Monday, January 29, 2007
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
I am interested, though, in the pickle the Christian churches are finding themselves in, by allowing homosexuality to become such a defining issue for them. Jesus had nothing specific to say on the subject of homosexuality. He did make clear how impossible it is for anyone to consistently uphold God's law in their own strength (You only have to look at a woman lustfully to be effectively committing adultery, for example). He was clear in the absolute importance of upholding God's commandments, but doing so with no hint of arrogance. He showed friendship, love and compassion to those groups regarded as outcast by religious Jewish society (prostitutes, taxpayers, Samaritans...). He was clear on the distinction between looking forward to the coming Kingdom of God, but adhering to the current secular authorities as far as possible, a point which was followed by his apostle Paul - and the government whose dictates they felt they should not be challenging was a brutal, callous, severe one.
There is a common phrase used by Christians in determining what action they should take in any given situation - 'What Would Jesus Do?' (WWJD). In this instance, perhaps we should let secular government take its course, and concentrate on showing love and compassion to vulnerable groups and generally modelling Jesus' example.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Despite our contention that MPs are growing more assertive, and more capable of bringing the government to book, most of the time the executive steamroller still manages to win through. As a result of a procedural manouevre by government whips, rebel Labour MPs who had wanted to force a vote on tonight's Iraq debate were unable to do so. Given the heat Blair had for not speaking in the debate at all it was a somewhat pyrrhic triumph, but a sign that his whips' office is not completely at sea!
A couple of items spotted this evening are the sort of thing that make me start to feel like a Daily Mail reader - angry and frustrated at a society with its institutional functions seriously out of kilter. The oddness of police priorities has long seemed more than just an irritant to the law abiding citizen, so how about these fascinating posts. The first, from online paper 'First Post', is by the pseudonymous PC David Copperfield. The second is in the form of a letter from the managing director of a brewery company, and found its way onto Iain Dale's blog. Read them, and you'll find no comment necessary.
There will not be wanting people to condemn the churches once more as 'anti-gay', and asking why churches should be exempt from legislation aimed at stamping out discrimination. The problem, of course, is that such this legislation directly interferes with the church's rights to live according to its religious belief system, and to insist that its institutions and agencies do the same.
Tony Blair is apparently keen to accommodate the churches' objections, as is his Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly. But they have been hoist here by their own petard. Mr. Blair's government has been overly keen on legislating just about everything for years, and such a frantic desire to ensure elgislation on every issue is bound to have a comeuppance, quite apart from its negative impact on a liberal society.
The gay adoption legislation is a classic case of a law too far. In seeking to protect the rights of one minority - gay people - it infringes the right of another - Christians. In fact, of course, were the proposed laws to exempt churches they would not be infringing the rights of gay couples; state agencies would still be happy to place children with same-sex couples. The fact that catholic agencies would not do so is simply in keeping with the catholic stance on homosexuality, but does not, in a pluralistic society, impose that stance on other agencies or people. Thus, the catholic right not to place children brought to its agencies with same sex couples does not limit the freedoms of gay couple to seek to be adopted parents through other, non-catholic agencies.
The proposed law could be seen as another attempt to force the Christian church to accept the secular concerns of the country in which it lives, and is perhaps therefore little different from the position of the early Christians, who suffered persecution if they did not worship the Roman emperor as God. Or it might simply be a cackhanded piece of legislation. Either way, the issue it raises about freedom of religion in a liberal society is a significant one, particularly if we also think back to the Religious Hatred Bill and the attempt to impose quotas on faith schools.
A liberal society cannot pick and choose the groups it wishes to defend, and should keep in mind the key test of whose liberties might be infringed by its legislation.
For the churches, there is a problem of perception. If it is to avoid the perception of simply being beastly to gays, it must be clearer and broader about its teaching - that whilst it regards homosexuality, along with a host of other personal predilections and behaviour, as sinful, it seeks to love the sinners. The Christian gospel presents a way of living for Christians, and teaches it as an appropriate way to conduct everyone's lives, but it does not seek to impose this on everyone, and nor should it be seen to do so.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Well, well. Just have a read of this tirade against the BBC.
"The BBC, which glories in being open-minded is, in fact, a closed thought-system, operating a kind of Orwellian newspeak.
"This, I would argue, is perverting political discourse, and disenfranchising countless millions, who don't subscribe to the BBC's world view,"
and there's this on the Tories and their leader:
"Today's Tories are obsessed by the BBC. They saw what its attack dogs did to Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard.
"Cameron's cuddly blend of eco-politics and work/life balance, his embrace of Polly Toynbee, a columnist who loathes everything Conservatism stands for, but is a totemic figure to the BBC, his sidelining of Thatcherism and his banishing of all talk of lower taxes, lower immigration and euroscepticism are all part of the Tories' blood sacrifice to the BBC god."
Who could it be, taking up this righteous crusade against the BBC and its miserable, eco-friendly Cameronian allies? Answers on a postcard please, to The Editor, Daily Mail........
Suggestions that Mr. Blair dislikes the Commons are legion, and his Commons attendance record as PM is one of the worst of any holder of that office. Since coming to power he has preferred to do business away from the troublesome chamber, becoming accused of adopting a presidential style that is unsuited to his actual constitutional role. When he moved the Chief Whip's office out of No. 12 Downing Street, replacing it with the office of his Director of Communications, it was seen as a sign by some commentators of his desire to push the management of the Commons as far off his radar as possible. The famous occasion of his government's Commons defeat by one vote - his own - seemed further evidence of his unwillingness to engage with the country's only elected chamber. Ironic, given that his premiership is entirely dependent on his party's Commons position.
Perhaps it is reciprocal to his own want of interest in the chamber, but the Commons under Blair seems to have become ever more troublesome. Prime Ministers were once assumed to be able to pass anything if they had an appropriate majority, thanks to the large element of payroll/wannabee/party loyalist lobby fodder at their disposal. Not Mr. Blair. Philip Cowley's highly recommended, and very entertaining, book "The Rebels" illuminates this process of lost deference in voting thoroughly - not for nothing is it subtitled 'How Tony Blair mislaid his majority'. [For students unable to cope with a whole book, no matter how accessibly written, I would at least refer you to Cowley's Politics Review article, and any notes you may have taken from his lecture speech.]
Tony Blair's attitude to the House of Commons is a key part of understanding his premiership, and as he heads to retirement it is unlikely to soften. One of his successor's priorities may well be to regain control of a difficult body - is that really a task for the dour Scot?
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Last week David Cameron sought to resume the mantle of Margaret Thatcher, particularly in the area of social conservatism. It wasn’t a great move, designed to shore up the Tory grassroots who are getting nervous at the possibility of mainstream middle class voters who don’t share their prejudices actually voting for them. This week, however, he is back on form, saying that he is ‘relaxed’ about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes if a benefit can be shown. The Lady would be turning! If she were in her grave. Which, happily, she isn’t.
Nowhere is this problem clearer than in the problem-hit Home Office. John Reid may have entered his brief bullishly, conveying implicit criticism of his predecessors and suggesting that he was the man to sort things out. Even he, however, buffeted by recent storms of what the Home Office doesn’t know, has bowed to the inevitable and proposed that the Home Office be split in two, its functions spread between a Department of Justice and a Department of Security (or, in effect, the slimmed down Home Office itself).
It is a rational suggestion, and none too soon. And although it looks like a panic measure, the government has clearly been considering the merits of a Justice Department – headed by the avuncular Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer – for some time. This was indeed the motive behind Falconer’s initially saying that he wasn’t going to be Lord Chancellor any more when he was appointed to replace Lord Irvine. Alas, poor Charlie, since when he and Tony Blair looked beyond the matchbox they’d written their ideas on they ran into a number of legal and executive problems. Nonetheless, they obviously haven’t abandoned their reform ideas and in this instance should be encouraged to move ahead with them.
And what’s more, a slimmed down Home Office might be better able to ensure the smooth running of the Cash for Peerages scandal, which saw government aide Ruth turner arrested on Friday. Like the unfortunate headmaster Des Smith, she was hauled into the nick at 6.30 am. Tony Blair had the great good fortune to engage in a pleasant chat in Downing Street at his own convenience when Yates of the Yard came looking for him. Consistency is all.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
David Cameron, meanwhile, has waded into the English nationalism debate by supporting the idea of banning Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting on purely English matters, but stopping short of calling for an English parliament. Cameron's compromise idea is unworkable - imagine the legislative chaos of a Labour government that draws its majority from its Scottish MPs, but is in a minority in England, thus losing its votes on all of its English bills. What do we do then - have an alternating premiership depending on whether it is British or english matters being discussed?
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
It was a genius programme. ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’ came closer to illustrating the true nature of the Blair legacy than acres of newsprint. Starring Robert Lindsay as the increasingly tormented premier (perhaps a little artistic licence there, in the suggestion of Blair’s personal torment), the programme imagined a post-resignation Blair facing a possible war crimes tribunal. Lindsay brilliantly conveyed a man shorn of the trappings of power, but still subject to the delusion of importance. There was poignancy in the depiction of Blair striding around his huge new office, in the company of just two aides, his phone obstinately refusing to ring, and his only task the dictation of his self-justificatory memoirs.
There were some fine touches too. Who could not take grim satisfaction at the idea of Blair, arriving at a police station to be charged, and being confronted with the humiliating procedure of his own police laws as he submitted to a mouth swab for DNA samples? Or of a neglected Blair in casualty, his wife saying that “They’re not telling us anything”? (That scene, by the way, occasioned a great exchange between the fictional Tony and Cherie. As she has to remind him that there is no such thing as a private casualty ward, he replies “How did we let that get by?”)
The supporting performance of a dour Gordon Brown was well realised too – particularly a cringe inducing scene that showed him during the election meeting a group of primary schoolchildren, and clinging desperately to his one line of small talk, “And what’s your name?”. The Brown Blair relationship was also illustrated in all its painful glory, particularly when Blair cuttingly tells Brown that “You and charisma have always been strangers to each other haven’t you?”. A brilliant cameo of David Cameron added lustre. Accompanied by his sloaney advisers, Fiona and Zoe, we saw him ‘getting down with the kids’ and giving the full pseudy Cameron treatment.
But it is the plight of Blair that is central to this gem of a drama. Since he’s a British prime minister who supported an American action it is unlikely that he will face the war crimes tribunal imagined by the drama’s writers. But the question to what extent a prime minister should face the consequences of his actions remains an intriguing one, and this programme raised it sharply, and brilliantly.
Monday, January 15, 2007
We do have some trouble identifying precisely what David Cameron is for, it is true. Whether you're an AS student getting to grips with the bare essentials of party policies, or an A2 student struggling to work out just what Conservatism in the UK Today is all about, David Cameron doesn't seem to be helping you. He's kept his policies deliberately vague, and been strong on what sometimes seems like contradictory rhetoric. He has, however, been supremely successful in repositioning the Tory Party and persuading voters that it is no longer the incaring prehistoric beast it once was.
But could all this be about to change? Have the jibes about being policy lite, or acting like a crypto-Blair, got to Cameron? An article he has written for the Daily Telegraph suggests that, at the very least, he is trying to pitch for the Conservative grassroots support. He firmly rejects the idea of being 'Tory Blair', suggesting that he is the real heir to Margaret Thatcher. He also identifies those Thatcherite traits that he is keen to endorse: "Those ideas are profound and enduring: freedom under the law, personal responsibility, sound money, strong defence and national sovereignty."
He has also started playing up his eurosceptic credentials. Astonishing as it may seem to those of us who heard him speak, Cameron may actually be concerned at the defection of the peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who with a colleague defected to UKIP last week.
Whatever his motivation, he should be careful. His three imemdiate predecessors started out with a 'modernising' Tory agenda, but quickly ratcheted back to a more comfortable right-wing brand that sat well with their supporters - but not, alas, with the electorate who soundly rejected them at the polls. Cameron is, I think, too canny to go back to Tory Basics, but this is the year when we are promised more policy detail, and might finally get the chance to analyse New Toryism with a degree of confidence that we know what it is about!
Monday, January 08, 2007
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Courtesy of Guido Fawkes comes a reference to this gem from the Times' Hugo Rifkind:
At the funeral of President Ford yesterday this country was represented by Sir David Manning, the British Ambassador to the US. Strange that Gordon Brown, for example, couldn’t be persuaded to attend the funeral of this former head of government who stepped in unelected to replace a disgraced predecessor, served a mere two years and was then booted from office at the ballot box. Whatever could have put him off?
On a separate note, Fawkes also quotes a press release today from the Libertarian Alliance which comments on the sometimes bizarre way that freedom is upheld in New Labour Britain. The Alliance's Director, Sean Gabb, says:
"We note with some amusement that in Tony Blair's New Britain, a man may sodomise a schoolboy in a public lavatory, and the police must look the other way; but if he gives the boy a cigarette afterwards, he will soon be committing a criminal act."
The press release then goes on to say that "The Libertarian Alliance actually welcomes the first of these situations."
For those studying classical liberalism, here is its modern counterpart, entirely consistent in its pursuit of the concept of personal freedom without limits, although they use perhaps infelicitous examples! The Fawkes blog contained some crude, but funny, comments in response.
To be fair, I am trying to keep the gloating tone out of my voice, but there are a couple of stories today that are hardly great news for the much put upon plucky little Liberal Party. First off, Menzies ('Ming') Campbell has been forced once again to proclaim the strength of his leadership. He has said he is setting no time limits to his tenure as leader (a reference to his age, at 65 the oldest of the party leaders) and has added, in ringing tones,
"I will lead the party through this parliament, through the next general election and beyond, and no-one should be in any doubt about that."
The Tory blogger Iain Dale comments that such a statement reminded him of the dying days of Iain Duncan Smith's leadership:
Does it not remind you of the time in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith bounded out of Central Office to tell the waiting media: "I'm in charge"?It was at that point that we all knew he was not. And so it goes for Ming.
Campbell was giving his interview in the knowledge that three Liberal parliamentary candidates had defected to the Conservative Party. Time was when everyone seemed to be defecting from the major parties to the Liberals, but Ming appears to have finally reversed that trend!
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Sky Movies have just published a poll of MPs' film choices, and the favourite film amongst our representatives is the blac and white war weepie, 'Casablanca'. I have to say it is one of the few things they seem to be getting right - Casablanca is an outstanding film, and still worth watching if you've never seen it - and, indeed, if you have. I'm not sure what it says about Tory MP's generally, though, that one of their favourite films is 'Carry On Up the Khyber'. Hmmm.
David Willetts, the Conservative Education spokesman, insists that the new, modernised Tories will not even look at the possibility of bringing back academic selection. The current 164 grammar schools are safe, but no more, he says. In this, he is on the same wavelength as the present government and the majority of received political wisdom.
For those of us who believe the grammar school is the best way of radically improving the English education system, then, the poll produced by the Centre for Policy Studies provides welcome support. It suggests that 73% of people think that a selective system is the best one available for academically able students, and would also help weaker children. The key thing about the grammar school system, of course, was that it provided the best opportunity for educational and social mobility, yet is now confined to a few middle class areas. It is odd that parties which claim to be looking for ways to improve opportunities for the most deprived youngsters in Britian should turn their backs on the one system that has a track record in thsi regard. Social engineering is ok it seems - and it lead to the comprehensive system - but not educational engineering.
The CPS Report can be found on their website here; the BBC report is here.