Jonathan Bartley – is he more of a problem than a solution for the Green Party?

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As a former Green who has gone to Labour to support Corbyn, I can tell you that Bartley is complete anathema to me on three grounds 1. Prominent Tory background. 2. Founder of a pro-religion think tank 3. BBC connections. So the answer to the Independent headline’s question is “Au contraire”.

1. It is not that it is great that someone can have ‘seen the light‘ etc. But it is naive in the extreme to think that, in this day and age,that his background will be overlooked by the media and wider public. After all, he was not just a run-of-the-mill Conservative member. After graduating from the London School of Economics in 1994, Bartley worked at the UK Parliament as a researcher and parliamentary assistant for a number of years, and was part of John Major’s campaign team in the 1995 Conservative Party leadership election against John Redwood. If Owen Smith deserves a hard time for having his job at Pfizer on his CV, then how can we realistically expect the media and wider public to see working directly for the Leader of the Conservative Party?

Joining the Green Party and becoming party leader within 4 years is a meteoric rise by anybody’s standards. He was a London Assembly candidate within 12 months, a general election candidate 3 years later and sought to be the London Mayoral candidate this year. And yet I never saw or heard anything of him in all my time involved in the Green Party from 2010 to 2015. This marks him out quite clearly as a very ambitious London-bubble politician. However nice and competent he may be, excuse me for thinking that this is the last thing the Green Party needs right now. Purely on paper, Will Duckworth and Sharar Ali were always more attractive propositions in terms of broadening the Party’s appeal.

2. Religion. Let me try to choose my words carefully to address the problem in this context. I’ll use his own words where I can. The following quotes come from an interview published in Christian Today just yesterday, to mark the announcement of his becoming co-leader of the Green Party. I find this slightly problematic:

“My faith is still what drives my politics. I have always been driven by that. I have always been driven by the desire to make the world a better place. To make it more as it was intended to be.”

The problem here is that his faith appears to have driven him to work with and for Margaret Thatcher’s successor as Leader of the Conservative Party at one point, and yet now that religious faith apparently drives him in the completely opposite direction to be Leader of the Green Party. That is a very strange faith indeed. The fact of the matter is that his personal epiphany appears to have very little to do with his faith at all. He explained to Christian Today that it was the birth of his now-14 year-old son with spin bifida that was the “pivotal” moment.

“I started to see the world in a very different way,” he said. “I saw all the barriers that are put up to people who are disabled and I took a long hard look at all the different parties. I realised the Green party embodied the values of the bias to the poor, the bias to the vulnerable and standing up for the voiceless”

So what on earth was his faith telling him before this moment? Apparently, it was telling him to work for a party whose bias has always been to the rich, the powerful and the establishment. The one thing that perhaps he learned from the Tories was self-interest. This is going to sound very harsh, given that I have never even met the bloke, but convictions shaped by personal circumstance are not convictions built on solid foundations. Personal circumstances are always prone to change. What is right or wrong rarely does. Using religious faith and supporting ones views from scripture are cynical ploys that we see being used in vile ways around the world on a daily basis. Let me complete the quote above:

“I realised the Green party embodied the values of the bias to the poor, the bias to the vulnerable and standing up for the voiceless which are the themes that run through the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament.They embody the character of Jesus and the character of God.”

There are plenty of other themes that run through the Hebrew scriptures, in particular, that are far less compatible with Green Party politics – I hope!!! Misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, slavery etc. etc.

Of course, these are common themes in most of the world’s major religions. Which brings us to one of Bartley’s proudest achievements, Ekklesia; a Christian think tank with a strong commitment to Transforming politics and belief“. I’ll resist the oxymoron jibes (whoops) but just what sort of transformation is Bartley seeking? According to their website:

While remaining committed and involved in a positive exchange between mainstream traditions (Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, Pentecostal and indigenous), Ekklesia naturally draws much of its specific inspiration from the dissenting strands within Christianity, not least the ‘historic peace churches’ (Quakers, Mennonites and other Anabaptists), liberation theologies and other nonconformists inside and outside inherited denominations.

Ekklesia is therefore ‘radical’, not in a narrow or aggressive way, but in its conviction that the Gospel subverts power and privilege, both personally and corporately. And it is ‘progressive’, not in subscribing to a myth of progress, but in seeing change as coming through risk-taking hopefulness, rather than through a destructive lust for security and certainty.

So, it is all about bringing Christian denominations together and challenging the nasty power-grabbing tendencies and intolerance within some denominations. Hallelujah to that, I suppose, but underneath it all it is still the same old divisive, primitive nonsense of ‘one Christian god’ etc. And still a long way away from the ‘Imagine’ gospel according to John Lennon.

3. BBC connections. He is a regular contributor to BBC One‘s The Big Questions. He has formerly contributed to BBC Radio 4‘s Thought for the Day and been a guest on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. This may be a good or bad thing going forward. He clearly is seen as a go-to person on certain types of issues, but as I suggest above these may not be the issues that best represent the Green Party. If he can use his connections to gain a better platform for the Party’s progressive policies, then this may prove beneficial (he did very well here, for example, on the BBC News Channel). But we all have to be very wary of BBC manipulation, and I look forward to seeing how he tackles Andrew Neil, Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Marr. Hopefully he will now stay well away from the Christian moralising stuff! Having a good media performer is seen as hugely valuable. It is why Rhun ap Iorwerth was fast-tracked in Plaid Cymru, at considerable cost, I would maintain (but they will never acknowledge), in terms of the compromising of Party policy and values that he brought with him (over nuclear policy in particular). Bartley strikes me as representing a similar sort of gamble.

And finally, if this is an attempt to broaden the Party’s appeal, then I think the losses from losing Sharar Ali in a leadership role will more than offset the gain of a few eco-minded Christian Conservatives. I sincerely hope I am wrong about all this, but I think this will come to be seen as a retrograde step by the Party. Although it is great to have Caroline Lucas back, I question her judgement on this occasion.

18 thoughts on “Jonathan Bartley – is he more of a problem than a solution for the Green Party?

  1. David Griffiths

    Don’t quite understand where you’re coming from in your paragraph about Religion, Bridgend Green Leftie. (Sorry I haven’t addresd you by name. I’ve not yet found it.) You seem to be puzzled how Jonathan Bartley’s understanding of the Bible can have led him to change his mind in issues of politics, justice & many other issues. No problem. I am an evangical Christian whose faith & understanding of the Bible over the years has led me further & further to the political left, from being a wishy-washy royalist to a convince republican, & now challenges my views on human sexuality. Unlike some of the atheists I know, I am not stuck in a time warp in matters of politics & the value of human beings. It seems Jonathan Bartley isn’t, either. Cordial greetings. David Griffiths

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      Hi David, I am challenging the assertion that Bartley’s (and probably your) changing political views have anything to do with your understanding of the bible – however weak or strong that actually is. Bartley’s epiphany was not down to some biblical revelation; it was due to the happenstance of having a disabled child. I would suggest that this then changed his perceptions of what the bible was ‘telling’ him. You see that is the problem with bible/koran/torah etc studies; it is amorphous, flexible, subjective and ultimately, little more than a useful tool for manipulating minds. We can all be grateful that you are not stuck in the time warp of religious values from medieval times that we have to endure from fundamentalists in many creeds, but that does not make the underlying beliefs anymore credible. That some people need religion to help them stumble across decent human values is sad enough, but religion has always been used to underpin some of the vilest of human attitudes and behaviour too. It is a drag on human progress that you and Bartley have some responsibility in maintaining, whether you recognise it or not. Best of wishes, Andy.

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  2. A Green Party member

    Jonathan Bartley will only help the Green Party if he is an electoral asset. This is currently an unknown. It is not proven that he is able to win elections in his own right.

    He will have to better convince using thoughtful argument. On his first outing on the Daily Politics, since becoming leader, he equated UKIP to fascism. This came across as base simplicity without any thoughtful back up. Hopefully this is just a one off rather than an indication of more groundless ‘beliefs’ to come.

    Overall, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. Let’s wait and see how he performs over the coming months.

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  3. Paul Manning

    YOu need a slightly more nuanced understanding of ‘religion’. Yes, ‘religion’ has been used to justify some of the ‘vilest’ human attitudes and acts but at the same time religion has been the driving force behind some of the most progressive and decent attitudes, including British socialism. Gramsci got it right. Struggle between progressive and anti-progressive forces takes place thorugh different religious organiations just like it does through any kind of popular culture. I’m an Anglican and a Marxist!
    Paul

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      Thank you for you thoughts Paul. I fully understand how people take nuanced positions on religion to avoid facing up to the reality that it is based on fictional nonsense. As for Gramsci, my reading of him leads me to think that he was an atheist who recognised the truth in Seneca’s famous quote about religion being seen as true by common people, false by the wise and useful by rulers and governments. Witness its uses and abuses in the political arena today. Religions most progressive and decent attitudes are those found in progressive and and decent human beings despite, rather than because of religion.

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  4. davetaylor1

    I read this blog to learn more about Jonathan Bartley, and after Blair I was concerned to read about his Conservative background. However, Leftie, your views on religion are those of a left-brained person, i.e. one who believes what he is first indoctrinated in, which here happens to have been formulated by an 18th century atheist, Hume, who assumed (falsely, it now seems) the universe had always existed, and refused to believe in a Creator he couldn’t see. Of course most religious people are religious for the same reason, so truth matters in education.

    You see the word ‘religion’ and not its meaning: ‘re’ ‘ligare’ being Latin for being bound again, implying the being set free, from getting what we actually deserve – for which we Christians are taught to be for ever grateful). As for the Bible, if you had actually read it, you might (but there again, being a left brainer, you might not) come to see the Old Testament as the story of God’s justice as Man saw it, and the New Testament as the God of the Big Bang re-enacting Creation through the death and resurrection of his Son. to show both that our Father still exists and – like most fathers – tempers justice with loving mercy. (The Trinity is not so mysterious if you think of the Conservation of Energy and how the same water can at different times be ice, liquid and gaseous steam. If Christ be the Word representing the love of God, the same substance (i.e. meaning) can be translated into other forms like the Eucharistic (i.e. thanksgiving) meal. Sure one has to allow for what editors and translators have added, but the stories Christ is reported as telling are not fairy tales for children but challenges to instinctive belief requiring us “to think outside the box” if we are to grasp their meaning and what they are asking of us. Had Gordon Brown turned to Christ rather than bankrupt bankers for advice, he might have remembered Luke 16:1-13 on writing down debts rather than borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      Hi Dave, thank you for such an in depth response! I found it both informative and amusing.
      As for believing what I was first indoctrinated in, that was Roman Catholicism. But you’re right to an extent, I did study Hume as part of a theology course I did at University. He didn’t assume anything, but drew conclusions on the basis of available evidence. It is what we call ‘knowledge’. He would have had no trouble updating his knowledge in the light of new evidence. You should try it.
      Perhaps you could expand on your comment about religious people being religious for the same reason. As for truth, that is a subjective matter unless we agree on how we determine it. That seems unlikely. You don’t seem too keen on the scientific method from what I can gather.
      And bible studies? I have read all of the Old Testament, but haven’t picked over the differences and discrepancies between the 4 traditional gospels as much as I probably should. Your interpretations are not untypical of the creative and contorted thinking common to a lot of theology. Loving mercy, my arse! (To quote a philosopher you’re probably less familiar with)
      The stories of the Jesus dude in the New Testament are indeed challenging and worthy. They are not far from being a good socialist manifesto, for the most part. What’s not to like? But as another crazy guy once said, “I like your Christ, I just don’t like your Christians”. You’re not altering my view on that. Xx

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  5. davetaylor1

    Hi, Leftie. As a cradle Catholic training as a scientist my first encounter with Hume was sixty years ago, since when I’ve found a succession of philosophers have pointed out the equivalent of the fatal flaws I saw in his arguments: you might study Kant, Hegel, Kuhn, Lakatos and Bhaskar to see what the issue is, but basically he was wrong for the same reason as Doubting Thomas: he refused to consider ALL the evidence, failing to see the significance of the evidence he had already been given. The great left-brain failing applicable NOT to scientific and religious people as such but to most of them is that we learn actions and language using the inner and left side of our brains before we learn the wisdom of using both sides, checking the sense of our language by using the visually-imaginative right side of our brain to make sense of what it means. See if you can make sense of G K Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”. Some other splendid reads on this are N R Hanson’s “Patterns of Discovery” (1958, Cambridge), Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (just republished in paperback), and Goldsmith and Wharton’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”: the Jungian /Myers-Briggs mapping of personality differences. Green cooperative politics will never work until politicians get their heads round the latter.

    It is instructive that Claude Shannon, inventor of information theory, worked at Bletchley Park during the war, working out how to decode messages. One has found the true key to a message when it all makes sense, not just odd bits of it. The sad fact is that Christians, having been given the key, are still ordinary people and can be seen as hypocritical when they are actually most in need of God’s mercy.

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      Thanks for the summer reading list. I am familiar with the left brain / right brain research. As one cradle catholic to another, I have to say that none of this is remotely compelling.
      Work out why you are a Catholic rather than any other of the thousands of other brands of religion available. Apply your own standards of critique to a selection of those religions and then do exactly the same to Christianity. As for God’s mercy ….. have a word and suggest he use it a bit more. That’s if you really have nothing more useful to do. If you fancy a bit of a challenge, offer me the most compelling reason you can come up with for believing in a god (yours specifically if you like).
      Many thanks.

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  6. davetaylor1

    Don’t do “compelling”. More into free provisional judgements based in the best available hypothesis. Which I’ve been doing since I started to work with scientists back in 1955 and found the adult arguments of J H Newman a great deal better thought out than their knee-jerk atheism. Perhaps Dorothy L Sayers was right: the New Testament is simply “the best story ever told”. However, on the evidence I’m prepared to believe it may be also true, and at the strategic level to learn from it anyway. It is certainly the only religious story in which God becomes Man so that he can converse directly with us, and offer the equivalent of what in modern science is called a critical experiment, i.e. the Man dying and coming back to life again. Okay, it may have been a conjuring trick, but at least, back in the year dot, it recognised the need for one for those people who do feel the need to do “compelling”.

    As for God’s mercy, I wholeheartedly agree with you about the need for it. The trouble is, if God blew himself up that we might live, he now has (as St Theresa of Avila put it) “no hands but ours”. That doesn’t mean his residual energy cannot redirect a few thoughts into more constructive channels. For me it has meant sufficient insight to motivate a forty year attempt to rethink economic theorising on the basis of it being an information rather than a power system. For me, mercy will mean my lasting long enough to demonstrate the use and ethos of that line of thought. The Green Party philosophy gets as near as any to where I’ve arrived at, but you will look in vain there for any suggestion of understanding of the significance of the dishonesty of money. (See http://www.moneyreformparty.org.uk/money/about_money/quotes.php).

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      It is a cracking good story for sure, and as with any good story, there is plenty to ponder and reflect on.
      As for any evidence that it is actually true, please share!!
      The only story where humans have been considered deities? You’re not as well read as I thought. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_have_been_considered_deities
      Anyway, you’re clearly a good guy trying to do good work, and we all tend to harbour delusions of one kind or another.
      May your god go with you.

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  7. davetaylor1

    Rereading your stuff on Bartley, which is where this started, what you say about Ekklesia sounds encouraging, but I don’t see it as being “all about bringing Christian denominations together”. Its potential audience looks to be wider than that, while the divisiveness you refer to is that found between left-brained and whole-brained people, i.e rebellious mental adolescents and grown ups who have learned from experience. On Bartley’s relations with the BBC, you hope “he will now stay well away from the Christian moralising stuff!” But that’s Hume, not Christ, who without decrying the educational value of law, transcended it with his ethic of love. (When I was a child, I saw “Ten Commandments”, but now I see these as wise fatherly advice: “Ten Commendments”).

    As I said initially, after Blair, I too was wary of Bartlett’s Christianity, though by my own standards, he does seem to have changed his Party allegiance after looking at the reality. Trying to catch a phrase suggestive of why I am now wary of you, I’ve picked up at (3) “these may not be the issues that best represent the Green Party”. Not spot on, but suggestive of the Green Party’s priorities being the Green Party, not the well-being of all mankind. Same self-centred values came through in Theresa May seeking the best Brexit outcome for Britain rather than all the people of Europe including those in Britain. Surely Parties should be seeking to represent areas of their competence, working together to develop the best policies rather than trying to impose programmes developed by those with the loudest voice?

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  8. J.S

    People’s religion should be irrelevant in a secular democracy. Yet the same people who attack christianity, are often sacred to challenge the illiberal practices of other religions (Islam) for example. You are right, we are missing out from having Shahrar Ali as leader and in place we have an absent Amelia Womack. Jon has done an alright job in the meantime & is providing a different voice. It is Caroline Lucas who needs to step back from the controls.

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    1. Bridgend's Green Leftie Post author

      I don’t discriminate. All religion is equally idiotic. Since writing this, I have to admit Bartley has shaped up well enough. But being media savvy was never in question. I would still question the integrity of his convictions, but no more than anyone who claims religion as important to their worldview.

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  9. Jojo

    I just found this page, so am coming to it late. I’m grateful for you pointing me to the Christianity Today interview, which I’d not come across. The BBC’s profile of Jonathan Bartley (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-39967305) is very poor and lacking in detail. I’d back up several comments on here about the indiscrimate use of the term ‘religion’. To say ‘all religion is equally idiotic’ is as sweeping as saying ‘all politics is equally idiotic’. Just off the top of my head, I wouldn’t equate the religion of hate preached by a terrorist with the religion of my local church when it runs a food bank or houses the homeless.

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