Monday, November 23, 2015

Lord Pearson's memorandum

About ten days ago I wrote about Lord Pearson's Memorandum, Shall We Talk About Islam?, and promised to put up a link as soon as there was one. It is now up on the website Can We Talk About Islam? and you can read find either through that site or just go directly to the document here.

This is a paper for discussion and people are encouraged to respond. Should any of this blog's readers want to do so on it, they are very welcome to do so. Obviously, courteous and rational comments are more welcome than the other kind. In fact, anything truly courteous and rational will be passed on to the authors.

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson has also been active in the House of Lords, as have a number of those pesky unelected members. On November 17 a Statement was made in both Houses about the G20 meeting and the Paris attacks, which took in various measures that HMG is proposing in order to deal with the problem of Islamic extremism that all too often leads to terrorism. It is probably worth reading the whole Statement and the subsequent debate. Naturally, these are only proposals and none of us can predict with any accuracy which, if any of them, will be implemented.

Lord Pearson asked:
My Lords, in that vein, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to inspect and shut down any educational institutions which teach Islamist intolerance and, I presume, violence. Can the noble Baroness confirm that this policy will include all evening madrassahs and, indeed, our mosques, where so much of the poison is spread?
To which HMG in the form of Baroness Stowell of Beeston replied:
My Lords, it will include any establishment where this kind of extremism — non-violent and violent — is being pursued. We can no longer tolerate a situation where it is okay for somebody to espouse extremist views and stop short of inciting violence. Because of that, we are committed to taking all necessary steps. As the noble Baroness said a moment ago, we have to ensure that people are not in a position where they are influenced by or attracted to this kind of ideology, which is so damaging and dangerous.
I am not quite certain what is meant by non-violent extremism but, as I said above, we shall have to see what is actually achieved.

There is no virtue in doing without things that are unavailable

Some time ago I wrote a blog about the ridiculousness of claims that the West is more materialistic and, therefore, somehow less virtuous than the old Communist system was.
Let us look at the argument: at least they are not obsessed with materialism and consumerism. To start with, what is the basis of Communism and Marxist Socialism but materialism, dialectic or otherwise? The whole political ideology, the whole basis on which state and society are to be built, purport to be materialistic, discarding religion, spiritual entities and "empty" intellectualism. Not only were the ideas discarded and banned, their proponents and practitioners were arrested, exiled, murdered or forced to convert to the worship of Materialism. Socialist Realism from which the artists in this exhibition fled one way or another is the glorification of materialism in art and its apotheosis heralded (or was meant to herald) the trampling down of all non-realist, non-materialist expression.

So much for the underlying ideological basis of Communism. The problem was that it could not provide the material goods that materialism promised to all. While theoretical materialism remained a good thing, its practical assumption had to become a bad thing since it did not exist in the workers' paradise. In particular, it had to be pronounced as bad by Western supporters (at a distance) of that non-materialistic materialist workers' paradise as they could not hide indefinitely behind the lie that consumer goods in the West were available to very few people. In fact, there is an odd correlation between growing contempt for consumerism and materialism and the wider spread of the actual goods.

Were people in Communist countries really not interested in consumer goods? Were they heck. No-one who has ever lived in those countries especially the Soviet Union and managed to communicate with the indigenous population can forget not just the queues for goods that might appear or might not but also the obsessive discussions of what might be available and where, what might be acquired at home or - blissful idea - abroad.

In Soviet cities directions were given by shops. Get off the bus at such and such a shop, turn right, walk to another shop, then right again and it's the second entrance. That sort of thing. Naturally, one had to ask the driver where such and such a shop was, which would cause great excitement on the bus: why were you going to that shop? Was there anything being sold there?
There is another aspect of the question that I recall explaining to a few people who talked rubbish about consumerism was one I recalled when reading a book entitled Medieval Tastes by the eminent Italian historian of food and food culture, Massimo Montanari. (One cannot spend one's entire time on the EU and Russia.)

In the chapter on monastic cooking (a fascinating subject) Professor Montanari discusses the question of fasting and ascetic rigour, explaining:
It should immediately be made clear that deprivation does not mean absence. On the contrary, one can only deprive oneself of that one has, of what one is accustomed to having: "privatio praesupponit habitum", Rabelais ironically remarks. On this, monastic culture is in agreement: there would be no value or merit in a renunciation that was obligatory in some way because of circumstances; it is necessary to renounce an available pleasure so that the choice acquires value and meaning. 
There is no virtue in eating nothing but cabbage and potatoes by way of vegetables with pickled cucumbers and tomatoes in the winter if the shops have no other vegetables.  This would be a virtue if people, say all those people who are advocating the consumption of nothing that is not local and seasonal, did it by choice. I have noticed that they do not ever do so; I have also noticed that as soon as it became possible in former Communist states to eat a more varied diet people immediately started doing so. Of course, they still pickle and salt cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms for winter but I do that quite often as well, adding jars of chutney and other home-made preserves. I happen to think they are better to eat than most shop-bought stuff but the important thing is that it is  my choice to do so.

Well now, which of all the economic systems that have existed throughout history in the world has made the making of those choices possible?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Baroness Morgan gets her Amendment through

Yesterday was the first day of Report on the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Lords. I have not yet read the Hansard record right through but anyone who wishes to get ahead of me, it is to be seen here. However, I do know that Baroness Morgan, whom I already described as being quite exceptionally stupid did put her Amendment to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote to the House and carried it (Col. 180), 293 to 211. It is absolutely necessary to give those children the vote, according to her,"[t]hey will have to live with the consequences of the result for longer than anyone". Well, not anyone, surely. If we assume that they will all live longer than anyone who is old enough to be in Parliament now and anyone who votes in the General Election now (something of a stretch) then we have to assume that 14 and 15 year olds will live even longer with the results and 12 and 13 year olds even longer than that. Why not give them the vote?

Just to recap, if this Amendment is accepted by the House of Commons, which seems unlikely, we shall be giving the vote in this referendum and no other election to people whom we do not consider to be old enough to buy alcohol or tobacco, old enough to decide whether to continue with their education or old enough to be interviewed by the police without a responsible adult present. In fact, apart from having sexual relations we do not consider them to be old enough to make any decisions on their own since even joining the army can be done only with their parents' or guardians' agreement.

Possibly that is why Baroness Morgan and her cohorts are so anxious to give them the vote - they are not old enough to make a decision for themselves so are more likely to be influenced by the pro-EU garbage they hear at school. That may be a miscalculation but in the meantime we are left with a constitutional mess thanks to the Labour and Lib-Dem parties' anxiety to increase what they perceive to be the pro-EU electorate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What François did next

There is not much one can say about les événements on Friday in Paris that is not being said by many people in various forms. Immediately after President Hollande had spoken about an attack on the French state I wondered out loudly (i.e. on the much derided social media) whether he was now going to invoke NATO Article 5, which would be somewhat ironic, given France's historic ambivalence about that organization. To date he has not done so. Instead he has called for a meeting of the UN Security Council and has vowed to step up French attacks on ISIL. He has also proposed to extend the state of emergency for another three months and introduce some very sweeping reforms into the French Constitution. At present the only concrete proposal he has made is to have the right not to allow back "French citizens who also hold citizenship in another country ... if it's believed they are connected to terrorism", in itself not a very radical idea. What of French citizens who do not hold another citizenship but have gone to fight with ISIS?

I saw some discussion of whether France will invoke Article 5, mostly on the part of Americans who were wondering what President Obama's response will be if that happens, given his less than stellar performance at various press conferences since Friday. There is also a discussion of the alternatives in the Jerusalem Post. My own opinion is that, given France's ambivalent attitude to NATO throughout its history, Article 5 will not be invoked.

I wrote that yesterday but thought I'd not post till today though I did spend some time on other sites arguing just that - France will not invoke Article 5 as they will not want to have NATO fighting the battle.

Today it is clear: President Hollande is trying to use the EU though most probably he will require American fire power at some stage. But not through NATO. Oh no. That is not at all what France wants to see.

EurActiv tells us that France 'at war' inaugurates EU mutual defence clause, the one whose purpose it was to supplant NATO in defence matters. After all, who wants to be told endlessly that it was not the EU that kept peace in Western Europe all these decades but NATO, US troops and the nuclear umbrella?
President François Hollande said he will invoke the European Union's ‘mutual defence clause’ for the first time to combat the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, betting on EU support over NATO in the country's fight against the Islamic State.

Speaking on Monday (16 November) during a joint session of both houses of parliament in Versailles, Hollande said that "France is at war" and that the jihadist group is “not only an enemy of France but an enemy of Europe”.

Following the killing of 129 people on Friday (13 November), Hollande said that France is committed to “destroying” Islamic State.

In a surprise move, he told lawmakers that France will invoke article 42.7 of the EU Treaty during a meeting of EU defence ministers on Tuesday (17 November). The article “provides that when a state is attacked, all member states must bring their solidarity to address the aggression”, Hollande reminded.
Quite what that solidarity will consist of is not clear at this stage but it will be a famous victory (perhaps). It is possible that the various arrests that are being conducted in connection with les événements in Germany and Belgium and, soon, in other countries will be described as an example of Article 42.7 at work.

The story is picked up by EUObserver who also say
"The enemy is Daesh," he said, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State group.

"We shall not just contain it, but destroy it," he said, adding that France will "intensify its operations" in Syria following Monday's raids.

Hollande also wants to build "a large and unique coalition" against the terrorist group.
A coalition of the willing, in fact.
He announced that France has asked for a meeting and a resolution from the UN Security Council.

He also said that he will soon meet US and Russian presidents, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, "to join our forces and reach a conclusion that has been too long overdue."
Does that mean that the sale of Mistrals will go ahead after all?

So, not NATO but the UN Security Council and the EU with American and Russian lifting power and France in charge.

There are also reports of NATO and EU promising to work together though why that should be necessary, given that the EU member states who are likely to do anything are also members of NATO is unclear. But it makes everyone seem important.
NATO and the European Union must work closely to prevent more attacks like those in Paris, the head of the Western military alliance said on Monday, underscoring the risks of unconventional warfare such as cyber attacks and radicalism.

European officials are struggling to provide quick answers on how to counter the threat from Islamic State and other militant groups at a time of falling defense budgets, the lack of a common EU security policy and an overlap with NATO.

"We will redouble our efforts and work even more closely ... to counter the rise of extremism, which can inspire such horrific attacks here at home," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Speaking alongside EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Stoltenberg said NATO and the EU could no longer afford to develop parallel policies towards similar ends. They should work together "hand-in-hand".
This is not the first time France has tried to use a crisis to undermine NATO, push forward the EU and position herself as the lynchpin between Europe, the US and Russia (it used to be the Soviet Union). This time the stakes are very high, especially for France, who experienced the second organized terrorist attack in ten months.

Monday, November 16, 2015

But it's Brexit that pitches us into the unknown

The world goes on despite the horrors in it and, to  be fair, this decision was taken by the members of the Toy Parliament on the 12th that is a day before les événements in Paris. One of the biggest arguments of the europhiliacs is fear of the unknown - Brexit will plunge us into outer darkness and bring back the ten plagues that had been  inflicted on Egypt ... oh sorry, I seem to have been carried away. Well, anyway, if not the ten plagues then many other bad things and, above all, UNCERTAINTY. Life is full of uncertainty and so is politics as long as it is more or less free and democratic. (Actually there was not that much certainty under Stalin either but that's another story.)

What we say in return is that there is absolutely no certainty about staying in the EU. The recent crises, first the eurozone then the migrants, have been described as  being more or less existential for the European project but they happened. Could they have been predicted? To some extent yes; in detail no. That's just the way it is.

More to the point, the EU is always on the move - it is not a stationary project but an evolutionary one and, should the people of Britain vote to stay in, they will speedily find that once again they were in something they did not vote for.

That brings me back to the Toy Parliament.
MEPs endorsed a proposal on electoral reform Wednesday (11 November) that would have citizens vote for the EU Commission president and Europe-wide party lists in 2019. If member states sign up to the idea, the reforms to the 1976 EU electoral law would mean the EU-wide "top candidates" for the Commission presidency would have to stand in the European Parliament election.

MEPs voted by 315 votes to 234 in favour, with 55 abstentions, on a proposal designed to strengthen the European character of the EP elections.

“The European Union today, and the European Community back in 1976, are two different worlds. Europe has changed. The world has changed. The European Parliament has changed dramatically. We needed to change this law,” Danuta Huebner, a Polish centre-right MEP who co-wrote the report, told press Thursday.

The idea is for citizens to have two votes, one for national lists of candidates and one for an EU-wide list of European parties. Leading the European lists would be the candidates for the presidency of the Commission.
The chances this will not go through or not this time. But it is there, on the agenda, and it will not be mentioned by those who assure us that staying in the EU is knowing exactly what we sign up for. EU-wide party lists? Hmmm.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Other news from the House of Lords - 2

Meanwhile, Lord Pearson of Rannoch is conducting his own campaign, which consists of two aspects: firstly, it is time we started talking about Islam seriously and without fear and, secondly, the moderate or anti-extremist Muslims should be drawn into that discussion. The campaign has not advanced very far as yet but it is moving forward slowly.

On November 5 (one wonders whether the powers that be recognized the appropriateness of the date) the noble Lord had a Starred Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their counter-extremism strategy, they will encourage a national debate about the nature of Islam, including whether the Muslim tenet of abrogation remains valid today.
Sadly, I have to report that the brief debate that followed the Question was not on a particularly high level, consisting largely of statements disguised as questions about how shocking and divisive such a suggestion might be.

While this blog agrees with the notion that the state has no place in organizing religious debates and discussions, the Question refers to "encouragement" rather than "organization". There are many debates going on about major and not so major religions and nobody thinks that they are divisive. Why exactly should Islam be excluded?

As to why it might be a good idea to include such a debate or discussion in the "counter-extremism strategy", it would be hard to deny that the terrorist threat we face at the moment is tied in with certain groups in the Muslim community. For that very reason the many other Muslims should have a chance to take part in such a discussion and distance themselves from the extremists, their supporters and propagandists and not just the terrorists.

As it happens, I do know that there are many Muslims in this country who are actively fighting the good fight and they are not given nearly as much support either by HMG or by the media, especially not the BBC, though they are often in real danger.

Lord Pearson has also, with the help of a couple of experts on the subject, produced a paper, entitled Shall We Talk About Islam?, which, I am assured by his office, will be on-line very soon. As soon as that happens, this blog will link to it. In the meantime, let me quote the introductory paragraphs:
Have you noticed that when we try to discuss Islam, we are immediately accused of stirring up religious hatred or of being Islamophobic bigots etc? But we can say what we like about any other religion?

We are surprised by how little our friends and acquaintances know about Islam, which contains perhaps the greatest threat facing our Judaeo-Christian civilization.

So here is a memo on some of the basic facts about Islam. It may be controversial, but we hope it will encourage a long overdue national debate.
What follows is a number of points about Islam and the Qur'an, with references to the accepted texts.

The memo has been sent to members of the House of Lords and to Opinion Formers with a suggestion to the Guardian newspaper, in particular, given their previous attacks on Lord Pearson that they preside over a serious debate. It does not have to be the Grauniad. Any other media outlet could do it.

Other news from the House of Lords - 1

Indeed, there are many other subjects that are debated in the Upper House but I neither can nor want to follow them all. It is, however, time to turn to something else apart from the EU Referendum Bill to which I shall, no doubt, return.

Baroness Cox's Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill is back in the House. I mentioned it in the past here and here. That time it did not go beyond the Second Reading so I did not do a further direct report. I also mentioned it here and wrote:
At the heart of the Bill is the need to make it legally clear that Arbitration Tribunals are not law courts, that there is only one legal system in this country and that an alternative system, which discriminates against women must not be allowed to exist, let alone flourish.
This is absolutely vital for our understanding of what is going on. Arbitration Tribunals in themselves are a reasonable addition to the legal system (though if any qualified lawyer will explain that they are not I am prepared to listen and maybe accept arguments) but they must stay within the framework of English or Scottish law as, let me add, Beth Din courts do. Sharia Tribunals are steadily encroaching on family and criminal matters and claim the right to use traditional Sharia instead of English or Scottish law. Their intention is to create a legal apartheid and separate as many of the Muslim community as they can from the rest of this country and society. Then there is a question of inequality between men and women and between Muslim and non-Muslim in Sharia law, which is wholly contrary to our laws.

Since that time the Bill was reintroduced into the House at every possible opportunity but did not get very far. But the times, they are a'changing. Among the various counter-extremism proposals the Home Secretary, Theresa May mentioned Sharia courts, deemed unacceptable, and promised to tackle them. There will be a commission set up to study the subject, which sounds like an excellent idea until we ask ourselves who might sit on that commission. So far we do not know.

Generally speaking, no Private Member's Bill in either House gets anywhere unless there is a fair wind behind it from HMG. Looking at the Second Reading that took place on October 23 one can begin to see two developments: HMG is definitely more favourably inclined and there are some strong voices on all sides that are supporting the Baroness Cox.

The one voice that sounded against it was Lord Sheikh's (Col. 892). He did not do particularly well and was later told by Lord Kalms (Col. 898):
I heard all the explanations given by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, previously and I reject them completely. I think that the noble Lord stands for views which are totally incompatible with ours in this country. 
Here is Lord Sheikh's attempt to explain certain peculiar features of Sharia law that, he insisted, no Muslim wants to substitute for English law. It just happens to be used in Sharia courts into which those Arbitration Tribunals have developed. I may add that the noble Lord's explanation of niquah leaves something out.

All religious establishments have an agreement with the civil authorities, which involve them to carry out civil ceremonies at the same time as religious ones. The Church of England, as the national church is automatically enabled to do so. The exceptions are numerous mosques that are not registered for this and, therefore, the nikuah, the religious ceremony, has no civil validity. This is not, as Lord Sheikh implies, a choice taken by the couples in question but a simple matter of omission and ignorance especially on the part of the women, many of whom do not realize that they are not married in law and have no rights as a wife. (Yes, I know all the arguments against state involvement in marriage and am sympathetic to them. But, at present, it is involved and those who remain outside that because of the activity of their religious leaders are at an enormous disadvantage.)
Some Muslims have an Islamic marriage, known as a nikah, without also having a civil wedding. Ideally, I would like to see imams performing a nikah only after a civil wedding has taken place. We should perhaps look at the possibility of amending the Marriage Act 1949 to address this issue. Having said that, if an imam receives a request to perform a nikah without a prior civil wedding, it is imperative that he emphasises to both husband and wife the drawbacks of a nikah-only marriage.

Many couples choose to cohabit without getting married and we do not pass any judgment on them—nor should we. More than 3 million couples in this country are cohabiting at the moment. When a nikah takes place, a contract is signed between the man and the woman containing the terms and financial obligations of the marriage. Under Islamic law, a man can divorce his wife by stating this. If a woman feels that her marriage has broken down and that they should divorce, she can ask the man to divorce her. If the man refuses to divorce her, she can approach the sharia council and petition for a divorce to be issued. It is therefore essential that there are sharia councils that she can approach for this to take place. I believe that all Muslims should be encouraged to use the already- drafted Muslim marriage contract, which perhaps needs simplifying.
Apart from his economic approach to the truth about nikah, the noble Lord obviously finds it a little difficult to confirm equality in Sharia law. The man can divorce his wife but a woman has to ask her husband to divorce her.

Lord Sheikh did not go unchallenged, notably by Lord Carlile of Berriew, described as one of Britain's top legal experts and a man who knows a thing or two about fighting for real human rights, as well as Lady Flather, a delightful person with an outstanding collection of gorgeous saris but one whom you challenge at your peril. I feel that the blog will benefit from the entire exchange (Col. 893):
Lord Carlile of Berriew (LD): I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. As a matter of fact in sharia law, if a man wishes to obtain a divorce, does he have to ask his wife first, before he approaches the sharia council?

Lord Sheikh: No. Under sharia law he does not have to do that. If sharia councils make unfair decisions, these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I feel that there must be a mechanism to deal with such cases and that we should put in place an appeals procedure.

Baroness Flather: Is the noble Lord saying that there is equal treatment of women and men under sharia or is he saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct? I am not sure; I think he is saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct and proper. However, is there not discrimination against women?

Lord Sheikh: It depends on what the noble Baroness means by discrimination.

Baroness Flather: I see that the noble Lord has not found that out yet.

Lord Sheikh: That might be amusing to the noble Baroness but it is not amusing to me.

Baroness Flather: It is not funny to me—I am a woman.

Lord Sheikh: I will continue. In the same way as sharia councils cannot claim to make legally binding decisions, some religious decisions have no place in English law.
Lord Sheikh does not come out well.

Other speakers emphasised the importance of having just one legal system for all in the country, a system in which all are treated equally and individually. Let me recommend the entire debate to people.

You can also follow the progress of the Bill and other related developments and discussions on Equal and Free.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Renegotiations and the House of Lords

First things first: the EU Referendum Bill has gone through Committee, with the third day of it having taken place on November 4. First day of Report is scheduled for November 18 and several Amendments (mostly the ones that were not moved in Committee) have been put down already. So far, the only Amendments added to the Bill are ones moved by HMG in the person of Baroness Anelay of St John's, which raises the rather perplexing question of why have those Amendments been left to this late stage. Could it be that some of these matters did not occur to HMG until the Lords started going through the Bill with some attention to detail? Just a thought.

Yesterday was taken up with David Cameron's letter Donald Tusk, a.k.a. President of the European Council (only one of several Presidents the EU has, which shows how superior it is to the USA that has only one President). There were also statements in both Houses and the one in the Lords together with the short debate can be read here.

No, I don't know either why it is headed Europe: Renegotiation when the statement, quite correctly referred to "the Government's EU renegotiation". Baroness Morgan of Ely, former member of the Toy Parliament and present Opposition Whip and Labour Spokesperson on Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs as well as Wales (she can say a few words in the language) tends to talk about "Europe" rather than the EU. Then again, one of the interesting aspects of the debates on the subject (and there will be many more) is just how stupid the woman is. Having once debated with her in Cardiff, I knew that but it is good to have it confirmed. To be fair, even I underestimated her stupidity. Just read her reply to the Minister and you will see what I mean.

There are, as we know, problems with the PM's proposals, particularly this one:
We propose that people coming to Britain should live here and contribute for four years before qualifying for in-work benefits or social housing, and that we should end the practice of sending child benefit overseas. The Government are open to different ways of dealing with these issues, but we need to secure arrangements that deliver on these commitments.
A number of people have commented on it, mostly pointing out that it will need a treaty change and a major one at that.

On the whole, we can ignore statements by Baroness Morgan for the Labour Party (who is still proposing to add 16 and 17 year olds to the voters' list but not, apparently, 14 and 15 year olds) and Baroness Smith of Newnham for the Lib-Dims, who are seriously over-represented in the House of Lords. Effectively they are saying that their parties will campaign for staying in, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations might be. That is not a rational attitude.

Let us turn to someone who can actually punch hard in debates, Lord Lawson of Blaby (Col. 1949):
My Lords, the Statement we have heard runs the full gamut from the inadequate through the vague to the completely meaningless. I ask my noble friend two quick questions of elucidation. Under economic governance, the Statement concludes that any issues that affect all member states must be discussed and decided by all member states. Does it mean that legislation in this area must be agreed by all member states? If not, what on earth does it mean?

Secondly, under sovereignty, the Prime Minister’s letter to President Tusk states that he would seek a formal, legally binding and irreversible way to exempt the United Kingdom from the commitment to ever-closer union. But since the rest of the European Union is committed to ever-closer union, and since the European Union will continue to legislate to this end, what on earth does that achieve?
Indeed, the ever-closer union is written into every treaty's preamble since the one of Rome all those decades ago.

The Minister's response was so disappointingly vague and woolly that I see not point in putting it up here but it is there in Hansard for all who want to read it.

The question of how many EU citizens claim benefits here and what those are, in-work or out of work remains unanswered despite attempts by Baroness Ludford to obfuscate an already foggy issue. Of course, the benefit system needs to be reformed for everybody but I doubt if the noble lady would agree with that, being of the Lib-Dim persuasion and another former member of the Toy Parliament.

Nor were as Lord Garel-Jones's incomprehensible comments about red card, yellow card and subsidiarity particularly impressive. The whole shebang is pointless, really. You can have any amount of coloured cards, they will not restore legislation to the national parliaments. But I do have to report one victory. After many years of campaigning by Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke (who had asked a Question about Basic Farm Payments earlier in the day) to make former European Commissioners declare their interests there seems to be some movement in the right direction. At any rate Lord Clinton-Davis said (Col. 1952):
I speak as a former commissioner in Europe. This debate is outrageous. We ought to be discussing not how we are going to withdraw from Europe but how we can play a part in ensuring that our voice is heard. At the moment, it is not, because the Prime Minister is being ambiguous—we do not know where he stands. He will not say whether he is for or against. What is vital is how we make our views heard, not how we can withdraw. We should not have this attenuated debate, but a real one about the all-important issues. At the moment, that is being denied to Parliament, and that is wrong.
Without making it a declaration of interest, which it is, he does point out that he is a former Commissioner in Europe though, of course, it was the European Union. I suspect the noble lord finding the debate outrageous is quite useful from our point of view.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch raised a couple of important points (Col. 1453):
My Lords, I ask the Minister how seriously the Prime Minister takes his belief, according to the Statement, that if powers do not need to reside in Brussels, they should be returned to Westminster? Does the Minister think the Prime Minister understands that this requires the breaking of the acquis communautaire, the one-way ratchet to complete union? Surely that will require unanimity. It will require treaty change. I suppose the real question is that if the others do not agree this revolutionary concept in the project of European integration, does that mean that the Prime Minister will campaign to leave?
The Minister has promised to write to Lord Pearson on the subject and that is something to look forward to. Interestingly, the Statement left open the question of which side the PM is likely to campaign on. We all assume that he will proclaim whatever he gets a great victory and campaign to stay in but by suggesting that he might not do so he has presented himself as a man of political flexibility and also of real principle. (Stop laughing at the back.) With the Opposition shouting that they will campaign to stay in, no matter what, this is a useful image to project.

We Will Remember Them

I was trained to be an historian and was, in any case, brought up in a family where dates of various kind and age mattered a great deal. While I do not think we should spend all our time remembering and living in the past, I do think that a country or a society that forgets its past, forsakes its future. We must try to overcome the mythology but we must also remember, at least, once a year.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Yes, Amnesty International is campaigning for the retention of the Human Rights Act

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a poster campaign I noted on London Underground, Act for the Act, a seemingly independent (though not exactly so, as I pointed out) campaign to retain the Human Rights Act. I ended my posting with the words:
My own suspicion that it will not be long before the likes of Amnesty, an NGO as well as a quango, become donors and participants in the campaign. At the very least they will start using it for their own purposes. In fact, their campaign has started already though the Amnesty name is in small letters at the bottom of the page. We must all look for those small letter at the bottom of the page in various supposedly charitable but actually political campaigns whether they are to save the HRA or affirm the UK's membership of the European Union.
I have written about Amnesty International before, pointing out, as have many other people that the organization that was founded for the purpose of helping "prisoners of conscience" long ago lost its way. Calling Guantanamo "the nearest thing we have to a Gulag today" and describing an Iranian film about the stoning of a young woman merely sensational shows that it has become what many of us in the seventies and eighties suspected, a completely left-wing organization. Its campaign against capital punishment, regardless of whether it follows a free and fair trial, is irrelevant to its original purpose and its recent campaign for abortion in Ireland is outrageous, regardless of one's views on abortion (no, I am not going to discuss it so don't bother). It's not as if there was a shortage of prisoners of conscience across the world.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that Amnesty International, a soi-disant charity but, in fact, an NGO, has joined or, to be quite precise, started the fight for the retention of the Human Rights Act because, apparently, without it "universal freedoms turn into privileges for a chosen few". I assume Amnesty International and its "talented" research staff know nothing about the history of this country and have not bothered to read the various carefully argued articles on the subject such as this one by the eminent legal expert, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky. (Here is his own site.) Oh wait, the article was published in Standpoint, a right-wing monthly journal. Can't read that, if you work for Amnesty International.

Inevitably, the NGO in question conducted an opinion poll and found that there was "No appetite for scrapping Human Rights Act". Actually, what they found was that the overwhelming majority of those they asked did not think it should be top priority for the government, which is not quite the same thing. Also, we are not talking about an out-and-out scrapping, which implies an abolition of the fairly old concepts of freedom and human rights but a substitution by a separate Bill of Rights. It might work or it might not and that is something that needs discussing. But I do object to this dishonest political campaign by a taxpayer funded organization.,

On the other hand, I caught sight of a short article on the subject in today's morning freebie, the Metro, which told me that the ubiquitous Charlotte Church and the actress Juliet Stevenson are among celebrities who are opposing the "scrapping" of the HRA. That settles that, then, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky or Charlotte Church on the subject? You decide. Wait a minute. There is a name missing. Where is Benedict Cumberbtach? Don't tell me that he has not made a statement or given an interview yet. Panic over: just found this. Phew! And who better to speak up for the HRA than Vanessa Redgrave, life-long supporter of Trotskyites, left-wing tyrannies and terrorists?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Student demonstrators today, masked marchers tomorrow (though I doubt that prediction of 1 million very much) but life goes on and the EU Referendum Bill is making its way through the House of Lords. Today is the third day of Committee and the debate is going on as I write this and it can be watched here.

Second day of Committee was on Monday and the debate can be read in Hansard here and here. So far, none of the Amendments have even gone to the vote, let alone passed. There are still two days of Report to come and then the Third Reading. So far as I can remember, Amendments can be presented at the Third Reading (unlike the Second) but it seems a little unlikely. It is possible that the Bill will be passed without any alteration, as it came from the Commons. In that case it might receive the Royal Assent before Christmas. If there are Amendments and it has to go back to the Commons then it is unlikely to be law before next year.

Either way, an April referendum, which is what some people are predicting (probably the same ones who were predicting a referendum for 2014) is unlikely and that is just as well from our point of view. I cannot understand why any Brexit supporter should be calling for an early referendum. We are not nearly ready, no matter what these people say and the opinion polls may be moving in our favour but not particularly fast and not particularly evenly. Relying on the migrant crisis is not particularly sensible as, by itself, it will not turn the electorate or not enough of it. So, let us hope that the referendum is not till 2017 and let us use the time sensibly.

Here is one suggestion: the House of Lords Select Committees produce excellent, well-argued Reports. (One of my most entertaining sessions on the BBC Russian Service was explaining that Parliamentary Reports from either House can be and often are critical of the government. I have never managed to find out how that went down in Russia.) The European Union Committee and its various Sub-Committees are well worth following. This July, the Select Committee produced a Report entitled: The referendum on UK membership of the EU: assessing the reform process. The intention is to produce a number of reports on the subject as matters progress.

At the end of the introductory chapter we find this:
6. Given the range of views within the House and across the country that will be expressed in the referendum campaign itself, this report does not recommend whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU. Nor, although we have borne it in mind in our deliberations, do we address the European Union Referendum Bill, introduced to the House of Commons on 28 May 2015. It is not part of our remit to scrutinise domestic UK legislation.

7. Rather, this report is designed to inform members of the House, and the wider political audience in the UK and the EU as a whole, of our views and concerns at this early stage in the renegotiation process. It sets out our assessment of the mechanics of the process. It also sets out our intended approach as negotiations continue. Although Chapter 3 of the report touches on the policy issues pertaining to the renegotiation, it is not intended to express the Committee's considered view on these issues. The Select Committee, together with its six Sub-Committees, is likely to analyse the proposed reforms in greater detail in the coming months.
The emphasis is mine. Let me recommend those words "and the wider political audience". Let me also recommend this and future Reports on the subject to that audience.

Unimpressed is what I am

So anyway, there I was outside Parliament when I realized that I could not either walk up Whitehall or get a bus because of another demo. A noisy demo but reasonably well organized and very well policed, followed immediately by City of Westminster street cleaning teams. A wise precaution several of us, spectators, agreed.

What was it about? Well, it was about there not being "free" education for university students, which is, according to the demonstrators, their absolute right. One of my co-spectators suggested that we should march for free shoes and I offered to join her. As it happens, I do need some shoes rather desperately and preferably before it gets any colder but, alas, I am expected to pay for them. How unfair is that?

The slogan that was being shouted in unison (more or less) was "We Deserve A Future, Too". That alone makes me think that these are not people who should go to university unless it is to do media studies. Anyone who thinks that a future is something optional that people either deserve or not deserve is clearly not capable of any kind of clear thinking, even allowing for the fact that most (not all) of them were in their late teens.

They were carrying various posters, which had been handed out to them by some well organized and well funded group, probably not a million miles from the Socialist Workers' Party. There were hardly any hand-written posters of banners, which meant that they were at least correctly spelled.

What made the whole set-up slightly curious was the fact that among the various demands for "Grants Not Fees", "Free Education" and "Tax The Rich" there were a number of large banners demanding "Free Borders". How did that get there, we wondered. More to the point, do these children understand that if we open the borders to all comers there will most definitely not be any money for what they choose to call "free" education?