Friday, March 30, 2012

Why can Respect send a man to Parliament, but not UKIP?

George Galloway, by the grace of God, has made by-election history in Bradford West. His party, Respect, was wallowing in fifth place at the 2010 general election. Last night, it secured 18,341 votes on a colossal swing against Labour of 36.59 per cent. Labour was left with a humiliating 8,201 votes which, after a dreadful week for the Coalition, is damning for Ed Miliband. Mr Galloway said his victory was 'the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none'. And he’s not wrong.

But it isn’t only Respect that has managed to do this: the Greens sent their first MP to Westminster in 2010 when Caroline Lucas snatched Brighton Pavilion from Labour. Certainly, these may be one-off singularities, but they are crucially symbolic for small ‘fringe’ parties. They allow justifiable expressions of glorious ecstasy as the elected takes his or her ‘rightful place’ in the legislature. The Green win was a breakthrough for the party after more than 20 years of campaigning in the UK. Respect was formed in 2004 and immediately secured its first MP the following year when George Galloway overturned a large Labour majority in Bethnal Green and Bow. UKIP has existed for as long as the Green Party, and yet consistently fails to break through to Westminster, and even fails in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, despite these being held under PR.

It is notoriously difficult to found a new political party in a FPTP bipolar system dominated by Labour and the Conservatives. Yes, there is the Liberal/Social Democrat/SDP/SDLP/Liberal Democrat tradition. But, like the karma chameleon, it comes and goes in various shades of red, gold and green. The Referendum Party and Veritas both died an inevitable death, despite the attraction of big names and the pouring in of millions of pounds. And the less we say about Sir Paul Judge’s ‘Jury Team’ and Stuart Wheeler’s Trust Party, the better.

George Galloway won Bradford West for a few very simple reasons: he is a political animal of immense conviction who thinks strategically. He identifies his natural constituency, and shamelessly presses home a consistent message day after day after day. And, most importantly, he does so with passion and commanding oratorical skill. Consider the YouTube clip in yesterday’s post (and there are many more on the Respect website). His appeal is spontaneous, without notes, and still his words are skilfully crafted and honed. He is eloquent, persuasive and authentic. He is, in short, gifted with the political virtue and ancient art of rhetoric.

Nigel Farage does not think strategically at all: his decision to stand in Buckingham in the 2010 general election was disastrous. To lose in a constituency in which all the main parties had absented themselves was bad enough. But to be beaten even by a Europhile independent Conservative was just humiliating. He can talk, certainly: indeed, his orations can be inspirational. But compare Galloway’s dour, earnest appeal with Farage’s sparkle and levity. Galloway is positively Churchillian: every speech he gives feels like a live re-enactment of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. His words have rhythm and life, and he speaks the wisdom and weight of Demosthenes. His grammar is joined by impeccable logic, and both are suspended in a mesmerizing cradle of rhetoric. It is music to the ear: a symphony of tones and notation which simultaneously thrills and captivates, even as the message offends and repels.

Nigel Farage, by comparison, is a Music Hall act. His gags are cheap, and his wisdom gleaned from the back of a fag packet. His media performances are often memorable – but more for his easy manner and affability than the weight or wisdom of his cause. It is more pop karaoke than epic symphony; more powerpoint presentation than reasoned political philosophy. Hazlitt once said that the business of oratory is ‘not to inform but to rouse the mind... to add feeling to prejudice and prejudice to feeling’. Galloway’s prejudice arouses very strong feelings indeed: Farage’s prejudice merely informs.

Even while our fishing fleets were being decimated by the gross offence of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, UKIP failed to win even in a fishing constituency. While our economy is pulled down by the inescapable gravity of the black hole that is the euro, UKIP fails to be more than a superficial protest party. Perhaps, just perhaps, with all this pasty palaver, if they start to beaver away and build up support in a Cornish fishing town, they might just secure a breakthrough in 2015. But only if they field a well-known candidate of gravitas, conviction, passion and consistency. The people are crying out for authenticity, integrity and principle; they are sick to death of clones and compromise and centralised control. Political parties favour the mediocre, bland and monochrome: the people want vibrancy, variety and colour.

Many will dismiss George Galloway’s victory as a one-off political coup by a political one-off. Indeed, those are Nick Robinson’s precise words. But let us not pretend that there isn’t a far deeper message here. And if the main parties fail to address it, we may well yet see the BNP’s Nick Griffin in Parliament.

And he is likely to get there way before UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

George Galloway is returned to Westminster

Err... George Galloway has triumphed in the Bradford West by-election, overturning 40 years of Labour rule. His Grace has received a number of abusive tweets blaming him for the outcome. He would simply like to say that electorates tend to get the representatives they deserve. In this case, it is a Catholic Muslim. His Grace sends his sincere sympathies to Bishop Nick.

Mr Galloway, His Grace salutes your courage, your strength, your indefatigability, and he wants you to know that he is absolutely not with you and never will be, except when you are a thorn in Ed’s side, and also on Judgment Day, when he hopes to have a ringside seat.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bradford West by-election: Vote George Galloway – the proper Muslim

Today is the Bradford West by-election. You might be forgiven for having forgotten (if ever you knew): the campaign has been somewhat overshadowed by granny taxes, Cash4Cameron, pasties and panic at the petrol pumps.

The constituency has been Labour for as long as Moses wandered in the wilderness. The heir-apparent is one Imran Hussain, a 33-year-old barrister and long-standing chairman of the local Labour Party. But His Grace has thought long and hard about the candidates and, it being abundantly self-evident that the delightful Conservative candidate doesn’t have a Protestant in purgatory’s chance of winning, His Grace has decided that George Galloway deserves to take the seat. Yes, that’s right, George Galloway. This one-time friend of the sadistic torturer Uday Hussein who genuflected and obsequiously fawned before the murderous Saddam; who insulted and slandered the entire feline species on Big Brother; who was ejected by the Muslims of Bethnal Green and Bow after one disappointing term of office; who is matey with Hamas and rants on fanatically about Palestinian genocide while denying the crimes of the real terrorists; the absolute demagogue whose poisonous tongue is dipped in pools of blood.

His Grace doesn’t agree with a word the odious man says and unequivocally repudiates everything he purports to stands for. He is a one-man-party self-publicist and a slimy master of political seeming.

But he is today the man His Grace most earnestly wants to be returned to Parliament. Not merely because he is and a highly-skilled orator (which he undoubtedly is). But because he would be a perpetual ‘Real Labour’ thorn in the side of Ed Miliband, and things need livening up a bit beyond the inane level of pasties. And, more importantly, George Galloway is a proper Muslim. Or more proper than the New Labourite clone Imran Hussain is anyway. Mr Galloway sent Muslim voters the letter below (blessings to Paul Waugh), in which he appeals to Bradford’s Muslims to search their hearts for they know ‘instinctively’ who is a Muslim and who is not (...and he criticises Labour for running a sectarian campaign...). He flatters them divine discernment, for what they know ‘instinctively’ is what Allah knows perfectly. He declares: ‘God KNOWS who is a Muslim and he KNOWS who is not’. And he goes on to list his Islamic virtues: ‘I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have... I, George Galloway have fought for Muslims at home and abroad, all of my life... I, George Galloway, tell the truth...I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards...I, George Galloway, came to the side of the people of Palestine in their agony...’. He also refers to 'the Grace of God' and says 'if God wills it' he will give his remaining days in service of all the people of Bradford West:

His Grace does not know if it be the will of Allah (who appears to have no sense of humour) to return his servant George Galloway to Parliament. But it is a certain fact that Labour and Parliament deserve him. And so might the electorate of Bradford (if Bishop Nick will forgive).

Mr Galloway believes we need more genuine Muslims in Parliament, as opposed to the compromised, luke-warm, wishy-washy sort who fraternise with Iblīs and dance with Shayṭān. To be a ‘proper’ Muslim is the highest calling, isn’t it George? And the Muslims of Bradford might just fall for it.

Even though he's actually Roman Catholic.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Boris ought to be the Green Party’s natural second-preference candidate

The Green Party have decided to endorse Ken Livingstone as their official second-preference candidate for London Mayor, and by so doing they have lost all respect. Or what little respect they had.

It is astonishing that a party which professes to prioritise the environment is prepared to endorse a tax-dodging anti-Semite whose political priority appears to be to make London a beacon of Islam. For sure, Allah is as concerned as YHWH with the whole of creation, and doubtless he seeks to mitigate the destructive inclinations of its present caretaker-guardians. But Ken Livingstone is a charlatan and a chameleon: his skin is only green when it needs to be (ie, when seeking to dupe the Greens). When you cut him, he is crimson red to the core.

In 2000, Ken promised to ‘put the environment at the heart of London government and provide for comprehensive environmental assessment and monitoring of all strategies which the Mayor is required to produce’. He failed to do it. He promised to reduce road traffic by 15 per cent by 2010. He failed to do it. He promised to ‘take a personal lead in ensuring delivery of an effective programme of home insulation and other measures to end fuel poverty and the scandal of winter deaths from cold’. He failed to do it. In fact, the number of households in London suffering from fuel poverty increased from 108,000 in 2003 to 328,000 in 2008 – an increase of 204 per cent.

Ken also promised to set a target for London to create 10,000 jobs in new green businesses by 2005. He failed to do it. He promised to produce an annual statement of London’s contribution to fighting climate change. He failed to do it. He promised to protect both the outer London Green Belt and inner London open green spaces from development and promote new parkland. He failed to do it. Indeed, every year under Ken, an area of green garden space two-and-a-half times the size of Hyde Park was lost. And an area of vegetated garden land equivalent to 21 times the size of Hyde Park was lost between 1998-9 and 2006-8, which represents a 12 per cent reduction.

And still the Green Party endorses him?

If they could look beyond their own statist socialist inclinations, they would see that Boris Johnson is their natural second choice.

In 2008, he promised to make London a genuinely cycle-friendly city by introducing a central London cycle hire scheme and increasing the number of cycle parks. Viz. ‘Boris Bikes’, now with over 40,000 cycle parking spaces. He promised to protect green belt land and open space from development. Viz. The new London Plan, published in 2011, which commits to doing precisely that. He promised to protect against development on gardens. Viz. residential gardens are no longer classed as ‘previously developed land’ and boroughs are allowed to introduce a presumption against development on back gardens. He promised to invest in 10,000 street trees to improve the local neighbourhoods that need them most. Viz. Boris was delighted to plant the 10,000th tree on the 14th February 2012.

Boris also pledged to encourage every member of staff in the GLA, TfL, MPA, and LFEPA, to do one day a year volunteering for a green charity. Viz. he has given all Greater London Authority staff three days a year leave for volunteering activities. He promised to make recycling easier and more convenient through innovative approaches, such as paying Londoners to recycle. Viz. in 2010 Boris launched a trial of a scheme called Recycle Bank which gives householders shopping vouchers or donations to charity to the value of how much they recycle. Since he became Mayor, recycling rates have increased from 25 per cent in 2007/8 to 32 per cent in 2010/11.

Further, with changes made to over 1,000 traffic light signals, Boris has vastly improved the flow of London’s traffic, so reducing carbon emissions. He continues to lobby the Government to stop the expansion of Heathrow; the hybrid bus programme will see 300 new hybrid buses introduced by the end of this year; and he has inaugurated the Mayor’s Low Carbon Prize for new research into low carbon technology, to promote innovation. The first winner was announced in ceremony at City Hall on 7th March 2012. The £20,000 award, sponsored by the Berkeley Group, was a student from Kingston University for his ‘green key’ to supply ‘new residents with an electronic key containing up to date information on local services and ideas to help them live more sustainably’.

And Boris has achieved all of this while freezing his council tax precept for the past three years to protect Londoners from further tax rises while maintaining London’s public services.

Conservatives naturally seek to conserve, and that includes the whole of creation. Conservatives might look to the Psalmist for their founding charter, for he sings: 'The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters (Ps 24:1f). Belief in God is not a prerequisite for being conservative, but neither does conservatism repudiate such belief. Creation is good not only because God says so, but because it is. Certainly, we may debate the extent and manner of that goodness, and disagree on how best to maintain it. And we may meditate or ponder whether or not the life of man is worth more than that of a sparrow. But this does not negate the natural Conservative instinct and politico-philosophical priority to conserve.

That the Green Party endorses Ken establishes beyond doubt that Green is the new Red. Like Ken, they reject privatisation and free-market economics. They support big-state public ownership, unbridled workers' rights, illiterate economic democracy and ‘progressive’ taxation (ie Socialist redistribution). For those Greens who genuinely care about prioritising the environment, Boris really is the only choice.

Parliament supports 'compassionate' guidelines on assisted dying

Yesterday, for the first time in 40 years, Parliament debated a substantive motion dealing directly with euthanasia and the 'right to die'. Things were clearer back in 1970s. Or they seemed to be. Since then, there have been some very high-profile cases which have aroused profound sympathies and persuaded more than a few that maybe the timing of one's death should be removed from the hand of God, who no longer exists like He did back in the 70s, and if He does, He cares a little less about the likes of Diane Pretty, Debbie Purdy, Tony Nicklinson and Sir Terry Pratchett.

If their lives are 'dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable', why should they be denied the right to end their troubled existence? Who really can judge whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? Yet gradually, surreptitiously and incrementally, the courts and the DPP have sided with the afflicted and suicidal against the expressed will of Parliament. The Suicide Act 1961 makes assisting suicide illegal. But we can't be having enlightened 21st-century deaths bound by primitive 20th-century attitudes.

Whether you call it 'euthanasia', 'mercy killing', 'assisted suicide', the 'right to die', these are matters for Parliament rather than the courts. A single judge may be swayed by the powerful and distressing facts of a unique case, such that his or her compassion might admit the common law defence of necessity to override any murder charge.

Yesterday the House of Commons passed unopposed a motion to 'welcome' the DPP’s guidance, published in February 2010, which attempted to clarify when compassionate intervention may mitigate murder. Whilst not being absorbed into UK law, this new prosecuting policy is now effectively sanctioned by Parliament, and the 'right to life' waters are muddied sufficiently to permit a little more judicial activism. Either assisting a suicide is illegal or it is not: it cannot be legal one day, when life is 'dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable', and illegal the next, when things feel a little better.

During the debate, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP asked: How can prosecutors be sure that someone assisting suicide is motivated by compassion, not other factors? Disabled MP Paul Maynard said assisted suicide sends message that some lives (eg disabled) are not worth living. Legal assisted suicide for one person would diminish the value of the life of every person, he said. He also said that the true definition of compassion is being lost: it is not feeling sorry for someone but ‘fellow suffering’. Dr John Pugh MP said that euthanasia is a logical conclusion of assisted suicide. He and David Burrowes MP argued that enshrining the DPP’s guidelines in statute would fetter the DPP, denying the discretion given to him by other statutes.

Fiona Bruce MP observed that that UK is world-leader in hospice care. It prioritises care, not ending life. A palliative care specialist told Mrs Bruce that doctors are concerned that legal assisted suicide would put them in very difficult position regarding their patients. She also said that disabled peer Baroness Campbell says assisted suicide won't stop with the terminally-ill but will threaten the disabled.

Solicitor-general Edward Garnier QC opposed the motion to put the DPP’s guidance on a statutory footing. Glenda Jackson MP said that Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying was biased and funded by assisted suicide lobby. Naomi Long MP said that it is difficult to assess if a patient is terminally-ill. The proposed terminal illness 'safeguard' is therefore dubious.

Ian Paisley Jnr MP argued that the House of Commons would be foolish to put in place a law deciding when someone loses their life. He also said that assisted suicide would open a Dutch-like floodgate to euthanasia. Frank Field MP said that euthanasia was the unspoken issue in the debate. He added that some relatives have vested interests in patient's death. Mark Pawsey MP said that his family experience tells him that legalising assisted suicide would be wrong. It would be a slippery slope for our nation.Edward Leigh MP said that we must never let old people feel they are burdens. Life must come first and we must proclaim life.

Jim Shannon MP called on Parliament to uphold the Hippocratic Oath's 'First do no harm' principle and the Oath’s ban on doctor-assisted suicide. Robert Halfon MP said that legalising assisted suicide is dangerous, and called on MPs to remember that ‘life unworthy of life’ was the basis of the Nazi euthanasia programme. John Glen MP argued that a blanket law banning assisted suicide is only way to protect vulnerable.

The law on assisted suicide remains unchanged: it is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Yet we know where the DPP's 'guidelines' will end, for we have seen with abortion that procedures which were only ever intended to be performed in extremis lead to all manner of unintended abuses. A distinction will now be drawn between maliciously encouraging someone to kill themselves, which would continue to be prosecuted, and compassionately supporting someone's decision to die, which will not lead to arrest and prosecution.

And it will be for the clever and expensive lawyers to argue over whether or not one may be compassionately malicious.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Has Cameron accepted cash to dilute commitment to gay marriage?

This might seem an utterly bizarre and completely contradictory question to ask after His Grace’s earlier post asking precisely the opposite. Well, it is. And here’s why.

The ‘eagle-eyed’ Roman Catholic Deacon Nick Donnelly (who runs the not-so-excellent Protect the Pope blog) did indeed spot an intriguing tweet by the Sunday Times Insight team, but got completely the wrong end of the crozier. His Grace was sufficiently trusting to believe the contents of the Pope blog (yes, he should have learned centuries ago...) and wrote his own article before checking sources. He apologises. To be fair to Deacon Nick, he did send His Grace the new evidence the moment he discoverd it. And it transpires that the 'eminent donor’ mentioned by Peter Cruddas was actually lobbying the Conservative Party against gay marriage.

But His Grace isn’t going to hastily redact his earlier post or surreptitiously delete it before it is embedded irrevocably and forever in the search engines of the world. No, he will not do that, not least because he said: “...this is not a question of being pro or anti same-sex marriage; it is a question of honesty, integrity and transparency”. And that remains absolutely the case.

The revelation that a wealthy ‘eminent donor’ has lobbied the Conservative Party to change its policy on gay marriage is actually rather more seismic. For Peter Cruddas is quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying: “We’ve fed that (the donor’s anti-gay marriage paper) back into the party and there are some brilliant points in it and his voice has been heard.”

Brilliant points? His voice has been heard?

In the context of the apparently inexorable drive for same-sex marriage, this statement appears to make no sense at all. Unless...

...the ‘consultation’ presently being undertaken were suddenly to include the question which both David Cameron and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone have hitherto maintained would not be included because it simply isn’t on the agenda. The position has consistently been that same-sex marriage is equal, fair, just, and the right thing to do, so the Government is going to legislate for it. Indeed, for the Prime Minister it is the Conservative (if not the conservative) thing to do, and for all Liberal Democrats it is self-evidently the liberal (if not the democratic) thing to do. The ‘consultation’ has been concerned exclusively with the staggeringly narrow but politically expedient ‘how’, rather than the socially responsible and morally imperative ‘if’.

Has this ‘eminent donor’ (male, heterosexual?) just used his considerable wealth to shift the policy? Are we about to see the re-engagement of David Cameron’s political antennae, along with a subtle acknowledgement that ‘gay marriage’ is oxymoronically incomprehensible if not naturally offensive to many faith groups (including target Muslim and Sikh voters); that it would create apparently insurmountable problems for the Established Church; and that it is actually not a human right recognised by the ECtHR? However the policy is amended, diluted, or re-presented, Peter Cruddas has basically assured us that the Coalition 4 Marriage voice ‘has been heard’, which is bound to upset the Coalition 4 Equal Marriage. And rightly so.

His Grace asks again (this time in the hope of being joined by #Gays4Cranmer), is it not right, just and proper for the identity of this ‘eminent donor’ to be disclosed, along with the contents of his paper?

Did Cameron accept cash for gay marriage?

"£250k will be awesome for your gay marriage cause." These were not quite the words of the former co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, but they might as well have been. Peter Cruddas was actually filmed pimping out David Cameron for a cool £250,000 a bite (it was dinner), with the boast to potential donors that ‘it will be awesome for your business’.

‘Awesome’ = beneficial, cool, great (or the term Americans use to describe everything).

His Grace wouldn’t pay £250k for dinner with the Prime Minister, not merely because his meagre stipend doesn’t quite extend that far, but also because he is more than aware that dinners with politicians are utterly vapid affairs. Paul Goodman has the measure of them (and he should know):
Cameron...asks questions, remembers their children’s names, and listens attentively... When donors thump the table and urge that the Tube drivers all be fired, or that the Dangerous Substances Directive be shredded, or Balmoral be transformed into a tourist attraction, he nods thoughtfully and smiles agreeably.
So what comes of this...? Two things. First, the Prime Minister thanks those present, saying that the evening has been splendid, invaluable – terrific to hear your views. Second, he returns to the bosom of his family, where he reads his wife extracts from Vogue, or plans to bomb Buenos Aires, or plays Angry Birds online, or does whatever else he does in the little private time available to him: at any rate, he immediately forgets about the evening’s dinner.
But His Grace digresses. Mr Cruddas went on to suggest that a ‘premier league’ of donors can contribute policy ideas which are ‘fed in’ to Downing Street’s policy process. While Mr Cruddas swiftly resigned and David Cameron has moved to reassure the public that ‘donations to the Conservative party do not buy party or government policy’, it transpires that an anonymous but ‘eminent’ (gay?) male Conservative Party supporter combined a substantial donation to the Party with a report on same-sex marriage, which he ‘fed’ into the No10 Policy Unit.

Peter Cruddas announced: “His voice has been heard”.

Well, hasn’t it just.

Eagle-eyed Roman Catholic Deacon Nick Donnelly (who runs the excellent Protect the Pope blog) spotted an intriguing tweet by the Sunday Times Insight team, which rather suggests that the ‘eminent donor’ was not only donating his eminent wealth, but also being rather free with his views on sexual morality and equality. Did a cash-for-access donor influence David Cameron’s gay marriage policy?

For some reason, the Conservative Party has not disclosed who submitted the ‘gay marriage’ paper to the No10 Policy Unit. Deacon Nick asks: “What are the links between homosexual lobbyists and the government? Have they paid for access to influence the government?” And he speculates (which, he says, is ‘only natural’) over the identity of such an influential anonymous ‘eminent donor’, especially since the Prime Minister appears to have discovered that same-sex marriage is a thoroughly conservative/Conservative pursuit at around the same time as the ‘eminent donor’ made his donation.

Even Tony Blair knew that the appearance of collusion is profoundly damaging for politics and for the democratic process. Back in 1997, just six months into his premiership, it was revealed that Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, had donated £1million to Labour – a donation only made public after the government had announced F1 would be exempt from a ban on tobacco advertising which was a key plank of Labour’s election manifesto. Mr Ecclestone lobbied for the exemption at a meeting at No10 with Mr Blair just a month before the announcement of the exemption. In the political furore and media mayhem that followed, Mr Blair repeatedly downplayed the link between the donation and the decision to exempt Formula One. But the link was exposed and the source of the exemption policy as plain as the proverbial pikestaff.

But that was a superficial matter of business capitalism: gay marriage is a profound shift in culture, tradition and definition. If some ‘eminent donor’ lobbied David Cameron for a change in the law, and ‘his voice has been heard’, as Peter Cruddas said, as a result of this donation, then it is time for the Prime Minister to disclose both the identity of the donor and the contents of his policy paper.

And this is not a question of being pro or anti same-sex marriage; it is a question of honesty, integrity and transparency. For it certainly appears that, while the public are being denied a genuine consultation on the proposal, a rich individual, who is male and probably gay, is able to purchase influence over Government policy in exchange for a hefty donation to the Conservative Party.

Of course, there is no reason to suppose that the anonymous donor is gay, for many heterosexuals support the cause of ‘gay marriage’ (just as many homosexuals oppose it, but they are conveniently marginalised and discriminated against by the more aggressive gay lobby). For what it’s worth, His Grace thinks Deacon Nick’s guess of Sir Elton John is very wide of the mark. It is more likely to be someone very much younger, openly gay, savvy in business, cool and Cameroon, with political ambitions, and (recently back) on the Approved List of Candidates.

Monday, March 26, 2012

VAT shall not go on bread alone

It is rather amusing to see a Conservative government caught out by some of those same EU VAT directives (namely 2006/112/EC) which so plagued Gordon Brown's first budget back in 1997. New Labour had been elected on a pledge to get rid of the iniquitous 'Tory tax' of VAT on domestic fuel which had been imposed by Norman Lamont. But at the dispatch box, Mr Brown intoned: "I would like to abolish VAT on fuel. But European rules prevent me from doing so. Therefore, VAT will be cut to the lowest level compatible with European law, that is 5 per cent from 1st September, well in advance of winter fuel bills." If ever there was an admission that Parliament is no longer sovereign with regard to taxation, this was it.

 And last week, George Osborne announced: "Hot takeaway food on high streets has been charged VAT for more than 20 years; but some new hot takeaway products in supermarkets are not... We're publishing our plans today to remove loopholes and anomalies..." Now, this has the Cornish up in arms, for their national regional dish, the Cornish pasty (for which there is an appreciative association), will now increase in price by 20 per cent. Along with sausage rolls and chicken pies and other foodstuffs which are routinely consumed warm, though not necessarily so.

Which brings us to bread - the staple foodstuff of life. If it be purchased warm from the bakery, should it not now be subject to VAT? Or may it now only be sold VAT-free when cool? This is rather an important consideration, for under those same 'European rules', once VAT has been levied on a product, it cannot be removed: 'ever closer union' prohibits re-zero-rating and demands incremental tax harmonisation throughout the Union. And so the rate of VAT on a Cornish pasty purchased in Penzance must (eventually) be identical to the rate of VAT on a Cornish pasty purchased in, err... Marbella, or wherever else on the Coast del Sol they might happen to be on sale.

But, as the Daily Mail highlights, there is something of a disagreement over precisely what constitutes 'bread'. If it be 'basic food', then the pasty in Cornwall should also be exempt. And what of ethnic breads - naan, puri or chapati, for example? Under equality legislation, the Government is now obliged to carry out an assessment of every one of its policies to ensure that no protected minority will be unfairly discriminated against. Surely, if hot 'white bread' is VAT-free, so must all the Asian breads be. Not to mention Chinese breads like mantou. And what about pizza? It is usually served hot, but may certainly be eaten cold, and is constructed upon a base of bread. If 'British' bread (ie your average leavened Hovis-looking thing) is to remain VAT free, His Grace is persuaded that there might be merit in a class action brought against HM Government by the Indians, Pakistanis, Greeks, Italians and Chinese who now reside in the UK, for it is surely illegal to discriminate against their breads.

Which brings His Grace to the Eucharist. We are aware that wine has been subject to VAT since 1st April 1973, when the tax was introduced to the UK. But what of communion wafers under George Osborne's proposals? Are they not a 'loophole and anomaly'? Why should the religious have access to VAT-free bread, while the heathen get stung for an additional 20 per cent? Food and drink (unfermented) for religious and sacramental use has always been zero-rated, and this includes communion wafers used in the celebration of the Eucharist. But what of (say) the Baptists who tend to use your more Hovis-looking thing? Is this to remain VAT free while the consecrated host of the Roman Catholics is taxed by the state? Or is it only when transubstantiated above the ambient air temperature to the warm body temperature of Our Lord?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gay marriage: have religions ever been so united?

With the news that the Coalition 4 Marriage petition has passed the 300,000 mark (while the Coalition 4 Equal Marriage petition has reached 35,000), it is worth considering that the campaign against 'gay marriage' appears to have become the most successful vehicle of inter-faith union and ecumenism in British history, easily surpassing 'aggressive secularism' and even the 'pro-life' union against abortion. The issue of same-sex marriage is not only uniting Christians across the fractious denominations, but bringing together all the main religions across mutually-exclusive doctrines of God. Who would have thought that Ut Unum Sint could have been furthered by a religio-political campaign, or, indeed, extended to embrace people of all religions and none?

The Archbishop of Canterbury says of same-sex marriage: "What this brings into focus is the anxiety that law is being used proactively to change culture." The Church of England has said it is 'committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the plans were a 'grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right'. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, says same-sex marriage is a 'profoundly radical step' that would threaten the true meaning of matrimony.

The Evangelical Alliance, representing many (though by no means all) of the Evangelical Free Churches in the UK, says that while legal injustices could be addressed, 'marriage is solely between a man and woman and is a major contributor to society, which should be protected and not redefined'.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of the Mill Hill Synagogue in north London and adviser to the Chief Rabbi, described the proposals as 'pure politics' and an assault on 'traditional values', adding it was hypocritical to impose such a far-reaching 'secular' change when religious leaders would be condemned for imposing their values on others. He said: “The hallmark of Judaism is the family. The traditional family – a husband, a wife and children."

Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said on behalf of its members (again, by no means all British Muslims): “Whilst we remain opposed to all forms of discrimination, including homophobia, redefining the meaning of marriage is in our opinion unnecessary and unhelpful." He said that gay marriage is 'an assault on religion' and that 'such unions will not be blessed as marriage by the Islamic institutions'.

Lord Singh, head of the Network of Sikh Organisations, said the proposed reforms represented 'a sideways assault on religion'. He said: “It is an attempt by a vocal, secular minority to attack religion... Sikhs believed in marriage as the union of a man and a woman and that changing the definition was an attack on the English language... We have total respect for gays and lesbians and we are delighted that there is a Civil Partnership Act. We believe that this gives gays and lesbians everything they need.”

So, let us work together to defend the traditional view of marriage. United we stand...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rev’d Stephen Sizer and his ‘disgraceful’ anti-Semitism

From Anglican Friends of Israel:

Last weekend I debated a Christian critic of Israel. I challenged his assertion that the State of Israel ‘invites’ anti-semitism by its actions. Such thinking is very dangerous, I replied. It could provide an excuse for race hatred. He did not respond.

Our discussion sprang from a statement issued on 13 March 2012 by the much-respected Council for Christians and Jews in which they took one of Israel’s fiercest Anglican critics, Rev Stephen Sizer, to task publicly. CCJ’s Chairman, the Bishop of Manchester, called Sizer’s retaining of a link on his Facebook page to an article on an anti-semitic website for over two months, 'disgraceful' and conduct ‘unbecoming for a clergyman’.

The Middle East conflict arouses strong feelings on both sides: but whatever led a clergyman to overlook the hateful nature of 'The Ugly Truth' website having allegedly been warned twice about it? Is this an isolated incident, or just the tip of a larger iceberg?

Stephen Sizer is only one of a number of Evangelical Christians whose opposition to Israel and Zionism has arguably strayed beyond the limits of legitimate debate. Many follow the ‘Palestinian narrative’ of the ‘Naqba’ (catastrophe) of Israel’s foundation in 1948, and the Palestinian misery occasioned by Israeli oppression and injustice.

As a God of love and justice – not to mention the story of David and Goliath - are part of the Christian theological furniture, it isn’t surprising that this simple paradigm of weak vs strong and good vs evil strikes a chord with Christians. But it provides an inaccurate and perilous framework for understanding a complex conflict. It was developed by veteran terrorist Yassir Arafat - which ought to alert anyone not to take it at face value.

Christian anti-Zionists rely on two theological strands to bolster the Palestinian narrative, the first being Liberation Theology. They insist that standing against Israeli injustice and oppression becomes a Christian duty in response to The Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

The trouble is, the Middle East today is not the Latin American of the 1960’s. Israel is not a dictatorship but a vibrant democracy and contrary to the official narrative, Palestinians are not helpless peasants stripped of all power over their lives. Of course Israel gets things wrong; but to present her actions – actually her existence – as the sole cause of Palestinian misery is absurd.

Christian anti-Zionists all but ignore the appalling security dilemmas Israel faces. Israel’s efforts to prevent or defend itself from terrorism are labelled ‘humiliation’ of Palestinians or a ‘disproportionate response’. When Palestinian children are killed or injured in clashes, Israel alone is blamed. Christian anti-Zionists rarely criticize Palestinian leaders for feeding their children a daily diet of hatred in schools and the media; nor do they hold them responsible for aiming rockets at Israeli children from behind their own human shields, or parading their dead and injured children for cameras in order to whip up hatred of the Jewish State.

The second strand in anti-Zionist thinking within the Church is Replacement Theology, which states that Jews were excised from God’s plan because they did not accept Jesus as Messiah, only to be replaced as God’s Chosen people by the Church. Replacement theology undergirded more than 1500 years of institutional Christian anti-semitism despite contempt for Jews being explicitly condemned by the Christian scriptures. Christian Anti-Zionists usually dismiss concerns about Replacement Theology, often with the canard that Israel’s supporters always claim that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

We find the logical extension of Replacement theology in the Qur’an where we read that Jews were disobedient to God and are now subject to judgement which will eventually be carried out by Allah’s faithful servants. Thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims do not interpret these Surahs as a current religious imperative. Unfortunately for Israel, their thuggish neighbours to the north (Hezbollah) and south (Hamas) do. The Hamas Charter looks forward to Israel’s destruction and the murder of Jews on the basis of Quranic teaching. It’s not such a large step from one to the other.

Christian anti-Zionists would refute Hamas’ Charter entirely. Equally, they are clear that modern Israel cannot be a fulfilment of scriptural promises since Israel’s behaviour just isn’t up to scratch. Speaking on Iranian Press TV, Rev Sizer even opined that if Israeli Jews do not repent and find reconciliation like we did in western Europe(!) then God might expel them from the Holy Land again.

The Palestinian narrative also requires that the history of Arab rejectionism and aggression lying at the heart of the conflict be expunged. You won’t often hear anti-Zionists admitting that millions of Jews have lived all over the Middle East continuously for over 3,000 years. Instead they join with Israel’s enemies, denouncing Zionism while promoting Palestinian nationalism. Instead they adopt the language of delegitimisation. Israel is a western colonial enterprise formed on stolen land; Ashkenazi Jews are foreign interlopers, displacing the ‘indigenous Palestinians’ depriving them of land and resources. And so on.

Some anti-Zionists even extend understanding, though not approval, to anti-Semitism. The man I debated on Twitter was only echoing Ben White, author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: a Beginner’s Guide’ who wrote that whilst not anti-Semitic himself he could understand why people are. Protests that such reasoning excuses racism and could incite hatred, violence even, against Jews in Israel and beyond, seem to fall on deaf ears.

And so we come to Toulouse. Muhammed Merar had already killed 3 soldiers when he sought out Jewish children at their school, and murdered three of them. He explained to a horrified world that he was taking revenge on behalf of Palestinian children. Hateful ideas became flesh as Merar translated a distorted narrative into action.

Christians must have the courage to renounce a narrative of the Middle East conflict that demonises one party whilst absolving the other from all responsibility; they must stop using theology to underpin it, and frame their concerns within a more constructive paradigm. Otherwise there will be more outrages enacted by fanatics who hear the rationale for their visceral hate softly reflected in the media, at conferences and in Churches. For in this conflict above all, careless talk can cost lives.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ann Furedi: Breaking the 1967 Abortion Act is ‘a grey area’

Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), was interviewed this morning by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme concerning the routine breaches of the law discovered by spot checks on more than 250 abortion clinics.

Further to the discovery last month that doctors at three abortion clinics had agreed to terminations based on nothing but the gender of the baby, it has now been established that doctors are ‘pre-signing’ the necessary paperwork to grant professional medical consent for abortions to proceed. The 1967 Abortion Act requires the consent of two doctors, and that consent (quite obviously, you might think) must be based upon full and proper examination of the woman and made with the full awareness of her circumstances. The doctors’ consent amounts to the certification of the legality of the procedure. In the absence of the proper statutory assessment of the medical grounds for performing an abortion, it is difficult to see how this does not constitute the unlawful termination of a baby, and so murder.

Asked about this by James Naughtie on Today, Ann Furedi responded that the statutory conditions in the 1967 Abortion Act are ‘a grey area’.

Are they? Are they really ‘grey’, or did Parliament make it perfectly clear that, except in emergencies, two doctors must agree for a woman to have an abortion? Is not the objective of this stipulation quite plain to comprehend? Is it not designed to mitigate if not eradicate the possibility of error, bias or corruption? Is it not, in short, designed to prevent women seeking abortion ‘on demand’?

What is ‘grey’ about this? How can Ann Furedi justify up to 20 per cent of abortion clinics routinely breaking the law with an appeal to the conditions for termination being ‘a grey area’? Isn’t she paid c£120k a year (undisclosed) to uphold the law at least? How can the UK’s second-highest-paid CEO of a charity be so complacent about the need for abortion providers to adhere to the letter of the Act of Parliament by which their business is regulated?

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is today handing departmental files to the police for them to investigate these allegations. He said: "I am shocked and appalled to learn that some clinics – which look after women in what are often difficult circumstances – may be allowing doctors to pre-sign abortion certificates. This is contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Abortion Act. The rules in the Abortion Act are there for a reason - to ensure there are safeguards for women before an abortion can be carried out. To protect women the right checks and balances must be in place.

Furedi’s response to this?

Utterly astonishing.

She said: "Mr Lansley says he is shocked and appalled by the practices he has uncovered. BPAS is shocked and appalled that Mr Lansley has found it necessary to inform journalists of alleged breaches of the abortion law before he has informed those responsible for providing the services that have been investigated, and before the investigation is concluded."

So, there you have it. On the one hand we have the will of Parliament, concerned primarily with the physical and mental health of women. On the other is the will of BPAS, concerned primarily with media scrutiny of their business. Andrew Lansley is ‘shocked and appalled’ by the unlawful killing of unborn babies, whose lives are snuffed out either because they’re the wrong sex or because two reckless doctors can’t be bothered to carry out the necessary examination. Ann Furedi is ‘shocked and appalled’ that the Secretary of State is 'politicaly motivated'. She is completely unfazed by the discovery of systematic deception, corruption and fraud in the failure of abortion clinics to adhere to due process.

And there we see the respective priorities.

Abortion providers such as Marie Stopes and BPAS exist to make money and then to increase their profits year on year. They are competing in a free market. That is why Nadine Dorries sought last year to detach the counselling process from the abortion provider, since they quite obviously have a vested interest in women aborting their babies. In light of these recent discoveries, it is obvious to all reasonable people that Mrs Dorries was quite right. And, in light of Ann Furedi’s ‘slippery and evasive’ interview, it is obvious to all reasonable people that she is palpably unfit to lead the British Pregnancy Advisory Service on account of her manifest inability to advise on the clearest points of law, not to mention her flagrant obfuscation of that law.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The new face of UKIP

They are ripe for a persuasive poster campaign and abundantly telegenic for a TV broadcast. It is the sort of defection for which a party leader would engineer all manner of internal selection procedures to ensure high-profile and swift advancement. When the Conservative Party is losing families like this to UKIP - young, vibrant, politically active and holding office - perhaps the Cameron/Maude detoxification/modernisation process has gone a step too far.

For years, UKIP have been dogged with being the Dad's Army of British politics, with their absurd tanks and taxis, buses and balloons, crass campaign slogans, pound badges and a leadership of beer-swilling exhibitionists and elderly cranks. They may not all be, but they certainly have given the consistent appearance of being 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists'.

But when a former Conservative mayor of the true blue Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead decides to defect, citing the Budget as the 'last nail in the coffin', it merits rather more scrutiny than CCHQ are prepared to give (if they even care). Cllr Catherine Bursnall, and her husband, Cllr Tom Bursnall, said in a joint statement: "After a combined 24 years of loyal service, and having pushed more leaflets through more doors than we wish to remember, it is with some regret that we have this evening decided to leave the Conservative Party and join UKIP. It is no longer the party for the aspirational 'go getter', no longer the moral crusader for a lower taxed nation, and no longer the party that trumps meritocracy over political gesture."

And they are not alone in thinking this, or feeling it. And in an age which is governed by the random emotions of ordinary people, the feeling is rather more important than the thinking. It is perhaps intrinsic to postmodernity that logic and reason are complemented by emotion and appeals to the spiritual, and UKIP is pressing buttons of sovereignty, patriotism and Christian spirituality which the Conservative Party has exchanged for europhilia, environmentalism and gay marriage.

The Conservative Party’s historical focus on the economy, law and order, defence, patriotism, immigration, over-regulation, tax reduction, and their support for private enterprise, traditional marriage and the family, are now largely issues which are barely spoken of. They are harsh, masculine, rugged, abrasive, and no longer constitute the stuff of Tory politics. The modernisation process is concerned with the feminine, the delicate, the touchy-feely policies designed to appeal to the Guardianistas of Notting Hill. Conservative politics is no longer the pursuit of policy that works, but policy that feels right to Francis Maude. And he is spectacularly misjudging the mood of the nation.

At UKIP's recent Spring Conference (the Conservative one was cancelled due to 'lack of interest'), they not only had the star turns of Nigel Farage, distinguished economist Tim Congdon, and the newly-defected MEP Roger Helmer: they boasted a former deputy chairman of Conservative Future, Alexandra Swann, and former chief inspector of schools Sir Chris Woodhead who urged a return to selection by academic ability.

This is not the future of UKIP: it is the present. Going and gone are the bowler hats and caricature gadflies; coming in is a new generation of reasonable, rational, moderate and utterly normal men and women who favour and support low taxation, grammar schools, national defence, patriotism, low immigration, heterosexual marriage, and withdrawal from the EU. You know, the sort of people who might once have voted Conservative.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On this day, 456 years ago, Archbishop Cranmer was martyred

On the announcement of the intention of Dr Rowan Williams to resign the See of Canterbury at the end of this year, former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright observed:
A measure of how much the struggle for unity has cost was Rowan’s moving sermon on the 450th anniversary of Thomas Cranmer’s death. Cranmer struggled with conflicting personal, political and theological loyalties. The careful balance of his prose reflects an anguished attempt to hold together a church and nation in crisis. Rowan clearly identified with his predecessor.
In commemoration of His Grace's martyrdom on this day 456 years ago, here is an excerpt from that sermon preached by his successor five years ago at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford:
Cranmer lived in the middle of controversies where striking for a kill was the aim of most debaters. Now of course we must beware of misunderstanding or modernising. He was not by any stretch of the imagination a man who had no care for the truth, a man who thought that any and every expression of Christian doctrine was equally valid; he could be fierce and lucidly uncompromising when up against an opponent like Bishop Gardiner. Yet even as a controversialist he shows signs of this penitent scrupulosity in language: yes, this is the truth, this is what obedience to the Word demands - but , when we have clarified what we must on no account say, we still have to come with patience and painstaking slowness to crafting what we do say. Our task is not to lay down some overwhelmingly simple formula but to suggest and guide, to build up the structure that will lead us from this angle and that towards the one luminous reality. 'Full, perfect and sufficient' - each word to the superficial ear capable of being replaced by either of the others, yet each with its own resonance, its own direction into the mystery, and, as we gradually realise, not one of them in fact dispensable.

...And in his last days, this was Cranmer's curse. If there was no easy certainty enough to kill for, was there certainty enough to die for? That habit of mind which had always circled and hovered, tested words and set them to work against each other in fruitful tension, sought to embody in words the reality of penitence and self-scrutiny, condemned him, especially in the midst of isolation, confusion, threats and seductions of spirit, to a long agony, whose end came only in this church minutes before his last hurrying, stumbling walk through the rain to the stake. It is extraordinary to think of him drafting two contradictory versions of his final public confession, still not knowing what words should sum up his struggles. But at the last, it is as if he emerges from the cloud of words heaped up in balance and argument and counterpoint, knowing almost nothing except that he cannot bring himself to lie, in the face of death and judgement. What he has to say is that he has 'written many things untrue' and that he cannot face God without admitting this. He cannot find a formula that will conceal his heart from God, and he knows that his heart is, as it has long been, given to the God whom the Reformation had let him see, the God of free grace, never bound by the works or words of men and women. Just because he faces a God who can never be captured in one set of words, a God who is transcendently holy in a way that exacts from human language the most scrupulous scepticism and the most painstaking elaboration possible, he cannot pretend that words alone will save him. 'If we deny him, he also will deny us'. He must repent and show his repentance with life as well as lips; 'forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished'.

...So Cranmer draws the terrible and proper conclusion from a lifetime of skill and balance, of 'rightly dividing the word of truth': what appears bit by bit in our words about God as they are prompted and fired by the Word Incarnate is the realisation of the God who is always in excess of what can be said...

...It led Cranmer - as it led so many others in that nightmare age, as it led the martyrs of our own age - Bonhoeffer, Maria Skobtsova, Janani Luwum - to something more than a contemplative silence: to a real death. When we say that the word of God is not bound, we say that death itself can be the living speech of God, as the Word was uttered once and for all in the silence at the end of Good Friday. Cranmer speaks, not only in the controlled passion of those tight balances and repetitions in his Prayer Book, but in that chilling final quarter of an hour. He ran through the downpour to the town ditch and held out his right hand, his writing hand, for a final composition, a final liturgy. And, because the word of God is not bound, it is as if that hand in the flames becomes an icon of the right hand of Majesty stretched out to us for defence and mercy.

His Grace is not a Saint: today is not a Feast or Principal Holy Day in the Church of England; just a 'lesser festival' of remembrance - 'Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Reformation Martyr, 1556.' From His Grace's Book of Common Prayer, the gospel reading for today:
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged;
condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned;
forgive, and ye shall be forgiven;
give, and it shall be given unto you;
good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over,
shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that ye met withal,
it shall be measured to you again (Lk 6:36-38)

Lord Tebbit triumphs in the Budget

As the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats fight like ferrets in a sack for ownership of the decision to increase the personal allowance from £7,475 to £9,205, it is worth paying tribute to Lord Tebbit, who has long advocated taking the poorest amongst us out of taxation altogether.

He has consistently sided with Nick Clegg on this matter, contra many in his own party, pointing out that it is nonsensical for people who are so poor that they claim welfare benefits to be deemed simultaneously sufficiently wealthy to pay income tax. He observed two years ago: 'The effect is that people at the bottom of the stack living on benefits who try to get back into work are hit by 20 per cent tax, 11 per cent National Insurance and benefit losses that can add up to amost 100 pence in the pound. It is all very well for the better-off to complain about the disincentive effect of losing 50 per cent of every extra pound they earn, but what about the poor devil at the bottom of the stack who loses 90 per cent?'

It has taken some time for his fiscal wisdom to permeate through to the Chancellor, but it is ethically right and wholly moral to support working people on the lowest incomes. In a 'fiscally neutral' budget, this move will mean that more than 2.5million low-wage earners will not have to pay any income tax at all. And all Ed Miliband can muster is a cry of 'Same old Tories'.

ECtHR: Churches WILL be forced to conduct same-sex marriages

As the Government launch their not-a-consultation on 'gay marriage', it transpires that even the fons et origo of the equality industry are washing their hands of the proposal. Judges in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg have said: "The European Convention on Human Rights does not require member states’ governments to grant same-sex couples access to marriage."

BUT they warn (as everyone really knows and His Grace has been warning for years) that if same-sex unions became lawful, any church (and synagogue, mosque and gurdwara) that refuses to marry gay couples could be charged under existing anti-discrimination legislation, irrespective of any statutory exemptions. The judges said: "Where national legislation recognises registered partnerships between same sex, member states should aim to ensure that their legal status and their rights and obligations are equivalent to those of heterosexual couples in a similar situation."

Otherwise, of course, there is discrimination in the state, which is illegal. Ergo, the Coalition’s assurance that no religion will be compelled to conduct the weddings is worthless: Parliament will be forced to amend its legislation to conform to the judgement of the courts to which it is subject. We all know and fully understand that European law (that which emanates from both Strasbourg and Brussels) overrides any rule of national law found to be in conflict with any directly enforceable rule of European or EU law.

The European Court of Human Rights is not an institution of the European Union. It is a creation of the Council of Europe (again, not an EU body: it has 47 member states) and rules on disputes arising from the European Convention on Human Rights which was incorporated into UK law in the Human Rights Act 1998. In this sense, Strasbourg has nothing to do with Brussels. But the only remedy to the erosion of parliamentary sovereignty is to revisit both the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998. By the former was the sovereignty of Parliament fatally compromised, and by the latter was it made unlawful for any public body to act in a way which is incompatible with the ECHR. UK judges are now obliged to take account of the superior judgements of the Strasbourg court, even where they conflict with the Common Law, and to interpret UK legislation in a way which is compatible with the Convention.

So, perhaps the Prime Minister or Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone might care to clarify this point for us? Parliament insists that 'gay marriage' will not be imposed upon the religious; the European Court of Human Rights says that it will. Who is right? Who is telling the truth? Which opinion of law prevails?

Of course, we already know the answer to this question. The Coalition for Marriage (C4M - advertising above) are uniting Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and people of no faith to make it known that marriage - consisting of one man and one woman - is a respected institution, a sacred one, indeed, a sacrament, and its definition must be preserved. The consequences for religious liberty in the introduction of same-sex marriage are profoundly worrying and deeply dangerous.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Baroness Ashton: "When we think about what happened today in Toulouse...we see what is happening in Gaza"

The appalling slaughter of Jewish teachers and children in Toulouse has provided Baroness Ashton with an opportunity to take a swipe at Israel. Yes, while Jews in France are subject to atrocious acts of anti-Semitic terrorism, they bring to the mind of the EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy the plight of those in Gaza.

Presumably, in her mind, there is some equivalence between a lone gunman who shoots children in cold blood and the IDF who do their damnedest to target Palestinian rocket launchers and ammunition hordes whilst avoiding civilians in defence of the security of their homeland. And note, the Baroness did not mention what is happening daily in the southern part of Israel, where Jewish schoolchildren live in constant fear of being obliterated by missiles launched from Gaza. Perhaps, in her mind, the Jewish children of Israel deserve everything that comes their way.

No, Baroness, the murder of Jewish children in Toulouse is a tragedy which merits a focus all of its own. To equate the tragedy with the situation in Gaza is utterly reprehensible, and manifest evidence of your own inability to distinguish between that which is evil and immoral and that which is just and moral. You are a disgrace to the European Union, and bring shame upon the United Kingdom. You are ignorant of the facts and quite out of your depth. Doubtless you're too pig-headed to retract and apologise for the statement, and too obdurate and unyielding to resign. So, we are stuck with you. Frankly, you alone make the case for being Better Off Out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ken Livingstone pledges to make London a beacon of Christianity

Ken Livingstone has been out on the campaign trail, highlighting that the Mayor of London can be an educator of the ignorant masses because the job comes with a pulpit from which he can preach. He told the assembled faithful at Holy Trinity Brompton that he had recently read for the first time in his life the words of Jesus, which he observed 'could have been written for today as they seem to be an agenda for all humanity'. Especially, he said, those sentences where Jesus exhorts us to love our neighbour, and that our neighbour is everyone, and that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, nor male nor female, for all are equal in His sight. Mr Livingstone lauded the greatest commandment, which he said was 'a creed for all of us'. In recognition of the scales falling from his eyes, he wants 'to make sure that every non-Christian in London knows and understands the words of Jesus', so it might stop 'the demonisation of Christianity that is daily spewed out by poisonous papers like The Guardian'. He wants to educate 'the mass of Londoners who have no understanding of the words of the Son of God'. This, he says, 'will help to cement' London as 'a beacon that demonstrates the meaning of the words of Jesus'.

Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

Cameron puts homophobia at the heart of the Constitution

For centuries we have heard that the British Constitution is 'anti-Catholic', principally by virtue of the Act of Settlement 1701, the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Treaty of Union 1707, all of which prohibit the Monarch from being, becoming or marrying a Roman Catholic.

Bowing to pressure from the religious and political (principally from Cardinal Keith O’Brien who refers to this as ‘state-sponsored sectarian discrimination’; and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond who demands ‘equality of faith and gender’), the Prime Minister announced last October that he would introduce an amendment to the Act of Settlement – a ‘Royal Equality Bill’ which would end male primogeniture in the Royal succession, and simultaneously lift the ban on the Monarch being married to a Roman Catholic. As His Grace has previously pointed out, such a change will require a raft of historic legislation to be amended, including the Bill of Rights (1689), the Royal Marriages Act (1772), the Coronation Oaths Act (1688), the Crown in Parliament Act (1689), the Accession Declaration Act (1910) and the rather more sensitive Act of Union (1707).

But if it be right, just and fair to end this ‘blatant discrimination towards Catholics, which is completely unacceptable in a modern society’, a fortiori must it be right to end it in respect of homosexuals and lesbians.

It has just been announced that the male partners of peers and knights who take part in gay marriages are to be given courtesy titles ‘to put them on a par with wives of titled men’. Ergo, the same-sex spouse of Lord so-and-so might be called Sir such-and-such or the Honourable such-and-such. This is a logical consequence of same-sex marriage for the titled: they are entitled to the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, otherwise the partners of homosexual peers and knights would suffer a manifest discrimination. It is yet to be decided how this will apply to lesbian peers and dames, for the male partners of baronesses and dames are already discriminated against by not being granted courtesy titles. This could be thorny.

But perhaps the most interesting constitutional dimension of the Same-sex Marriage Bill (or whatever it is to be called) is how this will apply (or not) to the Monarch. In proposing that Roman Catholics should continue to be debarred from being head of state, but that anyone who marries a Catholic should not be debarred, David Cameron has perpetuated a manifest religious discrimination while seeming to abolish it. He has created an institution of state in which it would be permissible to rear children as Roman Catholics as long as the heir does not seek to take the throne as a Roman Catholic.

This rectifies nothing. If it be offensive to Roman Catholics that the Monarch may neither be Roman Catholic nor married to one, how does the repeal of half of the prohibition resolve the injustice? If it be bigotry to bar the Monarch from marrying a Roman Catholic, it must a fortiori be bigotry to bar them from the throne.

The Bishops have already made it clear that they will oppose this Bill in the Lords, because they know perfectly well that the reform will lead to disestablishment and the end of the Crown in Parliament under God. But that aside, why not have same-sex couples upon the throne?

Is it not blatant homophobia that, should the Monarch be homosexual, that their partner may not be crowned at their side and granted a royal title to reign with them? Is it not blatantly homophobic that they not marry under the aegis of the Church of England, as the Constitution requires, and that the Church will not officiate over their same-sex union? Is it not unacceptably discriminatory in the 21st century that, should the firstborn of Prince William choose to enter into a civil partnership with his best friend from Eton, his lawful partner shall not also be king?

This is surely a logical corollary of removing all ‘offensive discrimination’ from the institution of Monarchy. If one is legislating to end sexism and Romophobia, why not simultaneously end homophobia? This will surely be the next step (as soon as Stonewall and/or Peter Tatchell latch onto it), for (by all statistical accounts) there are just about as many homosexuals and lesbians in the UK as there are Roman Catholics, all waiting for the right time to get offended over this 'disgusting' and 'insulting' discrimination. It would be invidious for a Conservative prime minister to bring to an end an unjust discrimination against one group, only to sustain an unjust discrimination against another. Come on, Mr Cameron. Why can’t we have two queens upon the throne?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rowan Williams - a true Prince of the Church

Within seconds of the first Twitter rumours about an imminent announcement from Lambeth Palace concerning the resignation Dr Rowan Williams, the obituaries were spouting forth for the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. And they fell into two main camps: on the one hand, there are those who remember him for perpetual near-schism over gay priests; further near-schism over women bishops; paralysis and inaction over the Pope's 'imaginative pastoral response' of the Ordinariate; and the folly of the announcement about the inevitability of sharia law in the UK. And, on the other hand, there are those which pay tribute to the towering intellect of the theologian, philosopher, poet and dear friend.

His Grace is not going to add substantially to either. As with all biography and hagiography, the truth lies somewhere between the two, and this blog has attempted to bridge the gulf a number of times (see here, here, here and here (and not forgetting here]).

The reality is that people have been prophesying the demise of the Church of England since it was established: it was once referred to as being ‘crucified between two thieves’ - the respective fanaticism and superstition of ‘the Puritans and the Papists’. There is a modern parallel with a church now suspended between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised ‘spirituality’; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities. The postmodern context is marked by diversity, fragmentation and all that is transitory; beliefs and practices are culturally relative, and Anglicanism has ceased to be supra-cultural or catholic.

Rowan Williams has perpetuated the via media for a further decade, against all the odds and contra all the prophets of doom. Whether or not you agree with him, you must concede that this is evidence of his considerable ability to sustain dialogue and relationship and keep people in communion with one another. It might be imperfect, but if the Lord's command for us to love one another means anything, it must be that we remain friendly when we do not agree. The Church has always struggled with the tension between affirmation of the gospel and assimilation to the prevailing culture; between transformation and inculturation. Establishment commits the Church to full involvement in civil society and to making a contribution to the public discussion of issues that have moral or spiritual implications. If Rowan Williams has shown us anything, it is that these cannot easily be reduced to soundbites, neat headlines or trite blogposts: profound matters demand profound contemplation and an articulation which does them justice. More often than not, Dr Williams has been purposely woefully misunderstood and misreported by a ferociously judgmental and hostile press. His successor will fare no better: it is the zeitgeist.

We are no longer in an age, if ever we were, where the Archbishop of Canterbury can impose a morality or a doctrine of God. Archbishop Rowan saw his primary function as being the acutely political one of calling the state to account by obstinately asking the Government about its accountability and the justification of its priorities. He may sometimes have been a thorn in the Prime Minister's side; he might even have been a 'disaster' on the political front and occasionally infuriating. But being the very incarnation of the command to love, he was and remains a true Prince of the Church.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The consummation of gay marriage

His Grace apologises for this post, but it is as unavoidable as the decline and fall of the Coalition. What two grown men or two grown women get up behind closed doors in the privacy of their own homes is not, of course, a matter for the Conservatively-inclined. But, thanks to the Government’s intention to legislate for same-sex marriage, it will, at some point very soon, be a very public matter for the courts to consider and the media to pore over in salacious detail. His Grace is merely prematurely jumping on a future bandwagon hereby foreseen and foretold with 100 per cent certainty.

Historically, a marriage has not been considered a binding contract until and unless it has been consummated. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 defines the grounds for nullity and annulment of a marriage. The distinction is crucial, especially as far as the Established Church is concerned, for by Act of Parliament it is decreed that ‘so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful’. And God’s Word doth say not an awful lot about same-sex unions. Indeed, it celebrates only complementarity throughout its pages: the Song of Songs of Solomon is an explicit celebration of maleness and femaleness, of courtship and consummation, of husband and wife becoming one flesh. And it is devoid of all religion and any mention of God; only allegorically becoming analogous to God’s relationship with Israel or that of Christ with the Church. It is a cosmic song of secular eroticism, in which the sexual man and woman are united in ecstasy, and this Song is the superlative song of marriage union.

Ah, but the Government is not proposing to interfere with ‘religious marriage’, you say. And all this Bible mumbo-jumbo is archaic and otiose: we need to move on. But even as we try, we hit not only a can of worms but a knot of vipers in the consideration of same-sex ‘civil marriage’.

If a marriage be null and void, no valid marriage ever existed; if a marriage be voidable and annulled, it is valid and recognised at law until such time as it is ended by decree. The relevant clauses of the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act are:
11 Grounds on which the marriage is void
(c) that the parties are not respectively male and female;

12 Grounds on which the marriage is voidable
(a) that the marriage has not been consummated owing to the incapacity of either party to consummate it;
Throughout ecclesial and secular history and hitherto in law, both spiritual and temporal, consummation has required sexual intercourse which is ‘ordinary and complete’; that is, the penetration of a vagina by a penis.

Recognising a slight problem here in regard to same-sex marriage, the Government has explained in its ‘consultation’ document:
Dissolution, divorce and annulment:

2.16 Specifically, non-consummation and adultery are currently concepts that are defined in case law and apply only to marriage law, not civil partnership law. However, with the removal of the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, these concepts will apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples and case law may need to develop, over time, a definition as to what constitutes same-sex consummation and same-sex adultery.
Don’t you just love ‘Case law may need to develop’? May need?

Which appendages into which orifices will henceforth constitute consummation? Presumably, a ‘wet willy’ will be exempt. But what of ‘French kissing’ or tongues in each others’ mouths? For the avoidance of confusion and the mitigation of ambiguity, His Grace exhorts his communicants to be clear, forthright and explicit in their responses to this crucial question. This will aid our judges as they ‘develop’ case law.

Further, as lawyers and judges sitting in their courts (both civil and religious) get their heads around what might constitute homosexual and lesbian consummation, for the sake of equality, this new consummation case law will also have to apply to heterosexual union. For, surely, if we are concerned with matters of equality and justice, if a finger or tongue in the vagina, or a penis in the anus or the mouth, henceforth constitutes consummation for homosexuals and lesbians, then a fortiori must this constitute consummation for heterosexuals, or the standards by which consummation might be judged will not be equal, and the Government will have created a manifest inequality between hetero and homo marriage.

And what, then, of celibate gay Anglican clergy (not to mention the un-celibate gay Roman Catholic clergy)? The Church of England permits vicars to enter into a civil partnership provided that they remain celibate. But what constitutes consummation in such relationships? Is penetrative sex about to become mandatory in order for civil partnerships to be commuted to marriage? Indeed, what constitutes consummation in any same-sex relationship which does not involve penetrative sex, insofar as penetrative sex is ‘ordinary’? Or is the definition of ‘ordinary’ about to be re-written to embrace the extraordinary? If mutual masturbation may become ‘ordinary’ consummation, does that not rather discriminate against the individual in their marriage status? Is a man about to be able to consummate a marriage with himself?

All of this will soon be a matter for the courts to decide, because the Government clearly doesn’t have a clue. We could throw these questions into the ‘consultation’, but they will meet with no ministerial response: such contentions will instead be firmly and securely kicked into the long grass. Henceforth, in the consideration of same-sex adultery, it will be for the judges of England and Wales to define what is meant by same-sex consummation.

His Grace can hardly wait.
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