18 March 2007

Four years and counting... by Chris

I took part today in a small protest in Parliament Square to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. A group of about a dozen people organised by Voices in the Wilderness and London Catholic Worker planted 186 crosses to represent the estimated 186,000 people who have been killed in the war.

Each cross bore the name of one person killed and how they died. As I put each of my crosses the brief details were searing. 'Hussain, four years old, killed in Fallujah'. And for each, brief awful story there were 999 others. God forgive us.

Indymedia have more more photos and a report

17 March 2007

Trident and the need for Reconciliation by Virginia

The Trident debate that was held on Wednesday was in many ways extremely predictable.A Government that has already decided to renew its’ unnecessary nuclear capacity & develop new weapons gets its way as usual. But watching the debate made me think that perhaps, something new was in the air. For a start, the scale of the back bench rebellion was much higher than I could have hoped for, but it was also the level of debate and discussion. To hear speaker after speaker get up and ask, “Just what are these weapons for? What are we being protected from?” even if it was mainly woolly liberals and new labourites fed up with their beloved leader, was immensely refreshing. I doubt that many of their questions made it to the mainstream press, what with Tony and David doing their double act of staking the claim for the necessity of Trident & the BBC News webpage helpfully obliging all day with cheery photos of those brave lads on the subs, and an incredibly biased piece on how important Trident is to the good people of Helensburgh, without a whiff of how the majority of Scotland would like these evil things out of their backyard thank you very much. Still, it did make me think a tiny little step had been taken, that it is no longer beyond the pale for politicians in the Houses of Parliament to actually think possessing nuclear weapons is a bad thing.

It was a coincidence that the debate was on the day that our eldest daughter was making her sacrament of reconciliation. This is an important part of the Catholic faith, by acknowledging our failings, repenting of them and being willing to start afresh we become reconciled with God. Whilst we watched her take this important step in her faith, I reflected that our nation should be repenting wholesale for the sin of Trident.

Trident is sinful because:
It has more firepower in each warhead than was used in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, it is a lethal weapon beyond our imaginings, even possessing such a thing puts us beyond the pale.
Rather than being used as a deterrent, it is used as an out and out threat, Geoff Hoon made it perfectly clear during the run up to the war in Iraq
It detracts vital resources from other more socially useful activities such as teaching our children, healing the sick, providing decent social care service.

It is only when the Prime Minister, and his best friend across the debating chamber, can begin to acknowledge this sinfulness and repent of it, that we as a nation can be reconciled.

07 March 2007

Annoying DESO and the Telegraph at the same time. by Chris

Its not everyday that you get to annoy the the government agency that promotes arms exports (DESO) and The Daily Telegraph at the same time. Today was DESO's annual 'symposium' (nothing as dull as a conference for them!) which we naturally picketed. Over the past year the organisation that I work for - Fellowship of Reconciliation - has been running a campaign to have DESO closed down and we, along with CAAT have collected over 10,000 signatures on a petition. So today was also a good day to hand it in to The Treasury where the continued existence of DESO is being questioned as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Did the Telegraph not like that!.

See Indymedia for further pics and report

05 March 2007

life, the universe and ....

Our participation in the anti-war march last weekend as well as a quote from Chris in this week's Universe.

03 March 2007

It’s the war stupid..... by Virginia

It’s exactly 20 years this September since I started out in my first paid role, working with people with learning disabilities in South London. Coincidentally, the first ten years of my career were spent under a Tory Government and the last ten under New Labour. When I started out, money was tight and got tighter and Margaret Thatcher was pathological in her desire to destroy public services. We lived through spending cut after spending cut, saw our (never very high salaries) kept low and watched helplessly as services were provided for fewer and fewer people and long term preventative work became a thing of the past. 10 years ago saw a new dawn, the Labour government we’d waited 18 years for. The Labour government who would restore all ills, put the money back into development and prevention, restore the public’s faith in us, make us all be proud again.

I have to say that for a little while, that promise seemed good. In the rosy early days of new Labour, I went to a meeting in Camden where local and central government officials met in a spirit of good will, and genuine cooperation that I’d never seen before. There were a plethora of public policy initiatives, some of which were actually aimed at long term solutions. We had it good for a while, the government seemed to be putting the money back in, development seemed to be in, short termism out. For a brief period, there was money to spend, and good services came on the back of that.

But not any more. This week we saw Gordon Brown announcing below inflation pay increases for health staff and NHS trusts struggling to balance their budgets. And recently we heard of the report from the social care commission that local authorities are tightening their eligibility criteria once again. Unless you are in the most need (your family can’t cope, your needs are so extreme that you cannot get by without support), forget getting a service from a local authority, most of them won’t be paying. Dear Lord, I feel like I’m in a time warp, back in the darkest days of Maggie and the death of society.

So what’s happened in the past 10 years to change the government of the future – the government of resourcing public services, encouraging prevention and development, into the cost cutting, penny pinching, last resort service provision of the past? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s the War Stupid”. I was on maternity leave in 2003 when the war broke out. When I came back to work we were having the first round of discussions about insufficient resources from central government, and council tax freezes meaning cost reductions on services. Each subsequent year, as the mess over there has got worse, so the funding here has reduced, leading us to the situation we are in today. Every time Tony Blair asks Gordon Brown for more money for the carnage in Iraq, he gets it, no questions asked (current estimate - £7billion ) Meanwhile NHS trusts are cutting staff to balance their books, local authorities are struggling to deliver vital services, and the workforce looks set for frozen pay deals for the next few years.

So let me end with a question.

How would you like to have spent that £7 billion?

On a war without end that has destroyed a society, created near civil war, cost the lives of between 55,000-63,000 Iraqis over 3,000 US soldiers over 100 UK soldiers and injured many more.


On making sure every hospital ward is fully staffed; vulnerable people get the support they need to survive; family carers are valued and helped to continue looking after their relatives and public sector workers are honoured for their essential work for society with decent pay rises every year.

If only we really had a choice.

02 March 2007

Stop the War - No to Trident March

The latest anti-war march organised by Stop the War Coalition and CND also focused on the replacement of Trident. The date also happened to co-incide with a Unite for Peace gathering. Unite for Peace is a small group of families and individuals within FoR who meet together twice a year, to support each other and reflect on peacemaking issues. We decided that we would all go along to the march together.

Chris went early as he was reading at the pre-march prayer service organised by the Methodist, Baptist and URC Joint Public Affairs Group at Hinde Street Church and then walked to the beginning of the march withe the FoR banner (getting soaked in the process!)

After some careful co-ordination we all met up at Hyde Park and had a quick bite to eat before the march set off. The children had made placards and as the front of the march passed us there was a media frenzy of photographers taking the kids pictures!

We saw many friends and colleagues along the march - far too many to mention - but it was like being part of a large community. These large marches may seem to have little point - especially when the almost non-existent press coverage puts numbers at 1000 - 2000 (ridiculous!) however you do realise that there are many many people working for peace in so many different ways on these events.