Can't help but smile

Hit with a usual bout of culture shock upon his return from Africa, Jonathan finds designing a carbo

Back from Sierra Leone – with a smile on my face. The last few days in the country were light and graceful, filled with the positive energy that comes with working alongside people who are serving the needs of the poor and marginalised in their midst. On my last morning, as a token of appreciation, I was presented with a beautiful length of woven cloth, hand-made by one of the groups that MAPCO has been training.

Back in the sterile half-light of Heathrow, it feels like God has taken the great remote control in the sky and turned off the volume, the colour and the heat – along with the smiles.

Bums and boobs moon off the top shelf of the newspaper stand. ‘Phwoaw’, roars the headline in one over a photo whose caption alleges Prince William is groping a young woman’s boob – he clearly isn’t, but what has that got to do with newspaper sales? A row of vacant faces stares at an item on the television in the lounge on the launch of Sony’s new Playstation.

The culture-shock involved in going to Africa is a mere shadow of that experienced coming back ‘home’. Countless times on re-entry into this country I have pondered on how impoverished we are in so many ways compared to our African brothers and sisters – how much we are in need of a comprehensive development package to address our profound social and spiritual poverty.

I learned that the African Union offered to send election monitors to oversee the last US presidential election. (The offer was politely declined.) I do think we should seriously consider receiving teams of experts from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Chad in community solidarity and the art of living.

Back in Findhorn, it is comforting to be greeted by Craig who is showing around a group of inner-city London youth. This visit is the first of a series to explore the suitability of Findhorn as a venue for workshops aimed at helping young people from the cities get exposure to the natural world. We are too white and bourgeois by half and the kind of energy they would bring in would likely help shake us up in the most interesting and creative ways. Fingers crossed.

Back at my desk, a really interesting piece of work has come in. A small team of us has been invited to design a carbon-neutral island – a notional rather than specific island, at this stage at least. The only specifications we have been given are that it should be off the Scottish coast and have a population of between 500 and 1,000 people. Scotland has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of the Solar Age’ and it is fascinating to begin to deconstruct the various elements of the carbon footprint knowing that, provided populations are prepared to put up with small wind parks, it may be possible to balance the carbon account-books.

Here at Findhorn, our four wind turbines make us net energy exporters. Not only is this very satisfying from an economic point of view. Also, every time I come over the crest of one of the surrounding hills on a windy day, at the sight of our wee turbines spinning merrily away, my smile extends from lips to heart.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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Why the Labour rebels have delayed their leadership challenge

MPs hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet resign, while Owen Smith is competing with Angela Eagle to be the candidate.

The Eagle has hovered but not yet landed. Yesterday evening Angela Eagle's team briefed that she would launch her leadership challenge at 3pm today. A senior MP told me: "the overwhelming view of the PLP is that she is the one to unite Labour." But by this lunchtime it had become clear that Eagle wouldn't declare today.

The delay is partly due to the hope that Jeremy Corbyn may yet be persuaded to resign. Four members of his shadow cabinet - Clive Lewis, Rachel Maskell, Cat Smith and Andy McDonald - were said by sources to want the Labour leader to stand down. When they denied that this was the case, I was told: "Then they're lying to their colleagues". There is also increasing speculation that Corbyn has come close to departing. "JC was five minutes away from resigning yesterday," an insider said. "But Seumas [Milne] torpedoed the discussions he was having with Tom Watson." 

Some speak of a potential deal under which Corbyn would resign in return for a guarantee that an ally, such as John McDonnell or Lewis, would make the ballot. But others say there is not now, never has there ever been, any prospect of Corbyn departing. "The obligation he feels to his supporters is what sustains him," a senior ally told me. Corbyn's supporters, who are confident they can win a new leadership contest, were cheered by Eagle's delay. "The fact even Angela isn't sure she should be leader is telling, JC hasn't wavered once," a source said. But her supporters say she is merely waiting for him to "do the decent thing". 

Another reason for the postponement is a rival bid by Owen Smith. Like Eagle, the former shadow work and pensions secrtary is said to have collected the 51 MP/MEP nominations required to stand. Smith, who first revealed his leadership ambitions to me in an interview in January, is regarded by some as the stronger candidate. His supporters fear that Eagle's votes in favour of the Iraq war and Syria air strikes (which Smith opposed) would be fatal to her bid. 

On one point Labour MPs are agreed: there must be just one "unity candidate". But after today's delay, a challenger may not be agreed until Monday. In the meantime, the rebels' faint hope that Corbyn may depart endures. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.