Bill Newton Dunn, member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands, visited my home town today. In one of those small world coincidences he was in the same class as Richard Dawkins at Chafyn Grove school, in Salisbury, where he remembers Richard often starring out of the window. I also have him to thank for many a British Government essay, as he was the first person to use the term “democratic deficit” when discussing political European institutions.
One person that we met in the town market (Mary) wanted to have a go at politicians for saying one thing and then doing another. Bill’s wife Anna made the point how one person did not want to hear how policy was created at the European level. I sometimes wonder whether people actually knowing how the system operates is a separate issue from people wanting to hold their elected representatives to account. In many ways both these issues are answered by transparency – a key part of the democratic deficit.
That however does depend on people like Mary, who on her crutches charged at Bill to bend his ear while shoppers dived for cover. That spirit is vital; if people could only knew just how active people are on their behalf then perhaps it would take the edge off the cynicism that allows people to feel they have a valid excuse for not getting involved. Or ignore someone like me handing out flyers.
Today was “In My Town Without My Car” day, and Bill and the rest of us met up with the Mayor of Loughborough who bused into town. I do find these things a bit gimmicky, hoping that my bicycle was secure outside the Cinema. To help with that John Catt was about, who is involved with Action For Charnwood keen cyclist and trustee of the British Humanist Society (I could go on but if you need a definition of pluralism in action it is John) gave me a security tab for my bike and a cycle map.
After talking to Bill about Richard, the junior years, and finding out he advocates the disestablishment of the Church of England from the State (the only time I have ever discussed such things in a McDonalds) we moved on to a garden party generously hosted by Councillor David Walker and his wife Claire.
Among things discussed with people were Michael Reiss and The God Delusion, with a late Summer’s day beating down on us, with puffs and wine providing sustenance as we discussed meta physical frameworks of reality, and politics. It made me appreciate just how many things are going on behind the scenes whether at the local or international level.
For American readers there is a tale for you. Bill’s son spent 6 months working for a Congressman in Washington DC, and just before leaving he tried to arrange interviews with people on the Hill to have something to bring back to the UK. No one seemed interested talking to a nobody Brit. The last day before he was due to finish he got his one and only call back, from a Senator that had a spare hour to discuss anything he liked while on a long drive.
That person was John McCain. In many ways it is that kind of character that makes me wish that his politics were not moving so far right in the Presidential Campaign. We discussed that if he can separate himself from the Bush administration he has every chance of hanging on to his lead in the opinion polls.
All the best to Bill for the forthcoming European elections in June of next year, and thanks to David and Claire for hosting the garden party.