Friday, October 29, 2010

Cameron’s EU betrayal

It gave no pleasure at all to write that headline, and even less to write the rest of this post.

And that intense heaviness of being is alleviated only very slightly by the undoubted reality that the Coalition is doing very much the right thing in prioritising repayment of the national debt, balancing the fiscal deficit, reforming education, confronting the welfare behemoth and localising a whole raft of previously centralised competences to give people real power over the way their communities are run.

But we come to the elephant.

It has been in the room since 1973.

And over four decades it has produced a mountain of dung the stench of which has reached the nostrils of God.

It is essentially about trade and Britain’s status in the world, which have been the polarising issues within the Conservative Party since its nineteenth-century inception. The Repeal of the Corn Laws (1846) and Tariff Reform (1903) were both fundamentally about free trade versus protectionism; whether imports of foreign or non-Empire goods should be taxed. These great splits kept the Party out of office for 28 years and 18 years respectively. But these schisms find their modern equivalent in the Party’s debates on ‘Britain’s future in Europe’, divisions about which contributed significantly to the party losing power in 1997.

And another lengthy period in the wilderness.

It hasn’t gone away.

Disraeli’s darkest days were re-lived through the successive leaderships of John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, during which time there was little unity or sense of political purpose. After the Single European Act, Margaret Thatcher’s stance in Bruges is widely perceived as a principal reason for her downfall; Maastricht bedevilled John Major and gave the enduring impression of a weak leader. The others scarcely had time to leave a fingerprint on the Party.

David Cameron won the leadership of the Conservative Party promising to remove his MEPs from the EPP – the federalist centre-right grouping in the European Parliament whose aims and objectives were and are antithetical to everything the Party professed to stand for. It wasn’t achieved ‘within weeks’, as he promised.

But he did fulfil his promise when the politics permitted.

And let us not pretend that the formation of the ECR group – the EU’s first ‘opposition’ party (that is one which is constitutionally opposed to the founding principle of ‘ever closer union’) – was not without political cost. It was a bold reform, and Mr Cameron delivered.

And then there was this his ‘cast-iron guarantee’: “If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations. No treaty should be ratified without consulting the British people in a referendum."

Often against the intense and unpleasant criticism of its readers, this blog defended Mr Cameron, agreeing with him that a post-ratification position changed the game; that you could not renegotiate a treaty which had been ratified.

And then came the idea of a Sovereignty Bill. It is such a piece of legislative nonsense that it stretches the patience of all intelligent and discerning people: to hear David Lidington, the ‘Europe Minister, talk of binding this government and all future governments into having to hold a referendum before further competences are ceded to the EU is either purposeful deception or appalling constitutional ignorance.

The British Parliament is and remains sovereign because its sovereignty rests with the people and you can’t bind them. Parliament therefore remains omnipotent in everything save the power to destroy its own omnipotence. Whatever Sovereignty Bill is enacted today can be repealed tomorrow, ergo there can be no ‘referendum lock’.

And so we come to the EU budget negotiations.

The Commission wanted a 5.9 per cent increase (some sources say 6.1).

The Council favoured a more modest increase at a time of such economic hardship.

And so Mr Cameron’s ‘victory’ is an increase of a mere 2.9 per cent.

Quite why we’re not slashing our EU contribution by 25 per cent, as we are doing in many government departments, is unknown.

David Cameron promised – he promised a wholesale shift in power ‘from the state to the citizen, from Whitehall to elected councillors, from Brussels to Westminster’.

Yet still half of our laws emanate from Brussels.

And the Coalition has carried on ceding.

David Cameron has now agreed an increase in the EU budget of 2.9 per cent which will cost Britain an additional £430 million. This is nothing short of a betrayal of the nation’s teachers, doctors, nurses, police, fire service and the armed forces.

Such a sum would put around 30 Harrier jump-jets on our presently aircraft-less aircraft carriers.

In EU negotiations, the UK has rarely been dealt such a strong hand to play: France and Germany want a new amendment to the Treaty of Rome to grant the EU ‘economic governance’; the UK wants a budget cut (or even a freeze, please) and the repatriation of certain competences in accordance with the subsidiarity provisions provided by Maastricht.

And what did Mr Cameron achieve?

More dung.

A 2.9 per cent increase in the EU budget is not as bad as 6.1, but it is still a very poor deal for Britain. It is unacceptable that Britain – a net contributor – should be forced by greedy net recipients to accept any increase in its contributions at a time of hardship and austerity.

And the most insulting part about this is that David Cameron will put this sell-out down to the cost of being in coalition.

It is not.

It is his personal conviction that the UK is best served by our continuing membership of the EU.

This blog expects this Conservative Prime Minister to act in the national interest.

He has failed.

Could someone please find the man a handbag?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mandelson praises the Coalition: the theology of ecumenical politics

When the Liberal-Conservative Coalition was forged (and with a not irregular frequency since), there was talk of a re-alignment of British politics. There is, we are told, so much upon which the two parties agree that the Cameron-Clegg partnership feels as though it is more natural and conducive to the common good than (say) a Cameron-Carswell partnership: that Cameron’s doctrine is liberal conservatism and Clegg’s is conservative liberalism, so let them get on with it.

And now Lord Mandelson is trying to get in on the act, claiming that certain coalition policies are Blairite hallowed ground and that New Labour was the genesis.

And he is, of course, quite right.

England does not do revolution, in either the political or religious realms: while Europe was revelling in bloody revolutions, England’s was relatively bloodless, even glorious; while Europe’s Reformation took ecclesiology and theology from one extreme to the other, England’s was the perfect via media. Her natural disposition is for reform that is gradual, incremental, always in accord with Burkean organic principles.

So please don’t expect a political earthquake tomorrow announcing a seismic merger between the New Labour Blairite rump, ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Democrats or ‘Big Society’ Conservatives.

But His Grace is damned if he can put much of hair’s breadth between them.

They all favour prioritising the eradication of the nation’s £1trillion debt and addressing the fiscal deficit.

They all favour welfare reform.

They are all economically and socially liberal.

They are all sold out (quite literally) on the idea of man-made global warming.

They all favour ‘carbon neutrality’ and ‘green taxation’.

They all favour wealth redistribution as the primary means of the alleviation of poverty.

They all favour devolution and decentralisation.

They all (now) favour tighter controls on non-EU immigration, achieved through some kind of ‘points’ system.

They all favour the reform of education and the academy programme independent of LEAs.

They all favour health reform through the introduction of market mechanisms.

They all favour constitutional reform, be it the House of Lords or the electoral system.

They are all in favour of the UK’s continuing membership of the EU.

And they all favour a ‘new kind of politics’.

Nick Clegg summed it up in the autumn of 2007, when he said: “I want the Liberal Democrats to stand for a new kind of politics. A politics of people, not systems; of communities, not bureaucracies; of individual innovation, not administrative inter-vention. The days of big government solutions – of ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’ – are now coming to an end.”

David Cameron, speaking in the same month, used similar language: “We’ve always been motivated by a strong and instinctive scepticism about the capacity of bureaucratic systems to deliver progress. Instead, we’ve always preferred to place our trust in the ingenuity of human beings, collaborating in messy and unplanned interaction, to deliver the best outcomes.”

And so they have set out to create ‘a new progressive alliance to decentralise British politics’.

David Cameron’s vision of a ‘Big Society’ is essentially the occupation of the ‘centre ground’ of politics with appeals to ‘middle England’.

It doesn’t have to mean anything specific or achieve anything quantitative: there are no targets by which its success or failure may be measured. It is a feeling; a way of talking about community themes and public service, of fraternity and security.

Which brings His Grace to the theology.

For that which is politically or theologically ecumenical must, by definition, have universal appeal. To be ecumenical is to be outward-looking, tolerant, compassionate and enlightened: it is to be content with coalition.

To be dogmatic in either theology or politics is to be introspective, intolerant, unloving, uncompassionate and, dare one say it, bigoted. It is to express a tendency towards the doctrine of the Taliban; to be separatist, pure, orthodox and, in the final analysis, right.

Or at least that is how political ideology and theological orthodoxy are now invariably portrayed.

So, in this pervading spirit of coalition compromise and accommodation, it comes as no surprise that an Oxford college (Pembroke) has achieved an historic first by inviting an imam to preach in its historic chapel.

The pulpits of Oxford’s colleges have been occupied by ministers of the gospel since the 13th century: their sermons have been variable, their styles diverse, and their theology ‘developed’.

But it was all essentially Christian.

The invitation to Dr Taj Hargey – from the Summertown Islamic Congregation in Oxford – has taken ecumenicity to a whole different plane.

And it is even more alarming that his sermon was preceded by the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, which was read out by an 11-year-old girl.

Imagine: ‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet’ ringing out from the hallowed pulpits of Oxford.

They can get away with it, of course, because it is proclaimed in Arabic.

The whole initiative was the brainchild of the Rev Dr Andrew Teal, of Pembroke College, who said he had been trying to get a Muslim imam to deliver a sermon at the chapel for many years.

Not enough priests and vicars?

He said: “We wanted to do something which brought together Christianity and Islam, but not to create a third thing.”

A third thing?

Like a Christian-Muslim coalition, perhaps?

Dr Teal said the invitation was possible because ‘the two faiths are actually very close’.

Very close?

East and West are very close.

At Greenwich.

While Abraham might be a key figure in both religions, and both might share the personages of the prophets of the Old Testament and some of their writings, but that is where ‘very close’ ends.

There is no unifying doctrine of God and no agreement on the path of salvation: the Isa of the Qur’an is not the Jesus of the New Testament.

Play ecumenics with politics, by all means.

But the ‘centre ground’ of theology is shifting sand.

Especially in Oxford.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Atheist census campaign: 'If you're not religious, for God's sake say so!'

The British Humanist Association (BHA) are evangelising again. They preach their gospel, propagate their creed and disseminate their dogma just like any other religion.

And yet they insist they have no religion.

And so today they launch a campaign calling on people who are not religious to say so (‘for God’s sake’) during next year’s census.

His Grace has already reported on changes to the ‘religion’ question from 2001.

The BHA are concerned to distinguish between the practising/believing Christian and the cultural Christian, encouraging the latter to tick the ‘No Religion’ box.

The reason for this, they say, is that data from the 2001 census is constantly used by journalists and politicians to promote policy and defend the status quo, viz. the Established Church, bishops in the House of Lords, prayers before Parliament and a Head of State who also happens to be Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

All of this persists, according to the BHA, because 72 per cent ticked the ‘Christian’ box a decade ago, which ‘over-inflates’ the significance of the faith.

His Grace must have missed something.

We have just been through a decade of some of the most illiberal, anti-Christian legislation in centuries. Christian beliefs on marriage, conscience and worship were subsumed to an aggressive secularism under the guise of ‘equality’. There were numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are quite unacceptable in a civilised, liberal democracy.

The Christian foundations of the nation have been gravely undermined by Labour: under the premierships of two ostensibly professing Christians, we have seen Christianity relegated to the peripheries of public life.

We witnessed nurses, teachers, foster parents, registrars, hotel owners, B&B proprietors, bishops, street preachers, and adoption agencies all suffer immense detriment as a result of Labour’s profoundly anti-Christian agenda.

Bishops of both the Church of England and the Church of Rome have expressed their concern at the hostile culture which seemingly has no tolerance of Christian orthodoxy.

And yet the BHA believe that the results of the 2001 census privileged Christians by influencing the policies of the last Labour government, as though (for example) the decision to abolish the blasphemy laws or enact the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act were developed by ministers cognisant of and sensitive to the consciences of the professing Christian majority.

Is the BHA deluded, or is this their faith position?

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that many people tended to treat the 2001 census question on religion as a question of ethnicity - and there are indeed valid concerns to be expressed - the BHA appear to be dismissive of those many millions for whom the Christian culture of the nation is something with which they clearly wish to be identified: the ‘cultural Christian’ is not necessarily irreligious; he or she may be content to believe without belonging.

That is not the same as atheism, agnosticism or scepticism.

The BHA trumpet that a British Social Attitudes Survey conducted earlier this year found that 59 per cent did not describe themselves as religious when asked how they would describe their level of religiosity. It suggested that 62 per cent of people in the UK never attend a religious service and only eight per cent attend a weekly church service.

His Grace would like the BHA to consider that very many Christians would not wish to be identified as being ‘religious’, not least because of the negative social connotations and assumed corollaries of the term. It is possible for the Christian to profess a faith and belief in Jesus without being remotely concerned with the classification ‘religious’.

But His Grace would also like the BHA to consider the observation of Edmund Burke: “Man is by his constitution a religious animal; atheism is against not only our reason, but our instincts.”

The study of philosophy is a religious pursuit; the desire for spiritual satisfaction is a religious pursuit; the yearning for freedom and time is a religious pursuit; the search for ultimate truth and meaning is a religious pursuit; the desire to be loved is a religious pursuit; the quest for self-discovery is a religious pursuit; waiting for Godot is a religious pursuit; the exaltation of sex is a religious pursuit; supporting Manchester United is a religious pursuit; desiring fame and fortune is a religious pursuit; to be patriotic or nationalistic is a religious pursuit; dealing with the inevitability of death is a religious pursuit; and the accommodation of mystery, paradox and infinity is a religious acceptance, a resting ‘in faith’, of the unknown.

Hope is what makes life bearable: it dispels despair, wipes away bitter tears and stays the hand of suicide. To live is to hope, and to hope is to have faith; to be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Far from ‘religion’ being in decline, the institutional monolith of a bygone era has simply fractured and fragmented into a plethora of micro-spiritualities, each propounding a distinctly religious way of life, all now competing in the market place for preeminence. If 72 per cent are no longer practising Christians, it is a fair bet that 95 per cent are ‘religious’, whether they eat bread, drink wine, consult horoscopes, wish with the new moon, stand in stone circles, hug trees…

…or dedicate their lives to the propagation of atheistic humanism.

If the BHA are concerned that the 2001 census produced inaccurate and misleading data on religion (in that it grossly undercounted the number of non-religious people and greatly inflated the number of Christians), they must equally be concerned that the 2011 census accurately measure the amount of ‘religion’ and ‘non-religion’ in the country.

Insofar as the BHA are keen to identify themselves patriotically as British, philosophically as humanist and by disposition associative, they are all actively involved in the affiliative pursuit of the ‘religious’.

By ticking the ‘No Religion’ box, the BHA simply perpetuate data inaccuracy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pope intercedes for Tariq Aziz - to be hanged by the neck until dead

It is widely known that His Grace is not in favour of the death penalty.

But, unlike His Holiness, not dogmatically so: that is to say, there may be the occasional exception.

But only occasionally.

The Vatican has issued a statement:

The position of the Catholic church on the death penalty is well known. It’s hoped, therefore, that the sentence against Tariq Aziz will not be executed, precisely in order to favor reconciliation and the reconstruction of peace and justice in Iraq after the great sufferings it has experienced.

Regarding a possible humanitarian intervention, the Holy See is not accustomed to operate in a public fashion, but through the diplomatic means at its disposal.
As Margaret Beckett said on the occasion of the execution of Saddam Hussein:

I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein has been tried by an Iraqi court for at least some of the appalling crimes he committed against the Iraqi people. He has now been held to account. We have made our position very clear to the Iraqi authorities, but we respect their decision as that of a sovereign nation.
Unlike the professing Muslim Saddam Hussein, who is probably now in Hell, Tariq Aziz professes to be a Christian of the Chaldean variety.

His Grace opposes the death penalty.


And yet Tariq Aziz murdered how many?

Perhaps His Holiness might make an exception?

Just one?

In extremis?

If Mr Aziz be a Christian, shall we let God be the judge?

Nazir-Ali to Gove: “Restore the teaching of Christianity to schools”

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to restore the teaching of Christianity in Britain’s schools. The Pakistan-born bishop, who (sadly) resigned as head of the Diocese of Rochester to focus on the plight of persecuted Christians (as though being an Anglican bishop were something of an impediment to such ministry), has written in Standpoint Magazine (£) that teaching ‘the vital role played by reformers in the struggle for human freedom’ would lead to ‘the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity’.

By ‘reformers’, he specifies those who abolished the slave trade, introduced universal education, improved working conditions and who cared for the sick.

As if there were no reformers before the eighteenth century to whom we owe our liberties.

But that quibble aside, the Bishop welcomed the statement made by Mr Gove to end what the Secretary of State calls Britain's ‘collective amnesia’ about its Christian heritage. Bishop Michael said Christianity was the most significant link in our long island story and that education should look at the vital role played by Christians and Christianity in the forging of our traditions and liberties which are now, he says, are under threat.

And so he wants to see schools teach children about the link between Britain today and its foundations in the Judaeo-Christian traditions of the Bible, particularly the role of Christians in.

"It is ironic indeed,” he says, “that nurses cannot now pray at work, under threat of dismissal, when their ward duties often began with prayer right up to the middle years of the twentieth century."

"So many of the precious freedoms that we value today, the fair treatment of workers and the care of those in need, arise from values given to us by the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

"I am glad that the Minister is setting out to remove our collective amnesia — and to enable us to see our history as a connected whole. This will also have to mean the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity.

"The question now, of course, with parliamentary reform hovering in the wings, is how the Judaeo-Christian tradition can continue to be called on, especially when proposed legislation raises important moral issues for the individual and for society."

Jolly good stuff.

Three cheers for Bishop Michael!

The only problem is that schools are already required by Statute of Parliament to do all this, and have been since 1944.

But they don’t.

And moves to dilute, devolve and deregulate the National Curriculum are unlikely to lead to a strengthening of the provision: school governors, heads and teachers will simply invoke the liberties granted by the Academies Bill to base their educational ethos on the magic breathing philosophy of Goldie Hawn, on the Islamic principles of sharia, or on Dawkins’ extremist atheism.

It is strange indeed, not to say something of a contradiction, that the academy or ‘free school’ movement, which proposes to permit local groups of parents and teachers the autonomy to develop their own curricula and forge a distinct educational ethos, should simultaneously have imposed upon it a standardised national history syllabus which is to be written by Niall Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson has his views and his version of history. But an awful lot of academic historians, history teachers, and teaching organisations disagree with him. How does that equate with less prescription, yet an imposed centralised curriculum?

And what is applicable for History must a fortiori be applicable to Religious Studies.

It seems that the Academies Bill suggests the implied repeal of the 1944 Education Act and every education act since which either strengthens or reiterates the provision of the state’s Christian foundation: we therefore see the eradication of the statutory requirement to hold a daily act of collective worship which is ‘broadly Christian’ and the teaching of Religious Studies which gives pre-eminence to the predominant Christian faith of the nation.

Mr Gove cannot have it both ways.

Either one trusts parents and teachers or one does not.

Either one is prescriptively imposing a centralised national curriculum or one is not.

And if this Secretary of State is permitted by Act of Parliament to demand that academies teach a ‘Right-wing’ or ‘Empire’ view of history, or prioritise the Christian traditions and foundations of the nation, or propagate a sceptical view of man-made global warming, then his successors will be endowed with that very same authority to ensure the teaching of whatever leftist, globalist, multi-faith, multi-cultural or ‘environmentalist’ creed he or she requires.

With the advantage that the teaching unions are far more disposed to such a worldview.

So when Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali lauds Michael Gove for placing an emphasis ‘on the rigorous study of traditional subjects rather than wasting time on what he calls “pseudo-subjects”’, he forgets that Goldie Hawn’s school will be free to prioritise the technique of breathing over sentence structure.

And when Mr Gove encourages a focus on the teaching of language and literature, his ‘greats’ are not everyone’s: even the Bishop wants the list expanded to include Herbert, Donne, Newman, Hopkins, Eliot, Chesterton, Greene and Belloc.

And so with history: the Bishop advocates ‘a connected narrative’ and a ‘golden chain of harmony’. And this ‘has to do with a world-view that underlies the emergence of characteristically British institutions and values, such as the Constitution itself (“the Queen in Parliament under God”); a concern for the poor; a social security net, based on the parish church, which goes back to the sixteenth century, and personal liberties as enshrined in Magna Carta’.

He is of the view that ‘the world-view that made possible the emergence of these fundamental building-blocks in our national life is, of course, the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the Bible’.

But what if an Islamic free school apportions such fundamentals to Mohammed and the Qur’an?

Will they be free to teach an Islamocentric narrative of history?

Or of marriage, family, justice or equality?

The bishop observes:

It was not only in the area of law, but virtually every other kind of knowledge was mediated either by the Church or by Christians in their respective fields. It is often claimed that there was much knowledge in this country until fairly recent times of the classical literature, art and philosophy of the Greeks and the Romans. This is certainly the case but, as Pope Benedict has pointed out, this was often a knowledge ‘purified’ of the cruelty, promiscuity, inequality and idolatry of paganism. The encounter of Christian faith with Greek Philosophy, for example, was providential, as the Pope has put it, for the intellectual history of Europe but we must be clear that it was Jerusalem and not Athens that provided the fundamental orientation for the flowering of a Christian humanism at the time of the Renaissance and the Reformation. As Western Europe regained Hellenistic learning from the Islamic world (which had itself gained it largely from oriental Christian clergy), it also critiqued it from the point of view of Christian belief. Basic teachings, derived from Hellenism, on the eternity of the world, the denial of personal immortality and the resurrection of the dead and the primacy of philosophy over revelation were rejected because they were contrary to the Word of God.
While the Church’s Holy Days have become our national holidays, free schools will be at liberty to grant whatever holidays they wish and to organise their school year as they wish.

And where those liberties are not granted, the state will turn a blind eye, as it does already, for fear of being accused of racism and of breaching equality legislation.

For if the Christians may have Christmas and Easter, why may the Muslims not have Eid ul-Fitr or the Hindus and Sikhs Diwali?

Did not David Cameron promise them such?

It is good and noble that Bishop Michael has drawn our attention to the fons et origo of the precious freedoms that we value today which have arisen from values bequeathed to us by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And he is right to point out that these values are grounded in the moral and spiritual vision of this tradition. And he is even more right to warn that it cannot, by any means, be taken for granted that they would survive for long if the tradition itself is jettisoned.

But it will not be the Academy movement which will eradicate our collective amnesia, or ensure the rediscovery of our spiritual and moral identity.

It will not be Michael Gove who restores the primacy of the Judaeo-Christian tradition to provide the connecting link to ‘our island story’.

It will be for autonomous groups of parents and teachers to grasp that without the appreciation of that tradition, ‘it is impossible to understand the language, the literature, the art or even the science of our civilisation. It provides the grand themes in art and literature, of virtue and vice, atonement and repentance, immortality and resurrection. It has inspired the best and most accessible architecture and it undergirds and safe-guards our constitutional and legal tradition’.

But who will educate the parents and teachers?

Monday, October 25, 2010

What hath Bradford to do with Ripon and Leeds?

When the Prime Minister announced that all government departments had to find 25 per cent savings in order to fulfil the moral imperative of cutting the deficit and repaying the national debt, he never explicitly excluded the wealthiest department of state: the Established Church of England.

It belongs to the Crown, or, at least, the Monarch is its Supreme Governor. And according to canon law, she is ‘the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil’.

In practice, however, her omnipotence is exercised by the Prime Minister through Parliament. So cutbacks begin with the House of God.

It is helpful that the Archbishop of York was already amenable to rationalising his See by merging the Diocese of Bradford with that of Ripon & Leeds. It's the first time in a century that such a thing has been done, but it's not as if we're talking about a take-over of Athens by Jerusalem, or even merging Canterbury with York.

Combining the diocese of Bradford with Ripon & Leeds might, on the face of it, make a bit of sense. Not least, Bradford and Leeds are both are in the gritty county of West Yorkshire. And, from a financial perspective, there is strong pressure on the Church of England to arrange mergers. It has to start somewhere.

Ripon was founded in 876, but lapsed for a thousand years. The present diocese is a creation of 1836, and it only took the name ‘Ripon & Leeds’ when the major city began to eclipse the cathedral city in population size. It was the first diocese to be created in England after the Reformation. Its current bishop is the Rt Revd John Packer, who has held the post for 14 years.

But the Diocese of Bradford was formed very recently – in 1920. There's nothing particularly historic about it, even though the foundations of its cathedral church date back to the seventh century. Its bishop, the Rt Revd Dr David James, retired in July of this year after eight years, and has not been replaced.

His tenure of office was marked by a period of notable decline. While Ripon & Leeds has seen a trend of steady increases in weekly attendance over the past decade, Bradford has remained static or fallen. The usual Sunday attendance for Bradford in 2008 was 8,700, which was static from 2007. Average weekly attendance fell from 12,500 to 12,300.

Conversely, attendance in Ripon & Leeds in 2008 was 12,300, up from 11,000 in 2007. Its average weekly attendance rose from 14,900 to a staggering 17,100, representing an annual increase of 15 per cent. While Bradford has a smaller population – 683,000 as against 837,000 for Ripon & Leeds - it is clear that organisationally-effective, demographically-relevant and spiritually-inspirational leadership have contributed to the Ripon & Leeds success.

It doesn't help that a minaret is now more prominent in Bradford than the cathedral spire, dominating the heart of a city that has been ripped out and left as a ramshackle building site – soon to become a city centre park after a succession of failed development projects.

The wasteland is cultural as well as physical. The call to prayer hasn't yet replaced the peal of bells, but it is only a matter of time. The reality is that the church’s response to the seismic shift in Bradford's ethnic make-up and dominant religion has been poor.

While Christian schools have closed, Islamic ones have opened. While churches have closed their doors due to declining numbers, mosques have sprouted up all over the place. Eid is virtually a city-wide holiday, while Easter – the most important festival in the Christian calendar – survives only as a remnant of cultural Sabbath hangover.

The Church of England has met the challenge of other faiths not with a virile expression of its virtues or pride in its historical significance, but with multi-faith accommodation and compromise. It is no surprise that a multi-faith education centre built beside Bradford Cathedral closed after just seven months.

It cost a colossal £5m to construct and was projected to attract 40,000 visitors a year. In its first week, it welcomed just 62 paying customers, and attracted fewer than 600 in the peak three weeks of August. Meanwhile, the strong tradition of masculine, Non-Conformist, Evangelical Christianity is resurgent. New groups are springing up throughout Bradford, recruiting disaffected members of the Established Church.

And without spiritual leadership, the diocese is simply an administrative unit – a regional area of a national ministry overseen by a bishop. With nothing special to mark it out in the eyes of the Church, it stands to reason that changes in demographics might cause reassessment of the most efficient ways and means of governance.

Successive incumbents at Westminster have merged offices of state and even abolished some ancient ones as they saw fit: Agriculture is integrated with Fisheries; Education with Skills; and Culture, Media and Sport are all lumped together as though Leeds United playing at Elland Rd were as constitutionally significant as the St Edward's Crown in the Tower of London.

Though, oop north, it probably is.

So merging Bradford with Ripon & Leeds makes sense – especially if quality ministers are in short supply, you are running out of money and your supporters are deserting you.

And on the face of it, HM Government and HM Church have got quite a lot in common: both are fragile coalitions riven with irreconcilable divisions; both are haemorrhaging supporters; both are being subsumed to foreign powers; and both are virtually bankrupt. And both are out of ideas. That is why a merger makes sense to the Church.

But not to anyone else, least of all the dwindling band of Christians in Bradford.

There are 2.4 million Muslims in the UK, but according to the ONS they multiply 10 times faster than the rest of society. The Christian population is declining, only spurred on by Eastern European Roman Catholic immigrants. They are filling the churches in Bradford – Roman Catholic churches. Church of England pews are empty. One of the few reasons for attending is that the Church schools are one of the last bastions of ‘white / Christian’ education, but even that is changing.

Thus, in the hard, gritty northern city of Bradford, the Church of England is being subsumed to the Mosque of England just as nationally the Archbishop of Canterbury is eclipsed by the Pope. Where there is no vision, the people perish. Or get expediently merged.

Allahu Akbah – God is the greatest.

But in Bradford, Jehovah is shunted aside for Allah in the on-going battle to lead the pantheon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vatican synod: "There is no longer a chosen people"

The Jerusalem Post reports on statements made by sundry bishops in the Middle East who were summoned by Pope Benedict to a conference to discuss the plight of Christians in that area.

Amongst its conclusions, they have decreed that:

1. There is no longer a chosen people;

2. Israel should end it 'occupation' of Arab lands.

3. Israel 'uses the Bible to justify “injustices” against the Palestinians'.

4. The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel.

5. Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people.

6. God's promise to Israel was 'nullified by Christ'.

7. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.

8. Ergo, the Abrahamic Covenant (along with Anglican Orders) is absolutely null and utterly void.

Mordechay Lewy, Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, told The Jerusalem Post that this represents 'a return to successionist theology, contradicting Second Vatican Council teaching and Pope Benedict himself – who has welcomed the return of Jews to their ancient homeland'.

Uh huh.

The Ambassador added: "By inviting all Palestinian refugees to return and denying Israel’s right to define itself a Jewish state – the only such in the world – (the Synod) is regressing to hard-line positions that deny Israel’s right to exist.”

His Grace has written on the insidious anti-Semitism of Replacement Theology before, and has just one thing to say to this synod:

I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.
And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:
Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:
Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Perhaps the assembled bishops and archbishops of the See of Rome would explain to His Grace at what point the Lord God Almighty changed his mind.

Free West Papua

West Papua?

Who cares?

Where is it, anyway?

It may come as no surprise that the BBC aren’t reporting on this; they’re too preoccupied with ‘Palestine’. But the rest of the media?

West Papua has never been given the air time it deserves, and its people have not felt the usual Western glow for oppressed people everywhere. We appear complicit in the reporting restrictions, quite content to compromise our collective conscience while the US re-negotiates a programme of military aid with Indonesia after a 10-year embargo, as if the atrocities of East Timor never happened.

Are we simply placating the Indonesian government because Indonesia happens to have the largest Muslim population on earth?

President Obama is shortly to visit Jakarta, and doubtless will go conveniently Trappist on human rights violations. To his immense credit, on the run-up to the General Election, David Cameron stated unequivocally that he empathised with the West Papuan cause. But he has been silent on the matter since taking office.

The BBC?

Well, Islamic imperialism, torture and brutality are not what the British public want to see, are they?

For those who do, His Grace refers his readers and communicants to the website of Free West Papua. But be warned: it is not pleasant viewing.

When the Dutch left Indonesia they maintained control of West Papua until 1962. They were subsequently forced by an aggressive Indonesia and the international community to yield to Indonesian machinations. The Dutch had been pursuing a rapid education programme which would, they hoped, lead to West Papuan independence, having accepted the results of the 1959 election.

Scarcely had a new flag been designed that Indonesia commenced military skirmishes in the region in an attempt to spread their territorial empire.

This resulted in the UN taking control of the entire region. In their infinite wisdom they gifted West Papua to Indonesia in 1963. When, six years later, Indonesia generously granted West Papua a vote on self-determination – the ‘Act of Free Choice' – the Indonesian military ensured that just over a thousand tribal leaders and elders voted the right way, invariably at gun-point, to which the UN turned a thousand blind eyes.

Thereafter, 'Irian' became irrevocably part of the Indonesian Empire.

Since then, many tens of thousands of West Papuans have died; perhaps even 100,000 (it is difficult to be accurate when the only sources are leaked speculation: the actual death toll may be far higher). As can be seen on the Free West Papua website, the Indonesian Military behave like any invading army: the flag of the Republic of West Papua is banned under Indonesian law and those found to displaying it are imprisoned and tortured.

The people of the island of Papua have one of the most diverse ranges of culture found anywhere in the world. It is gradually being subsumed to the imperialist Indonesian Islamic monolith.

And President Obama is now dedicating US forces to help train the notorious ‘special forces’ wing of the Indonesian military, a force that anywhere else in the world would be judged guilty of war crimes and 'ethnic cleansing'.

But the suffering of the Timorese and the strife of the poor Papuans are as nothing to the overriding US need for sizeable Islamic allies in the ‘war on terror’.

Some are speaking out, but nowhere near enough. The former Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Hon Lord Harries of Pentregath said: "The principles at stake with West Papua are fundamental to civilised life in the modern world. The so-called Act of Free Choice consisted of 1026 people being forced at gunpoint to vote for integration with Suharto's Indonesia. The West Papuans are a people - the same people as those of Papua New Guinea on the east of the island - who obtained their independence from Britain over 35 years ago. They have no desire to be ruled from Jakarta."

But we hear nothing of this.

For the BBC and the rest of our ‘mainstream media’ do not wish us to.

The silence is puzzling, given that they usually find ingenious ways of infiltrating Zimbabwe, sneaking into Burma or planting undercover reporters in Iran.

There is an all-party parliamentary group on the matter, but not composed of the Peter Hains of this world. It appears that the Indonesian Army are just not as evil as the IDF.

But the suffering and strife of the Papuan are as great if not greater than the Palestinian.

Perhaps a juxtaposition of the condemnation of Indonesia with the promotion of the cause of Palestine would cause a little schizophrenia in the media portrayal of the politics of the religion of peace.

Come on, Prime Minister.

When you were in opposition, you took the time to consider the complex issues and even met with the political exile and leader of the Free West Papua Movement, Benny Wenda.

Your election victory was movingly greeted by the tribesmen and women of West Papua. And CCHQ must have sent them the poster, for that size was not even available in the key marginals.

This picture is a display of a people's faith in one man, a deliverer, a Moses. They look to David Cameron to liberate them from oppression, just as his predecessors have done with slave traders over the centuries. The UK may be a declining military power, and Labour undoubtedly did untold damage to our international reputation with its ‘ethical foreign policy’. But it is now for this Liberal-Conservative Coalition to restore it.

Perhaps, Prime Minister, a phone call to President Obama?

He won’t listen, of course. But it is for you to remind him of Indonesian inhumanity to West Papuan man.

And if you won’t, who will?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Announcing the Society of Cardinal Cranmer

Inspired by the Blessed Vermin and founder of the Society of St Magnus for Orthodox Church Mice;

Mindful that His Holiness has appointed a further 24 eminences to his consistory, to ensure that his reforms outlast his earthly existence and that the Benedictine legacy will endure;

Recalling that sundry and diverse Anglican acronyms have sprung up over recent years, severally known as FiF, TAC, FCA, GAFCON and SSWSH, with no apparent purpose other than to further their own agendas;

Convinced that such branding and re-branding while, on the face of it, appears cordial and conducive to godly fellowship, is actually borne of bitter dispute and deep division;

Reaffirming the via media Catholic and Reformed foundation of the Church of England;

Deploring the unholy language used by those Princes of the Church who might be inclined to believe that if it be Catholic it may not be reformed and vice versa, especially of those who are buggering off to join His Holiness's Ordinariate;

Deeply disturbed by the despairing effects this dog's dinner is having on the flock (and vermin);

Despairing that the Archbishop of Canterbury is telling us that the Anglican Communion is doing just fine, thank you very much;

Convinced of the importance of preaching the Good News to save people from sin and hell;

Noting the efforts and important achievements of His Grace's august blog of educated and erudite comment upon matters religio-political;

Appealing to all individuals in all factions of the Church of England everywhere;

Taking into account that red clearly suits His Grace and that his personage is claimed by both Catholics and Protestant alike, and that he is considered simultaneously to be 'an heretick' and a Saint;

His Grace is proud to announce the formation and establishment of the Society of Cardinal Cranmer, which shall be conducive to all manner of mutually exclusive argumentations; combine disparate postmodern propositions; tolerate inescapable disjunctions and eclecticism; explore the meaninglessness of meaning and the framelessness of the framework; and which will embrace all theological spontaneity, ecclesial fragmentation and spiritual superficiality.

That's it: there is no need for any further Anglican groups, societies, organisations or fellowships. Anyone is welcome to join the Society of Cardinal Cranmer: there is room for all.

Given time, His Grace might even re-brand it 'The Church of England'.

The ‘Islamic Republic’ of Tower Minaret Hamlets

His Grace is delighted that Labour have been trounced and humiliated in the race to become the first elected executive mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The independent candidate Lutfur Rahman beat Labour’s Helal Abbas without the need for second-preference votes: it was an outright victory in the first round with 51.76 per cent of the vote. He now controls a £1bn budget in an Olympic borough, and will remain in office until 2014.

As one sour-faced member of Tower Hamlets Labour Party observed: “It really is Britain’s Islamic republic now.”

His Grace does not know if Mayor Rahman is the Islamist supremacist alleged by Andrew Gilligan.

He does not know if he ‘has close links with a group of powerful local businessmen and with a Muslim supremacist body, the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) - which believes, in its own words, in transforming the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed… from ignorance to Islam”.’

His Grace does not know if Mayor Rahman has refused to deny these claims.

He does not know if the borough’s change from a conventional council leader to a mayoral system came about as a result of a campaign which was led and financed by these two groups – or if the IFE, in its words, wanted to ‘get one of our brothers’ into the position.

He does not know if Mayor Rahman has been attempting to ‘Islamicise’ the borough through the dissemination of extremist literature in Tower Hamlets’ public libraries. Or of he signed up entire families of sham ‘paper’ Labour members to win the party’s mayoral nomination.

But what His Grace does know is that Lutfur Rahman was a fully paid-up member of the Labour Party, democratically selected to be its mayoral candidate in the borough in which he was educated, has lived and served for decades, and was then sacked as the official Labour candidate by the party’s National Executive Committee. And so Mr Rahman decided to stand as an independent.

Have Labour learned nothing from Blaenau Gwent?

When an unaccountable, central executive élite wrests power from the local, democratic and accountable, they invariably cede the victory to the opposition.

Democracy in the UK can only be revived by trusting local people to select local candidates and elect their own officers and councillors who then have the necessary powers to enact local laws to effect real local change.

Mayor Rahman’s victory is a triumph for the local Labour Party members, a defeat for the party’s General Secretary Ray Collins and a humiliation for their new leader Ed Miliband.

You can’t buck the people.

Mayor Rahman may indeed be a latent Islamist with friends who happen to be shadowy Muslim extremists intent on creating a sharia state in London.

Or, as he says, he may be a jolly decent bloke who just wants to ‘serve the people of Tower Hamlets whether black or white or whatever their religion or creed’.

Whatever his religio-political agenda, he now rolls it out with the democratic consent of the people of Tower Hamlets: it is an unavoidable consequence of the creed of 'localism' to which the Conservative Party now subscribes.

And please do not complain if he finances Islamic academies, imposes burqas in schools, demands halal meat at the local McDonalds or promotes a borough-wide holiday for Eid.

The turnout was a meagre 25.6 per cent.

Mayor Rahman's 23,283 votes represent just 13 per cent of the electorate.

And that is no-one’s fault but the apathetic voters of Tower Hamlets.

Local politics demands local engagement.

If the good people of Tower Hamlets are content to do nothing, they should not be surprised when evil triumphs.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Man does not live by Trident alone

What is it with these Tories?

Yes, His Grace is most definitely one; and, yes, he is as concerned as the next man (or woman) about aircraft carriers without aircraft, helicopters without rotors and guns without bullets.

But not to the extent that the world’s poorest should pay for it.

It is disappointing - and some may say not unsurprising - that a ConservativeHome survey reveals that 70 per cent of Conservative Party members oppose the cut in defence by 2.3bn (-8%) at a time when the Government is increasing overseas aid by £2.7bn (+37%). (Though how ConHome know that these are party members is unknown: it appears to be taken on trust).

One wonders if they bothered to consider that the defence budget in 2011 will be £35.7bn while that for overseas aid will be £9.4bn.

Or what proportion of total public expenditure (£702bn) these figures represent.

Or that the Government (ie we) will pay £43.3bn of gross government debt interest this fiscal year followed by £46.5bn in 2011.

And one also wonders if they bothered to consider for a moment that spending on overseas aid may actually mitigate the need for future military intervention through conflict prevention or help to deter the ‘export’ of terrorism or opium to these shores.

The prioritisation of aid over defence 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).

British national defence is not about myopic fortress introspection, but the vigilant guarding of those liberties and values which have been bequeathed over the centuries and for which many millions have laid down their lives. It is not about phallic potency and grandstanding, but of humility in the pursuit of the national interest and gratitude for great mercies. It is not about the protection of private property; it is about the preservation of a way of life.

And that way of life happens to value the ethic of private property as much as it consists of missionary philanthropy and humanitarian charity.

Yes, a lot of aid is siphoned off into the corrupt coffers of evil dictators to prop up their sub-Saharan sensual superfluity. But that is no fault of poor. It is for the rich to devise better systems of delivery to ensure that aid reaches those who are most in need, rather than simply give up. The promotion of what has become known as ‘social justice’ should be a primary moral imperative for any government. While His Grace prefers the phrase ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ (for these reasons), both are essentially concerned with putting the plight of the poor at the heart of the national debate and making a material response.

The freedom and fraternity which constitute our social fabric are fragile entities. But, insofar as these persist and are considered good, it is incumbent upon us to manifest them to those who have neither. Jesus did not only preach to the crowds, he fed them. He understood that you can’t talk about micro-credit to those with empty bellies.

Of course, the Government should strengthen the national economy, keep interest rates low, balance the budget and maintain equilibrium between the strength of sterling and unemployment.

But the British political context for all of these macro-economic interests is positively utopian compared to the world’s poorest nations.

If charity begins at home, our community and nation are deprived.

When we prioritise the world’s poorest and most destitute, justice may flow like a river.

The decision to increase the budget for International Development is a fundamentally Christian ethic.

It is about feeding the starving, healing the sick, housing the poor and educating the illiterate.

If any Conservative would rather hug a Harrier than help the destitute, he or she must be devoid of conscience.

George Osborne said: “Britons can hold their heads up high and say even in these difficult times, we will honour the promises made to some of the poorest people on our planet.”

The extra aid will halve the deaths from malaria, save the lives of 50,000 pregnant women and 250,000 babies.

We should be proud that George Osborne has made the UK the first country in the world to hit the United Nations target of donating 0.7 per cent of its national income to the world’s poor by 2013.

Righteousness exalts a nation.

AV or not AV: that is the question no-one's asking

This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone:

After a tortuous period of deal-brokering behind closed doors, the Coalition has largely settled in to government. This may not be the ideal state of affairs from a Conservative standpoint, but the recent Lib Dem poll slump has had the serendipitous effect of binding the party to any Conservative-inspired policies or decisions, irrespective of their popularity. Yet almost as widely covered as the coalition agreement itself was the announcement that Cameron had conceded a referendum on electoral reform to the Lib Dems. On May 5th 2011, we will therefore be asked whether we wish to change the method by which we elect our representatives. In this article I intend to spark the debate by making the case against such change.

In seeking to contest the wisdom of ushering in the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system, I do not wish to convey the impression that I see no case for electoral reform whatsoever. Whilst firmly of the belief that the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system is intrinsically suited to the Westminster model, arguments for increased proportionality and a more amiable, collaborative dynamic between the major parties are legitimate, and have their place in any sensible discussion surrounding electoral reform. The problem lies, however, with those who attempt to portray the Alternative Vote system as a paragon of adaptation; the answer to all the flaws inherent within FPTP. This perspective, as I hope to demonstrate, rests entirely upon dubious logic.

The Electoral Reform Society, in making their case for AV, use a phrase which recapitulates this: it is their claim that the proposed reforms “represent a logical progression” from the current system. This seems a strange choice of wording; straight away, all those who are thinking of voting ‘no’ in May are ‘illogical’ by default. The Society goes on to assert that AV will ensure that “all MPs have a real mandate” in future elections, the implication being that under FPTP MPs do not sufficiently reflect the will of the electorate.

Yet if enhancing the proportionality of the system is their concern, it is difficult to see why it is AV and not some form of proportional representation which is being propounded as the solution. In the electoral aftermath, the Guardian published the ERS’s own data which showed that, had the 2010 election been conducted under AV, the proportion of seats would have been remarkably similar (though perhaps crucially with a slight increase in Lib Dem support). Fundamentally, it would have still given the largest number of seats to the Conservatives within the context of a hung parliament, with negligible gains for any party outside the ‘big three’. If linking vote share to seat numbers in a fairer manner is truthfully the purpose of reform, then why not the Northern Irish-style Single Transferrable Vote, under which minority parties would see genuine gains?

Even if - as Nick Clegg professed earlier in the year – the biggest change that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (and the associated referendum) would institute would be to erode the concept of ‘safe seats’, there are ways of achieving this without obliterating a system which has delivered strong and stable government for generations. The government’s ideas surrounding recall mechanisms, or even the increased use of local referenda, would allow for transparency and legitimacy to permeate those seats in which incumbent ministers face little incentive to enact the will of their constituents. In looking to demonstrate the futility of AV in giving those elected to office a more legitimate mandate, the recent Australian general election serves as a stern warning. The Liberal/National Coalition led the contest on first preferences. They even led on second preferences. However it was Labor who came out of the negotiations as the party of government. The Miliband saga, in which a majority of MPs and Labour Party members backed the losing brother, only serves to accentuate the injustices inherent in the AV system.

Arising from this is that which I consider to be the Alternative Vote’s most innate flaw. It is certainly true to say that the system is no more representative or proportional than the current system and certainly not the most effective way of increasing accountability in safe seats. But above all else, AV fails to make an imperative distinction: the choice between the most liked and the least hated is not the same thing. Under FPTP, for all its flaws, the winning candidate will always command the highest share of the vote; namely, he or she will always be the candidate expressly preferred by the greatest number of people. It may not always be 50%, but it will always be genuine, first-degree approval. Conversely, the situation under AV (with the reallocation of preferences from eliminated candidates) permits candidates to be elected if they are at least vaguely approved of. As Matthew Elliott of the Telegraph argues, “candidates will win, not by being the most popular, but by being the least disliked”.

Amidst the interminable barrage of words from the ‘yes’ campaign in the coming months, it will be almost too easy to come to view the introduction of AV as the policy of a third party seeking to enact one of its key manifesto pledges. Yet when taking to the polling stations next May, remember that the policy was nowhere to be found in the Lib Dem manifesto. Remember that Clegg, in the run-up to the election, sought only genuine proportional representation, denouncing AV as “a miserable little compromise”. But above all else, remember that this is nothing more than the fallout from Gordon Brown’s death-bed conversion to electoral reform in a cynical attempt to woo the Lib Dems and thus prolong his tenure.

The Conservatives had to offer it; the Lib Dems had to take it. Neither wanted it.

And it is we who face being left with it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

George Osborne vs Gordon Brown

This is an excellent bit of geekiness, courtesy of one Nick Barber who emailed His Grace earlier with this incontrovertible evidence that Mr Barber probably leads a very lonely life indeed. He has pored through George Osborne's CSR speech today and compared it with Gordon Brown's budget speech of 1997.

Although quite a tedious exercise for Mr Barber (who, presumably, derived a degree of pleasure from the pursuit quite lost on His Grace), this fiscal verbiage highlights a few interesting facts.

Below illustrates the relative frequencies of words used by George Osborne:

And this illustrates those majored on by Gordon Brown in 1997:

Mr Barber observes:

* George Osborne shoehorned in the word “Billion” as often as possible – hammering home the size of the task. Gordon used this word much more cautiously.

* While Gordon Brown in 1997 talked of “Government Investment”, George Osborne has been characterising it as “Government Spending”.

* Gordon Brown used more optimistic language with “next”, “new”, “first”, “opportunity”, and “future” being some of his most popular phrases.

* Gordon talked a lot more about “tax”. In his 1997 he introduced his windfall tax, while at the same time talking of tax relief in other areas. Osborne has focussed on the other side of fiscal policy…”spending”.

* “Employment” was one of Gordon Brown’s most popular words…George Osborne mentioned it only once - in the phrase "Employment and Support Allowance".

Mr Barber informs us that he is still trying to spot trends, and asks that you might let him know if you spot any.

If, on the other hand, you have a life, His Grace exhorts you to pray for Mr Barber, who appears to need something a little more significant in his life.

Coalition cuts, compassion and HS2

It is ludicrous.

Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are being decimated, thereby severely limiting the sorts of military operations in which we can engage in the future. We are told that Britain will no longer go to war alone.

Apparently, the French and the Americans will be called upon to assist.

One wonders if presidents Obama and Sarkozy have been informed of this.

And how they will ever be persuaded to lay down French and American lives in support of the British national interest.

And today we hear about everything else that is to be pared, pruned, whittled, chopped, trimmed, hacked, carved and slashed.

No doubt an awful lot needs to be and can be. Danny Alexander let slip yesterday that 490,000 public sector jobs will be lost by 2014-15 as a result of the spending cuts.

No doubt they can be justifiably cut: it cannot be right that we have a million more state employees in 2010 than we had in 1997.

Some budgets are ring-fenced: Health and Overseas Development are (unfortunately) immutable.

But one budget is expanding without so much as a whimper of objection from the Government (or backbenchers or Parliament).

And that is the EU budget, about which Daniel Hannan MEP has spoken eloquently:

‘Britain’s net contribution to the EU is rising from £6.4 billion this year to £8.3 billion in 2011-12 and £10.3 billion in 2015. But, of course, the net figure is misleading: the EU may spend some of this money in the UK, but rarely does so on things we would have chosen for ourselves. Much of the moolah goes to a privileged class of EU contractors and consultants; some goes on straightforward propaganda. Our gross contribution is rising from £14 billion to £19 billion – enough to cut council tax by half, take fourpence off income tax or pay of our Olympic debt in a single year.’

And the Coalition is still intent on spending £30 billion on a grossly extravagant scheme called HS2.

This is a high-speed rail link between London and ‘the north’.

It will cut precisely 10 minutes off the journey from London to Birmingham.

That’s £3,000,000,000 per minute.

It will decimate the Chilterns, blight 20,000 homes, rape the green belt, annoy communities, irritate pressure groups and probably lead to the resignations of Cheryl Gillan and David Lidington.

Why is George Osborne taking Britain into uncharted social and economic territory with £83bn of spending cuts in university funding, public housing and welfare when there’s £30bn here he could cut in one fell swoop?

Is he really going to cut the budget for sport in schools?

Just a few years before the Olympics?

Is he really cutting funding for the elderly and vulnerable?

If it costs £14.4bn for the Government to fund adult social care, and councils face a 4 per cent annual increase in the bill just to stand still, how can it be morally justified to cut this by 25 per cent (the reduction demanded in the spending of unprotected departments) at a time when the population is ageing and it is estimated that 370,000 more elderly and disabled will need care and support over the next four years alone?

This care is critical. Cutting it will leave elderly and disabled people to struggle on their own.

That’s not very compassionate, is it?

Come on, Chancellor. Why not just scrap HS2 and give the £30bn to school sport, the elderly and the disabled?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reviewing the Defence Review

It appears that HMS Ark Royal is to be scrapped; the much-needed upgrade to Trident is to be postponed for a few years; and our shiny new £5billion aircraft carriers are to have no aircrafts...

Well, we're in dire economic straits and cuts are needed across the board.

But in the defence of the realm?

The Ark Royal is getting on a bit: a quarter of a century of loyal service is enough for any piece of hardware. Re-fits (she's had three) just cost too much - the last was £18million. So that's a saving straightaway.

The five-year delay in Trident will save a whopping £750million. It is perhaps a fair gamble that we will not need to launch a nuclear strike before the next general election. And it's also a fair bet that submarines patrolling the murky depths are unlikely to deter Al-Qaeda or the 'Real IRA' from their favourite pastime.

But His Grace is genuinely puzzled by the two new aircraft carriers which will now go to sea for a few years without any aircraft, and then be mothballed. What is the point of that? What would Ark Royal have been without her Sea Harrier fighters and Harrier GR7 strike jets? How can they possibly defend this waste of £5,000,000,000 of taxpayers' money?

Don't they realise how much that is? How many hospitals? Schools? Nurses? Teachers? What pension increase? What tax cuts?

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "It is not unprecedented not to have jets on our carriers."

Maybe not, but it is a bit barking.

Sir Walter Raleigh would never have put his Ark Royal to sea without the requisite ordnance on her gun decks. The Spanish Armada would hardly have been deterred if he had done so.

Apparently, the new National Security Strategy has identified the most pressing risks to UK security are not linked to invasion, but to cyber-terrorism.

In which case, let's pour the defence budget into malware detection and virus control.

Good grief. Have the Conservative Party learned nothing from Churchill? The enemy takes you by surprise: they plan and strategise; scheme and deceive. They sign treaties and give you their word. And then...

This particular cut to the RAF means that the UK will not have the ability to launch fighter jets at sea until about 2019.

This is a good time for Argentina to launch another offensive against the Falklands.

Whatever the 'budgetary hangover' bequeathed by Labour, whatever cutbacks and cuts are necessary, it is a dangerous game indeed to economise on national defence.

And it is crass to suggest that such cuts do not affect the UK's capabilities or somehow make us weaker.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bishop John Broadhurst on the ‘vicious’ and ‘fascist’ Church of England

When Pope Benedict XVI dreamed up his Anglicanorum Coetibus as a means of irrevocably changing the ecumenical landscape of Christendom by absorbing the Church of England, there was much triumphalist talk of the death of Anglicanism with apocalyptic prophesies of theological earthquakes and ecclesiastical tsunamis, all heralding the end of the Reformation.

God must have had other plans.

More tea, Vicar?

The Rt Rev John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, was always one of those who were likely to accept the Pope’s gracious invitation. He has opposed women’s ordination from the outset: it has become, for him, the touchstone of the Church of England’s catholicity. Finding no space within the Anglican via media for his orthodoxy and conscience, he has announced his resignation as a bishop and intends to join the Ordinariate when it is established. And he does so prophesying that a deluge of Anglican ‘traditionalists’ will be following him across the Tiber.

His Grace has a lot of sympathy for the Bishop's position, and sincerely wishes him well on his journey to the Ordinariate. It’s just a pity he couldn’t have gone with more grace.

In his ‘Keynote Address’ to the Forward in Faith group, he refers to the 'deceit', ‘evil’ and ‘lies' of the Church of England; he talks of ‘honourable men turned into liars and deceivers’. He says the Church is ‘myopic’ and ‘suffering from Alzheimer’s’. He decries the fact that the ‘poorly-trained’ House of Clergy is now ‘dominated by liberals and feminists’, and bemoans that the Synod now rules and not Parliament.

He appears to believe that there are fewer liberals and feminists in Parliament.

But he says he is ‘a disestablishment man’.

Which explains one or two things. So why does he want the will of Parliament to overrule the Synod?

He says: “Our enemies could not care if our churches closed. They would rather have them converted into nightclubs or mosques than that they would be inhabited by orthodox Anglicans’.

And by ‘our enemies’, he appears to mean those who support the ordination of women, or, rather, who have so hijacked the agenda that no via media amendment, as proposed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, is now popssible.

And so, he concludes, the Church of England is ‘an evil institution’.

My, how these Christians love one another.

By branding the General Synod of the Church of England ‘vicious’ and ‘fascist’, the Bishop shows himself to be surprisingly immature and ungracious.

If one were to apply such abusive adjectives to the Roman Catholic Church, the epithet ‘bigot’ would doubtless swiftly follow, whatever incontrovertible evidence may be adduced to corroborate the historical relationship between fascism and the Vatican throughout the ages.

If the Ordinariate is to be composed of such embittered former Anglicans, the Church of England is better off without them and Rome is welcome to them.

And St Peter's Church in Folkestone (in the Diocese of Canterbury) appears to be no better. Its congregation of 40 appears reluctant to wait and see if last July’s Synod vote can be overturned and legislation passed to form a legal structure to protect their rejection of female priests and bishops.

They are clearly geared up for a bloody fight and are quite overtly using the language of war.

There is no need at all for this.

It shames their witness, hinders the gospel and drags the name of Jesus through the mud.

Leave, by all means, if you wish. But you exchange women in the episcopate for the prohibition of clerical marriage; debate for diktat; via media for tablets of stone; organic evolution for semper eadem; and accountability for infallibility.

Anglicanism is a fundamentally different kind of Christianity from Romanism.

There really is nothing ‘fascist’ about a synodical mechanism whereby a two-thirds majority permits a development in doctrine: quite the reverse.

But Bishop John Broadhurst prefers to talk of the evil, lies and deceit of his brothers in Christ.

This is not about Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

The Bishop has made it a question of sheep and goats.

Rome is welcome to him.

His Grace sincerely wishes Bishop John well. But the leader of the noble pursuit Forward in Faith appears to be heading Backward in Bigotry. Perhaps he may soon discover the real meaning of authoritarianism, for if he believes the Church of England to be fascist, he is unlikely to discover liberty, democracy, accountability and transparency across the Tiber.
Newer›  ‹Older