Thursday, 25 March 2010

So dull I cannot even think of a title...............

I forgot why it was I had not shared the financial results of the British Humanist Association until I read them again tonight. They are pretty unexciting, which says a lot even for annual accounts. The trustees there appear to be models of financial rectitude and the financial stability of the BHA with income just below £1m per annum seems pretty assured for the future. The accounts for 2008 show that around £12ok was spent on the atheist bus campaign although with donations slightly in excess of that, a very public campaign did not blow a hole in their finances. If you are suffering from insomnia the accounts are free to view on the Charities Commission website. Perhaps I have missed something noteworthy based on a quick read through, but I suspect not.

I have recently reflected on the sheer poverty of choice for the British electorate in the forthcoming General Election. Any remaining vestiges of sympathy I might have had for Labour were well and truly blown away with the revelation that former Cabinet Ministers were offering their services (for cash) to lobbying companies. The whole lobbying process feels to me wholly undemocratic and whilst I am not so naive not to realise that this is how business gets done in the Westminster village it is yet another unwelcome reminder as to how far standards have fallen in public life. Still I suppose it gives the Government a decent election slogan: Vote Labour: the Best that Money can buy.

A final parting shot is this. The combination of a determined (zealous) group of anti-religionists, a workable (but not huge) pot of money, some lobbying skills, a friendly media and a group of former Cabinet Ministers for hire may be all it takes to further undermine and marginalise religious life in this country. Nothing in the election campaign thus far suggests that any of the major political parties will do more than stand by and let this trend continue.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

And the winner is........

The following excerpt from Wikipedia on the 1992 election makes for interesting reading. I have italicised and boldened a few select passages.

"The United Kingdom general election of 1992 was held on 9 April 1992, and was the fourth consecutive victory for the Conservative Party. This election result was one of the biggest surprises in the 20th Century, as polling leading up to the day of the election showed Labour under leader Neil Kinnock to be consistently, if narrowly, ahead.

John Major had won the leadership election in November 1990 succeeding the outgoing PM Margaret Thatcher.

During his term leading up to the 1992 elections he oversaw the British involvement in the Gulf War, introduced legislation to replace the unpopular Community Charge with Council Tax, and signed the Maastricht treaty. The UK had gone into recession around the time of Major's appointment, along with most of the other industrialised nations. John Major announced the date of the election on 11 March shortly after Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont had delivered the Budget. It was one of the most dramatic elections in the UK since the end of the Second World War, after the Conservative Party defeated the initial favourites, the Labour Party.

Labour had been ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls since as long ago as 1989, and Thatcher's main reason for her resignation was that she felt that the Tories would stand a better chance of winning the next election if they had a new leader. As 1992 dawned, the recession deepened and the election loomed, most opinion polls suggested that Labour were still favourites to win the election. However, on Election Day, The Sun newspaper ran a front page headline which urged "the last person to leave Britain" to "turn out the lights" if Labour won the election. This headline was widely regarded as the saviour of the Conservative government, and The Sun famously ran a front page headline the next day - It's The Sun Wot Won It - to claim that it had won the election for the Conservatives."

Today's Sunday Telegraph reports the Tory lead in the polls down to a 2-year low. This is in line with the trends reported by other pollsters. Now not all the parallels are the same - not least because the current PM does not appear to attract the same degree of public support and sympathy as John Major. But the scepticism about Mr Cameron does appear to have echoes of the Kinnock leadership.

Overall I do not think one can rule out the potential for a re-run. The prospect of lightening striking twice and an unlikely Labour win strikes me with about as much glee as the Major, "against the odds" victory in '92. But if Mr Brown does pull it off in the face of such hostility to him and his government, no-one can say that he hasn't earned it or that the Conservatives hadn't blown a huge opportunity.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Export Drive

As part of an irregular enquiry into how secularism is being funded I had the good fortune to stumble upon the accounts of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason Ltd. These are filed with Companies House so we can all view them provided we are prepared to pay the princely sum of £1.
My money might have been more wisely spent. All the accounts for the year to 30 April 2009 tell us is that there has been a substantial growth in income up from £81k to £317k. The balance sheet reveals a cash balance of £186k and debtors of £57k. The accounts make it clear that reserves (reflected in the cash and debtors) are being built up to to establish the charity.
Of the donations that have been made, the British Humanist Association got £13k, which will have pleased Stephen Fry. However the biggest item by far is a donation of £102k to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason (US). The US arm of the Dawkins Foundation actually controls its UK equivalent so I guess that having racked up some Gift Aid from UK donations the money goes to support its bigger cousin across the pond.
So next step is to see what is on the record for the Foundation over there.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Party Political Broadcast...........

Two interesting pieces in the papers about the place of Christianity and the church in everyday life. The first from Nigel Farndale in the Sunday Telegraph argues that national life without the Church of England would be much diminished, a curious conclusion, perhaps, coming as it does from an atheist. Whilst I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the piece it strikes me as a plea for the preservation of the faith as heritage asset: Morning Prayer as an event that overseas tourists would queue up to watch; the sort of institution that John Major was conjuring up when he talked about warm beer, cricket on the village green and old maids cycling to evensong. Nostalgic certainly, beguiling perhaps, but ultimately irrevelant.
The second from Frank Skinner in last week's Times takes a rather different, Christian perspective. As far as persuading me is concerned, he was pushing at an open door. And his comment that whilst there are relatively few people in church these days, they are at least there because they want to be there struck a particular chord. Whilst I do not believe Frank's tongue was entirely absent from his cheek I think there is some truth in the idea that persecution (even it is of the "Oi, you, God-botherer" variety) is the natural condition for the average Christian.
A General Election is weeks away. Thus far, the choices put in front of the electorate have been lamentable. A government as tired as this one ought to be looking at meltdown on polling day. Thanks to David Cameron and the Tories "New" Labour is now believing a hung parliament may be a realistic outcome. And not forgetting the Liberal Democrats, challenging though that is. The remarkable thing missing from all three political parties is leadership, a sense that they have what it takes to see this country through the depths of a recession, are able to take the tough decisions on the economy and at the same time, take us with them.
The most compelling pitch in the forthcoming election debate I have seen thus far is Choosing the Common Good, not bad considering it was written by Catholic Bishops in England and Wales. Of course they do not have votes to win but it is perhaps that very factor that allows them to write with conviction; and to spell out an agenda which seems to me to argue persuasively that our growth as individuals is in large measure about the things we do and the care we take of those around us. This is not the church as quaint relic or as beleaguered and oppressed pariah struggling for survival in a secular world; this is the church with a relevant message for the world today. If only I could given them my vote...........oh, I just have.