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Labour’s (kind of) cockney collapse continues

By Julian Harris
July 15th, 2009 at 1:15 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

A defection from Labour has put the Lib Dems on a record high of 21 councillors in Waltham Forest, according to Neil Woollcott’s blog.

Last week I commented on the Labour in-fighting in the slightly-more-cockney Barking and Dagenham, and accusations of racism in the slightly-more-Essex Waltham Forest.

As Labour falls deeper into turmoil, will this become a common tale in constituencies and councils throughout the land?

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What part of my life dont they want to pontificate on?

By Angela Harbutt
July 15th, 2009 at 12:38 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

metal plasticine manI am not sure where I have been for the last six months but I have somehow missed the “change4life” campaign. By accident I caught one of the ads on TV last night telling me that our kids should do 60 minutes exercise a day (featuring a very spooky “Morph” type character and an even spookier sounding kid doing the voice over).

A bit of research and I realise I have missed an entire series. Now, I can see why the Whitehall boys think that we need to be told to get our kids off their lazy backsides and go “do something” active. I can hear the argument …..the cost of the campaign=X (comparatively trim figure), compared to the cost of treating lots of obese people=Y (huge lardy figure). 

But this is just relentless. I am being bombarded now with commandments from the holier-than-thou anonymous men in suits. I must think! about motorcycles when out and about in my car; watch my alcohol units;  eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day; be on the constant lookout for salt sneaking its way into my diet; sneeze into a paper tissue and not touch anything until i have properly disinfected myself; find myself a “flu-buddy”; stop smoking; start exercising; accept that if I dont switch off my tv set at night and move to energy-saving light bulbs I will personally be responsible for global warming  the destruction of the entire planet; pay my TV licence (because they know where I live), fill in my tax return on time (ditto), ensure my car is taxed (ditto) and on and on and on….

If its not threatening its just downright patronising. As far as the government is concerned I am either an idiot or a criminal. Their mission to make me the model citizen is so zealous that the government was,by the way, the single largest advertiser in the UK in 2008.

Where  is this all leading? We have a government that clearly believes that the care and education of every child in the country is their responsibility- parents are no more than short term domestic care. As for adults, we clearly cant be trusted to do anything for ourselves.

No wonder we no longer look out for our neighbours, or step in when we see a couple of young men giving someone a bit of grief, turn our back on litter bugs, and ignore the cries from the kids next door. We can hardly be trusted to get to the shops and back so what right do we have to interfere in other peoples business? The government is using our money to turn us all into zombies incapable of thinking for ourselves. Ever reliant on the great paternalistic state that knows best. This isnt Big Bother. This is Big Daddy.

Please make it stop. It’s not just a reigning back of government spending we need, but a total curtailing of this nannying attitude. Lets expect people to take responsibility for their own health, actions and care of their kids. Enough is enough.

GUEST POST: Laurence Boyce – “Liberal Vision wrong on religion”

By Laurence Boyce
July 15th, 2009 at 12:30 pm | 24 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

schoolJulian Harris has kindly asked me to comment on the news, as relayed by the National Secular Society, that the Conservatives are planning to go full steam ahead with increased provision for faith schooling in the now inevitable event that they form the next government. Well, that’s no great surprise. Conservatives have always been deeply wedded to religious values. While some may protest the generalisation, the voting record in Parliament speaks for itself. From blasphemy to gay rights, stem-cells, and abortion, it’s pretty clear that God is a Tory; even if his only kid is a beard-and-sandals liberal.

A few months ago, I would have written yet another piece pointing out the glaring opportunity for Liberal Democrats to adopt a strong rational secular standpoint on faith schools and everything else. If Nick Clegg says the choice at the next election is between the Lib Dem and the Conservative, then a spot of secular politics could have generated a clear distinction between us – portraying them as the reactionary and outmoded bunch that most of them still are – conservative in the literal sense of that word, that is wishing to keep things more or less the way they have always been, while the public is gagging for radical change.

Anyway, we had that vote at Spring conference and totally flunked it. A motion to phase out faith schools didn’t even come close. Instead we are to bar faith-based selection for new faith schools, while allowing existing faith schools to retain their discriminatory powers. It’s all pretty academic, seeing as we won’t be in power. Back then, I had a little hissy fit about the vote and threatened to quit the party. But eventually I renewed my membership, opting for another year of holding my head in my hands – a posture I seem increasingly to be adopting with respect to party policy and the banal utterances of the leadership.

So why is the party so useless on faith schools? Well, part of the problem is you. Yes, I mean you, Liberal Vision. While the social wing of the party is far too “nice” to say anything overly critical of religion, however desperately it may need saying; the libertarian wing of the party has its libertarian philosophy to uphold – obviously. You rarely hear a libertarian suggesting that religion might be bad for the health, any more than that smoking is bad for the health. I bet if I told Mark Littlewood that the cigarettes were doing him no good, he would smoke the whole packet in front of me as some sort of political protest.

And therein lies the problem. You can’t very well make a song and dance about personal freedom and lifestyle choice, and then immediately follow this by socking someone over the head when they make a mistake. So if people want faith schools, then faith schools they must have together with everything that is insane and divisive about them – whether this be the creationist schools doing very nicely 150 years after Darwin, or the Islamic schools preaching an explicit doctrine of separation. By the way, these schools tend to obtain glowing Ofsted reports, so I just need to lie down and hold my head in my hands again for a bit . . .

The trouble is that all this much-heralded self-determination and personal freedom is largely illusory. How are we free in any meaningful sense to choose our own religion? We bang on and on about religious freedom, even going so far as to enshrine it in a charter of human rights, and yet the facts are pretty clear – in the main, people stick with the religion of their parents, with a small degree of inter-denominational movement. Movement between the main religious groupings is almost unheard of. You might be aware of someone who, having been raised an Anglican, is now a devout Sunni Muslim; but I think you also know that person to be a very rare exception.

This is not freedom or anything like it. Rather, this is the “despotism of custom” of which JS Mill spoke long ago, and faith schools help to enforce this dismal pattern of cultural determinism. Your parents are Catholic, so you’re a Catholic, and you go to the Catholic school; your parents are Muslim, so you’re a Muslim, and you go to the Muslim school; and so on. Are we serious about this? Apparently we are. It’s not so much like freely choosing to smoke against the best advice, but more like insisting on the right to blow the fumes in your child’s face. Except that faith schooling is potentially more lethal. Every time I write on this topic, violence seems to flare up in Northern Ireland just to make my point.

I support the aims of Liberal Vision. The welfare state has been a train wreck – I can say that here, right? Now that we’ve run up such a ridiculous debt, there’s surely no better time to press for a radical resettlement of the relationship between the individual and the state. And yet I always baulk at describing myself as libertarian. The reason is because I believe the libertarian conception of freedom to be faulty. It’s a conception which seems to rest unduly upon a mythical “free will” of the individual – a rather shaky doctrine, strangely required by both libertarian and religionist alike.

If we truly believe in personal freedom, then I would like to hear much more about the pressing need to free young minds from superstition and falsehood, and less about abstract freedoms which only exist in political pamphlets. Because the most important thing to understand about freedom, may well be that we don’t really possess any of it at all.

Laurence Boyce is (still) a member of the Liberal Democrats.

Mugabe’s henchmen continue terrorism

By Julian Harris
July 15th, 2009 at 11:19 am | 5 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

mugabeUnsurprisingly, efforts to form a new Zimbabwean constitution are being disturbed by ZANU PF troublemakers, according to a civil society group in the country.

The report highlights the “partisanship of the police” and “selective arrests of Civil Society Activists” while the ZANU PF terrorists walk free, tacitly condoned by the party leadership.

Progress at the constitutional conference has thus “almost irretrievably broken down.”

The future of Zimbabwe, as ever, depends on the complete fall from power of Mugabe and his clan.

My father has torn up his membership card

By Tom Papworth
July 15th, 2009 at 8:30 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

picThere are moments between a father and a child when one looks at them and is so proud that a lump forms in their throat.

So it was yesterday when my father told me that he had given up his membership of the Labour Party.

He was always a somewhat odd choice for a Labour member. When challenged, he would argue (not implausibly) that Blair and Brown were the natural continuation of Thatcher and Major, and also that the Tories had it wrong on Europe and only the Labour party could be trusted to keep us in the European Union. Being a man of his generation he remains sceptical of the Lib Dem’s prospects at the ballot box. In addition, he has always had a degree of deference for the government. Only six months ago he claimed that Gordon Brown had had a good financial crisis!

So it was with great surprise and much joy that I heard him state yesterday that he had not renewed his membership of the Labour Party, and that the reason for that was that Brown had allowed public spending to get out of control and had made a mess of taxation. Oh frabjous day!

Public spending is not just out of control. It is not just a burden on society. It is becoming a threat to our very freedom. Calculations vary, both because the government hides much public spending and because calculating GDP is not as straight forward as one might believe (the habit among journalists and politicians of talking about GDP as though it was as uncontroversial and easily calculated as one’s supermarket bill is part of the problem). However, Prof. David B. Smith (Visiting Professor at Derby University and the Cardiff Business School) has used the 2009 Budget projections to calculate that Government spending will rise to 53.4% in 2010.

As Professor Smith warns us:

• There must be serious doubt whether deficits on this scale can be financed in a non-inflationary manner;
• The rise in non-productive spending as a share of GDP since 2000 is likely to have cut the UK’s sustainable growth rate by some 1.0 to 1.7% per annum;
• Britain’s current profligate fiscal policies are more likely to lead to 1970s-style stagflation than cure the recession.

But the danger goes beyond mere economic stagnation and inevitable inflation. As the size of government grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to act freely anywhere in society. The state begins to encroach ever more upon what is left: intervention begets intervention; the state cannot tolerate divergent views; it is increasingly tempted to use its monopoly on coercion.

Sadly, we are now saddled with the Labour Debt. Taxes may have to rise (in which case I suggest a Labour Tax). If we are to enjoy freedom and prosperity in Britain we must reduce that debt as quickly as possible without stifling the productive economy. That can only be done by government tightening its belt at least as much as the rest of us have had to do. Now even Labour members are beginning to realise this truth, and accept that their own party is to blame.