Monday, April 30, 2012

Boris must win, and go on and on


It is easy to be distracted by relative trivia, but this is election week and we must be disciplined and focused. It’s probably a given that the Conservative Party will lose quite a few excellent councillors as they are tarred with the same brushes of incompetence falling out of every cupboard in Downing Street. But anyone who thinks the Mayoralty of London is less of a priority than Leveson/Hunt/Murdoch really needs to recalibrate their sense of proportion and retune their political antennae. On Thursday, our capital city has a choice. And, whatever the LibDems dare to dream, it really is a two-horse race: London’s electorate must choose between Qu’en Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson; between a refined Tory reformer who wants to make London better, and a fossilised Socialist who wants to make London ‘a beacon of Islam

Boris has his faults, we know. But he is a Tory with conservative instincts. In an interview with the Telegraph over the weekend, he advocated tax cuts, and described the values driving his campaign as “Freedom, democracy, taxpayer value and building up the sense of neighbourliness and duty towards each other — how’s that?” He has already signed a pledge demanding a referendum on the EU, and insists ‘Parliament should be sovereign’. He says of Abu Qatada that he ‘should be put on the plane, there’s no doubt about it’. What is there not to like about that?

Nationally, the Conservative Party is trailing Labour in opinion polls: the latest YouGov poll puts the Tories on 29 per cent and Labour on 40. Yet Boris leads Ken by 52 to 48, as though he belonged to a different party. Perhaps he does: as an ‘Independent Conservative’ he is unafraid of arguing with the Prime Minister and unconcerned by the whips. But there is more:
He has managed to convey a sincerity, a feeling of authenticity that has somehow eluded many leading Conservatives. Despite having a background nearly identical to Mr Cameron’s, he has persuaded voters to trust him. It may be because Mr Johnson is not ashamed to declare his commitment to core Tory values... he stresses his commitment to reducing tax levels, and his determination to do everything he can to help small businessmen. This, no doubt, helps to explain why he has gained a following among voters who belong to ethnic minorities, many of whom are entrepreneurs. He is also unapologetic about taking a hard line on crime, an approach that also appeals to this constituency. Perhaps what Mr Johnson does not say is as important as what he does. He does not spend his time trumpeting the virtues of wind farms, or increasing overseas aid, or promoting single-sex marriage...
Boris is the people’s politician: he (almost) invariably speaks and writes manifest common sense, and has a rare gift for a politician – he is lovable. No matter what his faults and failings, there is something profoundly warming about his personality, and he makes London smile. In an era where the medium is the message, he is a very portly medium indeed, through which the message of Conservatism may be amply expounded. And everyone has heard of Boris. Like Diana, he has the aura of first-name familiarity about him; not such a one that may breed contempt, but one that endears people to him; one that makes people feel that they somehow know him. There is something cultic about him; to use the vernacular, he has mojo, he creates his own mystery which inevitably yields a loyal following. In that sense, Boris belongs to the people, and God knows that modern politics desperately needs politicians with whom the electorate wants to engage; politicians who can lead and create disciples.

London is tired of Ken Livingstone’s manipulation, evasion, cunning and deceit. The antidote is a straightforward dose of honesty and commonsense. As far as His Grace is concerned, no-one but Boris can rid us of the anti-Semitic appeaser of Islamism and promoter of all that is corrupt and rotten. Ken Livingstone is the past: Boris is the future.

And that is not merely the view of this Anglican Tory: it is the view of Labour Peer Alan Sugar, who says Ken Livingstone ‘is a driven, power-crazed egomaniac who will do anything to regain the power he once had’. He thinks him to be an anti-Semite who is ‘playing a dangerous game’, and tweeted: ‘I don’t care if Ed Miliband is backing Livingstone, I seriously suggest NO ONE votes for Livingstone in the Mayoral elections'. And Labour Peer Lord Winston branded him a ‘tricky customer with extremely unhealthy views’. And Labour’s election chief Tom Watson told Labour members to ‘hold your nose’ and vote for Ken Livingstone.

Good grief. If this is what senior Labour figures think of their candidate, Boris really is the only choice. He's good for London, good for the country, and good for the Conservative Party. He must go on, and on.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

County council cuts God from its prayers

What do you do if your council prayers cause division among councillors? What do you do if the few atheists and agnostics among them make their objections known by tapping pencils or chewing gum loudly while you're trying to invoke the wisdom and guidance of the Almighty? Do you just ignore them, enduring their insensitivity and rudeness patiently and kindly, as St Paul exhorted? Or do you change the entire liturgy to accommodate their non-belief?

Incredibly (or perhaps not), the Conservative chairman of Gloucestershire County Council opted for the second path: he has eradicated all mention of God and Jesus from the council's traditional prayer in order not to offend the (one) Green and (two) LibDems. The remaining 60 councillors, some of whom are now strongly united in opposition to the non-religious prayer, have had secularism forced upon them. In fact, Brian Thornton, the Conservative council chairman, has placated three opposition councillors by offending nine Tories. But he says: "I am very happy with it. There is now unity. I kept the words, but there is no longer a reference to calling for God's help. It does the trick without being related to God... In this case, I don't have to act in a democratic manner. I am a dictator in the way I control how the meeting is conducted."

Does 'the trick' does it? A 'dictator', are you? Pray, what manner of Conservative is concerned with denying the will of the majority and conjuring with Christianity?

Sarah Lunnon (the Green) said: "The compromise works for most people. People are no longer being asked to profess to a belief that they don't hold. We may have a Judeo-Christian heritage, but the separation of Church and state is very important."

Ms Lunnon appears to be confusing the United Kingdom with the United States of America: the separation of Church and state may be very important to her, but we have no such division in the UK. Notwithstanding this religio-political settlement, God is now out of Gloucestershire County Council:
"Let us pray for God's blessing on all those who serve the people of Gloucestershire, and especially on the work of this county council.
"May He give us wisdom to carry out our duties; the humanity to listen to those we represent; the courage to do what is right; and the generosity to treat each other with respect. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
"May we find the wisdom to carry out our duties, the humanity to listen to all, the courage to do what is right and the generosity to treat each other with respect. Amen"
The reporter at the Telegraph calls this an 'ingenious solution': it is anything but. For the sake of unity, in order to accommodate the beliefs of a minority, the Christian majority may no longer pray to God in the name of Jesus. Of course, they may do so in their hearts and minds, which is what many may assert actually counts. But there is power in the Name: the offence here is in the eradication of 'God's blessing ...through Jesus Christ our Lord'. This has been supplanted for indulgent self-reflection on the boundless benevolence of humankind. You might as well sit in a moment of meditative silence. What is the source of this 'wisdom' by which they will carry out their duties? What inspires their 'humanity'? What is the foundation of 'what is right'?

In the quest for compromise, the secularists have won in Gloucestershire, for God and Jesus have been 'cleansed' from the council temple. And suddenly, with the language of supremacy, we have a further ‘them and us’ distinction as the historic Christian foundations are undermined and the public sphere of tolerance gives way to the aggressive 'neutralisation' preached by secularists. And the Government is complicit in the construction of this new order, for 'Rights' are the new inviolable creed and 'Equality' the new immutable orthodoxy. It is evident to all who have eyes and ears that secularism is supplanting Christianity as the faith of the United Kingdom, and the tolerance of the Christian gospel is being replaced by the pathological intolerance of ‘neutral’ liberalism. Rawls may make an appeal to a special domain of the political to accommodate both, but ultimately they are mutually exclusive.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nigel Farage: "We're being run by a bunch of college kids"

Friday, April 27, 2012

‘Understanded of the People’ – St Paul’s marks 350 years of Book of Common Prayer

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and to celebrate that glorious milestone, St Paul’s Cathedral, in conjunction with the Church Times, will display a host of prayer books, old and new. Titled ‘Understanded of the People: The People’s Prayer Book 1662-2012’, the exhibition will run at St Paul’s throughout May and coincides with a special service of choral evensong on Wednesday 2nd May at 5pm, attended by the Prayer Book Society, at which the Bishop of London will preach and the Archbishop of Canterbury will give the blessing.

The BCP remains the classic worship book of the Church of England. It has shaped the worship and doctrine of the Church of England and the Global Anglican Communion, and remains the cornerstone of Anglican identity. Although contemporary prayer books have been introduced, many churches and most cathedrals still use the BCP alongside these modern forms. The 1662 version still has a strong hold on people’s affections and even people with little faith still see merit in its venerable language and historical associations.

The exhibition will include prayer books from the First World War, a prayer book carried by a bride at her wedding instead of flowers, the gift of a brother to his sister as he left for active service in World War II, and prayer books special to people like PD James, Terry Waite, Frank Field and many others. Readers of the Church Times were also invited to submit their prayer book stories and some of these readers will have their books on display.

The Reverend Canon Michael Hampel, Precentor of St Paul’s, said: “The language of the Book of Common Prayer runs like a golden thread through the history of the English language. For many of the contributors to this exhibition, it shaped who they are and it’s a privilege for St Paul’s to be able to share personal stories alongside people’s prayer books.” The exhibition will be on display in the North Quire Aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral from Tuesday 1 to Thursday 31 May from 8.30am to 4pm. Please see the website for visitor information.

(It would have been nice if, in their press release, St Paul's had thought to give His Grace just a passing mention).  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Witney-Tatton Question

A few days ago, Nadine Dorries launched a broadside against the leadership of the Conservative Party. In a damning assessment, clearly designed to inflict personal damage on the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, she said: “I think that not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime.”

Setting aside the hyperbole and allegations of inverted snobbery, the reality is that David Cameron and George Osborne are indeed ‘posh’ (by virtue of being élite; Eton, Oxbridge, descendants of kings and baronets, well-connected, heirs to fortunes). They may both know the price of milk, but there is an undeniable perception of loftiness and arrogance, no matter how many times ‘Call me Dave’ tries to get down with the people. When Margaret Thatcher walked into Marks & Spencer's, you sensed a genuine familiarity. When John Major stood on his soapbox in the marketplace, there was authenticity. Under Cameron and Osborne, no matter how personally sincere either may be, the impression is one of façade; a condescension in order to attain a calculated end.

According to the YouGov data, 12 per cent of those who voted Conservative in 2010 voters now say they support UKIP. One or two Tory MPs understand the significance of this, but even their plea to the Party hierarchy has echoes of the indifference and aloofness of CCHQ: the monkeys are trained to take their stage directions from the organ grinder. And so, while many traditional Conservative voters abandon their familiar allegiance, the ‘out-of-touch’ Cameron and Osborne (ably assisted by Maude) continue with their process of ‘decontamination’ to eradicate all that is ‘nasty’ (presently defined as Eurosceptic, tax-cutting, anti-immigration, heterosexual-marriage-supporting ‘right-wingers’). The problem is that this is how the vast majority of Conservative Party members would identify themselves. Yet no matter how many of these leave the Party, the process of modernisation continues: sacrificing the Tory right is a price worth paying for attracting the Guardianistas of Notting Hill.

And now the Party is ‘seeking to hire a high-powered business figure to sell the party to the black and minority ethnic minority voters’. There is nothing, of course, intrinsically wrong with this: the vast majority of Asian Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and African-Caribbean Christians would hold fast to great swathes of conservative philosophy, especially those precepts concerning tradition, morality, the family and society. But for some reason Cameron and Osborne are unable to see that ‘gay marriage’ is utterly antithetical to what the overwhelming majority of BME voters would identify as conservative, and that single issue is drowning out a plethora of other policies.

 And so we return to Nadine Dorries’ most serious allegation, which is she calls ‘the real crime’; that Cameron and Osborne have ‘no passion to want to understand the lives of others’. It would be a strange democratic politician indeed which had no passion to want to understand the lives of his or her constituents; they are, after all, dependent on votes for the positions of power. But politics is about seeming: the facts are immaterial when confronted by perceptions; reality is of no consequence when faced with an overpowering alternative narrative; truth is smothered beneath a duvet of lies. And in this present climate of austerity, the fact, reality, and truth is that millions are finding it hard to make ends meet. As the cost of petrol, gas and electricity soars inexorably; the price of the weekly food-shop rises month on month; mortgage rates creep up, despite the Bank of England's historically-low base rate; and the fear of unemployment hangs over thousands of families, the cry of ‘We’re all in this together’ rings hollow. Because we're not. Of course, as the Prime Minister says, you cannot solve a debt crisis by adding more debt. But that is precisely what he is doing: while the deficit may be decreasing, the debt goes up and up. And so we come to the Witney-Tatton Question:
For how long will ordinary people tolerate privileged Honourable Members from the rural Tory heartlands and leafy suburbs imposing punitive levels of taxation on the ‘squeezed middle’ while they themselves are completely unaffected and their personal fortunes secure?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pakistan spends UK’s £650million aid on nuclear missiles

You might think that a country in receipt of billions in aid would voluntarily subject itself to a degree of austerity. The UK donates £650million of its overseas aid budget to Pakistan (more here) in order to feed the starving, house the homeless, heal the sick and educate the children (of whom 17 million are not in school). We do this because it is the moral thing to do, not to say the Christian thing to do. His Grace has long argued (contra many Conservatives) that overseas aid is not simply a question of political economics but of moral justice. Charity does not begin at home: it is the plainest teaching of the New Testament that it begins with one’s neighbour (eg Lk 10:27-37). And throughout the Old Testament, we are exhorted certainly to look after our own widows and orphans, but these are rarely divorced from the divine command to show compassion to the ‘alien’ or ‘stranger’ (ie foreigner), which the Jews considered a moral duty (eg Deut 10:18f cf Mt 25:44).
But in a time of austerity at home, it is difficult to persuade British taxpayers that hundreds of millions of pounds in aid money should go to a country suffering from delusions of nuclear phallic grandeur. The Pakistani government may be weak and unstable, but the waste and extravagance are self-evident. The Pakistani military seeks to upgrade its intermediate-range ballistic missiles as a deterrent. These missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Is the British taxpayer subsidising an imminent strike against Pakistan’s arch-enemy? Where else might be the target for nuclear-tipped missiles with a range of c1,500 miles? Targeting Iran might help kill two Shi’as with one stone, but we all know that Pakistan has India within its sights. Perhaps we ought to note that Pakistan's missile arsenal includes short, medium and long-range missiles, all named after Muslim conquerors.
Why are we contributing £650million per annum to a country beset by chronic political instability, and which sacrifices goats to nukes named Saladin, Suleiman and Babur? Islamabad is besieged by the Taliban and threatened by al-Qaeda, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons might one day be compromised. Indeed, it is highly probable that strategic nuclear assets could be obtained by terrorists or used by rogue elements in the Pakistani government.
Pakistan continues to produce fissile material for weapons and is manifestly augmenting its weapons production facilities. The country has signed neither the UN nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty nor the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. However, UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which was adopted in 1998 after India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests earlier that year, called upon both countries to ‘stop their nuclear weapon development programmes, to refrain from weaponization or from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons’.

Obviously, that resolution is being ignored. The FCO has argued that ‘Pakistan’s strategic posture, including nuclear, is clearly framed around its perception of the threat from India’. But this cannot justify the possession of c90-110 nuclear weapons and the development of more advanced warheads and delivery systems while its own people are begging in the streets, homeless, starving and illiterate. Given the expanding threat of Pakistan’s domestic insurgency, the further development of nuclear materials appears to be inconsistent with its immediate security threats, and is manifestly unhelpful in the context of efforts to ameliorate the plight of the poor.

Perhaps if HM Government were to reduce aid to those countries which spend it on arms proliferation as it does to those who persecute homosexuals, we might move closer towards an ethical foreign policy. Why should Overseas Aid be contingent on international gay rights but not on averting imminent nuclear holocaust?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wilders: "Slavish adherence to European rules is foolish"

So, another European government collapses at the behest of the EU. To be fair, the Dutch coalition was always a fragile entity, composed, as it was, of a Liberal-Christian Democrat partnership led by Mark Rutte, with ad hoc support from the 'far right'  Freedom Party of Geert Wilders'. But this partnership did not fracture over immigration policy or fragment over Islamism: the downfall was Mammon. Or, to be precise, Euro-Mammon.

Having strongly supported the EU's fiscal union treaty, and having urged that Greece be subject to EU governance for failing to implement the necessary spending cuts, the Dutch government really had to set an example of good housekeeping. But with 57 per cent of Dutch voters opposed to the prescribed austerity measures, Mr Wilders withdrew his support from Mr Rutte’s government, accusing him of a 'slavish adherence to European rules' which will 'bleed' the people. The measures were to include raising VAT, a freeze on civil servants’ wages, and a cut in spending in both the health and development aid sectors to slash €16bn from the budget. "The plan is not in the interest of (Freedom Party) voters,” Mr Wilders declared.“We cannot live up to the demands Brussels is putting on us. Money is being taken from the wallets of pensioners.”

It's a nifty switch from anti-Islam to anti-EU. With a general election now inevitable, the Freedom Party may well make gains on their current 24 members (which was already double their previous parliamentary representation). And the more the European Commission repeat their insensitive demands for the Dutch government to balance the budget in line with euro spending rules (ie a budget deficit below 3 per cent of GDP), the more popular will the cause of freedom become, and the higher the Freedom Party will poll. It really isn't psephological rocket science.

And now all the talk is (once again) of Eurogeddon (yawn) with the loss of the country's AAA-rating and increased borrowing costs, for if those nations which signed up for the fiscal union (including, indeed, EEC foundation states) are not able to be fiscally united by democratic consent, then what hope is there for the treaty? But fear not, for the Euro has overcome the world, and neither Holland nor Hollande shall prevail against it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

England’s National Day

Today is St George’s Day: the feast day of St George; a day the English do not celebrate; a day which most of England would rather forget; a day the British Government refuses to acknowledge.

The Scots have a holiday on St Andrew’s Day: his bones are supposedly in Fife. The Irish have a jolly knees-up for St Patrick: they baptise the three-leaved shamrock in gallons of Guinness. The Welsh don’t have a day off on St David’s Day, but at least they remember the Celtic monk Dewi. And the English?

St George was not one of us. But that should be of no consequence: the Scots seem happy with their Jewish patron; the Irish with their Welsh one. George was born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) and was martyred in Israel (now Israel, despite the efforts of some). Born of Christian parents during the late third century, he became a soldier – a loyal and successful one – in the army of Emperor Diocletian. When in AD302 the Emperor issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier forced to offer a sacrifice to the Pagan gods, George refused. He was neither going to bow the knee to false idols nor honour religious tyranny. Just as the English were eventually to do, George rejected the notion of Divine Right and king worship. He renounced the Emperor’s edict and declared before his fellow soldiers that he was a Christian and would worship only Jesus Christ. Diocletian had George tortured by laceration on a wheel of swords. He was eventually beheaded for his faith, a witness which caused others to convert to Christianity, who were then in turn martyred for their faith in Christ.

In 1222, the Council of Oxford declared 23rd April to be St George’s Day and he replaced St Edmund the Martyr as England’s patron saint in the 14th century. In 1415, 23rd April was made a national feast day. It is perhaps no surprise that his story should inspire the English, who endured centuries of persecution at the hands of their own religious fanatics. And His Grace surely knows. It is a messy and murky history. But the settlement came at the beginning of the 18th century, since which time England has been a nation of liberty, increasing incrementally with each generation, and that liberty has been a beacon of light to the modern free world.

As far as His Grace is concerned, St George’s Day should be a national holiday in honour of all that England has bequeathed to the world (including Shakespeare, whose birthday [and death-day] is also remembered [at least in Stratford-upon-Avon]). And while His Grace is in a patriotic mood, he wishes it to be known that all public buildings ought to display prominently and permanently a portrait of Her Majesty. All schools, hospitals and town halls ought to make a very public display of affection for and allegiance to the Sovereign Head of State, especially in her Jubilee year. Civic pride must be restored: ‘citizenship’ must be supplanted by an appreciation of such notions as loyalty, allegiance and respect for liberty and the traditions of liberal democracy. In addition, the BBC, as the State broadcaster, financed by a compulsory tithe of Her Majesty’s subjects, ought to reinstate the daily rendition of the National Anthem.

 Let us declare a national holy-day and thank God for this sceptr’d isle – its past, its present, and the glorious future that awaits it under God’s good providence. Let us celebrate England’s great constitutional statutes: Magna Carta 1215, the Petition of Right 1628, the Bill of Rights 1689, and the Act of Settlement 1701. Let us wear red roses, and proudly display our crosses. St George is a fitting symbol for the freedom – including religious freedom – for which England has stood since pre-Reformation times. And, lest we forget, many in the world are still paying for their witness to the gospel with torture and death, and by their witness others are being saved daily. So, as we celebrate St George, let us pray for the unsung saints who are still giving their all for Christ, and for the ultimate victory of the gospel of salvation for all people humility, truth and grace.

Cry “God for Elizabeth, England and St George!”

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Unbelievable? Conference

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ma'am

Friday, April 20, 2012

Warsi blames Royal Family for inviting King of Bahrain to Jubilee celebrations

Bahrain is presently experiencing the kind of anti-government protests which have been incrementally spreading over the Arab world. By day, men, women, children and toddlers can be seen dressed in black, chanting and calling for peace. By night, these gatherings degenerate into violent clashes with security forces as the Shi’ite majority seek to break the power of the Sunni monarchy and political governance. Thousands have been arrested, hundreds have died, including dozens from torture, and hundreds more have been horrifically maimed as Bahrain’s King Hamad declares martial law and states of emergency in an attempt to cling to power.

Such violations of human rights have tended to elicit the unequivocal condemnation of HM Government. Certainly, President Assad will not be attending the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee luncheon at Windsor Castle. But the forthcoming presence of King Hamad at Windsor Castle became an issue on this week’s Question Time, and David Dimbleby asked Baroness Warsi about the matter (scroll to 53.00):
Warsi: Well, the decision, err, for the King to attend the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee...

Galloway: He’s invited.

Warsi:, err, a decision taken by the Royal Family.

Galloway: It’s not and you know that’s not true. The Prime Minister advises on these matters.

Warsi: Of course there is advice, of course, of course the Prime Minister advises on these matters, I accept that. But it is a decision that ultimately had to be taken by, err, by, err, the Royal Family. If it’s a decision that the Queen had decided that on her Diamond Jubilee, err, she would like certain people present at that celebration, then I really think we can stop being mean about it...

Galloway: You shouldn’t blame the Queen.

Warsi: ...and allow her...

Galloway: It’s not the Queen’s fault.

Warsi: ...and allow the Queen to have her Diamond Jubilee and allow...

Galloway: It’s not her fault.

George Galloway is quite right, and Baroness Warsi quite wrong. The Syrian ambassador to London Dr Sami Khiami was notoriously dramatically un-invited to last year’s Royal Wedding at the 11th hour, amid mounting international concern at political unrest in his country. The decision was taken by the Foreign Office, which informed the Ambassador that his government's use of force against pro-democracy protestors was ‘unacceptable’. As Syrian civilians were slaughtered, maimed, imprisoned and tortured, no-one appealed for Dr Khiami to attend with 'we can stop being mean about it'.

The Queen routinely meets with all manner of tyrants and other undesirables on behalf of her Government, which constitutionally may require her to do so. For Baroness Warsi to blame ‘the Royal Family’ for inviting King Hamad to the Diamond Jubilee luncheon is not merely constitutional ignorance; it is an astonishingly evasive breach of faith, seeking to shift the blame for the invitation from the Government to the Queen, who may neither challenge nor refute the allegation.

If the Syrian government's use of force against pro-democracy protestors was ‘unacceptable’, then so must it be for Bahrain’s king. If Syria’s ambassador can be uninvited to the Royal Wedding, then Bahrain’s king should be uninvited to the Diamond Jubilee luncheon. The last thing we need is for the Queen's glory to be overshadowed by the presence of a murderous autocrat. And the assurance of that, Baroness Warsi, is the task of HM Government. If it isn't being too mean.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Che Montgomerie

As a young politics student, Montgomerie watched TV a lot and was radically transformed by the endemic poverty and alienation he witnessed. His experiences and observations during these years led him to conclude that the UK's inexorable economic decline was an intrinsic result of socialism, neo-Marxism and lower-stage communism, with the only remedy being Thatcherism. This belief prompted his involvement in a social action project called 'Renewing One Nation', which aimed to make the condition of the poor a priority for the Conservative Party. He started the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and later established the Centre for Social Justice. Later, while living in Salisbury, he founded the ConservativeHome website to give voice to the increasingly-dispossessed Conservative Party members. Montgomerie soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, and played a pivotal role in coordinating grassroots opposition during dictator Michael Howard's attempt to abolish the 'one member one vote' rule in the 2005. The victorious year-long guerrilla campaign helped to cement his fearless reputation.

Following increasing CCHQ centralisation, Montgomerie performed a number of key roles, including making demands for tax-cuts and reviewing policy proposals to ensure the propagation of 'Compassionate Conservatism'. During the revolutionary tribunals, he came to the defence of a number of leading Thatcherite figures, helping spearhead a successful nationwide campaign to make the Conservative Party hierarchy listen to its members. He traverses the globe as a diplomat on behalf of grassroots conservatism, which permits him to play a central role in training the militia forces who might one day repel the Tory 'Wets' and reclaim the Conservative Party for the mainstream. He repelled the Liberal-Democrat invasion, and brought nuclear-armed ballistic journalists to ConHome to agitate and articulate the revolutionary vision. Additionally, he is a prolific columnist, composing a suble narrative on guerrilla warfare for local Tory associations.

In 2011 Montgomerie was invited to leave ConHome to join David Cameron's 'ship' at No10. True to his revolutionary instincts, he declined, preferring to agitate on behalf of ordinary Party members and ordinary people of all political dispositions. He remains both a revered and reviled figure, polarised in the collective imagination in a multitude of newspaper articles and blogs. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a "New Tory" driven by moral rather than material incentives, he has evolved into a quintessential icon of the grassroots conservative movement. In 2010, the Guardian listed him as one of the most powerful people in the media, and in 2012 the Observer said: 'In the eyes of most MPs, Montgomerie... is now one of the most influential Tories outside the cabinet.'

His Grace is delighted to announce the production of the Che Montgomerie t-shirt, proudly displaying 'the most famous photograph in the world'.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Norwich City Council bans Norwich Reformed Church for preaching ‘hate’

Dr Alan Clifford has been renting the Eaton Park Community Centre, a council-run building in Norwich, for his church’s services of worship for nigh on 20 years. There has never been a problem. His church has also held a weekly outreach bookstall for the past four years on the council-owned Hay Hill site. There has never been a problem.

Until now.

Following a single complaint (yes, just one; that’s all it takes) that the church’s pastor, Dr Clifford, is producing ‘hate-motivated’ literature against Islam, the Norwich Reformed Church has been banned from both the Community Centre and Hay Hill. Norfolk Police have confirmed that no crime has been committed, but the Council has banned the church regardless for ‘equality’ reasons.

Now, some may take issue with Dr Clifford’s rather robust message. His Grace happens to believe that talking about Muslims en masse as a uniform and cohesive religio-political group is not only unhelpful; it is theologically ignorant and politically naïve. Much better to talk about certain schools of Islam, for centuries of scholarship bears testimony to the mutability and multiplicity of the Islamic faith, which is as diverse and disparate as the myriad of Christian denominations. The specific contemporary problem is the ascendancy and dominance of a particular interpretation of Islam – the Wahhabi strain – which seeks to agitate, occupy, subjugate, inculcate and deny liberty and justice to all, Muslim or not.

The complaint against Dr Clifford is centred upon a leaflet he wrote a decade ago, entitled Why Not Islam, from which the above YouTube video draws heavily. Doubtless the tract is distributed (along with others) from the bookstall on Hay Hill.

But since the police have confirmed that no crime has been or is being committed in the propagation of this message, Norwich City Council have taken it upon themselves to determine the acceptability of the Norwich Reformed Church’s orthodoxy. And, having sat in judgment, the Council have denied the church their freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. The Council’s secret inquisition has judged that Dr Clifford is motivated by ‘hate’, and that’s the end of the matter.

A Council spokesman explained that they have ‘a duty to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions’. But, once again, it is the Christians who are denied their liberties: good relations are fostered for all except the followers of Christ. Of course, one man’s truth is another man’s offence. But that’s life. Being able to offend is one of the foundations of liberty. Freedom of speech must be tolerated, and everyone living in the United Kingdom must accept that they may be insulted about their own beliefs, or indeed be offended, and that is something which they must simply endure, not least because some suffer fates far worse.

What’s the point of being a Member of the European Parliament if you can’t stand up and denounce the Pope as antichrist? What is the point of being Pope if you can’t tell gays they suffer from an ‘objective disorder’? Why would you want to open a hotel if you can’t call Mohammed a terrorist or paedophile or rail at the oppression of hijab-wearing women? Why would you want to stand in Hyde Park Corner if you can’t call Scientology a cult, or open a café if you can’t tell gays they’re going to hell for their abomination?

It may not be very Christian in the PC christology of perpetual tolerance to say any of these things, but it ought not to be illegal to do so. Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ words or behaviour if they are likely to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. This is increasingly being used to get the police to arrest and silence Christian street preachers, prosecute hotel owners for chatting about their faith with a Muslim hotel guest (no, they didn’t use the 't' or ‘p’ words), and to prosecute a teenager for calling a religious cult, err... a cult. And now a county council is closing down a church which has worshipped freely for 20 years, because it doesn't preach a gospel which is to the Council's liking.

This is the New Inquisition: the demand for theological orthodoxy has given way to prohibition of ‘feeling insulted’. And you might be next. Indeed, as His Grace has previously observed, this blog may well be closed down because someone (just one) complains to the police that religio-political polemic makes them feel uncomfortable and causes them distress; that they feel ‘insulted’, despite His Grace’s best efforts ‘to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions’. This blog is, after all, a public space and His Grace is publishing alarming material. He probably not infrequently falls foul of equality and diversity demands, or transgresses the bounds of acceptability for those of other faiths or ‘disordered’(© Benedict XVI) sexual proclivities. His Grace never means to insult or cause distress, but the intention or motive is irrelevant: if the beholder feels offended, His Grace may be reported to the police under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, and they are obliged to investigate.

And now, if they determine that no crime has been committed, you can rely upon some jobsworth from bureaucratic officialdom to override the law and mete out their own brand of summary justice, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. This blog does not agree with all of Dr Clifford’s message, but, by God, it stands foursquare with him against the misuse and abuse of power by Norwich City Council.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

George Galloway abandons God/Allah to take his seat in Parliament

On watching George Galloway being sworn into Parliament yesterday, His Grace wasn't alone in wondering why the new Honourable Member for Bradford West opted to make a solemn affirmation rather than take the Oath of Allegiance. After all, both demand fealty to the Queen, her heirs and successors: the only difference being the invocation of the Divine in doing so. Of course, adherents to some religions (namely Quakers, Mennonites and Jehovah's Witneses) do not swear oaths. But there is no theological objection or transgression of conscience for the Roman Catholic / 'proper Muslim' Mr Galloway. And after all his professions of God and exhortations to Allah during his by-election campaign and victory, one might have expected to hear:
I, George Galloway, swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
Instead, now that God has served his useful campaigning purpose, Mr Galloway no longer needs His help, and so we get:
I, George Galloway, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.
His Grace wondered why a devout man of God, who desires to see more 'proper Muslims' in Parliament, would be ashamed to manifest his faith at the point of consummation. Mr Galloway told us during his campaign: ‘God KNOWS who is a Muslim and he KNOWS who is not’. And he went 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 referred to 'the Grace of God' and said 'if God wills it' he will give his remaining days in service of all the people of Bradford West.

Well, God clearly willed it. And now He is dumped.

Surely the decision to affirm had nothing to do with having to choose between a copy of the New Testament and the Qur'an, did it? ‘God KNOWS who is a Muslim and he KNOWS who is not’, George. And Allah would have been perfectly happy for you to have sworn on the New Testament: we're all 'People of the Book', after all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Labour to oppose VAT on church renovations

Not content with redefining marriage, subverting the Sabbath and mocking Christians in his own parliamentary party, David Cameron is about to bankrupt the Established Church. Either that, or watch passively as the bells are silenced, pipe organs degenerate into tunelessness, and hundreds of the nation’s most treasured listed building fall into a state of disrepair and ruin.

Along with George Osborne’s other Budget blunders (like taxing Cornish pasties and capping tax relief on charitable donations) he is landing the Church of England – the community nerve centre of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ – with an additional £20million tax bill every year by imposing VAT at 20 per cent on renovation projects.

As with the ‘pasty tax’, the Chancellor is seeking to correct an ‘anomaly’ in the VAT system – to ensure that millionaires in their Grade 1 listed mansions pay VAT when they install their swimming pools. But by trying to catch the few tax-avoiders/evaders, he is imposing a colossal tax on churches, which routinely need to deploy highly-specialised (and so expensive) crafts like bell-moulding, stone-carving or pipe organ repair.

The Church of England is responsible for 45 per cent of the country's Grade 1 listed buildings – some 12,500 architectural gems – to which all alterations are presently VAT-exempt. His Grace spotted the change on the day of the budget, but was not remotely concerned because the Government’s own analysis assured him that the present DCMS grant for the Listed Places of Worship Scheme would be sufficient to off-set the increase. They said:
The Government has extended the scope of the current grant scheme administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Currently listed places of worship, of any faith or denomination, can claim a grant equal to the VAT paid on eligible repairs and maintenance works. From 1 Oct 2012 the scheme will include approved alterations to listed places of worship
And on the Government’s ‘equalities impact’ of the proposed change:
Places of Worship - Listed places of worship will also be affected by the change, although our evidence suggests that places of worship form only a small minority of the total number of listed properties in the UK. These will be predominantly used by Christian denominations. In order to mitigate the impacts on these groups the DCMS is expanding the existing Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme which refunds the VAT on repairs and maintenance work, so that this includes approved alterations to listed buildings.

There is no specific impact identified for any other equalities group.
But it transpires that the grant is not to be expanded to anywhere near the tune of £20million, and that tax will indeed hit the Church of England hardest: ie, it falls foul of religious discrimination legislation.

We know that Labour are not particularly disposed to Christian concerns, but we must be grateful that Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman has jumped on the bandwagon announced that they will oppose the proposed change when the Finance Bill is debated in the Commons. She said: “Listed buildings are our country's heritage – our past and our values built into bricks and mortar. The Government's plan to scrap the zero-rating for approved alterations, alterations which will allow them to continue serving their communities, threaten their future as well as their past."

Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev’d Michael Langrish, said: “The VAT change shows muddled thinking on behalf of the Government. It is a poorly thought-out aspect of the Budget, and shows a complete misunderstanding on their behalf. They didn’t really think through the implications.”


The YouTube video above features Pamela Greener, wife of the Dean of Wakefield, who has composed a song about the plight of Wakefield Cathedral (and she performs it magnificently). Its renovations were commenced just a few days before the budget, at a cost of some £3million. Now they will need to find an additional £600,000 to pay the VAT bill.

An e-petition has been launched on the Downing Street website which urges the Chancellor to reconsider this at the same time as he U-turns on his philanthropy tax.

As part of the Christian ‘fightback’ urged by the Prime Minister in his Easter message, His Grace exhorts all of his readers and communicants to sign this petition and disseminate it far and wide. The Church of England is the heritage of the whole nation and the foundation of the Constitution. Burke summarised the imperatives of the British Constitution as an inheritable crown, an inheritable peerage, a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises and liberties from a long line of ancestors. Underlying all this, he concluded, was the will of God and an established Anglican Church supported by public taxes. It has long been the tradition of the Conservative Party to conserve these fundamentals. For a Conservative chancellor to tax the Church so disproportionately is not only extraordinary, unexpected and shameful; it is profoundly un-conservative.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nearer my God to Thee

100 years ago, on April 15th 1912, RMS Titanic sank with the loss of around 1500 lives. The hymn 'Nearer my God to Thee' would have been the last music they heard. This performance comes from the memorial concert in Maastricht, led by André Rieu. The following appeared in that week's edition of The Spectator:
The appalling loss of life in the 'Titanic' and the story of what is in some ways the most terrible wreck in the history of shipping have not only compelled the emotion of the whole world, but have turned both Great Britain and the United States to wide and solemn searchings of heart. The destruction of the largest ship afloat on her maiden voyage, of a ship reputed to be unsinkable, of a ship followed everywhere with admiring thoughts as the last word in ingenuity, in luxury, and in the impressive accomplishments of science, brings to every thoughtful person a deep sense of powerlessness, of smallness, and humility. Even in these moments of crushing personal sorrow one is conscious — perhaps only to deepen the sorrow — of the overwhelming reverses of human confidence. One thinks of the flattering tales of the immensity of this pride of the ocean, with her restaurants and cafes and sun-parlours and Roman baths and racquet court and private suites of cabins; one contemplates the ineffectualness of it all against the great hidden elements of nature and the sudden stroke of fate, and one feels inclined to sit in sackcloth and ashes.
As our boats sink, towers collapse and aeroplanes fall out of the sky, we are occasionally reminded of our impotence and fragility against the forces of nature. While many millions more lives are lost in earthquake, tsunami and famine, it is the few thousands which can be attributed to man's flawed ingenuity and industry which haunt the memory. Here we are, a century on from the 9/11 of the era, reading out the names of those who perished, just as we do every September 11th with those who died in the World Trade Center attrocity. Some will dismiss it as sentimental tosh: few know and even fewer care about the names which are recited, for they mean very little or nothing to most. But in the secular ritual we see humanity reaching out to cope with his own smallness and inadequacy in the face of evil and suffering, and to apologise for his own hubris to the face of God. And that, just occasionally, can be a healthy pursuit.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The state does have the right to interfere in the bedroom

This is a post by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, reproduced with permission from The Catholic Herald:

You might have missed this little snippet of news which concerns the European Court of Human Rights.

The Court has upheld the German law that makes incest illegal. The plaintiff, one Patrick Stuebing, had claimed that the law against incest infringed his rights to a family life. He had been living with his sister, by whom he had had four children, and in fact been imprisoned for incest.

The case is a sad one, in that Patrick and his sister had only met and became close as adults, not having been brought up together. In places were family break-up is common, or where siblings and half-siblings may not be brought up together as children, this is a danger: near relatives may meet as adults and fall in love.

Most people perhaps would rather not think about incest, something that has been condemned by most (but not all) societies. But this case ought to give everyone pause. There is no right to incest, it seems. Does this mean that rights, at least some rights, have limits? Does it mean that courts can make moral judgements? Does it mean that there are some actions that are wrong in all circumstances? Does it mean that the state has the right to interfere in the bedroom?

The answer to all these questions is “yes” as far as I can see. I know that it is commonly claimed that hard cases make bad law (and this is certainly a hard case), but the case of incest does bring us up sharp against the sure and certain knowledge that in matters of sexuality, not everything goes. Even a libertarian would have to admit that, surely? Or am I wrong about this?

We do not allow incest in this country, and that I think is right, both morally and legally. This fact points us to a bigger fact: in matters of sexual expression we are not free to do as we please. And, by the way, my objection to incest is moral, not biological; it is based on the intrinsic nature of the act, rather than on its consequences. Incest is wrong in itself, as it poses a threat to the family bond, and violates the nature of that bond. It is biologically bad news too – but that in itself is not a sufficient moral argument.

Stonewall cries bigotry and grabs Boris by the balls

What price freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Freedom of association? Freedom of contract? As His Grace foresaw (because it was tediously predictable), The Guardian jumped (with unseemly haste) on the Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust plans to advertise a challenge to Stonewall’s claim that being homosexual is innate and unchangeable. For his own ashes, His Grace is not inclined to megaphone advertising and is no fan of sound-bite soteriology, but is respectful and tolerant of those who wish to spend their money in this way. Richard Dawkins’ did not create one new atheist with his bus-side 'There’s probably no God’ campaign, and doubtless the ‘No God’ slogan irked or offended more than a few people of faith. But the Christians responded in like fashion (again, without news of mass conversions), and there was a healthy and entertaining debate. And debate requires the proposition of (at least) two opposing viewpoints, or it is simply an imbalanced presentation of a singular thesis.

Christians are called to proclaim the Good News, and whether that vocation be in a pulpit, upon a television screen, or walking up and down Oxford Street with a sandwich board, it ought to be tolerated in a free society. Now, while some might preach the wonders of heaven, the Way of Salvation and the boundless love of Jesus, others choose to focus on sin and damnation. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – it takes all sorts. In 1999 Lord Justice Sedley championed the rights of people to express such views, and quoted Socrates and two famous Quakers in doing so. There is no breach of the peace if what is said is merely offensive. He said: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.”

The world has seen too many examples of state control and censorship of unofficial utterances. The Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust message may well be offensive, irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative, but it is His Grace’s judgment that society is all the better for such expressions being permitted: freedom reigns while people spout their views. The ‘post-gay’ advert was as response to the Stonewall advert, which sounds rather like a debate to His Grace. Of course, we draw the line at prejudice, irrational discrimination or incitement to violence. Or we used to, before Labour introduced the concept of ‘hate speech’. But now, it seems, any utterance which a minority group might find offensive is censored: the contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative must give way to a state-enforced normative orthodoxy of denatured social harmony.

And this Conservative-Liberal coalition is perpetuating the new spirituality. The Guardian reported (somewhat gleefully, His Grace suspects) that the bus adverts commissioned by the Christian groups had been pulled by London’s Conservative mayoral candidate, Boris Johnson. In an extraordinary display of semantic volte face, they report him as saying: “London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance. It is clearly offensive to suggest that being gay is an illness that someone recovers from and I am not prepared to have that suggestion driven around London on our buses."

So it is apparently fine for Stonewall to blitz England’s capital city with pro-gay propaganda that may offend those of orthodox religious belief (indeed, there was an inferred slap of homophobia on everyone's cheek), but wholly intolerant to point out that some with same-sex attraction wanting help and support to change may indeed do just that – change. You may not agree with the message; it might even be offensive. But to censor it is to propagate the belief that ‘Gay is good’, which is fine if you believe that. But for those mainly Abrahamic monotheists who take a slightly different view, to censor the counter-proposition is tantamount to banning discussion of sexual ethics and expressions of religious orthodoxy.

His Grace happens to believe that the proposed advert was crass and clumsily worded, but it did not scream out for suppression. If Boris were really tolerant, he would have given the enraged Stonewellian activists short shrift. When democratic politicians no longer tolerate expressions of dissent, we no longer live in a liberal state. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister urged Christians to ‘fight back’ against the inexorable rise of secular intolerance, effectively sounding the battle cry of a culture war. Surely he must know – with his First in PPE – that aggressive secularism is being inculcated through the incremental imposition of intolerant ‘gay rights’ upon us all – even upon those mild and moderate homosexuals who were once perfectly happy to live and let live. Christian evangelicalism is outlawed while homogelicalism thrives, and the religious conscience is systematically subsumed to this new order.

His Grace happens to know that Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust are now considering legal action against TfL for breach of contract. Firstly, they want to know who breached the confidentiality clause and leaked news of the proposed to The Guardian, and then they want to know on what grounds TfL have terminated the agreement, not least because they were approved by TfL’s advertising agency CBSO; they fall foul of no ASA regulation; and had been agreed by the Committee of Advertising Practice.

But it appears that Christian groups may no longer freely associate with some advertising agencies (or they with them), and that the ASA and CAP may be arbitrarily overridden by the intolerant autocrat. Have we really become a nation where you are not allowed to express an honestly-held opinion, even when that opinion may be supported with sacred Scripture? Is it permissible any longer to say that homosexuality is a sin? Is it legal any longer to preach the belief that homosexuals might be forgiven for their sins and transformed into a new creation? If this, in the words of Stonewall’s chief executive Ben Summerskill, is just ‘voodoo’, then the state has reduced all religion to primitive superstition.

And people are free and must remain free to spout such views. But what manner of debate is to be had when ‘equality’ legislation makes Christians unequal, and TfL’s ‘inclusive’ policies exclude the Christian? If, as Boris says, ‘London is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and intolerant of intolerance’, then who is the custodian of the thresholds of intolerance? Who determines which socio-political lobby group rises and which falls?

Today the custodian is Boris. Tomorrow, it might be Ken. God help us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Christians fight back on Stonewall's London bus campaign

Next Monday, 16th April, will see the launch of an advertising campaign carrying the slogan: “Not gay! Post-gay and proud. Get over it.” London buses, travelling along five different routes, will carry the advert for two weeks. No doubt some of the more militant gays will demand a capital-wide boycott of London's buses. But His Grace hopes not, for these plucky Christians are merely doing what the Prime Minister exhorted them to do: ' fight back'.

The organisers, Anglican Mainstream and Core Issues Trust, say that Stonewall's similar bus campaign, launched to support their ‘equal marriage’ website, implies the false notion that there is indisputable scientific evidence that people are ‘born gay’, and that they have no choice but to affirm their homosexual feelings. They claim that Stonewall's slogan, "Some people are gay. Get over it!" is merely another attempt to close down critical debate about being gay and marriage ‘equality’, and warn that the promotion of homosexual practices to children and young people, many of whom are known to experience ambivalence as they sort through issues of sexual identity, is misleading and dangerous.

Both organisations recognise the rights of individuals to identify as gay, and to live according to their own values. But by the same token, they believe that individuals – such as married men and women unhappy with their homosexuality – should be supported in developing their heterosexual potential, where this is the appropriate life-choice for them. They point out that current scientific research says there is no ‘gay gene’ and that sexuality is far more fluid than has hitherto been thought.

Commenting on Stonewall’s vigorous support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Dr Mike Davidson, Director of Core Issues Trust, said: "Their campaign rides roughshod over individuals who by conscience reject the simplistic notion that their choice to move out of homosexuality is because of internalised prejudice taught by society, completely ignoring the profound effect on sexual identity, established by highly-respected scientific study, of childhood experience."

The bus adverts are part of a wider campaign being supported by AM and Core affirming conventional marriage between one man and one woman, as providing the best environment for the needs of children. Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary of AM, commented: “The current political debate surrounding the redefinition of marriage ignores not just the cultural base of this institution that lies at the heart of our society, but seems entirely to have forgotten about children, prioritising adult sexualities at their expense in an unprecedented way.”

His Grace now awaits the counter-campaign of the 'equal marriage' lobby. And, of course, the scorn of Stonewall and derision of The Guardian. We can't be having bigotry on London's buses, can we?

Greek ‘bail-out’ cash being used to finance main political parties

After five months of technocratic government, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has gained the approval of President Karolos Papoulias to dissolve Parliament and hold elections on 6th May. You might have hoped this would restore democracy to the ancient land which invented the concept. But this is modern Greece we’re talking about, which is presently run as an outpost of the EU.

The UK taxpayer has contributed handsomely and generously to the bail-out of Greece (not to mention Portugal and Ireland) through the European financial stability mechanism and the International Monetary Fund. We are committed to providing around 4.5 per cent of the IMF fund and 13.5 per cent of the European financial stabilisation mechanism fund, which amounts to €billions. His Grace apologises for not putting a precise figure on it, but, frankly, it is sufficient to know (in a time of austerity) that it is £billions: the precise sum appears to be concealed behind a shroud of economic known and unknown unknowns. Essentially, for every €50bn of bail-out provided to Greece, the UK provides in excess of £3bn. Some media reports put the total Greek bail-out figure (to date) at €138.2bn, meaning the UK loan (which is really a gift, since it will never be repaid) is around £10bn, give or take.

Now, you might think this cash would have been gifted with stringent conditions: you know, like bank recapitalisation, state sector salaries or the servicing of debt. God knows that civil strife and suicides urgently need to be averted, so few would begrudge a few €million being diverted into programmes of job creation, social care or debt counselling.

But to learn that the European Commission has sanctioned a €29 million pay-out to Greece’s top political parties is utterly astonishing, not to say grossly offensive, not least because this is the EU (ie the UK taxpayer) bailing out the very political parties whose economic policies caused the crisis in the first place. Those who will receive the subsidy include the centre-left Pasok, the centre-right New Democracy, the far-right Laos, the far-left Syriza, and KKE factions. We learn from Pasok Interior Minister Tassos Yiannitsis that ‘the funds will be used for campaigning in upcoming elections in May and for unpaid wages and other debts, such as to the state social security fund, the IKA’.


So, while public sector wages are being slashed and jobs decimated, bail-out cash is being used for political campaigning and politicos' salaries. This, of course, gives considerable political advantage to the main established parties, and amounts to an EU-financed general election: it is tantamount to the euro-nationalisation of the Greek political parties. No longer will the little Greek man in the agora be able to decide which parties rise and which will fall: the voters will be offered officially EU-sanctioned parties who will appoint EU-sanctioned candidates financed by EU-donors, and then force-fed a diet of EU-inspired propaganda to ensure the passing of EU-mandated policies to ensure the perpetual propagation of EU objectives.

This is not democracy: it is not even a credible façade. The EU super-quango has become an omnipotent beast with supreme control over the economics and politics of the Euro-confederacy. Not content with governing what we may buy and sell, it now determines how and for whom we must vote. Europe has been here before, and we all know where it led. Surely we must learn the lessons of history.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So, it’s Obama versus Romney. And Romney will lose

The Republican Party appears to be going through their Hague-IDS-Howard wilderness years. And even if they find their Cameron, it won’t augur well for a victory. Now that Roman Catholic Rick has suspended his candidacy, we’re left with Mormon Mitt. The presidential election is all but lost: things haven’t looked so bleak for the GOP since... well, since the last presidential election.

To very many Americans, Santorum’s particular brand of gay-hating, contraception-prohibiting, abortion-banning Roman Catholicism was but a breath away from fascism. The caricature was ultimately inescapable. There was even speculation about his having links with the secret cult Opus Dei, and of desiring to fulfil the self-flagellating vision of Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer to forge a Washington-Vatican alliance and sanctify his presidency through secular work. And so the cry today, even among many Republicans, is one of good riddance: this is not the time for the Pope to take the White House.

When the issue of the Catholicism of Senator John F Kennedy was emerging as an issue in his quest to become President of the United States of America, he made a speech which included the observation:
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured - perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again - not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me - but what kind of America I believe in.
He was struggling to persuade the sceptical American people that the White House would not become an embassy of the Vatican, and neither would the US President do the Pope’s bidding, but, for a nation born out of the struggle for liberation from religious tyranny, his words rang hollow. The prejudices were overcome principally by oratorical skill. At times, the communication of his dreams and visions were redolent of Martin Luther King Jnr, who declared:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute - where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote - where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference - and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
That speech was made in 1960, yet even in 2012 the Land of the Free does not permit all men to be equal. Of course, the inequalities are no longer based on race or gender, but they are manifest and legion when it comes to religion. While the US Constitution affirms that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust’ (Article VI), it must be observed that Republican candidates are invariably asked at some point if they believe the Bible to be the inviolable Word of God, and none has ever quoted Article VI in response. It appears that one only becomes President of the United States by the adoption of the American Creed and with the majority assent of the American Church.

Mitt Romney has experienced not dissimilar problems from those faced by Senator Kennedy and Rick Santorum. But the hurdles presented by the Church of Rome are as nothing compared to those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon Mitt’s problems are religious, political, and religio-political. Politically, there is the perception (indeed, the reality) of considerable inconsistency on some burning issues, like deciding to become ‘pro-life’ when it was politically expedient to be so. There is also his health-care plan in Massachusetts, which tarnishes him with the high-spend, big-government plan of ObamaCare. He is phenomenally wealthy (if not smarmy); he is too close to the banking crisis, and his appeal is narrow (if not somewhat aged). There is a sense that the GOP have chosen their least worst candidate for the presidency, and so one who will gift President Obama four more years.

Add all this to the religious problems and you get a toxic religio-political unelectable. Mormon Mitt’s Mormonism will struggle to gain the trust of either the Roman Catholic or Evangelical ‘religious right’ in the South. They want orthodoxy, conviction and clarity, not an ‘Etch-A-Sketch’ candidate devoid of any ideological conviction. No matter how many appeals he may make to being a ‘regular kind of guy’, he appears weirdly cultish. He poses both theological uncertainty and a political mutually-exclusive duality which makes the tensions inherent in the Trinity appear positively superficial. His god is not spirit, but a mortal, material being of flesh and blood who progressed to deity, as all men may. If believers are good and faithful, each will be given a planet of their own to rule. The Mormon god lives in heaven in a polygamous relationship with multiple wives, and sexually reproduces. In common with Eastern religions, there is a variation on reincarnation as Mormons believe in the pre-existence of all people in heaven before they were born on earth.

The Book of Mormon tells of several families leaving Jerusalem shortly before the Babylonian captivity, making it to the New World, and forming several civilisations there before collapsing. These are not the Lost Tribes of Israel (who are elsewhere), but Mitt does believe that Christ (who is Satan’s brother) visited these people following His resurrection, in fulfillment of John 10:16. While Christ is (thankfully) not held to be American, there are ten thousand more religio-political-historical concerns with this political religion than with the alleged quest of Rick Santorum to turn the White House into an embassy to the Vatican.

So, the GOP have their candidate at last. But Mitt Romney will lose for two reasons. Firstly, in the words of Rick Santorum:
"Would the potential attraction to Mormonism by simply having a Mormon in the White House threaten traditional Christianity by leading more Americans to a church that some Christians believe misleadingly calls itself Christian, is an active missionary church, and a dangerous cult?"
However secular the State professes to be; however much the Constitution prohibits a faith test on public office, for the highest office it exists. Americans like their presidents to be Trinitarian at the very least: all non-Trinitarian religious sects and cults are basically fictional fantasies and so demonic, and Americans don’t want Satan in the White House.

And secondly, in the words of Kylie Minogue:
"Better the Devil you know."
Barack Obama is not Satan and is not a member of any demonic cult. It is invariably safer to deal with the familiar and known, even if they are not ideal, than to take a risk with the unfamiliar and unknown.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tory Cabinet ministers ordered to attend Mass to appeal to Roman Catholic voters

Tory Cabinet ministers have been ordered to attend Mass on a regular basis after being warned they can’t win the next election without increasing the number of Roman Catholic voters they attract.

George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West by-election has convinced Conservative high command that they need to do more to reach religious minority voters. Ministers and MPs are being quietly told that they need to ‘show their faces’ regularly on Holy Days of Obligation and Christian festivals over the next three years, rather than simply turning up at election time.

The Tories are set to copy a strategy, pioneered by the Conservative Party in Canada, where ministers are expected to report which Church events they have attended each month.

David Cameron’s polling guru Andrew Cooper has identified more than 30 constituencies with large Roman Catholic populations which need to be won in order to secure a Tory majority in 2015. Mr Cooper has told ministers that polling data shows that while Roman Catholic voters most closely associated themselves with Conservative values like the importance of family and law order, they still vote Labour by a majority of 70 to 30.

A senior source said: "The research found that while they shared our values we have a real brand problem with Roman Catholic voters and that was something that needed to be addressed if we are going to stand a serious chance of winning in 2015. We have taken the view in the past that we don’t need to show our faces and it’s enough to invite the Pope over for a big jolly or to go and talk to cardinals and priests and they can deliver the votes. But if you look at the 2010 election you can clearly see that didn’t work. If you analyse the result from seats like Liverpool - which we should have won on the national swing - it shows that our failure to engage with Roman Catholic voters was crucial in our failure to win."

In 2005, only 36 per cent of the population voted Labour, but that rose to 53 per cent amongst the five million Roman Catholics who decided to vote. One poll indicated that 72 per cent would vote Conservative as a result of Labour's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. But, in the event, they did not. And so the Conservative Party is obliging its MPs to make frequent appearances at Roman Catholic celebrations and events across the country, and they are expected to report which events they have attended each month.

The new strategy has the enthusiastic backing of the Conservative joint chairman Baroness Warsi who recently visited the Pope and wants the party to adopt a more proactive approach to winning Roman Catholic voters. She said last night: ‘If we want to win a majority at a General Election, we need the support of everyone who shares our values - whatever their background. But at the moment, there is often a big mismatch between the ideals and aspirations of Roman Catholic voters and the party they vote for. We need to learn from centre-right Christian Democratic parties across the EU how to attract voters who share our values but haven’t traditionally voted Conservative. And we need to go out and persuade those voters that a Conservative government is the best way of fulfilling their aspirations for themselves, their families and their communities."

O, hang on. His Grace may have got this slighlty wrong (again: it's becoming a chronic failing). 'Tokenism and ignorance', indeed. He apologises for any confusion he may have caused.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Is France now the greatest threat to the eurozone?

This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone:

After months of uncertainty, vagueness and ineffectual diplomacy, a sort of quiet calm has descended upon the eurozone. Fears of an immediate collapse have been assuaged by the installation of technocratic governments in Italy and Greece, whilst the yields on Spanish, Italian and Irish sovereign debt have fallen to manageable – if not entirely ordinary – levels. Greece’s recent structural default has removed the sense of imminent catastrophe that has persistently plagued the vitality of global markets, whilst the recently-elected Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, has provided new hope in the ability of the eurozone’s fifth-largest economy to address its financial woes by implementing a comprehensive and much-needed austerity package.

It would be recklessly premature to pronounce that the worst is now over, but one could be forgiven for clinging to the hope that these developments offer. Forgoing democracy in the interest of economic stability is unpalatable to many – this author included – as is the inexorable flow of taxpayers’ money into bailout funds that ostensibly treat the symptoms of economic profligacy rather than addressing the causes. From a British perspective, however, an end to the eurozone crisis by any means represents the revitalisation of economic activity in our largest export market and, by extension, a flurry of activity that would prove invaluable during a period in which Britain teeters on the brink of a return to recession. This is a fact that would not be lost on those rating agencies which recently put the United Kingdom’s credit rating on “negative outlook” at least partially owing to the lack of demand for British goods on the Continent.

Yet in spite of the fresh optimism emanating from the eurozone, there remains a considerable threat to the tentative recovery that is currently under way: were France to suffer the same fate as its eurozone compatriots, the recent eurozone crisis would no longer be perceived as the eye of an economic tempest that is now slowly passing over, but as the calm before a storm so destructive as to be unparalleled by any economic quandary in recent history. Curiously, the plight of the French public finances has largely been shielded from press scrutiny; even when Standard and Poor’s stripped the nation of its triple-A credit rating in January, few – if any – alarm bells were sounded, and no major news outlet sought to consider the colossal implications of France failing to get to grips with its ailing finances.

It is therefore reassuring to find that the Economist has chosen to lead on this very subject in its latest issue. According to the magazine’s leading article this week, public spending in France as a percentage of GDP is, at 56%, higher than that of Sweden. Indeed, the Cour des Comptes has warned that unless “difficult decisions” are taken in the immediate future, public debt in France could reach 100% within three years. Were the French finances to reach such a state of disrepair, no number of carefully-orchestrated bailouts would be sufficient to restore order. The eurozone’s current afflictions would be dwarfed by the challenge of restoring order in a country with an economy almost four times as large as those of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

With the first round of the French presidential election just a few weeks away, and with the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party, François Hollande, likely to take office, a study of his prescription for the French economic malaise makes for harrowing reading. Hollande cut his political teeth working on François Mitterrand’s failed 1974 presidential election bid, and possesses many of the same convictions as the man the French people knew as Tonton (‘uncle’). He has fought the presidential election on a platform that appears to be diametrically opposed to business and free market-inspired growth – one of his flagship policies is a 75% top rate of tax on income over one million euros, a proposal that has been met with derision by France’s plethora of multinational corporations such as AXA and L'Oréal. Underpinning his vision for France is a pledge to roll forward the frontiers of the state, irrespective of the implications this might have for France’s long-term economic health. Increases to the minimum wage and a “partial” retrenchment of Sarkozy’s proposal to increase the French retirement age from 60 to 62 are just two examples of a president-in-waiting who has formulated his electoral platform with no recourse to the fiscal imperatives currently facing France.

Perhaps still more worrying than Hollande’s statist vision, however, is the receptiveness of the French people to his counter-intuitive vision for France. Save for a fleeting resurgence in the polls by Sarkozy following the tragic shootings in Toulouse a few weeks ago (where matters pertaining to Islamic fundamentalism are concerned, the French tend to rally behind their Right-leaning president), the Socialist presidential candidate has enjoyed enormous support across France, with 61% of French voters backing his proposed ‘millionaire tax’. But even a Sarkozy victory would now be unlikely to ameliorate France’s continuing decline, for, in seeking to gain traction with the French electorate, the incumbent president has catapulted to the Left on a range of issues. Having already raised corporation tax, Sarkozy has also pledged to reprimand anyone seeking to leave France via the taxation system, as well as proposing that Internet companies are taxed on sales they make to French consumers.

At a time when private sector-fuelled growth represents France’s greatest hope of gaining a modicum of control over its economy – and avoiding a capitulation that would have grave repercussions across the world, nowhere more so than in the United Kingdom – French voters face a choice between an fervidly statist candidate with a contempt for private enterprise and an incumbent president doing everything he can to shed the perception that he is the ‘President of the Rich’. Regrettably, it is a choice that the French welcome; in spite of France’s economic prosperity in the modern era owing almost entirely to the globalised nature of the country’s diversified economy and the entrepreneurial vitality of those that head its many successful businesses, the French demonstrate an antipathy towards the free market that is almost entirely unique in the Western world.

But the French electorate’s successful pursuit of a Left-wing agenda is a Pyrrhic victory; whether Sarkozy holds on to power or Hollande takes his place, by focusing the entirety of the 2012 presidential election on persecuting the rich – with an occasional nod to social issues such as immigration and perceived Islamisation – and almost completely ignoring the need to rein in spending, France is setting itself up for disaster. The only thing that remains to be seen is how profoundly this will affect those nations for whom an affluent and innovative France is critical.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said

From the moment the risen One first appeared, it became clear to the women and disciples exactly who had died on the cross at Golgotha, and so who Jesus is. Only in the event of Easter does the birth, suffering and death of the Messiah make sense: if God raised Him from the dead, then Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the Redeemer of Israel, the Lord and the Saviour of all nations. If the Resurrection event is an eschatological one, then the risen One cannot be what He is only from the time of His resurrection: He must also have had the same identity in his suffering and death on the cross, in His proclamation and ministry, and in the whole of His life from the very beginning.

Raising from the dead is an eschatological act of God performed on Jesus, and it endorses and fulfils His messianic claim. The endorsement and fulfilment of Jesus’ claim are complementary: if we wish to confine ourselves to endorsement, ‘resurrection’ would be no more than an interpretative theological category for His death; and all that would remain would be a theology of the cross. If we were to concentrate solely on the fulfilment, the Easter Christ would supplant the crucified Jesus. But if the earthly Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, then Easter endorses and fulfils the whole.

The Resurrection is an eschatological event and the beginning of the new creation of all things. For that reason the astonishing fulfilment of Jesus messianic claim is stronger than the endorsement of His historical truth: “How much more...?” asks Paul, when he compares Christ’s death and His resurrection. How much more, indeed. No other single event in the history of humanity has transformed so many lives and inspired so much beauty and wonder. No other god or demigod has moved man to the creation of such sublime works of art: ‘the Lord who created must wish us to create, and employ our creation again in His service, which is already His service in creating.’ And still, 2000 years on, you may get a glimpse of the ecstasy, the rapture and the joy of the moment of Resurrection from those whose spirits have communed with the Living Christ. ‘From the heart: may it go to the heart’:

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