Friday, November 30, 2007


What nonsense below! Are these guys seriously arguing that because genes with high relevance to IQ have not yet been found then there are none? I hate to repeat an old saw but the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Genes relevant to IQ are being discovered all the time. One with a big link to IQ could be just around the corner. Though it is most probable that high IQ is the result of an accumulation of many "good" genes -- which is why high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer etc.

A team of scientists led by Professor Robert Plomin, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, identified only six genes linked with intelligence to any degree of significance, but even those accounted for just 1 per cent of the differences in IQ between individuals. Experts said upbringing, education and a healthy diet in early life had important roles to play in helping to nurture intelligence. The research also means testing the potential intelligence of new-born babies - or improving it with genetic engineering - could be impossible.

The researchers said a study of the human genome revealed hundreds of genes which contribute to IQ, but their individual effects are barely detectable. Previous studies on twins and adopted children have established that about half of the variation in intelligence is down to environment, but almost all of the genetic component has yet to be uncovered.

Prof Plomin said: "If the biggest [genes] only account for 1 per cent of the variance [in intelligence], there's a long way to go. The most striking result is there are no large effects." However, this does not mean intelligence is not inherited. Many experts believe IQ is due to the cumulative effect of a combination of genes.

The study, published in the journal Genes, Brains and Behaviour, involved obtaining intelligence scores for 7,000 seven-year-olds and DNA samples. Dr Robin Campbell, an expert in intelligence and child development at Stirling University, said: " [This research] leaves it open that nurture, education and good early nutrition have an important role." [Of course they do. Nobody has ever said otherwise. But genetic inheritance is the major determinant]


Britain: Myths about rape myths

The Government is to produce "myth-busting" packs for juries to get more convictions for rape. These are supposed to demolish the idea that date rape does not count as rape, or that women who drink or dress provocatively are "asking for it". The details have not been finalised because of the small matter that pretrial information given by the prosecution might prejudice the trial. But politicians are determined to raise the conviction rate for this crime. "Where changes to the law are needed, we will make them," the Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, said yesterday. "Justice must not be defeated by myths and stereotypes."

Quite right. But I wonder if she and I have different notions of justice. For the more I look at this issue, the more myths I seem to find. The biggest is being propagated by politicians themselves. They repeat, ad infinitum, that the conviction rate for rape is scandalously low, at 5.7 per cent. They conclude from this that juries cannot be trusted. But 5.7 per cent is only the proportion of convictions secured out of the total allegations made, not the proportion of convictions secured out of the cases tried. The attrition rate in rape cases is high: only about 12 per cent of cases reach court. So in the courtroom, the true conviction rate is about 44 per cent, slightly higher than that for murder.

Rape is a shocking crime. But you would expect it to be at least as hard to prosecute as murder. More than four out of five allegations are now made against a partner, friend or acquaintance. About half of those involve drink and/or drugs. Jurors think long and hard about decisions if there is no witness, only circumstantial evidence and where a guilty verdict means a minimum of seven years in jail. Gang rape by strangers carries the same minimum sentence as rape by a drunken partner. There is no equivalent to manslaughter, because victim groups feel that a lesser charge would downgrade the seriousness of the crime. Yet some lawyers feel that some juries are not convicting because they feel that the right crime is not being tried.

No one argues that there must be something wrong with the law because only 40 per cent of those tried are convicted of murder. Yet rape is a deeply emotive issue. The Government has already bent over backwards to bend the law. It has changed the definition of consent. It has created specialist rape prosecutors. It now plans to make "hearsay evidence" - complaints of rape to a third party - admissable in trials. Yet the number of allegations that result in a conviction is still falling, because although more people are being found guilty of rape, allegations have jumped by about 40 per cent in the past five years.

This is partly because more women are prepared to come forward. That is a good thing. There are now some excellent sexual assault referral centres and rape crisis centres, which welcome women in and collect evidence - although provision of these is still too patchy. There is also a growing number of rape allegations involving binge drinking, which tests definitions of guilt to the limit.

The focus on trials is obscuring the more important question of why so few cases come to court at all. Earlier this year a report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service found enormous variations in the way that different police forces deal with rape. That remains a problem. It is clear that some forces are sceptical about some claims, particularly those that involve alcohol, and that many women are easily discouraged from pursuing cases that are traumatic to endure.

Home Office research undertaken two years ago at six different referral centres found that a sixth of the complaints that were dropped by police were classed as false allegations. A quarter were dropped because of insufficient or no evidence. A third were dropped because the complainant withdrew - some because a report had been made by someone else, against the person's wishes. This is tricky territory. It is right to encourage women to come forward. But a Home Office analysis of the British Crime Survey recently stated that "only 60 per cent of female rape victims were prepared to self-classify their experience as rape". If those women did not see themselves as victims, I wonder why the Home Office is so keen to make them so?

What hits you when reading reports of these cases is the painful individuality of each one. It is impossible to generalise about the infinite circumstances of human behaviour. Some people fear reprisals. Some want to deal with the trauma in their own way. Some are not sure what really happened. These are the delicate lines on which so many judgments must turn.

In March the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a 25-year-old computer software engineer, Benjamin Bree, for raping a 19-year-old student after a night of drinking with friends. The judges ruled that the student was still capable of consenting to sex, even after consuming substantial amounts of alcohol. They also ruled that a drunken person can lose the capacity to consent, and that would amount to rape. That seems to me to be an intelligent calibration. Ministers are still considering whether to insist that no agreement can be taken as consent if it is given when intoxicated. But that would make a drunken man accountable for his deeds, but not a drunken woman.

It is an outrage that some men are getting away with rape. But I also worry that the language in which the issue is now being discussed implies that the only right result is a conviction. That would be a travesty of justice. It is no good trying to bust myths about rape if you are also going to propagate the myth that everyone is guilty as charged.


English children's literacy levels 'among the worst in the developed world'

England has plummeted down a world league table of reading standards at primary school despite Labour's billions poured into education. Our schools tumbled from third place five years ago to 19th, beaten by the U.S. and many European nations - including Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. Only Morocco and Romania suffered a sharper decline in standards since the last global reading study in 2001. Scotland also slipped down the rankings, falling from 14th to 26th. In an alarming verdict on standards in England, the study report said the performance of ten-year- olds had deteriorated "significantly", particularly among the brightest children.

The results paint a dramatically different picture to the ever-rising scores in our official national tests. The shock slide deals an embarrassing blow to ministers who have claimed that extra cash has led to continual improvement. More than 50 billion pounds a year is now spent on nurseries and schools -against 27 billion when Labour came to power.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study spanned 40 countries - Belgium was represented by its two sections - and five Canadian provinces. It found that children in England - Wales and Northern Ireland were not included - were less likely to read for pleasure outside school than youngsters almost everywhere else. But they had the highest number of computers.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls insisted last night that parents must take some blame, including those who let their children spend too much time on video games, watching TV and using mobile phones. "Parents have got to find a way to strike a balance," he added. "They need to make sure there's space for reading and learning. "Today's ten-year-olds have more choice than in 2001 about how they spend their free time. Most have their own TVs and mobiles, and 37 per cent are playing computer games for three hours or more a day - more than in most countries in the study. "There is a direct link between use of computer games and lower achievement." [Rubbish. Kids playing Sim games sometimes learn a lot more about history etc. than they do at school] Sue Hackman, chief adviser on school standards, said parents must not "suddenly cut off" reading with their children because they think they have mastered the skill.

The study, overseen by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, also implicated the school system in England's declining performance, even though more than 600 million has been spent on primary school literacy schemes alone since 1998. It revealed a tripling in the number of pupils who are never set reading homework and a decline in the time spent teaching reading. The PIRLS project involved giving reading tests to tens of thousands of ten-year-olds. The tests, which assessed pupils' comprehension of factual information and their appreciation of literature, were translated from English into more than 30 other languages.

England's performance will add to pressure on Gordon Brown and focus attention on Labour's ten-year Children's Plan, being unveiled next month. Ministers had trumpeted improving standards in the three Rs as a key success of Tony Blair's premiership. A decade of reforms has been accompanied by an increase in the schools and early-years budget from 27.2 billion in 1996 to 49.4 billion last year.

England's poor showing was also being blamed yesterday on a failure to put traditional "synthetic phonics" at the heart of literacy lessons. The back-to-basics method of teaching children to read - credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy in part of Scotland - became law in schools only last September.

Shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove said last night: "While the Government says its policies are driving up standards, the independent auditors of our education system tell a very different story. "It's time the Government stopped blaming parents and accepted the case we've been making for a new focus on teaching reading, using tried and tested methods, with a test after two years to ensure our children are being taught properly."



Gordon Brown today gave his unequivocal support for a third runway at Heathrow in an address to a conference of business leaders. Speaking at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, the prime minister said that business was right to call for airport expansion and that Britain's prosperity depended on it. "Even as we place strict local environmental limits on noise and air pollution and ensure that aviation pays its carbon costs, we have to respond to a clear business imperative and increase capacity at our airports," Brown said. "Our prosperity depends on it: Britain as a world financial centre must be readily accessible from around the world."

He added that the government had demonstrated its determination not to shirk the long-term decisions but to press ahead with a third runway. The prime minister's insistence that airport expansion is necessary comes a week after he set out his green vision for cutting C02 emissions in Britain by 60% by 2025.

Critics described Gordon Brown's plans for tackling climate change as "confusing and deeply worrying". "Last week he talked about making Britain a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy. But allowing airports to expand will seriously threaten our targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The Government must tackle aviation emissions. It should include the UK's share of carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation in its new Climate Change Bill, scrap airport expansion plans and fundamentally re-think this country's unsustainable transport strategy, " said Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper.

Other green campaigners questioned whether Mr Brown is capable of listening to responses to the public consultation over Heathrow which is currently underway. "You're left wondering if this prime minister is capable of listening to the public. He certainly doesn't seem to be listening to climate scientists," said Greenpeace's executive director, John Sauven.


Recycling isn't anything like as eco-friendly as its propagandists would have us believe

For obvious reasons I am not going to tell you where I live, but for aggrieved council taxpayers whose wheelie bins have been left unemptied because the lid wasn't quite shut I know of an alternative way of disposing of waste: come and dump it round my way. I can guarantee you that you won't get caught. Whenever a pile of rubbish has appeared illegally dumped on a roadside the council has scratched its head and come to the conclusion: sorry, there is not a lot we can do, other than to scrape it up at taxpayers' expense and sent it to landfill.

Illegal dumping is a problem that is only going to get worse as the Government continues its ham-fisted efforts to reach its recycling targets. Every time a local authority devises another punitive scheme - fining householders for the crime of failing to fulfil the evermore prescriptive rules for putting out the rubbish - it is another powerful incentive for antisocial householders to tip their rubbish under the nearest hedge. If I was the South Wales man fined recently because a single sheet of paper had found its way into the wrong recycling container I know what I would be tempted to do: deposit next week's rubbish on the council's doorstep.

We don't have a coherent strategy for dealing with waste. Rather, in recycling, the Government, local authorities and their contractors have discovered a very useful device for raising money and excusing slovenly service. Need some extra revenue and can't put council tax up any more? Fine those who put a tin can in a bag meant for plastic bottles. Need to slash your budget? Switch to fortnightly collections and say you are doing it to encourage recycling - even though in many countries with higher recycling rates than ours urban areas have daily waste collections.

Few conscientious, middle-class folk who sort out their waste into half a dozen different containers each week realise that technology already exists to make this palaver redundant. Many American cities have increased their recycling rates by switching to single-stream collections of recyclable waste that are then sorted in an automated plant. The collected waste is emptied on to a conveyor belt, where systems of magnets and optical scanners pick out most of what can be recycled, leaving humans to sort out the residue. When introduced in Maryland it resulted in 30 per cent more waste being recycled than under the previous system, where householders were made to sort out their recyclables by hand.

But I suspect it will be a long time before we see such technology here thanks to the near-religious fervour for recycling collections among British environmentalists. We are made to go through the weekly ritual of sorting our bottles from our magazines not because it is the best way of collecting recyclable material but because it is thought to be good for us.

The whole issue of recycling has been clouded by green ideology. The EU set it targets for increasing recycling back in 1999 without properly questioning whether that is always the best way of disposing of rubbish. That we can't go on covering the country with landfill sites is obvious, but it is far less clear-cut whether recycling or incinerating waste is the best environmental option. Recycling your plastic bottles may make you glow with virtue, but if they have to be carted halfway around the world to be recycled, and then large quantities of energy are consumed in the recyling process, it is far from obvious that you are doing the planet a good turn.

Alternatively, your plastic bottle could be burnt in a power station, its stored energy used to generate electricity that would otherwise require fossil fuels, and the waste heat distributed to local public buildings and homes. This is exactly what happens in the case of the Eastcroft combined heat and power plant, which has been consuming nearly a third of Nottinghamshire's waste since it opened in 1973. Further development on waste incinerators in Britain has stalled, however, thanks to the assumption that waste must be recycled at all costs.

In a retrospective attempt to justify the policy on recycling, the Government's waste quango, the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), recently asked the Technical University of Denmark to undertake a review of worldwide research on the debate between recycling and incineration and their respective contributions towards greenhouse gas emissions. The review has been quoted by green groups wanting to "debunk the myth" that recycling isn't all it is cracked up to be. But it fails to debunk anything. Of 37 studies into the issue of paper recycling, for example, six arrived at the conclusion that paper is better incinerated than recycled, and nine indicated it makes little difference environmentally either way. Of 42 studies into plastic recycling, eight concluded that plastic is better incinerated and two said there was little difference.

Notably, all but one of the remaining that came down in favour of recycling used the assumption that 100 per cent of the plastic could be recycled, which is not reflected in practice. In studies where a more realistic assumption was made, that 50 per cent of the plastic could be recovered, the conclusion was firmly that incineration was better for the environment.

In any case, none of the studies reflected what we know from anecdotal evidence happens in practice: that an unknown quantity of recyclable material exported to China ends up being burnt or dumped. It is certainly better for the British environment if waste is shipped off to China, but not so good for the Chinese who have to live with the consequences.

In some cases, recycling is unquestionably the best option. We have, after all, been melting down and recycling metals since long before the word recycling was invented, because it has made economic sense to do so. But to make a blanket assumption that only recycling can save the planet, as current policy says, owes more to religion than science. From the rats poking around unemptied dustbins in Barnet to the piles of smouldering plastic waste in backwoods China, this is a policy that needs urgent review.


British singer sparks row over immigration

The outspoken former Smiths singer Morrissey has found himself at the centre of a row after alleged comments about immigration and its impact on British identity in a magazine interview. The star, who has enjoyed a highly successful solo career since the band's split, reportedly told the music magazine NME that Britain had suffered an "immigration explosion", adding: "England is a memory now". "The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in," he was reported as telling NME reporter Tim Jonze.

According to the magazine, the singer - who now lives in Rome - said that while he didn't have anything against people from other countries, "the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears". "The British identity is very attractive, I grew up into it and I find it quaint and very amusing," he went on. "Other countries have held on to their basic identity yet it seems to me that England was thrown away."

He said that while immigration does enrich the British identity, it meant saying goodbye to "the Britain you once knew". "The change in England is so rapid compared to the change in any other country. "If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent."

He was challenged over the comments in a second interview, in which he insisted he did not intend to be "inflammatory". "I find racism very silly," he said. "Almost too silly to discuss. It's beyond reason. And makes no sense and is ludicrous. I've never heard a good argument in favour of racism."

But his alleged comments, published in the magazine today, sparked outrage among some fans who said they would boycott the singer's Best Of album due to be released in the new year. One, named Slimjim, of Bradford, wrote on an internet message board: "It's totally out of order. Morrissey sounds like a Tory MP these days. It's a disgrace. I'll think twice about buying his next album."

It is not the first time he has caused controversy, nor the first time he has fallen out with the magazine's editors. In 1992, he was criticised by NME after he appeared on stage in Finsbury Park to support Madness wrapped in a Union Jack flag. Some of his song titles and lyrics have also attracted criticism, including the tracks Bengali in Platforms and National Front Disco, which included the lyrics: `You've gone to the National Front Disco/Because you want the day to come sooner'.

But his manager responded angrily, accusing NME of a "poorly thought out and terribly executed attempt at character assassination" of the 48-year-old. "Anti-racist songs such as "Irish Blood, English Heart," "America Is Not The World" and "I Will See You In Far-Off Places" tell you the true measure of the man," Merck Mercuriadis wrote on the Morrissey fan website True To You.

Dr Rob Berkeley, deputy director of the Runnymede Trust, which campaigns for equality and justice, said that while he did not agree with Morrissey's comments, his views were not that uncommon.


NHS care 'favours middle classes'

ANY healthcare system would -- but the fact that it happens in the NHS deprives the NHS of a major part of its justification

The NHS is a "divisive influence" which favours the assertive middle classes over poorer people, a study says. The report by centre-right think-tank Civitas said the health service was not providing equal treatment to all. It pointed out that people in deprived areas were often more in need of treatment, but less likely to get hip replacements or key x-rays. The report called for more use of the private sector, but other experts said this would just widen inequalities.

Report author Nick Seddon said studies had shown that those on lower incomes made more use of primary care, but were less likely to be referred on for hospital treatment. He highlighted York University research which showed those in deprived areas were more likely to need hip replacements but less likely to get them. And the report also mentioned another study which found angiograhy - x-rays of arteries and veins - rates among the lowest socio-economic groups were 30% lower that in the highest.

Mr Seddon said this was partly attributable to the fact that middle classes were more assertive, articulate and confident in dealing with health professionals. "Much depends on where you live, how much you earn, how old you are and crucially who you know. "It has always been said in defence of the NHS that, although it was not the best in terms of quality, it was at least impressive in term of equity. Now that is no longer true. "The NHS cannot be allowed to continue as it is."

He said part of the problem for the NHS was that it had made little use of the private sector. He suggested the NHS could learn from other European countries with social insurance schemes which encouraged companies to get more involved in health. "In the NHS, private providers have only really got involved in non-emergency operations to date, but why can't they do more? What about heart and cancer care and GPs? "By introducing the private sector, you increase competition and drive up standards."

But Alex Nunns, of the Keep Our NHS Public campaign group, which represents health professionals, the public and academics, said: "The middle classes will always make the best of a system. "In fact, there is evidence to show that when you involve the private sector, it just exacerbates the situation."


Thursday, November 29, 2007

English is the foreign language for 40% of British primary school pupils

Schools are struggling to cover the cost of providing specialist teachers for thousands of new immigrant pupils, headteachers warned today. Forty per cent of primary age children in London now speak a language other than English at home and some schools take several new arrivals a week as pupils "appear from nowhere", heads have said. The National Association of Head Teachers called for schools to be given the "infrastructure" they needed to get pupils whose first language is not English fluent enough to cope with the national curriculum as soon as possible.

The NAHT warned that the Government's Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, which is doled out by Whitehall to town halls to allocate among schools according to need, was failing to cover the cost of English as an Additional Language teachers. NAHT leader Mick Brookes said: "These children are welcome in our schools but we need the capacity to look after them properly."

Latest government figures show that the capital's primary schools alone took in more than 197,000 children for whom English is not their first language this year, up from just over 190,000 last year. Secondary schools' proportion of non-native English speakers rose from 33.5 per cent to 35.3 per cent. Most are concentrated in inner London - in Tower Hamlets, three quarters of children in primary schools are now not native English speakers.

Ofsted research has shown that primary schools typically spent their EMAG on a single EAL teacher, supported by a classroom assistant. But Ofsted also found that primary schools with a track record of successfully integrating EAL pupils were forced to find thousands of pounds more from their general budgets. Most had suffered cuts in their EMAG grants. "Schools were pessimistic about being able to sustain the excellent work they had built up over the years if funding continued to decline," said Ofsted.

Clarissa Williams, head of Tolworth Girls' School in Kingston, said she got œ1,300 from the Government to teach English to foreign pupils, and topped that up with another 30,000 pounds. "These children just turn up on your doorstep and it places a significant additional strain on budgets," she said. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted the EMAG was keeping up with demand, saying it was going up from 178.6million this year to 206.6million in 2010-11.


Britain: That Wicked Woodpile again

We read:

"'Political correctness' forced a councillor out of his job, according to a race relations expert. County Hall Councillor Rhys Goodwin resigned from a role that overseas diversity issues after using the word "n*gger" in front of a black member of staff.

The Conservative member, who represents Toddington, used the phrase "n*gger in the woodpile" during a debate while he sat only a few feet from Basil Jackson, the black assistant director for highways and transport at Beds County Council.

Mr Goodwin, 74, immediately rephrased his comments, apologised to Mr Jackson during a break and later stepped down as chairman of the county council's community services committee which deals with community cohesion matters.


The phrase is supposed to refer to the hiding of escaped African slaves in unlikely places by white people of goodwill but there is not much goodwill about it now.

A quarter of women are abandoned by their NHS midwives during childbirth

Midwives are failing to offer proper care and reassurance during childbirth, with one in four women being abandoned during labour or soon after, a watchdog says today. As proposals are being considered for the closure of specialist maternity wards, a shortage of staff and funding is putting mothers and babies at potential risk, experts say. In the largest study of NHS maternity care, the Healthcare Commission found variations across England, with nearly half the women in some trusts reporting that they had been left alone during labour or soon afterwards.

The Government has proposed that all mothers-to-be should be supported by a named midwife throughout their pregnancies by 2009, while official guidelines state that a woman in established labour should not be left on her own, except for short periods or at her own request. Yet in 18 out of the 148 trusts inspected more than one in five women said that they were left alone at a time that worried them while they were in labour. First-time mothers felt particularly unaided.

The Healthcare Commission surveyed 26,000 women who had a baby in January or February. An analysis of the results showed wide variations among trusts. The worst-performing was Milton Keynes General Hospital NHS Trust, where almost half (49 per cent) of women were left alone at a time that worried them. At Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust, 46 per cent were left alone. At Mid Staffordshire General Hospitals NHS Trust, 39 per cent were left alone. At East Cheshire NHS Trust, in contrast, 85 per cent of mothers were never left alone. Many women surveyed also complained about postnatal care, and more than half said that the food on offer was only "fair" or "poor" and one in five said that the bathrooms were "not very clean" or "not at all clean".

Today's report comes before a wider investigation into maternity services that the Healthcare Commission is expected to publish next year. Responses to the quality of care overall were largely positive, with nine out of ten women saying it was excellent, very good or good. But the Royal College of Midwives estimates that at least 5,000 midwives are needed on top of the 24,000 already in England. Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the college, said: "Without this, the Government's targets will just be broken promises. We have got to aim for all women to be happy with their care but we will struggle to make this happen unless the worsening shortage of midwives is addressed."

The medical royal colleges advised last month that every woman should receive one-to-one care from a dedicated midwife as she goes through labour. Only one in five women surveyed said that she had a midwife who looked after her during labour and birth, while more than two in five said that three or more staff had cared for them at different times. Other divergences from best practice meant that 43 per cent of women were not given a choice of having their baby at home, and 36 per cent were not offered antenatal classes. The Commission also found that 57 per cent of women gave birth either lying down or with their legs supported in stirrups, despite guidance from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence suggesting that women be discouraged from having their baby in these positions. Overall, two thirds of women said that they "definitely" had confidence and trust in the staff caring for them while a quarter said that they had only "to some extent".

The Government has pledged that, by the end of 2009, women expecting a normal birth will be able to choose whether to have their baby at home, in a midwife-led unit or in hospital. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, said that the survey had exposed "a huge gap between Government promises and the reality in maternity units across the country". "As well as being denied the option of a home birth as the Government promised, some women also have the confusion of having to deal with a series of different midwives throughout their pregnancy," he said. "There simply aren't enough midwives to deliver on ministers' promises of one-to-one maternity care."

Gwyneth Lewis, national clinical lead for maternity services at the Department of Health, said: "It is encouraging that the vast majority of respondents reported their care as being excellent, very good or good."


Britain: Mention God and you're seen as nuts

Tony Blair has sparked controversy by claiming that people who speak about their religious faith can be viewed by society as "nutters". The former prime minister's comments came as he admitted for the first time that his faith was "hugely important" in influencing his decisions during his decade in power at Number 10, including going to war with Iraq in 2003.

Mr Blair complained that he had been unable to follow the example of US politicians, such as President George W. Bush, in being open about his faith because people in Britain regarded religion with suspicion. "It's difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system," Mr Blair said. "If you are in the American political system or others then you can talk about religious faith and people say 'yes, that's fair enough' and it is something they respond to quite naturally. "You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you're a nutter. I mean . you may go off and sit in the corner and . commune with the man upstairs and then come back and say 'right, I've been told the answer and that's it'."

Even Alastair Campbell - his former communications director who once said, "We don't do God" - has conceded that Mr Blair's Christian faith played a central role in shaping "what he felt was important". Peter Mandelson, one of Mr Blair's confidants, claimed that the former premier "takes a Bible with him wherever he goes" and habitually reads it last thing at night.

His comments, which will be broadcast next Sunday in a BBC1 television documentary, The Blair Years, have been welcomed by leading Church figures, who fear that the rise of secularism is pushing religion to the margins of society. The Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, said: "Mr Blair's comments highlight the need for greater recognition to be given to the role faith has played in shaping our country. Those secularists who would dismiss faith as nothing more than a private affair are profoundly mistaken in their understanding of faith."

However, Mr Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, has been attacked by commentators who say that religion should be separated from politics and by those who feel that many of his decisions betrayed the Christian community.

In the interview, Mr Blair, who was highly reluctant ever to discuss his faith during his time in office, admitted: "If I am honest about it, of course it was hugely important. You know you can't have a religious faith and it be an insignificant aspect because it's profound about you and about you as a human being. "There is no point in me denying it. I happen to have religious conviction. I don't actually think there is anything wrong in having religious conviction - on the contrary, I think it is a strength for people."

Mr Blair is a regular churchgoer who was confirmed as an Anglican while at Oxford University, but has since attended Mass with his Roman Catholic wife, Cherie, and is expected to convert within the next few months.

He continued: "To do the prime minister's job properly you need to be able to separate yourself from the magnitude of the consequences of the decisions you are taking the whole time. Which doesn't mean to say . that you're insensitive to the magnitude of those consequences or that you don't feel them deeply. "If you don't have that strength it's difficult to do the job, which is why the job is as much about character and temperament as it is about anything else. But for me having faith was an important part of being able to do that. Ultimately I think you've got to do what you think is right."

Mr Blair's opponents say his religious zeal blinded him to the consequences of his actions, and point to his belief that his decision to go to war would be judged by God. The Rt Rev Kieran Conry, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said last night that Mr Blair's comments echoed the feelings of religious leaders. Mr Campbell, in the same TV programme as Mr Blair, said the British public were "a bit wary of politicians who go on about God".


Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Protesters delay debate by David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin at Oxford

A group of protesters broke through the security cordon and forced their way into the Oxford Union last night, throwing a planned talk by BNP leader Nick Griffin and controversial historian David Irving into disarray. After pushing and shoving their way through the doors into the hall at 8.45pm they staged a sit down protest at the debating table. Scuffles erupted as the protesters tried to get into the building which had been surrounded by tight security ahead of the event.

Earlier, hundreds of noisy protesters surrounded the Oxford Union. The Oxford Union has been under significant pressure to cancel the freedom of speech event at which the two are guest speakers. Chanting, waving placards and singing, the crowd that gathered to object to their presence at the debating society was considerably larger than the handful of students inside the Union.

The rally organisers, including Unite Against Fascism and Oxford-based community groups, had hoped at least 1,000 people would turn up in their support. But estimates put the crowd numbers at closer to 500.

Those arriving for the event had to get past heavy security and faced jeers of "shame on you". The debate was "temporarily postponed" when police moved in to remove the protestors, before it finally started at 10pm, with speakers split into two groups for safety.

It was considered by university authorities to be too dangerous to walk Mr Griffin and Mr Irving across the quadrangle between the main Union building and the debating hall. Instead Mr Irving spoke alongside broadcaster and author Anne Atkins and Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris in the debating hall while Mr Griffin was among debaters speaking in the main Union building.

The decision to invite Griffin and Irving, made after a vote among members of the debating society, has outraged equalities watchdog chief Trevor Phillips and prompted a senior Tory MP to resign his life membership of the Union. Shadow defence minister Julian Lewis said the students should be "ashamed" of themselves. In a letter to the Union's officers and standing committee, Dr Lewis, MP for New Forest East, said he was resigning his life membership "with great sadness". In his resignation letter, he said: "Nothing which happens in the debate can possibly offset the boost you are giving to a couple of scoundrels who can put up with anything except being ignored."

The presence of the pair on the list of speakers prompted a series of high profile withdrawals from the platform, including Defence Secretary Des Browne. Martin McCluskey, president of the Oxford Student Union, said it was "disgraceful" the pair were being given the same platform as past speakers who include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama. Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, who is billed to speak at the event, said banning Mr Griffin and Mr Irving would risk turning "bigots into martyrs".

The Oxford Union Debating Society is a separate body from the Oxford University Student's Union and the university. It has said it was important to give people of all views a platform. Mr Griffin, who was convicted in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred for material denying the Holocaust, has repeatedly insisted the BNP is not a racist group. Mr Irving has insisted he was not a Holocaust denier - despite spending three years in prison in Austria for the crime.

On Monday, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she "thoroughly deplores" their views. But Ms Smith, an Oxford graduate, said it was up to the debating society to make its own decision about allowing Irving and Griffin to attend the freedom of speech event. "They have been exposed and discredited time and again by people vastly more qualified than you in arenas hugely more suited to the task than an undergraduate talking-shop, however venerable."


Chris Brand has more links about the events above

We are set on a course of 'planet saving' madness

Christopher Booker comments from Britain

The scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre. On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.

This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.

On the other hand, we had Gordon Brown last week, in his "first major speech on climate change", airily committing his own and future governments to achieving a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - which is rather like prime minister Salisbury at the end of Queen Victoria's reign trying to commit Winston Churchill's government to achieving some wholly impossible goal in the middle of the Second World War. Mr Brown's only concrete proposal for reaching this absurd target seems to be his plan to ban plastic bags, whatever they have to do with global warming (while his government also plans a near-doubling of flights out of Heathrow).

But of course he is no longer his own master in such fantasy exercises. Few people have yet really taken on board the mind-blowing scale of all the "planet-saving" measures to which we are now committed by the European Union. By 2020 we will have to generate 20 per cent of our electricity from "renewables". At present the figure is four per cent (most of it generated by hydro-electric schemes and methane gas from landfill). As Whitehall officials privately briefed ministers in August, there is no way Britain can begin to meet such a fanciful target (even if the Government manages to ram through another 30,000 largely useless wind turbines).

Another EU directive commits us to deriving 10 per cent of our transport fuel from "biofuels" by 2020. This would take up pretty well all the farmland we currently use to grow food (at a time when world grain prices have doubled in six months and we are already face a global food shortage). Then by 2009, thanks to a mad gesture by Mr Blair and his EU colleagues last March, we also face the prospect of a total ban on incandescent light bulbs. This compulsory switch to low-energy bulbs, apart from condemning us to live in uglier homes under eye-straining light, is in practice completely out of the question, because, according to our Government's own figures, more than half Britain's domestic light fittings cannot take them.

This year will be remembered for two things. First, it was the year when the scientific data showed that the cosmic scare over global warming may well turn out to be just that - yet another vastly inflated scare. Second, it was the year when the hysteria generated by all the bogus science behind this scare finally drove those who rule over us, including Gordon "Plastic Bags" Brown, wholly out of their wits.


Britain: Schools minister neglects homework

Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, tells me of a fearful problem affecting Hampshire schools, which have been told by the county education officer, Ian Beacham, that under new rules teachers must no longer drive pupils in mini-buses unless they have a full "passenger vehicle licence" - "a huge and expensive undertaking which entitles them to drive a coach or bus".

Threatening many extra-curricular activities, such as away sporting fixtures, this is causing such grief that Mr Swayne has asked in Parliament whether it is right that teachers should be forbidden to drive children in this way.

Schools minister Jim Knight didn't know the answer but said he would look into it. Harriet Harman, Leader of the House, suggested that Mr Swayne should move for a debate on the issue.

Had those ministers or Hampshire's education officer learned to use Google, they might have found in seconds that this is all a fuss about nothing. The two relevant EU directives on driving licences, 91/439 and 2003/59, make clear that teachers are exempted from the licensing requirements, as does a leaflet available at the click of a mouse on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency website.

But does it not say something about the way we now allow our laws to be made in Brussels that neither ministers nor a council official responsible for enforcing them appear to know what those laws say?


Maker of Undercover Mosque documentary considers suing police: "The documentary maker cleared by regulators of misleadingly editing a Channel 4 programme about extreme Islamic preachers is considering legal action. David Henshaw, the managing director of Hardcash Productions which made the Dispatches film Undercover Mosque, said he was still "very, very angry". With the backing of Channel 4 he hoped to launch a libel action against the West Midlands police and a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer who was quoted in a joint press release accusing Hardcash Productions of "completely distorting" what some of the preachers were saying. The media regulator dismissed the complaint saying it was a legitimate investigation. "I really don't like the libel courts and believe in a world of free comment. I don't mind abuse, but Hardcash's reputation has been severely damaged and it was a good reputation," Henshaw said. "The Ofcom judgment is great and if anyone bothers to read it they'll realise this was a bloody good programme. But damage was done that day in August, huge damage."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pathetic Britain

Illegal immigrant demands to be flown home because Britons are 'rude and unfriendly'. Why is there ANY taxpayer support for people who have been told to leave?

An illegal immigrant has demanded to be flown home after saying he was fed up with British people - because they are "rude and unfriendly". Speaking today, Mokhtar Tabet, 30 - who has been given a home, food and free travel around London - claims his local council has breached his human rights by moving him to a place he does not like. He was refused asylum in 2004 and is set to be deported.

He said: "The council evicted me from my home in September and moved me to Streatham, which I don't like. "The new place is small, and the kitchen closes at 9pm, so I can't have anything to eat late at night. They have taken away my human rights."

Croydon Council says it has bent over backwards to help Tabet, who fled Algeria in 2002. A spokesman said: "Mr Tabet was accommodated in Norbury Crescent, with Croydon Council paying his rent, council tax and utility bills. "In July, his landlord gave him two months' notice to quit the premises, and the council offered him a flat in Anerley Road, which he refused citing its poor state of repair. "The necessary repairs were carried out and he again refused it. "He was told that refusal would amount to him making himself intentionally homeless and he would be placed in hostel-style accommodation. He agreed to this."

Mr Tabet is entitled to return to Algeria at his own expense and admits that he "does not like it here". But he refuses to do so and says Britain will have to pay for his travel if it wants him to leave. He moaned: "I miss Algeria. The English people are not helpful, they are so unfriendly and rude. "I thought I had made friends in Croydon, but when I ask them for money they don't give me it, so I know they can't be my friends."

Mr Tabet fled Algeria in 2002 after being arrested for refusing to give up his home so the army could monitor terrorist activity in his town. Released after 30 days' solitary confinement he fled to Britain, illegally entering the country on a flight from Tunisia, and sought asylum. He now receives 32 pounds a week in vouchers from Croydon Council to buy food with while he awaits deportation. Unsatisfied at this, he griped: "Croydon Council only gives me food vouchers, they won't give me cash. I want the money. "I have nothing to buy new clothes with, I have to go to a refugee centre. But if there's not anything nice there, you leave with nothing. "I want the council to give me a bigger flat and money instead of vouchers."

Mr Tabet suffers from diabetes, a retina disease and kidney failure and believes he should be allowed to stay in the country so he can continue to get free NHS care. He said: "The Home Office said I could afford the medicine back home, but I can't, I don't have a job."

The council insists he has no grounds for complaint. The spokesman explained: "He is supported by the council by way of vouchers, in accordance with the law." Mr Tabet admits that since he was refused asylum he has "stayed and no one has said anything about it".


British pro-homosexual laws becoming unglued

Government plans to criminalise the stirring up of hatred against gays and lesbians are in disarray because of a Cabinet split over the need for such a law. The split – between Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Attorney-General, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary – are likely to scupper plans for a new offence. Baroness Scotland has privately expressed concern about the controversial legislation proposed by Mr Straw, The Times has learnt.

Mr Straw announced the plans last month with the backing of Harriet Harman, the Equalities Secretary. He had said that he would bring forward an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill this month to extend the law that already protects religious and racial groups, carrying up to seven years in jail. He had also said that he would listen to views about whether the incitement offence should be extended further to cover hatred against disabled and transgendered people.

But Baroness Scotland, who is also determined to crack down on the problem of homophobic behaviour, believes that there are sufficient laws on the statute book to deal with the issue. She also has concerns about the difficulities of getting the proposal through the House of Lords, which gave a rough ride to measures on incitement to religious hatred and substantially watered them down. She is understood to have told colleagues that she wants to see more successful prosecutions in this area, but is unconvinced that a new law is the way to do it and would prefer to focus on existing procedures.

It is the second time in recent weeks that ministers’ plans have failed to win the support of Baroness Scotland, the country’s senior law officer. Last week The Times reported that she believed the case had not been made for extending the time that terror suspects can be held before charge.

Mr Straw’s plan was to mirror the offence of incitement to religious hatred. The amendment would cover hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality. Ministers insist that it would not prohibit criticism of gay and bisexual people but protect them from incitement to hatred because of their sexual orientation. But, despite strong backing from bodies such as Stonewall, the campaigning group for gay rights, the proposals have caused controversy and been condemned as a threat to freedom of speech, including from some prominent homosexuals. Matthew Parris, the Times columnist, wrote that “some groups may be so weak and fragile as to need the law’s protection from hateful speech. I’d like to think that we gays are no longer among them.”

In a letter to The Times this month, Rowan Atkinson, the actor, criticised the plans, saying that society was “working things out” without the need for any “legislative interference”. He was concerned about the “extendable” nature of the legislation not just to the disabled and transsexuals but to anyone else who could claim that they could not help the way they are. “Men, for example. Or women. Or people with big ears.”

There were warnings that the move could mean that vicars would face a threat of jail for preaching from the Bible; others said that gay rights were being given priority over Christian values and would be used to silence those with strong Christian beliefs.

Most police forces now record hate crimes and the Crown Prosecution Service already deals with hate crime by scrutinising cases for a racial, religious, homophobic or transphobic element. Special “hate crime panels” are to be introduced after the success of a hate crime scrutiny panel in West Yorkshire, which two weeks ago won an award for its work. The panel, which includes members of the “hate crime partnerships” in the area such as Stop Hate UK and Bradford Hate Crime Alliance, has seen a rise in the prosecution of hate crimes in the area and a fall in the failure rate. Courts in England and Wales already have the power to impose tougher sentences for offences that are motivated or aggravated by a victim’s sexual orientation.


Political correctness infests the pantomime

Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned British panto? Struggling under the weight of political correctness, the much-loved Christmas tradition is not what it once was, report Chris Hastings and Stephanie Plentl

"I've delivered a script?. which I hope ticks all the necessary panto boxes: transformation scene, community song, unspeakable jokes along with songs, slapstick, rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked," says Stephen Fry. "Being Cinderella, there are naturally Ugly Sisters, a Fairy Godmother, a Prince Charming, a Dandini and a Buttons. No Baron Hardup or Broker's Men, which might disappoint some hard-line traditionalists, but damn it, surely I can be allowed some leeway."

It might be seen as a long overdue coming together of two national treasures: Stephen Fry has written a pantomime. And he has certainly allowed himself some leeway. For the audiences of over-15s who attend his version of Cinderella, at the Old Vic, this Christmas will barely have settled into their seats when, in Act One, Buttons comes out as gay. By the end of the show, his journey of self-discovery is complete and he has entered into a civil partnership with the dashing valet, Dandini.

Welcome to British pantomime, 2007. The centuries-old tradition of a Christmas romp is transforming under pressure from political correctness. In Fry's case, the gag can be seen as an entertaining and relatively harmless spoof of life in modern Britain. In other cases, however, the changing nature of modern life is pushing some shows to the verge of extinction.

Traditional favourites, such as Robinson Crusoe and Sinbad, have been all but abandoned by producers, who fear that the depiction of "natives" and "cannibals" will cause offence on race grounds. At the same time, the custom of having a female star playing the Principal Boy, which goes back to the 19th century, is on the verge of extinction because of fears that modern audiences may interpret her relationship with the female lead as a lesbian one. Instead, audiences are being offered revamped versions of such favourites as Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, which now carry loaded messages on school bullying, waste recycling and gay rights.

Cinderella is not the only festive favourite to be infected by political correctness. Several upcoming productions have been rewritten to accommodate modern sensibilities. Those versions of Robinson Crusoe that have survived tend to have the eponymous hero befriended by the pirates, rather than politically incorrect natives. The character of Man Friday is more likely to be white than black.

Producers are also wary of including anything that may be too sinister or frightening. Shows such as Hansel and Gretel and Babes in the Wood, which used to include scenes in which children were abducted, are either struggling to be shown or are being rewritten to avoid complaints from over-sensitive parents. In a production of Jack and the Beanstalk, at the Riverfront theatre, Newport, this year, the Giant will kidnap the village's livestock rather than the children.

The changes have infuriated panto veterans. Norman Robbins, an actor and director who was also Britain's most prolific contemporary writer of panto, quit the business in 2005 because of "undue interference". He said: "Political correctness, which, to my mind, is absolute stupidity, is doing a lot of damage. It is absolute rubbish to say that a female star shouldn't play the Principal Boy. It is like doing a Shakespeare play and taking away some of the characters. "By having a girl as Principal Boy, you kept the thing in the realms of fantasy. Whatever was happening to the characters, the story stayed light and fairy-like."

The consequence of this cautious climate is that audiences are left with a narrower range of productions to choose from. Tony Gibbs, the chief executive of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, which has more than 2,500 members, said the ever-sensitive issue of race was encouraging the organisation's members to "play safe". "There is a dilemma and a tension between the need to stereotype villainous characters for ease of identification and the fear of vilifying someone because of their race," he said

Staff involved with an upcoming school pantomime production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears last week posted a message on the theatrical website Amdram, asking whether they should keep the script's reference to "those gipsies" in what the school describes as these "you gotta be careful" days. One respondent advises: "Unless you want lots of adverse publicity, I would change the script. Why not change gipsies to 'vagabonds'?".

Such attitudes would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, when panto revelled in its ability to entertain children and shock parents. In the 1970s and 1980s, established female stars, including Dame Maggie Smith, opted to play male roles in Christmas spectaculars. But Qdos Entertainment, the country's largest producer of pantomimes, says that an actress appearing in the role of the young male hero would now be a rarity.

John Conway, its director, who will oversee 19 productions this year, said lesbianism featured so frequently on television that audiences would automatically reach the wrong conclusion about a romance involving the Principal Boy. Describing the prospect of even a chaste peck on the check as "too risque", he added: "We rarely have girls playing boys now. It is not political correctness - it's awareness of trends."

If over-cautious producers are one part of the problem, the audience itself is proving another. Ian Liston, the artistic director of the Hiss and Boo theatre company, which is producing five shows this Christmas, said: "When we put on Snow White in Truro, recently, there was a serious exchange of letters in the local paper between us and an audience member who was angry that we had used dwarves in the show. He said that it was demeaning and that we should have used jockeys instead. I retorted that that would be demeaning to jockeys. There comes a limit to how much you can do."

Britain's health-and-safety culture is also making an impact with some performers who fear their on-stage slapstick could expose them to legal action. Last year, the producers of Peter Pan in Cornwall had to do battle with health and safety officers who wanted the children in the audience to wear hard hats during the flying scenes. In Preston, audiences were told that the performers couldn't throw sweets at the children in case someone got hurt.

Many panto performers are now beginning to censor themselves. Tudor Davies, a veteran writer, director and actor, said: "Aladdin is becoming one of the hardest ones to do because of Abanazar's role as an Arabian villain. I know some actors in the role are even wary of generating too many boos, because of the race issue. "

Tommy Cannon, one half of the Cannon and Ball comedy duo, is appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk this year at Hull."You are getting to the stage where you are frightened to do anything as a joke," he said. "We used to do Babes in the Wood a lot and we'd play the robbers who kidnap the children and whisk them away in a pram. But people actually believed something was happening to the kids on stage and we would get complaints. "You used to ask a kid to come on stage and give you a kiss on the cheek. You would turn around and they'd catch you on the lips and nose. But we used to get complaints over that. People forget that this is panto and that sort of censorship is so wrong. These pantos are disappearing and they are not coming back."


The grinch who stole Christmas cards

Grade school pupils in Wales have been banned from exchanging cards in the name of saving the planet and its `wretched' Africans.

In recent years, as the festive season draws closer, stories inevitably emerge about how `political correctness has gone mad', with council officers censoring Christmas carols on the grounds of `religious preference', re-branding Christmas `Winterval' and preventing people from hanging up decorations or bringing home-made food to school Christmas parties in the name of `health and safety' (1). But for evidence that environmentalism is now overriding `PC' favourites like multiculturalism and health and safety, look no further than Evan James Primary School in Wales, which has banned Christmas cards - on environmental grounds.

`The reasons for not having cards are endless', head teacher Nicholas Daniels claims. Although one could speculate that a big motivating factor was to remove the crushing burden of handing out the cards from teachers (`We are a big school. We have 68 pupils in two classes in year six. The magnitude of cards is horrendous'), Daniels' argument was explicitly moral. `We did take a strong moral ground on the matter. We knew we would face opposition but we decided to do this on moral and environmental grounds. Cards in school cause litter problems and can become a popularity contest about who gets the most.' (2)

Evan James Primary School pupils are therefore prevented from handing out their own cards on school property. The head teacher at the neighbouring Parc Lewis Primary School has followed suit by discouraging cards and urging parents to `donate one pound (instead of cards) for Oxfam and we will send the money to purchase a goat or mosquito net (for a family in Africa)'. This was explicitly `to help us get the Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag' (3).

School kids are already regularly being fed alarmist stories about the coming climate apocalypse, not least through the dissemination of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth to all schools, despite its well-understood inaccuracies. Now children are being told that even the simple pleasure of exchanging Christmas cards with their friends is sinful, and re-educated to redirect their desires away from warm human interactions to winning an `Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag'.

If the report earlier this year which suggested that half of children often lose sleep from worrying about climate change is anything to go by (4), rather than lying awake in excitement waiting for Santa Claus, children will be kept up by scary visions of climate catastrophe.

The Welsh schools' policies neatly express the general hectoring, moralising tone of environmentalists, and they show how firmly `green' ideas have taken hold in our public institutions. The message being conveyed here is, first, that regardless of how much pleasure we might get from it, consumption is wasteful, and, second, that it is even morally degenerate, since there is an implicit trade-off between Western consumption and the well-being of the world's poor. So parents are implored help `a family in Africa' instead of buying cards for their own kids.

The idea that it might be possible to expand consumption, and hence improve living conditions, in both the West and the developing world is simply not considered. Rather than being taught that the problems we face are social, and amenable to being overcome through concerted collective action, kids are being taught the reactionary dogma that society has limitations that cannot be transcended. The only way to deal with inequalities is for us Westerners to stop consuming and to donate pittances to the poor (in both senses of the word) Africans.

Imploring us to buy goats or mosquito nets for Africans instead of cards or gifts for each other does not just further a miserabilist attitude to the festive season over here, but a patronising attitude to Africans. As Sadhavi Sharma has pointed out before on spiked, rather than helping fulfil Africans' own aspirations for a developed society where they, too, can enjoy high levels of consumption, these `gifts' reinforce the image of the developing world as just a huge farm and subsistence farming as a `way of life' rather than an undignified activity that no one would engage in out of choice (5). Mosquito nets, too, are, at best, a second-best solution to a malaria pandemic that is killing a million Africans a year (6). If the schools really want to help Africa, why not raise money for the electricity, transport and communications infrastructure that would really lift communities out of grinding poverty?

There is one last twist to the story. One of the `countless reasons' given by Nicholas Daniels for banning cards was that not all children get the same amount'. So handing out cards `can become a popularity contest about who gets the most, with the risk some children could be left out' (7). So now even distributing Christmas cards has a potential `risk' attached to it. But schools cannot shield children from every potential threat to their self-esteem, and nor should they. Children don't all have the same number of friends, but no one is (yet) suggesting that we should ban friendships for fear of a negative impact on the self-esteem of those children who have few friends. Coddled children will never become sufficiently robust to deal with the fact that differences in personality and popularity are simply a fact of life.

It seems, that in the run-up to the festive season, children will just continue to learn all the wrong `facts of life': that consumption is bad, that the `poor little black babies' in Africa need you to sacrifice your Christmas cards so they can have a goat, that the environment poses absolute limits to human development, and that normal human interactions pose a threat to our basic sense of well-being. Merry Christmas, everyone.


British intolerance on display: "The Oxford Union debating society faced growing calls to cancel an evening with Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, and David Irving, who was jailed in Austria for Holocaust denial. The debating society’s decision to ask the pair to speak at a forum on the limits of free speech tonight has attracted fierce criticism from MPs, antifascist groups, and Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, who said the invitation was a “disgrace”. Antifascist groups said that they expected hundreds of demonstrators to descend on the city to protest against the presence of the two men, and police have warned the debate’s organisers that they fear a number of ultra-rightwing activists will stage counter-protests.

BBC bias again: "Looking at al-Beeb's website this evening, I chanced upon the news that two Bollywood stars are claiming that they had racist remarks shouted at them from a passing car, as they shot a film in Southall. This, clearly very important and newsworthy, story is currently receiving second billing on the "England" section of the BBC News website, and has had quite a lengthy, illustrated, article devoted to it. Of course, the Beeboids did not see fit to publish a single paragraph on a rather more serious recent case in which a man had his skull sliced open with a machete in a racist attack, but that's understandable: the victim was only white, after all."

Official anti-father attitudes: "A woman who became pregnant after a one-night stand has been given the right to keep the birth a secret from the father. The Court of Appeal ruling came after a county court ordered the 20-year-old to tell both her parents and the father. The three appeal judges agreed "the ultimate veto" over who is told about the birth lay with the mother. Fathers' groups said the ruling treated the child as the property of the mother "to be disposed of as she sees fit". Fathers 4 Justice barrister Michael Cox said: "This father is the victim of a wicked deceit in which the State has been complicit. "It is now clear that the Government believes children have no entitlement to a relationship with their fathers and that children are the property of their mothers and of the State."

Donation racket in Britain too: "A builder who lives in a former council house in Newcastle and "can't stand" Labour has been named as one of Gordon Brown's biggest donors - prompting fresh questions over the party's finances. Ray Ruddick, who drives a battered Transit van, is officially listed as having contributed more than 104,000 pounds to the national party's coffers since Mr Brown became Prime Minister less than five months ago. His contributions, combined with those of a woman he is linked to, make him Labour's third biggest donor under Mr Brown"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bicycle sex

After careful consideration I have come to the conclusion that, if we wish to live in a civilised society, we ought to defend the right of cyclists to have sexual relations with their bicycle behind a locked bedroom door.

When I first saw the headline a week ago, about a Scotsman being convicted of simulating sex with a bike, it just raised a wry smile. Only later, when sent the full news story (such tales always linger on the BBC's "most e-mailed" chart) did I realise it was the legal case, not the crime, that should be seen as outraging public decency.

The 51-year-old (let us save him from further exposure), was convicted of "a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex". Police were called to an Ayr hostel after two cleaners discovered him, wearing only a T-shirt, holding his bike and moving his hips back and forth. The Sheriff's Court gave him three years' probation - and placed him on the sex offenders register.

What "sexually aggravated breach of the peace"? Those upset cleaning ladies only saw it because they used a master key to open his locked door. It seems that such is our obsession with sex crimes today that even the old adage about "not caring what people do in their own bedrooms" no longer applies.

And what exactly did they hope to achieve by putting him on the sex offenders register? Will it make the anxious bicycle owners of Scotland feel safer at night? Should we all demand the right to know if our neighbours worry their bikes? Perhaps the vacuum cleaner community will also demand protection against uninvited advances. What such bizarre cases do achieve is to lengthen that worse-than-useless register further still, reinforcing the false impression of us being besieged by an army of sexual predators.

I might not like to share a room with a bike-sexual. And I suspect that some other cyclists may harbour unhealthy thoughts about their machines, as they parade about on their "trophy bikes" to show that they are better men than us. But wheeling out the law to say one who "saddles up" in private should be padlocked to the same list as rapists and paedophiles? On your bike.


New British Slang


"You rarely hear abuse like "n*gger" or "queer" shouted at Premier League [soccer] players any more, for fear of crossing the line. (At least one manager is often slandered as a paedophile, but that's another matter.) However, Arsenal fans near me had no compunction about loudly branding Wayne Rooney a "fat pikey" throughout - now a non-playful but apparently acceptable term for white working-class.


Wikipedia has more details. In Australian slang, a "piker" is someone who does not keep his promises or honor his obligations.

Stupid NHS pay deal

Reminiscent of how Nye Bevan proposed to shut the doctors up when he introduced the NHS: "I will stuff their mouths with gold"

New NHS contracts that boosted hospital consultants' [senior doctors] pay by more than a quarter have led to a fall in productivity and the number of hours worked, a report by MPs has found. Lauded as a "something for something" deal when it was introduced in 2003, the contract was closer to something for nothing, said Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Consultants' pay had risen by an average of 27 per cent, but their working hours had fallen and there had been no measurable increases in productivity.

The Department of Health underestimated the cost of the contract by at least 150 million pounds over three years, and rushed its implementation, the committee found. Consultants' work plans, which were supposed to be more tightly controlled, were drafted too quickly and often consisted of no more than what the consultant already did, or planned to do. The contract did improve recruitment and retention, however, and enabled consultants to catch up with the earnings of other similarly qualified professionals.

The growth in the amount of private work undertaken by consultants had been halted, and patients were now more likely to be seen by a consultant than they were a decade ago.

The committee concluded that the increased pay would be justified only if it also led to improvements in productivity. Despite ministers' expectations that the change would result in a 1.5 per cent annual gain in productivity, the department's own figures suggested that productivity fell by 0.5 per cent in 2004, the first full year of the contract, the report concluded. Figures for 2005 and 2006 are not yet available.

Mr Leigh said: "Anyone who is puzzled how large quantities of money can be poured into the NHS to so little effect should examine the example of the new contract for consultants. "The basic aims of the new pay deal were commendable: to make NHS work more attractive to consultants and private practice less so, to give NHS managers more control over the consultants' working week, and to increase the amount of time they spend on directly caring for patients. "In the event, the introduction of the deal was rushed, with NHS managers left in the dark by the Department of Health over what it wanted from the contract. The department pushed to get the contract in place at all costs and many managers agreed hours of work with their consultants which the trusts could not afford." While the numbers of consultants rose by 13 per cent, total consultant activity increased by only 9 per cent and the number of patients treated per consultant fell year on year until 2005-06. There was "little evidence" that hoped-for changes - such as provision of weekend and evening clinics - had materialised, and the average consultant's NHS work fell from 51.6 to 50.2 hours a week.

The new contracts were agreed in 2003 after two years of negotiation between the department and its counterparts in the devolved assemblies, NHS employers and consultants' representatives in the British Medical Association (BMA). The department budgeted an extra 565 million for the first three years of the contract, but in the event it had to pay out 715 million. Much of the additional cost was due to higher-than-expected payments for consultants being on call outside regular hours.

The BMA said that hospital consultants were worth every penny of their new salaries and that criticism of their pay was unjust and unwarranted. Jonathan Fielden, the chairman of the BMA consultants committee, said: "The chairman of the PAC shows a complete lack of understanding about how consultants work. "He ignores the vast efforts that consultants have made to reduce waiting times and improve patient care and fails to appreciate the enormous pressure that hospital trusts have been under to meet government targets."

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "You can't blame consultants for accepting this generous contract, but why did ministers sign off this settlement when it was clearly such a bad deal for taxpayers and patients?"



Isn't politics wonderful? Within days of Gordon Brown's address to the conservation group WWF, in which he pledged eye-wateringly tough reductions in British emissions of Co2, the Government has announced its support for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. "This time he really gets it," Greenpeace's executive director had enthused after the Prime Minister's "Let's save the polar bear" speech. Yesterday, following the Transport Secretary's endorsement of BAA's expansion plans, Greenpeace was back to its default position, spitting ecological tacks.

You might think this is a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing (or possibly the left hand not knowing what the left hand is doing) especially given the Government's growing reputation for administrative chaos. In fact it is entirely deliberate. The Government both wants to claim "leadership in the fight against climate change" while at the same time it - quite understandably- does not want to do anything which might reduce this country's international competitiveness. It knows that these two objectives are incompatible - very well, then: it will contradict itself.

Gordon Brown's commitment to the most stringent reductions in C02 emissions yet announced by a British Prime Minister follows exactly the path set by his predecessor. Mr Blair would, with a great moral fanfare, pledge this nation to achieve some carbon emission target. Then, when it became completely clear that we were not on track to meet it, he would announce - with equal confidence and certainty - not an easier target but an even tougher one than that which we were failing to achieve.

The civil servants who live in the real world of facts and actually have to devise the practical policies to meet these political flourishes have become increasingly panicky. A month ago there was a leak of an especially desperate memo in which officials warned that the previous Prime Minister's commitment to produce 20 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 was facing "severe practical difficulties".

As we know, that is senior civil servant speak for "this will be absolutely impossible." One of the memos rather plaintively pointed out that if we admitted this publicly and tried to advocate a general lowering of such targets internationally, there would be "a potentially significant cost in terms of reduced climate change leadership".

Here we see the absurd grandiosity of our global ambitions, partly a legacy of Tony Blair's messianic approach, but which is to some extent a characteristic of the British political class as a whole. More than half a century since the collapse of the British Empire, our leaders still seem to think that what we do or say is as important in the eyes of the rest of the world as it was when we really did rule the waves. It is a grotesque vanity, economically as well as politically.

It has been written often enough that any likely reduction in Co2 emissions from our own generation of electricity is not just sub-microscopic in terms of any measurable effect on the climate: the People's Republic of China is now opening two new coal-fired power stations every week. Real "climate change leadership" would be developing "clean coal" technology and selling it to the Chinese - but for some reason that does not fascinate politicians in the way that targets do. It is insufficiently heroic.

We can see the same national self-obsession in the debate over the environmental consequences of opening a third runway at Heathrow: last year China announced plans to expand 73 of its airports and build 42 new ones. Yes, the British government could demonstrate "increased climate change leadership" by blocking BAA's plans to build another runway at Heathrow. Does anyone seriously imagine that the consequence of further congestion and delays will be something other than a transfer of traffic from that airport to others in the immediate vicinity, such as Charles de Gaulle, which already has much more capacity?

For those on the provisional wing of the British environmental movement, arguments about a loss of business to other countries are irrelevant. They would insist that this complaint makes no more sense than saying that it's necessary to sell arms to unpleasant dictatorships because if we don't, other countries will, to the benefit of their own economies.

If, like George Monbiot, you regard flying as morally equivalent to "child abuse", then, yes, the executives of BAA should be thrown in jail ( after a fair show trial, of course) and never be let out. As for any recession deriving from a closing down of Heathrow - pah! A recession would be a good thing, since it would lead to further reductions in Co2 emissions.

I accept that there will be many sensible people living in the area around the Heathrow Terminals who will not welcome the increase in planes taking off and landing. On the other hand, there has been an aerodrome at Heathrow since the 1930s and the first Terminal was opened by the Queen in 1955: that is to say, there are unlikely to be many home-owners living in the Heathrow area who bought under the impression that he or she would enjoy peace and quiet. Doubtless the property prices there reflect that fact.

Anyway, why worry about airports when we are going to ban the plastic bag? That, you will recall, was the "eye-catching initiative" within Mr Brown's WWF speech. It was artfully designed to capture the headlines in the popular press, and duly did so. The Prime Minister declared that we should "eliminate single-use plastic bags altogether in favour of more sustainable alternatives." Perhaps, since Mr Brown argued that fighting climate change was the political challenge for the younger generation, students should already have been marching on Whitehall with placards declaring "Ban the Bag."

The only problem with that is that plastic bags, though undeniably irritating when left lying around, are essentially the by-product, rather than the cause, of fossil fuel generation. Approximately 98 per cent of every barrel of oil, once refined, is consumed as petrol or diesel. If the remaining two per cent of naphtha was not used for packaging, it would almost certainly be flared off - which is pure waste.

Paper bags have the reputation of being environmentally sounder, but I don't see how this can be justified. They require significantly more space in landfill, being much less compressible - and don't they come from trees, which we are meant to be preserving as capturers of Co2? Besides, if the plastic bag is to be banned, what are we going to use to line our rubbish bins? We need to know the answer to such important questions, Prime Minister, before we allow you to put us forward as the saviours of the planet.




Hardly a week goes by without a British columnist having recourse to mention George Orwell. Whether the subject is compulsory ID cards, the growing Nanny State or a surveillance system to rival that of any communist country, the words "Orwell warned us" remains the recurring theme.[1]

While 21st century Britain may be doing its best to turn Orwell into a prophet, there is one point where, for all his genius, George left us manifestly unprepared. Although it is an aspect overlooked in contemporary discussion, it is also the key to understanding the current situation.

The point is simply this: the reign of Big Brother is being introduced to Britain from the liberalism of the far left, a tradition that has historically championed Orwell's defence of civil liberties and free expression.

This observation is particularly germane when considering the new corpus of offences restricting speech, religion, public debate and, in some cases, even thought itself, to that cluster of ideas which the liberals have designated `politically correct.'[2] The State's eagerness to function as Guardian, not simply of law and order, but also of the ideologies of its citizenry[3], was made patently obvious last year when New Labour tried to push through legislation as part of the Religious Hatred Bill which would have made it an offence to criticise different religious truth-claims.

Even without the impetus of such a law, UK police currently operate under `guidance' that defines a `hate incident' so broadly that it can include debating another person about their lifestyle.[4] Although this guidance has no statutory force, and has been called `pseudo-law' by one distinguished constitutional lawyer, it can influence the policy of police constabularies provided it does not lead to an actual charge being issued.[5] The effect is that simply to express certain viewpoints is at least treated as criminal.[6]

It was this tendency to police beliefs that Dr. N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, lambasted in an address to the House of Lords on 9 February, 2006. Dr. Wright referred to a new class of crimes which "have to do, not with actions but with ideas and beliefs." He said:

"People in my diocese have told me that they are now afraid to speak their minds in the pub on some major contemporary issues for fear of being reported, investigated, and perhaps charged. My Lords, I did not think I would see such a thing in this country in my lifetime.. The word for such a state of affairs is `tyranny': sudden moral climate change, enforced by thought police."[7]

From religious organisations that must now navigate the increasingly complex labyrinth of gay rights laws[8] to Christian Unions that are being forced to admit atheists into their ranks[9], it is clear that today's liberals are making sure Big Brother does more than merely watch us: he's checking out our credo.[10] Chesterton was surely prophetic when he conjectured that, "We may eventually be bound not to disturb a man's mind even by argument; not to disturb the sleep of birds even by coughing."[11]


It is instructive to note that this dogmatic intolerance of dissent, while putting public debate into a state of paralysis, has come to Britain in the package of `tolerance', `equality', `human rights' and even - heaven help us - `freedom'. These were, of course, the values of classical liberalism championed by the humanists of the Enlightenment.[12] But while the contemporary liberal still likes to think of himself as operating within the ideological legacy framed by such men as Hume, Locke, Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau and Mill, the totalitarian utopia towards which he strives would presumably be anathema to these defenders of freedom in so far as it is the ultimate betrayal of genuine liberal values.

This is a point that has not been missed on the old fashion liberals who still remain among us. For example, in his book The Retreat of Reason, Anthony Browne argues that the dogmatic, bullying posture of the contemporary liberal is a betrayal of the true liberalism and rationalism of the Enlightenment.[13] We find a similar theme in the work of the lesbian and self-proclaimed leftist Tammy Bruce, former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organisation of Woman, and author of The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds[14] and The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values.[15] In these works, Bruce uses a liberal platform to critique left-wing anti-intellectualism, thought totalitarianism and inverted racism, being careful to insist that she is not a conservative. Similarly, the British commentator Melanie Phillips is careful to tell us that, though "styled a conservative by her opponents"[16], she is really defending the liberal values of the Enlightenment. ".liberalism," said Phillips at a recent conference, ".has so badly undermined itself and departed from its own core concepts that it is now paralysed by moral and intellectual muddle.. What we are living through in the west is nothing short of a repudiation of the Enlightenment, a repudiation of reason; and its substitution by irrationality, obscurantism, bigotry and clerical totalitarianism - all facilitated by our so-called `liberal' society, and all in the name of `human rights.'[17]

Nor is it merely a handful of liberal intellectuals on the fringe who have been challenging the encroachment of left-wing totalitarianism. When Tony Blair's New Labour government began to be perceived as a threat to Britain's ancient civil liberties, it was the nation's mainline liberal newspapers, notably the Independent, the Guardian and the Observer, who unleashed the harshest criticisms of his `Orwellian' assault on `liberal values.'[18]

The liberal community is, therefore, divided between two kinds of ideologues: those, on the one hand, for whom the appellation `liberal' is, strictly speaking, an anachronism since they would deny freedom using the rhetoric of liberal values. These I will refer to pejoratively, but also descriptively, as `illiberals.' On the other hand, there are old fashion liberals who keep crying out, "What has happened to the values of the Enlightenment? Aren't we supposed to be liberals?" Rather confusingly, the later group - which I will refer to as classic liberalism - is often now associated with conservatism, as they seek to conserve the genuine liberalism of our pluralist humanist society.

In this essay I will attempt to chart why liberalism has fractured into this matrix. I will propose that the totalitarian agenda of the postmodern illiberal, while on the surface at complete odds with the values of classical liberalism, is also the logical corollary of the man-centred ethics of the Enlightenment. While agreeing with classical liberals like Browne and Bruce that the emerging totalitarian thought-control represents an anti-intellectualism significantly contrary to the rationalism of 18th century liberalism, I will also suggest that these developments are simply the fulfilment of where the Enlightenment project had to enivitably lead......


We have seen that the Enlightenment's approach to epistemology, aesthetics and ethics is, at best, a terminal philosophy, containing in itself the seeds of its own self-destruction. Having established this principle, we are now in a position to better understand the continuity and discontinuity that exists between today's illiberals and their Enlightenment forebears. Just as there is continuity and discontinuity between the rationalistic empiricism of Locke and the radical scepticism of Hume or Postmodernism, and just as there is continuity and discontinuity between the aesthetic values of the Enlightenment and the nihilistic decadence of postmodern art, and just as there is continuity and discontinuity between Rousseau's doctrine of the Noble Savage and the Reign of Terror's brute savagery, so there is both continuity and discontinuity between the classical liberalism of the Enlightenment and the tyranny of today's illiberalism. Put simply, those who wanted to champion human rights and liberty as free-standing values unhinged from any transcendent ethical framework, necessarily planted a self-destruct mechanism on the very values they sought to uphold.

There may be little resemblance between a body newly dead and the rotting corpse a month later, yet the latter is what the former will inevitably become if it is left unburied.


Of course, the contemporary illiberal will not admit that the inevitable rot has set in. Like the characters in Orwell's Animal Farm, he continues to use the principled rhetoric of his predecessors even when the substance has been sucked dry. As Rose noted:

"The Liberal still speaks, at least on formal occasions, of `eternal verities,' of `faith,' of `human dignity,' of man's `high calling' or his `unquenchable spirit,' even of `Christian civilization'; but it is quite clear that these words no longer mean what they once meant. No Liberal takes them with entire seriousness; they are in fact metaphors, ornaments of language that are meant to evoke an emotional, not an intellectual, response - a response largely conditioned by long usage, with the attendant memory of a time when such words actually had a positive and serious meaning."[43]

Like Orwell's animals, who brought slavery under the banner of equality and liberty, the contemporary illiberal is all too happy to welcome any and every erosion of freedom provided it is done in the name of one of his ethical axioms and, more importantly, as long as it does not remove any of his own cherished freedoms.

To their credit, the advocates of today's secular theocracy are more nuanced than those of the French Revolution. Instead of the guillotine they have political correctness; instead of the reign of terror they have mass media at their disposal. They have also added to the pantheon of secular virtues new axioms, which are even more notorious for their entropy. Look how quickly the virtue of multiculturalism degenerated into competition for group power.[44] Look how quickly diversity became a charter for uniformity.[45] Look how quickly the rhetoric of victimhood gave rise to the tyranny of the minority.[46] Unlike the Christian ethical system, which remains ever fixed in the solidity of the transcendent unchanging God, the liberal's ethical base is characterised by a constant ethical flux.

We live in a world where the ethical entropy has all but run its course. The humanitarian liberalism of the Enlightenment has warped into the inhuman illiberalism of today, with results that would do even Orwell proud.

As the laissez faire liberalism becomes the new orthodoxy and permeates our institutions of power, it can no longer rage against the establishment, yet because its orientation is intrinsically revolutionary, the only option is to revolt against those beneath its power structures - those, for example, who still dissent from the grinding uniformity it demands. As illiberalism begins venting its revolutionary zeal on those who refuse to be squeezed into the status quo, the stage is set for a conservative counter movement. That is the point at which secular liberalism becomes unstable, for all totalitarian regimes must eventually end in mass discontent and therefore revolt.

This presents the advocates of sanity with a tremendous opportunity, but it also carries with it an enormous danger. The opponents of illiberalism are all too willing to arm themselves with the principles of classical liberalism and fight against symptoms rather than causes. Thus, many conservative apologists are now urging their liberal opponents to simply be better liberals, more consistent with the Enlightenment values they claim to cherish. If the liberals are ever convinced by such an argument, all that would happen would be to simply wind up the clock three hundred years and then watch the whole cycle unwind again. This is because liberal values can never be sustained without first going back and re-establishing a pre-Enlightenment epistemic base. The Biblical terminology for that process is called repentance, and therein lies the difference between freedom under God or enslavement under man disguised as liberty.

Much more here

The Church of homosexuality: "The openly homosexual bishop whose ordination sparked the split in the Anglican Communion has claimed that the Church of England would come close to shutting down if it was forced to manage without gay clergy. The Bishop of New Hampshire in the US, the Right Rev Gene Robinson, who is divorced and lives openly in partnership with a gay man, said that he found it mystifying that the mother Church of the Anglican Communion was unable to be honest about the number of gay clergy in its ranks."

British officers quit army in record numbers: "The army has suffered an unprecedented exodus of more than 1,300 officers in the past six months amid anger about government cost-cutting and equipment shortages. The number quitting is more than double the rate in the previous 12 months and will add to pressure on Gordon Brown about the way his government is funding the armed services. Many of those who have resigned their commissions are from frontline units. Most are captains or majors with invaluable experience of battle. "The loss of a whole swathe of middle-ranking officers will leave us struggling to find the top quality generals of the future," said one senior officer. "But it is clear the government does not care and would be happy to see the army reduced to a token force."