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1 December 1999

"Wipe the slate clean" call by political and religious leaders

A grassroots campaign which encourages people to say sorry and wipe their personal slates clean in time for the new Millennium was supported today by politicians and leaders of Britain's main faith communities.

Half of the 80 patrons of the Clean Slate Campaign gathered in four cities - London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff-for a simultaneous telephone link chaired by former BBC news presenter Martyn Lewis. The brainchild of Edward Peters from Oxford, the Clean Slate Campaign invites people to sign a promise "to take at least one practical step before the end of 1999 towards wiping my slate clean".

"The Clean Slate Campaign might have been designed for us," said Cardinal Cahal Daly, former Archbishop of Armagh, speaking from Belfast. "We are engaged in a new and clean slate in Northern Ireland," with the launch of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He urged the ne ed for"repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation" and for "trustworthy people of
honesty and integrity" if the hatreds of Northern Ireland's troubles were to be overcome. There was a need to change the environment and "the water in which the fish can flourish".

The appropriately named Reform Club in London was the venue for the largest gathering of campaign patrons which included religious leaders from six major faiths, sports personalities, business people, academics and politicians.

The Clean Slate Campaign is "a very simple idea which expresses a deep spiritual truth," said Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London. "When you put something right and forgive you release spiritual energy. It embodies a profound truth." Cancelling international debt was one way of wiping the slate clean during the Jubilee Year of 2000. "But we shouldn't point the finger but make sure we recognise our personal role."

Wiping the slate clean was also appropriate to all Jews "because each year we try to say sorry to those we have offended," said the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. "There is too much pain in the world and the most tragic is the pain we cause to one another. It is never too late to mend relationships which are broken but it is also never too soon." He called this the "drama of small steps. When we first begin to change ourselves we then begin to change the world".

Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, also supported the campaign's "simple message". "In Africa we used to have slates with us [as school children] and have to wipe them twice a day. The best way is to accept one's own faults and want to amend them." This led to a better appreciation of others, and was reflected in the month of Ramadan, spent in "complete faith of forgiveness".

Lord Alton of Liverpool stressed that wiping the slate clean was not just a personal matter. The 99 members of Liverpool City Council, in an unprecedented unanimous vote, had just passed a resolution acknowledging and expressing regret for the city's three centuries of involvement in the slave trade.

As well as the patrons, two prominent politicians endorsed the campaign. The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, sent a message hoping that "as many people as possible" could begin the new Millennium by wiping their slates clean. "Everyone can think of something that they either should have done, or should not have done, and the Clean Slate Campaign provides an opportunity not only to start afresh, but also to learn from the past and behave differently in the future." [Full text] Twenty-four local education authorities have distributed the Clean Slate Guide to 3,500 schools.

Ann Widdecombe, the Shadow Home Secretary, said she had been attracted to the campaign because it was a "spiritually based exercise". Marking the Millennium had been completely divorced from the spiritual message that should be going with it". The difference between the Clean Slate Campaign and new year resolutions was that it "obliged oneself to do something by looking back" over one's life.

But keeping confidences is one of the ground rules of the Clean Slate Campaign. So when asked if she had wiped her slate clean, Ann Widdecombe replied, "Yes, and mind your own business."