Visitors from afar

Faraway visitors make their impact on Findhorn, while Findhorn makes its impact closer to home

Londoners say there is no need to travel - just sit at the foot of the statue of Eros in Trafalgar Square and sooner or later, the whole world will come to you. Findhorn sometimes feels like the Eros of the eco-spiritual world.

The latest traveller to wash up on these shores – literally – is Mukti Mitchell. Mukti is sailing round Britain in a self-built yacht on a six-month speaking tour to promote sustainable lifestyles. His ‘Low-Carbon Lifestyles Tour’ sailed out of his home port, Clovelly in North Devon, in early April and will cover around 50 ports nationwide by mid-October, see here.

Last night was our turn and Mukti gave a presentation in the community centre on how each of us as individuals can significantly reduce our carbon footprints. At the heart of his message is that lowering our footprints should be fun: “People who have tried it find that a low-carbon lifestyle saves money, gives you more free time and brings quality, meaning and satisfaction to life”

This seems to be the key message that needs to be communicated at the moment. As the old Findhorn motto has it, "If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable". Mukti is in the business of helping release the paralysing grip of fear over an uncertain future.

Another traveller and truth-seeker is coming towards the end of his time here in Findhorn. Kasmir Msigwa (pictured) is a teacher from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania who has been with us for around six weeks. He has been working in the local Steiner school, as part of an exchange arrangement within the Steiner global family. Kasmir has been a gentle and wise presence around the place with a deep curiosity and hunger for learning about new ways of doing things that he can take back to his school and community in Tanzania.

It was most touching to see how impressed Kasmir was with Mukti’s talk. I know all too well from my time in Africa that the prevailing stereotype of we Europeans can be of cold, unfriendly and decadent folk, carelessly abusing the planet and indifferent to suffering in other parts of the world.

Yet, here was Mukti demonstrating a passion and commitment to justice and sustainability and actually doing something about it. Great to witness this level of positive intercultural sharing and appreciation.

By the way, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the students from Rokeby school in East London who came to spend a week with us. Well, I have come across the ‘Six Principles of Respect’ that they themselves developed and have now posted up around the school to guide the school’s ethic and behaviour. These are worth sharing:

Rokeby Respect Policy

We start with ourselves
We give respect to receive it

We take pride in ourselves and in our community
We never waste or damage things

We care for each other
We choose not to use language or actions that will harm others

We are kind and thoughtful
We include the needs of others in our thinking and action instead of thinking solely of ourselves

We listen, not just speak
We try to hear and understand others and we talk calmly and politely

We are fair, honest and work as a team
We tell the truth and we take responsibility for ourselves and others

- Rokeby Student Council, January 2007

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 Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.