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Saturday, 7 November 2015

UKIP's by-election literature: be informed #OldhamWest

As you are probably aware, Oldham West & Royton - the constituency in which I live - is in the the throes of a by-election campaign following the recent death of our sitting MP Michael Meacher. And, as is customary during such occasions, party campaign literature is beginning to arrive through the letterbox. Today, I had the pleasure of receiving a circular from UKIP's parliamentary candidate, John Bickley. The leaflet was rather asking for a fisking, so here it is:

Michael Meacher was a conviction politician who worked hard for the voters of Oldham West & Royton. He represented the people of this constituency, for a party that no longer represents anybody.

A bold claim indeed. But Michael Meacher was elected in the 2015 General Election to the Oldham West & Royton seat on a majority of 23,630. That is more votes than the UKIP (8.892), Conservative (8,187), Lib Dem (1,589) and Green (839) candidates combined. Evidently the people of Oldham West & Royton felt Michael Meacher, as part of the Labour Party, represented them pretty happily. Given the man represented the constituency since 1970 (always under the auspices of the Labour Party), the claim seems fatuous.

I used to believe in Labour. Like many in my family before me I thought that the Labour Party believed in representing the hard working people of our country. That was a long time ago. Far from believing in the people of Britain, Corbyn's Labour Party would rather sympathise with the IRA than sing our national anthem to honour our brave armed forces.

It is probably worth pointing out that WWII was fought precisely so that we might have the freedom to decide whether to sing the national anthem or not. It would be rather odd to fight fascism simply to replace it with a rather more British version. As for honouring our "brave armed forces", I am at a loss as to what evidence is being offered to suggest the Labour Party don't? Presumably this is in response to not singing the national anthem which, for the sake of clarity, nowhere honours the armed forces.

Aside from all that, it seems something of a non-sequitur that Labour once supported working people (as Mr Bickley himself ruefully notes) but now doesn't because they (though I suspect this is limited to Mr Corbyn) don't sing the national anthem. I struggle to see the link here.

I'm standing in this by-election to fight for what I believe in. I'm standing to fight for what is best for Britain. I'm standing for the unwritten future of our children and grandchildren. I'm standing for you and I want to tell you my top priorities for this election.

UKIP believes in the NHS and with my party I will fight to keep the NHS free at the point of use. When they were in power, the Labour Party not only supported but encouraged the fat cat privatisation of the NHS with PFI deals.

Equally, we could look at the words of their leader Nigel FarageHe claimed Britian will "have to return" to a debate about funding the NHS through a private insurance system. He has also been caught on record stating the NHS should be "funded through the marketplace of an insurance company".

Again, Paul Nuttall (one time UKIP deputy leader) stated: "I would like to congratulate the coalition government for bringing a whiff of privatisation into the beleaguered National Health Service".

Douglas Carswell, UKIP's only sitting MP, famously wrote in his document Direct Democracy, that his proposals may "see some local health services introduce private health insurance schemes, which if successful, other local health services would then want to emulate in order to satisfy the raised expectations of their own local electorates."

UKIP is opposed to mass, uncontrolled immigration. We are the only party prepared to take on the establishment and regain control of our borders. David Cameron is unwilling, unprepared and incapable of doing it. His Tories can't take on the establishment, they are the establishment.

I want to live in a country where I can feel safe again. How can we possibly combat criminal gangs when we're importing organised crime, unchecked from overseas? Right now we can't even look into the backgrounds of people who come into this country. The Labour Party did that, and the Tories can't fix it.

It is fair to say all the major parties are opposed to "mass, uncontrolled immigration". Were they not, all would dispense with wasting money on any border staff at all. Most waves of mass immigration that have come to this country have been thoroughly controlled and usually in response to a distinct lack of native workers with specialist skills. Presumably, the reference is to our continued membership of the European Union. However, Jeremy Corbyn has made no secret of his position of the EU and the Labour Party have been very clear that they will not be giving David Cameron a complete pass on his EU negotiation.

More concerning, Mr Bickley states he wants to live in a country where he can feel safe again. It does seem that immigration is the basis for his safety concerns and he goes on (without any credible evidence) to link immigration with "criminal gangs" and "organised crime". If such was true, we would find our prisons full of immigrants and foreign nationals. The figures, as of 2012, don't seem to bear this out (see here). The immigrant and foreign national numbers in prison seem to reflect the the national immigrant population.

I think it's time that somebody took a stand and protected our national identity. I'm unashamedly patriotic, I'm proud to be British and proud of all the people in our country.

I refer you to the above. Apparently he is "proud of all the people in our country" except those who have come as immigrants.

As a Mancunian, I believe that the fight to get our country back should start here, in Oldham West & Royton.

"As a Mancunian" is unlikely to go over well with those who are overtly and self-consciously Oldhammers. Indeed, one might almost appear a little like an immigrant.

Friday, 6 November 2015

The need to defend free speech

In light of things like this, but more directly things like thisthis, thisthis, this and this, and unhelpful and unconscionable consequences like this, this and this I suggest you go here and sign up to this.

Free speech is becoming ever less free. Over the last 15 years, encroachments onto this several hundred year old right have been increasing. It would be remiss to lay the blame at any one government's door. For the start of such interference began with the Blair-era New Labour government and have continued with aplomb under David Cameron's Conservative government. The introduction of such draconian, heavy-handed and ill-considered legislation is therefore neither solely a Conservative nor Labour foible and - with their recent foray into government before their catastrophic implosion - the Liberal Democrats do not escape unscathed either. 

The clampdown on free speech and basic civil liberties is manifestly a centrist obsession. Governments, and parties of government, across the board have played their part in pressing forward such inhibiting laws. The strongest opposition to such measures has unerringly come from those on, and to, the left of the Labour Party (eg Michael Meacher, Diane Abbott, Caroline Lucas, Peter Tatchell, et al) and the right, and those to the right, of the Conservative Party (eg David Davis, Douglas Carswell, Fiona Bruce, et al). Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat centrists and moderates appear to be those most keen to implement extreme, draconian and thoroughly immoderate laws that inhibit basic civil liberties.

If you value the right to be able to think and express opinions that may, or may not, accord with the cultural zeitgeist  then consider joining the above campaign. If you find any of these following pronouncements troubling, then consider joining the above campaign.
"Extremism Disruption Orders will go “beyond terrorism” and “eliminate extremism in all its forms”. - George Osbourne, Chancellor of the Exchequer
"If that’s what you think and that’s what you believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right but bear in mind that if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law.” - Polly Harrow (head of safeguarding and Prevent) [in response to being asked if someone was allowed to have a religious opinion against homosexuality]
"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone... This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach." - David Cameron, Prime Minister
"There will, I’m sure, be some who say politicians shouldn’t get involved in these matters. But to live in a modern liberal state is not to live in a moral vacuum. We have to stand up for our values as a nation. There will, I know, be some who say that what I describe as extremism is merely social conservatism. But if others described a woman’s intellect as “deficient”, denounced people on the basis of their religious beliefs, or rejected the democratic process, we would quite rightly condemn their bigotry. And there will be others who say I am wrong to link these kinds of beliefs with the violent extremism we agree we must confront. To them I say, yes, not all extremism leads to violence. And not all extremists are violent. But the damage extremists cause to our society is reason enough to act. And there is, undoubtedly, a thread that binds the kind of extremism that promotes intolerance, hatred and a sense of superiority over others to the actions of those who want to impose their values on us through violence." - Theresa May, Home Secretary
Such moves are extremely worrying. They will stop any dissenting opinion and will impact the nature of debate, discussion, free thought and free speech. It will have knock-on effects for academia, education, entertainment, religious institutions and political discourse. Things have moved from the realm of allowing certain ideas to be frowned upon to making certain ideas unsayable and, in the process, is attempting to make certain thoughts unthinkable. It is without question a totalitarian move by an existent oligarchy. Despite what the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have repeatedly tried to claim, this has no place in a free society. It has no place in a liberal democracy. It cannot be squared with the free democratic system that Britain at least claims it wants to remain.

If you are in any way troubled by these moves, I strongly encourage you to make your voice heard here and write to your MP to express your concerns.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Rev Barry Trayhorn forced to resign for quoting Bible in chapel

The salient facts of this case are these:

  • HMP Littlehey is a category C men's prison and Young Offender institute in Cambridgeshire. Chapel is entirely voluntary. Nobody is required or forced to attend, sing hymns or listen to scripture.
  • Rev Trayhorn is an ordained Pentecostal minister who worked as a gardener at the prison. He has helped out with prison chapel services at the invitation and under the supervision of the coordinating Chaplain, the Rev’d David Kinder, on behalf of the Criminal Justice Forum in the Diocese of Ely.
  • Whilst leading worship in chapel in May 2014 Rev Trayhorn quoted the passage 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (the quoted version is unknown).
  • Four days later, a complaint was lodged against Rev Trayhorn. He was immediately suspended from helping with chapel services, and was subsequently told that his comments during the service were ‘homophobic’ and breached national prison policy.
  • Rev Trayhorn was informed a disciplinary hearing would follow. He was subsequently signed off work with a stress related illness. During this time, his manager visited him three times at home to discuss work-related issues. On two of those occasions, a senior prison official was present.
  • On 4th November 2014, Rev Trayhorn felt that he had no choice but to resign. Two days later, a disciplinary hearing was held in his absence, when he was given a ‘final written warning’.
  • Rev Trayhorn, backed by the Christian Legal Centre, is now taking HMP Littlehey to an employment tribunal where he is claiming he was forced out of his main paid job as a gardener at the jail because of the intimidation he suffered as a result of his faith.
Several things are worthy of note and a few comments seem necessary.

First, as the Archbishop Cranmer blog notes, Rev Trayhorn's claim is not entirely unreasonable. For "it was not Barry Trayhorn’s skills as a paid gardener which had been called into question, but his competence to lead worship as an unpaid chaplain’s assistant." By all accounts, Rev Trayhorn's gardening skills have not entered into any discussion and there has been no complaint received over his horticultural prowess. It does, therefore, appear very much as though his quote from the Bible has directly led to the loss of his job as gardener.

Second, Rev Trayhorn received a final written warning at a disciplinary hearing in his absence. Again, as noted by Cranmer, given his gardening skills were not under scrutiny and he had "no previous misdemeanours or complaints recorded against him, it is not unreasonable to conclude that he was disciplined for quoting scriptures about sin which were deemed unpalatable by sinners."

Third, it seems worth pointing out that Rev Trayhorn did not major on sexual sin at the expense of other forms of sin. It does appear his quote includes the sexually immoral (that is the heterosexual immoral as the verse also goes on to mention those who practice homosexuality), idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers. Across the range of those sins, and in line with traditional evangelical thought, the list takes aim at just about all people everywhere. It is a more extensive list of Paul's basic comment in Romans 3:23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".

Fourth, Rev Trayhorn was not disciplined for offering a particular interpretive view of the verses quoted. In fact, the man only went on to say "the Christian message [is] that God will forgive those who repent." It is, therefore, highly likely that Rev Trayhorn was disciplined specifically for quoting directly from the Bible.

All of this adds up to the ludicrous position that suggests it is now a felony to state the Bible's ethical teaching to convicted felons. It is equally ridiculous that prisoners, many of whom have been incarcerated for heinous sexual crimes which both the penal system and wider society recognise as ethically wrong, can claim offence at the biblical position (which is in agreement with both the penal system and wider society on this issue) and make a felon out of the man who dared quote it. Truly this is a nonsense.

Aside from all of this, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that significant portions of the Bible are now prohibited for public proclamation. We are censoring the ethical teachings of a book that played a central role in forming the ethical standard by which our own penal system abides. We are deeming a book that was, until very recently, a central part of school daily assemblies and a copy of which was given to every hotel room in the land to be incompatible with nebulous "British values" which, if they even exist at all, have been drawn from the selfsame source.

Most troubling of all, we already know about the government's plans to crack down on "extremism in all its forms" (see here, here and here etc). It seems quite clear that ill-defined "British values" must be pressed into every sphere of British public and private life. Anything that does not accord with them will be clamped down. The Home Secretary has already made it clear that those who speak against orthodox cultural utterances stand to lose charitable status and assets such as privately held buildings and cash funds. Some evangelical preachers who pose no physical threat to anybody - regardless of whether you agree with their position or the way in which they communicate it - have begun to feel the force of these measures (eg here).

And this seems to be yet another case of it happening. The chapel at HMP Littlehey is neither a public space nor a mandatory requirement for all prisoners. It is attended voluntarily and nobody is forced to partake in worship or to listen to God's word against their will. It is, therefore, utterly incredible that the Bible can be censored during a private meeting of Christian worship. Whilst this particular case beggars belief, it is all the more troubling that what is happening in HMP Littlehey and has already reached into some private meeting houses, will increasingly impede the public reading of God's word and the clear proclamation and explanation of what it contains in more and more churches. 

Measures intended to impede acts of terrorism and those propagating such acts are increasingly being used against all manner of political protesters and benign religious groups who pose no physical threat to anybody but who nonetheless do not assent to cultural orthodoxy. The measures are politically obtuse and utterly cowardly. For it seems clear enough that to avoid being seen to target one particular religious group, all people of faith - regardless of what they actually teach and believe or their propensity to call for the death of the infidel - are embroiled in a war against one small group, within one particular strain, of one particular branch of one particular religion. By any measure, it is not fair, it is not equitable, it is not reasonable and it should not stand.