Monday, January 19, 2009

Christians are becoming social pariahs in Britain

Jeremy Vine, the BBC presenter, has claimed that it is becoming "socially unacceptable" to be a Christian in Britain

The Radio 2 host said that he feels unable to talk about his faith on his show because he fears how people would react. He argues that society has become increasingly intolerant of the freedom to express religious views. "You can't express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago," he said. "Arguably, the parameters of what you might call 'right thinking' are probably closing. "Sadly, along with that has come the fact that it's almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God."

His comments follow the claim from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, that Britain is an "unfriendly" place for religious people to live.

Mr Vine, 43, is a practising Anglican, but says he would be compromised by being more open about his faith on air. "Just blurting it out would be destructive," he said. "Just because something's true doesn't mean you can say it. That's quite an important principle. "Once I put my cards on the table about my faith in discussions, it becomes problematic."

In an interview with Reform, a magazine published by the United Reformed Church, Mr Vine says that he is forced to separate his personal beliefs from his role as a presenter. "One of the things that I think, which may sound bizarre, is that Christ is who he said he was. "I don't think I'd put that out on my show; I suppose there's a bit of a firewall between thinking that and doing the job I do."

Last year, Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC and a practising Roman Catholic, suggested that Islam should be treated more sensitively by the BBC than Christianity. However, he also said that accusations that the corporation was anti-God were "not just too sweeping; they are not even directionally true".

Ed Stourton, one of Mr Vine's colleagues at the BBC, said that he felt that the biggest problem for people of faith is being sidelined. "Clearly we live in a secular society and that has increased, but I don't get a sense of being persecuted," he said. "There's a problem for people who are active in their faith in feeling that the society around them ignores them."

The Today presenter said that he wouldn't allow his faith to affect his job as he has a duty to reflect the views of his audience. He added: "I'm perfectly happy to say I'm a Roman Catholic and that doesn't mean I'm a nutter."

Tony Blair revealed in 2007 that he had been unable to be open about his faith when Prime Minister for fear that people would label him a "nutter". "It's difficult if you talk about religious faith in our political system," he 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."


Note that Australia is less censorious: Australians are generally irreligious too but Australia's popular centre-Left Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, makes no secret of being a practicing Christian. The pic below shows Mr Rudd (in dark jacket) taking the eucharist at a morning church service at Canberra's oldest church, Saint John's Anglican. The occasion was Christmas day, 2007

Stuck fast in the myth of social immobility

It used to be thought that in Britain no one could ever confuse class with money. This was made comically clear in the 1966 television sketch "I look down on him" involving John Cleese and Ronnies Barker and Corbett. You will recall that the 6ft 5in Cleese represented the bowler-hatted pinstripe-suited upper class, Barker (in the middle) was the successful trader in pork-pie hat and rain-coat, while the diminutive Corbett, in cloth cap and muffler, was working-class man. Barker has more money than civil servant Cleese, but says: "I still look up to him, because although I have money, I am vulgar."

This model of class structure is not recognised by those who measure social mobility today. Every piece of academic work under that headline divides the country according to income - and the extent of social mobility is defined purely by how a family's income moves up or down in relation to that of their fellow citizens. There is a good practical reason for this. Money is measured by numbers, and is therefore readily tabulated. Not so with breeding, or social status in the old-fashioned sense: how do you measure accents, or table manners, against the x-axis on a graph?

So although most of us might feel intuitively certain that British society today is much more open and flexible than it was 40 or 50 years ago, the statisticians insist that it isn't and that our eyes are deceiving us. Their figures appear to show that there is less familial social mobility among Britons born in 1970 than there was for those born in 1958 - and the government is convinced that this is a scandal: last week Labour announced it was putting the former cabinet minister Alan Milburn in charge of a commission that would seek to reverse this alleged collapse in social mobility, while Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, produced a New Opportunities white paper with similar intent.

The most influential of the reports on which the government has based its call to action was produced three years ago by the Sutton Trust, an admirable organisation that seeks to promote social mobility through education. The trust's figures break society down into four quartiles by income, and then relate a father's income when his son was 16 to what that son earns when he in turn reaches the age of 33. Its analysis revealed that while 17% of sons born in 1958 to fathers in the bottom income quartile had managed to reach the top quartile, only 11% of sons born in 1970 had achieved the same vault across the income zones. The trust went on to point out that such a decline in "social mobility" had not been experienced by countries such as Sweden and Norway - causing more agonising in new Labour circles.

One thing that is never asked, either by the academics or the politicians, is what would be an ideal or even desirable level of social mobility. A bloody revolution along Bolshevik lines would presumably maximise social mobility (or at least make sure that the top quartile moved with astonishing rapidity downwards) but that form of economic redistribution has long been consigned to the dustbin of history.

To listen to some on the present-day left, however, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are living in a new feudal age, in which it is impossible for the ambitious worker to break out of a life of unchanging economic fortunes. Yet even those allegedly dire Sutton Trust figures show a tremendous amount of generational movement between income brackets. For example, 62% of the sons born in 1970 to fathers in the lowest income quartile escaped into the three higher quartiles. Or, to look at it from the other end of the social telescope, only 42% of sons born in 1970 to fathers in the top income bracket retained their family's position in the highest income quartile.

Indeed, 16% of the sons born in 1970 to the highest income quartile ended up at the bottom. In other words, there is a vast amount of social churning, at least measured by relative income. Moreover, the assertion that we have less social mobility than the Scandinavians may be based on a statistical sleight of hand. Countries such as Sweden have smaller variations in post-tax salaries; it is much easier to move in and out of their more closely bunched income quartiles, thus creating the illusion of greater social mobility.

I doubt that Harman will be too exercised by such arguments, however. As the privately educated niece of the late Earl and Countess of Longford, she seems to have a particular need to prove herself to be a campaigner against the entrenched privileges of the English class system. The same sort of politics of expiation characterised the career of Tony Benn, formerly Viscount Stansgate. Perhaps that is why such politicians seem to enrage the aspirant middle classes like no others: there is the distinct sense that these are people who, having enjoyed the fruits of selective or private education themselves, are determined to pull that ladder up behind them and leave the rest of society stagnating in undifferentiated mediocrity masquerading as egalitarianism.

The Sutton Trust itself was founded by someone who had broken through the social barriers in a particular way that would now be very much more difficult: Sir Peter Lampl was brought up on a council estate, passed the 11-plus and from grammar school went on to Oxford and then to a successful career as a financier in the United States. He was very disturbed, on his return to this country, to discover how his old Oxford college "used to have lots of ordinary Welsh kids, but they're not coming through any more".

Lampl will not be successful in his general aim of recreating something like the old grammar school system; David Cameron has abandoned the Conservative pledge to restore them and has adopted Tony Blair's policy of trying to introduce some of the rigour and discipline of the private educational system within the non-selective state sector, via so-called academies.

The fact that the partially privately financed academies are loathed by the main teaching unions strongly suggests that there might be a lot to be said for them. While it is true that the destruction of the grammar school system was an act of educational vandalism, it was never going to be the answer for more than a minority, which is why it has a relatively small political constituency. The real destruction of the aspirations of what used to be called the working class was by those who claimed to be its saviours, within the comprehensive system.

A Marxist-influenced teaching profession that regarded academic rigour as a bourgeois imposition, based on an outmoded social order, betrayed an entire generation of children. As the Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove notes, while the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci advocated the "march through the institutions", which his followers carried out, Gramsci himself was a deep opponent of "progressive" educational methods. He wrote: "The most paradoxical aspect is that this new type of school is advocated as being democratic, while in fact it is destined not merely to perpetuate social differences, but to crystallise them."

It is striking that Harman and Milburn have said nothing about education, as they announce their intentions to eradicate the "privileges of the class system". As the state schools begin increasingly to drop "difficult" GCSE subjects such as foreign languages, their natural response would be to legislate to make sure that monoglots will not be discriminated against in examinations to join the Foreign Office. Perhaps - if we are prepared to ignore the inevitable erosion of basic institutional freedoms, or even notions of excellence - they are right that this type of legislation would increase "social mobility". But what would be the point? The problem is not so much class, as the classroom.


New EU working laws will be disaster for NHS

Changes to hospital working hours which come into force this summer under European law will be "disastrous" for patient care and result in "major service failure", Britain's top surgeon has warned.

John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, has issued a dramatic warning that the National Health Service will not be able to cope with the effects of the controversial European Working Time Directive. From August, hospitals face heavy fines if they allow any health care staff, including surgeons, to work more than 48 hours a week, despite warnings from hospitals that they are not able to make the change. In his February newsletter, Mr Black said the new rules were "an impending disaster" which will "devastate" medical training because no surgeon will be able to work a shift long enough to gain proper experience.

The multiple handovers of staff needed to comply with the rules will mean that patients do not see the same doctor for more than a few hours, he said. And he warned there could be "dangerous" lapses in patient care, especially at night. "With nobody able to work more than 48 hours a week from August, the effects on patient care in the NHS are potentially disastrous," Mr Black said. "Out-of-hours cover will be so thin, on occasions non-existent, that major service failure with unplanned reconfiguration of services appears inevitable. "It is well known that dangerous incidents are far more likely to happen at night and weekends, and this will get worse with even fewer doctors available. "This is not to mention the dangers of multiple handovers or the frustration and alarm felt by patients who rarely see the same doctor for more than a few hours. This is all being done under social chapter legislation, supposed to make people's lives better."

Mr Black is meeting Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, in February to propose a "speciality opt-out" and an upper limit on surgeons' hours of 65 to 70 hours a week. "I have no doubt we will be told that it is impossible to alter or bypass the European law. I do not believe this. All manner of EC law must have been bent or ignored in nationalising a bank in 24 hours. The Government can do it if it has the political will," Mr Black said.

The European Working Time Directive has proved a massive challenge for the NHS since it was introduced in 1998. At first, certain staff were exempt, but a 58-hour limit was introduced in 2004, falling to 56 in 2007 with the final drop to 48 required by August 2009. With time running out to make the changes to rotas needed, a survey of hospital trusts in November last year found that only 18% were hitting the 48 hour limit.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "A few hospitals have implemented the maximum 48 hour week across all rotas. We are monitoring the situation as some smaller specialities and isolated hospitals may find meeting the deadline more challenging."


British Christian refuses to drive atheist bus

And gets treated with some respect, for once. The fact that his employer is a private company may account for that

A Christian bus driver has refused to use a vehicle with the atheist slogan: "There's probably no God". Ron Heather, from Southampton, responded with "shock horror" at the message and walked out of his shift in protest.

Buses across Britain started displaying atheist messages in an advertising campaign launched earlier this month, reports the BBC.

Mr Heather said: "I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror. "I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven't got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did. "I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God."

He has since agreed to go back to work with the promise he would only have to drive the buses if there were no others available. First Bus said in a statement: "As a company we understand Mr Heather's views regarding the atheist bus advert and we are doing what we can to accommodate his request not to drive the buses concerned."

The advertising campaign is backed by the British Humanist Association and prominent atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins.


The usual BBC lies: "Yet again, journalistic professionalism is thrown out of the window in the BBC's desperate attempts to attack and sully Israel. A story claiming that IDF soldiers have fired on Gaza civilians attempting to leave their homes - in some cases carrying white flags - is based on totally unverifiable and unsubstantiated claims. The article states that "BBC journalists in Gaza and Israel have compiled detailed accounts of the claims." Who are these BBC journalists in Gaza? On the basis that foreign press have not been allowed access to Gaza, one can only assume that these supposedly neutral observers are, in fact, Palestinians. This seems to be confirmed by a footnote in the story: "Research and reporting by Hamada Abu Qammar in Gaza and Heather Sharp, Fouad Abu Ghosh and Raya el-Din in Jerusalem."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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