Friday, 14 March 2014

5 Questions about power

I couldn't let the day pass without thinking about Tony Benn. This is the man who famously, if you recall, left Parliament to "concentrate on politics".  His politics divided the nation as succinctly as his great protagonist Margaret Thatcher, and I have no intention in this blog, of leaning one way or the other. Nevertheless they both, in their own ways, changed not only our political landscape, but more far reaching, the way that we understand the use of power.

My own journey has to a large degree ( no pun intended) entailed life long higher level education, and in two very different contexts, namely sociology and theology I have come across Tony Benn's now famous 5 questions about power.

The correct quotation runs as follows:

“The House will forgive me for quoting five democratic questions that I have developed during my life. If one meets a powerful person--Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler--one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”

Tony Benn Commons Hansard [16 Nov 1998: Column 685] Volume 319 Debate on: European Parliamentary Elections Bill , from 7.20 pm

These 5 questions, I would suggest should daily be on our lips whether we consider the Russian annexation of Crimea (not a straightforward issue), American use of intercept intelligence or on a more mundane level, our relationships with our neighbours.

You see, power is not always obvious. It is held under the guise of concern, (yes also of theology), of doing things "in our best interest" , in the interests "of the country", even of the release of political prisoners, but as Tony Benn reminds us "Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions ( how can we get rid of you? ) does not live in a democratic system.

I must remember that when I next chair a church meeting,

People say to me that I don't speak directly about God much. I'm sorry I thought I was doing just that. If you believe, as I do that however it happened, that we along with all life, in this galaxy or the next;  bear the thumb print of the creator; then our relationships with each other, me with you, you with your neighbour, we with the proto stuff in Alpha Centauri, all exercise, and act under the influence of the power we can exert. But we are left asking the question, "in whose interest?

Best wishes and Take Care

Rev'd Alan Poolton

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