Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Everybody out!

It is billed as the largest strike since strikes were invented, or something like that. Public sector workers by the million will today withhold their labour, imperiling the education of millions of children; prolonging the suffering of the sick; endangering national security...

Brendan Barber, very important man at the TUC, said the public sector was ‘absolutely under attack’ by the Government. Not just ‘under attack’, but ‘absolutely under attack’. So he explains: “There comes a time when people really have to stand up and make a stand. With the scale of change the Government are trying to force through, making people work much, much longer and get much, much less, that's the call people have made.”

What is so difficult to understand about the state of the nation’s finances?


Unless we are to bequeath to our children (and their children, and their children’s children) not merely entrenched structural deficit but perpetual levels of impossible debt. We are all living longer, the economy is stagnant, and the balance sheet isn’t too healthy. You’d think teachers at least might understand these simple facts.

But this is not merely about economics or politics: it is about morality. Look at Ireland, Greece and Italy (which Spain and Portugal are likely to follow). If you bankrupt your nation, you increase poverty, hardship, suffering, and so the likelihood of civil strife. It is incumbent upon this coalition government to keep the country solvent – it is its foundational raison d’être. We simply cannot afford to go on paying living beyond our means.

Austerity measures are never easy, but the failure to act now will simply prolong the misery. The lifestyle to which we have become accustomed is illusory: we have created an economic model that was built on sand. It may have been 3-D, surround-sound, all-singing, all-dancing sand. But sand is sand. As the eurozone is discovering, the foundations need to be rather more robust.

Today’s strikes aren’t about privileges or pensions: they are about union revenge. Having endured 13 years of ‘New Labour’ – during which period the unreformed Socialists were frustrated but essentially compliant – they at last have another Tory government against which they can vent a decade of pent-up grievances. And so, like the 70s, it’s back to ‘everybody out’. It is profligate, unthinking, and selfish.

The joke, of course, is that George Osborne and David Cameron are not cutting as deep as is necessary: yesterday’s Autumn Statement actually confirmed £111bn of increased borrowing. As ConHome observed, it was a Brownite budget; not a Thatcherite one. The perilous state of affairs demands the blood, sweat and tears of Churchill; not the media-friendly strokes of the PR-pro Blair. There is no point trying to please all of the people all of the time: you end up pleasing no-one, and going down in history as a Heath or a Brown.

Unpopularity is the price you pay in politics for courage, conviction and truth. The perpetual pursuit of popularity brings nothing but paralysis.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chancellor's Autumn Statement 2011

George Osborne has delivered his Autumn statement to Parliament. Paul Goodman at ConHome is right to observe that the content scarcely matters. His Grace thinks the Chancellor's statement is best summed up in pictures.

Basically, after this:

There's likely to be one of these:

Followed by quite a bit of this:

Resulting in a seeming eternity of this:

And there's absolute no point donning this:

Because nothing will insulate you from the effects.

Winter's coming. It's going to be chilly; there's no hibernating; and those who don't die of hypothermia can expect to get frost-bite.

Merry Christmas.

John Bercow's coat of arms

Speaker John Bercow has commissioned his coat of arms. So tackily implausible is the design that His Grace thought the whole thing was a bit of gilded mockery. Perhaps it ought to have come as no surprise that it is, in fact, deadly earnest.

The symbolism is utterly banal: blue and red are the colours of the main political parties, representing John Bercow’s own journey. The ladder (regressing right to left) represents his ascent from humble beginnings to one of the highest offices of state. The balls represent his fondness for tennis: they are four to represent the constituent countries of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The sabres are not a nod to the Arab-Muslim world, but are drawn from the Essex coat of arms (where Mr Bercow went to university). The motto – All Are Equal – is interspersed with pink triangles, this being the symbol on Nazi concentration camp badges to identify male prisoners who were sent there because of their homosexuality. It has since been appropriated by the gay rights movement. The banner is lined with the spectrum of the rainbow, signifying the Speaker’s support for lesbian and gay rights.

If you aren’t yet retching with incredulity (not least at this £15k waste of taxpayers’ money on such an absurd vanity project), His Grace would like to explore the motto a little. ‘All Are Equal’ – what does it mean?

That all should be treated equally when similarly situated in morally relevant respects? Which of these similarities count as relevant? What constitutes treatment? Is the equality concerned with the same basic human rights, or is it about fostering a more general equality of condition? Is this equality before the law? Equality of political power? Equality of opportunity for social and economic advancement? Equality of resources? Equality of welfare? Equality of freedom? Equality of respect?

Is not inequality natural? Are we not born unequal? Are not some gifted with genetic advantage? Since complete equality is impossible for all people, the only meaning of the motto can be the aspiration for a reduction in inequality. This being so, His Grace would urge all MPs to treat the Speaker as their equal: not to accord him reverence or respect; not to get out of his way as he walks down the corridors of the Palace of Westminster; not to obey his commands in the chamber; and not to believe he is in any sense superior to them, for all are equal.

Unless, of course, John Bercow is more equal than others.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sacked for challenging ‘Muslim fundamentalists’

On the face of it, the case is cut and dried: a further appalling injustice against a Christian. The story has been covered by Christian Concern, the Telegraph and the Mail. Nohad Halawi, who has worked at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 for 13 years, has been dismissed by Autogrill Retail UK Limited (trading severally as ‘World Duty Free’ and ‘Caroline South Associates’) after daring to challenge Islamic fundamentalists who were harassing her work colleague.

She is now suing for unfair dismissal, on the grounds of religious discrimination. Over the months, she has apparently been told that she would ‘go to Hell’ for being a Christian; that Jesus is ‘shitty’; that ‘the Jews were responsible for the September 11th terror attacks’; and she has seen a friend reduced to tears after being bullied for wearing a cross. This intimidation has allegedly been at the hands of Muslim employees, one of whom brought in a copy of the Qur’an and ‘extremist leaflets’ and insisted that Mrs Halawi read them.

However, instead of the behaviour of these Muslims being investigated under the company's disciplinary proceedings, they ganged together and brought a complaint against Mrs Halawi. They said she was ‘anti-Islamic’, and so she who summarily dismissed by David Tunnicliffe, the trading manager at World Duty Free. She says: "I have been sacked on the basis of unsubstantiated complaints so there is now great fear amongst my former colleagues that the same could happen to them if one of the Muslims turns on them. This is supposed to be a Christian country, but the law seems to be on the side of the Muslims."

Mrs Halawi says she was targeted by the fundamentalists after she stood up for her 62-year-old friend (whom she is keeping anonymous because she still works at the terminal). The Telegraph has Mrs Halawi’s account of her ‘anti-Islamism’ and her subsequent treatment:
The row had stemmed from her description of a Muslim colleague as an allawhi, which means 'man of God' in Arabic. Another Muslim overheard this and thought she said Alawi, which was his branch of Islam.

Following the complaints she was suspended immediately, but was not told the grounds for her suspension until she met Mr Tunnicliffe in July.

Two days after the meeting she received a letter, which said the "store approval" - the Heathrow security pass - needed to work at World Duty Free was being removed because her behaviour was deemed to be unacceptable.

"I believe that the breakdown in relationship between yourself and some of your colleagues has contributed to this situation and has led to a number of inappropriate conversations taking place," the letter said.

"Whilst I do not believe that you may have meant to be offensive, I believe that it was not unreasonable for the individuals who either heard these comments, or who they were directed at to find them offensive, and they are extremely inappropriate."
A petition was circulated and signed by 28 of her colleagues, some of them Muslims, insisting that she has been dismissed on the basis of ‘malicious lies’. It evidently failed to win over Mr Tunnicliffe.

Enter Andrea Minichiello Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, and the redoubtable Paul Diamond, arch defender of persecuted Christians, who are intent on bringing Mrs Halawi’s case to an Employment Tribunal.

His Grace has a problem with this. Actually, he has quite a few.

Firstly, these Muslims are allegedly ‘fundamentalist’. It would take a quranically-illiterate and islamically-ignorant ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ to refer to their prophet Isa (Jesus) as ‘shitty’. Very many Muslims – fundamentalist or not – would object to such abuse of one of their major prophets.

Secondly, it is a strange kind of ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ who chooses to work in an airport Duty Free, flogging cheap booze (haram) to the kuffar.

Thirdly, it’s an even stranger ‘Muslim fundamentalist’ who would bring a copy of the Holy Qur’an to work and put it into the unwashed hands of a filthy kafir.

Fourthly, Mrs Halawi’s account of her conversation is strange. Was she discussing her own name? If so, why would any misunderstanding cause any offence? Her name is certainly Arabic, so it is likely that either she or her forebears are converts from Islam. Is this why she has been singled out by the ‘Muslim fundamentalists’?

Fifthly, it really is not clear to His Grace that any of the phrases used by these alleged fundamentalists may constitute an offence. Very many Muslims believe the Jews perpetrated the September 11th atrocities. They are quite mad, but they ought to be free to articulate such views. The belief that Christians will ‘go to Hell’ is nothing but Islamic orthodoxy. Again, they should be free to express such a view. That Jesus is ‘shitty’ is certainly offensive to Christians, but it is merely the vocalisation of the manner in which He is invariably treated by sundry media. And as for being bullied for wearing a cross... well, didn’t the Lord warn of such treatment at the hands of the non-believer? Should we not rejoice?

Sixthly, the account says Mrs Halawi was ‘summarily fired’. This, of course, would be illegal in the UK except in cases of gross misconduct: the law protects employees from unfair dismissal, and her employer has a statutory obligation to ensure that their disciplinary and grievance procedures are up-to-date and in accordance with employment law.

But digging a bit deeper, it transpires that Ms Halawi is not and has never been employed by Autogrill Retail UK Limited (aka ‘World Duty Free’ or ‘Caroline South Associates’) at Terminal 3. She is apparently a part-time, freelance contractor in the Terminal’s Duty Free, and she sells perfumes and other goods on a commission only basis.

The fact that she is part-time is immaterial: under EU law they have every protection and benefit as full-time employees. But the fact that she was a self-employed contractor does rather alter things. Autogrill Retail UK Limited (aka ‘World Duty Free’ or ‘Caroline South Associates’) are able to terminate such contracts with impunity, and Mrs Halawi has no employment rights as such because she is not employed. It is difficult to see what Mr Diamond might achieve here, lest all contractors suddenly acquire all the benefits afforded to employees.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mrs Halawi has had her security pass removed by Heathrow Duty Free. How, pray, did she acquire one in the first place if she was not an employee? Surely, if she were not an employee, neither are the ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ with whom she worked. Are we to believe – in this age of constant threats of terror – that Islamist extremists possess security passes at the UK’s principal airport and they have no contract of employment with the company which arranged it? What security checks are carried out on non-employees?

Whilst acknowledging that Muslims and Christians are not infrequently treated differently by employers, the Christian Legal Centre and barrister Paul Diamond are gaining something of a reputation for generating an awful lot of media heat, but ultimately losing the case. Judges can only be persuaded when there is a sound basis in law for a case being brought. It would come as no surprise if this case were to be summarily struck out by the Employment Tribunal. That is not to excuse or minimise any injustice Mrs Halawi may have experienced. But one cannot help feeling that such cases are increasingly being brought not to win, but simply to have one's day in court and thereby generate an awful lot of publicity.

To which His Grace is more than happy to contribute.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cameron embroils Queen in Turkey's EU bid

At a State Banquent this week in honour of the visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Her Majesty's Government placed these words in the mouth of Her Majesty:
"We have come through a great deal together to develop what is, today, a very modern partnership. In Europe, the British Government remains committed to working with you to secure your place in the European Union."
The Express gets all hissy about the banquet being halal, which is absurd: like any hospitable host, Her Majesty will ensure that her guests are presented with food they may eat. If one is prepared to serve a special broccoli and celery quiche to vegetarians, offering halal meat to one's Muslim guests would be a basic courtesy.

No, the most objectionable aspect of this visit was the decision to enlist the Sovereign in support of Turkey's (continuing) bid for membership of the European Union. Were Turkey to join, she would not only be the EU’s most populous Muslim nation, but also the EU’s largest nation with a potential voting weight exceeding that of Germany. While Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was implacably opposed to Turkish accession (he said it would be 'a grave error against the tide of history’), Pope Benedict XVI is making distinctly conciliatory overtures. The EU and Turkey simply have to agree ‘fundamental rules of cohabitation’ in order to build ‘a common future’ through ‘mutual dialogue’.

David Cameron is far more concerned abroad with inculcating gay rights than religious liberty. Turkey perpetuates anti-Christian discrimination laws that make it difficult for churches to own property. The treatment of Christian minorities has been one of the major hurdles to EU accession, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide has highlighted two cases of Christians being arrested for the nebulous and all-embracing crime of ‘insulting Turkishness’. And don't even think of mentioning 'Armenian genocide' or 'Cyprus'. According to a previous poll, 81% of Turks believe that the EU is not treating them ‘sincerely and fairly’, compared to 2% who say that it is.

But France and Germany are both opposed to Turkish membership. Former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing once said that Turkish membership would be the 'end of Europe', and that those supporting the membership bid were 'the adversaries of the European Union'. President Sarkozy has always been opposed, insisting that it is up to individual member states of the European Union (ie not the collective) to decide. He is on the record as saying: “Turkey has no place inside the European Union." The French even changed their constitution to ensure a referendum on the issue. Chancellor Merkel said that while close links with Turkey were important, its future status in Europe was ‘still open for discussion’ (ie not remotely likely).

It is difficult to understand why the Consevative Party supports Turkey in the EU, unless it is in the belief that the wider the Union is, the deeper it cannot be. The 'free movement of people' would open the floodgates of cheap Turkish labour, and if CAP subsidies were to be bestowed upon Turkey's farms of the order they are in France, it would bankrupt the EU. Is there method in this madness? President Sarkozy perceptively said: “Enlarging Europe with no limit risks destroying European political union.”

With Edward Leigh, there is a part of His Grace that begins to warm to the Turkish EU bid, and Her Majesty's fervent support of it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cameron mocks Dawkins

Thanks to ConHome for bringing this little snippet to the attention of His Grace:

Richard Dawkins: "Why do you support faith schools for children who are too young to have chosen their faith, thereby implicitly labelling them with the faith of their parents, whereas you wouldn't dream of so labelling a 'Keynesian child' or a 'Conservative child'?"

David Cameron: "Comparing John Maynard Keynes to Jesus Christ shows in my view why Richard Dawkins doesn't really get it."


Friday, November 25, 2011

Tory peers oppose civil partnerships in churches

His Grace is in favour of the Government’s plan to deregulate for civil partnerships to be held in religious buildings. It is absurd for the state to prohibit churches, synagogues, mandirs, gurdwaras and mosques from performing some kind of blessing upon homosexual unions if they wish.

The continuing prohibition on the use of pseudo-spiritual poems in civil ceremonies is really quite absurd: it amounts to state censorship and an enforced division between the private realm of spiritual belief and the public realm of political policy. If consenting adults wish to read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Gita, the Upinishads or a divine piece of Shakespeare as they make their vows, that should be a matter for them. We do not have a tradition of laïcité in this country, and the fundamentalist secularisation of society amounts to the systematic elimination of all religion from public life. Conservatives should see such a violation of conscience and property rights as utterly abhorrent.

If two consenting adult Muslims wish to trundle off to their local mosque to get their gay-friendly imam to pray Allah’s blessing upon their happy civil partnership, what business is that of the state? Is it not a fundamental religious liberty for the imam to adopt whatever liturgy he wishes? What business is it of the state to limit the use of religious buildings and thereby determine socio-religious orthodoxy? Having legislated for same-sex civil partnerships, it is bizarre to permit ceremonies to be performed in the Palace of Westminster while barring them from Finsbury Park Mosque. The state should have no interest other than in the licensing of partnership by which property rights may be determined in law.

However, this deregulation must be accompanied with adequate protection for the religious liberty of those who demur. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts to engineer a redefinition, civil partnerships are not marriages. The Church of England has no intention of bowing to political pressure to allow its buildings to be used to conduct same-sex civil partnerships: the Church holds a clear position that marriage is between a man and a woman. The Archbishop of Canterbury will undoubtedly be accused of ‘alienating homosexuals’ and rendering the Church ‘out of touch with society’. And no doubt Peter Tatchell will decry the injustice (while steering well clear of Finsbury Park Mosque). But it is not for politicians to coerce the Christian conscience or redefine two millennia of Christian orthodoxy. And neither is it for the Church of Jesus Christ to accommodate every passing fad and societal obsession.

Conservative peers are mindful of the inadequate protection in the regulations for churches or ministers who do not wish to register civil partnerships. As proposed, they cannot provide protection from equality legislation which is increasingly used against Christians. Further, it is local authorities which will administer the scheme, and these bodies now routinely coerce religious organisations (on pain of the withdrawal of funding) to comply with equality law, for they are themselves charged with the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. One must be sufficiently Christian to be recognisably so, but not so much so that a whiff of doctrinaire might determine one’s ethos.

The peers are led by Baroness O'Cathain, and the debate is scheduled to take place on 15th December (bizarrely, 10 days after the provision comes into effect). If the scheme is to be voluntary and consensual, the Government must ensure adequate legislative protection for those religious organisations to whom ‘gay marriage’ is inimical to their beliefs and who do not wish to accommodate religio-civil partnerships.

It is bizarre that a Conservative prime minister should seek to augment the freedom of the homosexual by curtailing the freedom of the religious. Sacred liturgy for the solemnisation of marriage is not mere words, and the institution is not merely a construct of the state. Ali and Jamal should be free to enter their mosque for the blessings of Allah to be prayed upon their happy union. But there should be no remote possibility of their dragging their recalcitrant imam into court for his refusal to do so.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Church of England rejects Cameron’s ‘British Bill of Rights’

Okay, it’s not Lambeth Palace: it isn’t even the House of Bishops; it’s the Church’s ‘Mission & Public Affairs Council’. But it’s sufficient to merit another Church v State spat (along with Welfare reform, Education reform, and ‘gay marriage’). It’s strange that a coalition of expedience forged as a marriage of convenience with the primary economic raisons d’être of tackling the deficit and paying down the debt should so irk the Lords Spiritual.

The whole statement is reproduced below. It is not without significance that they conclude a British Bill of Rights is absurd (they have channeled His Grace on some points), not least because of its superfluity in the context of our obligations under the provisions of the ECHR (to which the Attorney General is wed). It is, however, utterly baffling (for a Church response) that the Council nowhere refers to the fact that we already have a Bill of Rights (1689) which enshrines our liberties, defines the limitations of the Executive, and inextricably binds the process of government to the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.

Response to the Discussion Paper from the Commission on a Bill of Rights
by the Mission & Public Affairs Council of the Church of England

The Mission & Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.

(1) Do you think we need a UK Bill of Rights?

1. Our answer to this question is a clear “No”. We find the proposal set out in the first of the Commission’s Terms of Reference puzzling in a number of respects. First, the stipulation that a UK Bill of Rights would “incorporate and build on” all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights raises the question of the meaning of “building on” ECHR obligations and how this would operate. Second, it is unclear what is meant by the function of “ensuring that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law” and how this would be achieved. Third, it is unclear how a Bill of Rights would “protect and extend our liberties”.

2. Human rights law is shaped by the interplay between the sovereignty of Parliament in enacting legislation, the obligations to which the UK is committed as a result of ratification of the European Convention in 1951, and the interpretation and enforcement of Convention rights by the domestic courts under the 1998 Human Rights Act. It is difficult to see how a UK Bill of Rights would materially add value to this already complex framework; indeed it would risk adding further confusion, not least for those whom it was designed to benefit.

3. If a Bill of Rights merely “incorporated” ECHR obligations, it would appear to be superfluous. If it added to ECHR obligations, the status of those additional rights would be problematic. They would not constitute international obligations constraining domestic legislation, and even if the provisions of the Bill were entrenched, it is unclear how the courts and Parliament would deal with a finding of incompatibility between the Bill of Rights and other domestic legislation.

4. It is also unclear what rights would be selected to “build on” those contained in the European Convention. There is an argument for parsimony and restraint in identifying human rights as distinct from civil, political and economic rights. The defining characteristic of human rights is that they claim universal scope: rights to life, liberty, privacy, a fair trial, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of association can be seen to apply to all societies. Social and economic rights, crucial though they are, cannot be categorised and enforced in the same way as a human right applicable to all people in virtue of their humanity.

5. If, on the other hand, the Bill of Rights reduced or limited ECHR obligations, there would be a straightforward situation of incompatibility. Since the Attorney General has recently stated that the UK has no intention of repudiating the European Convention, the option of attenuating its provisions has already (rightly, in our view) been closed off. Yet there is a sense that part of the political impetus behind the proposal for a Bill of Rights is a wish to loosen the constraints imposed upon UK legislation and policy by the operation of the Convention. This evades the awkward complication that adherence to the Convention is integrally related to the UK’s membership not only of the Council of Europe, but of the European Union through the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Articles 6(2) and 6(3) of the Treaty of Lisbon which effectively incorporate the ECHR into European Union law.

6. The Prime Minister has previously spoken of “a British Bill of Rights”, but it is clear that this could not be “a Bill of (restricted) British Rights” without withdrawal from the Convention. It is disturbing that many MPs and members of the public seem to think that repeal of the 1998 Human Rights Act would reduce the scope of the UK’s human rights obligations. This ignores the fact that the effect of the Act is simply to make enforceable in domestic courts the Convention rights which have been operative since 1951 and of which individuals have had the right to seek enforcement through the Court in Strasbourg since the 1960s.

7. Since the European Convention was ratified in 1951 and has been enforceable in UK courts since 1998, it is difficult to give any meaning to the suggestion that a Bill of Rights would ensure that Convention rights would continue to be enshrined in UK law. The Convention is already enshrined in UK law, and the proposal for a Bill of Rights to reinforce it comes dangerously close to what the Book of Common Prayer terms “vain repetition”.

8. If, on the other hand, it is intended that the Bill of Rights should entrench additional obligations, it is unclear how this would be effective given the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament, having enacted the Bill of Rights, would always be free to amend or even repeal it, unless it also enacted some kind of self-limiting provision. However, in the absence of a written constitution, no Parliament can bind its successors. Therefore, a Bill of Rights would be at best declaratory. In many contexts, declarations can have value, but not where there is already a large and complex corpus of law.

9. The rhetoric of “protecting and extending” our liberties through a Bill of Rights is problematic for much the same reasons as are set out above in relation to “incorporating and building on” our obligations under the Convention. The function of “protecting” is either unintelligible or futile for the reason given in para. 7. The function of “extending” is incoherent for the reasons given in paras. 3 and 4.

10. The claim that the UK needs a Bill of Rights is therefore highly implausible and illogical. This raises the question why such a proposal is being advanced by the coalition Government. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the proposal is being supported by the parties in the coalition for diametrically opposite reasons. For one party, the appeal seems to be the (false) assumption that a Bill of Rights would confer a degree of independence from the European Convention and the European Court, a means of combating what many describe as “human rights gone mad.” For the other party, it seems to be a rhetorical way of burnishing their credentials as champions of human rights and civil liberties.

11. Clearly these sets of objectives are incompatible. While compromise and ambiguity are inevitable in the management of a coalition, it cannot be right on a subject as important as this to contemplate legislating when the logical case for what is proposed simply does not exist.

Because of a negative answer to question (1), questions (2) and (3) on the content and application of a Bill of Rights are not relevant.

(4) Having regard to our terms of reference, are there any other views which you would like to put forward at this stage?

12. Having regard to the second of the terms of reference, there would be value in the Commission “examining the operation and implementation of these obligations”. We have expressed the view that there is widespread ignorance and misunderstanding both of the European Convention and the Human Rights Act. An informed and expert assessment of the impact of human rights law should help to dispel myths and prejudices.

13. Our expectation is that such an assessment would reveal that unacceptable and anomalous interpretations of human rights originate, not so much from the provisions of the Convention or the decisions of the courts, but from ill-judged statements and actions by politicians and public authorities. This would also contribute towards the aim of “promoting a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties”.

14. Having regard to the third of the terms of reference, we believe that some of the concerns driving the demand for a UK Bill of Rights would be met by appropriate reforms of the operation of the European Court of Human Rights. In his ministerial statement of 18th March 2011, Mr Mark Harper, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office, said, “We will be pressing in particular to reinforce the principle that states rather than the European Court of Human Rights have the primary responsibility for protecting Convention rights”.

15. It is difficult to know what to make of this, as both the Court and states have a role in “protecting” Convention rights at present. If “protection” is taken to include interpretation of the meaning and application of the Convention, this would seem to usurp the function of the Court and to weaken the binding force of the Convention on national governments – though it must be conceded that the practical consequences of a declaration of incompatibility between domestic law and practice and the provisions of the Convention remain somewhat unclear.

16. A better way forward might be increased use by the European Court of the “margin of appreciation”, whereby variations in the application of the Convention are allowed in view of the diverse history, traditions and institutions of different states. This might, for example, have taken the heat out of the Court’s judgment on the voting rights of prisoners in the UK in the Hirst case, which is a major cause of present discontent in Parliament with human rights law. At any rate, reform of the operation of the European Court of Human Rights and its relation to national courts is a more logical and promising way of dealing with difficulties in the system than the introduction of a UK Bill of Rights.

Dr P J Giddings November 2011
Chair, Mission and Public Affairs Council
Church House
Great Smith Street

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beyond Individualism – the imperative of Christian political engagement

His Grace was very interested to learn of a conference taking place in London this week – ‘Beyond Individualism – Why Civil Society Needs Christian Political Engagement’, with speakers including Phillip Blond, Lord Glasman, Professor John Milbank and the eminent Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali.

The event appears to tap into a growing exasperation over the Government’s conflicting and contradictory treatment of British Christians. On the one hand, churches and Christian groups are courted as partners in the ‘Big Society’ project (unsurprisingly so, given they have a centuries-old track record of building crucial social institutions and a continuing presence in serving their local communities through a network of parishes). On the other hand, the Government continues to pursue policies which make it nigh on impossible for Christians to participate in the ‘Big Society’ while simultaneously maintaining their Christian identity.

The conscience of the individual and the distinct ethos of Christian organisations are neither recognised nor respected by those who prioritise the inviolable creeds of equality and inclusion. Meanwhile, the Christian commentary on the fundamental building blocks of society – such as the nature of marriage and the status of the family – seems to fall on deaf (or deliberately blocked) ears. The suspicion is that the ‘Big Society’ isn’t really big enough to include Christians (unless, of course, they are prepared to leave their faith at the door).

All this spells problems for David Cameron’s flagship project: the danger is not only that an enormous and otherwise willing group of citizens is effectively excluded. More fundamentally, it is that the ‘Big Society’ project falls flat on its face precisely because of a refusal to engage with the reality that any successful manifestation of civil society requires a rich and robust common narrative, capable of delivering a shared collection of goals, values and motivations. Historically our Christian heritage has provided that, and it remains the only credible candidate for it. Government grants, initiatives and ‘nudges’ are certainly not a sufficient alternative.

So Christians are rightly concerned. Until these fundamental tensions in government policy are resolved there will be no rich, civil society. And, in the meantime, Christians will increasingly feel as though they are being sidelined, abused, taken for granted, exhorted to work hard on delivery but also to keep silent about their concerns over the direction of the whole project. At best, the situation stems from a fundamental failure on the part of government to understand that religion in general and Christianity in particular is a ‘public’ and not just ‘private’ phenomenon. At worst, it reflects a deliberate refusal to listen.

Such a state of affairs cannot be expected to continue. Perhaps the Coalition’s plans to ‘redefine marriage’ will provoke a rallying call. There are already signs that Christians will express their concerns at the ballot box. As His Grace has reported, a recent ComRes survey suggested that 57% of UK Christians will abandon the Conservatives over ‘gay marriage’.

Whatever happens on that issue, Christians need to consider how to strengthen their political engagement and this event provides an opportunity to do so. And perhaps it suggests a growing recognition of some of the fundamental challenges. That it has attracted ‘Civil Society’ thinkers from across the political spectrum is perhaps indicative of the realisation that engaging with these issues is not peculiar to one particular political hue but fundamental to the very concept of ‘civil society’ and successful manifestations of it. That the conference is a hosted by the European Christian Political Movement allows for the possibility that there are lessons to be learned from ‘Christian Democracy’ in other parts of the continent.

So, perhaps there are stirrings of something new. Perhaps this event will act as a catalyst for that. His Grace looks forward to seeing what emerges from it. If it leads to a more coherent and robust Christian presence in the political discourse, that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Government-guaranteed 95% mortgages ‘buck the market’

This must be a moral hazard zenith.

Or nadir.

It’s hard to tell if this unmitigated folly is a high or a low: His Grace is unsure of the unit of measurement or if a negative quantity is beneficial or detrimental. Either way, the proposal for the taxpayer to underwrite 95% mortgages is an offence against all that is moral, just and right. It amounts to the taxpayer-enforced insuring of the individual against incautious investment. No longer caveat emptor, but screwat taxpayor.

The proposal is aimed at first-time buyers. The Government wants to help 10,000 of them to get a foot on the first rung of the housing ladder by providing a mortgage indemnity scheme of about half a billion. At a time of increasing national debt and growing budget deficit (ie failing Coalition policy), the Government is intent on restoring 95% loan-to-value mortgages to improve affordability and inject some life into the housing market.

It is difficult to conceive of a more peccable policy than one which lures you into a state of maximum indebtedness at a punitive rate of interest, especially when debts of such gargantuan proportions built on the shifting sand of inflated property prices were largely responsible for the global credit crunch and the state we’re in. This time, instead of financial institutions selling on the risk of sub-prime mortgages to an ever-cascading carousel of private banks, the taxpayer will act as guarantor of last resort.

As with the bank bailouts, the shareholder (homeowner) takes the profit in times of plenty, but the poor taxpayer takes the hit in the lean years. It is even more invidious when you consider that those who take out these 95% loans will be subject to a higher rate of interest than those who are deemed to present less of a risk: the repayments will be arduous and the emotional costs very high. This is simply piling Pelion upon Ossa. At these thresholds, the ‘dream of home ownership’ can rapidly become a nightmare trap of negative equity and unsalability: the Englishman’s castle becomes his dungeon. House prices are not guaranteed to go on rising in perpetuity: the easier-credit bubble will surely burst, just as it has always done. It is as if we have learned nothing from Gordon Brown’s economic innumeracy.

Of course, Conservatives favour home ownership: Margaret Thatcher heralded a revolution in the property-owning democracy with the sale of council homes to tenants. But these were massively discounted in recognition of decades of paid rent: they were sold at significantly less than their market value, and so presented no financial risk to the buyer. She was, as ever, mindful of the market, famously noting that it cannot be bucked.

David Cameron, however, is taking an enormous risk: he is not only gambling that current property prices will be sustained; he is attempting to ‘buck the market’ by encouraging would-be home owners to a level of indebtedness beyond what the market believes is advisable, desirable, sustainable or moral. Lenders are cautious because they have just learned (the hard way) that debts must be secured. When they are not, you enter into the Looking Glass economics of Wonderland.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Church of England takes a 'moral stand' against welfare reforms

The introduction of a cap on benefits, as suggested in the Welfare Reform Bill, could push some of the most vulnerable children in the country into severe poverty. While 70,000 adults are likely to be affected by the cap, the Children's Society has found that it is going to cut support for an estimated 210,000 children, leaving as many as 80,000 homeless. The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.

We are urging the government to consider some of the options offered by the Children's Society before the bill is passed into legislation, such as removing child benefit from household income for the purposes of calculating the level of the cap and calculating the level of the cap based on earnings of families with children, rather than all households. The government could also consider removing certain vulnerable groups from the cap and the introduction of a significant "grace period" of exemption from the cap for households which have recently left employment.

The Bishops of Bath & Wells, Blackburn, Bristol, Chichester, Derby, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, London, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Ripon and Leeds, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Wakefield and Truro

The above open letter appears in today's Observer, over which CofE bishops routinely pore on the Lord's Day as they partake of their English Breakfast tea and marmalade on toast. The letter was apparently written with the blessings of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who are of the opinion that the imposition of a £500-a-week benefit cap on families is 'profoundly unjust'.


His Grace would like a pad in Virgina Water, preferably on the Wentworth Estate. Failing that, a nice pied-à-terre in Kensington Palace Gardens would suffice. The reality, of course, is that his abode is commensurate with and proportionate to his meagre stipend: he has no expectation that the taxpayer should subsidise his desire to dwell in an area he cannot afford.

£2000 a month represents the average weekly wage for working households. Adopting the mean income would appear to be a manifestly fair way of apportioning welfare, the bill for which presently runs at £192bn a year. But the bishops are concerned that the reforms risk pushing thousands of children into poverty and homelessness. How in the name of St Gemma could an income of £2000 a month be considered poverty? Certainly, it won't be enough to pay a rent in Kensington or any major city. So move.

When it comes to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society, the Government's measure of poverty is woefully inadequate. His Grace has said this before, but he will say it again for the economically obtuse. If poverty continues to be defined in relative terms, then Jesus was right to insist that the poor will always be with us. For when the average household income reaches £35,000, there will still be children being brought up in households where the income is a meagre £21,000, and thereby damned to be brought up in ‘Dickensian levels of poverty’.

The proportion of UK households defined as living in poverty has been around the 20 per cent through many decades of both Conservative and Labour administrations.

If the Conservative Party were intent on eradicating child poverty, or any other kind of poverty, they would first need to confront UN/EU/UK definition of the term and reassess how it is measured, for the social(-ist) scientists have being very busy moving the goalposts.

The bishops are right to highlight that subject of poverty, for it was foundational to the ministry of Jesus: he preached more about money than he did about eternal salvation. But when examining what he said about the poor, consideration has to be given to context and audience, and the nuances of Greek vocabulary also need examining.

What does Luke mean by ‘the poor’ (6:20)? The peasants who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was (and is) concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money - the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions.

This is an important distinction upon which the bishops might like to reflect. The Bishop of Truro, Tim Thornton, said the unity of the bishops should convince the government to act: "We are proposing something positive rather than just saying something negative," he said.

Bishop, with enormous respect, being positive isn't the same as being right, just, fair or moral.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Farage's Cromwell moment: "What in God's name gives you the right...?"

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Nigel Farage might as well have said:
It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

Pope kissing Sheikh ‘is evocative of inter-faith dialogue, co-operation and communication’

This is a guest post by Caroline Farrow (a ‘Cassock-loving Catholic’):

Not content with Benetton’s withdrawal of their offensive advertisement featuring a photoshopped image of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, the Vatican have announced that they intend ‘to take the proper legal measures’ to stop the use of the photo.

That the photo is offensive can be in no doubt. The photo displays the Pope in the act of a homo-erotic embrace, which Catholics would consider to be a grave sin and suggests a deep underlying hypocrisy. Not only that, but the by-line ‘hope not hate’ seems to endorse the sin as being a positive development and a sign that the Church might change its doctrine on homosexuality. To add insult to injury, there is a further implication that the Catholic Church’s stance is one of hatred when nothing could be further from the truth. As the Catechism states:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination...constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided (CCC 2358).
The Vatican would be wise to accept the withdrawal and accept that the Pope was an inevitable pawn in Benetton’s global brand strategy. This is not the first time that Benetton has deliberately caused controversy and offence to the Catholic Church: the technique is a familiar trope in advertising – run offensive campaign and subsequently withdraw poster, resulting in maximum publicity. It is a deliberate weighing up of limited disgust with brand versus enormous recognition and publicity, designed to net them millions of dollars. How else might one guarantee global headlines and even a mention by the President of the United States?

Whilst the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi, is correct in identifying the demonstrable lack of respect to the Pope and the offence caused to millions of believers, he should also remember that no-one has a right not to be offended. To sue for hurt feelings would be to squander resources that could be put to better use and casts Catholics into the mould of dour Puritans or fundamental Islamists, unable to laugh at ourselves or see the comic surrealism inherent in the image.

Furthermore, Catholic doctrine is considered offensive by a not inconsiderable number of secularists, hence if Catholics wish to push the right-not-to-be-offended card, we could well find ourselves on a sticky wicket and legislate away our own already-diminishing religious liberties and freedoms of speech. We cannot have a situation where nobody may publicly say anything negative about anybody else for fear that the offence caused may see them facing civil or criminal charges. Satire is an important tool of a healthy democracy, although this advertisement was of a more cynical nature. The censorship of images and the suppression of creativity are the hallmarks of a totalitarian state.

If there is no such thing as negative publicity, then the wisest move the Vatican could make would be to hijack and own the advertisement. The figures of two great spiritual leaders embracing is evocative of inter-faith dialogue, co-operation and communication. Sheikh el-Tayeb froze relations with the Vatican in January of this year after the Pope spoke out about the plight of the Coptic Christians in Eygpt. The Vatican could use this image to emphasise ‘the Holy See’s readiness to continue on the path of interreligious dialogue and cooperation’.

Since May, over 90,000 Coptic Christians have been forced to leave Egypt, and state broadcasters loyal to the military junta have been urging 'honourable Egyptians' to help the army to put down the 'sons of dogs’ as Christians have protested about the destruction of their Churches. What could be more apposite than the message of ‘Hope not Hate’, in these circumstances?

The Pope has demonstrated much commitment to inter-faith dialogue with Islam over the past few years, praying in a Turkish mosque in 2006; holding many meetings with Muslims, most recently in Berlin during September’s Papal visit to Germany; and even inviting Sheikh El-Tayeb to the recent inter-faith gathering in Assisi, which the Sheikh refused.

Of course, Fr Lombardi’s threat of legal action might well be a canny move, because to publicly endorse the advert might well cause further offence in an already volatile and precariously-balanced relationship. Presumably, Sunni Muslims find this image every bit as offensive as Catholics, but I would agree with el-Tayeb’s spokesman, that the image is indeed ‘absurd’. The Vatican has more pressing battles on its hands, not least halting the spread of a greedy and corrupt over-corporatisation: at his weekly audience at the beginning of November, the Pope denounced a profit-at-all-costs mentality as being responsible for the current global financial crisis. It would therefore be ironic if the Church were to play straight into the hands of corporate strategists, by giving the advertisement far more importance than it actually merits.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is it offensive to photoshop the Pope?

Benetton has withdrawn the advertisement which shows Pope Benedict XVI kissing Islamic Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. Perhaps understandably, a number of Roman Catholics found it offensive, and Fr. Lombardi at the Holy See called it 'unacceptable'.

But if it be, why is not also 'unacceptable' to photoshop images of any world leaders kissing each other? Benetton have not pulled their posters of President Barack Obama smooching Venezuela’s Hugo Chàvez, or that of Chancellor Merkel snogging President Sarkozy.

Are not these offensive to their followers? Do not Democrats find manipulated images of their saviour offensive? Why should religious leaders be preserved from 'unacceptable' parody or satire? We are not, after all, talking about the images of Mohammed or Jesus or any demi-god; we are talking about fallible men (except, of course, in dogmatic matters of faith).

And if be offensive to show the Pope kissing, is it not also offensive to juxtapose the Archbishop of Canterbury with Animal? Is that not designed to provoke? Who deterimes the threshold of offence?

Give a Jew a bacon sandwich, and he’ll roar with laughter, and what's more there will be no lawsuit for infringement of their human rights or a call to jihad. Islam is no laughing matter, Mohammed no joke, and Allah apparently incapable of humour. One must hope this incapacity for levity does not become too widespread, or Rowan Williams Atkinson will be out of a job.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rainbow street signs establish Liverpool ‘gay area’

Longtime readers of this blog will know that His Grace is of an essentially latitudinal and tolerant disposition: he eschews the extremes of political ideology, schismatic theology and abstract philosophy in favour of a plethora of viae mediae, even when they may be mutually exclusive or held ‘in tension’, often to the immense frustration of some of his more robust readers and communicants.

The title of this blog post may sound like a joke, but it really isn’t. And His Grace really (no, really) wouldn’t have much of a problem with it, if it were not for the inexorable ascendancy of the emerging hierarchy of competing and mutually-exclusive rights with which Labour has unremittingly burdened the British taxpayer and irredeemably corrupted all political discourse.

We have set religious liberties against gay rights and we have sexual equality legislation which infringes freedom of conscience. The law which was designed to protect minorities from discrimination is riding roughshod over the rights and beliefs of the majority. There is no limit to the application of such a principle. As the Archbishop of Canterbury observed: 'By legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups, the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk'

Now it transpires that homosexuals in Liverpool are being granted their own brightly-coloured street signs emblazoned with rainbows, and these signs are just so happy and gay (that is, if one is any longer permitted to use that word in its original sense of possessing a merry, lively mood or showing extravagance and ornament). Lest anyone be confused by this development in highway insignia, there are no street signs featuring Bungle, Zippy, George, or even Geoffrey: just up above the streets and houses, rainbow climbing high. Everyone can see it smiling over the sky. Paint the whole world with a...

Oh, sorry.

As His Grace was saying, the rainbow (Gen 9:13) has been appropriated by the homosexual community/ies rather like the word ‘gay’ (not to mention Abba, Kylie, the colour purple [not the film – yet] and male grooming). Liverpool has become the first city in Britain to have street signs featuring rainbows, the first of which was unveiled last week on Stanley Street at the heart of the city’s ‘gay quarter’.

Apparently, these rainbows will also feature on Cumberland Street, Temple Lane, Eberle Street and Temple Street, after a decision by the city’s council to recognise the Stanley Street quarter as a ‘gay area’.

Now then, these signs are all very nice and jolly and would brighten up any neglected and rundown area. But the inescapable logic of this precedent (paid for, of course, by the Council Tax-payer) is that any geographic area typified by a distinct identity could now be subject to a barrage of ‘equality’ demands for councils to endow street signs with sundry logos.

Should the entirety of Brighton’s streets be recast with rainbow signage? Or Soho? And what about the straight areas? Should there be a whatever-the-logo-for-‘straight’-is in (say) Newcastle? Or is it only minorities which get dedicated street signs?

How about putting Labour’s logo all over Barnsley? Or the Tory logo over Gerrards Cross? Or Banbury Cross? Or the LibDem logo on rubbish bins? Talking of crosses, why don’t we have the Christian symbol on streets around Holy Trinity Brompton? Or the Sikh khanda in Southall? Or some expression of Islamic incursion and ownership in Minaret Tower Hamlets or Leyton?

O, hang on.

We already have some of the more robust followers of Mohammed demanding: ‘How dare you come to a Muslim area?’ And they know what they’re doing. Where they are in a majority, it becomes a territorial land-grab for Allah – part of the dar-al-Islam, where sharia law prevails. This leads to a rejection of the unbelieving kuffar, or the demand of special taxes upon them and the imposition of the sharia criminal code administered through sharia courts. There is a de facto ban on alcohol consumption in public, and many pubs and bars are forced to close. The advertising of ladies underwear is prohibited, and there are certainly no gay bars.

His Grace is not saying that those behind street signage with gay rainbows are as bad as those who seek to blow us all to kingdom come: but the alienating effects upon some straight people may be just as keenly felt as it is by the infidel gays who dare to venture into a ‘Muslim area’ where a rigorous policy of ‘no gays’ is in operation. It is ironic that, as our public space becomes more secular (and so, we are told, more ‘neutral’), we are apportioning a distinct sexual identity to entire quarters of our main cities. The logic of what must follow, under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, is inescapable.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cameron: "What kind of Europe do we want?"

Angela Merkel: "The task of our generation is to complete economic and monetary union, and build political union in Europe, step by step. That does not mean less Europe, it means more Europe. If the euro fails, then Europe will fail.

David Cameron: "Change brings opportunities, an opportunity to begin to refashion the EU so it better serves this nation’s interests and the interests of its other 26 nations too. An opportunity, in Britain’s case, for powers to ebb back instead of flow away, and for the European Union to focus on what really matters. That is the kind of fundamental reform I yearn for, and I am determined to do everything possible to deliver it."

If these statements are not mutally exclusive, there is certainly a chasm between them of the order of that which separates heaven from hell. Chancellor Merkel helpfully confirms that the ECSC/EEC/EC/EU project was and is about political union; not mere matters of trade, as we were told in 1973. She also succinctly confirms the Monnet/Schuman doctrine of the incremental fusion of nation states. 'Fused’ is the word Monnet used in 1952, and is wholly consistent with the language of EU treaties. For this to be achieved without the peoples of Europe realising what was happening, the plan was to be accomplished in successive steps. Each was to be disguised as having an economic purpose, but all, taken together, would inevitably and irreversibly lead to federation.

After Europe’s coal and steel production were pooled, Europe’s atomic programmes were to be co-ordinated. Then would follow the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Market. After this would come the single currency, and so on. The anti-EEC leaflet of the 1975 referendum plainly set out the dangers of such a federation, warning: ‘The fundamental question is whether or not we remain free to rule ourselves in our own way... the Common Market...sets out by stages to merge Britain with France, Germany, Italy and other countries into a single nation... our right, by our votes, to change policies and laws in Britain will steadily dwindle.’ Hugh Gaitskell uttered the same warning at the 1962 Labour Party Conference, when he spoke of ‘the end of Britain as an independent nation state... the end of a thousand years of history. You may say “let it end” but, my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.’

It would be easy to confuse Gaitskell with today's 'xenophobic right-wing swivel-eyed loons'. But successive European treaties have shown that his fears were not without foundation. The question for Mr Cameron is what will he do if France and Germany proceed (as they will) with 'more Europe'? Eurosceptic-sounding speeches are all well and good, but there comes a point when the rhetoric is devoid of credibility. The Prime Minister is not stupid: he knows that 'for powers to ebb back instead of flow away' will require the unanimous consent of 26 other nations. That means a further amendment to the Treaty of Rome, and so a new EU treaty. And he is pledged to put any further treaty to a referendum of the people. Hmm...

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Iron Lady - official UK trailer

His Grace can hardly wait.

UKIP and the suicidal spirit of Kilroy

Have you noticed that UKIP is about to replace the LibDems as the UK’s third party? Apparently, they are now regularly polling a 7 per cent approval rating, just a tantalising single point behind the LibDems. This is being attributed (not unreasonably) to the refusal of the three main parties to offer the electorate a referendum on EU membership. It’s more than that, of course: now that the LibDems have made it to government – and been seen to be as willing to break their promises and sell their souls as all the others – UKIP has become the natural depository of disaffected votes, at least Tory ones.

Have you also noticed that most Conservatives tend to give UKIP a high degree of credibility and treat the party with respect? Not all, of course: there is not quite praise and adulation for every member, but there is frequent appreciation of the Party’s principal aim(s) and objective(s), if not of their political strategy. When they speak on immigration, it usually makes sense; when they delve into economics, there is reason; when they talk on education, they strike a traditional Tory chord. The problem, of course, is that their very name identifies them with a single issue - indepedence from Brussels - and the British public tend not to want a pressure group to form a government.

But have you noticed that this respect is never reciprocated? When UKIP refer to Conservatives, there is invariably a sneering contempt and scarcely-concealed loathing in their comments and reports. The Conservatives are ‘traitors’ who ‘betrayed’ the country and ‘deceive’ the electorate. Perhaps some did and do, but it is an irrational prejudice to tarnish an entire movement because of the actions of a few. A prominent and powerful few, no doubt. But a few, nonetheless, who have led and still lead a party of patriots, not traitors. Such language brings to mind the speech made by Robert Kilroy Silk when he joined UKIP’s ranks: the UKIP objective, he proclaimed, was to kill the Tories. He said back in 2004 that the Conservative Party was redundant and dying: “Why would you want to give it the kiss of life?" he asked. "What we want to do is kill and replace it. That is our destiny."

Sadly, for Him, others didn’t share his teleological interpretation of the political apocalypse. Nigel Farage didn’t wish to surrender the leadership and so Mr Kilroy Silk waltzed off in a hissy fit because he couldn’t get his hands on the crown. And it’s a crown that rests uneasily upon any other head.

Of course, some Conservatives treat UKIP as a bunch of lightweights, dilettantes, gadflies, eccentrics and closet racists. Even their own founder, Dr Alan Sked, has been scathing about his erstwhile colleagues and has not infrequently advised the public to be grown-up and vote Conservative. But how many members of UKIP are able to grasp that their only hope of achieving their ultimate objective is to re-join the ranks of the Conservative Party? There are quite a few Conservative members (even a majority) who favour total withdrawal from the European Union, and want a referendum. And those who do not certainly want a fundamental renegotiation of that ‘relationship’, the very proposal which enabled many of the 81 Conservatives to rebel against their party whip a few weeks ago. Withdrawal or renegotiation clearly attract a majority of Conservative Party members and a not insignificant minority of Conservative MPs. The reason UKIP scored 16 per cent in the last euro election is because that campaign is gradually becoming a referendum on EU membership: it is the one election when Britons feel they are voting on Britain's ‘relationship with Europe’. It is not (yet) the case that disaffected Conservatives are anywhere near to giving UKIP their first MP, but it is undeniable that the difference between a creditable Conservative result and a good one is the extent to which UKIP can lure eurosceptic voters who would normally support the Conservatives.

Nigel Farage, a ‘true Conservative’, has often said that the function of UKIP is to be the conscience of the Conservative Party. This is nonsense, for a conscience is consubstantial with the carnal: it is not a separate and divided entity, poking and prodding, carping and criticising from beyond the body; it is one and indivisible. According to James Delingpole, “The moment the Conservatives start behaving like proper Conservatives again — Eurosceptical, small government, low tax, etc — that’ll be it. Most of the 7 per cent of voters who are currently Ukip’s will be straight back into the Tory fold and we’ll have a proper, Thatcherite government again doing the Lord’s work.”

Dellers is deluded if he thinks this is how politics works: the Conservatives will only ‘start behaving like proper Conservatives again’ when the right arm, the right hand and the right foot cease their childish bid for corporeal independence and decide to reacquaint themselves with their equal and opposite limbs. We are one body. If the right foot should say, “Because the left hand will not scratch my itch, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the right ear should say, “Because the left eye will not see as I hear, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were a right eye, where would the left sense of hearing be? If the whole body were a right ear, where would the right sense of smell be? But in fact history has placed the parts in the Conservative body, every one of them, just as it ought to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The right eye cannot say to the left hand, “I don’t need you!” And similarly the head cannot say to the left foot, “I’d rather have a LibDem prosthesis than you!” On the contrary, those left parts of the body that seem to be ideologically weaker than the right are indispensable, and the parts that the right thinks are less honourable should be treated with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable should be treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. History/Burke/God put the Conservative Party together, occasionally giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

UKIP should not treat the Conservative Party with contempt, but acknowledge it as part of the same body. The party has been a broad church coalition since its inception, and it veers from left to right in accordance with the character disposition of its leader. The departure of the Whiggish arm leaves the Tory body weakened, rather like the Pope’s Ordinariate drawing traditionalists out of the Church of England. Of course these digits and limbs have to be free to amputate and extricate themselves, but there is no doubt as they depart that the fulcrum of the via media shifts: equilibrium becomes disproportionately weighted; balance turns to imbalance.

Most UKIP activists are fully aware that they will never form a government: they want only to hold a dagger at the throat of the Conservatives, and some are desperate for a kill. They do not seek negotiation or reasoned compromise; their pathology yearns for blood. The spirit of Kilroy moves among them, for even if they were offered an electoral pact, they would decline it, referring to David Cameron’s ‘cast-iron guarantee’ with the refrain ‘you can’t trust a Tory’. And so they plough on with their principled conservative position, oblivious to the fact that they need to persuade and form a coalition with lesser-principled Conservatives to achieve their desired outcome. They won’t, of course, because they have become entrenched in visceral hatred and loathing for the rest of their erstwhile body. They are content to swing 5-10 per cent of the electorate for a symbolic poll result, rather than rejoin local Conservative associations, get elected on to executive bodies and vote for eurosceptic officers who will hold their parliamentary representatives to account. But that’s too much like hard work.

Every percentage point swing away from the Conservatives is sufficient to hand some of their MPs notice of redundancy. 7 per cent will hand rather more their P45s. 16 per cent is electoral oblivion for them and perpetual power to the Europhiles. It is one thing to be principled to agitate, but without the capacity for compromise and coalition, there can be no power. Without power, one can never effect change. UKIP should exorcise the spirit of Kilroy and rediscover its Conservative roots: it is not too late to re-attach a few chilled limbs to the life-giving warmth of the body. We are nearing that time when the right hand, right eye and right foot will be vindicated. If the super-objective is to address the issue of European Union, don’t waste time trying to kill the Conservative Party: it is immortal because, from time to time, it still beats with the conservative heart of the British people.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We will remember them

This sacred day is dedicated to all those who gave their lives between 1914-2011 in defence of this nation; for liberty, democracy, justice and truth. To those who died for King or Queen and Country; to those who gave their lives yesterday in order that we may enjoy today and a thousand tomorrows. Honour and respect are due to you, and we bow our heads in memory of your sacrifice.

The poppy is a remembrance not only of the millions who have died, but of what they died for.

Lest we forget our liberty, traditions, faith and democracy, we will remember them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Euro meltdown upstages Iran's nuclear bomb

This is a guest post by Zach Johnstone:

It is well-established that in a world of 24-hour news cycles certain issues will entirely dominate the agenda, only for others – often just as deserving of exposure – to fall by the wayside. With Italian bond yields rising, Franco-German emergency summits taking place and Greek motions of no confidence passing, reporters are simply chronicling events as they unfold. It is of little surprise, then, that news of Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons has been mentioned only fleetingly in recent days. Following the breaking news that Iran has been enriching its uranium supplies, the issue has been sidelined. Nuclear proliferation is gathering pace and yet engagement with the potential consequences has been wholly absent. There has been no mention of Iran colluding with the North Koreans, or that its nuclear programme has reached such an advanced stage that it could have at least one workable nuclear weapon within a year. It is enough to lead one to question the mainstream media’s grasp of the magnitude of this issue, and the very real prospect of untold catastrophe that accompanies it.

We should be under no illusion as to Iran’s intentions: to rid the Middle East of Israel and to grant itself unquestionable ‘major player’ status in the international arena. For many years Ahmadinejad has set out his position on the matter with alarming forthrightness; readers will recall his promise in 2005 to wipe Israel “off the map”, whilst even in recent days (in a flagrant dismissal of the threat of US intervention) he described the Jewish state as "a kidney transplanted in a body that rejected it", unflinchingly asserting that the United States may want to "save the Zionist entity, but it will not be able to do so." (His brash statements portend an ever-more belligerent Iran, and certainly do not support the idea that Ahmadinejad’s nation is enriching its uranium for peaceful purposes as he still incredulously maintains. He understands that nuclear weapons are “the great equaliser”, the short cut to credibility and to relative immunity from the perceived hegemonic tendencies of US foreign policy. He comprehends, in other words, that a nuclear Iran is one to which the West would have to pay close attention.

After all, how do you diplomatically sideline a country with both the capacity and the desire to launch a nuclear-ready Shahab-3 missile deep into the heart of Tel-Aviv at any moment?

In the face of such a threat it is useful to consider for a moment the remarkable success that the West, led by the United States, has had in reducing the nuclear threat and to see that Iran is one of a small few exceptions to the rule. Ambitions for nuclear disarmament are almost as old as nuclear technology itself - since Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ speech to the UN in 1953 in which he pledged America’s “determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma” successive US presidents have sought to progressively rid the world of nuclear weapons. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 convinced John F. Kennedy of the intolerable threat that nuclear weapons pose to the world, and his 1968 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty has since become the founding document in a series of international agreements to reduce nuclear arsenals in both the US and Russia, as well as to dissuade rising powers from ‘going nuclear’. At present the NPT has the commitment of 184 nations around the world; four countries (Kazakhstan, South Africa, Belarus and the Ukraine) have given up nuclear weapons altogether, whilst many others – notably Libya – abandoned plans to begin nuclear programmes. Indeed, there are no more nuclear powers now than there were at the end of the Cold War.

In spite of this success, however, there are several countries which have decided that the need to guarantee their own national security prevails over the need to adhere to international treaties. Why, they argue, should we enshrine the right of existing nuclear powers to maintain their arsenals and to simultaneously castigate others for merely seeking to level the playing field? North Korea’s primary aim is to neutralise perceived US and South Korean aggression and to elevate the nation’s status as a military force. Its decision to expel IAEA and UN inspectors from the country in 2002 and 2009 respectively, to pull out of the six-party talks and to recommence its nuclear programme at Yongbyon were symbolic – carried out principally to demonstrate that the nation will not be pushed around by heavy-handed, Western-backed international agencies. Essentially, Kim Jong-Il propounds the belief that it is unacceptable for the US to dictate to the world that certain approved countries may possess nuclear weapons but countries outside this exclusive club may not.

In the case of Iran, the issue runs much deeper than a desire to make a point of the West’s hypocrisy. Its motivation is religious, it is historical and it is geopolitical. Before the 1979 revolution relations between the two nations were amicable – Iran was one of the first Islamic nations to recognise Israel after its creation and the two maintained strong diplomatic links, held together owing in no small part to a mutual distrust of neighbouring Sunni states. The game changer was Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who paved the way for the imposition of anti-Zionism and for all existing ties between the two nations to be severed. Khomeini’s Revolution flew in the face of centuries of Persian-Jewish alliance, the strength of which is epitomised by the support that the Iranian state offered to Jews fleeing persecution in Europe at the hands of the Nazis in the Second World War. In marked contrast, the story in recent decades has been one of suspicion and mutual disdain, and it is abundantly clear that for the modern incarnation of the Iranian state all roads lead to Israel’s destruction. Iran’s wish to see Israel perish has given rise to Israel’s own desire to pre-emptively strike Iran should relations deteriorate sufficiently, a fact that has muddied the already desperately complex waters of Middle East relations. It therefore comes as no surprise that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak have refused to rule out Israeli military action in relation to this latest Iranian transgression of various international treaties, though this is a reality that simply cannot be allowed to come to fruition.

It is, of course, easy to say this – what is far more difficult is to say what should be done instead.

In the face of Iran’s defiance the West has two choices: economic sanctions or military intervention. The problem with the former is that many countries – notably China – would simply refuse to adhere to any such policy; attempting to withhold resources without the support of China would be an exercise in futility, causing little disruption to Iran and certainly doing nothing to persuade it to desist with its nuclear ambitions. The problem with the latter is that it is impossible to tell where military intervention would lead or, indeed, how effective it would be. Would US raids on Iranian targets elicit a response? Ahmadinejad has already promised to respond to Western aggression by harming US interests in the Gulf region, whilst Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke on state television in recent days to affirm that “[military] action will be firmly responded to”. Would military strikes, as the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta argues, simply delay the inevitable and fail to actually halt Iran in its tracks? The worry in the White House is that Iran would simply pick up where it left off; the best that the West could hope for would be to delay Iran’s nuclear project by three years.

John F. Kennedy once stated that "the world was not meant to be a prison in which man awaits his execution". Words which for many decades held a particular resonance for anybody living within the range of Moscow’s missiles are, for the Israeli people, far too accurate a depiction of the present state of play in the Middle East. The West was not tough enough on Iran when it counted, and now there is little it can do but sit back and prepare for the country to go nuclear. With one course of action unlikely to deter Iran and the other likely to force it to retaliate militarily, the West’s choice is one of its own making, namely that between ineffectiveness and recklessness.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Archbishops of Canterbury and York on reform of the House of Lords

A Submission from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Government’s Draft Bill and White Paper.

General principles

1. More than a decade ago, the then Archbishops‟ submission to the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform said that the test of reform was whether it would enable Parliament as a whole to serve the people better. That has remained the consistent position of Church of England submissions since.

2. As with any constitutional change, it is important, therefore, that there is clarity over the problems that reform is intended to address and a reasonable measure of assurance that the proposed solutions will work and avoid unintended consequences. Fundamental changes to how we are governed should also command a wide measure of consent within the country as well as in Parliament.

3. In his initial response of May 2011 to the White Paper and Draft Bill the Lords Spiritual Convenor, the Bishop of Leicester, said: “Some reform of the Lords is overdue, not least to resolve the problem of its ever-increasing membership. But getting the balance of reform right, so that we retain what is good in our current arrangements, whilst freeing up the House to operate more effectively and efficiently, is crucial.” In particular, the proposal to reduce the overall size of the House is welcome. But it is far less clear that wholesale reform of the House of Lords along the lines now envisaged gets the balance right.

4. For so long as the majority of the House of Lords consisted of the hereditary peerage there was manifestly a compelling case for reform. Whatever the arguments for appointment as against election there was no cogent case for a legislature where the hereditary voice was potentially predominant – indeed still around two-thirds of the total membership in 1997.

5. The 1999 legislation has, however, largely addressed that issue. The appointed component of the House has now increased from around a third in 1997 to around 85%. A case can certainly be made for completing the process of reform and ending the practice of reserved places for hereditary peers. Introducing retirement ages for appointed peers and the ability for them to resign also makes sense.

6. The more fundamental issue however, is the rationale for going beyond this and substantially reducing - or even abandoning - the appointed component in favour of a partly or wholly elected House of Lords.

7. We recognise both the nature of arguments for election motivated by concerns for democratic legitimacy, and the political consensus reflected in the 2010 General Election manifestoes. Any reform that enables parliament as a whole to maintain a wide and enduring level of public respect is likely to attract our support. However, the declared view of the three main parties that the Upper House should be wholly or mainly elected does not appear to proceed from any settled view as to the fundamental purpose of the second chamber of the legislature, what its powers should be and – crucially - what its relationship should be with the House of Commons.

8. The Church of England and its bishops claim no special expertise in relation to systems of governance. The sheer diversity of constitutional arrangements across the democratic world should, however, in our view, instil a sense of humility in relation to claims that any one approach is manifestly superior to another. It also makes us cautious of changes which derive their justification from abstract theory or supposed universal norms.

9. Constitutions appear to reflect the particular histories, cultures and circumstances of each nation. The fact that ours has evolved over a particularly long period is not an argument against its further significant evolution. But it does seem to us to create a presumption in favour of adaptation and specific reforms to address manifest problems rather than far-reaching changes which sweep away all the familiar landmarks.

10. At a time of considerable public concern over our national political life and the conduct of those who serve the nation in Parliament, it must at the very least be highly questionable whether a reformed House consisting very largely or wholly of those elected from party lists would increase public confidence in our constitutional arrangements, or be a recipe for effective and accountable government.

11. Nor at a time of great economic uncertainty, when very substantial sums are being removed from the public purse, does it seem easy to justify a salaried House at substantially increased cost to the Exchequer, in the process, depriving Parliament of the expertise (brought far less expensively) by a very substantial appointed component.

12. In summary, if, as we believe, the second chamber should remain essentially a revising chamber and if, as we also believe, the primacy of the House of Commons is to be maintained, the argument that such a chamber can only be effective and have proper legitimacy if it is wholly or mainly elected is no more than an assertion.

Powers, Functions and Legitimacy

13. In their speeches in the House of Lords on 29th June the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Leicester argued that there was a compelling case for retaining a second chamber that, both in its powers and composition, was distinctive from the House of Commons.

14. The Archbishop of York identified three objectives for the second chamber: to ensure the just use of power entrusted to the government of the day, which necessarily commands a majority in the House of Commons; to ensure true and impartial accountability; and to represent the breadth and diversity of civil society and intellectual life.

15. Consistent with this, the Bishop of Leicester underlined the crucial role of the second chamber in scrutinising and revising government legislation with a degree of independence not possible in the House of Commons.

16. It seems to us that reforms which bring the second chamber further under the control of the main political parties, especially if the governing party or coalition can rely on a majority in the second chamber, will inevitably damage the independence of the House of Lords and its ability to require governments to think again about specific legislative proposals.

17. There are several conclusions that could fairly be drawn from the claim made in that debate that over the past five years some 40% of the legislative amendments passed by the Lords against the advice of the Government have subsequently passed into law. They do not include casting doubt on the effectiveness of the present House of Lords as an effective second chamber.

18. The objective embodied in Clause 2 of the draft bill- to maintain the present relationship between Commons and Lords- seems to us to be right but inconsistent with the rest of the legislation. Once the second chamber were granted electoral legitimacy- not least under a proportional system which many would see as conferring greater democratic legitimacy than the first past the post system- the two Houses would over time increasingly find themselves in conflict with each other. In this respect we concur with the relevant conclusion of the November 2006 report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by Lord Cunningham.

19. Moreover, it seems to be the common experience with all legislative assemblies created in recent times (the European Parliament, the devolved bodies) that the moment their members are elected they demand more powers. The Royal Commission expressed its strong opposition „to a situation in which the two Houses of Parliament had equivalent electoral legitimacy. It would represent a substantial change in the present constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom and would almost certainly be a recipe for damaging conflict.‟ Whatever reservations there might now be about the specific proposals of the Royal Commission, its conclusion on this point seems to us compelling.

20. Speaking in the Lords in 2009 the Bishop of Liverpool described the value of the present arrangement in the following way: “We need to recover the unity of Parliament in the constitutional debate—two Houses, but one Parliament: a Commons that is elected and with the authority of having the last word, and a revising Chamber to advise, revise and refine the legislation….A mutuality between the two Houses, each distinctive in character and composition but mutually dependent, the elected looking to the other for the wisdom of experience, the appointed deferring to the elected and acknowledging their authority to have the last word as the voice of the people: one Parliament of two Houses under the Crown, as a sign that our own accountability is in two directions; below to the people, above to the source of our moral intuition."

21. We are concerned that the proposals in the Draft Bill may, by leading inevitably to a more assertive approach to conflict and disagreement with the Commons, make it harder for the institution as a whole to sustain the trust and confidence of the electorate. The then Bishop of Durham, also speaking in the Lords in 2009, said: “Legitimacy does not arise just from having people vote for you. Legitimacy is also sustained by doing the job and being trusted. Public consent and approval can come through the ballot box, or in other ways. When you do not get the second form of legitimacy, sustained trust, people lose interest in the first, the ballot box.”

22. Selection as a party candidate for election to a second chamber of the kind proposed in the draft bill would in all probability become a consolation prize for those who failed to gain selection for a seat in the House of Commons. Whilst the provision in Clause 55 to introduce restrictions on former members being elected as MPs is a useful guard against the use of the House of Lords as a springboard to launch a bid to become an MP, the lack of any similar restrictions on MPs seeking to stand for election to a reformed House of Lords is notable. It is not clear what substance there is to the assertion in paragraph 146 of the White Paper that the reformed House of Lords should “attract individuals with different qualities from members of the House of Commons”.

Other provisions in the draft bill

23. The proposal to establish a statutory Appointments Commission to appoint non-party political members of the Lords is welcome. Our support for this measure dates back to the Church‟s response to the Royal Commission in 2000.

24. Whilst we understand the rationale for the powers in Part 5 of the Draft Bill to enable the Prime Minister to appoint Ministers to a reformed House of Lords supernumerary to overall numbers, it is crucial that such powers are used sparingly and not as a means to ensure majorities in the Upper House. There is a case for inserting a maximum number in the bill for Prime Ministerial appointees rather than leaving this for secondary legislation.

25. Retaining the peerage as an honour and breaking its link to membership of the second chamber seems right.

26. We note that the White Paper leaves the question of identifying the best transitional arrangement between the existing and reformed House of Lords to peers to decide collectively. Of the options set out, we believe that on balance the one used in the Draft Bill is the most preferable, though we have some points of detail in relation to the transitional arrangements for the Lords Spiritual (see Annex).

27. We note the disqualification provisions in Part 7 of the Draft Bill. The serious offence condition in Clause 47 sets a sentence of more than 12 months as the bar for disqualification. This seems too high in the interests of retaining public confidence and propriety.

28. We welcome the measures in Part 8 that allow for the expulsion, suspension and retirement of members of a reformed House of Lords. Lords Spiritual have advocated for the early and separate adoption of similar provisions by Government, the speedy introduction of which would be in the best interests of both the House of Lords and Parliament more widely. In that regard we would suggest that the Private Member‟s Bill of Lord Steel (which also contains provision to end hereditary peer by-elections) is worthy of Government support.

29. If fundamental rather than evolutionary reform of the House of Lords is to be examined, the question of civil society representation does, in our view, require closer deliberation than is evident in the Draft Bill and White Paper. The need is to see how this might be further broadened. It is significant that the Lords already does well across a range of diversity indicators, particularly when compared with the Commons. As the Bishop of Leicester said in his response to the publication of the Draft Bill: “at its best the House of Lords is uniquely a national forum in which the voices and concerns of all strands of civil society can be convened and heard.”

30. The White Paper and Draft Bill focuses in large part on questions of election and appointment, predicated on existing systems of party political representation. If there is to be far reaching reform, we would wish to see wider exploration of the possibilities for parliament to increase the breadth and diversity of representation by civil society and intellectual life.

31. Responsibility for ensuring a breadth of civil society representation is already a matter for the existing Appointments Commission. It may become harder for civil society bodies in the voluntary, community and charitable sector to have a voice in parliament if the proportion of appointed members is to be so radically reduced.

32. The rooted presence of the Church of England in every community of England and its committed membership of nearly one million regular weekly attendees give its bishops personal access through their diocesan networks to a wider spread of civil society organisations and experience than many other comparable public figures. That informs the distinctive role they are able to play as Lords Spiritual and underpins the willingness of the Established Church to continue to make a contribution to a reformed Upper House in which there should continue to be a voice for civil society.

The Lords Spiritual and religious representation

33. We welcome the proposal in the White Paper and Draft Bill for continued Spiritual representation and a role in a reformed House of Lords for the Church of England as established by law (paragraph 92 of the White Paper). We also wish to see, through the appointments process, the presence of leaders from other denominations and faiths.

34. Speaking in a parliamentary debate on House of Lords reform in 2007, the Archbishop of York described the constitutional and historical place of the Lords Spiritual as follows: “The Queen in Parliament is sovereign, but is also Queen in law, in council, and in the Executive. That is the constitutional Arrangement…The Lords Spiritual remind Parliament of the Queen's coronation oath and of that occasion when the divine law was acknowledged as the source of all law. We do not see ourselves as representatives, but as connectors with the people and parishes of England. Ours is a sacred trust—to remind your Lordships’ House of the common law of this nation, in which true religion, virtue, morals and law are always intermingled; they have never been separated.”

35. By their presence and in leading the House in prayer at the start of each sitting, the Lords Spiritual are a reminder of the historic understanding that, as a people, we are still governed „by the Queen in Parliament under God‟. Their presence is a further reminder that our key constitutional institutions, the monarchy, our systems of justice, education, healthcare and our charitable sector were all shaped by the Christian tradition.

36. While much voluntary and charitable activity takes place under the auspices of the large service-delivery (and now largely secular) charitable organisations, a substantial proportion of voluntary and community activity in this country continues to be carried out under the auspices of the Church of England, other Christian denominations and other faiths.

37. There is therefore a compelling case for maintaining within the second House the presence of religious leaders who can speak for that substantial part of civic society, as well as contribute thoughtfully on matters of ethical importance.

38. The trend towards increasing engagement and participation by Lords Spiritual in the day to day business of the House - identified in our submission to the 2008 White Paper - has continued in recent years. At present Lords Spiritual are to be found on four parliamentary committees, including the Joint Committee to which this submission is made.

39. Whilst the Lords Spiritual are bound together by their collective identity as bishops of the established Church of England, they come to parliament not as peers but through their historic identity as independent „Lords of Parliament‟. There is no „Bishops‟ Party‟ and whilst bishops take advice, no whip is either imposed or observed that binds their activities to the expressed view of their diocese, the General Synod or Archbishops‟ Council.

40. On legislative matters Lords Spiritual are as much to be found taking divergent views as uniform ones – and the parliamentary record shows that they will speak and vote accordingly. As the Lords Spiritual do not conceive of themselves as a „bloc‟, or behave as one, there has been only a handful of occasions when, in very close votes, their votes have been decisive.

41. The number of Lords Spiritual has remained constant at 26 since the Diocese of Manchester Act of 1847, but that number has, over time, represented a varying proportion of the total membership of the House as its size has ebbed and flowed. Before the introduction of life peers in 1958 it represented just over 3% of a total House of around 800. By 1999 it was a mere 2%, but following the removal of most of the hereditaries it rose again to 4.2%. Since then it has gradually declined as the size of the House has increased.

42. Through its established position, and through generations of hard work building bridges inside and between mixed communities, the Church of England is a key agent of interfaith dialogue and cooperation in all the major cities of England. The Government-backed Near Neighbours programme is both an acknowledgement and a consequence of the value and strength of those networks. Many leaders of other faith communities value the fact that we have an established Church with a role in Parliament. The Lords Spiritual also fulfil an important role in the legislature as an enduring voice for the concerns of people of all faiths, especially at a time of increasingly secularising currents in our public institutions and services.

43. Ever since our May 1999 submission to the Royal Commission chaired by Lord Wakeham, the Church of England has, however, been consistent in its view that an increased presence from other denominations and faiths would be welcome in a reformed House of Lords.

44. In 2000 the Archbishops endorsed the view of the Royal Commission that there should be broader denominational and faith representation in the House of Lords, and in their response to the 2003 Government consultation explained some of the rationale: “in an era of growing interest and concern about relations between faiths, their approach to moral and ethical issues and their impact on the modern world, the House of Lords has considerable potential as a forum for serious and well-informed debate on these matters.”

45. Like the Commission - and successive Government documents – we acknowledge that providing reserved places for formal representatives of other denominations and faiths would be problematic in practice. But we believe that there is a strong case for placing the Appointments Commission under a duty to ensure, among other things, the presence of those from across the United Kingdom who have or have had senior responsibility in churches and faiths other than the established Church.

46. If, as successive governments have accepted, there is a continuing benefit to this country in having an established Church, the presence of the Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords is one of the most important manifestations of that special relationship between Church and State.

47. The Church of England, by law established, holds central to its mission a commitment to minister to the whole community, to people of all faiths and none. According to Professor Tariq Modood: “the minimal nature of the Anglican establishment, its proven openness to other denominations and faiths seeking public space, and the fact that its very existence is an ongoing acknowledgement of the public character of religion, are all reasons why it may be far less intimidating to the minority faiths than a triumphal secularism.” Whilst in his submission to the Royal Commission, the Chief Rabbi, now Lord Sacks, said “disestablishment would be a significant retreat from the notion that we share any values and beliefs at all. And that would be a path to more, not fewer, tensions. Establishment secures a central place for spirituality in the public square. This benefits all faiths, not just Christianity.”

48. The established status of the Church would not be at an end if the Lords Spiritual no longer had a place in parliament but its character would be significantly changed and weakened.

49. Some consequential issues would also have to be addressed. Since 1919 the Church of England has, through its own national legislature (now the General Synod) had power to pass Measures which, once they have obtained Parliamentary approval and Royal Assent, have the equivalent effect to Acts of Parliament. Draft Measures are scrutinised by the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament, consisting of 15 members of each House, and are then submitted to the House of Commons and House of Lords for approval.

50. In the Commons the relevant motion is then moved by the Second Church Estates Commissioner – traditionally a member of the governing party who is appointed by the Queen and must be a communicant Anglican. In the House of Lords the relevant motion is moved by one of the Lords Spiritual.

51. More detailed comments on Part 4 of the draft bill, paragraphs 91-103 of the White Paper and paragraphs 194-226 & 488-492 of the Explanatory Notes are in the attached Annex.

Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury

Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu
Archbishop of York

6 October 2011

Annex: The Lords Spiritual – Detailed Comments
1. We agree with the proposals in the Draft Bill (Clause 65 (3)) that the Lords Spiritual should continue to be diocesan bishops of the Church of England. This is both a continuation of a longstanding constitutional arrangement and a reflection of the historic settlement that bishops come to the House as individual Lords of Parliament and not formal „representatives of the Church of England‟.
2. The ambiguity in the definitions contained in paragraphs 91 and page 8 of the White Paper is not entirely helpful (they say respectively: “Although historically they sit as independent members of the Lords they are widely regarded as representatives of the Church of England” and “in the reformed House of Lords, there would be up to 12 places for representatives of the Church of England”).
3. We welcome the proposed continued parity between the rights and powers afforded to the Lords Spiritual and those enjoyed by all other members of the House, appointed and elected. The Lords Spiritual are committed to playing a full and active role in the life and work of the House and this will enable that role to be performed to its fullest potential.
4. We agree that, as with the proposal for Government Ministers in the Lords, the numbers of Lords Spiritual should be supernumerary to the overall size of the House.
5. The Draft Bill proposes that after all reforms have been completed the House should contain 12 Lords Spiritual, with the reduction from the present 26 being introduced in three stages across the transitional period. The draft bill proposes that 12 would comprise five “Named Lords Spiritual” (those who have existing membership of the Lords by virtue of their occupancy of senior sees, namely the two Archbishops and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester) and seven “Ordinary Lords Spiritual” (diocesan bishops of the Church of England).
6. In both our response to the Royal Commission and to the 2008 White Paper, we expressed our view that any reduction in the number of bishops below 20 would pose difficulties in terms of maintaining current levels of service to the House. It would place greater burdens on the remaining bishops in balancing their diocesan and parliamentary responsibilities, necessitate a change in the seniority system by which bishops come into the House, and require an overhaul of the duty bishop system that has been in place for over a century.
7. However, given the proposed reduction in the size of the House we accept that these difficulties will have to be faced and that the Church of England will have so to arrange matters that 12 of its bishops will be able to serve the reformed House effectively.
8. We note that the White Paper (paragraph 12) states that “the Government expects members of the reformed House to be full-time Parliamentarians”, but also the passing reference within the explanatory notes (paragraph 490) to the membership of the Lords Spiritual being “both ex officio and part-time”.
9. We believe that, alongside the professional full-time politicians, there should be ample room within a reformed House of Lords for a significant number of members who are informed by a diverse range of outside experiences and interests. We hope that a reformed House along the lines proposed would continue to respect and understand that many amongst its number, including bishops, will continue to have regard to their significant outside commitments – and that this should be considered a positive attribute for informed parliamentary debate.
10. We support the continuation of the principle that translation from one diocese to another should not affect a Lord Spiritual‟s continued membership of the House.
11. We agree with the Draft Bill‟s proposal (Cl. 26) that there continue to be a distinct category of Lord Spiritual (described as “Named Lords Spiritual”) with membership linked to occupancy of a senior see. We agree that Named Lords Spiritual should continue to receive a writ of summons automatically, mirroring the present arrangement.
12. We have more doubts whether continuing with the arrangement of five reserved places for the occupants of the senior sees would still be right for a Bishops’ Bench rather less than half its former size.
13. Occupants of senior sees inevitably have greater competing outside commitments than other bishops, and in the interests of maximizing the continued effectiveness of the service that the Lords Spiritual offer parliament there may be a case for a greater proportion of the membership of the Bishops‟ Bench to be drawn from the numbers of the other diocesan bishops (categorized as “Ordinary Lords Spiritual”).
14. We recognize that this is a matter on which the Archbishops, Lords Spiritual and wider Church would wish to reach a settled view before a final figure for Named and Ordinary is commended to the Government. But we note that there are three Lords Spiritual (the Archbishops and the Bishop of London) who are members of the Privy Council and one alternative to the provisions in the draft bill would be for these three sees to be Named, leaving nine places to be filled from the other 39 English diocesan sees.
15. The Draft Bill proposes that the reduction from 26 to12 Lords Spiritual should be introduced over the two transitional periods, with 21 bishops entering the first period, 16 entering the second and 12 entering all subsequent parliaments. Clause 30 (7) prevents the Church replacing any of the Ordinary Lords Spiritual during the transitional periods unless a failure to do so would result in the total number of bishops falling below 12.
16. The Government has proposed that the present number of 26 Lords Spiritual would reduce to not more than 21 at the beginning of the reform process, not more than 16 at the end of the first Parliament and not more than twelve at the end of the second Parliament. Given the pattern of episcopal retirements in recent years the inevitable effect of Clause 30 (7) would be to hasten the timescale in which that baseline of 12 would be reached.
17. As an illustration, in the years 2006 - 2011 there were 20 departures from the Bishops‟ Bench, 18 of which would be categorized as from the „Ordinary Lords Spiritual‟. The combined transitional period outlined in the Draft Bill is for a maximum of ten years.
18. Clause 30 (7) could therefore mean a more rapid transition from the current to the reformed House for the Lords Spiritual than for those on other benches. This is probably an unintended consequence of what the Government has proposed and, without changing the overall numbers, we believe that some greater flexibility over the transitional mechanism may be needed.
19. The White Paper and Draft Bill (at Clause 27) place a requirement on the Church of England to make the selection of diocesan bishops to serve as Ordinary Lords Spiritual “in whatever way it considers appropriate”.
20. 27 (7)-(9) sets out a mechanism by which the Church of England‟s choices would be formally notified; namely by requiring the Secretary General of the General Synod to notify the Clerk of Parliaments before the beginning of each electoral period (or as soon as practicable if during an electoral period) who the Church had selected as its Ordinary Lords Spiritual for the next Parliament.
21. We agree that it is sensible for the legislation to specify a notification mechanism and not to seek to prescribe the mechanism adopted by the Church for making appointments from among its diocesan bishops.
22. These provisions would afford the Ordinary Lords Spiritual the opportunity to consider the natural break offered by 5-yearly elections to the House, to decide whether to continue their membership into the next electoral period, or whether to resign their membership of the House at that point (whilst potentially continuing as a diocesan bishop).
23. They would also provide the Church with the ability to select diocesan bishops for membership of the House on the basis of a range of factors including, though not exclusively, any particular expertise, national roles held within the Church, diversity of Spiritual representation, the requirements of the diocese, and geographical variation.
24. The method by which the Ordinary Lords Spiritual would be selected requires further reflection on the part of the Archbishops, Lords Spiritual and the wider Church, given that the inevitable move away from the present, automatic, seniority based system raises a number of important issues.
25. At Clause 28 (1) the Draft Bill proposes that going in to the first transitional period, a person can only be selected as an Ordinary Lord Spiritual if “immediately before the relevant Parliament is dissolved, the person is entitled by virtue of being a bishop to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords”.
26. Going in to the second transitional period the Draft Bill states at Clause 28 (4) that Ordinary Lords Spiritual must be drawn from the existing pool of Lords Spiritual. After the transitional periods, in a fully reformed House of Lords, there is no requirement for the seven Ordinary Lords Spiritual to be drawn from those already sitting in that capacity in the preceding parliament. The effect of this is to afford the Church of England thereafter the opportunity to determine which seven diocesan bishops will make up the Ordinary Lords Spiritual at the beginning of each parliamentary term, for the duration of that term.
27. Given the intention expressed in Clause 27 (6) and elsewhere to allow the Church of England to determine its own method of selection for Ordinary Lords Spiritual for each coming parliament in a fully reformed Upper House – and replacements for those that retire or resign mid-term – there is a case for affording the Church the broadest possible choice from among its diocesan bishops at an earlier opportunity than at the end of the two-term transitional process. This would require the removal of Clause 28 (4) and clarification that Clause 28 (1) referred to all diocesan bishops and not simply existing Lords Spiritual.
28. This would enable the Lords Spiritual in the transitional parliaments to be selected from the widest possible pool of those who were diocesan bishops at the time. This could be of particular significance that if the General Synod were to approve the present draft legislation to enable women to become bishops.
29. We agree with the proposal that in a fully reformed House of Lords and during the transitional periods Ordinary Lords Spiritual should be permitted to retire from the House of Lords whilst continuing as a diocesan bishop of their see.
30. We agree that Lords Spiritual should not receive a salary given the special (ex-officio and part time) status of the bishops in the House. We agree that Lords Spiritual should continue to be allowed to claim reimbursement for expenses necessarily incurred in the course of their parliamentary duties.
31. We agree that the Lords Spiritual should be subject to the same disqualification provisions as other members of the reformed House of Lords. We question whether the exemptions proposed by the Government for the Lords Spiritual from the tax deeming provisions, the serious offence provisions and those on expulsion and suspension are necessary. We did not seek them and unless there are legal or constitutional reasons of which we are not aware, we believe that the Lords Spiritual should be in the same position as other members of the House on these matters.
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