Referendums do not resolve anything the way a General Election does. With the SNP clambering for a second independence referendum, and what sort of Brexit we are going to end up with being about as clear as mud from the government since UK voted to leave the EU, Prime Minister May is right to go to Parliament tomorrow and seek a two thirds majority vote for an early election.
It does mean we might expect to have an actual detailed plan, not the sort of fuzzy “we want a red, white and blue Brexit.” It gives the lie to the PM claims we have been coming together – the exact opposite is why we need this election. The lack of certainty is due to a lack of vision and detail from the Conservative Government about Brexit, and May suggesting it is the fault of an opposition, that could not fight its way out of a paper bag much less an election, is laughable. As I write this post Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democratshas welcomed the early election. Corbyn, like his leadership, was absent.
Corbyn does not have the support of his own MPs, how can he be expected to run a government or demand the public give him that trust? For his style is opposition to his own MPs, as it was to his own party when in the political wilderness. The idea that a platform should be given to the fringes of politics finds its ultimate irony when Labour MPs that did not want him to win as leader nominated him to stand for a “discussion”. Give a platform, and be prepared to be swept away on a train of thought you never wanted to get on in the first place. If the country gets taken for a ride in the process, let that be on your conscience.
If the Conservatives come back with a stronger majority than the 17 they currently have, the fault will be on a man that the Labour membership wanted but the British electorate rejected. Labour have not advanced any vision, in what has been a hostile media climate, to change opinion polls.
I suspect Lib Dems hopes of winning back the south west will be short lived. There is no love for the political idea of the EU, English immigration to Cornish lands and housing is a sore point, let alone European immigration. If the Conservatives can guarantee there will be no lack of funding in these regions when leaving the EU and constraints on free movement, it will remain blue.
As I wrote last October, an early election would be the only way out of this whole mess of a government that did not want Brexit having to implement it. That there is a political opportunity for May to increase her majority and have an election before anyone sees what a dog’s dinner Brexit might turn out to be. The right play just happens to be the right democratic one too, to get a personal mandate from the people to govern. One she has not yet shown she deserves.
My mood right now is one of playing the violin upon the Titanic. Fitting, given the foreign secretary once said we would make a Titanic success of Brexit. Just don’t ask me where the lifeboats are.
As jihadism goes, the Paris attack last week was a spectacular, and ISIS twitter accounts roared as if the explosions of suicide bombers were fireworks. While Parisians who were enjoying a Friday night out with a drink, music or sport ended up painting the town red in their own blood.
Cosmopolitan secular cultured Paris met the monolithic theocratic anti-culture of Jihadists. One of these must have a future while the other has to be consigned to history. Standing up for and living our secular liberal values are not enough. We cannot pretend that letting ISIS get on with raping Yazidi women and butchering Kurds is not our fight. Being human means nothing, if we are not prepared to come to the aid of others in need. Just as people in Paris did, queuing up to give blood, despite fears of further attacks.
When analysing the Islamic State’s multi pronged terrorist (MPT) attack on Paris, it is too easy to stand on the corpses of hundreds and use them as a pulpit. “Islam is the enemy of the west”, when neglecting the many more Muslims killed by Jihadist groups around the world. “Islam is a religion of peace”, neglecting the political ideology that causes someone to blow themselves up is done with confidence that martyrdom has been achieved as a first class ticket to eternal paradise, avoiding the hell fire waiting room most people have to go through first.
The Islamic State aims to become the political geographic caliphate for all Muslims. Part of achieving that is making ISIS a global brand for Jihadists around the world to buy into. The PR campaign has been impressive. As Sara Khan of Inspire mentioned at the Home Affairs Select Committee this week, civil society is behind the curve when it comes to the organisation of ISIS on social media and the internet. The irony: that we are to be brought to a backward looking age by the most modern of communication systems.
Where many islamists talk the talk, jihadists go on the rampage. We saw that in the MPT attack in Mumbai, 2008. As ISIS look to supplant Al Qaeda, it was always a danger they would go for this tactic as well. Paris makes sense as a target: former French colonies have active Jihadist groups, and France has not been shy in flexing its muscles against them. ISIS has shown: swear allegiance, and your enemies are ours too.
To blame foreign policy for ISIS is simplistic, given that their survival must appeal to Jihadist groups to survive and grow. If we do not recognise there is a global jihadist insurgency happening around the world, we miss that liberating Raqqa will not be the end of it. Yes ISIS want to lead it, but cutting off the head will be an epic milestone rather than a total victory.
ISIS needs fighters, and as many fronts in this war as it can have. It needs to sow confusion and traumatise those that would oppose them. The last thing to do is see the man who has killed hundreds of thousands in Syria, Assad, as an ally. He gave the conditions and space for ISIS to form, regroup and conquer. He is the problem, and not the solution, when it comes to the Jihad insurgency.
We can talk about civic values, and standing for human rights in a pluralistic society. We also require a military response, and drone attacks like the one that killed Jihadi John. We need to infiltrate the communication, training and finance of global jihad networks. We need to show the people in regions affected by jihadism that they are not alone in this fight. In doing so, we must not let down those that died demanding freedoms from autocrats in the Arab Spring.
Solidarity for all victims requires nothing less, if our common humanity has any meaning. Otherwise ISIS have already won the culture war. We might want to imagine peace, but that is not the reality being offered by Jihadists.
The new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron refused to say whether homosexual sex was a sin according to his theological views, in an interview. Whilst his statements regarding secularism were welcome, it felt more like a smokescreen to obfuscate his own views on homosexuality. There are past statements of his, which I consider after looking at the interview, which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith, from the efficacy of Christian faith healing to Christianity being the complete and only truth with no middle ground. It adds up to someone whose appeal was being outside the coalition government, but was not the right person to lead a liberal political party in modern Britain if he still holds these views.
Tim Farron should be used to questions regarding his views on homosexuality. He even chatted to me on twitter regarding them.
Since then he has been duly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats on the 16 July 2015 – by one third of eligible voters. He went off message the next day, deciding to talk vaguely about what faith meant to him and accusing the media of fixating on him in a way other leaders had not been. Rather than hitting the floor running, he hit the deck on the evening Channel 4 News programme.
The question was whether homosexual sex was a sin. The wording is important; because some will stress being a homosexual is of itself not a sin (neglecting to say the sex is). He started well enough – religious views are one thing, but secularism and freedom mean they should not be imposed on others via law. As a political leader, his public liberal values matter more than his personal religious views – that is liberalism. A much stronger argument would have been sin is never a reason to legislate or how you should vote in parliament. It is the welfare and freedom of the people that should matter when voting. Not imposing your personal religious conviction via the law on others.
Cathy Newman pushes him a second time to answer the question personally as a Christian: is homosexual sex a sin? Warning lights should have been flashing in his brain – any answer he gives will still be seen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Isabel Hardman had already sounded the alarm that very morning, blogging on Farron’s Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, regarding prayer:
“A sensible approach might be to assume, even if it seems unkind, that every worldview is worthy of suspicion and scrutiny, and that it’s not just some chap in the Lib Dems talking to someone who may or may not exist in the sky who should be grilled about his fundamental assumptions, but everyone who expresses an interest in making big decisions on voters’ behalf. Yes, we should be suspicious of Tim Farron’s Christian worldview – but only in so far as we suspect everyone’s funny jumble of beliefs and assumptions.”
Farron’s answer to Cathy was that as a Christian, whether you think someone is committing a sin is irrelevant given we all are sinners. Matthew 7:3-5 is referenced:
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
His answer also suggested that homosexual sex is a sin no more than other sins. Cathy Newman asks a third time her question, referencing Leviticus 18:22 how serious a sin it is:
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is [an] abomination.“
This is the same bible book that also calls eating prawns and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.”
They are literally abominable commandments, but you might be left thinking it is simply do not do – if you have not read it. The real kicker which Cathy Newman could have referenced in full is Leviticus 20:13:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Farron tries to distance himself from answering any particular verse in the bible, saying his Christianity is based on him believing what Jesus claimed to be. This leaves more questions regarding who Jesus is for Tim. Was Jesus the one to judge us, as he said, and how will homosexual sex be judged, even within the context of same sex marriage? Or the one that said he did not come to break the law but to fulfil them, ones like in Leviticus?
When Newman counters, pushing for a third time the question, that Leviticus is not exactly Liberal values (it helps to mention why: because it says you must kill people for gay sex), Farron argues that a previous leader, the late Charles Kennedy who was a Roman Catholic, did not go through the sort of questions he is regarding his faith. I will mention in the next section he has himself to blame because he has made plenty of faith claims regarding public policy to make such questioning legitimate.
Regarding Charles Kennedy, he was absent for the repeal of Section 28 (which forbade the intentional promoting of homosexuality by local authorities, and forbade promoting the acceptability of homosexuality in schools) in March 2003. In 2008, he voted against a bill which would have boosted access to IVF treatment for lesbians. He did though vote in favour of same sex marriage and equalising the age of consent. Both he and Tim Farron are considered to have voted moderately for equal gay rights, according to “They Work For You” website. Just as Norman Lamb, the other contender for the leadership this month, scored. Due to being absent from certain stages of the bill on Same Sex Marriage (Lamb away working in a Ministerial capacity, Tim Farron choosing to abstain having voted previously for Same Sex Marriage as wanted trans issues considered), their rating ended up being scored as moderate.
Farron ends his interview with Newman calling for religious tolerance, and that promoting liberal values is compatible with being a Christian. Thing is, as Hardman wrote earlier, we need to be suspicious about any underlying assumptions and beliefs politicians have. No one gets a free pass; maybe Charles Kennedy should have been asked about missing the Section 28 repeal vote (even Pink News misses mentioning that in their obituary of him).
Pink News have noticed what The Times claimed about “illiberal” Tim Farron: “An evangelical Christian since his teenage years, he believes that every word written in the Bible is literal truth, that God has a precise plan for all of us and that heaven and hell are physical entities to which all of us are consigned after death. … Mr Farron’s consistent failure to embrace the quintessentially liberal idea that every person has equal moral worth should trouble his party.”
Which is why presumably he did not want to focus on Leviticus – for every word is literally true. Why did Cathy Newman not mention those having gay sex “shall surely be put to death,” and asking was this sanctioned by the God Farron prays to? For what matters to me is not that the bible considers it a sin, or even an everlasting reason to be in hell. It sanctions you being killed because of it right now.
We live in a world where Gay people are still killed, tortured, and imprisoned. This was a chance for Tim Farron to shout from the rooftops that no holy text can ever justify throwing gay people off them to their deaths. He failed miserably to do so, having said in his acceptance speech the day before about standing up for minorities.
I am not for one second suggesting Farron thinks gays should be killed – he has campaigned against Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals for example, and I think he has changed his political views on gay marriage possibly because of his liberalism (just in time for the leadership). This line of questioning all matters because of past statements by Tim Farron that suggest he holds Christian Fundamentalist views.
When Religious Views Impacts Politics
“Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong it is wrong at any time.”
“Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way.”
You can read more statements like those above by Farron, that last one in 2013, in Catherine Bennett’s article “When politicians do God, no wonder we have doubts” where she made the observation “Are liberals soon to be represented by a man who can make the average Anglican bishop sound like late-period Christopher Hitchens?”
It is a fair comment, when you consider that Tim Farron said that the Advertising Standards Agency should not rule on the efficacy of faith healers claims to heal the sick.
With two other MPs in 2012 he demanded: “the Advertising Standards Authority to produce ‘indisputable scientific evidence’ to say that prayer does not work – otherwise they will raise the issue in Parliament.” Read Martin Robbins for a thorough roasting of the MPs letter
The saving grace perhaps for Tim Farron is that he is not tainted by association with the coalition government of 2010-15. He called himself an outsider – to rebuild the party I still feel this gives him an advantage over Norman Lamb with the electorate. That is why I think he won despite all these things being mentioned during the leadership campaign. The problem is his past views place him on the outside of rationality. That calls into question his leadership on policy issues where his fundamentalist views may be at odds with those of a liberal party leader.
My twitter feed suggested a few secularists that had voted for Farron had been unaware of his past views. I must confess, it was news to me too, and I had not seen people discussing it on twitter till after the post election interview with Cathy Newman. Maybe Lamb would have benefitted from a longer campaign, but he was unable to bring it up himself without countering Farron’s charge that this was intolerance of religious people in public life.
During the 2015 leadership, the question of Tim Farron’s Christian views came up on LGBT issues. Andrew Page asked:
“In January 2007 Tim Farron told the Salvation Army newspaper, “The War Cry” that “the Bible is clear about sexuality of all sorts” and “the standards that define my personal morality as a Christian are not the standards of public morality”. This seems to suggest that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, but that his personal view shouldn’t stand in the way of pro-equality legislation.”
Tim Farron:” I would say – for all minorities in the UK – equalities legislation passed in the last 10 to 20 years has been a huge step forwards. Whilst I am and will remain a committed Christian, I take the same approach as Charles Kennedy did – I hold my faith firmly but impose it on no one. I am running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to be Archbishop of Canterbury (which is lucky given that I believe in disestablishment of the Church of England!).”
Norman Lamb: “…As liberals, we should always be consistent in arguing for the separation of Church and State – both structurally, and in the way we make our laws. As a political party, and as individuals, we must consistently champion liberal values – values which enshrine our freedom to worship as christians, as muslims, or indeed to believe in no god at all.”
In a tolerant and open society, individuals should always be free to talk about their faith (or lack of one) as long as they make very clear the distinction between their personal view, and the approach they take as a Liberal Democrat political figure. But in doing so, we should never imply that Christianity is somehow illiberal, or that Christians are not welcome in our party.”
A Born Again Secularist?
Norman Lamb raised treating distinctively a Liberal Democrat political figure from their personal Christian view, the wearing of two distinct hats at different times. The fear is wearing would be made easier by being two faced (Copyright Yes Prime Minister). How can you lead wholehearted on liberal issues when you personally are against them. I want someone that believes in liberalism, not someone that has to compartmentalise them before they can lead their party on liberal issues. It is legitimate to ask what someone in public life believes, for belief can shape the political agenda they will advocate and how they will react to one set by the government.
When I mentioned his past voting record on gay marriage and the need to prove himself, he replied to me “so I have since then to show through deeds too.” As the new leader of the Liberal Democrats he is now best placed to visibly show by deeds. He will need to do a lot better than that Channel 4 interview. The honeymoon period on his election is already over before the consummation of the marriage ever took place. Yet he still feels he has been screwed by a fixated media.
In “Liberal Democrats Do God” he stated “The kind of things we do to reject God’s rule over our lives differs from person to person, but the desire to push God out of our lives is the same for everyone.” Will the same Tim Farron put his view of God to one side when pursuing a liberal agenda or does he still think faith healers can say they have the power by God to heal those gullible enough to believe in such charlatan claims?
The Liberal Democrats need a leader with a clear vision of promoting liberal values against a majority Conservative Government. They do not need a prophet, though they may well be hoping for a miracle come 2020.
Metaphorically Tim Farron will have to move heaven and earth, and show that he can resolve the two during his leadership.
The photo above comes from this Daily Mail article on Tim Farron in March. Tim informs us that God knows every hair on our head, as the bible tells us.
Universities should not be safe places. The battle of ideas should make them free spaces.
My final year at University, one of my courses was on contemporary philosophy. We discussed Rawls, Nozick. I recall leading a seminar discussion on Dworkin while I argued against utilitarians. Feminism and abortion, Peter Singer and infanticide. Passionate arguments with people that consumed books and fired off their own ideas at each other. This is what we did before Twitter.
There is much discussion about making Universities “safe places” for students. Not inviting certain speakers, reading certain books, or freely discussing certain topics which may trouble some students’ susceptibilities.
Yet open free discussion helped me get the most out of my education. The tutorial and seminar system developed an ability to stand up for your arguments. Years before I felt comfortable discussing atheism with family, I could here. Talking as an equal though from a state education with a class full of privately educated students.
I remember seconding a debate society discussion on morality – not wearing a suit. Quite sacrilegious. I explained this was not a moral failing on my part, but I made the choice to buy books over attire thus was skint. Clothing ourselves with knowledge is dressing for a civilised age. Sharpening that knowledge is to be challenged, to be forged in the fire of heated debate.
Do not garb students from debate by wrapping them in cotton wool, so depriving them of the world of ideas that they can sharpen their teeth on. There are opponents and enemies to be had. The ability to discern who they are is a vital life skill for University students to develop, and how to challenge them. They do not need to be sheltered by those choosing on their behalf who they are for them. It is a form of control no one should want – one should want to fly rather than live in a cocoon safe from the monsters whose ideas we need to know how to slay.
To be an active citizen is to wage eternal conflict in the body politic. There will be people – groups and individuals – that want to change things in civil society. Knowing who to shrill for and who to counter has an impact beyond imagining in the corridors of power we never get to walk down.
We need articulate, determined citizens to fight the good fight in civil society with a megaphone or a keyboard, rather than with violence or repression of others voices. Not shrinking violets that are concerned with how they feel about the jousting, the back and forth of political discourse. There is too much at stake not to play the game, let alone not know how to play it well.
Students need to be taught how to think, stand up for themselves, develop a self-worth. They need to know there are many ideas out there and how to critically assess them.
University is not a safe place. It is a dangerous place, where ideas from different cultures and history will come at you. Do not hide students from political, philosophical or religious arguments.
Arm them to do the battle of ideas in the global communication age safely. This needs to start way before university.
Anything less than that, is to betray their education.
The above discussion from last week features Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Brendan O’Neill and Simone Rodan. The event was organised by the Central Synagogue in London in conjunction with the Henry Jackson Society.