Bishop of Lynn, Rt Revd James Langstaff. We work ecumenically, regionally and in partnership with others, current areas of interest touch upon the following: criminal justice; emergency incident planning; environmental issues; family issues; healthcare issues; housing; migrant workers and trafficking; regional issues including Public and voluntary sector liaison; rural issues; trade justice and global development; urban issues; wholeness, healing and reconciliation; workplace ministry; World Church issues; poverty and deprivation; bioethical issues; and social inclusion. A database is currently under construction, a diary of events will be kept current and a website is being investigated.

The important thing is to encourage everyone to play their part. As an African proverb reminds us:
“If many little people, in many little places, do many little deeds, they can change the face of the earth.”

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Christian Aid, Cafod, Church Action on Poverty and the Church Council for Monetary Justice have urged Chancellor Gordon Brown to close the legal loopholes used by Britain’s super-rich to avoid tax. The statements, which are believed to have the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, were made against the backdrop of an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Britain is on the IMF’s list of tax havens, with the country’s super-rich having trebled their wealth since New Labour came to power. ‘As finance ministers fret over reaching aid commitments they made at Gleneagles, they should also be focusing on how they have allowed millions of dollars to pour through tax havens,‘ said George Gelber of Catholic aid agency Cafod.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

For God's Sake-use your vote

The Archbishop of York-Dr John Semtanu-has placed the following advert in the York press. Couldn't put it better myself!

For God’s Sake York, Use Your Vote!

This Thursday is election day. Please use your vote.
By not voting you run the risk of short changing our city.
Democracy costs. I am paying for this advert as a symbol of the cost paid by all those who gave so much so that you might be able to use your vote.

Not voting creates a political vacuum, leaving the way open to unrepresentative politicians and parties to get their way. There are those seeking your vote whose actions betray the lives of those who fought for freedom.

Jesus warned us to be wary of wolves who come in sheep’s clothing.
They come with honeycombed words, promising a New England, and a land of milk and honey. In reality they offer us a diet of bile and discord, a desert of hopelessness and policies which stoke the ashes of Clifford’s Tower.

If Apathy becomes the real winner on Thursday night, then those who seek to divide us will be elected, hiding under Apathy’s skirt. My hope is that as you cast your vote on Thursday you do so with your eyes wide open so that our city does not sleepwalk into a wall of hate.

As the Philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote: “For Evil to triumph, it is necessary only that good people do nothing.”
Do something this Thursday. Use your vote. Be the change in the world you want to see.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Easter

After a week of campaigning in rural norfolk, yesterday was of course Easter Sunday- my sermon follows (as preached at All Saints, Wood Norton). Happy Easter.

Today, we celebrate an event which has shaped and motivated over 2000 years of Christian discipleship and church history and provides the context for life and ministry of all of us-clergy or laity, church leader or community activist, freedom fighter or contemplative mystic.

Yet somehow Easter Sunday can sometimes seem an anti-climax after the solemnity and ceremony of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and its culmination at the foot of the Good Friday cross. There is a danger that amongst the increasing commercialism, cheap chocolate in glitzy packaging, short-term consumerism at a time when our planet is facing unthinkable chaos, Easter bunnies and spring flowers, lots of great sport (though Norwich City winning away is unusual) and local election campaigning, the Easter Sunday message can be overlooked and this becomes just another bank holiday weekend-though maybe one with better weather than normal-so far at least! None of these things are wrong of course, and any time that communities and families come together is all good.

For Christians though there is so much more to it than all that.

Our reading from Luke’s Gospel reminds us that though the resurrection was an earth shattering event with cosmic ramifications, it was played out in a low-key intimate way-a word here, a gesture there and a gradual awareness that something new was being born. As Jesus’ friends stumble on the empty tomb and begin to understand, how their hearts must have burned as these encounters found expression in the words they never expected to proclaim: “He is Risen”

This was no “in your face”, triumphal public statement of victory; no revengeful justification of “I told you so”; Indeed caught up in the Passover holiday hustle and bustle, it could have been missed. Jesus’ rising was a sign to those who loved him, followed him and came to him that God’s divine love is stronger than evil, oppression and even death itself. His mission had been fulfilled, his followers given the sacred task of calling all people into the new life within him- to spread the message in thought, word and deed.

The best thing about the Easter resurrection is that this was not just a happy ending, but a startling new beginning. For those who saw him, the risen Jesus was no resuscitated corpse or someone cheating death and somehow staggering uncertainly on. They had the puzzled air of people saying, “I know this sounds wacky, but this is truly how it was.” They were seeing then describing the birth of new creation, starting with Jesus but intended for the whole world. Nothing would ever be the same again.

If Easter is all about the surprise of new creation, there is every reason to suppose that it will ripple out into the ways we would never imagine. Gangsters and drug dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God’s love while supposed pillars of society mutter nervously and warn against extremism. Yet what can be more extreme than God raising Jesus from the dead after the world has done its worst to him? Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into our local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? Just think how we could be transformed, ourselves, our church and our community?

We live in a world torn by war, famine, poverty, injustice, environmental disaster and disease. We all seek answers but fail to find them in globalisation, conflict, technology or hedonism. Postmodernism, by its nature, just reveals more questions.

But Easter Sunday Christians know the answer-if encountering the Risen Jesus does not inspire us into prayer and action, nothing will. Some will mock and sneer, even churches sometimes don’t know what to do with it but it is good news that can change the world.

Lets enjoy Easter, but lets not get distracted. Read the story, talk the talk, walk the walk. Pray the pray. Above all Celebrate. Jesus is Risen. Happy Easter.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Time to stop trading in torture

It is time for action. Time for the DTI to close loopholes in our export controls that allow companies to trade in equipment that can be used for torture to be closed. Items involved include wall handcuffs, spiked batons known as ‘sting sticks’ and interrogation equipment such as specially designed foot heaters, which can heat to 200 degrees Celsius. The current list of banned (or controlled) items does not cover these items and using such a 'list' system will not prevent these and other new or dual use items from being used to facilitate acts of torture.

Good work has been done by the UK Government to outlaw the trade in such goods, both through our own export controls, but also more widely within the EU but it is now time to close this loophole and ensure that during the review of the Export Control Act later this year, that the government amends its legislation and develops a 'catch all clause' to prevent torture equipment ending up with potential abusers. Such a provision already exists for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This means that the supply of any goods for use in WMD programmes are prohibited, irrespective of whether they are named on a specific control list, but where there are reasonable suspicions that they may be used in the development of these weapons.

Please join me, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations in urging the government to introduce a "catch-all" clause to control the export of all types of 'torture equipment' and to encourage other European countries to do likewise.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


“Many forms of slavery persist; including forced and bonded labour, child labour and slavery for ritual or religious purposes. The world is also now wrestling with a new form of slavery-trafficking in human beings, in which many vulnerable people are virtually abandoned by legal and social systems into a sordid realm of exploitation and abuse.” (Kofi Annan Dec 2005).

March 2007 will see a world-wide network of events using the bicentary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade to raise awareness of the plight of the growing number of people trafficked in the world today-for labour or sex.

Locally, there will be a series of meetings and events, stalls and stunts including symbolic balloon and dove releases and a high profile ecumenical service on March 21st at 7.30pm at St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich. As well as prayer and reflection, musical and multimedia presentations, there will be a range of speakers including Rev Dr Carrie Pemberton from CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking Across Europe) and a representative from Norfolk Police for an overview of the current situation locally. Also involved are (amongst others) Norwich Youth for Christ, YMCA, Christian Aid, the Magdalene Project and Salvation Army. Please join us and get involved in our call for action.

For further information about local events, contact Rev Simon Wilson (Diocesan Social and Community Concerns Co-ordinator) on 01362 683275 or email

To add your voice to the international campaigns on these issues, visit: or

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Make Roads Safe

Every minute of every day a child is killed or maimed on the roads. The international community has ignored this growing epidemic. But now we have the chance to secure change.

In November, the United Nations General Assembly in New York will debate the global road safety crisis. We need your help to make sure the UN passes a strong Resolution in support of action to tackle road deaths and injuries across the world.

We need you to tell everyone you know – friends, family, colleagues – about this campaign and urge them to sign the petition, and to tell everyone they know to sign too. So please forward this e-mail and help to make a difference.

Visit to see more ways to support the campaign.

Support UN Global Road Safety Week – 23-29 April 2007.

Please support this worthwhile and relevant initiative.

I was disabled by a car crash and work with those bereaved or injured in crashes on the roads of East Anglia. It is a tragedy not least because so many are preventable. Gun crime and acts of terrorism may get the headlines but many more people are killed or injured on the roads.
Why do we accept it?

Monday, February 05, 2007

funding church buildings

The funding of building repairs is a growing burden and one which is pushing many parish budgets to breaking point and some people feel that the government should be contributing to a much greater extent to supporting what is essentially a community asset. Thanks to the initiative of Mr Bill Blake, a parishioner in Bristol diocese, an on-line petition is now available on the Downing Street website, encouraging the Government to provide more financial help for repair of C of E church buildings. The problem of funding repairs to church buildings goes much wider than the C of E alone, and this valuable local initiative is generally in line with the motion passed at last February's General Synod calling for greater government support, and with discussions currently taking place with Government Departments.

The petition reads:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to arrange for the cost of repairs to C of E church buildings to be reimbursed to help preserve our archaeological & historic heritage for the future.
"Churches are a valuable part of our heritage and a major tourist attraction, yet the funding of repairs is left to the parish in which the building is situated. Thus the cost of maintaining a national asset is left to the minority. This is grossly unfair and should be rectified."

Anyone wishing to sign up simply has to go to:

As you may have read in the press regarding road taxes these petitions do have the capacity to highlight an issue and now this has been set up it would be good to ensure the government is aware that this is a real problem faced by virtually all parishes.

Mordechai Vanunu

For many years, I have been campaigning for the freedom of Mordechai Vanunu, the scientist harassed and imprisoned by Israel after his public voicing of fears regarding the state's secret nuclear weapon programme.

Though released from prison in recent years, Mordechai is still not free. He is barred from travelling, from even being close to any border of Israel, and from meeting foreign journalists. He is regularly arrested for breaching these restrictions - for instance he attempted to go to church in Bethlehem, and he also chats to any foreign guest who he meets at churches and bars in East Jerusalem! He has the most amazing spirit and courage.

The nuclear issue is at the heart of why he was kidnapped and imprisoned in the first place. (His belief is that his Christian faith is at the heart of why he was treated so badly during that time). Anything he revealed is very old news indeed, and gradually it is becoming more acknowledged that Israel does have the nuclear capability that he took the very big personal risk to reveal.

Please continue to pray and campaign for Mordechai.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Email German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Join Oxfam's campaign for trade justice.
Visit to send a message to Angela Merkel

Right now, the European Union (EU) is putting pressure on 75 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific to accept trade agreements that are unfair.

The EU's current proposals for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) will threaten livelihoods and hopes of millions of workers in some of the world's poorest countries.

The negotiations are at a critical stage and now is the time to tell the EU that these trade agreements must focus on poverty reduction and so pressure is urgently needed to change the position of EU Member States.

Send a message now to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who will be meeting other EU leaders during Germany's EU Presidency, which has just started. Tell her to listen to the concerns of poor nations and to use her enormous influence to make sure that EU trade policy is based on fair rules which help to lift people out of poverty.

party animals

Am I alone in being disappointed yet slightly relieved at the biased underrepresentation of Liberal Democrats in last night's first edition of the new and promising BBC2 drama series?!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Dealing with the BNP

The February 2007 issue of SEARCHLIGHT magazine- the consistently impressive and helpful journal which highlights and campaigns against manifestations of fascism and racism across the world, carries an interesting item in its editorial column.

Headed "a dangerous precedent", it criticises 2 unnamed Liberal Democrat councillors in Burnley for voting for a BNP councillor (Sharon Wilkinson)rather than a Labour councillor to sit on the Padiham Life committee. Apparently they defended their decision by claiming she was a good councillor and the best person for the job. Searchlight rightly see this as a "dangerous and worrying development" and go on to warn (correctly in my view) that "the BNP craves respectability and it has been handed to the fascists on a plate".

I do not know the full details of this case but it does raise a challenging question about how we as Liberal Democrats deal with BNP councillors who may have been democratically elected but hold dangerous views. I would be interested to know what others think about this.

Top Gear insult to Crash Victims

Like many people, including road safety charity Break, I was shocked and appalled by the BBC’s airing of comments made by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson on last night’s (Sunday) episode of Top Gear. Following the clips of Richard Hammond crashing a vehicle at high speed, Clarkson said, ‘speed kills’ pointing to Hammond (who survived the crash).

Clarkson’s comment was not only highly irresponsible but downright offensive to anyone who has been bereaved or injured at the hands of a speeding driver. Exceeding the speed limit or going too fast for the conditions is a well proven contributory factor in almost a third (29%) of fatal crashes in Great Britain (Road Casualties Great Britain, 2005, Contributory Factors to Road).

Richard Hammond’s crash was carried out under test conditions at an airfield. Richard Hammond was driving a purpose-built off-road vehicle with specially-designed safety features and Richard himself was wearing protective clothing and a crash helmet.He was extremely fortunate to have made a full recovery – many people injured in crashes are not so lucky.

I work with many bereaved or injured in crashes and see a shockingly disproportionate number of young male drivers dying on our roads. It is highly irresponsible for the BBC to allow Top Gear, with its target audience of young males, to openly make light the deadly act of speeding.

Brake will be compiling evidence of irresponsible dialogue and footage from Top Gear to present to the newly-formed BBC Trust which represents the interest of the licence fee-paying public. I fully support them in this.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day-a day to look backwards with regret and forwards with hope. This year's theme is the dignity of difference and how that slogan can become a reality across the world.
I have been proud to have been involved in Holocaust Memorial Day for several years now and tonight am leading an event in Stibbard (6.30pm at the Methodist Church), a small rural community in Norfolk. We have been encouraged by the local interest and hope that community and political leaders will be supportive too.
So why is Holocaust Memorial Day important? What are the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s objectives?
•To commemorate and remember the victims of the Holocaust;
the persecution and mass murder of six million Jews.
• To commemorate and remember the victims of persecution and
murder that resulted from the targeting of other groups of
people by Nazi race policies. These include the Roma and Sinti,
black people, mentally and physically disabled people, lesbian
and gay people and many of the Slavic peoples;
• To promote harmony between communities, including racial and
religious harmony;
• To promote universal human rights;
• To promote equality and diversity and the elimination of
discrimination by raising awareness of the causes and effects of
racism and prejudice in society. This includes awareness of the
impact of the Holocaust and other acts of systematic
discrimination that leads to genocide.
Please support it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New leader for Lib Dem European Parliamentary Party

The British Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have elected East of England MEP Andrew Duff as their new Leader. He takes over from Diana Wallis who has been elected as a Vice-President of the European Parliament.
Speaking after his election, Andrew said: "I am grateful to my Liberal Democrat colleagues for electing me to lead the delegation into the second half of this Parliament. The individual talents of Lib Dem MEPs are well known. They are a fantastic team to work with, and we will continue to achieve much across a wide front within the ALDE Group and the Parliament at large.
"My main goal is to get as many Lib Dem MEPs as possible elected in June 2009. The Liberal Democrats are uniquely well placed to put the European dimension back into British politics. Labour has lost its way on Europe, and the Tories are making an historic mistake by turning their backs on Europe.
"Under Ming Campbell, the Liberal Democrats make the connection between Britain's membership of the EU and its ability to tackle reform at home. Europe provides the context for many of Lib Dem policies such as green taxes, civil liberties, constitutional reform, and new foreign policy orientations."
Andrew Duff has been Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the East of England since 1999. He is the author or editor of many books on European integration, most recently The Struggle for Europe's Constitution, published in 2005. Andrew was a City Councillor in Cambridge from 1982-90.

Together we can cut crime

On the doorsteps, across the breakfast tables and at the local pub crime in general, and antisocial behaviour, in particular remains one of the biggest issues in Britain today.
As a member of the crime policy working group, I know that much thought, consultation and contemplation have gone into this process and the resulting policy paper is soundly liberal and democratic.

We propose real action at a national level and acting to cut crime where we are in power locally.
Violent crime is rising, anti-social behaviour is still a serious problem, and our prisons are overflowing. Labour have talked tough but have failed to deliver despite 10 years in power.
The Tories are in disarray on crime. One day it's hug a hoodie; the next it's slap a hoodie. Who knows what the Tories stand for now? What we do know is that the last Tory government cut police numbers and let violent crime double.

Enough is enough. Tough talk doesn't tackle crime - we've learnt that from the last twenty years of Labour and Conservative failure. This campaign is about taking effective action to make our country safer.

We need more police, freed from the burden of bureaucracy, to take back our town centres, especially after dark. Instead of spending billions of pounds on compulsory ID cards for innocent, law-abiding citizens, that money should be spent on targeting criminals and tackling crime.
We need a prison system that works. Prisoners should work to pay compensation to their victims, and to cut reoffending. A life sentence should mean life.
We are serious about cutting crime. Together we can do it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

After Celebrity Big Brother?

As the dust begins to settle on last week's shameful events in the celebrity big brother house, and Jade begins to pay the price for her appalling bullying and racist treatment of Shilpa, what lessons cane be learnt:
  1. That we are all accountable for our words and actions.
  2. That bigotry is alive and well and needs to be challenged however and wherever it manifests itself whether it be in the spheres of entertainment, politics, sport, religion or family and community relationships. It is something that should be taught about in schools and families.
  3. However false, clumsy or coerced, there was an attempt at reconciliation. Part of the problem is that Jade herself is so ignorant that she did not even realise how racist she was being.
  4. The dignity of Shilpa coping with dreadful treatment in an environment way beyond her comfort zone.
  5. Finally though, what about the other housemates? Why did they not step in and say something? All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good people to do nothing.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Australian open

Tennis was an early love in my life so, I am counting down the hours to the start of the Australian Open in Melbourne, the first grand slam event of the tennis season.

Can anyone beat Federer?
Will Murray live up to (or outperform) his seeding? How many times will the UK media refer to him "British" when he wins but "Scottish" when he loses? How will his brother Jamie do in the doubles (as UK number 1 player)?
Will Mauresmo defend her title successfully?
Can Clijsters win in her last season?
How many players will withdraw before or retire during matches this year blaming the heat or poor preparation?
Have the Australians found the potential home champion they are desperate for ("c'mon Lleyton!") ?

So many questions....Bring it on!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Norfolk's greatest icon

The EDP is creating a virtual reality museum of Norfolk and, amongst other things, are hunting for the county's greatest icons.

My vote would be Thomas Paine (1737-1809) whose influence on my own political thinking has been profound-his principled internationalism and radical defiance of reactionary institutions coupled with confidence not fear of economic growth; defence of popular rights and democratic responsibility have been influential the world over. "Rights of Man" published in 1791 is still inspirational today.

My second choice would be Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)-the prison reforming quaker who became known as the "Angel of mercy" for her compassion and campaigning.


Who would you choose?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Not in my name

As a Christian serving as an Anglican priest, I find myself ashamed of the actions and rhetoric of many of those protesting against Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) legislation outside parliament tonight (9 January 2007). By misrepresenting what these regulations are actually about and then using them as an excuse for homophobic abuse, these unrepresentative and unaccountable protesters are bringing all people of faith into disrepute. Please let other voices be heard.

Like the Faithworks Movement, a highly regarded mainstream evangelical organisation have issued a statement backing SORs, claiming that they have been widely misrepresented, and emphasising the Christian Gospel as a message of welcome and hope.

Or the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia, which sees that the “panic and anxiety” over equalities legislation, which would prevent gay people facing discrimination in public services and in the provision of goods, including hotel or B&B rooms, as a "symptom of the demise of Christendom – the era in which particular understandings of the Christian message could be sanctioned for the whole of society." The idea that all or even the majority of Christians support the extreme claims and views of many opponents of the fair and reasonable Sexual Orientation Regulations is false”, commented Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. “It is deeply sad that people backing tonight’s protest seem to be associating the Gospel with fear and prejudice – when those were precisely the things Jesus challenged in his co-religionists.”

Supporters of the regulations rightly point out that, in any case, the requirements are not for endorsement of particular practices, but are intended to ensure equal treatment irrespective of orientation. As, Faithworks leader the Rev Malcolm Duncan said yesterday: “We welcome the SORs as an attempt to ensure that goods and services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways. It is right that any organisation receiving public funding should deliver services to genuine public benefit. The proposed SORs are an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. However, vociferous opposition, a lack of constructive dialogue, and threats of civil disobedience mean that the Church is in danger of sounding homophobic and is doing little to give itself a credible voice.”

Everyone enjoys the right to protest but not to oppress or abuse and certainly not to do so in the name of others. For me faith is about inclusion, compassion, tolerance and hospitality and standing in solidarity with the oppressed and those others seek to make outcasts.

climate change kills

By midnight last night (jan 8), the average UK citizen will have emitted as much CO2 as the average person in the world's poorest countries will during the whole of 2007 (according to figures released by the World Development Movement).

The excessive carbon emissions of rich countries are driving climate change but it is poor countries will bear the brunt of the impact. Billions of people face drought, floods, starvation and disease.

For example:
One sixth of the world's population rely on water from glaciers that are disappearing.
80,000 people die every year from malnutrition due to climate change. If temperatures rise by 3 degs C, this will increase to between 1 and 3 million people a year.

We need an international strategic partnership approach to the looming environmental crisis including climate change legislation and action on aviation.

It is not rocket science (well it sort of is) but I wouldn't want to upset the Prime Minister's holiday plans!

Monday, January 08, 2007

free publicity for bbc

A contact at the BBC informed me that they could not believe how much free publicity they got in the local and regional press about the BBC3 programme, "Baby Borrowers" which starts tonight becuase of 8 Norfolk MPs complaining about it without having watched it!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Its not just dangerous dogs to be worried about..

Norfolk farm estate worker was taken to hospital earlier today after being attacked by a herd of pigs. The 51-year-old man, who has not been named, fell and was attacked by a sow in a pen.

A Norfolk police spokesman told the EDP that: “It seems that when he fell, he was attacked by one of the sows and then other pigs joined in. As a result he suffered bumps and bruises and a head injury, though it is not now considered to be life threatening. The man was able to crawl out of the pig pen and summon help.”The incident happened on the Heggatt Hall estate at Horstead, where the man worked, at around 11.30am. The air ambulance helicopter was called in but the man was eventually taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by land ambulance for treatment. A spokeswoman for the East of England Ambulance Service said: “The patient was kicked and trampled by pigs. When we got there he was awake and breathing but he did have a laceration to his forehead and a dislocated arm.”

That saved his bacon! (sorry couldn't resist that! sw)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Tory hypocrisy on human trafficking

I was disappointed but not suprised to see that despite Cameron's recent rhetoric, the Tories are not delivering anything constructive in the run-up to Freedom day in March-the bicentary of the abolition of slavery following the campaigning work of William Wilberforce and others (liberals and Liberals and whigs!). This is not just about history though-there are more people in slavery in the world today and trafficking for sex or labour is an increasing (even if often hidden) reality for many in the UK.

Responding to David Davis's support for international human trafficking treaties, Liberal Democrat International Development Spokesperson, Lord (Roger) Roberts said:"I am astonished to see the Conservative party's sudden concern about human trafficking."In two recent House of Lords debates on modern day slavery and asylum and immigration, the Conservative benches were empty apart from one solitary spokesperson."Their total lack of interest in these matters was a cause for comment. One peer stated specifically that he intervened in one of the debates because no other Conservative backbencher was present to say anything."It is blatant hypocrisy for David Davis to use this issue to try to garner support from the many people who have a genuine concern about these matters. Where were they during the Lords debates?"Conservative concern and compassion? It is all sound and fury signifying nothing."

Now why doesn't that suprise me!