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 the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.