Thursday, May 31, 2012

32 U-turns? The Government is divided, distracted and directionless

One might expect a marriage of convenience between two political parties to show occasional signs of tension. But the fissures are as evident within each party as they are between, with Lord Oakeshott (et al.) opposing Nick Clegg on health reforms and taxation; and senior Cabinet ministers like Iain Duncan Smith opposing George Osborne on the Budget.

Divisions can, of course, be healthy, for without vigorous differences of opinion and robust debate there would never be any development in policy. And the strongest democratic political parties are, of necessity, broad coalitions of the perpetually competing, irreconcilably pacified and mutually exclusive. But it is one thing to argue over philosophical points of policy; quite another to be seen to be blown this way and that by superficial psephology and political expedience.

The distractions are self-inflicted wounds rather than unforeseen ‘events’, ranging from forests to pasties; from Leveson to Lords reform; from VAT on churches to caps on charity; from the confidence-eroding drip-drip-drip of drinks, dinners and discussions with Coulson, Brooks and Murdoch, which is killing off SpAds and about to claim a ministerial scalp (subject to his Leveson performance today).

And the Government appears directionless in just about every policy area except education and welfare reform, where Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith have their eyes firmly fixed on the finishing line and are sweeping aside all opposition (including Sir Humphrey) in their wake. But these rocks of progress are being drowned in a sea of U-turns. Guido says 26; the Telegraph says 32. Whatever, it's about 25 too many.

There is nothing wrong with a U-turn per se: it is sensible to be flexible when the facts change. One may lose a little face, but stubborn belligerence is far more damaging than a little humble pie. Yet it must be observed that these coalition U-turns are not born of changed facts or unforeseen occurrences: they are a simple consequence of incompetence. In government, it is important to make policy decisions and then advocate, argue and persuade sceptics to your point of view. Of course, ‘events’ (such as war or economic turmoil) might force a re-evaluation of policy (such as defence spending or fiscal tightening). But there is nothing now known about forests, school milk, circus animals, secret courts, Cornish pasties, conservatories or caravans that was not known before. Of course, Government spokesmen tour the TV studios to tell us that the U-turns are a consequence of their listening and caring: in fact, they are evidence of quite the opposite. 

On Question Time recently, Nigel Farage observed that ‘we’re being run by a bunch of college kids’. The leaders of all parties long since graduated from their almae matres, and yet the widespread perception remains that of inexperience, ignorance, teenage exuberance and immaturity. As Britain's Apostolic Nuncio observed on one particularly contentious policy (yet to be U-turned): “ is quite clear that the Government has not thought through the implications of the changes they are proposing.” This is manifestly true of 26 or 32 policy proposals, so far. And David Cameron is not yet even half-way through his period in office.

The Lady, of course, wasn't for turning. But they don't seem to make them like that any more.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Michael Gove, Leveson, and the case for liberty

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Education Micharl Gove gave a spirited defence of freedom of speech. He was a Roundhead surrounded by Cavaliers; a Whig amongst Tories; a radical nonconformist in a sea of conservative catholics. His speech is not available (yet) on YouTube, but here is a quite marvellous exerpt of the transcript:

MR GOVE: ...I think the general case for free expression has to be restated in every generation, because we all collectively benefit from a feeling that we are and shouldn't be inhibited in stating our views on whatever platform is available to us on matters that engage us.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Mr Gove, I don't need to be told about the importance of free speech. I really don't. But I am concerned that the effect of what you say might be that you are fact taking the view that behaviour which everybody so far in this Inquiry has said is unacceptable, albeit not necessarily criminal, has to be accepted because of the right of free speech. Is that right?

MR GOVE: I don't think any of us can accept that behaviour necessarily, but there are a variety of sanctions. There is social ostracism, disapproval. There is the penalty that someone pays who chooses to use a commercial outlet to publish that which is inappropriate or distasteful. But by definition, free speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Don't you think that some of the evidence that I have heard from at least some of those who have been the subject of press attention can be characterised as rather more than "some people are going to be offended some of the time"?

MR GOVE: I'm sure that there are cases where journalists and others will behave in ways which are deplorable. The question remains, however: what is the most effective means of ensuring that individuals do not behave in a deplorable fashion? It's often the case that individuals reach for regulation in order to deal with failures of character or morality, and sometimes that regulation is right and appropriate, but some of us believe that before the case for regulation is made, the case for liberty needs to be asserted as well.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, I think I've spoken about liberty and I'm not going to repeat myself. I am concerned that over the last 50 years, there have been repeated concerns about the conduct of the press, repeated chances, opportunities, last chances, to quote a former secretary of state, then further incidents -- the death of Princess Diana -- then further problems -- and I've passed Calcutt 1 and Calcutt 2 -- and here we are, yet again, with a real public concern about how certain parts of the press are behaving. Now, do you dismiss that public concern as something which should be put entirely subject to the freedom which I absolutely endorse, the freedom of speech?

MR GOVE: No, I think there is undoubtedly real public concern and I think you are quite right to say that that public concern has existed over the last 50 years. I think that that public concern pre-dates the last 50 years. I would simply say that when we're thinking of what the means of addressing that concern should be, that we should think carefully about the effects of regulation in the same way as a legislator, when any particular proposal is put before them to deal with a particular evil, thinks: is this legislation necessary or proportionate? Is it the right remedy for the particular problem that's been identified? And I'm unashamedly on the side of those who say that we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation because the cry "Something must be done" often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, I am prepared absolutely to agree that I should think carefully about the effect of anything I suggest, and believe me, I am thinking very carefully. I equally accept that one can't knee-jerk react. The dangerous dogs legislation of which several people have spoken may be thought to be an example. I'm not saying it is, but it may be thought to be an example. But would you agree that in the context of the repeated concern, time after time -- and it may be more than 50 years, you may be absolutely right -- does suggest that where we are now is not entirely fit for purpose?

MR GOVE: I think the situation now is certainly not ideal and there are abuses. This Inquiry has heard about them. They have caused widespread public disquiet. My instinct is, if we look over time at how we have reacted to other abuses and errors and crimes that have been identified, there has been a tendency -- it hasn't applied in every case but there has been a tendency to meet that particular crisis or scandal or horror with an inquiry. That inquiry has come up with recommendations, some of those recommendations have been wise and thoughtful, others perhaps less so. But what has subsequently happened is that the regulation or the intervention which has flowed from that inquiry has then been gold-plated and applied in such a way as, in the terms that I used in my speech to the press gallery, to be a cure worse than the disease, and in my speech to the press gallery, I mentioned the way in which the vetting and barring scheme had grown and the way in which the Every Child Matters agenda had grown, and the way in which the Food Standards Agency had grown to interpret its brief in a particular way. Now, those were three examples where I believe -- and it's perfectly open to others to disagree with me passionately, obviously -- but where I believe that an unfortunate tendency arose, which is a belief that we could, you know, mitigate against the evil which is inherent in human nature by setting up bureaucratic bodies or enacting regulation.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Right. Well, in the same way that you recognise others are entitled to their view, you are absolutely entitled to your view and I welcome it, and I was keen to make sure that it was appropriately discussed by the Inquiry. I would further agree that bureaucracy is extremely unsatisfactory and that laws don't necessarily solve problems. But if some sort of regime is to be in place -- and you may say that we don't even need a PCC, that it should just be a free-for-all. But if you don't take that view -- and I'll be interested to know if you do -- then there has to be some structure -- not corrected to content, I entirely agree -- that permits those who wish to complain that their liberties are being interfered with, that their rights have been infringed in order they can 62 obtain redress, hasn't there?

MR GOVE: Yes, I do believe -- the first thing that I would say is that there is a case for reform of the law itself and certainly for reform of the law of defamation. I think it's also the case that there's an evolving jurisprudence as a result of the ECHR as we balance the right to a private life and the right to free expression, and I follow that debate with interest. And it's certainly the case that there may be room for improved regulation. All I would say, and sought to say, is that the experience that we have of regulation over certainly the last three decades is that sometimes good intentions can result in the curtailment of individual freedom and they can also result in an unrealistic expectation of how individuals behave.

MR JAY: So are we clear then, Mr Gove, from your speech, that you were throwing up ideas for consideration and making it clear that in your view there was a burden of proof to be discharged before freedom of speech was impeded or restricted by regulation, rather than setting up a final position which effectively said, "Freedom of speech is preeminent, touch it at your peril"; is that it?

MR GOVE: Yes. I have a strong -- some might call it a bias, a prejudice, a predisposition to favour free expression, but by definition, one of the reasons that I favour free expression is that I believe that it is through public debate, the clash of ideas, that we can arrive at a better form of governing ourselves, a better method of helping the next generation and it's entirely possible -- it's happening often enough -- that I will be proven wrong in open debate and it may well be that the fears that I gave expression to in this speech prove to be phantoms.

MR JAY: Because, of course, under the ECHR, as you mentioned, if you're outside the realm of Section 12 and interim injunctions as you well know, Article 8 and Article 10 have the same status, don't they?

MR GOVE: Again, you're more of an expert than I am. I have followed the debate but I cannot follow it with the degree of authority that you can, Mr Jay. But it is the case, yes. I have seen people wrestling with the equal weight given, as I understand it should be, to both articles.

MR JAY: One might be forgiven, reading these words, that -- not that I mean this abusively; this is straight out of JS Mill -- that Article 10 is being given a predominant status, particularly the last paragraph of your speech. Would you agree with that observation?

MR GOVE: Yes, I would agree with it except in one regard. I don't think it's at all abusive to be compared to JS Mill.

MR JAY: No, I wasn't intending to convey that. I reassure you of that. I think that's probably as far as we can take this, Mr Gove. You're expressing a cautionary view and that's where we are, is it?

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I think we can go a little bit further. Let's just test a couple of those ideas. One of the possible ways forward that I have been considering is to reflect upon the very real cost of litigation and to reflect also upon the inability for those who are not of substantial means to obtain redress for sometimes destructive invasions of privacy or libels. That has led me to consider and to suggest -- and I've not reached any conclusions as yet -- that some sort of mechanism could be devised which allows for small claims to be resolved outside the court and to enable people to obtain swift redress. Of course, that would require consensual submission but it would enable both the individuals and the press to save a great deal of money, and it might also encourage responsible titles to join a new regulatory regime that enforces the code. Would you consider such an appropriate desirable or not?

MR GOVE: At first blush, it seems fair, but the devil would be in the detail.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I recognise that issue, but I'm not dealing with the detail at this stage. If one did visualise such a system, which also provided redress by way of apology or publication of a correction, as the PCC presently does, would you agree that it would be sensible, if not imperative -- but let's say sensible -- that all responsible titles signed up to it?

MR GOVE: I think there is a lot of merit in newspaper titles that consider themselves to be responsible, holding themselves publicly to a high standard. Absolutely. The only additional note that I would enter is that as the nature of the modern media changes, the definition of what is a title inevitably changes with it.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: No, no, I agree with all that and I've had the debate of everything from the conversation in the pub, through Twitter, through blogs. I'm on top of that additional complication. No, that's not the true. I'm aware of the additional complication. But assuming that such a system could be devised, where the detail did not create the concerns that you are obviously wary of, as you identify, and assume also that one could articulate a respect for the freedom of expression which is your fundamental starting point, in the same way that, as I explained, section 3(1) of the Constitutional Reform Act recognises the importance of the independence of the judiciary -- it's a statutory recognition of that fact, so one could equally have a statutory regulation -- wouldn't one need, in order to provide the form of small claim redress court, some statutory framework not to touch what's happening, not to touch content, not to touch the decision-making but simply to permit enforceable decisions to be made in this not formal -- ie not court system -- set-up?

MR GOVE: I can see the merits in the case that you're putting forward. I'd have to give it appropriate consideration. A couple of thoughts occur to me. The first is that part of the case that you make is a case for reform of the law of defamation in order to make it easier for people to have access to the redress that that can give. There's another concern as well. There must inevitably be a grey area where you or I might consider that something was inaccurate or indeed offensive or intrusive, but the newspaper, journalist or blog concerned would disagree, and I'm not sure how such a dispute would be easily resolved.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, we have that today, don't we, with the Press Complaints Commission?

MR GOVE: Indeed.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: And they resolve it, and it's resolved by a body that is, at least in part, entirely independent of the press and, speaking for myself, I don't immediately see a problem. There will always be issues and provided one is being careful to respect the importance of freedom of expression, but equally to weigh the importance of privacy rights or other Article 8 rights, then that balance has to be made by somebody. Somebody has to make a decision. If you come to court, it's a judge. It could equally be, in an arbitral system, a combination of those who represent the industry, those who are independent, bringing a different judgment, a public judgment, to bear on where the line is, bearing always in mind the importance of free expression. But balancing. That's what we do all the time.

MR GOVE: It may be the case that some titles would willingly join 0 in such an arrangement, and that they would consider it to be a badge of pride that they were willing to abide by such an arrangement, but it may be the case that there are other titles or writers or websites that may say, in a way: "We regard that as a cartel arrangement and we wish to be buccaneers, outside it." Would such an arrangement apply to a journal like Private Eye, for example?

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, Private Eye would have to decide. What I might suggest to them, or to such a buccaneer -- I don't know whether Mr Hislop would call himself a buccaneer; perhaps he would -- that if you deprive the public of the opportunity cheaply of obtaining redress and you say, "No, if you want to obtain redress, you're going to have to start very expensive proceedings, and if you can't afford it, that's just too bad", then it may be the court could then say, "Well, fair enough, if the paper is right, if we agree with the paper on this particular occasion, fine, then they succeed, but if we don't agree with the paper, then there is a risk that, for example, exemplary damages might flow because the paper could have had this resolved very easily in a different system", and then Private Eye would have to decide: do we want to be inside the system or outside the system?

MR GOVE: Absolutely, but Private Eye might decide that this system is a less effective and speedy way of giving redress to those who legitimately have concerns about what we've written than our editor, exercising his own judgment, and in that sense we're saying that a particular method of organising one part of an industry is preferable to a different method, within that broader industry, of co-ordinating their affairs. Now, it may be that we decide that that is appropriate, but it's undeniably the case that people who take a libertarian view would be sceptical.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Yeah, well, they may be sceptical and that libertarian view, they must accept, if they're wrong and so they've created additional cost, they'll have to pay for it.

MR GOVE: It's arguable. What I infer from what you've said -- and I'd have to give it proper consideration -- is that the law would punish those who chose not to enter a voluntary method of regulation.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I don't use the word "punish" actually quite in that way. What I say is that if there is a sensible, approved system cheaply for resolving complaints, those who choose not to take advantage of the system must expect to be visited with the additional cost that is as a consequence created.

MR GOVE: All I would say is that -- sensible to whom? Approved by whom? If the court says that you must be part of this voluntary association, otherwise you pay a particular price, then the law is making the judgment between one method of remedying problems, which is -- by its definition, it has to be a voluntary arrangement if it's going to work -- and other methods. As I say, I think it's an interesting idea which clearly deserves careful consideration, because I can see the merits behind the case, but I can also see some dangers, and those dangers would be the creation of a club of which you have to be a member if you are not to face more serious punishment in the courts if you happen to make a mistake.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Or more serious cost, certainly.

MR GOVE: Quite. Costs as a punishment.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: The whole point is to avoid everybody -- I mean, it's not actually my mission in life to deprive lawyers of money, but it's not a bad idea in this field, where a lot of people actually can't afford to take on the press.

MR GOVE: Well, I think you're absolutely right, and the prior point that I made is that we do need to look at the law of defamation. There are at least two problems with the existing law of defamation. One is that it costs a great deal for the average citizen to bring action. The other is that the wealthy can use the courts to silence dissident voices, and we have had situations where citizens from other jurisdictions have used the English courts in order to silence people who have been drawing attention to wickedness, tyranny, corporate malpractice and all the rest of it. So I absolutely accept that the law of libel is inadequate at the moment, both in terms of redress and in defending free expression. The proposition that you put forward is undoubtedly a thoughtful -- it's not for me to say it's thoughtful; it's manifestly a thoughtful and significant way of addressing the problem, but I'm not certain that the case is made.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: Well, we'll have to see. Everybody will approach these issues from a slightly different perspective and reach their own conclusions as to the way forward, but I do not hear you suggesting that there should be a complete free-for-all.

MR GOVE: No. I think that it's important that we ask ourselves: what are the means, whether it's changing the existing law or looking to other remedies, for dealing with this issue? My point is not to argue for a specific end-slate, to say that there should be a free-for-all or that there should be this method of regulation. Quite properly, this Inquiry will come forward with recommendations, having taken time to listen to the evidence from many witnesses. My intervention in this debate was a reflection of my view that when faced with the case for regulation, the case for liberty sometimes needs to be asserted as well in order to ensure that the public debate around the Inquiry's deliberations is as plural as possible.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: That's precisely why I was keen that you have the opportunity to develop your thoughts in the same forum as everybody else.

MR GOVE: And I'm very grateful to you for that invitation.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: It's obviously not straightforward. If there was an easy answer to any of it, then there would be an easy answer. Actually, the solution that I'm talking about might also help in relation to the attempts by the very wealthy to muzzle, but we'll have to see. Mr Gove, thank you very much.

MR GOVE: Not at all. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury ‘disappointed’ by the direction the UK has taken

Well, he can’t be as disappointed as many are by the direction the Church of England has taken over the past decade. In an interview to be screened on Newsnight tonight, in which ++Rowan talks about the lessons modern Britain can learn from the works of Charles Dickens, he says he is concerned about the gap between rich and poor and the lack of cultural cohesion in the UK.

O, do change the record. There’s been ‘a gap’ between the rich and the poor ever since Cain smote Abel. It’s a basic socio-economic fact of human existence, long known to priests, kings, prophets and to God Himself. Tragic as their plight may be, disturbing as it undoubtedly is, the poor will always be with us, the Lord explained. Only a statist drive for absolute equality and total wealth redistribution can ever close ‘the gap’. That is perhaps ++Rowan’s Christian vision. Some might call it Communism.

And we all know the fundamental cause of the lack of cultural cohesion, don’t we? Clue: it has nothing to do with the influx of Jutes, Picts, Celts, Romans, Saxons, Vikings or Normans.

There is, as ever, much in the interview which provokes thought, for that is the nature of the man. “There have been moments in the last decade and more when, perhaps, we might have been able to take a different line,” he says. And that is undoubtedly true. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

However, His Grace would like to challenge his successor to the Chair of St Augustine on two issues. ++Rowan says we could learn from Dickens that the education system should teach people to use their imagination and emotions, rather than turning education into a ‘sausage machine’ or ‘letting the box-ticking mentality take over’. “Without imagination,” he explains, “you won't get people to understand that they're part of something bigger than themselves. The more you go down a narrowly utilitarian model of education, where you're just thinking about outcomes and ultimate profits and educating people for skills in the economy, the more you think like that, the less you actually equip people to belong, to work together, to have solidarity and vision for themselves as a group.”

Isn’t that precisely what Michael Gove is doing? The more schools are liberated from centralised bureaucracy, state-imposed curricula, and the narrowness which comes of ministerial meddling in the inculcation of values, the more likely you are to see academies and free schools which eschew the ‘utilitarian model’. The RSA, for example, has developed a school curriculum called ‘Opening Minds’, which ‘promotes innovative and integrated ways of thinking about education and the curriculum’. They explain: ‘A competence based approach enables students not just to acquire subject knowledge but to understand, use and apply it in the within the context of their wider learning and life. It also offers students a more holistic and coherent way of learning which allows them to make connections and apply knowledge across different subject areas.’

How is this ‘just thinking about outcomes and ultimate profits and educating people for skills in the economy’? It is fundamentally concerned with solidarity and vision; with equipping children to belong, to work together. This is possible only because of the Government’s education policy, so it isn’t at all clear what ++Rowan is talking about.

And then we get: ‘Dr Williams went on to say that it was too early to be cynical about Prime Minister David Cameron's idea of the Big Society.’ He says: “It contains within itself the hugely important sense of investing your value, your worth in the value, worth, happiness of your immediate community - so it's about building community, about getting beyond the bounds of selfishness and about taking local responsibilities.”

Which is jolly interesting, because exactly a year ago he said the Big Society was a ‘painfully stale’ phrase; a project viewed with ‘widespread suspicion’ and as an ‘opportunistic cover for spending cuts’.

If it is too early to be cynical about it now, an opportunistic piece to please the readership of the New Statesman back in June 2011 must have been obscenely premature.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The al-Houla massacre

"flagrant violation of international law"
-Kofi Annan
"indiscriminate and unforgivable"
-UN mission head Maj-Gen Robert Mood
"appalling crime"
-UK Foreign Secretary William Hague
"an act of pure, naked savagery"
-UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt
a massacre
-French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
"horrific crime"
-Arab League head Nabil Elaraby
"the Government of Syria (must) immediately cease the use of heavy weapons in population centres"
-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
"The United States will work with the international community to intensify our pressure on Assad and his cronies, whose rule by murder and fear must come to an end"
-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
We need to establish whether it was the Syrian authorities
-Russian deputy ambassador to the UN Igor Pankin
When 90 people, including at least 32 children under the age of 10, are summarily slaughtered, it is important to establish the facts of precisely what happened. When the weeping and wailing of mourners cry for vengeance over the bloodied bodies of children, there is a justifiable demand for action, by someone, somewhere. When you see the limp limbs of precious little ones with their jaws shot off and skulls split open, there is numbness, sorrow, disbelief, anger.

Most of the world is united in blaming the Syrian regime for this massacre. Russia alone appears to be casting doubt on the involvement of Assad’s government troops. And President Bashar al-Assad himself blames the carnage on a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, observing that the escalation came ahead of an imminent meeting of the UN Security Council and the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League Kofi Annan to Syria.

The reality, of course, is that none of us can actually know who is responsible for this appalling crime, for we were not there. This is, to all intents and purposes, a civil war raging between competing religious factions: a Sunni Muslim-led insurgency against Syria’s ruling elite who belong to the minority Alawite sect (a branch of Shi’a Islam). Each side levels allegations of terrorism against the other: each accuses the other of atrocities and crimes against humanity. But still the government shelling continues. And still Assad reigns.

It is difficult to know what William Hague means when he says he wants a ‘strong response’ to the killings. The words themselves are weak: what ‘response’ can be made to the slaughter of babies and children? If the Foreign Secretary is waiting for unanimity at the UN Security Council, he can dream on. If he is expecting some authoritative condemnation from the ‘Islamic world’, he fails to grasp the reality that the Sunni Muslim Gulf powers want to see weapons provided to an insurgency led by their oppressed brothers and sisters against the heretical Alawites.

Bombs and bullets do not kill religious sects and cults. On the contrary, they make them more fortified and determined to achieve their religio-political ends. We stand and watch, appalled and horrified.

And eat our toast and drink our tea, wondering how Tony Blair will perform at Leveson, and desperately hoping that Baroness Warsi will face a police investigation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

ASA and Lord Smith's (shifting) declarations of interests

His Grace's ASA saga is covered on the top of p3 of this week's Church of England Newspaper. They refer to his 'withering response to the ASA’s demand for a reply' (which they 'later modified to a request for a voluntary response'). In light of this, His Grace's demand remains that the Lord Smith of Finsbury should resign either as Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority or as Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He cannot do both - not if the ASA seeks to harass and bully those who carry perfectly innocuous advertisements promoting the traditional view of marriage, and entertain that such advertisements might be 'offensive and homophobic'.

The ASA have kindly acknowledged His Grace lengthy contribution to their investigation, which they summarised thus:
‘Archbishop Cranmer’ did not believe that ad (c) would be seen as offensive or homophobic. He pointed out that it merely featured pictures of photos of couples on their wedding day and a quotation from the marriage liturgy, and did not believe any rational or reasonable person would find this offensive. 
And he has been given until 10.00am on 30th May to send them any comments on the factual accuracy of this.

Meantime, His Grace made a formal request to the House of Lords to determine why Lord Smith should need to declare some of his voluntary unremunerated positions in the Register of Members' Interests, but not others. As at 21st May, he listed his interests as follows: 
Category 1: Directorships
Non-executive Board Member, PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd: Music Performers' Rights Collecting Society) Non-executive Director, Zamyn (international cultural organisation; not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee)
Category 2: Remunerated employment, office, profession etc.
Chairman, Environment Agency Chairman, Advertising Standards Authority Joint author of book "Suicide of the West"; royalties
Category 5: Land and property
Residential property in North-west Scotland, owned jointly with partner
Category 7: Overseas visits
Visit to Los Angeles, 5-11 January 2012; costs of travel and accommodation met by the Getty Leadership Institute
Category 10: Non-financial interests (c)
Chairman, Wordsworth Trust Chairman, Donmar Warehouse Theatre Member, Advisory Council, London Symphony Orchestra Member, Strategy Board, Clore Leadership Programme
Category 10: Non-financial interests (d)
Vice President, Christian Socialist Movement
We are concerned only with his Category 10 (unremunerated) declarations, which may be broken down as follows:
Category 10a Un-renumerated directorship or employment
Category 10b Membership of public bodies, (hospital trusts, governing bodies etc)
Category 10c Trusteeships of galleries, museums and so forth
Category 10d Officer or trustee of a pressure group or union
Category 10e Officer or trustee of a voluntary or not-for-profit organisation
It is difficult to understand why Lord Smith has not declared his vice-presidency of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality under Category 10d. On enquiring, the (very helpful) Registrar of Lords' Interests, Mr Brendan Keith, explained that Lord Smith was an honorary officer of Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and added: 'There is no requirement in the House of Lords to register honorary non-remunerated posts, although in certain circumstances it may be necessary to declare them in e.g. business in the Chamber or in select committee.'

Which is rather interesting when one considers that Lord Smith did think it necessary to declare his vice-presidency of the Christian Socialist Movement, which is also an honorary non-remunerated post. Why should he feel the need to disclose his Christian activism but not his homosexual activism?

It is even more interesting when one considers that he thought it wholly necessary to disclose both to the ASA, which are listed as 'significant non-pecuniary interests'. And even more interesting than that is the fact that Lord Smith's ASA Register of Interests was updated as recently as 12th May, while those of every other ASA officer are dated March 2012. We await (with bated breath) confirmation of what Lord Smith chose to declare to the ASA on that date...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dr Shakil Afridi – a monstrous injustice

The doctor who assisted the CIA in the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been convicted by a Khyber court in Pakistan of conspiring against the state, and duly sentenced to 33 years in prison (along with a fine of $3,500 or an additional 3½ years in prison if he doesn’t pay). Under 19th-century British colonial judicial provisions, Dr Afridi was not permitted legal representation. And neither was he permitted to present material evidence, nor to cross-examine witnesses against him. The verdict was handed down by a government official after consultation with a council of tribal elders.

This is a monstrous injustice.

Dr Afridi ran a bogus vaccination program for the CIA in order to locate and verify the bin Laden’s whereabouts, which led directly to the successful completion of the mission in Abbottabad last May when US Navy Seals shot dead the world’s most wanted man.

Pakistan's treatment of Dr Afridi is nothing to do with justice: it is political posturing against the United States and other Western nations. In Washington, Dr Afridi is a hero; in Islamabad, he is a traitor who collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation. Apparently, he is permitted to appeal the verdict within two months, but if the Court of Star Chamber hears the case, the verdict is foregone.

Rather weakly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded Dr Afridi’s release. The EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, has been mute. But that’s a blessing.

Pakistan receives about £13bn in aid every year. According to Imran Khan, it fuels corruption, and should cease. The UK has recently doubled its contribution to £350 million a year until 2015, making Pakistan the largest recipient of UK aid. The DfID persuade themselves this is spent on ‘education; women and children’s health; creating jobs and supporting economic growth; and strengthening democracy’. We all know it’s really spent on nuclear missiles.

So, instead of issuing vacuous memoranda, the US and UK should suspend their aid programmes with immediate effect. Pakistani authorities must appreciate that Dr Shakil Afridi was a true patriot who helped rid his country of an Al-Qaeda terrorist, a notorious Islamist jihadist and a mass murderer. Unless, of course, Imran Khan is right, and the whole system is so irredeemably corrupt that Pakistan would rather revert to the politics of the 7th century than enter the enlightenment of the 21st. Perhaps 19th-century colonial justice is a happy via media.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Germans are not as stupid or as euro-fanatical as their leaders

And in this attribute, the Germans are just like the British. Against their will, at the behest of conspiratorial élite powers, they abandoned their fortified Deutschmark to enter a currency union with Europe’s basket cases. And ever since, the hardworking German taxpayer has been subsidising and supporting the idle, indolent and delinquent. And they will do so for decades if not centuries ahead, with absolutely no choice in the matter.

Here follows a letter from Dr Hans Penner to German MPs. Thanks to Rodney Atkinson for the translation, who writes: ‘Dr Penner is not an economics expert, but he clearly understands far more than any German politician - and certainly more than the purblind Chancellor Merkel who is driving Europe to destruction.’

Dipl.-Chem. Dr. rer. nat. Hans Penner, Linkenheim-Hochstetten 22.05.2012

To the Members of the German Parliament

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

The recent election in North Rhein-Westphalia must be seen as a referendum on Mrs Merkel's European policy. Only 15% of those entitled to vote voted for that policy.

1. The calls by Mrs Merkel for savings and cuts are a deceit. Under her Government Germany's National Debt rose and to support other corrupt states it is to rise by a further 190 billion Euros.

2. Mrs Merkel wants to transfer German budget sovereignty to a non controllable foreign fiscal authority. That is against the German Constitution.

3. Mrs Merkel wants to abolish the Federal Republic of Germany and integrate it into a centrally controlled European State which will be characterised by a Fiscal dictatorship. This is also against the German Constitution.

4. Mrs Merkel seeks to burden Germany with the debts of corrupt European States. This is against the terms of the Maastricht Treaty.

5. Mrs Merkel's contention that taking on such a liability would further economic growth is an illusion.

6. Mrs Merkel is splitting Europe into a Euro Europe and a non Euro Europe she is thereby driving a wedge between Germany and Great Britain.

7. Mrs Merkel's policies have caused political chaos in Greece and extreme anti-Germanism.

8. Greek elections have totally rejected Mrs Merkel's European policies.

9. French elections have totally rejected Mrs Merkel's European policies.

10. Mrs Merkel shows despotic tendencies and ignores the warnings of experts and economists.

Christian Democrat politicians have been misled by Mrs Merkel and have no idea what the anti-democratic and authoritarian ESM (European Stability Mechanism) actually means. Let us hope there are sufficient MPs who will understand and vote against the ESM.

Yours etc

Hans Penner

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

ASA concedes Lord Smith's conflict of interest

Thanks to John Bingham, the brilliant Social Affairs Editor of The Telegraph, the demands of this blog for the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority to step down over his manifest conflict of interest have entered the mainstream media.

The issue really is quite straightforward, and His Grace is at a loss to understand why others cannot see it. Lord Smith is actively campaigning for same-sex marriage while chairing an organisation that is investigating a perfectly reasonable and inoffensive advertisement promoting traditional marriage for alleged 'homophobia'. The complaint is malicious and vexatious and ought to have been dismissed; the investigation is harassing, bullying and intimidating. Lord Smith's position is untenable.

Yesterday His Grace received a number of blog comments, emails and tweets from people insisting that there was absolutely no problem for the Chairman of the ASA to have 'come out' for same-sex marriage while the organisation he leads is simultaneously harassing and bullying those who carried a perfectly innocuous advertisement promoting the traditional view of marriage. According to Dr David Webster, former Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the ASA, the Chairman is 'operationally distinct'.

Yet the intrepid Mr Bingham has established that the ASA itself believes that their Chairman has a conflict of interest in this matter. A spokesman said: “Our chairman ordinarily does not vote, we have got 13 members of the council and the decisions are taken by them and our chairman does not ordinarily vote unless it is split. There is a conflict of interest here so even should the decision have been split he would not vote.”

Well, thank God for that.

So much for Dr Webster's insistence that the ASA Chairman is 'operationally distinct': it is apparent that he chairs all Council meetings (how many limited companies have a council?) which take the decision to investigate potential breaches of the advertising code. This being the case, it is simply not sufficient for Lord Smith to lose his vote. He would have been (and will be) present at all discussions and party to all decisions: it is absurd to assert that his status and influence as Chairman have no bearing at all upon the decisions of other ASA Council members. It is very difficult indeed to support an advertisement in favour of heterosexual marriage in the presence of someone who believes it to be 'homophobic'.

The ASA persists with the assurance of 'robust' processes which 'ensure that the decision on the complaint would be fair and impartial'. But this misses the point. The mere decision to investigate the Coalition for Marriage advertisement for being 'offensive and homophobic' is so patently absurd that the ASA's profession of fairness and impartiality is already fatally undermined. The investigation is harassing, bullying and intimidating: the process they inflict is itself a punishment. They may very well eventually determine that the C4M ad is neither offensive nor homophobic, but this does not negate the fact that the ASA Council, under the chairmanship of Chris Smith, determined to extend their remit to incorporate the promotion of political causes and ideas.

If the Chairman of the ASA had been Lord Carey, who happens to be 'out' in his support for the Coalition for Marriage, and under his chairmanship the ASA had decided to investigate an 'equal marriage' advertisement for being 'offensive' and 'Christianophobic', the ASA would have been besieged by Twitter hordes of militants gays who would have hounded him out of office. The apparent conflict of interest would have been picked up by the BBC and the rest of the liberal-left media, and his position would have become untenable.

If the Chairman of the ASA had been Nadine Dorries MP, who happens to be 'out' in her support for cutting the upper limit on abortion, and under her chairmanship the ASA had decided to investigate a pro-abortion advertisement for being 'offensive' or 'anti-life', the ASA would have been besieged by hordes of 'pro-choice' activists and militant feminists who would have hounded her out of office. The apparent conflict of interest would have been picked up by the BBC and the rest of the liberal-left media, and her position would have become untenable.

If the Chairman of the ASA had been the Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe, who happens to be an 'out' convert to Roman Catholicism who opposed the abolition of the common law criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, and under her chairmanship the ASA had decided to investigate the 'There's probably is no God...' campaign for 'offence' and 'blasphemy', the ASA would have been besieged by Dr Richard Dawkins (and militant disciples) who would have hounded her out of office. The apparent conflict of interest would have been picked up by the BBC and the rest of the liberal-left media, and her position would have become untenable.

And, as His Grace said yesterday, if Lord Smith were a director or shareholder of Sainsbury's, and under his chairmanship the ASA decided to investigate Tesco over 10 vexatious complaints objecting to the promotion of their own brand of baked beans, the impartiality, reliability and validity of the investigation would be undermined from the outset, and Tesco directors, shareholders and shoppers would be justifiably outraged that a man with a vested commercial interest had indulged the complainants.

Lord Smith is simultaneously Chairman of the ASA and Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. A man cannot serve two masters. The ASA is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but it does include an FoI page on its website 'because it carries out an important public functions which include the regulation of television and newspaper advertising'. A request has been made to determine whether or not Chris Smith has declared his vice-presidency of a campaign which looks for homophobia under every cornflake, because apparently he has the power to determine how those cornflakes are packaged and promoted and so to influence which brand is most likely to make it to your breakfast table. We are what we eat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

ASA's Chris Smith comes Out4Marriage

With impeccable ('interesting') timing, Lord Smith of Finsbury has come out in favour of the campaign for same-sex marriage.

For all the reasons previously observed, Lord Smith must now resign his position as Chairman of the ASA, who have aggressively and deceptively made demands of His Grace (and others) in relation to a Coalition for Marriage advertisement which merely sought to uphold the traditional view of marriage and English law as it presently stands. Lord Smith now declares that he desires to support the campaign to change that law, and he is apparently using the ASA to achieve his ends.

It is simply not possible for the ASA to assert impartiality and objectivity in adjudicating on matters relating to the promotion of traditional marriage. Lord Smith is simultaneously Chairman of the ASA and Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Now that he has 'come out' in support of the agenda of the 10 complainants who reported His Grace for disseminating 'homophobia', there can be no expectation that justice can be seen to be done.

ASA v. Coalition for Marriage Ltd (2012)

His Grace has today responded to the ASA in their investigation of the Coalition for Marriage advertisement.

Dear Investigations Executive,

Further to His Grace’s previous email of 14th May, to which you responded answering none of his questions because, you aver, they ‘go beyond (his) involvement in this case’. And further to his subsequent email of the 16th, to which you responded with an apology for the ‘confusion or upset’ you have caused, and an admission of error for failing to mention that you had no authority to make any demands upon him, he is pleased to respond to your investigation thus:

It appears that the Advertising Standards Authority is no longer solely concerned with sales promotional advertising. Further, you now manifestly push a standard which ranges from mediocre to middling, and you fail to realise that you are an ordinary limited company with absolutely no legal authority whatsoever. In light of this, you ought to initiate a formal investigation into your own harassing misrepresentation of your powers and misleading trade description.

By choosing to investigate a promotional campaign which sought merely to uphold the traditional view of marriage, it is clear that you have expanded your remit to incorporate the promotion of political causes and ideas, which the CAP Code states specifically is excluded from the scope of your competence, except where they are ‘direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising’. That is manifestly not the case with the Coalition for Marriage advertisement: the only direct solicitation was for people’s signatures upon a petition. That the campaign is political is in no doubt, because HM Government have decreed it so by their decision to investigate those schools which advocate support of the marriage petition, which a minister has referred to as ‘political campaigning’. Your decision to investigate the complaint with threats and menaces, contra your own online remit, constitutes bullying, harassment and intimidation, which amounts to censorship of the cause for the retention of traditional marriage and the idea that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.

By sending out ‘complaint’ papers which demand responses with such phrases as ‘We require you to respond...’ and ‘we will need to see robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance’; and by doing so with demands to answer your questions by a certain deadline with threats of punitive action for non-compliance, you fraudulently convey an excess of power and claim an authority which you do not, in law, possess. You impress upon the recipient that you are the superior moral agent, and that submission and obeisance are the only appropriate response. Authority which is exerted without right is an illegitimate use of power; illegitimate authority is tyranny; and tyranny leads to injustice, which can have no authority at all. By abusing your self-certified power and self-authenticated authority for the perpetuation of an image of your self-integrity, you deny all authority. You ought to rename yourselves the Political Substandard Tyranny.

Your treatment of His Grace has been mendacious, oppressive, and partisan. This has only become apparent as he refused to comply with your demand to keep all correspondence confidential. How many others have been intimidated, harassed and bullied into submission by you as they suffered in silence, fearful of the consequences of disclosure?

Your treatment is mendacious because you now know that your one identified complainant, the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, did not register any complaint at all. Yet you chose to validate that alleged complaint by disseminating it without exercising due diligence, and so your lie is deliberate. Your claims of other unnamed complainants are thus tainted. Your recent claim (published on 15th May upon your website) that you were seeking His Grace’s voluntary assistance and ‘have made clear’ that he is ‘not compelled to respond’ is not supported by the facts. Not least because this was only ‘made clear’ in your second email to him (which was received at 5.40pm on 15th May). Indeed, it appears that your second email was sent solely to permit you to be able to claim publicly on your website on the same day that you ‘have made clear’ that there is no compulsion to respond. This is not merely mendacious; it is manipulative, which is further harassment.

Your treatment of His Grace is oppressive because you appear to claim the authority of the British Government, the Office of Fair Trading and of the Courts to demand his personal reasons for supporting the English laws regulating marriage. You selected him alone from the blogosphere for this intimidation when larger and more powerful entities had also promoted the same advertisement. And your treatment of His Grace is partisan because, through your decision to escalate to ‘formal investigation’ sundry vexatious and invented complaints, and by your unlawful threats made with reference to the Courts and other available sanctions, you have sought to punish his support of a cause, which has become political, and his commitment to an idea, which is moral. Your Agency is charged with ensuring truth in advertising, not with advancing a political agenda by suppressing the free debate that underpins our democracy.

That your Chairman is also Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality is not without significance in this case. If Lord Smith of Finsbury were (permitted to be) on the Board of Sainsbury’s, and the ASA had taken the decision to investigate Tesco over scurrilous allegations of some ‘offence’ caused to 10 anonymous complainants, one of whom was the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Friends of Sainsbury’s, the impartiality, reliability and validity of your investigation would be fatally undermined, and justice could not result. Since you are determined to enter into the political arena and make judgments about advertising which seeks simply to uphold the tradition view that marriage is heterosexual, Lord Smith must either resign as Chairman of the ASA or as Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. There can be no actual and must be no apparent conflict of interests in his functioning, because it is increasingly evident that certain people desire to prevent others from voicing reasonable moral and moderate political opinions and are prepared to use state and quasi-state agents to achieve their illiberal ends.

Finally, to your specific questions relating to the Coalition for Marriage advertisement which is deemed by 10 people, including (you insist) The Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, is ‘offensive’ and ‘homophobic’. You attached four screenshots taken from His Grace’s blog, apparently from his post of 12th April. You have specified that he is not required to respond to any allegations of ‘inaccuracy’ which relate to the poll research, and, presumably, since the final frame is merely an invitation to sign a petition, there is nothing to respond to or justify on that frame either. So, you are concerned to hear from him on the allegation that this:

and this:

are ‘offensive and homophobic’, despite your unreasonable refusal to respond to his utterly reasonable request to know how the term ‘homophobia’ is being used in this context, which request you insist goes ‘beyond (his) involvement in this case’. His Grace responds as follows:

The first of these frames, as you observe in your Complaint Notification and is evident above, ‘featured photos of couples on their wedding day’. His Grace is at a loss to understand how a montage of (apparently) happy couples of (apparently) complementary genders on their wedding days may be in any sense ‘offensive and homophobic’. Since such scenes are played out at hundreds of churches and registry offices all over the country throughout the year every year, and since the BBC was free to broadcast the wedding of HRH Prince William (male) to Catherine Middleton (female) without incurring allegations of ‘homophobia’, it is difficult to discern how this frame may be considered in any sense ‘offensive’. Further, taking ‘homophobia’ in the vernacular (that is, an expression of ‘hatred’ towards homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered, as opposed to the fear of man or the same gender), if it may constitute ‘hatred’ of homosexuals to publish and distribute images of heterosexual couples on their wedding days, His Grace would like to know how the 10 complainants even know that all these couples are, in fact, the gender they appear. It is eminently possible that some of these brides are men in drag, and he would have thought that the LGBT community (especially the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group) really ought to be admiring of the quality of transexualism and/or transvestitism which may be evidenced.

The second frame of ‘evidence’ you adduce simply states ‘I do’. On this point, His Grace concurs wholeheartedly, for this is indeed a term most offensive. His Grace was author of the Anglican marriage liturgy approved by Parliament and he specifically employed the phrase ‘I will’, not ‘I do’. ‘I do’ is an inadequate affirmation of the present instant and quite inferior to the emphatic future continuing ‘I will’. So, yes, this frame is most offensive. But, again, His Grace is at a loss to discern how it may be construed as ‘homophobic’.

And yet he is 'required' to respond to these allegations under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).

It ought to be obvious to any objective, reasonable person, and also to any rational, impartial organisation, that a set of wedding photographs and a quotation from the marriage liturgy cannot possibly be offensive to any reasonable or rational person. They are only deemed to be so by those whose agenda is acutely political. The fact that you subjectively and unreasonably chose to escalate their complaints to the level of ‘formal investigation’ constitutes an intimidating attempt to encroach on the freedom of speech. That you identified the specific (non-)complaint of The Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group suggests deficiencies in your due diligence and inadequacies in your judgments. These complaints ought to have been summarily dismissed as frivolous, vexatious and malicious.

The conduct of the ASA in this matter has been unreasonable and unjust. You need to develop a considerably higher threshold as to what may be reasonably considered sufficiently offensive to warrant any investigative effort on your part, especially when that offence is allegedly ‘homophobic’.

His Grace hopes you find the above response more beneficial than that received from Private Eye in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram.

Yours sincerely,

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hating the Image of God

Through the past week of His Grace’s ASA saga, he has received dozens of highly critical emails and hundreds of condemnatory tweets impugning his integrity, orthodoxy and motives. Even this morning, one talked of his ‘hate mongering’ and it being ‘better to drown urself than persecute god's children’. It is, perhaps, simply the price one pays for expressing an opinion or holding a view which is not quite harmonically consonant with the zeitgeist. If one wishes to avoid criticism, one remains silent and inert.

It is quite easy to ignore the ad hominem, being invariably unreasoned and unreasonable, emanating, as it does, from the immature mind which mistakes insult for argument and conflates conviction with hate. But perhaps no comment has been more hurtful to His Grace than one received from Peggy Sherwood, President of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group. His Grace had politely requested their assistance in clarifying whether or not her organisation had complained to the ASA about the Coalition for Marriage advertisement which is now the subject of a formal investigation. Someone on their behalf had commented on this blog that ‘...this has been done in our name and without our knowledge or agreement’.

This, of course, contradicted the documentation received from the ASA, which informed His Grace that they had received 24 complaints, ‘including the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, which, of course, shifted the weight of opposition from an insignificant number of sundry individuals to an organisation which potentially represents thousands. His Grace informed the JGLG that ‘the ASA have used your corporate identity to inform His Grace (and others) that the JGLG did complain (either about the advertisement being factually incorrect or 'offensive and homophobic'). This would appear to be a false affirmation which the ASA have not bothered to check with you’. And he enquired to know if one of their members had misled the ASA that he/she was speaking on their behalf, and, since the President apparently knows the identity of this person, whether he/she might be prepared to contact His Grace directly. He also sought to discover what action the leadership of the JGLG might take against this person for (apparently) bringing the JGLG into disrepute.

He received a terse response, instructing him to ‘turn the other cheek’ and assuring him of their best wishes at all times, ‘except those occasions when he appears not to recognize the image of God in the image of others’.

So, to believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman is now to deny that gays and lesbians are made in the image of God. To believe in the orthodox Jewish view that marriage is concerned with the conjugality of maleness and femaleness for the purpose of procreative companionship is taken by the President of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group as a denial of the divine imprint upon homosexual humanity.

It is curious how one can easily ignore the sort of hatred and bile expressed in the comment section of Pink News, essentially because it is woefully ill informed and irredeemably puerile. But this sort of barb from the President of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group niggles to the point of offence. Nothing that His Grace has ever said, done or written could possibly reasonably be inferred as an expression of his belief that gay and lesbian people are not made in the image of God.

His Grace wrote back to Ms Sherwood, pointing out to her that he has been content to host upon his blog a theological argument for same-sex marriage, and also that it his clearly expressed view that the state should not interfere with those churches, synagogues, mandirs, gurdwaras and mosques who may wish to confer some manner of blessing upon homosexual unions if they wish.

She (naturally) liked the first of these, but no apology was forthcoming for her assertion that there are occasions when His Grace fails to recognise the image of God in the image of others. She did not entertain the merest possibility of offence caused.

One of the stories His Grace missed over the past week (because he was maddeningly deflected and distracted by the ASA) was that of four men being hanged in Iran for engaging in homosexual activities. It disgusts and offends against justice that any society might deem the consensual release and sharing of the cosmic energy of sexuality to be a capital offence. We may share differences over various sexual codes; on the understanding and importance of purity; on the prohibition on mixed marriages (ethnic or religious); on the condemnation of close-kin marriages, or the insistence of the careful observance of cleanliness relating to the woman’s menstrual blood and the man’s emission of seed. We may differ between approbation and disgust for the pervasive promiscuity, public nudity and ubiquitous abortion which is little more than child sacrifice to the sex-obsessed gods of the age. But all these points of difference serve to heighten the sense of separation of the religious believer from the neo-pagan world.

There is no hint of a suggestion that those who choose to journey along the wide path are not just as equally made in the same image of God as those who tread the narrow path: we are all fallen; we are all sinners. ‘Male and female he created them’ is not an expression of hatred or bigotry: it is an affirmation of the community of the married, the fruitful in seed. That which has no seed within its flesh is not fruit and never will be: the potato cannot be a peach. No number of diktats, directives or state-enforced definitions of uniformity will ever change that. And if it be ‘hatred’ to express such a view in a reasoned and intelligent manner, then it is our accusers who impugn, malign and denigrate; it is they who hate; it is they who cease to see that we, too, are made in the image of God.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Sacred Flame

In a golden lantern on a golden plane, the Olympic Flame was flown across the continent of Europe and is now upon British soil. It was lit by the sun's stolen rays in Greece a week ago. Special permission had to be granted for the ‘symbolic naked flame’ (actually four of them) to fly British Airways, flanked by its own guards, surrounded by priests and priestesses. The ritual is mesmeric: the Princess Royal carried the Sacred Flame off the plane, and the sporting god Sir David Beckham (as he was erroneously honoured) lit the waiting cauldron. Lord Coe bowed respectfully; Mayor Boris quipped irreverently. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg formally welcomed the Flame, supported by members of the armed forces and dignitaries from the four corners of the Kingdom.

It is cultic – a kind of national puja. There is a sense of national offering to a deity, in an ancient ceremony which stretches back to the time of Plato. There’s been some muttering that whole thing was invented by Goebbels for the 1936 Berlin Games. But that is not quite true: the ancient Greeks used fire and torch relays (lampadedromia) as part of their Olympiad: it is all shrouded in national myth, but the tradition certainly predates the Nazis.

And so now it begins its 70-day 8,000-mile journey around the British Isles, to be lauded and honoured by millions of people in hundreds of communities, united in their worship of Prometheus. The Sacred Flame is pure light; the light is knowledge; knowledge is power. It will reach its cultic climax on 27th July, when the Flame will be used to ignite the ceremonial cauldron in London's Olympic Stadium, when we shall see clearly and know completely, and all nations will be united for the good of humanity.

The people yearn for their god: religion is not dead.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Further ASA response - an admission of error

This just in from the ASA Investigations Manager:
Dear Sir
Thank you for your email.
We’re sorry for any confusion or upset we’ve caused. We do accept that our first email didn’t state that you were not compelled to respond to us, though we did clarify that explicitly in our second email to you. We do try to work with – rather than against – advertisers, agencies and publishers to resolve complaints that are raised with us. We also strive to make sure that our communications are clear, so we will certainly take on board the issues you’ve raised for future investigations.
Our website statement clarifies that publishers are not compelled to respond in these cases and was published after our second email to you.
Given that our investigation is ongoing and that you are not the subject of that investigation, I will not be addressing the wider queries you have raised or corresponding further on those points. That’s because your questions go beyond your involvement in this case. However, I will clarify that although we contacted all publishers mentioned by complainants, we asked only you and one other publisher to respond on the ‘offence’ point (as distinct from the ‘misleading’ point), because complainants specifically mentioned being offended about the appearance of the ads only in those spaces. While we would welcome your views, as a publisher, on how your readership may have responded to the ads, you are not compelled to respond.
Thank you for raising your concerns with us.
Best wishes
All of which is quite interesting in the context of a report in this week's Church of England Newspaper:
Anger as official inquiry launched into marriage campaign advert
COALITION FOR MARRIAGE (C4M) will not be withdrawing an advertisement that has led to 24 complaints being made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
ASA has asked the Archbishop Cranmer blog, which carried the advertisement, to respond to the complaints. “We intend to deal with the complaint as a formal investigation, which means it will then be considered by the ASA Council,” the blog has been told. “We will then draft a recommendation for the Council based on your response to us. Once the Council had made a decision, the adjudication will be published on our website.”
The Conservative Home and the Guido Fawkes blogs have also carried the advert and they will also be asked to respond to complaints, according to a spokesman for ASA.
C4M says the advertisement has also appeared in national newspapers. A spokesman said the advertisement has been produced by a reputable firm and denied it is any way offensive or homophobic.
Some 24 people have complained that statement that 70 per cent of people are opposed to changing marriage is inaccurate, but C4M says this figure comes from a poll carried out by ComRes, which was commissioned by Catholic Voices.
ASA receives about 30,000 complaints a year but only a small proportion are judged worthy of formal investigation. Formal action leads to action in the case of between 2,000 and 3,000 advertisements. ASA cannot actually ban an advertisement although it can ‘name and shame’ offenders on its website and refer cases to the Office of Fair Trading.
Political Advertisements are not subject to the ASA and a spokesman for the organisation admitted it was possible that the C4M advertisement could be seen as a political advertisement at a time when same-sex marriage has become a subject of political debate.
ASA has also caused controversy by its attempt to ban advertisements for street healers in Bath. This led to a letter of complaint to ASA from members of the Parliamentary Christian group.

So, the ASA admits that His Grace was not informed that there was no compulsion to respond, and then they deflect by insisting that the statement upon their website is a reference to their second email (fisked here). But the report in the Church of England Newspaper appears to suggest that the ASA has now indeed decided to seek the opinions of Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome on this matter. While the former (being an Irish national with a blog hosted on overseas servers) will doubtless tell them where to go, the latter will tread more carefully. The ASA has clearly shifted its approach in response to His Grace's assertion that all publishers should have been threatened and harassed equally.

ASA Chairman is also Vice President of a ‘highly political’ campaign

It is a question of impartiality, which matters profoundly in political processes where force and influence compete with manipulation and facts: if an organisation with quasi-judicial authority professes to be objective in its investigations, then its senior staff and officers must not only be impartial, they must also be seen to be impartial. There cannot be even the merest hint of a political agenda subverting that professed neutrality or corrupting the overriding commitment to fairness and justice.

But former Labour MP Chris Smith, now Baron Smith of Finsbury PC, is not only Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority; he is also Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Mr Smith is widely credited with being Britain's first openly gay MP, and doubtless he has helped to inspire a generation of people to be open and honest about their sexuality. And doubtless also he has facilitated beneficial changes in the state’s laws and society’s views which mitigate or eradicate some of the worst discriminations suffered by homosexual people, who are made equally in the image of God and loved just as much by Him as any sinner, despite some appalling sermons to the contrary preached from the worst of church pulpits.

But Lord Smith’s courage is not merely historical: he continues to advance his cause. And he does so by exercising an authority which it doesn't actually possess. He became Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority in 2006, and Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 2009. He ought to have been wiser and more discerning, for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality is a ‘direct descendant’ of the ‘highly political’ Homosexual Law Reform Society. And they make no secret about it.

If one is a direct descendent, one inherits certain characteristics and retains a distinct pattern of DNA. That Lord Smith is Vice President of a ‘highly political’ campaign is in no doubt: the objective remains that of advocating for ‘gay rights’ and agitating aggressively for favourable legislation, regardless of the extent to which each incremental change impinges upon the rights and liberties of others. The more militaristic homosexuals – often termed ‘gayers’ or ‘homosexualists’ – are now responsible for spreading the very sorts of oppression, persecution and alienation historically suffered by their co-sexualists.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the decision of the ASA to investigate a perfectly innocuous advertisement promoting traditional marriage had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Chairman of the ASA also happens to be Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. But consider, if you will, what might have come to pass if the Chairman of the ASA had been Lord Carey, who happens also to be involved in a highly political campaign to defend the historic definition of marriage as a union of complementary genders. What if just 10 Christians had complained to the ASA under his chairmanship that the website Pink News was carrying an advertisement showing happy gay couples contracting in civil partnerships, and that the complainants considered this to be ‘offensive' and 'Christianophobic’. Absurd? Quite possibly. But that is the very vein of the allegation made by 10 homosexuals against His Grace: no rationale, no reasoning; just the ‘feeling’ of offence caused.

And then consider what the response of the militant homosexuals would doubtless have been if Lord Carey had sent a demand to Pink News, requiring them to justify themselves within seven days, and doing so with threats of punitive action against them. What hordes of aggressive homosexualists would have descended upon the ASA offices? What vile hatred would have been spouted in the gay blogosphere and on Twitter about the nasty, bigoted, right-wing, intolerant, homophobic Lord Carey? What campaign of intimidation would have been waged against His Lordship and his ASA minions as they laboriously fended off the left-liberal media and coped with tens of thousands of hate-emails?

The ASA would, of course, have backed down immediately, and apologised profusely.

And now ask yourself what subtle influences Lord Smith of Finsbury might be bringing to the ASA which would cause his staff to be ever-so-slightly more sensitive to their chairman’s personal preferences and political proclivities. After all, employees tend to seek favourable acknowledgement and advancement and reward from their superiors. The decision to escalate vexatious and frivolous complaints of ‘homophobia’ to the level of ‘formal investigation’, and monitoring compliance with proactive checks to ensure that ‘homophobic’ publishers are harassed and ‘offensive’ advertisements swiftly eradicated, will do members of the ASA’s Investigations Executive no harm at all under a chairman whose primary political objective is to eradicate 'homophobia'.

The ASA is not a statutory body, but a self-selected élite originally convened to ensure that a product does what it says on the tin. Under Lord Smith, the organisation has gradually extended its remit, now seeking to threaten, bully, intimidate and censor even moderate expressions of moral opinion which are fully protected by Article 10 of the ECHR. The process of being investigated or of being ‘required’ to justify oneself is itself the punishment. The ASA cares increasingly less about what is in the tin, but seeks now to ensure that all logos, designs and small-print on the tin conform to the liberal-fascist neo-Marxist school of social theory.

Lord Smith is clearly conflicted, and the mere appearance of compromised impartiality and questionable objectivity is bringing the ASA into disrepute. The decision to investigate the Campaign for Marriage advertisement would not have been taken had Lord Carey been its chairman, and that decision would have been subject to unremitting scrutiny. A man cannot serve two masters. Either Lord Smith must resign his chairmanship of the ASA or his vice-presidency of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. For as long as the latter advances a ‘highly political’ cause which may affect the decisions and judgments of the former, the conflict of interests is manifest to all fair and right-minded people, whatever their religion or sexuality.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The ASA responds to His Grace

The ASA has kindly responded to His Grace (within the 48hr deadline requested), and they appear to have opted for Discursive Deflection Letter No.17b, which incorporates expressions of absolute vacuity patronisingly written in sentences of monosyllabic nothingness as though the recipient were a moron. It answers none of the eight questions asked, and merits a jolly good fisking:
RE: ASA Complaint Investigation - 192907/JT 
Dear Sir,
Thank you for your email. I am writing to provide some further explanation as to why we contacted you about this ad, and how our process works. 
His Grace thanks you for that, but he has no questions about how your ‘process’ works. He simply asked why you chose to escalate this matter immediately to the level of ‘formal investigation’, and why you chose His Grace alone from the blogosphere to justify his decision to publish/distribute it. You answer neither question. And His Grace doesn’t like the tone of ‘I am writing to provide some explanation as to... how our process works’: he is neither five years old nor mentally deficient.  
As you are aware we received a number of complaints about a Coalition for Marriage ad that appeared as advertising on your blog, among others, and some of the complaints related to whether or not the ad was offensive.
Yes, His Grace is more than aware, thank you. He understands that you received 25 such complaints ‘including the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, and that 10 of these 25 deemed the ad to be ‘offensive and homophobic’. His Grace specifically asked you to define ‘homophobic’ in this context, but you appear now to be avoiding all mention of the term. It is actually quite important that you explain how the word is being used in this context, for he genuinely cannot understand how an advertisement which features heterosexual couples on their weddings days and which seeks to uphold the law of the land can be ‘offensive and homophobic’. Obviously, we need to agree epistemologically and etymologically on this term, or we risk talking at cross purposes. But perhaps those words have too many syllables for you.

You also informed His Grace of the involvement of the ‘Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, but they have categorically denied filing any such complaint. They subsequently modified that rebuttal, and are now apparently aware of one person who did complain, but not (they assert) on their behalf. Do you not check if an individual complainant is authorised to speak on behalf of the organisation he/she purports to represent? By mentioning this group in your correspondence, you elevate the status of the complaint significantly from one of a handful of sundry offended individuals to a whole organisation which may represent many thousands. This is clearly misleading. Have you not misrepresented the JGLG to all those who have received your bundle of ‘evidence’? Are you not in danger of inciting hatred or ill-feeling against this group with the false attribution of ‘homophobic’ grievance?  
When we investigate complaints involving issues such as offence we seek the views of the publisher on why they think the ad was suitable for publication, and whether they think the complaints have merit. 
Not quite: you asked His Grace to justify himself, and you did so in an intimidating, threatening and harassing fashion. You say ‘we seek the views’, but the method and manner of that seeking ought to be polite and entreating (for publishers, as you now aver, are doing you a favour in giving their time). Instead, you made demands with menaces. And nowhere did you state that to respond is not obligatory. Indeed, the statement you have published on your website is disingenuous.
In this case, we contacted you as the ‘publisher’ of the ad, because it appeared on your website. We contact publishers because we find that they can often provide us with valuable context regarding ads. You are clearly well placed to know what the likely reaction of your readers will be to the ad from the Coalition for Marriage and their petition, and whether or not they are likely to find the ad offensive.
Three blogs (to His Grace’s knowledge) carried this ad. If it so manifestly useful for you to seek the perspectives of publishers, why were all three blogs not asked to make submissions? Would that not have been fair and equitable? It is preposterous to suggest that a publisher would admit to distributing material which they know will offend their readers, not least because by making such an admission to the ASA they are potentially incriminating themselves and risk prosecution. Again, you are not answering the question of why His Grace alone was singled out. To acquire ‘valuable context’ is a laudable research objective which is best attained by maximising the pool of potential data: to restrict it to one blog is likely only to provide you with deeply flawed, biased and partial context.  
So, please be reassured that we have sought your views on this so that we can take them into account when drafting a recommendation to the ASA Council in response to the complaints.
Reassured? It's kind of you to enquire. But His Grace’s views on this ‘homophobic’ ad would most likely have been strongly supported by Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome, who both have ready access to lawyers and £1000s to throw at their defence. Instead, you choose to isolate and harass. Surely the ASA Council would be more swayed and persuaded by blogs which are read and followed by 100,000s, instead of the lowly, insignificant blog written by His Grace?
Though we value your input, publishers are not compelled to respond to us. We have various examples of ASA rulings where publishers have responded and we have agreed with them, where we haven’t and where the publisher has declined to comment. If you do not wish to supply us with a view or correspond with us further on these issues we will simply let you know the outcome of the case, once it has concluded.
Now this bit is interesting, for every sentence in your email and every page of the multiple attachments read very much like demands. There was never a hint of a suggestion that the recipient was not obliged to respond. Moreover, you imposed a deadline for that response. Even moreover, you added ‘at the latest’. And even moreover than that, you added: ‘...we will need to see robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance and why you think it substantiates the claims. It is not enough to send references to or abstracts of documents and papers without sending the reports in full and specifically highlighting the relevant parts explaining why they are relevant to the matter in hand’. Where did you ever state that ‘publishers are not compelled to respond’? Where was the option explained that this publisher may simply ignore you?

The statement now published on your website makes the same assertion, which has led to further harassment and criticism of His Grace. Could you please say WHERE you explained this, or give His Grace permission to publish all 9-10 pages of the attachments you sent so that others can make up their own minds on this matter? Do you not understand that an organisation calling itself an ‘Authority’, and which attaches a bundle of ‘evidence’ to corroborate allegations of hate/offense/harm is jolly threatening and intimidating? Do you not see that by omitting that crucial optional clause that you might harass publishers by making demands while actually having no legal authority to demand anything of anybody?
I also want to point out that the fact the ad is being investigated does not in any way mean that a decision has already been made regarding the complaint. We are gathering information and views and have not yet reached any conclusions. This is entirely in line with how we go about assessing many thousands of complaints about ads, every year. 
It really doesn’t help to state the obvious: an investigation should precede a judgment. But the interesting thing here is that you have given credence and substance to the merest possibility that pictures of heterosexual couples on their wedding days may be ‘offensive and homophobic’ by escalating this complaint to the level of ‘formal investigation’. This is quite patently preposterous, especially coming so soon after your losing the case of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church in the High Court. Surely, even you must be able to work out that if ‘The word of God Against Sodomy’ advertisement is covered by Article 10 of the ECHR, a fortiori must be an advertisement which simply promotes marriage as a union of a man and a woman?  
I hope this helps you to understand why we contacted you and asked you to respond. If you do wish to provide any comments regarding the ad we would be most grateful for them and would take them into account.
Actually, to be perfectly frank, this helps His Grace with absolutely nothing. You have not answered a single question or addressed a single issue raised. That in itself is simply further harassment. One would think, since you are attempting to elicit ‘valuable insights’ and ‘valuable context’, that you might have addressed His Grace’s concerns directly, instead of deflecting and patronising as a strategy for obfuscating and defusing. But, again, perhaps that’s too many syllables for you.

His Grace will now consider whether he wishes to provide you with his comments regarding the advertisement. In the meantime, he asks, once more, out of exasperation, that you substantiate your published claim that: ‘ we have made clear to them in this case, and they are not compelled to respond’. Where, precisely, was this made clear?

The Lord forgive you, for you plainly know not what you do.
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