Pleased by review of decision to abolish cheques

This is an update of this article which I originally wrote on 11th May 2011, because the result of the review was to abandon the plan to abolish cheques. Hooray!

I don't know when the original publicity for this happened, and I've missed the 6th May deadline to join in with the enquiry, but I'm pleased to see that HM Treasury is reviewing the 2010 decision to abolish cheques in the UK in 2018.

Apparently there has been a deluge of correspondence from alarmed people, particularly from charities who are concerned less people will give to them. There also seems to be a move to abolish cash. A while ago I read of a journalist who had tried to live without cash for a day: a poignant issue for her was her inability to give to beggars. How will Big Issue sellers cope?

I think her point is a good one, and what about giving people gifts. “I've transferred some money to your account” does not seem as satisfying as saying “here you are” as you give a cheque or cash. When I mentioned this to someone the other day he said that there is a business opportunity to create bank-transfer-gift-cards!

So, I stand for not making changes that marginalise people who are not part of the mainstream “economy.” The current piece of paper that we call a cheque is just a standardised form of a written instruction to a bank from a customer to pay another customer. What excuse do banks have for refusing to pay “on the order of” their clients? Don't they exist to provide a service to their clients?

The decision to abolish cheques was subject to alternative methods being found. Maybe that has been forgotten about. I don't see effective movement in that direction, but then I wouldn't want to cooperate with it anyway!

More details here:


Archbishop stands up for Christian minorities in the Middle East

Good of Rowan to build awareness that the effect of political change in the Middle East (the Arab Spring) benefits some but often not the Christian minorities there.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams says the unrest in the Middle East has made life “simply unsustainable” for many Christians who are leaving their homes.” –

‘Grooming white teenage girls for sex’

It is interesting to set these two articles alongside one another, and wonder whether the behaviour that we decry in the UK is just lawlessness, incited, or to do with a clash of religious or other values.

“Gang of nine Asian men arrested for ‘grooming white teenage girls for sex’.
A gang of Asian men has been arrested over claims they plied more than a dozen underage white girls with drink and drugs before turning them into sex slaves. The vulnerable girls – some as young as 13 – say they were forced to work the streets as prostitutes and hand over money to the men. The nine men – eight of them Asian – were questioned by detectives after officers swooped on a number of addresses.” From the Daily Mail in the UK 11th January 2011.

‘Last week witnessed popular Muslim preacher Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini boast about how Islam allows Muslims to buy and sell conquered infidel women, so that “When I want a sex-slave, I go to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her.” ‘ From Middle East Forum June 6th 2011 quoting the Kuwait Times.

Sickened by aftermath of UK referendum on Alternative Voting system

 Maybe I should get angry about politics more often! The result of the referendum, by a large majority, is “no” to a change from our voting system from “First Past the Post” to “Alternative Vote.”

I'm appalled to hear politicians who wanted a “no to AV” vote saying that the “no” result means that the British people do not want electoral reform, while the “yes” group say the referendum should be followed by consideration of other forms of voting reform. Surely the occurrence of such a squabble just shows that the question was badly worded, or that there should have been more than one question! Whose idea was it anyway to just ask one question about one specific system?

The “no” team, which includes most of our senior politicians, appear to be complacent enough to believe that this vote exonerates “the system” as if no improvement were possible – just as after an election they claim that the publication of an enormous manifesto with some sane and some insane ideas gives them a public mandate for every sentence in it and at the same time impunity if they break these promises at will! Shocking!

The British parliamentary and legal system is based on the idea that if you have group of people with one idea, and another group argue from the opposite position, then the result will be a correct answer. Historically the system has much to commend it, however it relies on reasoned intelligent debate and individual conscience. Quite apart from the fact that most MP's vote as they are told to vote by their leader, the mere fact that in the run up to this referendum the government have not been able to create a balanced and impartial leaflet about the pro's and con's (but instead appear to have bahaved in the usual electioneering way of seeking advantage for their party) seems to show that people in parliament are no longer capable of reasoned debate. So either “first past the post” is out of date or we are no longer mature enough for it.

Many people have expressed fear that a change in the voting system will result in more coalition governments in Britain, however a friend has pointed out to me that, while our first past the post system has created a coalition goverment for the UK, the election just now has created a “decisive majority” in Scotland through their system of Proportional Representation!

In most of the recent general elections, the public have been encouraged by some to do “tactical voting” if their candidate was unlikely to win enough votes to be elected. In other words, vote to stop the candidate you least like, rather than to elect the candidate you want. A major benefit of AV is that it eliminates this need. You can vote for who you want, and also state who you want to win if your favourite does not win.

I hope there is nobody who has in the past, or will want in the future, to place a “tactical vote,” amongst those who voted “no” to AV or chose not to vote.

Don’t label people groups as inferior, it opens the door to human rights abuses

I've just read* an interesting letter by Professor GS Solt to The Times (April 9 2011) commenting on the current exposé of the British conflict with the Mau Mau in Kenya in the 1950's. Drawing on his experiences of that and of the Nazis in Austria in the 1930's he declares that:

“When a govenment declares that a section of its subjects is inferior, and the law gives them inferior rights, the message soon becomes that they are not quite human. This is how some (apparently decent) people can knock off work at the concentration camp and go home for tea with a clear conscience. Even the British.”

He is generalising to draw what seems to me to be a valid conclusion about the way in which whole countries are able to move in the direction of genocide. It seems obvious, when thought about, that governments have an equal duty to all their subjects and should not be considering one group to be inferior. However there seem to be a lot of places in the world where particular groups are considered inferior for many reasons, including race, religion, upbringing, and intelligence. His writing makes me feel the edge of the precipice over which we can so easily fall.

* in The Week 16th April 2011.

Does the Queen believe the Bible can still bring harmony to her kingdom, or is ‘sport’ the best she can offer?

Is it my imagination, or was the invisible ink glowing brightly in today's Queen's Speech? I'm not sure how good I am at 'reading between the lines' but it seemed to me that there was a kind of gulf between (1) the Queen's praise for the action of her prececessor King James in 1604 to commission a fresh translation of the Bible to bring “harmony” to his kingdom (which newly included England & Wales as well as Scotland) and (2) her examples of the way that sport is today “one of the most powerful ways” to bring harmony – because although there is opposition the opponents have to respect one another. (And it can help with the rehabilitation of our soldiers injured in places like Afghanistan too.)

I can see benefits of sport (like all good things, in moderation) but I find myself noticing that although the King James Bible was a momentous seven year scholarly project to bring harmony to the kingdom, the Queen did not mention the possiblity that a “most vivid translation of the scriptures” might bring harmony to our nation today. I find myself wondering whether this thought had not occurred to her, or whether it was 'between the lines': a hope that she had very much in her mind but did not speak for some reason.

I find myself admiring the way that King James had a vision of the Bible as a unifying text. Good leadership is about presenting people with a vision to aspire to and to work towards, and helping them to step towards it, and he sought to do that. I sometimes feel that the politicians who lead our country today see their role in a far to narrow way to do with juggling purse strings (taxes and how to spend them) and passing legislation – instead of presenting and building a unifying vision. I also wonder where in our de facto constitution – with its curious balance of power between government and monarch – the mantle of “visionary leader” rests.

Constitutionally the Queen uniquely holds together the Church (of England) and secular government because she is the head of both. Part of what is needed for effective national leadership is a common direction of religious and secular leadership (as demonstrated by King James) while government and church at the moment seem to be at each others' throats (at least in public if not in private).

The trouble with people for whom harmony is most important is that they are sometime not willing to say what needs to be said for fear of upsetting people!

The King James Bible, also known as the Authorised Version, was commissioned in 1604 and published in 1611. So it's 400th anniversary will be celebrated next year in 2011. I'm sure there are a lot of groups which will take an interest in this. One that I have noticed is Biblefresh which seeks to encourage a fresh interest in the Bible during this anniversary.

Full text of the Queen's speech care of the BBC here.

“To maintain cohesion, a nation must tell its own story over and over.”

This is a quote from author John Banville,* and it makes pretty good sense. Modern western society values fresh discovery and independent thought, but that needs to be balanced with a memory of truths already learned.

This is one of the difficulties that British society has right now, which are spoken of as a need to describe (or invent) what 'being British' is all about.  To what extent is being British about (say) a culture of discovery, tolerance, and openness to new ideas and cultural values; and to what extent is it to do with a common story?

I agree with John: building society is not about reinventing what it means to be British, but is about being able to tell our story – a story which is of course added to day by day.

The British story is in part a Christian story. One of the strengths of the Christian Bible as a religious text it is that it is largely story. Its narrative brings cohesion to those who see it as 'their book.' While all stories are told from the point of view of the story teller, the Bible has the integrity to convey its story 'warts and all.' It tells not only of success and good deeds but of mistakes and failure as well. We need to have the courage to do the same with our own (British) story.

*According to The Week 4th December 2010, quoting the Independent.