Monday, May 31, 2010

The religious make-up of the House of Commons

When did you last hear of a ‘reactionary humanist’? Or a ‘reactionary secularist’? Or, pace Professor Dawkins, a ‘reactionary atheist’?

Was Dr Evan Harris a reactionary in Parliament?

Or was he simply an apologist for his deeply and sincerely-held beliefs, desirous of making the world a better secular place?

The National Secular Society have studied a few statistics and gleefully established that ‘Reactionary Catholics are finding it harder to get elected’.

Well, so are reactionary Anglicans, but that’s by-the-by.

They note, however, a slight disparity between the two leading Roman Catholic journals The Catholic Herald and The Tablet (a slight disparity?) in the figures provided for the number of MPs who describe themselves as Roman Catholic:

According to the Catholic Herald, the number of Catholics elected to the House of Commons has risen from 64 to 68. According to the Tablet the number has fallen from 85 to 70. The Herald says 17 of the 68 are newly elected, while the Tablet says that 20 of the newcomers are Catholic. But, significantly, both agree that religious hardliners have found it more difficult to gain selection as candidates.
You would think, with today’s obsessive, anti-meriticratic, box-ticking bureaucracy, that establishing the professed religious adherence of MPs ought to be a fairly straightforward task. After all, they are supposed to be proportionally representative of the British population as a whole: there are quotas for women, Asian, black, gay and disabled parliamentary candidates, so you might think it quite logical that candidates are similarly sifted to ensure a representative religious plurality.

Not least because religion is likely to inform one’s political worldview considerably more than skin colour or sexuality.

Or perhaps that is only in Northern Ireland.

Can you imagine Harriet Harman ensuring all-Catholic shortlists to redress the outrageous of dominance of Protestants in Parliament?

And how would she ensure that the ‘right sort’ of Roman Catholic was selected?

Or perhaps she did for her husband…

Yet with 70 MPs out of 650, it would appear that Parliament does indeed contain a number of Roman Catholic MPs roughly in proportion to the national demographic.

It is the Jedi who are appallingly let down by the present selection gender-sexuality-ethnicity-disability emphasis in candidate selection.

If one were to constitute the House of Commons in proportion to the religious make-up of the nation (excluding the agnostics, atheists and undeclared) it ought to contain 17 Muslims, 6 Hindus, 4 Sikhs, 3 Jews, 2 Buddhists, 465 Christians and 6 Jedi Knights.

But unless you are a one-legged lesbian Muslim in a hoodie, you have little hope of expounding reactionary Jedi philosophy at the dispatch box.

Curiously, one Roman Catholic Labour MP who lost her seat, Geraldine Smith, said that her co-religionist candidates ‘have come under pressure for their views on issues such as assisted suicide, abortion and gay adoption’.

Curious that.

Dr Evan Harris was defeated by an Evangelical Christian in Oxford West and Abingdon, whose views on assisted suicide, abortion and gay adoption appear to be more in tune with the electorate than the ‘reactionary’ views of Dr Harris.

It is also posited that Roman Catholics with ambitions to be Labour MPs are less likely to be supportive of the Church’s position than Conservative Roman Catholics.

It comes as no surprise that there are more Tory readers of The Catholic Herald than there are Labour.

It perhaps explains why so many Roman Catholics still vote Labour, despite Labour’s 13-year-long assault on the Christian faith.

According to The Catholic Herald, there are 40 Labour Roman Catholic MPs, only 19 Conservative, five Lib Dems, 3 SDLP and one Scottish Nationalist.

It is curious that they omit members of Sinn Fein. While they may not take their seats, they are most certainly MPs and ought to be included for statistical purposes.

Unless they are dismissed for not being ‘proper’ Catholics.

The known religious make-up of the present House of Commons is roughly:

70 Roman Catholic (10.8 per cent)
8 Muslim (1.2 per cent)
24 Jewish (3.7 per cent)

As far as Cranmer knows, no-one has yet pigeon-holed the others, though you would think the number of Sikhs and Hindus ought to be quite easy to discover. Surprisingly, there are no figures for the number of Anglicans in Parliament, perhaps because they cannot agree on what one is.

In an era where the buzz-word is proportionality, it is worth observing that while the Roman Catholic contingent is proportionate (11 per cent), Jews are vastly over-represented (with 280,000 adherents, they constitute 0.46 per cent of the population).

In fact, if Muslims (who number 2.4 million or 3.9 per cent of the population) were to be similarly over-represented, there would be 200 of them in Parliament.

And then, perhaps, questions might be asked.

Of course, referring to someone as a Christian or Catholic MP, a Jewish MP, a Muslim MP or a Sikh or Hindu MP is really quite meaningless: by their voting fruits you shall know them.

David Miliband, for example, describes himself as an atheist, and yet the Jewish Chronicle includes him in their list of Jews.

Not all Zionists are Jews.

And not all Roman Catholics read The Catholic Herald.

For the avoidance of doubt, His Grace is Anglican, which means he is Catholic.

He may not be in Parliament, but he is ‘reactionary’.

If he were not so, he would be neither Anglican nor Catholic.

Or particularly Christian.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Coalition's first foray into the defence of Christianity

A row has been brewing over recent months about prayers before council meetings. The National Secular Society has instructed a solicitor to take its battle with Bideford Town Council, in Devon, to the High Court, claiming the policy breaches human rights.

The litigation comes after atheist councillor Clive Bone raised objections to the prayers being integrated into proceedings.

Holding prayers before council meetings is 'not appropriate in modern-day Britain' and may even be putting off potential members, the NSS believes.

They argue that formal recitation of prayers at the meetings breaches Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Now the group is seeking a judicial review to settle the issue.

NSS executive director Keith Porteous-Wood said: "We've instructed our solicitor to go the High Court. We had a complaint from a Bideford councillor (Mr Bone) about the prayers. He's an atheist and found it embarassing and inappropriate that this should be an integral part of the meeting."

Writing on the NSS website, he explained: "The councillor objects to being subjected to prayers, or having to leave the chamber while they are said. Elected councillors of public bodies should not be put in such an uncomfortable and embarrassing position. The council's purpose is to provide local services, not church services.

"The councillor is aware of potential councillors who are put off becoming candidates because of this archaic practice. The practice is therefore interfering with operation of local democracy.

"There is a chronic shortage of candidates and unnecessary obstacles to new councillors should be discouraged.

"It is nonsense to claim that the rights of councillors to manifest their religion would be restricted if the review is successful.

"Councillors can, like anyone else, go to church or pray at home whenever they wish, and indeed we do not have a problem with them praying separately before or after council meetings.

"But it is not appropriate in modern-day Britain for prayers to form an integral part of the council meeting."

Letters written to the council, claiming that the prayers are illegal, have not changed its attitude, leaving the NSS to take legal action, he said.

A win in the High Court would set a precedent as thousands of other councils (not to mention both Houses of Parliament) also say prayers before their meetings. Similar issues with pre-meeting prayers have arisen at Wellington Council, Shropshire, Torbay Council, in Devon, and at Whaley Bridge, in Derbyshire.

Mayor of Bideford Phil Pester said: "We took the decision that we would see what the judge says about it. It won't cost us anything at this stage. If the judge decides it is illegal then, fair enough, we will think again. Until such time we are sitting tight. We took two democratic votes on this and there has been a substantial majority in favour of the prayers. We only have 12 full council meetings a year. The prayers last about four minutes. It is a minuscule amount of time."

But the new Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has responded rather robustly, saying: "While I cannot comment on a specific court case, the new Government recognises and respects the role that faith communities play in our society.

"Prayers are an important part of the religious and cultural fabric of the British nation.

"While the decision on whether to hold prayers is a matter for local councils, I want to ensure that they continue to have the freedom to do so."

Freedom to pray? Freedom to maintain the distinctive Christian character of the nation? Freedom to preach orthodox Christian views? This is The Coalition's first foray into the religion-equality quagmire created by Labour.

Eric Pickles, Defender of the Faith.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Toby Blair? / David Laws and James Lundie

Perhaps this is the sort of sloppy journalism and careless error one might expect when a once-great journal of political discourse descends to little more than a sleazy tabloid.

No further comment required...


It appears (despite the original heading of this post simply being 'Toby Blair?') that some communicants (and therefore, undoubtedly, readers) are unable to grasp the irony of the juxtaposition of this Telegraph headline with His Grace's perfunctory comment upon an utterly insignifcant typo.

As if His Grace usually concerns himself with such trivia.

Only a few days ago, after an outstanding performance at the Dispatch Box, David Laws was being tipped as a future prime minister. Only a few weeks ago, Nick Clegg was playing his holier-than-thou and whiter-than-white cards in the leaders' debates: the Liberal Democrats, he averred, were not tarnished with expenses sleaze 'like the main parties'.

And now we have this revelation.

Let Cranmer be clear: this is not an issue of Mr Laws' sexuality but of his financial probity. It is not a question of his right to a private life but a question mark over the public's confidence in his financial judgement.

David Laws is effectively the UK's chief accountant. It appears that he has been paying rent to his partner of nine years, amounting to a sum of £40,000. He insists that he has not personally benefited financially from the arrangement: indeed, it would seem that the taxpayer has made quite a saving. But if Mr Laws had been claiming welfare benefits whilst living with his partner, it would have amounted to theft. While he may not personally have benefited from the arrangement, his common-law civil parter most certainly has. And Mr Laws has ensured this. By assisting his partner to buy another house, he entered into a financial arrangement which, on paper, may be of no benefit to Mr Laws but which, in reality, benbefits them both.

His Grace simply wishes to be consistent on this.

If this were a Labour minister, ConservativeHome and Iain Dale would be baying for blood. As it is, the former is simply recommending that we await the verdict of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the latter is actually supporting Mr Laws, for whom he has considerable compassion and understanding (as he has for James Lundie).

But one should not let compassion, coalition or co-sexuality affiliation cloud the central issue.

Just as it would be quite wrong for David Laws to be dismissed over The Telegraph's revelation of Mr Laws' sexuality, so equally is it wrong that he should be pitied, understood and remain in his position because of his sexuality. For an accountant to enter into the arrangement he did is a display of poor financial judgement.

In the words of Lord Sugar, regretfully, for that reason alone, David, you're fired.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Floella Benjamin enobled

The list of new peers has been announced.

Cranmer could take issue with quite a few - like John Maples (for services to resignation timing); Shireen Ritchie (for services to being Guy's mother, Madonna's mother-in-law and manipulating Conservative candidate selection); Sir Ian Blair (for services to incompetent policing); Quentin Davies ( for services to ratting); John Prescott (for services to his secretary)...

But Floella Benjamin?

Baroness Benjamin of the Square Window?

Oh, please.

Sister Margaret McBride and the ‘pro-choice’ Roman Catholics

Cranmer has carried a few articles on abortion this week, and wishes to round it off with this from The New York Times:

We finally have a case where the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy is responding forcefully and speedily to allegations of wrongdoing.

But the target isn’t a pedophile priest. Rather, it’s a nun who helped save a woman’s life. Doctors describe her as saintly.

The excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride in Phoenix underscores all that to me feels morally obtuse about the church hierarchy. I hope that a public outcry can rectify this travesty.

Sister Margaret was a senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. A 27-year-old mother of four arrived late last year, in her third month of pregnancy. According to local news reports and accounts from the hospital and some of its staff members, the mother suffered from a serious complication called pulmonary hypertension. That created a high probability that the strain of continuing pregnancy would kill her.

“In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” the hospital said in a statement. “This decision was made after consultation with the patient, her family, her physicians, and in consultation with the Ethics Committee.”

Sister Margaret was a member of that committee. She declined to discuss the episode with me, but the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, ruled that Sister Margaret was “automatically excommunicated” because she assented to an abortion.

“The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s,” the bishop’s communication office elaborated in a statement.

Let us just note that the Roman Catholic hierarchy suspended priests who abused children and in some cases defrocked them but did not normally excommunicate them, so they remained able to take the sacrament.

Since the excommunication, Sister Margaret has left her post as vice president and is no longer listed as one of the hospital executives on its Web site. The hospital told me that she had resigned “at the bishop’s request” but is still working elsewhere at the hospital.

I heard about Sister Margaret from an acquaintance who is a doctor at the hospital. After what happened to Sister Margaret, he doesn’t dare be named, but he sent an e-mail to his friends lamenting the excommunication of “a saintly nun”:

“She is a kind, soft-spoken, humble, caring, spiritual woman whose spot in Heaven was reserved years ago,” he said in the e-mail message. “The idea that she could be ex-communicated after decades of service to the Church and humanity literally makes me nauseated.”

“True Christians, like Sister Margaret, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that they make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teachings. Only a group of detached, pampered men in gilded robes on a balcony high above the rest of us could deny these dilemmas.”

A statement from the bishop’s office did not dispute that the mother’s life was in danger — although it did note that no doctor’s prediction is 100 percent certain. The implication is that the church would have preferred for the hospital to let nature take its course.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy is entitled to its views. But the episode reinforces perceptions of church leaders as rigid, dogmatic, out of touch — and very suspicious of independent-minded American nuns.

Sister Margaret made a difficult judgment in an emergency, saved a life and then was punished and humiliated by a lightning bolt from a bishop who spent 16 years living in Rome and who has devoted far less time to serving the downtrodden than Sister Margaret. Compare their two biographies, and Sister Margaret’s looks much more like Jesus’s than the bishop’s does.

“Everyone I know considers Sister Margaret to be the moral conscience of the hospital,” Dr. John Garvie, chief of gastroenterology at St. Joseph’s Hospital, wrote in a letter to the editor to The Arizona Republic. “She works tirelessly and selflessly as the living example and champion of compassionate, appropriate care for the sick and dying.”

Dr. Garvie later told me in an e-mail message that “saintly” was the right word for Sister Margaret and added: “Sister was the ‘living embodiment of God’ in our building. She always made sure we understood that we’re here to help the less fortunate. We really have no one to take her place.”

I’ve written several times about the gulf between Roman Catholic leaders at the top and the nuns, priests and laity who often live the Sermon on the Mount at the grass roots. They represent the great soul of the church, which isn’t about vestments but selflessness.

When a hierarchy of mostly aging men pounce on and excommunicate a revered nun who was merely trying to save a mother’s life, the church seems to me almost as out of touch as it was in the cruel and debauched days of the Borgias in the Renaissance.
His Grace need not expound to his regular readers and communicants what he believes about abortion: he has done so on many occasions. But it is this sort of story, by no means unique, which makes him proud to be Anglican; to be able to exercise a moral conscience and be answerable to God alone.

He can’t help feeling that if Jesus were around, he would throw the Bishop of Phoenix out of the temple, along with most of the other bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Where is the human compassion? The mercy? Where is the grasp of moral theology? Where is the ethical understanding? Where is the comprehension of Augustine’s view of ‘ensoulment’?

It is callous and dogmatic decisions such as this by the Roman Catholic hierarchy which are enough to make anyone ‘pro-choice’. What kind of church is it which refuses to defrock chronically-paedophile priests and protects carnally-minded cardinals from the secular law, yet immediately excommunicates a nun for an act of compassion?

We should thank God for the likes of Sister Margaret McBride, a true Sister of Mercy, for she is an example to us all. In being ‘automatically excommunicated’, she sacrificed herself that another might live.

She is welcome to Communion with His Grace any day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bishop of Durham condemns Labour's 'microscopic, micro-managing rules and regulations'

Dr Tom Wright, the fourth most senior bishop in the Church, said he was not making a party political point.

But he was.

He spoke out during a talk at St James the Less church in Pimlico, central London, on Tuesday night.

Answering a question about his pastoral duties as a bishop and child protection, he replied:

“The last Government, and this isn’t a party political point it’s just a fact, produced more legislation from the Home Office in 13 years than the Home Office has produced in the previous 100 years and most of it is microscopic, micro-managing rules and regulations.

“This applies to businesses, to churches, hospitals all over the place, you can’t move. We are drowning in legislation. Rules and regulations are not the way to create a good, wise, human society but our last Government tried to do that.

“When it comes to child protection, we all have to fill in these forms again and again. I’ve done several of them – I’ve got one for the diocese but then there was a youth project in the diocese that was organised independently so I had to have another CRB check.

“We have people come to my office all the time, frankly wasting their time and my staff’s time in order that there be a paper trail for every single person just in case something happens and somebody has to sue somebody.

“Until all filing cabinets in the country get so full that they are over-flowing it looks like we are going to go on just doing this, and that is not the way to be responsible. That’s the way actually to avoid it, it’s a pseudo-responsibility and we need to learn character instead.”

What a pity he has left it until now to speak out, days after Labour's demise and just weeks before his own retirement.

Direct Democracy - power to the people

Yesterday, Douglas Carswell MP and Dan Hannnan MEP launched a movement to push for localism, direct elections, referenda and the decentralisation of power. They want it to be a mass movement that will put pressure on all the political parties.

His Grace is delighted to support Direct Democracy, not least because it coheres with the essentially Protestant notion of bottom-up accountability. Mssrs Carswell and Hannan are Whigs concerned with liberty, and this has a quite distinct theological lineage, not only from sin and the power of evil, but also in the Calvinist understanding of church governance – liberty from Romish and Tory hierarchies. According to Burke, 'To preserve that liberty inviolate, is the peculiar duty and proper trust of a member of the House of Commons’.

As laid out in the localist papers, Direct Democracy, and The Plan, Direct Democracy promotes the idea of localism and participatory democracy within the United Kingdom.

On their website, they announce the first steps in renewing Britain would be the following:

•Scrapping all MPs’ expenses except those relating to running an office and travel from the constituency

•Selecting candidates through open primaries

•Local and national referendums

•“People’s Bills”, to be placed before Parliament if they attract a certain number of signatures

•Placing the police under locally elected Sheriffs, who would also set local sentencing guidelines

•Appointing heads of quangos, senior judges and ambassadors through open hearings rather than prime ministerial patronage

•Devolving to English counties and cities all the powers which were devolved to Edinburgh under the 1998 Scotland Act

•Placing social security, too, under local authorities

•Making councils self-financing by scrapping VAT and replacing it with a Local Sales Tax

•Allowing people to pay their contributions into personal healthcare accounts, with a mandatory insurance component

•Letting parents opt out of their Local Education Authority, carrying to any school the financial allocation that would have been spent on their child

•Replacing EU membership with a Swiss-style bilateral free trade accord

•Requiring all foreign treaties to be ratified by Parliament

•Scrapping the Human Rights Act withdrawing from the ECHR and guaranteeing parliamentary legislation against judicial activism

•A “Great Repeal Bill” to annul unnecessary and burdensome laws

'By allowing more say in the governance of their own country and their own community, citizens would be empowered to make the decisions important to their own lives. And by creating more accountability, the sitting parliament and the government would be required to act responsibly and in the best interests of their citizens.'

They desire to restore power to the individual, and, where this is impractical, to the lowest feasible level of government. This is the subsidiarity principle which is supposed to be at the heart of the functioning of the EU, but which has never been exercised. There was a hope that David Cameron would begin a process of repatriation, but... well, there you go.

There is already broad agreement across the parties that power rests with ‘the lowest feasible level of government’; the problem is that not everyone agrees what this level should be. Even as David Cameron talked of restoring authority to local councils, he simultaneously announced the restoration of weekly refuse collection and capped council tax for two years. He talked of scrapping the Human Rights Act, but has decided on a commission of enquiry instead. He talked of a wholesale shift in power ‘from the state to the citizen, from Whitehall to elected councillors, from Brussels to Westminster’.

He has five years.

After that, Douglas Carswell and Dan Hannan might just have their day.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Marie Stopes, Hitler and eugenics

Cranmer has been sent Peter Hitchens' comment in his Mail on Sunday column on the sinister Hitler connection with Marie Stopes, who gives her name to the taxpayer-funded Marie Stopes International charity, which makes its money from the vile business of the mass murder of innocent and defenceless babies.

Abortion and its repellent heroine:

I say that Marie Stopes International (which receives about £25 million a year from the NHS, much of it for killing unborn babies under contract) should be allowed to advertise its repellent services on TV. But on one condition. That each advertisement is followed by both of these: film of an actual abortion of a 24-week-old baby, and a brief documentary reminding viewers that Marie Stopes sent love poems to Adolf Hitler in August 1939, advocated compulsory sterilisation for the ‘unfit’, and cut her own son out of her will because he married a girl who wore glasses.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Queen’s first Conservative speech for 13 years

She may be a little peeved that her speech has been so widely leaked, but Cranmer has no doubt that Her Majesty will be relieved that she does not have to deliver another vacuous New Labour tome of tedious illiberal legislation, meaningless mantras and interminable constitutional tinkering.

She may be disappointed that hunting with hounds is not to be decriminalised and that her sovereignty is not to be at least partly restored in a bust-up with the foreign princes and potentates in Brussels, but, make no mistake about it, this is a Tory speech.

With a bit of Whig thrown in.

And it contains a very great deal which ought to delight Conservatives.

But it is the Academies Bill for 'free schools' which is the jewel in the crown.

Cranmer has long been of the opinion that if education reform were the only fruit of the next Conservative government, it alone would qualify David Cameron as one of the greatest reforming prime ministers in history. There is a desperate need to reform the sclerotic, statist, bureaucratic and deficient system of education in this country, and this Bill will do it. Of course, much of the donkey work has been done by Michael Gove, but it is the nature of leadership to take the credit, steal the limelight and bask in the glory.

The decision to restore the Department for Education is symbolic of the revolution. It is heartening that His Grace was heeded on the matter.

Gone is the touch-feely ministry for children, school, families, breast-feeding and nappy-changing. Gone are the trendy teaching methods which have produced the most illiterate and innumerate school leavers since state education was established. Gone are the days of placing the opinions of ‘experts’ above the learning needs of pupils. Gone is the Marxist bland uniformity of the comprehensive system. Gone are the meaningless mantras of ‘excellence for all’ and ‘all must have prizes’. And gone is the curse of equality of outcome over equality of opportunity.

David Cameron is introducing a reform by which every pupil might experience the sort of rigorous academic programme envisaged by Plato. Intrinsic to this is a reform of school league tables and the deregulation of state qualifications which will permit schools to opt for IGCSEs and the IB instead of the increasingly debased GCSEs and A-levels.

When you stop controlling and forcing initiatives on people, far more happens.

The Academies Bill is one of the most liberating and empowering pieces of legislation ever: it is the logical continuation of the Thatcher revolution. But while she democratised industry, the stock market and home-owning, she stopped short of giving choice to NHS patients and empowering parents to educate their children in the school and with the curriculum they wished.

John Major toyed with NHS and education vouchers, but he was never in a political position of strength to implement the policy.

Tony Blair and Lord Adonis understood the problem, and their academies were an important politico-philosophical achievement quite at variance with Labour’s (and Gordon Brown's) centralising and controlling instincts.

The Academies Bill builds on this foundation, and it amounts to the partial privatisation of state education. It will permit teachers and parents and other groups to establish schools which will be independently run but financed by the state. The schools will compete in a free market: those which succeed will expand; those which fail will close or be subject to take-over bids.

This will complement the present privilege of the rich to educate their children in the best independent schools. And it will be irreversible: once you grant parental choice and school competition, there is no remote possibility of a political party ever proposing to wrest that choice back from voting parents.

It is worth observing that the average cost to the tax-payer of putting a child through state education is in excess of £9,000 per annum. But the school sees nothing like this, as layers of local bureaucracy cream off thousands to perpetuate their own bland, uniform and petty agendas.

By granting parents what amounts to a voucher for the full £9,000, they will be at liberty to shop around until they find somewhere they wish to spend it. The money follows the pupil, with ‘premiums’ payable to schools who take ‘problem’ pupils or who wish to serve deprived areas. And this sum is broadly equivalent to the average annual fees for an independent day school: there is no reason why the quality of education provision and class sizes in the Free Schools may not be identical to those achieved by independent schools. And headteachers will at last be free to pay their teachers whatever it takes to keep them: the ending of the NUT’s national pay-bargaining ranks right up there with Thatcher’s defenestration of the NUM.

This policy cannot fail, even though the LEAs will do their damndest to object and hinder, and teaching unions will threaten strikes and disruption. But the moment parents are at liberty to choose the school that is right for their child, with class sizes and a curriculum which are conducive to good learning, with rigorous exams and no grade inflation, we will wonder why we did not do it sooner.

Like any Bill, it will require future amendments to permit pupil selection and profit-making, but this is a very important start. The results will not, of course, be seen for years. But they will come, and they will be worth waiting for.

The Conservative Party may not have won a majority, and the victory was not ours. But if the Free Schools Bill were all that Her Majesty had to announce today, it would be sufficient for those who have vision.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Advertising abortion

Channel 4 is carrying advertisements for Marie Stopes - the first ever advertisements on British television promoting abortion services. The campaign aims to 'empower women to reach confident, informed decisions about their sexual health'.

How informed?

It will not be a balanced and fair appraisal of both sides.

It features a number of women of different ages from varying walks of life who might be 'late'. The disembodied angelic voice informs the women that being late for a period could mean pregnancy. And the compassionate counsellor reassures: "If you're pregnant and not sure what to do Marie Stopes International can help."

What kind of help?

It will not be neutral, for Maries Stopes has a business to run.

But Cranmer is a little perplexed.

If abortion advertisements are now permitted in the UK (actually, just Great Britain, for in Northernm Ireland abortion remains illegal), why is the 'Pro-Life' movement not permitted to advertise to 'empower women to reach confident, informed decisions about their physical and spiritual health'?

Why on earth should this tasteful video be censored from the national airwaves?

Perhaps consideration might be given to broadcasting the really gruesome truth after the watershed.

Rome's female priests

Prostrate before her God, dedicated in spirit and devoted in life, Maria Vittoria Longhitano has been ordained a Roman Catholic priest(-ess?).

And she was not the first.

Maria Vittoria Longhitano is a member of the breakaway Old Catholic church which severed links with the Vatican in the 19th century in protest at the adoption of the doctrine of papal infallibility which was promulgated by the First Vatican Council.

And there are many Roman Catholics who might consider that a perfectly valid reason for schism. And some of those might insist that they alone are 'proper Catholics' because they reject vast tranches (if not all) of the Second Vatican Council.

Yet, to traditionalists, the Old Catholics are not 'proper Catholics' because they ordain women.

Significantly, Old Catholics are in full communion with the Anglicans.

And that fact alone might give the traditionalists succour in their assertion that Old Catholics aren't really Roman Catholic at all.

But they are, you see: their only theological objection was to the doctrine of papal infallibility, which was promulgated before popes were declared to be preserved from even the possibility of error when they solemnly declare or promulgate to the universal Church a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals.

Maria Longhitano, who is married, told the congregation: "I have opened the way. Catholicism means universality, and without women it is mutilated." She said she was convinced the laity in Italy were "ready to welcome a female ministry" and that in her native Sicily people often asked her: "Why don't we have the joy of women priests?"

So when people deride the Church of England for ordaining women or admitting them to the episcopate, or ridicule it for its labyrinthine divisions and irreconcilable tensions, it is worth remembering that all churches are coalitions, even that which calls itself Catholic. One side might excomunicate the other and the other might justifiably respond in Coriolanian terms with 'I banish you', but ultimately they are all part of the Church of Jesus Christ, just squabbling like children over a packet of sweets.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who runs the country when Cameron is on holiday?

Forgive this apparently trivial question, but it has been troubling His Grace.

Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister.

This morning, Mr Morus informs us that William Hague has taken Lord Mandelson's previous title of 'First Secretary of State'.

For these two titles not to reside with the same person begs the question of who is in charge when David Cameron is on holiday or otherwise indisposed.

There is no doubt that Liberal Democrats will expect their man to be left in sole charge at Number 10: he is, after all, the Deputy Prime Minister. That is, he deputises for the Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is unable to fulfil his duties.

But Conservatives would find this more than a little unpalatable. It would not only provoke even greater fury on the back benches (as if they were not already seething enough). But Conservatives and non-Conservatives the length and breadth of the nation might just wonder how the leader of the party which came third in the General Election ends up running the show.

Yes, we know this is a coalition. And we perfectly understand that a few manifesto pledges had to be traded away in order to arrive at a working partnership.

But the Liberal Democrats are not equal partners in this coalition, though they appear to be behaving as though they are and David Cameron uses an awful lot of flattering rhetoric to maintain that impression.

It even transpires that Mr Hague and Mr Clegg are 'time-sharing' the 3,500-acre Chevening House in Kent: it is to be their official country residence on alternate weekends.

Yet this is traditionally the grace-and-favour home of the Foreign Secretary alone.

It ought to be evident to any fair-minded person that, when David Cameron is away, William Hague ought to be left in charge.

How else can we be sure that a Conservative programme of government (if it be) is sustained?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why the Conservatives did not win the General Election

Much has already been written; even more is yet to be. But while the politicos, specialists and analysts pore over the ‘UKIP effect’, the scale of the BNP vote, the lack of a Lynton Crosby, the absence of a ‘big theme’ or ‘strategic idea’; the inadequacies of George Osborne and the effect of the televised debates, there is far more to be gleaned from the voting patterns of faith groups.

If David Cameron made one mistake during this election campaign, it was his decision to sideline the Christian majority. It is one thing to ‘love bomb’ the Liberal Democrats and to court the minority faiths, but quite another purposely to rile and alienate Christians.

The Prime Minister professes ‘a fairly classic Church of England faith that grows hotter or colder by moments’.

Thus is he the embodiment of the English national spirituality.

Yet he denigrates and misrepresents the Church of England; he proclaims that ‘it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around’; and he asserts that if Jesus were around today he would be supporting ‘gay rights’.

Such comments seemed purposely crafted to provoke and cause offence. The Church of England - traditionally the Conservative Party's spiritual wing - was not attracted by the temporal 'broad church' on offer.

Mr Cameron did not criticise the homophobic Mosques or misogynistic Gurdwaras; he did not exhort Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus to integrate with the British way of life; and he did not suggest that Mohammed, Guru Nanak or Krishna, were they around today, would support ‘gay rights’.

All genuine Christians are every bit as concerned with poverty, family breakdown, injustice and ‘Broken Britain’ as the Prime Minister. They may differ in the solutions, but they will talk to each other, debate, listen and learn. David Cameron has consistently refused to listen to Christians, even eschewing the pre-election offer of a high-profile interview with one of country’s most senior and respected religion journalists. This would have reached tens of thousands.

Considering that the Conservative Party was just 16,000 votes short of an overall majority, such a decision seems inexplicable.

The country faces the worst economic crisis it has ever experienced in peacetime. It is Labour’s fault, and they have been judged and found wanting. If we are to reform education, eradicate welfare dependency, halt inflation, stem the increase in unemployment and minimise home repossessions, we must now support the most stable option on offer, and that is the Liberal-Conservative coalition.

It may not be ideal, but it is the least worst option or lesser evil.

And we are commanded to pray for them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Godless Labour Shadow Cabinet

Members of Parliament are obliged by law to swear allegiance to the Monarch before they may take their seats and draw a salary. Only Sinn Féin members refuse to conform to this requirement, though it has been known for republican-orientated members to swear allegiance with their fingers firmly crossed. But while allegiance to the Monarch is mandatory, MPs are given a choice on the divine dimension: they may either swear an oath ‘by Almighty God’ or they may simply ‘affirm’.

It has been observed that there is a distinct divide between the Libservative and Labour frontbench teams.

A clear majority of the Government frontbenchers swore allegiance under the religious form of the oath, while the Labour Shadow Cabinet was dominated by those who chose to affirm their loyalty in a secular form.

The majority of the Cabinet, led by David Cameron, took the oath: one by one they made a solemn declaration on pain of divine or preternatural wrath:

I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg declared:

I do solemnly, sincerely and most and affirm I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.
Oliver Letwin was the only other Coalition frontbencher to affirm using the non-religious oath. Senior Liberal Democrat figures Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, David Laws and Chris Huhne all opted for the religious oath.

But the Shadow Cabinet revealed their godlessness as the Almighty was set aside. David Miliband, Alistair Darling, Harriett Harman, Alan Johnson, Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Bob Ainsworth and John Denham all successively chose to ‘affirm’ rather than ‘swear’ allegiance.

During the swearing-in process, one backbench MP was caught on microphone observing: "Presumably in other times in our history the oath has been used to work out who is Catholic, who is Anglican, and all that?"

"Or who's religious and who's not," the clerk suggested.

It was, of course, nothing to do with discerning who is ‘religious’, and the Clerk really should have known better. Religious restrictions in the oath effectively barred individuals of certain faiths (Roman Catholics, Jews and Quakers) from entering Parliament for many years. But servants of the Crown have sworn allegiance to the Monarch since Magna Carta. Over the centuries this developed into three distinct oaths: of Supremacy (repudiation of the spiritual or ecclesiastical authority of any foreign prince, person or prelate); of Allegiance (declaration of fidelity to the Sovereign); and Abjuration (repudiation of the right and title of descendants of James II to the throne).

In 1953, the Queen swore on oath at her Coronation ‘to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom according to their laws and customs’. She promised ‘to maintain to the utmost of (her) power the Laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed religion established by law’. She declared, with Bible in hand: ‘The things I have here before promised I will perform and keep. So help me God.’

In swearing this, she committed herself and the Crown-in-Parliament to uphold the supremacy of Scripture. Thus every Member of Parliament swearing their Oath of Allegiance, while not being constrained in their individual conscience to profess the Christian faith, is declaring their commitment to defend biblical Christianity. Allegiance to the Queen must, at the very least, demand a defence of her oaths and promises to her subjects.

Thus those Members of Parliament who opt simply to ‘affirm’ their allegiance are, in fact, dedicating their lives to upholding the institution of Monarchy and therefore to defending the Coronation Oath.

Ergo, whether they ‘swear by Almighty God’ or ‘affirm’, MPs are making a formal declaration of the supremacy of the Protestant Reformed religion established by law.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To deport, or to be blown up: that is the question

What a dilemma.

Abid Naseer is a Pakistani national and al-Qaeda operative who is suspected of planning an atrocity in the UK. The evidence was presented in court and the presiding judge so determined. The Special Immigration and Appeals Commission said it was 'satisfied that Naseer was an al-Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom and that…it is conducive to the public good that he should be deported'.

You might think this would be sufficient.

Yet he has said that he would be tortured if he were to return to Pakistan.

And so, under international treaty obligations and in accordance with the Human Rights Act, he cannot be deported, for that would render Her Majesty’s Government complicit in torture.

And we can’t be having that, can we?

So, here we have the British Government impotent in the forcible repatriation of a Pakistani national to a member state of the British Commonwealth.

If the Pakistani government is not able to give adequate assurances that they would not torture or ill treat Mr Naseer, on what basis do they continue to be a member of the Commonwealth?

It beggars belief that an Al Qaeda operative should be able to assert his ‘human rights’ and continue to reside in the UK when this is the very terrorist organisation which is threatening an Olympic spectacular in 2012, or a few special fireworks for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.

Home Secretary Theresa May is not appealing the decision. She has said she finds it ‘disappointing’.

Iain Dale prefers to call it ‘bloody terrifying’.

Dr Richard North is even more scathing.

Mr Dale said: “I helped elect a new government to pass laws to stop this sort of thing happening. I don't want to hear from ministers that it is ‘disappointing’. I want to hear what they intend to do about it.”

There was a time when the Conservative Party was intent on dispensing with the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights. In fact, it was a manifesto pledge.

But this must have been an early victim of the Con-Lib Coalition.

And since Dominic Grieve is now the Attorney General, he would doubtless resign if the Act were repealed in any case. For it is not the Act which is at fault, he has averred, but the judiciary's consistent misinterpretation and application of it.

It ought to be the primary duty of a government to protect its citizens. It has a moral obligation to prioritise issues of national security, public safety and the economic well-being of a country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The Human Rights Act upholds all of that.

MI5 has maintained that the men, all students from Pakistan, were 'members of a UK based network linked to al-Qaeda involved in attack planning'.

Yet we cannot deport them.

Mr Cameron, do we not still need a British Bill of Rights to clarify the matter?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The man who should be Speaker

While the nation and media are preoccupied with the next trivial election - which Miliband might become leader of the Labour Party - the rather more important one is far more imminent. Tomorrow, MPs gather for the first time and their first task is to elect the Speaker. Usually it proceeds without a murmur of dissent.

But John Bercow is not likely to be nodded through quite so easily.

As a placeman of Labour, his election was one of the most partisan elevations to the Speakership in recent history. And he has performed appallingly, not only with his patronising and condescending manner but also in his manifest bias against numerous Conservative members.

Cranmer's choice for Speaker is now the formidable Edward Leigh, a former barrister and devout Christian man who is firmly on the Right of the Party. He commands the respect of the whole House and his reputation as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is unparalleled. If he achieves for Parliament what he has gained for the public purse, he would be a truly great Speaker.

If not he, then, in the spirit of ecumenical 'broad church' coalition, Cranmer's second choice falls to Ming Campbell. Again, he is a man of great stature with cross-party respect. A former Olympic sprinter and QC, he is one of the few Liberal Democrats who is not viscerally anti-American. There is much about him with which Conservatives may find difficulty - his support for multilateralism, the EU, the UN, higher taxation and opposition to Israel's military action in Gaza - but he would restore honour and integrity to the Office of Speaker.

And the joy is that Nadine Dorries affirms His Grace's opinion on this matter, and approves these two candidates. And it is she who is likely to shout 'No, no, no!' when the question is put to the Commons assembled.

Watch and pray.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain

Is it not a joy to see the return of tradition and respect for an ancient office of state? The Conservative order manifests itself in patriotism, custom, respect for the law, loyalty to the Monarch, and in the willing acceptance of the privileges of those to whom privilege is granted.

The return of the wig gives hope for the future.

The office of Lord Chancellor has behind it more than a thousand years of history. Kenneth Clarke QC is now an ex officio Church Commissioner and in the Order of Precedence outranks all politicians; indeed, he defers only to the Royal Family and to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Friday, May 14, 2010

That 'Special Relationship'

Cranmer hopes the new Foreign Secretary told the US Secretary of State how utterly unacceptable was her mealy-mouthed response to Argentina's gripe about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. They are unequivocally British, populated by a free people, and we will defend them. And if the United States wishes to be 'neutral' on the matter and side with the anti-democratic aggressor, then the United Kingdom will set an example to the world.

Cranmer regrets the brevity of this post (again) but he is beset with demons which imperil his ashen incarnation: the time may be coming to return to dust.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sarkozy on Cameron

"He'll start out eurosceptic and finish up pro-European. It's the rule," Sarkozy told his MPs, according to Le Figaro today. "He'll be like all the others."

The rule?


David Clegg and Nick Cameron

Cranmer is pondering...

He will speak anon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

David Cameron is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

At last, the deal is done. The details are yet to emerge (and some of them appear to be a cause of considerable alarm) , but we can at last give thanks that David Cameron has achieved his political objective and is safely installed at 10 Downing Street as the first Conservative prime minister since 1997. It is has been a long and painful 13 years in the wilderness, and we are not out of the desert yet. But another five years of being Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition would have stretched loyalty to breaking point, and now at least the Conservative Party have a foot over the threshold of power (...the other over-sized shoe belongs to Nick Clegg).

It is interesting how some have an easy path to power and for others it is tortuous. Some spend years if not decades honing their skills in vain, while others attain high office as if by magic, quite unprepared politically and philosophically.

In a sense, David Cameron was destined to be Prime Minister: born into a wealthy family, Anglican, Eton, Oxford, PPE, well-connected, CCO, political adviser, after one election rehearsal became a shoe-in for a safe Tory seat, entered Parliament in 2001, swiftly promoted, leadership candidate just four years later…

This path contrasts greatly with that of Margaret Thatcher: born to a family of modest means, Methodist, grammar school, Oxford, chemistry, no influential connections, had to apply to many associations before finally entering Parliament in 1959, frustrated at many turns, had to wait almost two decades before becoming a leadership candidate…

Let us hope that the years 2001-2010 have taught David Cameron what Margaret Thatcher learned between 1970-1974: how not to govern.

The more state spending, borrowing, taxation and regulation we have, the less is the incentive for enterprise.

David Cameron must espouse limited government, individual freedom, private property ownership and the rule of law.

Margaret Thatcher faced the Winter of Discontent – a bankrupt nation, public sector strikes, unbridled trade union power and national demoralisation.

David Cameron faces a summer of near-bankruptcy, public sector strikes, resurgent trade union sabre-rattling and a nation under EU occupation.

Margaret Thatcher faced a Cabinet largely hostile to her reforms; David Cameron has surrounded himself by congenial sorts, even if a disproportionate number appear to be Liberal Democrats.

Margaret Thatcher’s vision to reverse state control, liberate individual initiative and stand up to the communism of the mighty Soviet Empire was shared by President Ronald Reagan.

But whatever David Cameron may wish to achieve economically or against the Islamism which today threatens the peace and security of the world, he will find no soul-mate in President Obama.

There are problems and uncertainties, yet this is an exciting time to be alive.

All that we need now is a vision.

And that vision must be one of compassion.

And we must wait and see if David Cameron has the answer to today’s political, social and economic problems, and whether or not he possesses the courage to resolve them.

France to UK: "Help yourself and heaven will help you."

Les grenouilles have expressed a certain impatience and disdain for les rosbifs.

Nothing new there, perhaps. But it is rather undiplomatic of Jean-Pierre Jouyet to effectively tell the English not to bother asking the EU for any assistance at all in the wake of any financial problems we might face in the future, simply because Chancellor Alistair Darling has refused to play ball and pledge funds to prop up the euro.

M Jouyet said:

“The English are very certainly going to be targeted given the political difficulties they have. Help yourself and heaven will help you. If you don’t want to show solidarity to the eurozone, then let’s see what happens to the United Kingdom.”

Yes, indeed. Let's see.

And he noted:

“There is not a two speed Europe but a three speed Europe. You have Europe of the euro, Europe of the countries that understand the euro...and you have the English.”


At last it is sinking in.

Though why he blamed the English for the decision of the British Government taken by a Scottish chancellor is something of a mystery.

John Reid on the LibLab 'Coalition of the Losers'

Cranmer never thought he would see the day that he agreed wholeheartedly with Dr John Reid. But it is clear that he is a man of political insight, democratic conviction and moral principle.

Ashes to ashes

Cranmer received an email after yesterday's 'Change Coalition' post from a Conservative commentator whom he greatly respects and whose opinion he values highly. It simply read:

You were the one of the last people who I expected to fall for all this :(
Before there was even a hint of Lib-Lab formal negotiation, Cranmer responded:

What is the alternative?

One must be pragmatic.

By seizing the political initiative, we retain the policy agenda. If Clegg forges a 'progressive' alliance with Brown (and he may), they will change the voting system, wreck the economy (further) and rape the constitution.

Surely short-term compromise is better than eternal oblivion?
To which the commentator responded:

I think the chances of a LibLab pact are very slim and we should realise the strength of our negotiating position. The LibDems on the family will undermine any social justice policy.
His Grace answered:

The Lib-Lab pact may be slim, but it remains. While it remains, the alternative must be expounded and supported.

It does not need to be formal coalition; it could be ad hoc. Of course our negotiating position is very strong, but it could all collapse into another general election. Some of our policies may be placed 'on hold' while the deficit is brought under control.

Is not Gove's plan for schools alone worth 6-8 months of Lib-Con compromise on other areas? Once enacted, it would be irreversible.

We obviously don't agree on this, but it's not a case, as you say, of having 'fallen' for something. If we are to avoid the greatest evil of Lib-Lab revolution, it is necessary to be pragmatic and argue for moderate, organic, Burkean reform in those areas where we can agree.

The reality is that the LibDems are as divided as the Conservatives on many social justice issues. That will work to our advantage.

Sorry to disappoint you.
No further response was received: His Grace had joined the pariah caste and was not worth engaging further.

And we are now where we are. Nick Clegg is cruising for the best offer, and that is likely to come from Gordon Brown, though God knows how he or his sucessor will deliver it.

It beggars belief that Nick Clegg is now considering a full coalition with Labour (et al) in a 'progressive' rainbow alliance.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that he is manifestly putting party before country: quite where voting reform sits on the scale of people's priorities is anyone's guess. The LibDems were the only party to advocate PR: they achieved 23% of the vote. Ergo the policy was rejected.

And here it rears its head as the deal-breaker: Nick Clegg is not only playing king-maker; he appears to have the power to determine who the candidates for kingship should be.

Cranmer could not put up with another five years of opposition.

Ashes might just return to ashes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Lib-Con ‘Change Coalition’ augurs well for Compassionate Conservatism

According to Michael Portillo, the election stalemate is David Cameron’s opportunity to destroy ‘the Right’. According to Simon Heffer, the whole election was a ‘con’.

Whatever it is, Cranmer is quite sanguine about it.

The rain is the rain: it’s neither good nor bad; it’s just the rain.

We are where we are.

In forging a government in the national interest – which is the grown-up thing to do (notwithstanding that Cranmer always thought that politicians always governed in the national interest) – there is no reason at all why one may not have Liberal Democrat voices to help shape the agenda. The reality is that there are many Conservative-minded Liberal Democrats and quite a few more Liberal-Democrat-minded Conservatives: there is a line of coincidence with distinct points of Whiggish convergence around which the two great political traditions of Toryism and Liberalism naturally coalesce.

Should they manage to do so, they could keep Labour’s Socialism at bay for a generation, if not eradicate it forever.

If we examine David Cameron’s great vision, his political raison d’etre, his principal policy emphasis since he became Party leader – that of ‘Progressive’, ‘One Nation’ or ‘Compassionate’ Conservatism – there is no reason at all why he may not secure a parliamentary majority with each Bill that comes before the House of Commons. Of course there are divergences in the policy details, but liberal philosophy meets a distinct strand of conservative philosophy at the point of individual liberty.

And we are at a time of such a Conservative and Liberal expression and understanding of the role of the individual that legislation would be protected from extremist expressions: the freedom of the individual is tempered by his or her responsibility to society, even if, at the moment, society has got the better of the individual. The poor need to hear the message of personal responsibility and self-reliance, the optimistic assurance that if they try – as they must – they will make it.

The Conservative Party is intent on empowering communities because the sense of political community is intrinsic to people’s sense of the need for social community. The narrative focus is on welfare, family breakdown and ‘social justice’ in the context of traditional conservative themes like low taxation and the small state. Proponents of Compassionate Conservatism aver that social problems are better solved through cooperation with private companies, charities and religious institutions rather than directly through government departments.

David Cameron’s stated intention to make Iain Duncan Smith the Minister for Social Justice indicates that the Conservative Party is now concerned with the moral and spiritual health of the nation just as much as Margaret Thatcher was concerned with its economic health: economic reality and moral concerns are no longer in conflict. Thus David Cameron talks not only of economic recession but of ‘social recession’ and ‘moral failure’. He writes:

When parents are rewarded for splitting up, when professionals are told that it’s better to follow rules than do what they think is best, when single parents find they take home less for working more, when young people learn that it pays not to get a job, when the kind-hearted are discouraged from doing good in their community, is it any wonder our society is broken? (The Guardian, 2010).
There is nothing here with which the Liberal Democrats would disagree.

David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is both liberal and democratic: his plans for free schools are both liberal and democratic; his plans for a ‘pupil premium’ for the most challenging pupils are both liberal and democratic; his desire to redistribute NHS funding to the areas with the lowest life expectancy is both liberal and democratic. His opposition to further taxes on jobs is both liberal and democratic; his desire for lower personal taxation is both liberal and democratic; his opposition to ID cards is both liberal and democratic. And what liberal and democrat could possibly resile from the Conservatives’ proposed reforms to Parliament – that of granting the electorate the right to recall their MP, and petition for a parliamentary debate?

David Cameron’s conservatism is further expressed in his desire to increase ‘localism’ and to build upon the liberal strand of conservatism: ‘What the State can usefully do’, said JS Mill, ‘is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials’. When a Tory espouses Mill, a Liberal can rejoice. The Conservative Party’s ‘Social Justice Policy Group’ was established to encourage initiatives by various local organisations, including charities and churches, and to examine which governmental functions presently exercised at Westminster may be placed in the hands of local government made more accountable to the local electorate.

What Liberal Democrat could oppose that?

All of these policies are intrinsic to and consistent with a programme of Compassionate Conservatism for they are all concerned with theo-political matters of social justice and the imperative of loving one’s neighbour.

And loving does not demand liking.

But loving does demand engagement, understanding and tolerance of those whose personality we do not like or of whose worldview and beliefs we disapprove.

Not all Christians are the Cameron sort of Christian, that is of ‘a fairly classic Church of England faith, a faith that grows hotter and colder by moments’. But it is this expression of Anglicanism which will now bring him to Downing Street: it does not seek to polarise by setting one moral or political philosophy over another; it seeks consensus in accordance with its traditional via media, or, in the words of the preface to the 1662 Prayer Book, ‘to keep the mean between the two extremes’.

David Cameron’s approach is moderate: it is consonant with his paternalistic Anglicanism that the Liberal Democrats can be embraced as part of his ‘broad church’. It was observed last year that ‘Cameron is not an enigma, he’s an Anglican’, which ‘gives him considerable (some would say contemptible) flexibility as far as dogma is concerned’. But his constant appeal to Disraeli stems from his awareness that under Margaret Thatcher the Conservative Party was perceived to have a harsh attitude towards the poor. His ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ has a distinct focus on those who have little, with policies on health and education in particular to ensure ‘social justice’.

We are on the brink of an economic crisis. Carpe diem.

The post mortem on the election campaign is for another day.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Cardinal Schönborn to be the next Pope?

According to The Times, there is now 'open warfare' in the Vatican after Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, accused former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano of having blocked investigations into sex abuse crimes committed by his predecessor, the late Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer. The BBC confirms the Roman Catholic civil war, quoting Cardinal Schönborn as saying: "I can still very clearly remember the moment when Cardinal Ratzinger sadly told me that the other camp had asserted itself."

This is interesting for a number of reasons:

Firstly, Cardinal Schönborn is a former theology pupil of Pope Benedict and a close ally. He has praised Pope Benedict for having pushed for sex abuse inquiries when he was Cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said that 'others' however had stopped John Paul II from taking action, adding 'the days of cover up are over'.

Secondly, Cardinal Schönborn is Austrian and a front-runner to succeed Pope Benedict. There is a certain eurocentric neatness in a Polish pope followed by a German pope followed by an Austrian pope.

Thirdly, there is a cetain religio-political fulfilment for those who are persuaded by the prophecy that the next pope will be the last: the House of Habsburg is best known for being the origin of all of the formally-elected Holy Roman Emperors over the centuries. From 1278 to 1918, the Habsburgs reigned over a territory that grew from a small section of Austria along the Danube, into the 16th century realm of Charles V who boasted that 'The sun never sets on my domain'.

Otto Von Habsburg was an MEP until 1999. He is the 'uncrowned emperor' and widely considered the visionary architect of a reunified Europe and continues a thousand-year legacy of Catholic political leadership. Archduke Otto fulfilled the quintessentially Habsburg role as defender of the Pope when John Paul II visited Strasbourg to address the European Parliament in 1988. He had barely begun to speak when the Rev. Ian Paisley jumped to his feet and denounced the Pope as the anti-Christ, while unfurling a banner proclaiming the same message. In an instant, Otto von Habsburg was on his feet to grab the banner from Dr Paisley's hand and, with several others, escorting him out of the chamber.

Archduke Otto renounced the headship of the House of Habsburg to his eldest son Karl (Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia), who is also a former MEP and now first in the line of succession to the Austro-Hungarian throne: he is the de facto regent of Germany.

Since 1974, Karl Von Habsburg has been actively involved in the Pan European Movement in Austria. He is considered an expert on minority rights for the Christian Democratic Group (EPP).

He is tipped as a future Austrian chancellor.

An Austrian pope presiding over the 'coronation' of a Habsburg.

Wouldn't that be neat?

Are the Liberal Democrats the most democratic party in the UK?

It is interesting to compare the approaches of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in their political manoeuvres as they attempt to forge a formal or informal coalition to govern.

Under the Liberal Democrat Party rules, three quarters of all their MPs have to agree the details of any coalition deal before it can proceed.

There is no such constraint upon David Cameron.

Nick Clegg also has to get agreement of his ruling federal executive body.

David Cameron is not bound even to consult with the Board of the Conservative Party.

If Mr Clegg fails to get the backing of his federal executive, he will have to call an emergency conference of senior activists.

There is no requirement at all upon David Cameron to acquire the backing of the National Convention.

The Liberal Democrat leader is constrained by his party's ‘triple lock’ rule. Under the system he must secure the approval of MPs and the executive before making any decision that could compromise the independence of the party. If he fails to garner 75 per cent support from either, he would then have to call a separate conference in which he would need the support of two thirds of delegates. Failing that a postal ballot of all members would take place.

While David Cameron will doubtless consult with his MPs and Peers, he does not need their formal approval before he makes any decision. There is no part of the Conservative Party’s functioning which requires any matter to be put to a ballot of all members, save the appointment of a new leader. And it was the instinct of the present Conservative leadership to deprive Party members even of that.

In short, as a result of the Hague reforms of 2001 which gave Tories their first written constitution, the Conservative Party is in the hands of David Cameron to do with as he pleases. If MPs object, they can be deselected; if candidates resile, they cease to be ‘approved’; if the volunteer membership of turnip taliban, dinosaurs and backwoodsmen dare to utter a syllable of dissent, they can be completely ignored for they have no role at all, save to host occasional bridge evenings and hold the odd fund-raising barbeque.

Perhaps the Liberal Democrats can help guide the Conservative Party towards greater internal democracy.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Nick Clegg looks straight ahead to leading Liberals into Government for the first time since the Second World War

This photograph must be one of the most politically fortuitous ever taken. As the three party leaders attended a VE Day ceremony in Westminster today, Gordon Brown looks to his left, David Cameron to the right, and Nick Clegg straight ahead, wondering if he might manage to get more than one Liberal into the Cabinet.

Churchill was the last prime minister to include Liberals in a coalition, when he invited Sir Archibald Sinclair to serve as Secretary of State for Air. He was the last British Liberal to hold Cabinet rank office.

If David Cameron succeeds in forging a Con-Lib alliance, we will probably see at least three Liberal Democrats sitting around the Cabinet table: Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and...

Well, whoever they are, three Conservatives will be dumped to make way.

But that's politics.

It would be far worse under Proportional Representation.

It is curious that those who favour PR are desperate about this interregnum and period of uncertainty. Do they not realise that every election under PR is followed by days if not weeks of 'horse-trading' and 'shabby, back-room deals'.

Perhaps someone remind Nick Clegg that he said just a few years ago that he would 'never join a Labour or Tory cabinet'.

Wonder what changed his mind?

Why does David Cameron prefer to deal with the Liberal Democrats after an election than with UKIP before?

This is David Heathcoat Amory: a more fierce British patriot and arch-Eurosceptic you would be hard pressed to find on the Conservative benches. Yet he lost the seat of Wells to a Europhile Liberal Democrat by 800 votes, while UKIP picked up 1711.

Let us not pretend that UKIP supporters would not vote for a Conservative candidate if Conservative policy on the EU were more robust. There is a fiction that UKIP are composed of ex-members of all parties, and that at their meetings you will find unreconstituted Socialists and a hefty proportion of LibDems, all united in their desire to leave the European Union.

This is nonsense. UKIP is a lost tribe of Conservatism: they favour small government and low taxation; they support the Established Church, wish to retain the Act of Settlement, expand grammar schools and introduce controlled immigration. They are all innately conservative in disposition and Whiggish in philosophy. Their raison d'être is for the UK to leave the EU. But not without a referendum of the people.

That is to say, UKIP is really the Referendum Party, for that is the only concession they attempted to extract from the Conservative Party.

Yet that was too much for David Cameron.

Even though a referendum pledge is included in the LibDem manifesto, such a demand is an unacceptable exaction when made by UKIP. David Cameron would rather deal with those whose political philosophy is antithetical to conservatism than with those whose conservatism is 'Radical' (or, in the vernacular, 'right wing').

And so we are in a position of having to barter away the voting system and all manner of core policies and manifesto pledges in order to accommodate Nick Clegg - the man who spectacularly failed in this General Election leading the party which came a very poor third.

It is estimated that UKIP helped deprive the Conservatives of at least ten seats by fielding candidates in constituencies the Tories had a very good chance of winning. They might even be blamed for keeping Ed Balls in situ, for he won by only 1119 votes while UKIP took 1506.

ConservativeHome have a list of how David Cameron might have secured a majority if he had been prepared to enter into talks with former-Tory peer Lord Pearson:

•Bolton West: Labour 18,329; Conservative 18,235; UKIP 1,901
•Derby North: Labour 14,896; Conservative 14,283; UKIP 829
•Derbyshire NE: Labour 17,948: Conservative 15,503; UKIP 2,636
•Dorset mid & Poole: Labour 21,100; Conservative 20,831; UKIP 2,109
•Dudley North: Labour 14,923; Conservative 14,274; UKIP 3,267
•Great Grimsby: Labour 10,777: Conservative 10,063: UKIP 2,043
•Hampstead & Kilburn: Labour 17,332; Conservative 17,290; UKIP 408
•Middlesbrough South: Labour 18,138; Conservative 16,461; UKIP 1,881
•Morley (Ed Balls): Labour 18,365; Conservatives 17,264; UKIP 1,506
•Newcastle-Under-Lyme: Labour 16,393; Conservatives 14,841; UKIP 3,491
•Plymouth Moor View: Labour 15,433; Conservatives 13,845; UKIP 3,188
•Solihull: Liberal 23,635; Conservatives 23,460; UKIP 1,200
•Somerton & Frome: Liberal 28,793; Conservatives 26,976; UKIP 1,932
•Southampton Itchen: Labour 16,326; Conservatives 16,134; UKIP 1,928
•St Austell & Newquay: Liberal 20,189; Conservatives 18,877; UKIP 1,757
•St Ives: Liberal 19,619; Conservatives 17,900; UKIP 2,560
•Telford: Labour 15,977; Conservatives 14,996; UKIP 2,428
•Walsall North: Labour 13,385; Conservatives 12,395; UKIP 1,737
•Walsall South: Labour 16,211; Conservatives 14,456; UKIP 3,449
•Wells: Liberal 24,560; Conservatives 23,760; UKIP 1,711
•Wirral South: Labour 16,276; Conservatives 15,745; UKIP 1,274

Of course, hurt and disappointed Conservatives will blame UKIP for these losses, but the reality is that it was present Conservative policy which lost them. Senior Labour ministers who were 'saved by UKIP' include not only Ed Balls, but John Denham, Phil Woolas and Ian Austin.

And now for the shabby deals. And it is more than a little nauseating to watch and hear David Cameron and Gordon Brown fawning for Nick Clegg's support, obsequious and flattering in their expressions of potential accommodation. "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?" asks Clegg, "That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge."

Gordon Brown responds that he loves Nick "more than words can wield the matter;
Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare."

What shall Lord Pearson speak? Love and be silent.

And David Cameron responds: "Sir, I am made
Of the self-same metal that Nick is,
And prize me at his worth. In my true heart
I find he names my very deed of love;
Only he comes too short: that I profess
Myself an enemy to all other joys,
Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
And find I am alone felicitate
In your dear highness' love."

Then poor Lord Pearson!
And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's
More richer than my tongue.

And for those who are not familiar with the story, read it and weep.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Stalemate, impasse, deadlock, limbo...

They were elected as New Labour, and they promised to govern as New Labour.

They didn't.

They did exactly what Old Labour have always done: bankrupted the country and brought us to the brink of a national crisis.

And the man responsible for a decade of economic inefficiency and fiscal incompetence as Chancellor of the Exchequer became Her Majesty’s First Lord of the Treasury.

He was never elected as Prime Minister: he was distrusted by the majority of the nation, criticised by his own Chancellor, loathed by his own ministers and despised by many of his backbenchers.

Labour took us to war on a false premise; they replaced Cabinet government with a politburo; diminished democracy; marginalised Parliament; admitted three million immigrants; saddled us with recession and soaring unemployment; given us the highest youth unemployment in history; eroded our liberties; abolished the right to trial by jury; raped the Constitution; politicised the civil service; sold off our gold reserves at the bottom of the market; raided our pensions; subjected us to the Lisbon Treaty; relegated us from 7th to 24th in international maths and literacy rankings; increased pensioner poverty; increased inequality; caused fascists to be elected to Brussels; massively increased our tax burden; imposed an incredible 5000 new laws; created an authoritarian state and thoroughly debased our politics.

After 13 long years of extravagant spending, sinister social engineering, welfare expansion, uncontrolled immigration, endless fiddling with the electoral system, unparalleled electoral fraud, grotesque state encroachment into private lives and personal affairs and now a devalued currency, Labour proved to be the most stunningly incompetent government in the history of the United Kingdom (and God knows there are quite a few to choose from), and the most ideologically illiberal, oppressive and anti-Christian in centuries.

Against this backdrop, you would have thought that the Conservative Party might have been on course for an electoral landslide.

A year ago, they were on course for a resounding victory. Polls were consistently showing a 10-point lead over Labour, and did so for a convincing period of time.

And yet we ended up with a hung parliament, a dead heat, a score draw.


David Cameron won exactly the same proportion of the vote as Ted Heath won in 1974.

How can this be?

What is there worth sustaining in this Labour Government? What is remotely attractive about voting for another 5 years (FIVE YEARS) of Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Ed Balls and Harpy Hormone?

New Labour abandoned their Christian foundations long ago; they cast aside all that may ever have been true, noble and good and supplanted it with duplicity, avarice and the stench of sleaze. Their principles were shredded, and their sense of righteous morality pulped and recycled as an idol to every god in the firmament but the One who is known. Labour became the party of war, the party of torture, the party of exploitation and the party of deception. They rewarded the thieves and fraudsters with ‘rights’ while penalising the law-abiding and responsible. Their achievements have been molehills, judged against the towering peaks scaled by New Labour in its rejection not only of Labour, but of any decent and civilised values.

New Labour long ceased to be civilised, for they lost their vision of the meaning of this civility. They are no longer good, for it has lost sight of the common good by inflicting us with a plethora of uncommon relativist goods. The recession may be global, but it is New Labour’s fault that the United Kingdom is the worst-placed nation in the western world to cope with its effects. They became the embodiment of that for which they always despised the Conservatives: Labour became the party of unemployment, recession, inflation, and poverty.

Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

Cranmer had faith in David Cameron.

And he achieved some quite remarkable swings - some vastly more impressive than any achieved by the Party over the past 80 years.

But he did not deliver a victory.

It was always going to be a mountain to climb, but perhaps this moment calls for a moment of reflection and a little humility.

Some 'A-list' candidates have behaved appallingly to their local associations and on occasion displayed an alarming degree of arrogance. And they did so with the indulgence of CCHQ and the Party leadership. Some evidently took victory for granted and failed to put in the necessary hours, if ever they knew how. Others decided to talk endlessly about their very good friends Dave and Sam, but never bothered to earn their spurs in the mind-numbing tedium of local politics.

It is not only local Conservative associations which resent having candidates foisted upon them: the electorate evidently objects also. Margaret Thatcher once observed that you can't buck the market: David Cameron needs to realise that you can't buck the people.

Perhaps the Conservative Party needs to mend some fences with their ‘Turnip Taliban’, the ‘dinosaurs’ and their ‘backwoodsmen’.

It is one thing to reach out to the ‘middle ground’, but quite another to do it at the expense of one’s core vote. The Party leadership might just consider that these turnips, dinosaurs and backwoodsmen are not all out-of-touch, anachronistic eccentrics, but often intelligent and discerning individuals possessing of more conservative philosophy in their little fingers than some of the Party’s key strategists appear to manifest in their entire beings.

Those who have consistently and unwaveringly voted for the Conservative Party have done so because they are conservatives. They have the innate intelligence to see beyond the superficial, anodyne and banal. Their notion of diversity is more than skin deep: it is not dependent on gender, ethnicity, sexuality or disability, but on profession, achievement, religion, philosophy and worldview. The shifting sands of a nebulous and platitudinous ecumenical ‘broad appeal’ are no substitute for the rock of the ‘broad church’ laity.

Not least because all attempts by a centralist cabal of Notting Hill clerics to re-build the great Conservative broad church upon a foundation of shifting sand have had the inevitable consequences.
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