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Sorry for the down-time

By admin
July 29th, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Comments Off on Sorry for the down-time | Posted in Uncategorized

It seems like you kids just can’t get enough of us. Due to going over our limit, this blog went down at the end of last month, and yesterday too.

Thankfully we’ve given them a shed load’a cash to stop this happening again, so fingers crossed.

Thanks for your patience.


GUEST POST: Jon Gower Davies on “hate crimes”

By admin
July 21st, 2010 at 12:30 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Book Review, UK Politics

After and over the best part of 400 years we in Britain managed to construct a relatively free civil and civilised society in which religious and secular life could flourish in public and mutual agreement and disagreement, vigorously and occasionally scatologically critical the one of the other.

Now, however, this public debate has been circumscribed by classifying such argument and such difference as expressing little more than ‘hatred’, a new criminal offence: And, alerted to a looming illiberality by a series of ‘hate’ laws relating to race, religion, gender, age, and physical disability and by the ludicrous ambitions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, all freedom-loving people would be well-advised to check on the legality of their public utterances before they make them – hypocrisy being the best policy.

In our new publication, we show how, in pursuit of ‘hatred’, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service destroyed the free speech and independent existence of two ordinary citizens of Liverpool, a story pregnant with implications for all of us. When messrs Cameron and Clegg get round to their promised ‘Bonfire of the Banalities’, then the laws relating to religious hatred in particular should be the first into the flames.

As these two bold politicians told the House of Commons in June 2005, these laws ‘disproportionately curtail freedom of expression, worsen community relations as different religious and belief groups call for the prosecution of their opponents, create uncertainty as to what words or behaviour are lawful and lead to the selective application of the law in a manner likely to bring it into disrepute’. Our book looks to demonstrate how true this is.

Jon Gower Davies is a former lecturer at the University of Newcastle and former Labour Councillor on Newcastle City Council.

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GUEST POST: Rights for Bigots?

By admin
April 7th, 2010 at 8:00 am | 21 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Liberal Democrat member Andrew Mayer gives his thoughts on Chris Graylings recent comments:

Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s unwise comments on access to Bed and Breakfast accommodation, where he suggested (based on a recent news story) that as private homes, owners were at liberty to bar gay couples, although he did not believe the same was generally true for private businesses in general, shines a much overdue light in this campaign on the differences between liberals and social conservatives. It raises questions about Grayling’s personal judgement. It highlights how much and how little the Cameron has changed the Conservative Party. But it is also a good example of the complexity of the discrimination debate.

For many liberals this is a very easy issue. You don’t have a right to discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexuality, anymore than you do their race, gender, age or any other inherent characteristic of who we are. Your religious views are irrelevant on this matter. Equity trumps opinion and preference. Religious views are choices. There is no difference between allowing Christians to refuse to serve homosexuals than allowing racists to refuse service to minorities. Both are morally reprehensive positions to the vast majority of us who believe in fair treatment. That some social conservatives like Grayling still do not get this, is a timely reminder why there are still many economic liberals who won’t support the Conservatives.

Grayling has made himself look foolish on a number of other counts. He characterises B&B businesses as extensions of private homes. They’re not, they’re public businesses like hotels, only smaller. There is no sensible distinction between the two. Does a man standing to be Home Secretary not understand the law? Second why raise this issue shortly before an election? Surely a front-bench politician understands there is no such thing as a private meeting and that the last thing the Conservative election strategy needs is a debate about their commitment to equal rights?

This is not the first time Grayling has embarrassed his boss. Last October he characterised the appointment of General Dannatt as a Labour election gimmick (yes, but it was a Conservative one), and caused deep irritation. Cameron is well aware how vulnerable he is to accusations that the Tories have not changed, and the more his colleagues allow themselves to look mediocre (Osborne), out of touch (Grayling) the more that narrative will gain traction. Having said that, the Conservative party 30 years ago would have very angry with Grayling for suggesting even private hotels should be forced to take in homosexual guests. In that regard his views are evidence of change, albeit limited.

So a politician of a different political tradition proves fallible and disappointing… plus ca change…

There is thought an underlying issue here that is more difficult and interesting. Most of us are against discrimination in principle, but very few of us are so entirely against all discrimination in all circumstances to the point of calling in the law.

We don’t for example generally believe people should be prosecuted for denying people access to their own homes on the grounds of their own bigotry. For example a homophobic parent refusing to let their son’s boyfriend stay the night, or racists preferring not to invite their black neighbours around for dinner. Such examples of intolerance may make us angry. We may find the behaviour ignorant, and seek to influence it, but we do not see it as a matter requiring prosecution by the state, unless actual harm or incitement to harm is involved.

We tend to hold this view as we can see a difference between the public and private spheres. In the public sphere non-discrimination is an absolute, in the private, providing no other rights or laws are being infringed, it is a choice. Where opinion is highly varied between different moderate traditions is where these spheres begin and end. It makes for interesting dividing lines between conservatives, liberals and libertarians.

Conservative thinking, by which I mean socially conservative, respects tradition, community institutions and deeply held views. The state should not interfere with religious freedom unless to prevent great harm (not getting to sleep in the B&B of your choice would not count as great harm). The collision then between gay rights and the right to practice your religious beliefs can be difficult for many Conservatives, but not all.

In the libertarian tradition the private sphere is large and dominant. Some extend it to all activities by privately owned businesses as well as individuals. The market should be left to judge the rights and wrongs of discriminatory practices, not the law.

In the liberal tradition discrimination is both a form of market failure and an impingement on basic liberties deemed more important than the right to conduct private business in the way you choose. It is a market failure as toleration for bigotry can actively prevent new markets forming. The ‘queer pound’ cannot be exploited if all gay activity if forced underground. Ethnic restaurants cannot flourish if staff cannot get accommodation. Cultures that permit extensive discrimination generally permit sub-cultures of harassment and victimisation against minorities, and worse. It is anti-meritocratic and a waste of human potential. The right to fair treatment matters more than the right to practice private prejudices.

Socialism has a somewhat polarised and inconsistent track record in relation to discrimination. Passionate advocates for equal rights on the one hand, class warriors on the other. Sexist golf clubs, elitist and wrong… working men’s clubs, essential parts of the community. Defend free-speech… but no platform for racists. Individual socialists have done a lot for the progress of human rights legislation, I’m not sure the same can be said generally of socialism.

UK law as it stands favours a liberal interpretation but reflects something of all the traditions.

If the B&B in question had defined themselves as a private member’s club for Bible-believing Christians and they had more than 25 ‘members’ they could not have discriminated against a gay couple wishing to use the club services by residing there. 25 or less and they could. If they had defined themselves as a religious retreat they could have discriminated regardless of numbers.

Such distinctions would not apply if the discrimination were racial, that is not permitted.

If the B&B were only for women or only for men that would be permitted, if it allowed both but let men have special treatments denied to the women, without reasonable grounds that would not.

The law in that regard is complex and evolving. The latest Equality Bill, should it pass into law, will tighten up what constitutes disability discrimination. But this article is about the principle. How far should the private sphere be permitted to extend?

Personally, with a bias towards the liberal arguments set out above, I favour quite a small private sphere in this matter, but also a degree of pragmatism. In the B&B case the owners can be tried under the law, and that law is right. But I would have little problem with the owners advertising their B&B as “run by Bible-believing Christians according to God’s teaching”, in which case the incident might not have occurred… Or activists would be checking in every week to make a point and test the mattress springs, but that is the owner’s risk if they want to bring their exclusive preferences into their work.

Such passive signals of prejudice, preference, or pragmatism exist already, whether union jacks on pubs, rainbow flags on clubs, or the ratio of cubicles to urinals in football stadiums. So should we care if the result of this case is a crop of cross symbols next to the stars across a number of B&B businesses in the south? I suspect not, but we’d care deeply if “no dogs, no gays” signs were erected. And that would be illegal under current law .

Further to make bigot rights a matter of pure property rights is I think a libertarian blind-spot, and bad economics given the opportunity cost. All markets have rules, and non-discrimination in service provision strikes me as doing more good than harm.

Are the troubling nuances in this liberal position? Yes. Would I be happy for example if some B&B’s started advertising themselves as for “admirers of David Duke”, and decorating their bedrooms with iconography of the KKK. No I’d be profoundly uncomfortable. But no act of discrimination has actually taken place unless someone non-white checks in and is treated differently and badly. Preventative actions, like the successful attempt to force the BNP to accept non-white members don’t I think do much to prevent discrimination, but do create perceptions of victimisation, which can be counter-productive.

In conclusion Grayling’s political judgement was off, religion is not an excuse for discrimination, and nor is living in your place of public business. As a contribution to the Conservative’s electoral strategy, it’s been about as helpful as a Unite strike to Labour, or the NUT praising our education policies to us. Cameron again looks vulnerable in his choice of a top team.

Is the law as clear and consistent as it could be, no, but it’s better than it used to be, and it’s clear in this case. Are there any great principles at stake that should encourage Liberal Democrats to wish to tighten the law further or enlarge the private sphere. I don’t think there are, and in this case our best contribution would be to encourage, if possible, pragmatic reconciliation and understanding between aggrieved parties. That ultimately is the path to tolerance, not rights for bigots.

Good Luck from Liberal Vision!!

By admin
April 6th, 2010 at 1:41 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Liberal Vision would like to wish all Liberal Democrat candidates and campaigners the best of luck in the General Election!!

And to get us started a few words from Nick and Vinnie:

GUEST POST: The Era of Laissez-Faire?

By admin
February 1st, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Comments Off on GUEST POST: The Era of Laissez-Faire? | Posted in Economics, International Politics

klein_06_smallOne of the established memes about the financial crisis is that it demonstrates the failure of unfettered capitalism, the dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire environment that prevailed in the West over the last few decades, all driven by the ideology of “free-market fundamentalism.” This seems to be a truism among most of the Commentariat. Of course, as pointed out repeatedly on this blog, the truth is virtually the opposite: there was never any “deregulation,” the Bush Administration spent public money like a drunken sailor, and government continued to expand as it always does. But a picture is worth a thousand words, so try these on for size. (US data; click charts for sources.)





One response I sometimes hear is “Sure, there are more regulations and more government spending, but the set of things that should be regulated and the amount of government spending the economy needs are growing even faster!” This is essentially the Krugman-DeLong view about the stimulus: it just wasn’t big enough. Or they say that financial markets were “deregulated,” de facto, because the number of regulations and regulators increased more slowly than the number of new financial instruments and new markets. I wonder, though: are these falsifiable propositions? No matter how big the government is, if there are any problems, it’s always because the government isn’t big enough!

This post is authored by Peter G. Klein, an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri and Adjunct Professor at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration. He usually blogs at Organizations and Markets, where this post first appeared.

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