#euref What would Brexit actually look like?

brexitProbably the most important question of the EU Referendum is what would happen next if Leave wins. There are, broadly speaking, three different ways in which the UK could leave the EU, and each of them would mean a different set of changes.

A quick disclaimer here: Whilst I’ll try to be objective here, I am planning to vote remain. If you aren’t familiar with the EU, you may want to read my  previous post “What is the EU anyway“. I’ll list the three options from the one I think will leave us worst off to the one I think will leave us best off.

The “Albania” Option

We could leave the EU without any trade agreement at all.

One immediate effect of this would be that trade with the EU will be subject to tariffs (taxes on goods and services going between the UK and the EU), and a few other “barriers to trade”. As 44% of British exports go to the EU, it is very likely that the short-term effect of leaving this way would be an economic crash in the UK. The other immediate effect would be that Parliament could change any EU Law that is not enshrined in any of the other treaties we are signed up to (see the previous post for a list of what policy areas are affected).However, using those powers to move UK law away from EU law would make trading with the EU in future more difficult, as some of the differences would create extra barriers to trade. Brexiters who favour this kind of arrangement, however, believe that in the long term severing our ties with the EU will lead to significantly increased trade with non-EU countries, and that eventually this will lead to us becoming better off than we would have been if we stayed.

The big unknown with this option is immigrants. There are currently about 2.2. million Brits living elsewhere in the EU and about the same number of citizens of other EU countries living in the UK. If we leave without any kind of agreement, it’s unclear what will happen to either group. Perhaps the worst case scenario is if the vast majority of both groups lose the right to live and work in the countries they currently live in. In addition to the obvious human costs of this, there will be an economic cost. Because EU citizens living here are mostly here to work, whilst UK citizens in other EU countries are mostly there to retire, this would have a disastrous effect on government finances. We would be swapping a couple of million taxpayers who use very few government services for a couple of million pensioners, who will be paying very little into the system, whilst requiring – on average – a lot more from the NHS than the average person.

The “Canada” Option

Leaving the EU with a free-trade agreement, but not remaining part of the common market.

In this arrangement, the UK would not pay any tariffs on our exports to the EU, but there would be all sorts of little barriers to trade, which would gradually increase if UK law did not deliberately keep in step with EU law. Under this arrangement, there would be a much longer transition period than either of the other options. Canada took ten years to negotiate their free trade deal with the EU. Since the UK starts off with our laws being entirely compatible with the rest of the EU, negotiating a deal will almost certainly take less time. But whilst the deal is being negotiated there will be a period of several years where nobody can be sure what the future will look like. This option will cause us fewer problems than leaving with no trade deal at all. However, it is still a high-risk scenario, and almost everything I said about the first option applies to this one.

The “Norway” Option

Leave the EU, but remain in the common market.

This would mean agreeing an arrangement with the EU that is similar to the ones Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland have, and would take far less time to negotiate than a separate free trade treaty. Whilst the details of such a deal would probably differ from these three examples, there will be a number of similarities. Under such an agreement, we would have to obey the vast majority of EU law (see the next post in this series for a description of how this works), although our influence would be reduced to lobbying behind the scenes. We would retain freedom of movement for EU citizens (so EU citizens retain the right to live and work here, and vice versa). Westminster would regain control of some areas of policy (Norway and Iceland have complete control over their fishing, for example). British businesses would face no real barriers to trade, except when it comes to any areas were control has returned to Westminster.

One consequence of this kind of deal would be that we continue to pay in to the EU. Norway pays about the same per capita amount to the EU as we do. However, none of that money comes back into the country. The UK gets some of its money back as a rebate, and receives other bits back as subsidies for agriculture, science, and regeneration schemes.

Which is more likely?

The most likely deal to be struck is going to be a Norway-style one. The Conservatives will not want to be seen to cause an economic crash – which is a definite risk with both of the first two options.

Given that the current government will be negotiating on our behalf, working out the most likely exit deal means it is worth considering what kind of EU regulations they would want to negotiate away. There is no way the EU will allow free market access without retaining free movement of people. However, the UK could get opt outs of other aspects of EU law. David Cameron lobbied very hard against proposed EU regulations on investment banking that would have restricted the City of London. Conservative minister Priti Patel has suggested to employers that EU legislation securing workers’ rights was amongst the “red tape” that could be got rid of if we leave. And the government has been somewhat hostile to any kind of green/renewable energy generation, in contrast to the rest of the EU, which is fully embracing these technologies.

In my view, it seems unlikely that any of these scenarios will leave the UK in a better state than we would be in if we remained. But please do make up your own mind.


The next post in this series will discuss what “Brexit” would actually look like.


If you’ve noticed a mistake in this post, or there’s something that isn’t entirely clear, please tell me in the comments so that I can correct it.

If you’ve found this post helpful some of your friends probably will too. So make sure you share it on social media.

If you want to repost this on your own blog feel free to do so, as long as you credit me and link back to the original.

#euref What is the EU Anyway?

EU LogoThe EU referendum campaign is underway, and a lot of people don’t think they know enough to decide how to vote. So I thought I’d try explaining it all. This post is a quick guide to what the EU is and what it does. Other posts in this series will explore what “Brexit” looks like, and examine some of the arguments being made in the debate.

Before starting,you should know that I am in favour of remaining. Whilst I hope to represent both sides fairly in all the posts in this series, the fact that I come down on one side of the debate means I might be a bit biased at times.

Describing every part of the EU would be about as difficult as describing everything that the UK government does – both are large organisations that do a lot of different things. But at the most fundamental level, the EU is an international institution created by a series of treaties between its member states. In other words, the countries of Europe have agreed to work together on a lot of different issues, and the EU is the main way they do that.

What is the EU for?

The original aim of the EU was to create a peaceful Europe where countries trade with each other and work together to help each other, rather than going to war against each other. It began as a “common market” – bringing down the barriers to trade between the different member states. Its most fundamental principles are the “four freedoms” – that people, goods, services, and money should be free to move between the member states. There are, however, two very different visions of what it should focus on.

One vision is that the EU should be primarily about free trade – bringing down economic barriers between countries, and making it easier for business (especially big business) to do business here. Sometimes this vision appears to be about using the EU to make things easier for corporations. This is the vision shared by right-wing parties in Europe. In the UK, this is the pro-Europe wing of the Conservatives, the right wing of the Liberal Democrats, and some of the more Blairite members of Labour.

The other vision is that the EU should be primarily about protecting Europe from the negative effects of Capitalism. This is the view of most of Labour, some Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru. This view emphasises protections for workers, consumers, and the environment. Many within this group see the EU as the most effective way for European countries to fight climate change.

In practice, European legislation has been a mixture of both ideologies. Each group has managed to achieve things through the EU.

What powers does the EU have?

The EU only has power over some areas of policy.

It has sole power over the following things:

  • Customs rules between EU members
  • Competition rules that affect the common market within the EU
  • Monetary policy for countries using the Euro (which does not affect the UK)
  • Conservation of fish within EU waters
  • Common commercial policy
  • Negotiating international treaties that affect the things the EU has responsibility for.

The EU shares power with the member states on these issues:

  • The internal market (i.e. everything that allows free trade etc. within the EU)
  • Some aspects of social policy
  • “Economic, social, and territorial cohesion” (Basically helping areas in the EU with weaker economies catch up. In the UK, Wales has received a lot of investment from the EU under this area of policy.)
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Protecting the environment
  • Consumer protection laws
  • Transport
  • Energy
  • “Freedom, justice, and security” (meaning helping police co-ordinate across borders, and agreeing a common approach to things like asylum)
  • A few aspects of public health
  • Research and development, including the European Space Program
  • Shared development aid (part of our international aid budget is sent via the EU)

It has the power to support member states in the following areas, but cannot do anything to harmonise different countries’ laws:

  • Protecting public health
  • Industry
  • Culture
  • Tourism
  • Education, vocational training, youth, and sport
  • “civil protection” (I’m not entirely sure what this one means)
  • administrative co-operation between member states

It has the power to provide arrangements for the member states to co-ordinate policy in the following areas:

  • economic policy
  • employment
  • social policies

The EU has no powers over anything not listed above. So please don’t decide your vote on the basis of, say, defence policy where our membership of the EU is entirely irrelevant.

How does the EU work?

The EU works through a number of different institutions. I’ll go into detail on how EU law is passed in a later post in this series. There are seven “major” EU institutions, but the most important are the following four:

The European Parliament

Made up of elected representatives (called MEPs) from across Europe, the Parliament does most of the work of writing European laws.

The European Council

This is made up of the heads of state or government of the member states. The British Prime Minister, French President, German Chancellor etc. meet together four times a year to set the EU’s agenda.

The Council of the European Union (aka the Council of Ministers)

This is a committee made up of ministers from each member state. The minister each country sends will be the one responsible for that area of policy. For example, if they are discussing the Common Agricultural Policy then the council will be made up of the Agriculture ministers. Whilst the term “Council of Ministers” is unofficial, it is used far more often than the official name, and helpfully describes exactly what it is.

European Commission

This is the body that is responsible for running the EU. It is made up of one representative from each member state (usually nominated by that country’s government), and its President must be approved by both the Parliament and the European Council. Each commissioner has a particular area of EU policy that they are responsible for.

What the EU is not

There are several things that are associated with the EU, but which are technically separate things.

The Common Market

This is the part of the EU that allows free trade within the EU. Whilst it is the core part of the EU, it is possible to be part of the common market without actually being an EU member. We’ll get to that in the next post in the series.

The European Court of Human Rights

Not part of the EU at all. Though every EU member is required to sign up. This court is basically the ultimate court of appeal for human rights issues. It enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Eurozone

Countries that use the Euro as currency. The UK has an opt-our from the Eurozone. If we left the EU and then re-joined we would have to sign up to adopt the Euro, although the process could be drawn out for quite some time.

The Schengen Agreement

All EU citizens have the right to live and work in any EU country. The countries that are part of Schengen go one step further – they have no internal borders. Anybody with a visa for one Schengen country can visit any other. So, for example, an American tourist can visit Spain, France, and Italy on the same trip. Switzerland is a Schengen country, but not part of the EU, and being allowed to live and work in one Schengen country does not automatically allow you to do so in every Schengen country. The UK is not signed up to Schengen, and some Schengen countries have re-introduced border controls as a result of the refugee crisis.


The next post in this series will discuss what “Brexit” would actually look like.


If you’ve noticed a mistake in this post, or there’s something that isn’t entirely clear, please tell me in the comments so that I can correct it.

If you’ve found this post helpful some of your friends probably will too. So make sure you share it on social media.

If you want to repost this on your own blog feel free to do so, as long as you credit me and link back to the original.

Why I might spoil my ballot paper this year

a spoilt ballot paper from the 2012 electionsIn my area there are two elections this May. Whilst I will be voting Green in the local council elections, I might be spoiling my ballot for the Police and Crime Commissioner, because there are no candidates I can honestly support. If you’re not familiar with the term, a spoiled ballot is a ballot paper that is not valid for some reason, and spoiling your ballot is the only way to actively abstain from voting. It is better than not casting a vote at all, because then the politicians know that you don’t want any of the candidates, rather than that you simply can’t be bothered to choose.

Before you take this as an attack on my party, there is no Green candidate on the ballot paper. The feeling amongst Greens in the West Midlands (my police area) is that finding a deposit of £5000 for an election where we aren’t guaranteed to retain the deposit, for a post that is almost certain to be abolished next year (the powers to be rolled into the not-Greater-Birmingham-honest Mayor that’s being created) was not a wise use of our money.

There are, in fact, only four candidates standing.

Pete Durnell (UKIP) – there are very few circumstances where I would consider voting for UKIP, and all of them would involve an outstanding candidate. Nothing I know about Peter Durnell suggests that he is outstanding, or that his approach to policing would be in any way similar to what I would like to see.

Andy Flynn (Independent) – an ex-UKIP official, whose platform is apparently to “take the politics out of policing”, which would seem somewhat hypocritical at best. He is just as unappealing to me as the actual UKIP candidate.

David Jamieson (Labour) – the current Police and Crime Commissioner (elected in a by-election in 2014). Given the rest of the ballot, I probably would have reluctantly voted for a generic Labour candidate. However, there has been a big controversy over his deputy, Yvonne Mosquito – whom he recently suspended from her post. Everything I have heard from both insiders and media coverage suggest that his handling of the affair raises serious questions about whether he is suitable for the role.

Les Jones (Conservative) – Like UKIP, there are very few circumstances where I would consider voting for a Conservative candidate. And, again, there is nothing I know about Les Jones that makes me think he would be an outstanding candidate, or that his approach would be what I would consider to be a good one.

So, faced with the lack of any candidate who strikes me as at least “the best of a bad bunch”, I am considering spoiling my ballot paper.

How the Police and Crime Commissioner election works

The PCC elections are slightly different to other elections, they use a system called “supplementary vote”. Basically, you get a first preference vote and a second preference vote (you mark a cross in a different box for each of the votes). If nobody gets over 50% of first preference votes, then everybody except the top two is eliminated, and the second preference votes of all the other candidates get given to the top two. Which means that voters are expected to know who the top two are supposed to be.

If you live in an area with Police and Crime Commissioner elections, all of the candidates have statements posted on the website choosemypcc.org.uk.


It’s Easter Sunday, so here’s the Easter story reimagined in the form of a dance.

Faith and the Green Party DO mix

Yesterday, Gillan Scott (formerly of God and Politics UK, now blogging at Archbishop Cranmer) wrote a post with the provocative title “Green Party: Christians welcome, but only if you ignore your faith”. Whilst Gillan is usually even-handed, the post was a hatchet-job, basically claiming that the Green Party’s positions on abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage make it impossible for a Christian to remain true to their faith and belong to or vote for the Greens. He ignores the fact that most of these views are very similar to those of other political parties, and doesn’t acknowledge that many Christians think that Green politics are the best fit for a Christian.

In response, I thought I’d explain some of the reasons I think that the Green Party is a good fit for Christians.

Firstly, the issue of creation care. In Genesis 1:29-30, God tells the first humans that he’s putting humanity in charge of the rest of creation. Christians have traditionally interpreted this as meaning that we have a duty of care to it, perhaps the most notable example being Francis of Assisi. Living, as we do, in an era where human technology is reshaping the global climate, we have to ensure that this duty is central to our political life. In the UK, the Green Party is the only political party that treats environmental issues with this level of importance.

Secondly, the issue of poverty. Anybody familiar with the Bible will know that it frequently talks about how God wants us to care for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Right now, none of the other UK national parties treat this as a priority. Even Labour are talking about how they will be tougher on benefits claimants than the Tories. When austerity policies have seen record numbers of people turning to foodbanks, with a very large proportion of them saying that it is because of benefit changes, a Christian approach to the poor cannot allow us to side with the tabloid press who routinely demonise benefits claimants.

Finally, I’ll mention immigration. Whilst this issue is less fundamental to my theology, my politics, and my party’s politics than the other two, it’s one of the issues that the media and politicians are talking about a lot at the moment. Labour, the Tories, and UKIP are currently playing a game of one-upmanship to see who can talk the toughest about immigration. The problem is that being anti-immigrant is a fundamentally unChristian position. One of the groups that are disadvantaged in society both now and in Biblical times are the immigrants (or aliens, as many Bible translations say). And the Bible repeatedly tells us to about welcome the aliens. The New Testament says many times, and in many different ways, that the differences between nationalities and ethnicities are nothing compared to the unity Christians should have in Christ. As Colossians 3:11 says, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (ESV translation). Right now, as far as I can tell, the Greens are the only national party which are trying to say positive things about immigrants when the issue comes up.

So I’ve outlined three issues that are (or at least should be) massively important to British politics in 2015 where I think that the Green Party is more in line with a genuinely Christian approach than the other mainstream political parties. In all three cases, my faith leads me to support the Green Party approach above those of other parties. Given that all three are far more salient to today’s politics than abortion, same-sex marriage, or euthanasia, Gillan’s assertion that Christians should leave our faith at the door before joining or voting for the Green Party looks a little bit silly.

Thoughts on Green Party Conference

I spent last weekend at Green Party conference in Liverpool. Every conference is different, and this time I was manning a stall for some of the time. This was on behalf of the new group within the party that is provisionally called Christian Greens (all welcome). Basically, a few weeks ago, a few of us got in contact by e-mail to talk about the idea of finally getting a Christian group together within the party. After a bit of organising, we found out about the process, booked a stall, created our own introductory leaflet, and begged various Christian groups for some other material to put on there. Despite being hidden away from the main atrium, we expanded our list to over 40. We also had an initial meeting of – I think – 18 people, from a range of different traditions (they included Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, URC, Evangelical, Liberal, Charismatic, and Post-Evangelical). The group will be officially set up, open to all Green Party members, once we’ve sorted out a formal constitution. The group even got a brief mention in The Guardian sketch column.

There was, of course, far more to conference. Catching up with party members from around the country and meeting ones I’ve not met before, the usual round of voting on policy and organisational motions, training events (including a very useful one on winning over UKIP voters), and also a few speeches (the Shahrar Ali’s speech was particularly good – though I sadly missed leader Natalie Bennett’s).
From what I’ve seen of the media coverage, there are two things that stand out. Firstly, the Daily Mirror had a piece comparing the Green and UKIP conferences in graph form. Secondly a Guardian journalist comments on the atmosphere of conference – which really sums up the mood. We are a party that is enthusiastic and energised, with the #GreenSurge playing a large part in that feeling. Unless things go very badly in May, that’s going to continue to be the case for quite some time.
Finally, in the main hall there were artists taking “visual minutes” of the proceedings. Here are some photos of them.

visual-minutes-1visual-minutes-2 visual-minutes-3

Does the Green Party welcome Christians?

One of the things about this blog is that, every so often, I get contacted by a Christian who is considering joining the Green Party. Usually, they ask me one of two things. Firstly, whether the party has an equivalent of Christians on the Left in Labour, the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, or the Conservative Christian Fellowship. Secondly, they want to know about my experiences in the party, and whether it welcomes Christians. As my e-mail reply to the last person who asked never got delivered, I thought I’d post about these issues here.

The answer to the first question is simple. At the moment there isn’t a Christian group within the party. I have thought about starting one, but don’t really have the capacity.

The answer to the second question has a bit more to it. A lot of the people who ask it have heard about the incident where a Green Party councillor called Christina Summers was removed from the Green group in Brighton and Hove because she spoke and voted against same-sex marriage because of her Christian faith. There was a lot more to the story than appeared in headlines, but I’m not going to go into it in this post.

My personal experience in the party has been good. I am not shy about my Christianity, and I have never had a problem with another member of the party over my faith. Whilst there are a handful of Dawkins-style “new atheists” in the party, that is true of all the mainstream UK parties, and I have never come across anybody like that in person.

Most party members who would describe themselves as Christians are theologically liberal, though I know at least half a dozen party members who are Evangelical Christians. They include a Green Party councillor (not Christina Summers) and a church leader. None of them have ever mentioned having problems within the party because of their faith.

So, basically, the party does welcome Christian members who broadly agree with what the party stands for (if you’re left-wing and think that environmental issues are important, that’s probably you). However, there are some issues (basically sexuality and life issues) where Christians are reasonably likely to have views that could cause conflict with the party. Generally speaking, other party members will not have a problem with you holding these views as long as you are careful about how you express them. Also, if you are ever in a position where you are speaking for the party (e.g. as a councillor), you will have to exercise a bit more care to ensure that nobody could mistake your view for the party’s view.

Life issues

The party is pro-choice on abortion and in favour of euthanasia. There is a strong feminist current within the party, and a tendency to say that these issues are ones of individual responsibility. I’ve never had a problem explaining that I view the unborn child as a human being in his/her own right, or that I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of euthanasia. As long as you are sensitive in the way that you convey pro-life views and don’t give people the impression that your views are party policy, no party member is going to have a problem with you. However, doing something considered incredibly insensitive – like joining a protest right outside an abortion clinic will cause problems.


The party has had a strong LGBTQI* group for a long time, and party policy has had a strong gay rights policy for just as long. This is, of course, at odds with a traditional Christian view of sexual morality, the nature of marriage, and – to some extent – at odds with faith groups expecting their leaders, employees, or members to uphold these morals. There are a lot of people within the party who think that Christians holding the traditional view that gay sex is a sin are necessarily homophobic, and that any opposition to same-sex marriage is incompatible with the concept of equality. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t express those views, but you just have to be very careful how you do it (more so than with life issues). In particular you need to be sensitive to the way LGBTQI people feel about these issues, and be aware of the hurt many of them have experienced at the hands of Christians bringing condemnation, rather than love. You also need to be aware that the difference between the view of most party members and the traditional Christian view has its roots in some pretty fundamental bits of worldview – the two views depend on very different understandings of identity, sexuality, love, and equality. Which means that many party members won’t understand how any thinking person could believe that gay sex is a sin, or that marriage should be restricted to opposite-sex couples.

*LGBTQI stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex” – which is the current initialism of said group within the party.

Israel vs Palestine – a Christian view

This is the latest in my series of blog posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. I’m in the middle of chapter 12 on Foreign Policy, this time looking at the thorny issue of Israel and Palestine.

The History

Grudem begins with a history of the conflict which is very one-sided. He says that the root cause of the conflict is that Palestinian Arabs (he is reluctant to use the term Palestinian) and other Arab nations refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist as a nation. He views Israel’s actions as the only way of defending its citizens, and his only criticism of Israel is that Israel does not to enough to protect religious freedom – particularly with regards to Palestinian Christians. There is no indication anywhere in the chapter that some of Israel’s actions may have been disproportionate, or that the Palestinians might have legitimate grievances with Israel. He believes that the first step in any solution must be demanding that the Arab states give up claiming that Israel has no right to exist, and that no other negotiations should take place until that happens. He also thinks that the US should continue to be a close ally of Israel.

It should be fairly obvious that I think that Grudem’s analysis of the situation in Israel is somewhat skewed. But then most accounts of this conflict are skewed to one side or the other. What is most interesting here is his attempt to apply theology to the situation.

The Theology

He begins by bringing up the dispensational system of interpreting the Bible. On the question of Israel, dispensationalists (tend to) believe that God’s promise in the Old Testament to give land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still applies, and is yet to be completely fulfilled. Grudem does not belong to this school, and points to a number of New Testament passages that describe some of these promises being fulfilled in the church, rather than the nation of Israel. He particularly mentions Hebrews 8:8-13, and 1 Peter 2:1-10.

He then goes on to mention some points that both dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists can agree on. Firstly, he brings up the issue of salvation – Jewish people will not be saved apart from Jesus. Secondly, that God still regards them as “a special ethnic group out of all the people of the Earth”, citing various verses from Romans 11. Grudem then goes on to say that he thinks this means that God has “a special favor and care for the people of Israel”.

Grudem brings up a number of reasons why he thinks the USA (and, presumably, other Western nations) should support Israel. The theological ones are as follows:

1) Moral values.

Grudem paints Israel as a contrast to moral relativism and confusion, and also to harsh, totalitarian governments in strict Islamic states. He maintains that Israel has similar convictions to the moral standards of both Christians and the Bible, tracing both Christian and Jewish morality to the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). He appears to be assuming that the state of Israel holds to a (religious) Jewish morality.

2) God’s plan

This point is that, because God is sovereign over the affairs of nations, and because of Bible passages saying that, at some point, large numbers of Jewish people will be saved (Romans 11), “it seems right to see the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the present gathering of 5.5 million Jews there as a significant preparation that God has made”. Grudem believes that supporting Israel’s continued existence and well-being will contribute to the “full inclusion” of the Jewish people into the people of God at some point in the future. Whilst he goes into a bit more detail than I have quoted, I am still unsure how he came to that conclusion.

3) Promises to Abraham

Whilst Grudem believes that many of the promises to Israel in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in the church, he believes that it is uncertain whether the promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:8 is one of those promises. The passage reads:

And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. (emphasis from Grudem)

He points out that it is only God’s covenant (or agreement) with Moses that is explicitly said to be the “old covenant” in the New Testament. And it is the old covenant with Israel that is the one said to be superseded by the new covenant of Jesus.

Of the various arguments Grudem gives for supporting Israel, this is the one I think is strongest. It is not overwhelming (the fact that the Jews did not rule any part of the holy land between 73AD and 1948AD is a problem for this interpretation). But it’s certainly possible that the creation of the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of Biblical promises and prophecy.

4) Spiritual Warfare

Grudem goes on to suggest that anti-Semitism may have been partially caused by spiritual sources, both historically and today. He suggests that demonic hatred is “the most likely source behind the inhuman evil of the suicide bombers” who attack Jewish civilians. Because he sees the actions of some Palestinian groups as demonic, he is obviously more inclined to support Israel.

Whilst I don’t rule out the possibility that some of the suicide bombers may be influenced by demons, I think Grudem is overselling the case that this is the main cause. Palestinians see the conflict as one of Israeli oppression. They often believe that Israelis are all involved in the military (and the fact that Israel has compulsory conscription makes this easier to believe – even if most conscripts do not serve in the military). And suicide bombings are often the only weapon they have in the conflict.

Whilst I agree with Grudem that suicide bombings in civilian areas are a despicable tactic, I can see how some Palestinians might come to the conclusion that it is worth the sacrifice without having to assume that the cause is demonic.

One final note, Grudem accepts that the USAs strong support of Israel will cause some Islamic Jihadists to attack them as well. This is in contrast to his claims in the chapter on Defence policy that US actions in the Islamic world have nothing to do with the reasons the US is a target for Islamic terrorism.

Does Foreign Aid Work?

After a long blogging break brought about by real life, I’m back, and picking up my series critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re continuing to look at the chapter on Foreign policy, focusing in on what he says about Foreign Aid. Grudem says that this is an area in which the US (and presumably other rich-world nations) can promote their own interests and also do good for other nations. He divides this subject up into six different areas, and we’ll be looking at this in the same order.

Military Aid

Grudem says that military aid – giving or selling weapons and military training – can be used to help other nations defend themselves against attack and maintain their freedom. He doesn’t mention the historical cases where such aid has been used for oppression.

Humanitarian Aid

Grudem agrees with sending humanitarian aid to places suffering from natural disasters. He says that the US gives more than any other country, but does not point out that this is only true in absolute figures. There are many other nations that give more in proportion to both the size of their population and the size of their economy.

Economic Development Aid

Grudem says that it has been assumed for years that rich-world countries should give aid for economic development in poor countries. He doesn’t explain the term, but it means giving money to help relieve poverty and to encourage economies to grow, so that these countries have the resources to help themselves.

Whilst he does not go into the arguments, Grudem says that a number of studies have claimed that foreign aid has been harmful, as it has “always been channelled through corrupt governments”, has tended to entrench their power, and has created a culture of dependency, which prevents them from becoming self-sustaining and economically healthy. Grudem concludes that the rich world should stop giving aid.

However, even assuming these criticisms are valid, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon foreign aid. In fact, they form a stronger case for reforming it. Instead of channelling funds through corrupt governments, we could send it directly to anti-poverty projects, or make it conditional on cleaning up the corruption. As for dependency culture, this depends on how things are spent. If, for example, aid is spent on one-off infrastructure projects (e.g. digging a well in a village so they have easy access to clean water), then there is no danger of creating dependency.

Debt forgiveness

Grudem spends a lot of time talking about the issue of cancelling the unpayable debts that many poor countries owe. He mentions that there are a number of Christian groups promoting this idea, based on the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-55. Grudem doesn’t explain any of the arguments in favour of the idea of cancelling these debts, but argues against the idea. He argues that the analogy with the forgiveness of debts in Leviticus is flawed, as lenders in ancient Israel knew that the debts would be cancelled, whilst lenders today don’t. He believes that cancelling the debts would be unfair to the lenders, especially if it would leave poor countries free to borrow again. He also argues that the countries that are most heavily in debt are corrupt, and have very little economic freedom, and that changing this is the actual solution to the debts. Finally, he says that the money to pay off the debt must come from somewhere, and that the costs of paying off the debt will ultimately be borne either by bank shareholders (who he says are mostly pension funds) or by rich world taxpayers, and considers either option to be a bad thing.

He appears to be unaware that the initial idea of asking for debt forgiveness came from the people of the poor countries themselves, who genuinely believe that the debt repayments are a major cause of their countries’ poverty. He doesn’t consider that the measures governments are taking to make the debt repayments might be a partial cause of their corruption and weak economies, or that it might be making things worse. And he seems to be unaware that the 21st century banking system is able to create money essentially out of nothing. In short, he ignores the reasons why the idea was originally floated in favour of saying that poor countries should follow his economic ideal (which I pointed out was deeply flawed when covering the chapter on the economy).

Restrictions on Aid

Grudem believes that it is important that the US doesn’t give aid that would advance morally wrong agendas (he cites George W Bush refusing to fund Chinese population control measures that would promote abortion, or which involved forced abortion), and that it doesn’t give aid that will help oppressive totalitarian regimes. This is nice in theory, but it raises two big questions. Firstly, how should a government decide what is and isn’t a “morally wrong agenda”? Secondly, how do you balance helping the people living under an oppressive regime with not helping the regime itself? Grudem doesn’t mention either question, let alone attempt to answer them.

Who Gives What?

Grudem says that the US is responsible for giving far more aid than other countries. He cites a statistic that the US apparently accounts for more than 70% of all “financial flows” reaching developing countries from the G7 developed world (i.e. the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan) – adding together private investment, private philanthropy, public aid, and private remittances.

This figure is somewhat misleading. Firstly, it is not clear what the phrase “financial flows” refers to. Given that, legally speaking, all transactions in US dollars have to go through the US, the phrase could be used to say what proportion of those payments were made in US dollars. Even assuming that means payments coming from the US, private investment is not usually considered to be foreign aid. Given that most of the largest companies in the world are (at least nominally) American, including it is bound to inflate America’s numbers. Also, it doesn’t tell us how generous the US is relative to other countries. They have a much larger population and economy than any other rich-world nation, so other countries do not need to give anywhere near as much in absolute terms in order to be more generous. When it comes to government aid, the US gives a significantly less per capita than other rich-world nations.

In short, Grudem has relatively little reason for the national pride he demonstrates in this section. The US gives more, but that is because it has more resources from which to give, not because it is more generous with what it has.

Who to vote for?

Whilst it’s fairly obvious who I am going to vote for in both the local and European Parliament elections in May, I thought it might be worth looking at some of the arguments for various parties. A couple of months ago, the rather excellent God and Politics in the UK blog ran a series of articles entitled “I’m a Christian, and here’s why I vote X”. The articles are:

The articles vary in their style and substance. For example, the Labour article is light on theology and heavy on personal experience, whilst the UKIP one doesn’t bring anything particularly Christian to the issues raised. Nevertheless, before choosing who to vote for, it is worth reflecting on the differing values that political parties present.

And, just to give you a bit more information, here’s my party’s Mini Manifesto, outlining some of the things we would hope to achieve if elected. It’s short and readable.