Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tim Farron, Voice of Reason

Very good piece by Tim Farron in the Express, on Parliamentary prayers, Christian faith and liberalism. Here's a clip:
Whilst I don’t believe that my Christian faith is simply a matter of personal preference but rather a belief in something that is true, I also believe it is my duty as an MP, a Christian and a Liberal Democrat to be utterly committed to the freedom of others who hold different positions. To impose my faith on someone else does no good.  Christianity is, I would argue, an unequalled force for good, but when it becomes deployed as a political tool it can be the source of much that is far from good.
However, many Christians that I speak to feel absolutely no sense of privilege in their position. Rather than having the biggest platform and a rubber-stamped loud hailer, many Christians today feel marginalised. In reality the UK establishment acts as though the state religion is Atheism.  The default position when it comes to decision making in government circles, in the media and in our wider culture, is to assume that the absence of faith is the neutral and agreed position. Of course, it is *sort of* OK to have a religious faith and to think something different to the mainstream, but the assumption is that this makes you at best a bit whacky, and at worst downright unpleasant.  
and he concludes
...true diversity is about accepting that others are different to you, not by seeking to enforce a sanitised assimilation. If we are going to exist alongside one another with our hodgepodge of backgrounds and opinions it is not going to be neat. It is going to be messy and uncomfortable, and to need compromise and understanding.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

If I shout loud enough, I can't hear you

Given how far back they have fallen, the current Labour party leadership contest may be the most pointless exercise in democracy since the last Russian election. (I hope it isn't, Boris Johnson is as slippery as an eel thats been soaped, oiled and taken a PhD in slipperiness.) It's also proving to be yet another illustration of how the British left does dog whistle politics. Tolerance and inclusivity yay, but as Tim Farron discovered, woe betide you if your personal views diverge from the current progressive orthodoxy.

Rebecca Long-Bailey is now discovering the same thing, for having the independence of mind to question the law which currently allows terminating a pregnancy at 38 weeks (or ending the life of an unborn baby - we don't have a way of describing this that isn't already morally loaded) for reasons of serious disability. The pushback includes a campaign (successful) to get every leadership candidate signed up to a pledge to deregulate abortion still further, which categorises attempts to present alternative views as misogyny and hate crime.

Maybe I'm a conservative dinosaur, but I'd be deeply uncomfortable with any political context which treated the ending of human life, at whatever stage, as a settled issue. If we're going to wave around phrases like 'right to choose', lets at least look deeply into what we mean by them. If the right to choose is a fundamental principle, rather than just a slogan, then it can bear investigation and robust debate. Indeed, investigation and robust debate might succeed in carrying more people with it, and creating more of a consensus, than using it to shut debate down.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

I Agree With Harry

On page 48 of the Conservative Manifesto, is a pledge to discontinue the Leveson process. Along with the governments sabre-rattling about the BBC, it's a very clear signal of how the land lies with a Johnson majority. The press are off the leash.

If I had seen my own mother hounded, smeared and finally driven to her death by the tabloid press, and had witnessed the same thing now starting to happen to my wife, the Tory pledge would set alarm bells ringing all over the house. Johnson's clear majority means that we will have 5 years of whatever press regime this government chooses to champion. Given that, now would be a great time to emigrate, and to find a way to take myself and my family out of the frontline.

I don't think Harry had a choice. It's clear that the media see shredding Megan as both their right and their cash cow, and it's equally clear that the government (strangely silent n this whole episode) aren't going to lift a finger to stop them. If you had a choice, why would you willingly put up with that?

Taking the longer view, the whole royal family needs to rally round and support them. After all, if the tabloid press can't pursue one royal, you can bet your life they'll go looking for another target.

Zelo Street offers a valuable factchecking service on all those so called 'stories', with the help of Byline Investigates. Remember, you can't believe everything  anything you read in the Daily Mail.

update: Buzzfeed have helpfully compiled 20 examples of the medias drip drip character assasination

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Lets Get Christmas Done


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
(Howard Thurman)

Monday, December 16, 2019

Robin da Hood

Todays moral maze:

Which is the bigger crime, stealing £50m of jewellery, or having £50m of jewellery in the first place? If the thief gives the loot away to the poor, does that justify his/her actions? If not, why do we consider Robin Hood to be heroic?

The victim lives about 1 1/2 miles away from Grenfell Tower and donated generously at the time of the tragedy, does that have any bearing on this? Or the fact that she has 55 rooms in her house which, as far as anyone is aware, haven't been offered to any of the Grenfell victims? What about all the other people on that street who aren't in the news today but enjoy the same kind of lifestyle? Does the fact that I have a spare room and haven't offered it to the victims either make me a hypocrite? If so, is it only people with absolutely nothing to spare who can question the rich?

Is it acceptable for anyone to have a 'dog spa' in a city where 4000 are sleeping rough?

How much inequality is too much?

Etc.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Election Misdirection

Its a common tactic of magicians to use misdirection - get the audience's attention on one thing so that the real trick can be executed elsewhere.

This is a misdirection election. Directly after winning a Commons vote on his Brexit deal, Boris Johnson dissolved Parliament. Why? Because his only way of winning an election was to pitch the Conservatives as the Brexit Party, knowing that the Remain vote would be split and leaderless.

Take Brexit out, and who would win? Without 'Get Brexit Done', what else have the Conservatives had to say? Vague stuff about unleashing potential, statistically false claims about hospitals and nurses, and restoring police numbers to almost what they were pre-austerity.

Beyond that, as if reflecting the fact they have very little else to say, the Conservatives have disappeared from everything except their own staged events. Andrew Neil is the tip of the iceberg, they have systematically avoided interviews, debates and phone-ins throughout the campaign, Victoria Derbyshire noting this morning that following a month of daily requests not one cabinet minister has ever been put up to appear on her morning TV/radio discussion. People who avoid scrutiny have something to hide.

Labours use of the NHS has a big whiff of misdirection about it too, the documents released mid-term don't really prove its up for sale. Yes it's underfunded and stretched to breaking point, but like the Tories, Labour see in the NHS their own giant trump card that just about hides the other weaknesses in their hand.

This Sunday, Anglicans will hear of John the Baptists question from prison 'are you the one, or should we expect someone else?' Expecting a Jesus bringing judgement and upheaval, instead John suffers the limitations of the Herodian prison system whilst the hoped for Judeaxit from the Roman Empire is nowhere to be seen. Jesus reply: open your eyes. Notice what is happening - to the blind, the lame, the poor, the deaf, the excluded. The good news is coming first to the people nobody reports on.

Open your eyes. Don't follow the magic show. Notice what is happening to the poor, the disabled, the excluded, the hungry. Notice what is happening that politicians never talk about, in the very foundations of our society in families, parenting, culture, values. Notice the things that don't come down to money, and numbers of people employed to do x or y. Love, justice, the planet, kindness, truth. Notice the people that don't register - asylum seekers, food bank users, children in the care system, the isolated elderly, the people affected by UK foreign policy, the anxious and depressed.

Once you've seen how the trick works, its not magic. Turn away from it, and the daily insistence for the last month that this is all we should be noticing. What else do you see and hear? What else do you notice? If you remove the magic trick from the show, what else becomes important instead?

And please vote tomorrow.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Election - a Little Church of England Issue

Justin Welby is currently 63, and has been Archbishop of Canterbury for the best part of 7 years, since March 2013. His immediate predecessors were:

Rowan Williams retired at 62 after 10 years
George Carey retired at 67 after ll years
Robert Runcie retired at 70 after 11 years

Under the fixed term parliaments act, the next election after this one isn't supposed to be until December 2024, by which time Justin Welby will be 1 month off his 69th birthday, and will have been in office for nearly 12 years.

So based on recent form there is a very good chance that the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be chosen by Boris Johnson, or (long shot) Jeremy Corbyn. The former is likely to plump for a white, male privately educated Oxbridge graduate, given the opportunity, and the latter is likely to choose for a left-leaning female, given the opportunity. (update: I've been put right on this - the process is now that they get 1 name to approve, with another in reserve)

All the candidates will be capable - the shortlist of 2 traditionally given to the PM comes out of an intensive process of prayer, interviews, advice and selection. But neither potential PM is particularly keen on the church and what it stands for. Though being shortlisted for ABofC is one of my worst nightmares, it would be even more of a nightmare to think I was appointed to the job by a man who'd broken in letter or in spirit nearly all of the 10 commandments, and thought Christianity was a myth made up by a bunch of religious zealots on the fringe of his beloved Greco-Roman society.

Both have pledged some reform of the constitution in their manifestos, including this rather startling proposal from the Tories After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. ... In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.

Throw into the mix the age of the Queen, and the 'Defender of Faiths' line taken by the next in line to the throne, and there is quite a shake-up coming down the tracks. The end of the Elizabethan age will see a massive rethink about the role of the royalty, and once you pull at that thread it isn't long before you get to the Church.

Here's my take: disestablishment is coming, whether the good old CofE wants it or not. It has already started in lots of small ways - e.g. the series of changes to marriage law over the last 20 years. The question for the next Parliament is whether the church will get ahead of the curve on this, or be dragged along by events. The CofE needs its own vision of what a post-establishment Anglican Church could look like, rather than have one forced upon it by politicians who see neither merit nor votes in working with us. The Estalibshment of the church belongs to a previous age, it will go sooner or later, and as we have seen with attitudes to trans issues, the political and cultural weather can change very suddenly, and very fast.

Part of Justin Welby's legacy needs to be this: to get the Church of England thinking this through, and leading the debate, before a bandwagon appears from elsewhere - whether that bandwagon is driven by events, electoral reform, ideologues or royal succession. By then it will be too late to do our thinking.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

'Affordable Childcare' - parents?

The nationalisation of parenting continues apace: 
‘High quality affordable childcare’: all parties are promising it in various degrees. The Conservatives wish to extend wrap-around childcare at school and holidays for working parents. Labour promises an extension to 30hrs a week for two to four year olds and to extend provision for one year olds and the Lib Dems promise to deliver the best start in life for children by extending childcare provision at 9 months.
All these so called ‘family friendly policies’ are offered to mothers only if they agree to hand over care of their children to external settings and get out of the home. Care, which was once done for love and supported through family tax allowances, is now only recognised and supported if it is a traded commodity and measured as growth.
High quality long-term committed stable child care is a mother at home or a father or a grandmother – even a childminder in a home setting, but none of these qualify for any support. Economic pressures aside, spending more time with their children is what the vast majority of mothers want, and I daresay if one year olds could speak (some scream at the nursery door at being wrenched from their mother) is what they would prefer too.
But their voices are ignored at best or at worst misrepresented in political debate and policy circles. One freedom the ordinary mother no longer has is to choose to care for her own children: Mothers say choice is ‘virtually eradicated’ (Netmums: Great Work Debate) . 88 per cent of mothers with very young children said the main reason for returning to work was financial pressure’, according to the Centre for Social Justice.
And yet there is a clamour for childcare and a desperate need to help families struggling with debt, rising rents and living costs. Families are drowning and asking for a helping hand. They are not asking how they got into the river: they are too busy swimming to survive, and ‘affordable childcare’ appears to be a way to enable the mother to work to plug the income gap.
But is ‘affordable childcare’ the answer to relief from poverty? It is not – and unfortunately families will find out all too late that both parents are working very hard for very little extra disposable income. What they will have lost is family time; time with their children, which they cannot recover.
read the rest here