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60 years of Spode Music Week – a hidden gem of English Catholic life

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Thu, December 05, 2013 21:11:16

August 2013 saw the 60th Spode Music Week take place, including special celebrations for its Diamond anniversary. Most English Catholics know nothing of this unsung success story. The week has never sought wide publicity, but has just got on quietly with the business of enriching all who have come into its orbit, over more than two generations. It is fitting in its anniversary year that the spotlight falls briefly on it so that those interested can get a sense of who is involved, what happens there, and what the importance of this for the wider church might be.

[Note: an updated and slightly edited version of this article was published in the July 11th 2014 edition of The Catholic Herald, on page 8, under the title "English Catholicism's secret musical treasure"]

In August 2013 around 80 people, mainly lay, ranging in age from 1 to 85, gathered in the Worcestershire countryside for a week of intensive music making, much to a very high standard, with the Catholic liturgy at its heart, but with much secular music in the mix.

Every day of the week, a full sung mass was celebrated, and compline was sung: to different settings almost every day. This anniversary year was particularly graced by two new commissions, an 8-part setting of the Mass by the composer Matthew Martin, and a setting of Panis Angelicus for children’s choir by the composer Alexander L’Estrange.

On the secular side, among other offerings the week saw a spirited staged performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (in honour of his centenary), a Prokofiev Symphony, and a medley of light classics including the celebrated Knightsbridge March by Eric Coates, in an arrangement by one of the many talented younger musicians that give their time and energies to the week.

And on top of all this came the multitude of informal and out-of-hours opportunities for chamber music of all sorts, amounting in total to what a former course chaplain, Fr Chris McCurry, once described as “an orgy of music making”, one further enriched by food, wine, and friendship!

What is the secret of Spode Music Week’s success, and what can Catholics learn from this?

The week was in fact the brainchild of the late Conrad Pepler, OP, much loved Warden of Spode House, a Dominican Conference and Retreat Centre in the grounds of Hawkesyard Priory, Staffordshire, sadly long since closed. His behind the scenes manifold self-effacing acts of nurturing, praying for (and probably subsidizing) the week over nearly 30 years up until his retirement in 1981 has proved one of the spiritual wellsprings of the week.

Pepler’s simple but brilliant idea was a daily format which, with one or two minor adjustments, survives today. Rehearsals after breakfast, a mid morning lecture by an invited guest, sung mass at noon, further late afternoon rehearsals, a concert after dinner, and sung compline to end the formal proceedings. Surrounding these daily fixed points an atmosphere has been established which is incredibly informal – more like an extended and somewhat chaotic (but warmhearted) family than a more traditional residential course.

This durable but flexible format has been filled with whatever music has enthused and inspired the dedicated and talented musicians that have led the week’s activities at its different stages. Longest serving musical director (1972-96) was the composer and pianist, the late Robert Sherlaw Johnson. Other distinguished musicians who have had long associations with week include the conductor and harpsichordist the late George Malcolm, CBE, who attended the very first week and was the course’s principal conductor for many years; the opera singer Jeremy White, who has served as Chair of the organizing committee since 1997; the conductor and singer Philip Duffy (former Master of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral); organist and choral director David Bevan; and the early music specialist Dr Mary Remnant, who currently serves as one of three patrons of the week, together with Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, Director of the Barbican Arts Centre, and myself.

By the time that the closure of Spode House was rather suddenly announced in 1987, there was such a commitment to the week and to each other from the many attenders who came back year after year, bringing first their friends, their spouses and children, and even – latterly - their grandchildren, that there could be no thought of the course folding (or even changing its name!). Its members decided to seek a new home, committed if necessary to a peripatetic existence to ensure the survival of the course. The course is in fact now in its sixth location, a remarkable testament to the durability and sheer commitment of its members as successive venues have fallen by the wayside.

Whilst the week has always retained (indeed insisted on) a distinctive Catholic focus, one of its significant strengths has been its ability to provide a broad welcome to all who share a love of and commitment to music in the classical tradition, whether in or out of church. Several of the most loyal and longstanding members of the week are not Catholics, and its attenders also include Catholics of many different shades. They are all embraced under the benign attention of one or more course chaplains (who apart from their pastoral and liturgical duties, contribute fully to the week as singers and players).

The current chaplain is Monsignor Philip Whitmore, newly appointed Rector of the English College in Rome. He is assisted by Fr. Robert Verrill OP, who keeps alive a welcome connection to the week’s Dominican roots. The ’grandfather’ of the week is Fr. Michael Durand, currently a priest at Westminster Cathedral, who also participates in the chaplaincy team. He attended the very first week as a young man, and has been to most of the weeks since. But while the chaplains offer sterling and loyal support, the overall musical leadership, administration, and stewardship of the week is very much in lay hands. In fact, without the week-in-week-out quiet labour of a small, dedicated and largely unsung committee, the week would never have flourished as it has, let alone stayed solvent (without a penny of external subsidy).

Attendance is open to all. No formal level of musical involvement or qualification is needed, beyond a commitment to upholding the ethos of the course. There is a particular welcome for families with children, and an enduring and much loved feature of the week has been the provision of opportunities for the young and very young to play and sing together. Even finance need not be a problem, as course fees are extremely modest, and there are some special funds to support those in most need. In these respects the week serves a very different but complementary function to the excellent annual summer school of the Society of St Gregory, which is very much designed to professionally support the work of those who have official positions as liturgical or musical animateurs within parishes. Spode Music Week is simply about performing and listening to the best music that those assembled can make, in and for itself, to the greater glory of God. What happens outside the week as a result is up to the participants.

Bookings for the course each year fill up very quickly as enthusiastic repeat customers bag their places, but there are always sufficient newcomers in every year to avoid the week becoming cliqueish. There is a website ( where details about past and future courses may be found, as well as contact details. In recent years, communications have been enlivened by an ever more active Facebook page where course members share memories, photographs, and video or audio clips of treasured past moments, as well as plans and hopes for the future.

Catholics in England and Wales should be rightly proud of this unique lay-led treasure in their midst. It is a musical and friendship community rooted in the church, sustained by prayer and liturgy, but with open doors, keeping faith with a considerable number of people (including a large number of younger adults) for whom this may be the main, or even the only truly meaningful, manifestation of the Catholic Church that they experience. Long may it continue to serve the church and the wider world as it has done so fully and roundly in the last 60 years.

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Fifty Parliamentary Gems – British MPs at last begin to speak sense on military intervention

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, August 31, 2013 09:37:08

Below is my personal selection of 50 important (and quotable) statements made by MPs arguing against UK military involvement in Syria, extracted from Hansard ( They are listed in time order in which they appeared in the debate, with name and political affiliation of each speaker.

In the media hype that has followed this unprecedented vote, crude brush-stroke characterisations have by and large bypassed the careful and well-made contributions from so many sides of the house.

It is important that the detail of the debate is attended to, both for what was said, and for who said it. The debate was a profound turning point for British political life, and particularly our foreign and defence policy. For the first time in living memory, the House of Commons showed itself to be mature and thoughtful about issues which, in recent years, it has shown appallingly bad judgement.

For almost the first time since I took an interest in politics, I am proud of the British Parliament, and have hope that, at last, sufficient MPs have begun to take on board perspectives that they have ignored for so long, and that we may be witnessing the beginning of a profound re-alignment of the UK’s stance on what constitutes the appropriate use of its military forces.

The 50 statements

1. In our minds should be this simple question: in upholding international law and legitimacy, how can we make the lives of the Syrian people better? Ed Milliband. (Lab)

2. It is incumbent on us to try to build the widest support among the 15 members of the Security Council, whatever the intentions of particular countries. The level of international support is vital, should we decide to take military action. It is vital in the eyes of the world. That is why it cannot be seen as some sideshow or some “moment”, but is an essential part of building the case, if intervention takes place. Ed Milliband (Lab).

3. Any proposed action to deter the use of chemical weapons must be judged against the consequences that will follow. Further work by the Government is necessary to set out what those consequences would be. Ed Milliband (Lab)

4. We all know that stability cannot be achieved by military means alone. The continued turmoil in the country and the region in recent months and years further demonstrates the need to ensure that we uphold the fate of innocent civilians, the national interest and the security and future prosperity of the whole region and the world. I know that the whole House recognises that this will not and cannot be achieved through a military solution. Ed Milliband (Lab)

5. Whatever the justification on 18 March 2003, the fact was that there was an egregious intelligence failure, and it has had profound consequences, not only across the middle east but in British politics, through the fraying of those bonds of trust between the electors and the elected that are so essential to a healthy democracy. Jack Straw (Lab).

6. This morning, we woke up to hear the President of the United States, Barack Obama, saying that by acting in “a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across”Assad’s bow. Let us pause and consider the metaphor that was chosen by the President, because it is revealing. A shot across the bow is a warning that causes no damage and no casualties—shells fired over the bridge of a naval vessel. In this case, it might be a Tomahawk missile that is targeted to fly over Damascus and land in the unoccupied deserts beyond. That cannot be what the President has in mind. We need to know what he really has in mind and what the consequences of that will be. There will be casualties from any military action—some military and almost certainly many civilian. Jack Straw (Lab).

7. This is not a choice between action and inaction; it is simply a choice of what action should be taken. Some of us worry that military action might exacerbate the situation, rather than make it better, and draw us into mission creep, over which we would have very little control. Chris Bryant (Lab)

8. To go to war with Assad—that is what it would be—without the sanction of a UN Security Council resolution would set a terrible precedent. After the mission creep of the Libyan operation, it would amount to nothing less than a clear statement by the US and its allies that we were the arbiters of international right and wrong when we felt that right was on our side. What could we do or say if, at some point, the Russians or Chinese adopted a similar argument? What could we say if they attacked a country without a UN resolution because they claimed it was right and cited our action as a precedent? Dame Tessa Jowell (Lab).

9. The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff wrote to the Senate armed services committee last month….about having examined five options. He said that controlling chemical weapons would involve billions of dollars each month and involve risks that “not all chemical weapons would be controlled, extremists could gain better access to remaining weapons, similar risks to no-fly zone but with the added risk to…troops on the ground.” Dame Tessa Jowell (Lab)

10. It respectfully seems to me that we need to examine the matter not in response to the emotion that it undoubtedly engenders in all of us. Emotion is no substitution for judgment in matters of this kind. We must look beyond what might be achieved in the short term, to the medium term and the long term. Sir Menzies Campbell (Lib)

11. I urge the Government to renew their efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Do we think that Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into Syria will make that easier or more difficult? It is clearly understood that this civil war is intractable and that there is little willingness to compromise. Earlier today, I heard an appeal by Sakhr al-Makhadhi, the London-based Syria expert and commentator. He said that the people of Syria, from all backgrounds, are crying out for help to resolve the civil war. Please can the UK Government focus their attention on working with the United States and the Russian Federation, and all others who have influence in the region, including Iran, to bring the different Syrian sides to the negotiating table? Angus Robertson (SNP)

12. There is no automatic approval of, or even trust in, a prime ministerial judgment on an issue such as this involving the country in military action without overwhelming justification, evidence and thorough debate. John McDonnell (Lab)

13. It must be objectively clear that there is no practical alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved. I do not believe that it has been demonstrated that all practical alternatives have been exhausted. In particular, discussions around the permanent stationing of UN weapons inspectors in Syria to prevent the use of these weapons have not been exhausted. That, linked to an insistence on the participation of all sides in a UN peace conference, has not been exhausted. John McDonnell (Lab)

14. Military intervention does not just cost lives; it undermines the credibility of the international institutions that we look to to secure peace in the world and, in the long run, it undermines peace settlements across the globe. Therefore, I believe that we should focus on conflict prevention and conflict resolution and not support military aggression. John McDonnell (Lab)

15. The conversations that have been had with the media over the past few days have talked about Syria not having impunity for the use of chemical weapons. The word “impunity” implies that there is a new doctrine of punishment as a reason for going to war—not deterrence, not self-defence, not protection, but punishment. I believe that, if that is a new doctrine, it needs considerably wider international consensus than currently exists. James Arbuthnot (C)

16. During my time in this House, chemical weapons have been used against the Kurds; they were used in the Iran-Iraq war; and they were used against the people in Gaza, in the form of phosphorous bombs—certainly a chemical bomb. Is not the real reason we are here today not the horror at these weapons—if that horror exists—but as a result of the American President having foolishly drawn a red line, so that he is now in the position of either having to attack or face humiliation? Is that not why we are being drawn into war? Paul Flynn (Lab)

17. The timing of the decision must also be questioned. If, as some of us believe, the decision on military action has already been made in Washington and agreed by the UK Government, that is the real reason why we are here: because Washington feels that there should be some bombs falling this weekend. Many atrocities have taken place in the two years since the conflict began. Surely those seeking to take military action could wait a few days longer, to ensure that their facts are straight. Elfyn Llwyd (PC).

18. From the leaked reports on the one hand we are getting stories that the attack was ordered by Assad’s brother in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt on the leadership, and on the other hand hearing that there is intercept evidence that somebody who was unauthorised was responsible and that there was a telephone conversation in which somebody said, “Why on earth did you do this?” and a panicked reaction to the unauthorised release of poison gas. The point is that it is very far from certain that the evidence stacks up. The Intelligence and Security Committee is cleared to see classified material well up to the level of the material that the JIC and the Prime Minister have seen. I see no reason why those of us who have been cleared for such access should not have it. Julian Lewis (C)

19. If Assad is behaving irrationally and if he is so desperate, what is to prevent him, if he is attacked militarily by us on the perceived basis of intelligence supplied by Israel, from retaliating with a chemical attack against Israel? What will Israel do? It will retaliate in turn. What will America, Iran and Russia do then? I began my speech by referring to the first world war. Next year, we will commemorate the centenary of the events of August 1914. Those events have a worrying parallel. At that time, a series of actions and reactions drew in, in an escalating fashion, one country after another. Nobody thought that the assassination of an obscure archduke would lead to a world conflagration. As Admiral Lord West has said, this is a powder keg, and we should not be lobbing weapons into the heart of such combustible material. Julian Lewis (C)

20. If action is taken, what would the action be? What would its impact be? How many casualties, including among civilians, would it cause? Would Assad say, “Oh, dearie me, I must be a nice boy now”? Anyone who has been in Syria, as I was when I was shadow Foreign Secretary and was trying to liberate our hostages in Lebanon, knows that this is not a nice regime that will behave as we want. The Foreign Secretary said he wanted to punish Assad, but an Assad punished would be worse than an Assad as he is now. Sir Gerald Kaufman (Lab)

21. There is plenty of forensic evidence that will come out of the UN investigation and out of other data that we can obtain by other methods. It is not a question of panic; it is a question of getting the facts right before we act. It is very simple: when we are going to do things which will lead to the death of people, civilians in particular, we should get our facts right first. David Davis (C).

22. On a practical level, we believe that any military activity will be counter-productive and will not save lives but in fact cost them. As was said earlier, it is no more pleasant for a person to be killed by a cruise missile than by gas—they are still dead. Our objective should be to be humanitarian and protect lives. Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP).

23. I wish also to pose the question of how the sight of a British and US-led attack is likely to be perceived across the middle east, not just in Syria, especially if it is carried out without credible UN backing or on the basis of uncertain or confused intelligence. That would risk handing the Syrian regime a major propaganda victory at a pivotal point, which its supporters could rally around. The impact on the wider region is even more uncertain and potentially volatile. Even if such action could ever be morally justified, which I and my colleagues do not accept, there surely needs to be a serious prospect of an endgame that has an outcome of success and of benefit in some shape or form. Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP).

24. I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to Iraq and its consequences. We have all been left scarred by Iraq. Many in this House and in Government will have convinced themselves of the courses of action that should be taken, but they have not convinced the public. I think the public know better. The public have long and bitter memories of Iraq and Afghanistan. All the promises and assurances issued then were not worth the paper they were written on. The public remember the contrived situation, the misleading of this House and the needless deaths of so many soldiers and countless civilians. While I would find it difficult, if not impossible, ever to tolerate or support military intervention, I believe that this House should contemplate such action against Syria only if it were UN approved and if we were convinced that it would improve the situation. Alasair McDonnell (SDLP)

25. I wish the Government well. If they really can come up with a way of stopping Assad murdering his own people, nobody will be happier than me. Everyone in the House would be extremely happy. But the Government have to understand the scepticism of the British people. Assad is mad and bad and it will not be easy to stop him. I fear that we will not be able to do it in a half-hearted manner with a few cruise missiles in the hope that he will not retaliate. John Redwood (C)

26. We are told that intervention could be legally justified without a Security Council resolution under the UN’s responsibility to protect, but the 2005 UN world summit outcome document, in which the Heads of State unanimously approved the new international norm of the responsibility to protect, subsequently approved by UN Security Council resolution 1674, states clearly that it is still subject to UN Security Council agreement. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who co-chaired a working group on the responsibility to protect, again stressed that it is to be implemented in accordance with the UN charter. That means that the central decision-making authority is the UN Security Council. The conclusion from all this is clearly, if inconveniently for the Government, that military action against a sovereign state, other than in self-defence, without the authority of the Security Council cannot be justified under the responsibility to protect. Caroline Lucas (Green)

27. The Government’s position would be far stronger if instead of coming here proposing military action, they had come here to tell us that they were having serious discussions with the new Government in Iran and a new round of talks with Russia, and that they were trying to build a consensus in the region to bring about what must happen at some point—a political solution to this crisis. Jeremy Corbyn (Lab)

28. We should have seen the Attorney-General’s full legal opinion….. this one-and-a-half-side summary is simply unacceptable. Caroline Lucas (Green).

29. We need to strain every sinew to get all relevant parties around the table for peace talks. On so many levels, as others have said, this is a proxy war, which is why we need China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many others involved as well. Caroline Lucas (Green)

30. Are we going actively to degrade chemical weapons? There are hideous practical problems in attempting that, with the potential of awful collateral damage. If we go after the command and control structure in a way that is sufficiently active to degrade it, that plainly means going after Assad himself, thus actively intervening on one side in the conduct of the war. Cristpin Blunt (C)

31. This month, the Egyptian Government have, with malice aforethought, murdered well over 1,000 of their own citizens to suppress people who were supporting what had been previously an elected Government. What are they to think about the fact that we are getting ourselves into a position to intervene over Syria, and yet we have said precious little about a crime that is on the scale of five or 10 times what we are debating here? It has not been part of an insurgency yet, but the Egyptian Government have almost certainly kicked an insurgency off as a result of what they are doing. Crispin Blunt (C)

32. Legitimacy to go to war comes not from the UN, nor from international law or international lawyers, nor even from our own National Security Council. That sort of legitimacy comes only from below, not from above. It comes from the demos and those they elect. When the time comes for that second, crunch, vote, there can be no buck-passing, no deferring to a higher authority, no delegating. It will be our responsibility alone, and all the more weighty for that. Douglas Carswell (C)

33. Democracy and liberalism will one day seem as firmly rooted in the south and east of the Mediterranean as they do to the north, but if spreading democratic values is to be the cornerstone on which we are to build British foreign policy, let us do so consistently. We cannot act in defence of democratic values in Syria two months after we failed to speak out in defence of the democratically elected Government in Egypt. We cannot act when hundreds of civilians are murdered in Damascus, but continue to arm the Egyptian junta that slaughtered a thousand in Cairo. We cannot champion the right of self-determination in one part of the Arab world, yet ignore those who seek basic human rights in another, including the Gulf. I am unconvinced that the Government’s intended course of action in Syria is part of a coherent strategy, and I will not support military action until I am convinced that it is part of such a strategy. Douglas Carswell (C)

34. What are we going to do? Apparently we are going to send in a few Tomahawk land attack missiles to give Assad a bit of a spanking because he has used chemical weapons. That is nonsense and a ridiculous proposition that will lead us to the position that a lot of people have already begun to explain. We cannot write Assad a letter and say, “By the way, the TLAM missile was only to give you a spanking over chemical weapons. It didn’t mean that we were interfering in your conflict in any way, shape or form.” Frankly, that is nonsense. We cannot compartmentalise such activities in the way suggested, and there will be an effect. What will that effect be? Dai Havard (Lab)

35. Many accuse those of us who question the idea of military intervention by saying, “You believe that nothing should be done. You’re in that camp that says, ‘We should wash our hands of it and let them get on with it.’” Utter tosh! So much more could be done on the humanitarian front. The refugee camps are desperately short of basic amenities. Britain has a good record—we have done a lot of the heavy lifting—but we could do a lot more, as could the international community. Tens of thousands of women and children are living in extremely poor conditions, and yet the west is saying, “There’s very little more we can do to help the humanitarian situation,” which is utter nonsense. John Baron (C)

36. The west could also do a lot more on the diplomatic front. It makes no sense whatever to exclude Iran from the forthcoming peace talks, but that is what we currently intend to do. Iran is a key regional player and a participant in this conflict. Excluding Iran from the talks is utter nonsense. We need to go that extra diplomatic mile. This is a cliché, but it is true: you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends. We need to talk to the Iranians if we hope for a diplomatic solution. A political and diplomatic solution, and not a military one, is the only long-term solution to this vicious civil war. John Baron (C)

37. We must never under-estimate the cynicism that surrounds our motives and those of our allies. We must never under-estimate the fact that even the most humanitarian of objectives can be misconstrued as a nefarious attempt by the west to project its power. We must never under-estimate the fact that we must first win the battle of perception above all else. Any intervention needs to be demonstrably scrupulous, must involve more than just the usual suspects and must be the last resort of a process that has visibly exhausted all diplomatic means. The recent ratcheting up of rhetoric has come at the expense of reason and has eschewed responsibility. The cacophony of tough words and the insidious indication that attacks could take place as early as this weekend have not facilitated diplomacy or the forging of alliances. David Lammy (Lab)

38. Any military action will, as I said, lead to a completely different attitude among many of our Muslim communities in this country. It will be the catalyst for the build-up of all sorts of extremism. Kate Hoey (Lab)

39. Many of us are reluctant about matters involving peace and war because we previously sat here and listened to a Prime Minister tell us from the Dispatch Box what I now believe to have been a fabric of lies. I cannot sit here and be duped again by any Prime Minister, whether of my party or the Labour party.
My constituents’ instinct is also against any direct UK military action. Like, I am sure, all my colleagues throughout the House, I have received not just form e-mails sent by some lobbying organisation but individually composed e-mails showing the strength of feeling and fear that lie in the British population. Cheryl Gillan (C)

40. This is not the debate that the House expected to have, it is certainly not the debate that No. 10 was planning, and it is not the one that the media predicted would happen, but there have none the less been some excellent contributions. Despite the fact that there will be another debate and vote next week, this has been a useful exercise in testing the issues at stake. Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)

41. There have been many contributions to the debate in which colleagues have said, “If we do this, that will happen. If we do not do that, this will happen.” Only one thing is absolutely guaranteed: nobody knows what will happen if we go down the road of military action. We have seen that too often in recent decades. The difficulty I have is the fact that we do not have an exit strategy. Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)

42. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Colin Powell cited the Pottery Barn rule—Pottery Barn is a string of American china shops. The rule is, “You break it? You own it.” The notion that we can make a military intervention on the narrow point of chemical weapons is disingenuous to say the least. Were we to intervene militarily in Syria, we would take ownership of the outcome of the civil war. I see no endgame, no idea of what victory would look like in those circumstances. Diane Abbott (Lab)
43. Assad is lucky, of course, that we are having this debate not in 2002, but in 2013. The year 2003, which so many have referred to, intervened. We must not beat around the bush—Tony Blair and his Administration were dishonest. The result has been to injure our democracy to a degree that no other single action has done, I believe, in the 85 years since women gained full voting equality. And so we are in a position now where our decision now is being influenced by that failure in 2003, and we are asked to draw lessons from that. Ben Gummer (C)
44. What is the difference between an innocent child—a non-combatant—being killed by a conventional weapon and that child being killed with a chemical weapon? It does not much matter to them or their family, because it is still a horrendous death of an innocent. We therefore need to ask whether we are being consistent in saying that this is the red line and it is appropriate for us to take this action. Andrew George (Lib)

45. This has been a great two days for Parliament; I think we have won. This time yesterday morning, the motion would have been used to justify war, perhaps this very weekend. War is not going to happen. The Prime Minister has listened to his Back Benchers. We made it perfectly clear to our Whips yesterday afternoon that we were not prepared to vote for any motion that justified war, and so the Prime Minister has offered us another motion. This is not a motion for war. I will not vote for war. I would never vote for war against Syria. If there is a second vote, I will definitely vote against, but I do not believe there ever will be a second vote, because I do not believe that the parliamentary arithmetic stacks up. It does not stack up because MPs are doing their job and listening to what the public want, and the voice of the public is completely clear: they do not want war. They are scarred by what went on in Iraq. We were lied to in Parliament and we are not going to go down that route again. I voted against the Iraq war and I will vote against this one. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

46. What would it achieve? That is what we must ask ourselves. Why is it any of our business? Has Syria ever been a colony? Has it ever been in our sphere of interest? Has it ever posed the remotest threat to the British people? Our job in Parliament is to look after our own people. Our economy is not in very good shape. Neither are our social services, schools or hospitals. It is our job to think about problems here. If I am told that we are burying our heads in the sand, I would ask: are there anguished debates in other Parliaments all over Europe about whether to bomb Syria? No, they are getting on with running their own countries, and so should we. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

47. Although we have spoken with great moral certitude in this debate, the fact is that our contribution to an attack on Syria would be infinitesimal. Have we not degraded our own armed forces in the past three years, contrary to repeated warnings from myself and others? Do we have an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean? In reality, we would simply be hanging on to the coat tails of President Obama. He was foolish enough to issue a red line. His credibility is on the line, not the credibility of the British people or ourselves. We do not have to follow him in this foolish gesture. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

48. There are two occasions where military action can be justified. The first is where British interests are imminently threatened, and clearly that is not the case in this particular debate. The other is as part of a UN-sponsored humanitarian mission to prevent dictators from causing damage to their own people. I am not convinced that the Government have made that case this evening. The reality is this; there is an evil dictator, but the opposition to that evil dictator is even worse. These are people who will oppose the west at all costs and will cause damage to their own people. They are barbaric and inhuman and we should not support them in any shape or form. I would not support any regime change, or attempted regime change. Bob Blackman (C)

49. Syria is a satellite state of Russia. Do we think that the Russian Government will sit idly by and allow the US and Britain to bomb one of their satellite states? They will react in some way, shape or form. So we should be clear that, if we embark on military action, there will be direct military consequences for the whole region and for this country. We should send a message to President Assad, if we are convinced that he and his regime are responsible for the chemical attacks, to say, “Identify those who are responsible. Make them come before the criminal courts,” so that they can be punished in the best way possible, through due process of law. Bob Blackman (C)

Thank goodness we have a British parliamentary democracy. We MPs can come here and influence the decision of the Executive. Everybody knows that MPs from both sides of the House have influenced the Prime Minister to change the position of the Executive. In the States, there are 100 Congressmen begging the President to let them debate the issue. We are so much better off in this House. Peter Bone (C)

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The MP's who overturned 200 years of parliament saying "yes" to war

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, August 31, 2013 00:03:06
This is the list of UK members of parliament who successfully voted against military action in Syria on 29th August 2013, thus ending a tradition of over 200 years whereby parliament has always supported military action advocated by a Prime Minister. According to some commentators, the last time Parliament voted down a Prime Minister in this way was in 1782, at the time of the American War of Independence.

Whatever one's position on the vote, all can agree that this is a remarkable moment in British politics, and one that could have far-reaching consequences.

Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Mr David

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bruce, Fiona

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burnham, rh Andy

Burstow, rh Paul

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Drax, Richard

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

George, Andrew

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hancock, Mr Mike

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, Dr Julian

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

McPartland, Stephen

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mills, Nigel

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Tami, Mark

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

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When is a referendum not a referendum? Sleight of hand in the Falklands

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Thu, August 08, 2013 11:13:03

When is a referendum not a referendum? Sleight of hand in the Falklands.

On March 11th 2013, some – but not all – Falklands Islanders took part in a “referendum” whose widely publicised results were that 99.8% of those who voted, answered YES to the question

“Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”

What is less well known is that (a) this was not a referendum in the usually understood meaning of the term, and (b) that the announced result was based onthe views of only 64% of the adult population. 36% of them did not participate in the vote. I’ll explain why these are relevant, after outlining some international reactions to the vote.

International Reactions

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Argentina should take "careful note" of the referendum result and that Britain would always be there to defend the Falkland Islanders.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

"All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy"

Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, said:

"The United Kingdom lacks any right at all to pretend to alter the juridical status of these territories even with the disguise of a hypothetical referendum"

Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to London said

"This (referendum) is a ploy that has no legal value," said Alicia Castro. Negotiations are in the islanders' best interest. We don't want to deny them their identity. They're British, we respect their identity and their way of life and that they want to continue to be British. But the territory they occupy is not British"

The Argentinian government has never accepted British claims to sovereignty. It believes that the territory belongs to Argentina. It will continue to hold to this position until and unless Britain comes to the table and engages in serious negotiations.

In 2012 a poll to mark the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war indicated that 89% of Argentinians support the sovereignty claims of Buenos Aires. Many believe the timing of the 2013 referendum is linked to the discovery of extensive oil and gas deposits, as well as growing interest in the Antarctic, which is likely to become an important source of fresh water and other resources. Veterans say it is absurd that the small community of islands should decide the fate of an strategically important area of land and sea that is bigger than Argentina itself.

The International Community is hardly enthusiastic about Britain’s claims. The United Nations has passed several recent resolutions calling on Britain and Argentina to negotiate on a range of issues concerned with the Falklands. Britain has consistently refused.

Immediately after the referendum, only one state, Sweden, announced public support for Britain’s position. Even the USA, supposedly the UK’s most significant global ally, remained silent on the issue. On the other hand, Latin America is vocal and united in support of Argentina’s historic claims of sovereignty.

On 4 June 2013, the organisation of American states (OAS) adopted a declaration that calls for negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the ‘sovereignty’ of the Falkland / Malvinas Islands. The resolution was passed as part of the 43rd annual OAS assembly in Guatemala. All Latin American countries expressed their full support for the measure. Canada was against the OAS final declaration, while the USA did not take a position on the matter.

I’m not attempting an assessment of the strengths of the opposing sovereignty claims here, other than to say that it is clear that neither side possesses an overwhelmingly convincing and unproblematic case. Otherwise the dispute would not have rumbled on for 180 years, and have been the occasion of a war between the two countries in 1982.

What I want to focus on here is the “referendum” itself, and how Islanders (and British politicians and mainstream media) have depicted this event in unsubtle ways which don’t fully reflect the reality.

Was this a valid referendum?

The term “referendum” is a technical term for a kind of consultation that involves the entire electorate of a nation or province. By custom and practice, only a state can mount a referendum. The Falkands Islands is not a state. The British Government played no formal part in the exercise.

This referendum was organised by the Islanders themselves, with no official involvement of any government. They invited John Hollins, the former Chief Electoral Officer of the Canadian province of Ontario and the current Chair of the Board of Directors of The Delian Project, to act as an election observer.

In general, for a referendum to be considered valid, those posing the question need to assure the population (and the international community) that all relevant individuals have received the invitation to vote, have had a free and fair exposure to both sides of the argument, and have been able to express their views freely – without fear of pressure or coercion – at the ballot box.

Nowhere can I find any statement that the Argentinian Government were able to put any proposals before the Falklands voters for their consideration.

What proportion of the population actually voted?

In relation to who voted, I have been able to piece together the following, mainly from information supplied by the Guardian’s excellent data blog:

At last census (2012), the Falklands population was 2,841. This is a decline from the high of 3,053 in 2001. 16% of the population (454) identify as Chilean or St Helenean, not British. The majority of people living on the Falklands today were not born there. They are immigrants, many of whom presumably went there for work. 1723 of the adult population are in employment (75%). 485 of these work for the government (28% of all jobs). Other major sources of employment are fishing-related and tourism. 25% of adult Falklands residents are not in paid work.

Approximately 20% of the population are under 18, so ineligible to vote. So the adult population is approx 2300.

Only 1649 of the Falklands population were deemed eligible to vote in the 2013 referendum (adults who were born there or who are long-term residents). Thus these 1649 eligible voters constituted 71% of the adult population. This meant that 29% of adult residents (650) were denied a vote.

Only 92% of the 1649 people eligible to vote actually did so (1517), comprising 66% of adult residents. Thus 34% of adult residents did not vote, most because they were denied the opportunity, and so the world does not know their views.

These facts are largely unknown, and have not been reported or further investigated by journalists, certainly not in Britain. They seem to me to tell a much more ambiguous and inconclusive story than most have cared to tell.

Why does this matter?

It matters because Falkland islanders deserve security. Security can never be guaranteed by Britain alone. It has to involve some viable accommodation with the people and politicians of the country and the continent where the Islands are, backed by processes supported by the International community at large, through the UN. Those in the British political and media circles who paint the “referendum” as some kind of black-and-white decisive moment, do the people of the Falklands no favours. We need to understand and grasp the complexity and subtlety of the situation if Falklanders’ lives are ever to be lived other than under the threat of further insecurity, whether political, military or economic.

I’ll be coming back to this issue (and similar issues facing Britain around the world, such as in Gibralter!) in future blogs.

Key References

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Sainsbury's at Wilmer Place: a travesty of local democracy

PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Wed, July 31, 2013 22:33:24
Tonight, the Planning Committee of Hackney Borough Council approved (by a 4:1 majority) plans to build a massive Sainsbury's Supermarket in a crammed plot between Stoke Newington Church Street and Abney Cemetary (a notable and historic nature reserve). This vote came in the face of massive local opposition, growing ever stronger in the face of repeated re-attempts by the developers, Newmark Properties, to bulldoze their way through local wishes. A selection of their ghastly developments can be seen on their web site at

Church Street is one of London's few remaining "village high streets" almost entirely given over to small independent local traders. It is one of the loveliest communities in London, and those who live near it and use it are passionately committed to keeping it that way. Last year I wrote my own pictorial "hymn of praise" to its multiple attractions, which can be found at

A moving video of the last stages of the campaign can be found at . This a real tribute to the broad support of ordinary people for the campaign, whose website at tells the story of the long fight.

The chair of the Planning Committee is Labour Councillor Vincent Stops. His contact details are given at

Below is the letter I wrote to him tonight. I expect he and his colleagues will receive many similar letters. The campaign is not over - but sadly it will have to move to a less comfortable phase for those determined to continue to fight.


Wednesday 31st July 2013

Dear Councilor Stops,

I am one of the thousands of local residents who have been telling Hackney Council that we don't want a Sainsburys on Wilmer Place, ever since the idea was first mooted.

I don't know a single person in Stoke Newington who is anything other than passionately opposed to this.

You cannot imagine that the vote of your committee is going to suddenly make that opposition vanish.

Your committee's decision tonight was a travesty of democracy, and reminds me of the worst behaviour of New Labour while in power.

Tony Blair took Britain to war in Iraq against massive public opposition, and it was, eventually, the end of his political career, and the main reason why Labour no longer governs the country.

I predict that tonight's decision will be the beginning of the end of the Labour Party's far too long stranglehold on Hackney's politics. Many, if not most, of the people I know locally who oppose the development are Labour supporters. You will have strained their loyalty to breaking point.

Yours sincerely,

John Sloboda.

(PS - although I am 20 yards outside the borough boundary, just into Islington, Church Street is the street I identify with and shop on, and will fight to the end of my days to keep it the preserve of small independent local traders, and the very special place that the likes of Sainsburys and Newmark Properties will never understand)

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Change has come: Istanbul June 1st

PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sat, June 01, 2013 17:01:54

Lisa Morrow has lived in Istanbul for a number of years, and writes on daily life and customs in turkey, and her book "Inside Out in Istanbul was recently published. Today she sent a report by email to many of her friends and contacts, asking for it to be passed on widely, and to the media. The report is reproduced in full below.

"Change has come: Istanbul June the 1st" by Lisa Morrow

By now most people around the world will be aware of the protests taking place in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities around Turkey. Most likely the news reports are saying people are protesting against a new shopping centre and that the protests are violent. Both statements are half-truths that need to be explored.

For the last few months peaceful groups have been meeting on weekends in Gezi Park, the last green space in Taksim, central Istanbul. They are demonstrating against the planned destruction of the park, in order to build a shopping centre and a mosque. Taksim Square has long been associated with Ataturk, democracy and modernity. It is a busy place and popular with students, tourists and activists from both sides of the political spectrum. The Gezi Park demonstrators have been meditating, holding barbeques, doing yoga, or singing in an attempt to publicise the threat to the park. Things suddenly escalated in the last week when the bulldozers were moved in and a small group began to camp out in the park. On Friday morning about 5am, the police threw tear gas into the tents where people lay sleeping, and when they ran out police targeted them with water cannons. If this wasn’t enough the police then set fire to the tents.

By Friday night thousands had begun to gather in the square, despite the police building a barricade around the park to keep both them and the media out. Istıklal Street, a famous thoroughfare, was crammed with people, as was Cumhurriyet Boulevard. Police riot squads descended on them, forcing people to flee into nearby shops and cafes where others were just going about their normal day. When the water cannons were fired into Starbucks, tourists as well as Turks ran out screaming. Nearby side streets became battle fields and also sanctuaries, with chemists and other shops providing first aid and people hanging signs from their houses saying “Come to my apartment if you are injured”.

More police were sent to the scene with more tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons but nonetheless the momentum built quickly. This morning at 2am we were woken in our sleepy middle class suburb of Göztepe, on the Asian side of the city, by the sound of clapping and chanting. When we looked out the window we saw a group of people banging spoons against pots, slowly moving through the streets to Kadıköy. This group joined the estimated forty thousand people determined to walk across the Bosphorus Bridge to join the protests on the other side. By 10.30am they had made it to Besiktaş, about a kilometre from the square, where they were stopped by police. Throughout the day I have received texts from friends, telling me they were safe after being sprayed with pepper and tear gas. Others told me how people are being beaten up for no reason and that family members had been trapped on the metro when the police turned their focus there. Facebook is full of photos of bloodied people of all ages, some there to protest, others just passing by. Some of the images are from journalists but most are from people living in the area whose lives are affected regardless of their political beliefs.

Yes, things are now violent. One person is dead and hundreds have been injured However this is not because the demonstrators want violence. Peaceful actions have been met with violent over-reaction as water cannons are targeted at men’s genital regions, at people standing in submission with arms raised, at men, women and children who are fighting for their country. What began as a small action against a proposed shopping centre has catapulted into a popular movement for government change from people who have had enough.

In the last few years the ruling party has overstepped the mark by manipulating evidence and arresting scores of former army officers for supposedly plotting a coup, done for the greater good of the people, in the name of democracy. In the name of democracy they have changed the laws so that students from religious Imam Hatip schools can freely enter universities even though they lack the basic educational requirements expected from everyone else. The separation of religion and state has blurred more and more. Most recently new public transport ordinances were released requesting decorum on the metro in Ankara. A ‘kissing’ demonstration was curtailed by a heavy police presence and opponents wielding knives. Permission to celebrate May Day was denied on the grounds a gathering of 50,000 people in Taksim Square was unsafe, although about a million people pass through there every day. Just last week the sale of alcohol was severely restricted in order to protect Turkish youth although there is no data to suggest alcohol consumption is a problem here. These and other incidents are behind this spontaneous uprising and calls for the Prime Minister to resign.

To repeatedly say it started due to a protest in a park, as is happening on a lot of international media, is to belittle the political intelligence of those involved. To report violent protests without clearly stating the violence began with heavy handed police actions, is to cast the demonstrators’ actions in a sinister light. As I write this I am nearly being deafened by my neighbours, ordinary people, beating their saucepans and blowing whistles in support of the protestors. Thousands more are heading for Taksim square, seeking an end to government interference in their lives. The call for change has come to Turkey. Now it is up to the government to answer that call.

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PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sat, April 20, 2013 20:56:03

A lost generation: a parent's view of the experience of Young Adults in the UK.

(This was written in 2004 and circulated by email to friends and associates. This is its first on-line publication. Looking around today, I see much the same now, if not worse. The age range to be included would probably extend nearer to 40 than 30 now! Names* and details have been changed to protect anonymity.)

A lot of my friends and acquaintances have children aged between 18 and 30. Most times we meet, or correspond, we tend to share information about our children, their friends, and the circles in which they move.

Looking back over these conversations, especially the ones which have taken place in the last 5 years, I have begun to see a pattern, and it is quite a disturbing one. It is even more disturbing when I take into account that the vast majority of the people I talk to are highly educated graduates, professionally successful, caring, liberal, and generally deeply invested in their children in one way or another.

One friend tells of his son Nick*, intelligent, talented, and popular. Nick went to University to read Physics. Although he had a great time socially, he found less and less to enthuse him in his University course, despite being passionate about Physics at School. He struggled on to the end of his degree course, with less and less motivation, eventually gaining a third class degree, far below his ability. On graduating he decided he wanted nothing to do with the subject again, moved back home, and has for the past three years been living at home, surviving on a series of unrewarding temping jobs, and feeling directionless.

Mary* left school at 16, convinced that education had nothing more to offer her. She found it hard to find work, and was part of a set that encouraged her into drugs, casual sex, and petty crime. She eventually enrolled for A-levels at a city college – but found the teaching uninspiring – she dropped out again before finishing the course. Now, at 20, she is embarked on a different set of A-levels at a different college, still not sure what she wants out of life.

Andrew* appeared to have everything going for him when he got his 2.1 in History at the age of 21. But he couldn’t find a job that truly satisfied him, and moved from one job to another over a period of 6 years, moving also from city to city. Then, at the age of 27 he decided that he wanted to be an architect. The only way to achieve his ambition would be to start all over with another full-time degree course. Now he is saving hard to scrape together enough to allow him to re-enter University, which he might do, if lucky, by the age of 30.

These are not untypical stories. Variants on them are as common, if not more common, than stories of steady progression through education into stable careers.

As we parents puzzle over the tortouus paths of our children, we find it hard to relate their experience with ours of 30 years earlier, when a degree course seemed to be a rapid passport to a career which, in one way or another, made use of the skills and enthusiasms which we had developed before and during University. By the age of 25 many, if not most, of us were already drawing a full-time salary within the stable career that would see us through the major part of our working lives. None of us were living with our parents, few were financially dependent on them. We were, at least in career terms, “grown ups”.

The pattern that emerges from the multiple stories of today’s young adults is very different. Adult children are far more often living in the parental home into their late 20s, they are far more likely to be financially dependent on parents, they are less likely to have found a career to which they can wholeheartedly commit, they are less clear about the form and direction of their lives. So many of them seem lost.

Of course, our children do also sometimes have conventional successes. And we parents are happy and proud for them. I greatly enjoy hearing news of these successes. But I have noticed something about many of these reports: they are delivered in tones of surprised relief. It is almost as if we parents know that such success is by no means guaranteed, and that we have no particular wisdom about, nor can we claim any particular credit for, the route to success. We don’t truly understand the causes of our children’s successes any more than we do their failures. There is a sense that we share in our children’s “lostness”, and we can no longer read the signs of the times in ways which allow us to be reliable resources for them. We all have many experiences of being told, in one way or another, by our children, that we just don’t understand how things are now for them. Our wisdom is dated.

Some of us might detect, in our children’s rejection of our wisdom, the so-called “youthful rebellion” against advice which they will eventually learn to accept as they “mature”. This is, I think to misread the situation. I think we should be prepared to accept that something very fundamental has shifted in Society over the last 25 years, and that the rules we learned (or pieced together) to enable us to create coherent lives, can no longer be a reliable guide for our children. The pressures on them are not only greater, they are different in their form and contour; and conversely, the social instruments and institutions which might be looked to for support and enlightenment have changed, sometimes beyond all recognition.

Public discourse, contributed to by politicians and pundits, and rehearsed through the media, offers far too little. One primary tactic is to “problematise” young people and their behaviour, so that solutions are focused on “changing the way they behave”, either by superficial external controls, or through “education”. For instance recent public debates on how to stop binge-drinking have focused on changes in licencing laws and commercial restraints on town-centre drinking establishments; together with attempts to publicise the negative health and social effects of alcohol abuse. It is rarer to see analyses that focus on the underlying causes of destructive cultures. People who are leading fulfilled lives – with meaningful goals – and effective support to achieve those goals – don’t have time or inclination for self-abuse.

Another common tactic is to apportion blame. Variously, pundits blame parents (particularly those formed by the “permissive” 60s”), schools, the media, multiculturalism and the decline of “traditional” morality. In general, these are seen as giving “too much freedom”, and the proposed remedies involve, in one way or another, a return to “Victorian values” of control and prohibition. Changes in parenting, education, and the like are all indeed manifestations of cultural change, but it is both simplistic and dangerous to invoke the past. The past that is generally invoked is not an active, subtle and complex lived past, but a conveniently selective image of the past, a reinterpretable and subvertible construction, onto which powerful elites can project their own current interests, interests which are rarely take into account the true human needs of those they seek to influence and control.

To find a better way forward, we need to step back from the simple slogans of politicians and newspaper editors, as well as ready made “answers” that might be offered from belief systems that were shaped in different times and places.

Spaces and safety needs to be created for young adults to tell their stories, fully and without interruption or criticism. People of other generations need the resources to be able to hear these stories, fully, respectfully and undefensively. Then, out of this “bottom-up” growing understanding, we may have a chance to construct a positive agenda, whereby young people and adults, working together, can create an agenda for the restoration of meaningful lives for young people. There can be no more important or urgent agenda.

Can we create a space in which the right kind of deep mutual listening and creative problem solving can take place? This may need a private dimension (to protect individuals and create trust) but it must have a strongly public “front-end”. This work is not, primarily, about finding more effective forms of therapy for distressed or disabled individuals (although outcomes of the work may, practically, be very therapeutic). It is about creating an agenda for stimulating activity which could lead to real and practical social change, an agenda that empowers young adults and their chosen allies, and leads to practical and observable changes in the way that people live together and support one another.

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War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, April 13, 2013 08:56:03


April 13th 2013

I was 29 when Margaret Thatcher won her first election in 1979 and served as Prime Minister for 11 years. Prior to her election, I had little or no interest or involvement in politics. It was her eager and unprecedented agreement to allow US nuclear weapons onto British soil (in Cruise Missiles at the US Military Base in Greenham Common, Berkshire) which catapulted me (and many around me) into political awareness and activism.

The early responses to Margaret Thatcher’s death have given surprisingly little attention to this aspect of her premiership, which was, at the time, one of the most controversial and contested. Indeed, only two of the many tributes to her in the special session of the UK Parliament held on 10th April 2013 even mentioned her deployment of Cruise missiles.

It is worth recalling that under the inspirational leadership of former Catholic Priest Bruce Kent, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) became one of the most formidable and effective foci for opposition to Thatcher’s policies. In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, CND membership nationally stood at 4,000. By 1984, under Kent’s leadership it had risen to 100,000, with another estimated 250,000 members of local branches around the country. October 1983 saw 400,000 CND supporters rally in London against Thatcher’s nuclear policies, one of the largest anti-government rallies in modern history (only exceeded 20 years later by the February 2003 rally against the Iraq invasion). So effective and articulate was Kent’s CND in publicly opposing her policies that individuals and organisations with close links to Thatcher and her government were spurred to mount a well-funded propaganda and “dirty tricks” campaign against CND, which involved such things as infiltration of their offices, and promotion of spurious claims that CND was funded by the KGB.

The Falkands crisis was an extremely fortunate opportunity for Thatcher to regain public support for British militarism in the face of the extraordinary political successes of CND in challenging the raison-d’etre of British defence policy and spending. Many within CND supported the Falklands War and argued that CND should not oppose it, as a “distraction” from their main purpose.

For me, however, the Falklands War was as disturbing (perhaps even more so) as the nuclear issue. It re-established in the national psyche the notion of Britain as a country of successful expeditionary war, sending British troops to far-off places, against the odds, to kill and defeat odious enemies. It needs to be recalled that since the 2nd World War, the only major expeditionary involvement of Britain was the disastrous Korean War of 1950-53, which involved 100,000 British troops and ended in stalemate with more than 2 million people killed. The equally disastrous British response to the Suez crisis, alongside the rapid unravelling of the British Empire, meant that by the late 1960s it was no longer clear what the British military (as a fighting force) was actually for. The Falklands War was, in my estimation, the “touch paper” that prepared national consciousness (and mood) for the far more consequential and ugly British military involvements in Kosovo/Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In one sense, I need to thank Margaret Thatcher. It was her definite and uncompromising policies, translated into equally definite action, that helped me define my own stance on these issues in reaction, and motivated me to become active in pursuing the goals that have developed into the specific peace-oriented projects that now take up much of my time and energy. Perhaps sometimes one needs to become more sharply aware of what one is against before one is able to work out what one is for and what to do about it. Margaret Thatcher was a towering and formidable force in British and World affairs, who showed me very clearly a view of Britain’s role and place in the world which is not the one I want for it, or for myself as one of its citizens. Britain maintains the world’s fourth largest military budget. I hope I might live to see Britain move way down this hierarchy, as a matter not of national disgrace, but of national pride and joy.

(For a more comprehensive account of the British anti-war movement, see Sloboda & Doherty, 2007. The Psychology of Anti-War Activism (1): The British Anti-War Movement 1956-2006. In R.Roberts (Ed.) Just War: Psychology, Terrorism, & Iraq. Ross on Wye: PCS books. Downloadable freely from

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