Posted in Master's blog

In October 2011, anti-capitalist protesters set up camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral. Unsurprisingly the church authorities were deeply perplexed about how to deal with them. Soon after the protesters arrived, the Dean of St Paul’s announced that the cathedral would close until further notice, asking the protesters to leave the building’s vicinity so that the cathedral could reopen. A few days later, Dr Giles Fraser resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s over the way the church was dealing with the protestors. The Corporation of the City of London then took legal action against the camp (without support from the church authorities), and in January 2012 they were granted an injunction against continuation of the protest. The camp was eventually broken up on 1 March 2012.

There is plenty in this story on which to base a powerful play. Playwright Steve Waters’ Temple is a brilliantly simple yet compelling telling of the story, currently being performed in a packed-to-the-rafters 90 minute session at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. (Waters is the husband of Fitz Fellow Hero Chalmers). The play creates tension, atmosphere and good characterisation within the confines of a single scene and a small handful of actors, two of whom, perhaps extravagantly, were young trebles supposedly from the cathedral choir.

The central character is the reflective, indecisive, insecure, other-worldly but thoroughly decent Dean of St Paul’s and thus head of the governing ‘Chapter’, played brilliantly by Simon Russell Beale. (There are references to other leading and indecisive Anglican churchmen, who play a role both on and off stage). The play follows the Dean as he is buffeted by contrary leanings from his new PA, a self-identified “chav”, and the only voice of common sense in this recreated world; from his bishop, from the City’s lawyer and from two members of his Chapter, who both sort-of resign (reserving the right to continue destabilising the Dean’s precarious foundations) during the course of the play. In this high-profile chaos, the poor struggling Dean is left alone to discern the will of his God. The Dean majors on the cathedral as temple, a place where worship has to continue, as against the urgings of the younger self-aware and media-aware Canon Chancellor, who wants the church to engage with those who, however improbably, are campaigning on behalf of the oppressed and unfortunate.

Simon Russell Beale (Dean) and Paul Higgins (Canon Chancellor)

Simon Russell Beale (Dean) and Paul Higgins (Canon Chancellor)

 

See it if you can. It will make you think. For the Master of a Cambridge College, there were some uncomfortable parallels between the Chapter of St Paul’s and a College Governing Body…

It can be difficult negotiating unexpected and conflicting positions. This is a delightful illustration of the personal difficulties involved in decision-making.

 

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

Posted in Master's blog
Albie Sachs at Clare Hall. Photo: Phil Mynott

Albie Sachs at Clare Hall.
Photo: Phil Mynott

Justice Albie Sachs has the power to inspire. He gave Clare Hall’s Ashby Lecture on Monday 6 July on the subject of “Liberty, Equality. What happened to Fraternity [Human Solidarity]?” With rugged kindly face, deeply tanned by the sun, and gloriously colourful South African loose shirt, he contrasted strongly with the audience who had been asked to attend in ‘business attire’! A master communicator and story-teller, he sat throughout his presentation on an upright chair in front of the audience, waving sometimes his stump (he was blown up in a car bomb in 1988) and sometimes his good arm, talking quietly. And indeed he was, in the words of our host and President of Clare Hall, David Ibbetson, utterly spell-binding.

He identified himself as a secular Jew, whose family had been resolutely internationalist. He did not speak much of the ANC’s struggle against the apartheid government, but the aftermath of armed struggle was the setting for his reflections primarily on his experience as a judge on the post-apartheid Constitutional Court. His quest in those years, as seen through the lens of retrospection, was to find ways of characterising, capturing and harnessing the positive essences of humanity and civilization to the resolution of the problems that found their way up the legal cascade to the highest court in the country. Thus he helped forge a decent nation out of the dangerous maelstrom and anger of conflict, with its inevitable caravan of grievous wrongs, resentments and hatreds.

Many of us in the UK admired South Africa under Mandela’s leadership, promoting peace through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other means. From Albie Sachs we heard a simple account of courage and humanity, told in stories (particular cases that had come to the Constitutional Court). We understood his ambition to achieve peace and mutual respect within the rule of law. What was wonderful and moving was the absolute centrality and penetration of the highest human values into every fibre of the debate. We had the privilege of seeing beneath the packaging of the new South Africa, and had a glimpse of the workings of one among what must have been so many mechanisms working towards the same end: the care for and integration of every single human being into the new South Africa, as if they mattered.

For human solidarity, read ubuntu  According to Wikipedia, President Obama spoke about ubuntu at President Mandela’s memorial service, saying, “There is a word in South Africa – ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us…..”

One case that gave great anxiety to “Albie the Human” was the Port Elizabeth squatters case. Clearly there was no right answer – but the Court (“Albie the Judge”) had to manage the situation. It would have been an affront not only to the squatters, but to all of us (said “Albie the Human”), if they had been evicted without having a voice, without a meaningful engagement. There is “a thumb on the scales in favour of the rich” – and both Albies worried about this.

He accused David Cameron of withdrawing into a “silo of hurt pride” in considering withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights. The Government, he said, would be setting a terrible example for reasons which are difficult for an outsider to discern: so sad, profoundly undermining one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. How could David Cameron say that it made him sick to think of prisoners voting? The lack of humanity towards prisoners is, Justice Sachs suggested, a blind spot in Britain. The right to vote is simply a way of acknowledging that everybody counts.

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.