Friday, 23 October 2009

Do Hackney politicians believe in ghosts?

Hackney politicians were asked:

1. Have you ever had a supernatural experience? (Could you give a brief description? Include anything from ghosts to aliens or mediums - or whatever you consider to be supernatural.)

2. Whether or not you have had a supernatural experience, is it a subject that you would class as significant or insignificant? Do you think people should take any of it seriously?

Of 57 councillors, 1 Mayor, 2 London Assembly Members and 2 MPs who represent Hackney, 21 responded. Judging by the replies, many of them thought this was a waste of time, so thanks for replying and if there are any more to come, please send them in.

The replies:

Alan Laing, Labour: As per your comment on your own blog that these questions were "not meant to be a serious exercise", I didn't respond. However, looking at the rest of your blog, perhaps it might be of more help to point out that I am an atheist and believe in a secular society.

Jennette Arnold, Labour: From my background I am very familiar with the culture of belief in ghosts and spirits. As a youngster my grandfather would regularly take me with him on occasions where he told me he was exorcising ghosts!!
On the serious side of this though there is a culture, in some communities, of witch-craft which is incredibly dangerous and has already lead to the death and abuse of children. As a patron of the Victoria Climbié Foundation I have campaigned on this issue for years, however, a lot of work still needs to be done.

Sally Mulready, Labour: Sorry,I have no particular thoughts on this subject

Matthew Coggins, Conservative: I have lived in two houses where I believe there were ghosts present. There were smell and temperature changes but I never saw anything.
The first was in Blackburn, as a child, when my father got someone to come in and deal with it. And I had a similar problem in a house in Stoke Newington.
I'd say my experiences weren't of any significance to me really - I just treated them as a curiosity.

Julius Nkafu , Labour,
I am a Christian-Catholic and believe in the HOLY ghost or the HOLY Spirit. I believe in the Power of God and know of the many instances of the Lord's divine interventions to our every day lives.

Michael Desmond,
Labour: The only “supernatural” experience I’ve ever had was when I was 14, doing work experience for 3 weeks in Borough, South London at my father’s cousin’s accountancy practice. I turned on a tap, the old rickety piping caused water to gush out in such a way words were audible; those words were "Get away from here! …get away from here!" Whether it was a scientific or supernatural phenomenon, I rightly decided never to become an accountant! I think spirituality is very important, I believe each person has a soul which can continue after death. Spirituality is significant, the supernatural less so.

Luke Akehurst,
Labour I haven't personally had a supernatural experience but have met a few people who say they have and are people I trust so I have an open mind.

Ian Sharer, Lib Dem: "I've not had supernatural experiences myself but a very good friend of mine did. He was an atheist. One day I saw him in the synagogue and he said he had had a heart attack and that he had died and been revived in hospital. He said he had had an out-of-body experience during which he had met his mother who said: "We're not ready here for you yet." He became religious for the last year of his life. He was a friend of my father's and what had happened to him was clear enough in his mind. I'm very religious. The truth is that your view will depend on what you call supernatural. But people do talk about things like the supernatural, evil spirits, and this does border on religion. If you believe in heaven and hell then all of this stuff is bound up. It does appear to be a religious thing. I certainly am open to views on these things. Jewish books that we study say things like "if you could see what was standing next to you, you would die with fright". There are countless things to do with this that we don't understand. For example it is strictly against my religion to use a Ouija board. Obviously there's a belief that there is something going on there.

Patrick Vernon
Labour: I have not had a supernatural experience but I would say that when I have been to Africa and visited the slave forts in Ghana, Gambia and Senegal and also in East Africa Zanzibar I have experienced or felt the unrest of souls of Africans that were captured as part of the transatlantic and Arabic slave trade.
I think we should not rule out any experience of a supernatural nature as we still are understanding interaction of the human spirit and the impact of exploitation and historical injustice.

Clayeon Mackenzie, Labour: I have no comments on this issue.

Jules Pipe, Labour: I am happy to confirm that I have never felt the need to attribute any event to ‘supernatural’ causes. Whilst I accept that people are entitled to hold whatever beliefs they like – as long as this causes no harm to others – this is not a subject to which I would ascribe any significance, nor which I would wish to see taken any more seriously than it already is.

Darren Parker, Labour: I have not had any experience of the supernatural myself. You may find it of interest that the 5th most haunted street is said to be Gloucester Drive in my ward:

Mischa Borris, Green: I've not had any supernatural experiences, and I have no particular view on its significance or otherwise. Everyone needs an interest in life, and so long as it doesn't take over someone's life, or lead to fraud (e.g. mediums) that's fine.
If there are "ghosts" then they might be some kind of blip in the time continuum, rather than unquiet spirits.

Linda Smith
, Labour: I have never had a supernatural experience. It is not an issue that is at all significant in my work as a councillor or my life generally. If people wish to take it seriously it is up to them, indeed I believe people's right to believe and express their belief in religion which I would class as being supernatural is now enshrined in law.

Tom Price, Labour: (Any experience of the supernaturual?) No - happily not. (Is the supernatural significant?) I would class it as insignificant and not to be taken seriously.

Geoffrey Taylor, Labour: Yes, I have had experiences I could not explain. Sometimes they don’t really need explanation, for instance if a series of events seem to fit conveniently together, that’s really coincidence or chance, as is obvious when you think of all the very many occasions when events don’t fit together particularly conveniently. Some of the other cases I put down to my brain operating out of my conscious control or knowledge and then pushing some thought into my consciousness. And the rest I’m happy to say I don’t understand, though I think that in principle if not (yet) in practice they are susceptible to scientific explanation.
I think people should take life in general seriously. Getting hung up on the so-called supernatural can often mean that people cease to feel the awe they ought to feel in contemplating perfectly natural but wonderful things. You’d think that the natural world, including our loving human relationships and our quest for truth, would be quite enough to keep us thrilled and fascinated without having to reach out beyond for something called the ‘supernatural’.

Jonathan McShane: On ghosts, no I've never had any supernatural experiences and I've never taken a particular interest in the supernatural world. Sorry to give you such a boring answer.

Michael Levy
(Conservative Chief Whip): Although I receive varied and interesting mail, your questions are a definitive first. I generally have quite enough on my plate dealing with the corporeal without having to delve into the unknown. Fortunately I have had no supernatural experiences - although listening to some debates in the Council Chamber might qualify and therefore its not a subject I would class as having any impact on my thoughts. Although I do believe in the supernatural.
Since we live in a Democracy people are free to make up their own minds on the matter.

Katie Hanson: "Rationalist - don't believe in anything supernatural."

Christine Boyd: I suppose the definition of “supernatural” is key here, if I take it as meaning something that I can’t explain then the answer would be yes (No comment on the details) – but then again that applies to lots of things. For example I can’t explain Tory policies either, but tend to class those as sinister or spooky rather than supernatural. I don’t think this is a significant subject, certainly does not compare with global warming, child poverty or many of the problems people face on a day to day basis.

Meg Hillier, Labour: Spokesperson: "Meg is still on maternity leave at the moment so I don’t think we can help on this occasion."

Diane Abbott, Labour: A researcher said that the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington had not had any supernatural experiences. When asked if the supernatural was a significant issue she said: "I’ve spoken to Diane but unfortunately she doesn’t have any other comments to make."

Andrew Boff, Conservative: I've experienced odd coincidences but not enough to make me believe in pixies. I don't think you can explain things by using myth rather than evidence. I enjoy the goings on at Hogworts but I do not think that is an explanation for what happens away from the pages of a book.
Did you want more?
Yes - I am an atheist - the only God is Dawkins.

This was not a serious exercise but it seems likely that the people of Hackney take this subject more seriously than their politicians. Back in 2005 the borough was caught up in a scandal surrounding African churches, exorcism and child abuse. At the time Diane Abbott wrote a piece for the Evening Standard called "Ban these witchcraft churches?"

The fact that a large number of Hackney charities are religious, 22% compared to 10% national average, could indicate the extent to which Hackney residents take supernatural issues seriously.

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