Friday, May 11, 2007

What next for New Labour?

So - the date has been announced. Mr Blair is to quit his job as Prime Minister - the first one to do so (at least in recent history) without being elected out of office, or drummed out by their party.

Much has been said in recent days about his legacy. Certainly there are positive and negative elements of that legacy. No doubt Schools and Hospitals are better off than in 1997. No doubt the minimum wage, and increased employment, are good for all. But on the other hand, I wonder whether the people of Iraq are especially grateful for his interventions in their country.

And I especially wonder how today's young couples - some of whom I will be marrying in the coming months - will ever be able to afford a house with today's rampant housing market.

The problem with conversations about legacies is that they are always subjective - and they start, I think, from a false premis; the premis that there might be someone, somewhere, who is so perfect as to be able to leave behind an unblemished, wholly positive legacy in such situations.

The Bible tells us that such an idea is nonsense. St Paul, writing to the Roman Christians, reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". (Incidentally - that's one of my favourite definitions of sin...that none of us can ever hope to be as holy as God, and therefore, even the best of us, are to some extent sinful).

These are days when politics and secularism have become, for many, the New Religion. We look to our politicians to provide answers to our human problems, and we seek our own self-fulfillment through secular pleasures, and consumer excess.
No wonder, then, that we expect our politicians - who lead us through the halls of politics, secularism and consumerism - to be perfect.

But the reality is, of course, that our politicians are just as susceptible as the rest of us to the warp and woof of living in a sinful world.

Here's an example. Tony and Cherie have, like many couples, purchased property as an investment for their retirement and old age. They are as tied into the capitalist system as everybody else...and as dependent on it as the rest of us. It would be almost impossible for Tony, or any other capitalist, (even a socialist-capitalist!) to willingly break the chains of wealth, and start a new way of developing an economy.

But there are other models out there. Communism, of course, has substantially failed, because it does not allow for individual freedom of expression or economic development. However, here are another couple of possibilities we might yet want to consider:

1) Jubilee: The biblical concept of Jubilee was a practice of returning all land to its original owners (or their descendants) once every 50 years. This was based on the principle that after entry into the promised land, the land was equally distributed between all the people. Sometimes, land would change hands because of economic circumstances...but the year of Jubilee brought the possibility of a fresh start for all - a new level playing field.

In some ways, we have a similar concept in Britain. Many of our properties are sold on a lease-hold basis only - so that eventually (usually 99 years), the ownership of land does revert to its original owners. To my knowledge, no government has ever seriously grappled with this idea...which could do much, if properly developed, to stem the rampant house-price inflation we are now suffering from.

2) The Philosopher Rulers: The Greek philosopher Plato recorded (in "The Republic") that Socrates had proposed a radical new system of government. He proposed that those who would be rulers of a Kingdom should give up all claims to ownership of property, and should live essentially monastic lives...in community with other rulers. This meant that their decisions, taken on behalf of the whole society, could never be influenced by their own sinful desires to accumulate wealth, or even their practical desire to secure a comfortable old age. It was a radical suggestion 3000 years ago, and which has never been fully embraced by any society.

I no longer stalk the corridors of Westminster, as I once did - dropping my pearls of wisdom for everyone to ignore. (It was a thankless, and largely fruitless existence - which you can read about on my website - see the link to the right). Nevertheless, I hope and pray that with a new leader, our Government might be encouraged to really grapple with the reality of sin and selfishness, as endemic and fundamental elements of our society. Doing so will require radical alternatives to consumerism and secularism - and a promotion of new ways of thinking about our society.

Well, I'm nothing if not an optimist.

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