Tag Archives: morality

Oh what a lovely war!

It is possible to forgive Gordon Brown a lot. It is possible to argue (and, however incredibly, there remain people within the Labour Party who do) that Brown really does believe in things like justice, liberty and democracy. The problem is, the argument goes, that the perfidious media and electorate won’t let him promote an unashamedly progressive agenda and so he is forced to do the best under the circumstances.

If you squint a little bit, you can just about see where this argument is coming from. Sure, inequality and attacks on civil liberties have increased over the past 12 years, but look at the minimum wage, tax credits and the human rights act. These may have been ineffective, but at least his heart’s in the right place. Right?

To know the true mind of Gordon Brown one must do more than just scratch the surface. But some statements reveal rather more than he would perhaps like to be shown. Not every statement needs to be spun. Such is the case with Gordon Brown’s tribute to Harry Patch, who died over the weekend:

I think it’s right we as a nation have a national memorial service to remember the sacrifice and all the work that was done by those people who served our country during world war one and to remember what we owe to that generation – our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy in the world. Those men and women did a huge amount and it’s right that he have a special commemoration of what they have done.

I can’t really better Martin Kettle’s rebuttal of the claim that we can attribute “our freedom, our liberties, the fact that we are a democracy in the world” to the successful outcome of World War One but I have a few thoughts of my own.

Firstly, the adventurism of the first World War killed off the first attempt to build a welfare state almost stone dead and it was not revived for another thirty years. By the twenties, many of the post-1908 gains were being subjected to means tests and being curtailed. The means to pay for it – a land value tax on wealth (not incomes – a real threat to the landed classes that they have managed to stop in the decades hence) – was quashed before it could even be properly introduced. The momentum for House of Lords reform was lost. Some might argue that what we got in exchange was women’s suffrage, but you could equally argue that the war merely postponed it.

Of course, it is quite possible that none of these things would have happened even if the war hadn’t happened. Certainly, no-one living in the early 20th century can be under any illusions about how excellent the establishment is at stifling reform. But one thing is unarguable, and that is that the first World War lead directly to the second. The men and women who fought that war really were fighting for our liberty (although that too can be overstated), but they shouldn’t have had to. And the millions who were slaughtered by the Nazis died senselessly. It is hard to see how any of this would have happened if we hadn’t chosen to bankrupt Germany in 1918.

This isn’t to dismiss the bravery of men like Harry Patch and Henry Allingham or to somehow present them as traitors and war criminals in the way that the far left and the greens are determined to present our troops today. But they didn’t fight “for” liberty and democracy. If it can be said that they fight for anything it was the last hurrah of British imperialism, something which we can be grateful is now dead. We need to remember and commemorate them because it must never be allowed to happen again. For Gordon Brown to recast history in this way on the day that the last witness to events has passed away is nothing less than grotesque. It speaks volumes about Labour’s own enthusiasm for military adventurism and demonstrates his unsuitability to the job of Prime Minister.

Why Catholic moralism makes me sick

I seem to be incapable of blogging at the moment – the problem with failing to do it for a couple of weeks is getting back into the habit is often really difficult when there are so many distractions out there.

This is a shame because there is plenty to blog about. The main thing that has been getting my goat over the past weekend has been the escalating row over the upcoming vote on the Embryo Bill, actively being stoked up by people such as Cardinal Keith O’Brien who has been come up with all sorts of colourful phrases to denounce it. He could at least get his literary allusions right – Frankenstein created life from dead matter; his beef here is about proposals to create animal-human hybrid embryos. That isn’t Frankensteinian – it is Moreau-esque. Is it too much to expect these turbulent priests to at least read? Clearly.

There is a big debate about whether Labour should allow a free vote on this. I am only too aware that both the Lib Dems and Tories are already allowing a free vote. It does rather bring into question what free votes are all about and why it is that religious bodies (and it is unerringly religious bodies) insist on free votes on such a narrow range of issues. As Laurence Boyce argues over on Lib Dem Voice these votes are hardly “free” in that the churches are only all too keen whip to their heart’s content. Is it not absurd that we regard scientific debates about the experimentation on small clusters of cells – or for that matter what two grown adults get up to behind closed doors – as “moral” issues while issues such as poverty, justice and military action are regarded as political?

It is in this context that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor‘s article in the Guardian yesterday must be regarded. Murphy makes the outrageous suggestion that the difference between religion and “atheistic secularism” is love. Catholics love, atheists “kills the human spirit under the pretence of liberating it” (note how he frames the debate by denying atheists their very humanity). To be sure, he accepts that on occasion Catholics forget this lesson but insists that history repeatedly “shows the church rediscovering its own secret”.

O’Connor has not condemned or even mildly rebuked O’Brien for his speech on the embryo bill, in which he uses such love-filled phrases as “hideous” and “grotesque”. This, lest us forget, is with reference to scientific research intended to save lives and improve people’s quality of life. But presumably that’s okay because their “spirits” will live on.

It all but five years to the day since the House of Commons voted for an illegal war to invade Iraq. The Catholic church, to be sure, condemned it at the time, but did not seek to influence its own congregation in the Commons and require them to choose between the Pope and Tony Blair. Paul Murphy, Ruth Kelly and Des Browne – currently under intense pressure over the embryo bill – were let off the hook. Tony Blair himself has now been welcomed into the Catholic fold with open arms. Meanwhile, people with Parkinson’s are expected to suffer while in Africa and South America people are threatened with eternal damnation for using life-empowering and potentially life-saving contraception. And what does O’Connor use to justify all this and claims we atheists can’t grasp? Love.

Barbie boy calls for tax cuts for married couples

God, Labour really are in a full scale rout at the moment, aren’t they?

The tax system should reward married couples, a cabinet minister has said.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”

He did not advocate specific changes to the tax system, but said there was a “moral case” for using tax to promote the traditional family unit.

On the claim that there is a ‘moral case’ for using tax to promote marriage, he could not be more wrong. One of the least moral reasons going for getting married is acquiring tax advantages and if the system ends up penalising single parents, many of whom are not single through choice, then already unstable families will end up doing worse out of the system.

If there is a moral argument for marriage, money ought to be immaterial. You can’t tax and spend your way to righteousness.

Presumably we can depend on Harriet Harman, the only member of the Brown government to have a mandate from the party, to put the opposing view? After all, she’s been lambasting Cameron on this issue for months. But of course Harman’s first act as a government minister back in 1997 was to cut benefits for single mothers. I’m sure she’ll find a way to reconcile her own stated views with Andy Burnham’s. Her idea of radicalism in office is to call on Gordon Brown to do something that he committed himself to doing in a White Paper published three months ago, and which will not materially affect anything (if the Prime Minister has a majority in the Commons and demanded an election, do you seriously believe the party would turn him down?).

What amazes and appalls me the most though is how, in the space of a fortnight, Labour have seemingly done everything they can to transform Gideon Osborne’s reputation from whining top hatted toff who is totally out of his depth to a Svengali-figure who sets the entire political agenda of the UK. It’s utter madness. He came up with a few proposals that were economically irresponsible and fundamentally didn’t add up, and the entire Labour front bench falls down in a heap, struggling to emulate him in every way they can. Truly this is the single greatest mystery of modern politics.

Labour in freefall: huge Lib Dem opportunity. Time to step up a gear perhaps?

The sad moral decline of Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams, like so many other public figures over the past couple of months, sought to co-opt William Wilberforce in a speech yesterday. In an act of stupendous logical contortion, he uses Wilberforce, an elected politician (albeit in an era of rotten boroughs) as a tool for his argument against reforming the House of Lords:

“It is important in our current debates about the Upper House of Parliament we take seriously the role of such a House in offering channels of independent moral comment”

I wouldn’t dream of claiming that Wilberforce was a secularist, but it has to be pointed out that it wasn’t the Bishops in the Lords that lead the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. And they aren’t providing moral leadership in the House of Lords today – indeed, they barely deign to show up at all. There may well be a decline of moral leadership in modern politics today, but that is helped, not hindered, by a church which desperately clings to unelected and unaccountable power and evangelises about the desirability for us to adopt an Anglican version of the caliphate. In Iran, the state (similarly lead by old men with improbable beards) religion offers bucketloads of moral guidance. Williams has yet to offer a clear reason why we should want to adopt this as our model for governance.

In truth however, I pity Rowan Williams. He seems a shadow of his former self. He has tried to mediate in the civil war going on inside the Anglican church and in striving to retain unity has ended up siding with the swivel-eyed loons who want to plunge it into medievalism.

Three years ago, I blogged about his favourable review of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The possibility of him writing something so conciliatory now is inconceivable. The reason for this appears to be, in part, that he is constantly looking over his shoulder at John Sentamu. More media-savvy, instinctively populist and less burdened with the constraints of nuance (as well as uncannily resembling Graham Norton), Sentamu has managed to turn his role as Archbishop of York into something that looks rather a lot like Prince of Wales. He’s been running a campaign for the top job almost since he got promoted, and Williams must surely be all too aware of this. Capitalising on Williams’ fear about a schism, Sentamu has been frogmarching him onto his own, somewhat demented and very dangerous territory.

The political truism “Only Nixon could go to China” sadly also works in reverse. A liberal, Williams has presided over a period of sustained de-secularism for the Church of England. We were better off with Carey at the helm. While homophobic and morally conservative, Carey was constrained by the more liberal elements in the Church to not step out of line.

If the Church of England wants to pursue a strategy of moralistic activism, it is crucial that it does so separate from the state. It can’t have it both ways. The fact that it seeks to have it so suggests an insecurity.

Equally, if it does seek to pontificate about morality, it needs to look inward. Morality, for the Church, is increasingly being define in narrow evangelical and Catholic terms: fundamentally, it’s about sex first, everything else second. Incite protests about gay rights, and make the occasional squeak about poverty to keep the lefties happy.

I find it deeply ironic that the Government is introducing something which it calls Islamic Finance at the same time that Christians are calling for more adherence to the Bible. Islamic Finance would be better termed Semitic Finance. It’s based on the Bible’s explicit ban on usury. I happen to think the Bible has a good point on this one. Yet have you heard a single Church leader point this out? In the run up to Easter, how many times did you hear a leader of the Church of England – one of the largest corporations in the UK – recount the story about Jesus throwing the money lenders out of the temple?

When did you last hear a Christian go on about Jubilee? 2000 I suspect. Yet Jubilee is supposed to happen every 7 years, not every 2,000. And it is supposed to apply to everyone, not just distant, convenient Africans. Next time you hear politicians from the Church of England pontificate about their importance as moral agents in society, ask them why they interpret this to mean getting into a lather about homosexuality, but not economic policy.