Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cameron unsettles the Settlement

The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, has (at last) articulated a firm policy pledge. When he is Prime Minister, he will enact a Bill of Rights to ‘enshrine Britain’s core values’ irrevocably into the Constitution. He said, ‘English common law would not be strong enough to protect us from a future government that might repeal habeas corpus and abolish our freedoms’, and argues that a home-grown British Bill of Rights, along the lines of the US Bill of Rights and the German Basic Law, would lead to a less hands-on approach by the European Court of Human Rights, giving more discretion to Britain in how to decide its human rights issues.

Cranmer notes a number of problems with this. The first is that the United Kingdom already has a Bill of Rights. It was the legislative expression of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, and was part of the deal under which William and Mary became joint rulers, giving Parliament, rather than the monarch, power over taxation, criminal law and the military. It also banned Roman Catholics from succeeding to the throne on the grounds that ‘it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this protestant kingdom to be governed by a popish prince’. Mr Cameron is attempting to execute his own Glorious Revolution by toppling King Tony, though it is not clear what will prevent Mr Cameron from becoming an absolute ruler once he ascends the throne.

The second problem is that he didn’t consult his own ‘Democracy Task Force’, which was set up specifically to examine such constitutional reforms. Kenneth Clarke, the task force chairman, knew nothing of the proposal until he heard about it on the BBC. He was not impressed, dismissing the idea as ‘xenophobic and legal nonsense’. Such Europhile beasts need to be stroked and fed on a regular basis… they have a habit of assassinating Conservative leaders.

Mr Cameron’s third problem is that his understanding of the British Constitution is as shallow as his understanding of political history. He wants the new Bill of Rights to be somehow ‘entrenched’, to have a greater degree of ‘permanence’. But, if followed to its logical conclusion, this would give ultimate power to unelected judges, rather than to elected politicians. Is the Conservative Party really proposing to abolish the supremacy of Parliament? And what would become of the existing Bill of Rights? Is the Conservative Party really proposing to unsettle the Settlement of the relationship between the Monarch and Parliament, and the establishment of the Church of England?

No piece of British legislation is sacrosanct in the same way as it is in the United States. The single fundamental of the British constitutional system is that parliament may not bind its successor. A new Bill of Rights would, once passed into law, have no more chance of surviving a subsequent parliament or of guaranteeing rights than any other Bill passed by both Houses and rubber-stamped by Her Majesty. Cranmer has received an email from the eminent barrister Michael Shrimpton QC confirming this, though he adds: ‘the Royal assent is not a rubber stamp, and can be refused in a proper case, the European Communities Act of 1972 being one such example, where a refusal of Royal Assent would have been justified’.

Cranmer agrees. Mr Cameron is making headlines, but his grasp of constitutional basics rather belies his Oxford First. Good job Cranmer was a Cambridge man.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

L’état, c’est Giscard

One year after the French ‘non’ and the Dutch ‘nee’ to the ‘Constitution for Europe’, the EU’s political élite has decided to make the text binding by 2009. With the inverse logic which has come to epitomise the European project, our leaders have concluded that the ‘no’ votes were ‘a demand for more Europe, not less’. To resolve the impasse, some Eurocrats are advocating rule changes to permit adoption of the Constitution by Qualified Majority Vote (absurd); others are advocating an EU-wide referendum to ensure a majority affirmation (unthinkable); and the European Commission plans to implement the Constitutions provisions regardless (what’s new?).

The people have become, at best, an inconvenience and, at worst, an irrelevance to the EU’s whole political process. Is it any wonder that voting turnout is perpetually diminishing when the expressed will of the ordinary citizen is ignored in any case? The Dutch and French rejections of the Constitution should have stopped it dead; instead, governments are proceeding with ratification, irrespective of referendum results. It is further evidence that any attempt at democracy in the EU is merely a façade for the infallible pontificating of its oligarchy.

According to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the creator and god-father of the Constitution, it was not France that said ‘no’ to the constitution, but 55 per cent of French people. That’s alright then. France, in other words, is represented, not by its uneducated or ill-informed population, but by its former President. He is the State. He appears to have learnt nothing from three centuries of bloodshed and revolution, and nothing of the eventual fate of political leaders who ignore the discontent of their citizens.

Rulers should be accountable to their peoples. It is an inviolable principle of modernity. Brussels has become a byword for corruption - unaudited accounts, a self-serving bureaucracy, the unrelenting centralisation of power, a contempt for democracy. How long will it be before the Bastille is once again stormed?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Allah occupies seat at the UN

There is something quite distinct about the Arabic for 'Allah'. It has been termed a flame of five tongues that decrease (right to left) in size, and it is appearing with increasing frequency in Europe's churches. Apparently, illegal Muslim immigrants are being offered refuge by various Catholic churches, and the ‘guests’ are then magically turning these churches into mosques. There are banners displaying the name of Allah, and the prayer mats come out five times a day, all facing east, and all with the approval of the Catholic hierarchy. But (lest anyone accuse Cranmer of being anti-papist), there are also reports of a Protestant church that celebrated Mohammed’s birthday. The church invited local Muslims to attend the Easter service, and a band played Sufi music during which Protestants and Muslims joined together in honour of Mohammed. In his sermon, the vicar linked Mohammed with Jesus, saying: ‘Today we remember the birth and life of Mohammed, and also the beginning of the week of the passion of Christ, leading to Good Friday, the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified.’ Like most of today’s clergy, he is woefully ignorant of Christian theology. He is also seemingly oblivious to some inconvenient irreconcilables... minor issues like Muslims refuting the crucifixion of Christ, or Christians rejecting the ‘revelations’ of Mohammed.

However, all this is as nothing compared to the subjugation of the United Nations to the name of Allah. While irate Muslims have already forced Burger King and Nike to change logos that were deemed to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Arabic for ‘Allah’, the UN 'flame' logo for its Human Rights Commission looks far more like ‘Allah’ than Burger King’s ice cream or Nike’s trainers. Interestingly, there have been no protests from offended Muslims about this. Cranmer wonders whether this might have anything to do with the name of Allah not sitting well with feet or dessert, but when it is linked to the government of the world...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Conservative Leader accused of insulting Scottish Cardinal

David Cameron has been accused of insulting Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. Apparently, Michael Martin, the first Catholic Speaker of the House of Commons since the Reformation, had arranged a dinner in the Cardinal’s honour, to which the leaders of the political parties had been invited. This was accompanied by further audiences with the Scottish Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Secretary of State for International Development.

Mr Cameron, however, suddenly found himself ‘too busy’. According to ‘sources close to the Cardinal’, he was left ‘fuming’, ‘angry’, and feeling ‘snubbed’ – it was considered ‘a real discourtesy’. Mr Cameron needs to tread very carefully. The last Tory to offend the Catholic Church was hounded out of office. Of course, tensions between prelates and politicians are nothing new, but England rid itself of papal interference centuries ago.

Yet the Roman Catholic Church is again flexing its muscle. In England, she represents a high moral stability and apostolic continuity where the Church of England is perceived to compromise. Unpalatable teachings such as Humanae Vitae, banning artificial contraception, or Dominus Iesus, dismissing the Church of England as not being a ‘proper’ church, are played down. In countries where Rome’s grip is surer - Uganda, Haiti, the Philippines – there is concerted effort to control government departments, the media, and education, which many papal encyclicals have stated should be subject to the Church's authority. Religious freedom in such countries is virtually non-existent. In Croatia, for example, any expression of Christianity other than Catholicism is viewed with official suspicion, and there has been proposed legislation to filter out all non-Catholic churches, including Protestant ‘sects’ and ‘cults’.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Catholic Social Europe - how it fails the poorest

Cranmer has been more than a little tested by the Church of England’s sales pitch for the EU’s Constitution, in which they asserted that European Integration is the salvation of ‘the long term unemployed, the homeless, the casualties of community care, the poor, the mentally ill, the immigrants, the victims of racism, the asylum seekers, and the children denied food or health care because of their countries’ massive indebtedness'. According to Luke, Jesus certainly held the poor in a privileged soteriological position, and a ‘Christian European Union’ purports to do the same, faithfully upholding this crucial dimension of the gospel.

But does it?

The advocates of Catholic social doctrine (i.e., the EPP) claim that its economic model achieves higher social standards than the heartless and barbaric Anglo-Saxon economies, where it’s ‘dog eat dog’ in ‘the law of the jungle’. The reality is that protectionist Catholic social doctrine fails the poorest and society’s most vulnerable. According to the publication Beyond the European Social Model, the incomes of the poorest 10% have increased considerably in Ireland and the UK, compared to other EU countries, and these so-called Anglo-Saxon economies have a smaller proportion of their populations below the poverty line. Since Ireland cut public spending as a proportion of GDP from 55% to 35%, while the tax burden across the rest of the EU stayed roughly the same, growth accelerated, and real spending on public services increased as a result by almost 250%. This is good news for the poor!

The EU is falling behind in education and science, it has increasingly unsustainable levels of unemployment, and a looming pensions crisis. From youth to the elderly, the EU’s social model reduces freedom and diminishes quality of life even for those who can find work. This is a moral issue, since Catholic social teachings ‘trample on the heads of the poor...and deny justice to the oppressed’ (Amos 2:7). How can the abdication to foreign control of the responsibility for fundamental human needs ever be justified from a Christian perspective? God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the underdogs in society. He pours his wrath upon those who corrupt justice or create economic machines designed to provide more wealth for the wealthy and deprive the poor. The story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21 establishes that authorities are not free to pursue any policy they please or to ride roughshod over the rights of the poor.

How long, O Lord, how long?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A multi-faith Coronation?

Prince Charles has been dabbling in this area for more than a decade, preparing the ground for his accession to the Throne as ‘Defender of Faith’, rather than as ‘Defender of the Faith’. Speculation has been rife that he is a secret convert to Islam, and private conversations have revealed his contempt for the Act of Settlement, which prevents Roman Catholics (or those married to Roman Catholics) acceding to the Throne, but now former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has waded into the fray.

The Coronation Oath demands that the Monarch uphold ‘the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel, maintain the Protestant reformed religion established by law and maintain and reserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England’. According to Lord Carey, this is nonsense in a multi-cultural, multi-faith Britain, and must be changed. He said, ‘”The Queen came to the throne at a time when the Church of England was really the only Christian faith in the country. And there were no Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus around to be in any way evident in the life of the country. Now it’s a completely different world, so the Coronation Oath would have to be looked at more critically.”

Fortunately, the current Archbishop of Canterbury does not share his predecessor’s views. In fact, the two seem to be having a number of disagreements at the moment. Lord Carey has openly criticised Archbishop Williams for tolerating homosexual bishops and the Church’s acceptance of gay ‘civil partnerships’, accusing him of creating an Anglican communion riven with ‘bitterness, hostility, misunderstanding and strife’. So what does Lord Carey think his plans for a multi-faith coronation will produce? He might just consider that there are but a handful of scriptures that deal with homosexual intercourse, and only one (yes, one!) that deals with sexual orientation. On the other hand, there are literally hundreds of scriptures that warn against idolatry and the worship of other gods. The former does not therefore appear to be a topic worthy of schism; the latter most certainly is. If Lord Carey thinks that unity is best served by the future George VII (as he wishes to be known) and Queen Camilla taking oaths on the Guru Granth Sahib, the Gita and the Qur'an, he is profoundly misguided.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Germany and France decide

The ‘Heart of Europe’ has decided the future of the EU’s Constitution, and the rest of the Union will simply have to get used to the idea. These informal meetings between France and Germany have been the traditional means by which the EU has developed. Both countries are bound by the terms of their bilateral treaty of 1963 to reach ‘as far as possible an analogous position’ ahead of meetings of the Council of Ministers. It is the old empire of Charlemagne, bloodied but unbowed after the Dutch and French referenda. The spirit of Charlemagne lives on, and the way forward is now clear: ‘A functioning Europe needs this (constitutional) treaty’. There is no debate; there will be no discussion; it is simply a matter of destiny.

The plan is to have ‘a period of reflection’, and then ‘review’ the constitutional treaty. It needs to be observed, however, that this ‘reflection’ has a foreordained outcome, and the ‘review’ is rigged. Chirac gives the game away when he says that France ‘trusts the German presidency to steer the ship in the right direction’. The right direction? There is no alternative. He acknowledges ‘certain problems’, but vows to ‘overcome them’. He must mean the clearly-expressed, democratic will of the people.

In the first half of 2007, Germany will be running the EU. The Constitution will be firmly placed back on track. France then holds the presidency during the second half of 2008, and this will be crunch time. Cranmer rather suspects that the Sacrum Romanum Imperium Nationis Germanicae will engineer a name-change for the ‘treaty’, the word ‘constitution’ will be dropped, and hey presto, no need for further referenda (even in the UK)...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"The Church of England is a European Church"

Cranmer has been beavering away in the CofE archives, which are (thankfully) rather more accessible and transparent than those of the Vatican. It seems in 2004 a much unheralded document was produced which outlined the Church's role in the process of European integration. Because of its traditional via media, it could 'be sensitive to both the catholic and reformed elements and act as a bridge between the two traditions in Europe'. That's nice.

Apparently, 'the Church of England is a European Church' and is moving towards a 'common witness' of a 'common gospel'. Rules are to be developed which would help the churches to distinguish between proselytism and Christian witness, as well as between fundamentalism and genuine faithfulness. Together, the churches can offer the nations of Europe 'a model of unity' - one which offers 'wholeness and interdependence'. The eminent theologians who drew up this document believe the EU to be the answer for 'the long term unemployed, the homeless, the casualties of community care, the poor, the mentally ill, the immigrants, the victims of racism, the asylum seekers, and the children denied food or health care because of their countries’ massive indebtedness'. They seem to be confusing the EU with the Messiah.

The document is a good sales pitch for the EU's Constitution, noting that it 'makes the European Union more democratic, transparent and efficient', but it reserves its greatest enthusiasm for the chink of light it offers in Article 51: 'Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.' Excellent. The EU has not only found its soul, it has also found something to do in an 'open and transparent' way.