So how did I vote?

Well, here is a personal reflection on the processes I went through in deciding who to vote for. My friends will know that I work for a non-party political organisation so my conclusions here have no bearing on my employer. This is a post for my friends and has been deliberately posted after the election so as not to be seen to affect anyone else’s choice (as if what I think could!). I have travelled over 8000 miles in the run-up to this election, talking to hundreds of Christians, hearing their concerns and often being challenged about my views. I have always tried to be gracious and open (I failed on at least two occasions)- and have avoided the question of who I was going to vote for throughout. But I have been honest in stating that I was undecided until the last ten days of the campaign. So here is my reasoning- feel very free to disagree:

International Affairs

I am an internationalist- I think that as a rich country we should be prepared to play our part in alleviating suffering and investing in sustainable projects to help the poorest in the world. We should be part of the EU- fighting our corner for a more democratic legislature that serves its inhabitants better. But this will not be achieved by leaving it to others. And I welcome the immigrant, the alien, the foreigner, they should not be the scapegoats for the failings of our society. So at this point, it’s cheerio to UKIP.

The Economy

Without a strong economic base it is impossible to provide a decent welfare state and opportunities for all members of society. So the numbers have to add up. As I  sifted through the parties policies I found much to agree with and thought that in general, the parties had done a good job in being realistic about the next five years. One party fell short however- I couldn’t see how the citizen’s income, the extra houses etc could be afforded when the country is £1.5 trillion in debt – and rising. There seemed to be no way this had been priced in- and no Green candidate I heard from had any policy on economic growth (possibly because their commitment to sustainability means they are fundamentally opposed). Here I said bye bye to the Greens.

The Welfare State

Following on for the economy is the issue of social justice in our nation and how this is carried out via our welfare state. Firstly, though as a Christian, one thing I had to bear in mind was this- there are perhaps 5-10% of the nation who are practising, committed Christians. I am not making any judgments on others, simply indicating our tiny minority status. It is therefore no good us saying ‘the church should provide all the welfare as part of our mission’- the nation has important responsibilities here. So as I surveyed the policies on welfare the biggest turning point of the election, for me, occurred. The Conservatives announced that they would ban tax rises during this parliament- VAT, National Insurance, Income Tax. Alongside the unspecified £12 billion welfare cuts this can only mean more cuts to public services. And cuts to public services mean the poor and the vulnerable being the most affected. Alongside their spirited defence of the ‘non-doms’ this didn’t speak to me as a socially just approach. Imagine if there’s another worldwide economic recession- tax rises cannot help so deeper cuts will have to take effect. I spoke to a Conservative councillor who told me that he doesn’t know how to meet next year’s projected budget let alone the implications of these policies. So- despite thinking the coalition had done a good job, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative.

Social Policy

I am basically socially conservative. There were two particular issues that I had my eye on- assisted suicide and the laws around prostitution especially as they relate to human trafficking. The Liberal Democrats seem to me to be heading in a different direction on these issues due to their belief in autonomy (I know, however, that Nick Clegg isn’t a fan of assisted suicide). People should have the right to assisted suicide- it’s their decision- is the argument so often voiced without any reference to the wider effects on the elderly and disabled (cf. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson). And at a recent conference, the Lib Dems endorsed the right of women to work as sex workers rather than adopting the Scandinavian approach of prosecuting the buyers. So, I wasn’t part of team yellow.

Which leaves me with Labour (SNP were not on my ballot paper and nor were any other candidates/parties). Were they the least worst option? As I have said many times publicly- no party is the perfect party (apart from the Gareth Davies party which I would agree with perhaps 90% of the time!) and we shouldn’t expect too much from them. Ultimately, my trust is in God and not a political ideology. I think Labour had some good policies on tax (I prefer council tax rebanding rather than mansion tax), welfare (axing the bedroom tax) and a more positive vision for the country. They also seemed to have more people in their party favouring the Scandinavian approach to tackling prostitution and more breadth of thought (than the Lib Dems, anyway) generally on social issues (think, Blue Labour). So on this occasion I plumped for the Reds.

Other comments- I have consistently despaired of negative campaigning and this particular election was dire in this regard. The ‘You can’t trust Ed Miliband- he stabbed his brother in the back’ mini-campaign was its nadir. The personal attacks were designed to stop people thinking about policy (in this case to move the argument away from the ‘non-doms’). The discussion of policy was minimal- a real loss to our democracy.

In the event we have a Conservative majority government (with an SNP landslide in Scotland). Many of my friends have been concerned that the Liberal Democrats have been a negative force hampering the government from achieving more for the country. That argument seems to have won the day. Congratulations to the Conservatives and the SNP and commiserations to everyone else. We pray for our country, its leaders and all its citizens.


The Morrow Bill is just the start

Human Trafficking Exhibition Image 3_Methodist RecorderSo Lord Morrow’s ground-breaking private member’s bill introducing measures to tackle human trafficking has been passed by the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. Much attention has been paid to Clause Six which makes paying for sex illegal. This correctly puts the emphasis on to men (the vast majority of the users) to rethink whether paying for sexual services is a good leisure activity. And this is the crucial next phase. When this bill becomes law it is cultural change that will deem it successful or otherwise. If this legislation leads to a new culture amongst men that paying to use a woman’s body for sex is unacceptable then it will have achieved its purpose. Demand for sexual services will fall and therefore the supply of women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation will follow suit. It is time for such a cultural shift- for too long society has had a casual approach to the grim realities of sexual exploitation against women. We have been too relaxed about prostitution as we have about rape, revenge porn and many other life-altering degrading experiences. So let’s recognise that this is only the beginning. There is so much more to do. But changing the male mindset has to be the key objective.  Continue reading The Morrow Bill is just the start

I was at a feminist conference



Strange environments worry most of us if we’re honest. We don’t know the rules of the game, it takes a while to pick up the signals and sometimes we feel like the outsider. We can even feel like the enemy. So spending a Saturday at the ‘Stop Porn Culture’ conference was an unusual experience for me. The female:male ratio meant that I was impressively outnumbered, I was too conservatively dressed to feel at home and as a Christian I was in a minority. As a man I’m more used to settings where all the speakers are male than those where all the speakers are female. It’s interesting to recall my feelings as details of abusive male proprietors and producers were referenced time and time again. I felt uncomfortable, I felt culpable, I felt guilty. And because there were no male speakers who could have portrayed a more wholesome picture of masculinity this feeling was unresolved throughout the day. It made me think about the ease with which I accept men speaking from a male-only platform about women with no corrective balance with which to adjust the picture. I was also reminded that being in a minority makes you more watchful, more nervous and more likely to interpret things negatively. Human dynamics are like that- we are relational to the core so any sense of being ‘shut out’ is bound to create unhealthy introspection. This is where the self-blaming game begins – ‘It must be something wrong with me’. I am in a privileged position: I am white and I am male and thanks to a secure foundation I rarely have a default setting that says it must be my fault (even though sometimes it is). I was also in the advantageous position of having three Christian feminist friends to talk to and to interpret experiences with. How would I have felt without them? Sometimes the language from the speakers was foreign to me both in terms of heroes of the feminist movement and in terms of pornographic activity. How do we feel when we don’t get it? As a Christian we throw terms around rather too freely assuming that others will get it via osmosis. Life is not like that. Language creates real barriers for the outsider which drives a wedge that means: ‘These are not my people’. So my appeal is simply this: Be more aware of who we are talking to, be more friendly to those who struggle to fit in and let’s have more balanced platforms in Christian gatherings so that women and men feel equally at home.

With thanks to Natalie, Jen and Sarah.


Let’s talk about porn, let’s talk about filters



And so the campaign began. After years of accidents in an area where many families lived, the campaign to reduce the speed limit to 20mph got underway with parents agitating for change. Of course, it wasn’t just children who got injured but parents felt a special responsibility to their offspring. They held many meetings with the council, the police and the Highways Agency and a number of counter arguments were heard. ‘Some drivers are just determined to speed, you won’t stop all of them’, ‘It will restrict those who drive perfectly sensibly at 30mph- why should they be punished?’, ‘It is simply unenforceable’, ‘Surely it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children cross the road safely’ and many others. The new limit was agreed but with one proviso: The parents were required to attend a class in road safety with their dependent children before it was instigated. At the final meeting the local headteachers agreed to educate their pupils regularly on the dangers of the road and how to navigate the local area confidently. The results were encouraging. Most speeding traffic was eliminated but some inevitably slipped through. It was shocking to see the complete disregard for safety of some deviant drivers even though the police set up speed traps to catch them. Young children were usually accompanied by their parents but it was seen as somewhat strange when teenagers were- parents had been taught that by the time of leaving Primary School, all pupils should be confident in avoiding the dangers posed by the road. Sadly, there were still occasional casualties but no-one had pretended that this was a perfect system.  

For the best counter-argument to filters read @crimperman ‘Internet blocking will still not protect our children’


Time for a principled cover-up?

make-modesty-wraps-lawMike Beecham is a reluctant campaigner. He’s just got fed up with visiting his local Co-op store and seeing  the sexualised front covers of magazines like Nuts, Zoo and Loaded in the faces of those who never requested their presence, especially impressionable children. His request is a simple one- Why can’t such magazines have a ‘modesty wrap’ (i.e. opaque sleeve) around the image on the front cover? This would lead to the casual passer-by not being exposed to pictures designed for titillation. Let’s be clear- this isn’t about banning anything, it’s about the freedom of the public to go about their supermarket shopping without being affected by airbrushed ‘babes’. Those who wish to purchase these magazines would be able to do so in the normal way. He’s tried the approach of a personal complaint with no effect. So now, reinvigorated with the challenge of Christian Vision for Men, he’s giving this campaign one almighty shove in the public sphere. If you care about how women are depicted in the media you might find this cause is for you. If you are concerned about the stereotypes affecting our children you might say now is the time to draw a line. If you believe in freedom of choice you can surely agree that this small but significant change is a step forward. And if you are concerned that the major supermarkets are more concerned about profit than common decency you will find this modest campaign compelling.

As a former editor of FHM said recently (talking of these publications):

‘I think it’s just reached a point where it’s readily accessible porn…’

So let’s treat it as porn and obscure it from the view of most supermarket shoppers.

Will you join in?

Sign the e-petition here.

Follow @modestywraps on Twitter for all the latest news on the campaign

The Oldest and most foul form of snobbery

The No More Page 3 campaign is gathering momentum, tens of thousands of people have signed the petition requesting that the Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, ceases his paper’s practice of publishing pictures of topless women. Naturally, there are those who take exception to the aim of the campaign, some because they (mistakenly) believe that the campaign aims to ban Page 3 and are worried about imposed censorship. Others, though, understand what is at stake but believe the premise – that showing women’s boobs in a national newspaper causes wider problems – to be fundamentally flawed. Brendan O’Neill has taken this view with a flourish and accused No More Page 3 supporters of being ‘driven by the oldest and most foul form of snobbery’. His contention appears to be that by campaigning against a publication that is largely read by manual workers a metropolitan elite demonstrates its disgust of this section of society.

Why? Where is the evidence? Could it not be that we believe in a much more wholesome human dignity that celebrates human potential without becoming sex objects? The reason this practice objectifies women is that there is clearly no relationship between viewer and viewed. Therefore, an object she has become (for someone else’s gratification presumably).

By placing the arguments out there, the campaign is generating debate about what we value in ourselves and what we value in others, in other words, what kind of society we desire to be. If we are happy for men to talk to women whilst gawping at their chests then we need do nothing. If we want to tolerate rude comments on the pavements of our cities, sit tight and hope nothing changes. If we want girls to aspire to cosmetic surgery to gain attention, keep quiet. If, though, we have a different view of society, we might like to stand up for it right now.

The No More Page 3 petition is available here.

And if Mr O’Neill wishes to call me inconsistent due to the prevalence of internet pornography, he might wish to read some of my previous posts.

The No More Page 3 petition is available here

And if Mr O’Neill wishes to call me inconsistent due to the prevalence of internet pornography he might wish to read some of my previous posts.

When breasts are not best



It’s a no-brainer really. Why are we still tolerating a national newspaper showing topless women on page 3? Really, I can’t find any good reason. Yes, it’s been around for a long time but does that mean it’s existence can’t be challenged? It’s not a great British institution simply a tool for luring men into viewing women as sex objects- pure and simple. For well-constructed arguments that debunk certain myths read this. Well, thanks to Lucy Holmes and her admirable campaign the momentum for change is growing. The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, is being implored by thousands of people to put an end to this practice of judging women by their cleavage. This isn’t about introducing a law, it’s about standing up as the majority and saying we don’t think women should grow up in an objectified culture and we don’t think men should either. I think we are a majority and I think, this time, we might just succeed. So- if you can think of a good reason for page 3 to continue, do nothing.

If not sign here

Inspiring lessons from the NEXT campaign

‘I’m phoning you to ask for your help.’

The distressed Next customer called into the CARE offices on Friday afternoon about a T-shirt that depicted a woman in underwear in a provocative position under the heading ‘SINNERS’ with a definition of sin below including a Bible verse (Romans 7:1) from The Message version. ‘Is there anything you can do?’ she asked. Having explained that she had already registered a complaint directly with the company to no avail, she was looking for a bigger network with a campaigning voice. So I quickly put together a basic blog post focusing on the objectifying message about women and how using the Bible to encourage this was deeply offensive. Being more naturally at home on Twitter I began publicising the campaign there and was encouraged about how many others soon became involved. Particularly mention at this point goes to @sarasaith for her blog post that drew attention to Next’s Code of Practice and how this item contravened it at least two key points. As momentum gathered, individuals started messaging @nextofficial directly with their questions requiring individual responses. Then I realised that Facebook was the place for much of their customer service work and so posed a question for them there:

Friday at 15:14: Why are you marketing ‘Graphic T-Shirts’ with misogynistic poses of women in underwear and promoting such images using The Bible?

This brought in a few commenters, various likes and a response from Next that they were looking in to it. It all served to spread the message wider (bear in mind that Facebook users hugely outnumber Twitter users). Meanwhile the pressure was beginning to tell as a number of Twitter users with large followings encouraged others to join in (thanks to Evangelical Alliance, Vicky Beeching, The Vicar’s Wife and God & Politics UK amongst others). One interesting tweet was sent by @1SteveWade who asked whether the Conservative peer (and Chief Executive of Next), Simon Wolfson, was happy to sell this product. With such ‘noise’ created, a turning point was reached. I was contacted by a journalist at the Daily Mail who was interested in featuring the story. He had been following the online campaign and decided the story was worth following up – so after taking quotes (from others involved as well) he told me he was going to contact the Next PR department. What happened afterwards, I couldn’t quite believe. The journalist called back to say ‘Well done – they’re withdrawing it with immediate effect’. I was so stunned I asked him to say it again but sure enough the Next statements started to come out:

From Next’s Facebook page: “Dear all, thank you for your comments. We take all feedback very seriously. On reflection we agree it was a mistake for us to sell these garments and we are therefore removing them from sale.”

The journalist wasn’t sure his story would make it into the newspaper but later that evening the online story was posted followed by the print edition on Saturday. Next responded to individual complainants to break the happy news and various blogs (@echurchblog, The Vicar’s Wife) gave a brief summary. But this is a story that began with one distressed person and a cry for help.


A few lessons to draw:

  1. One person can make a difference- if the phone hadn’t been picked up it would have been a quiet Friday afternoon.
  2. Our Christian community and networks are well integrated and can be leveraged for very good purposes.
  3. We don’t have to share exactly the same concerns- some may have been more concerned about the image, others by invoking the Bible.
  4. We should use the media channels wisely- recognising that where the audience is greatest so the impact will be greatest (e.g. Facebook, national newspapers).
  5. Acting courteously is a non-negotiable- we may be distressed by something, but we should engage thoughtfully & applaud good decisions when they are made.
  6. We should help promote each other’s good work – this a team game and without wide participation we will be consigned to be ignored in a quiet corner.

If you have any other observations, do let me know in the comments section.

Thanks to God, thanks to friends & collaborators and thanks to Next for listening well and acting quickly.

Next: The T-Shirt that says it all

Sometimes you can’t quite believe what you’ve seen. My attention has just been drawn to a tee-shirt sold by NEXT in their ‘Graphic T-Shirts’ range. The black & white provocative picture of a woman in her underwear objectifies women and suggests availability. It is degrading & damaging to female and male alike. But what surrounds the picture is even more shocking. In order to create the allure of a ‘naughty’ sexual encounter it is headlined ‘SINNERS’ ‘The Night Before’ with a long definition of sin complete with Bible reference underneath.Do the publishers of The Message version know of & approve of this use of their material? Using a Bible verse (Rom 7:8) to seek to produce the exact opposite of its original purpose is scandalous. NEXT want to sell lots of these T-Shirts and one of the consequences will be to produce a misogynistic view of women. Is that an agenda they’re signed up to? Until they withdraw this product, I’ll assume it is. It is time to create some noise and get some answers. Watch this space.

A little more conversation…

Someone recently suggested that Christians talk too much about pornography (and that this is unhealthy). It’s certainly true that on Twitter there are a number of different individuals discussing this subject right now. There are dangers and I’ll name two: Firstly, that Christians are only seen as being interested in the socially conservative sins rather than the wider agenda (e.g. UK child poverty and overseas development aid). This is a perception of long-standing that will not change overnight, but I don’t believe that a solution is to keep quiet about something as damaging as pornography. It destroys lives and is therefore a matter of social justice. Yes, we need to advocate on other issues too – and thankfully the Christian community is much more comprehensive in its range of interests (e.g. personal debt, FairTrade, climate change). Secondly, that by talking about it we provoke further curiosity, thus leading others to fall into the trap. If I’ve written something that has been unhelpful then I want to hear about it,but my conviction is that we don’t talk about it enough.

In the last year or so a number of bloggers and organisations have taken up this issue with persistence in a way that might just indicate God’s guiding hand orchestrating a truth-telling and grace-filled response. It is better to bring troubling issues out into the light than to leave them festering in the darkness where the isolated individual has nowhere to turn. We were created as relational beings and our willingness to offer support is testimony to our God-given humanity. I recently talked to a church leader about this issue and he said ‘Oh – I thought pornography was looking at naked women’. Well, yes it is, but there is a staggering lack of understanding of what the 53% of Christian men viewing the stuff are looking at if that’s all you think it is. Clearly, we are not talking about it enough in our churches where the majority of pastoral support takes place. There is definitely a place for men’s groups to talk about it and for youth workers to address it with their teenagers. But this is not an issue that can be consigned to specialist silos. It needs to be addressed in plenary gatherings (albeit sensitively & appropriately), so that everyone knows that the issue is taken seriously and that help is readily at hand. And if we are worrying that some in our congregations might be shocked and outraged then I have a solution: Preach and model the gospel of grace. Because shock and outrage belong to the non-gospel of self-righteousness.

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