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At this time of the year, I am accustomed to being asked to contribute to a 'look back' over the year just closed. This year, I'd rather look at a jumping-off point for the year we have just entered.
“Ring out false pride in place and blood/ The civic slander and the spite;/ Ring in the love of truth and right, / Ring in the common love of good.” Alfred Tennyson wrote those lines in his poem In Memoriam in 1850. It seems little has changed.
The false pride of blood and place has been manifested in ugly comments in high places, unsubstantiated by any evidence, about Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants. The civic slander and spite is obvious enough in a Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government who wants to veto “contentious language” on the part of local authorities. The Local Audit and Accountability Bill, about to become law, requires council publications to comply with a new code of conduct designed to prevent councils from using taxpayer-funded freesheets to convey messages critical of central government.
Its powers are drawn so loosely and widely that is appears they could also apply to websites and social media. A government that knows what happens when power loses control of the language (remember the poll tax/community charge?) prefers us to speak and write of the 'spare room subsidy' rather than the bedroom tax. So much for localism.
Neatly spanning the categories described in the the first two clauses of Tennyson's stanza are the poisonous comments of Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster City Council, who suggested today (1 January) – without any evidence to back her claims – that a flood of new immigrants coming from Eastern Europe would “abuse our welfare system", "pickpocket", "aggressively beg" and “defecate” on people’s front doorsteps.
But we are not defenceless in the face of this mendacity and bile. It is for us to ring in the common love of good. Let us not fall into an indolent cynicism, into the celebrity nihilism of Russell Brand or even into a destructive form of opposition. If we permit righteous anger to turn us toward aggression and abuse, we do no better than those who are abusing the essential decency of our people. You don't need to be a Christian to take heart from the final stanza of the canto quoted above: “Ring in the valiant man and free,/ The larger heart, the kindlier hand;/ Ring out the darkness of the land,/ Ring in the Christ that is to be.
A large hearted and valiant 2014 to you all.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet