Monday, 30 April 2012

Mayoral election is Hobson's choice

This Thursday sees elections in London for both the Mayoralty and the London Assembly (not that most people have the faintest idea who sits on that body, nor its powers). It does, as is often the way in British politics, appear to be a fight between red and blue, with the other candidates some distance back.

I freely admit that, last time round, I voted for Livingstone as my way of hoping Boris J wouldn't get in. It left a slightly sour taste in my mouth, but I viewed him as the lesser of two evils. It's all very well being a likeable buffoon, but it should be remembered that the position of Mayor of London carries considerable power and influence and should perhaps not therefore be given to such an individual. I suspect that his election was, in part, a reflection of how unpopular Livingstone was (and is).

The fact is, though, that this time round, given the lengths Ken seems to have gone to to make himself appear even more the bumptious git, it feels impossible to vote for him. He's moved his opponent to screaming apoplexy with supposed 'lies' about his financial affairs and generally behaved in the worst traditions of smear politicians everywhere. I simply don't know whether I'll have it in me to vote for him when I come to stand in the booth on May 3rd.

What, then of the others? Boris? No chance – like I said, the fact that his old-school affable idiocy makes for good telly does not make him a viable option as a candidate. The best that can be said about his period in office is that he doesn't appear to have done much long-term damage. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

That leaves Paddick. For personal reason, I can't and won't vote Lib Dem. Those of you who know me will probably know why. So he's out.

Green? No - she has absolutely no chance of winning, and no clear statement on policies for anything. Their candidate's only election strategy seems to be to utter the word 'sustainable' as many times as possible, without actually having to outline any actions that may be taken, or ruling out any that may not.

BNP? Christ no. They should be congratulated for managing to persuade an immigrant to stand for them, but you've got to wonder whether the bloke's actually got a grasp of their own policies. The BNP may have a chance of an Assembly member with the voting patterns of certain deprived parts of London, but if they ever have a London Mayor, I'm off to Spain.

UKIP? More dangerous than the BNP in their way, because they're not known as racists and have, unlike Griffin's lot, the ability to speak faintly articulately. The evil which presents a public face of harmlessness is the most worrisome of all. I'd sooner vote Raving Loony. (Where is the Raving Loony candidate, by the way? I sincerely hope they're not disappearing from our election screens - they're the only ones who truly show up politics for what it is).

Then there's the half-dozen independents, of whom Siobhan Benita seems to have garnered the most attention. They really do have no chance, and I worry about any independent's lack of political experience. Have they the connections to grease the wheels? It's also difficult to garner any real appreciation of their policies when they're so excluded from the mainstream media.

Where, then, does that leave me? This is probably the first time in my adult life than I'll enter a voting booth with a genuine desire to write 'none of the above' on the damn slip. I'm not going to abstain from voting, I've always railed against doing such a thing, but part of me thinks that 'no winner', given the likely terrible turn-out, should be declared. If no candidate can be considered to have a mandate from the voters, perhaps the role should be mothballed and the powers handed to the Assembly until a candidate people actually feel able to vote for emerges.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

In defence of the sesquipedalian

Will Self is one of my modern-day writing heroes. A man who can drive you to a dictionary to make sense of one of his pieces of writing (a fact I regard as a good thing, given that it's such a powerful learning tool), and who is one of the very few people I've read who's used 'callipygian', one of my favourite words ever, in his work. He's written a piece for the Beeb website defending not only his own use of these words, but bemoaning the fact that he needs to make that defence.

He rightly points out that this is one more symptom of the dumbing down of our culture, one more piece of evidence of the overwhelming need for immediacy, even in reading these days. The idea that looking up words is somehow a chore is anathema to me, and to Will Self, fortunately. He's one of those people holding up the barricades against that tide of atrophy, a little flashing buoy in a huge, dark sea of ignorance. I offer him my fullest approbation. (Yep, looked that one up...)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Carey's comments show scant regard for modernity

George, now Lord Carey, was criticised in some quarters for being a bit soft, and a bit unwilling to speak out, while he was Archbishop of Canterbury. Now speaking as a 'free' man, and a sitting peer, he's happier, it seems, to give free rein to his mouth.

He's spoken out in an interview with the Telegraph about what he sees as an erosion of Christian values and rights in an increasingly secularising society, complaining about a legal ruling in favour of the removal of prayers from the start of council meetings, and leaping to the defence of the guest house owners I've already written about in these pages. He's also complained about the treatment of a Relate counsellor who lost his job for refusing to counsel same-sex couples.

His comments on these cases basically amount to a call for Christians to be able to be free to exercise discrimination, while at the same time complaining about the fact that they themselves are being discriminated against. This apparent contradiction does not seem to occur to him. "This inability to find a way to accommodate the sincerely held beliefs of someone like Gary McFarlane creates a tyranny," he claims. So, if Mr McFarlane, the Relate counsellor in question, believed through his religion that he couldn't counsel mixed-race couples, or couples comprising a Christian and a Jew for example, would that be OK too? And of the B&B owners, he says: “I want to protect their freedom to take that line.” The same question must be asked there - can they refuse admission to mixed-race or mixed-religion couples too, if their religion demands it? Where is the line drawn?

A religious belief is not a licence to discriminate against people because they don't fit some ideal lifted from a several-thousand-year-old holy book, however genuinely held. He goes on to talk about his grandson Simon, who died of a suspected drug overdose. I don't know if the Telegraph article is trying to tell us that Carey is implying that securlarist culture is to blame for this poor lad's death, but he seems to forget as he laments the 'slippery slope' that 'led to his death' that his God is supposed to be the one who makes all these decisions, and takes us when it pleases Him. God calls us to Him in ways we are not meant to understand, but his grandson's death was all about a secular society giving him easy access to drugs? I can't personally reconcile the two concepts.

Whatever drives his 'call to arms', whether it's the very real and human grief he must be feeling or merely the freedom of expression he's now got since his retirement from the Archbishopric, he simply has to accept the way our society is going. This is a dam which is being asked to hold back more and more pressure, and if it isn't modified, it's going to fail. Work with modern society, and the Church still has a place. Fight against it and the marginalisation of faith will only continue, and possibly even accelerate.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Modern heroes

A splendid chap by the name of Darren Groom has struck a blow for common good manners with a simple act which has brought him to the attention of the Beeb. This short item shows a man who was trying to serve people good coffee but, through their own inconsideration, was finding himself unable to do so promptly and properly. So he's decided that, if you're on your mobile while you try to place your order in his shop or at his coffee stall, he will not serve you.

Now anybody who knows me well will immediately recognise a story which will have me nodding vigorous agreement, and this is one of them. This chap is in the vanguard of what I hope will become a backlash against the sort of anti-social, savant behaviour exhibited by some people while they use these things, clamping them onto their ears like some kind of electronic limpet, enslaving themselves in the process.

Mr Groom, I salute you.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Easter messages

A pleasant Easter weekend, featuring my 41st birthday (what a dread phrase that is), passed by with much chocolate and occasional football, and a very pleasant evening in the pub on Good Friday night. But let's not get all positive and happy about this, when there's perfectly infuriating stuff to write about from the same weekend(!) There is always, at Easter, the Pope's message to get worked up about. During his visit to Britain some time back, I wrote about the anger his speech in Hyde Park had prompted, during which he complained about people viewing religion as a matter of choice. Well, this Easter he's again let us all know that this opening of eyes as the years pass, the awakening within people that they do have a choice in whether to follow the Church or not, is clearly a Very Bad Thing.

Apparently, his Holiness thinks we're all in 'darkness':  "The darkness that poses a real threat to mankind is the fact he can see and investigate material things but cannot see where the world is going or whence it comes, where our own life is going, what is good and what is evil."

Well, I think I can tell what is good and what is evil, but I know I can tell what's tosh. That word 'material' is particularly misleading. He should perhaps have said 'physical', but that wouldn't have carried the negative connotations he wanted. We can see and investigate the universe almost back to its beginnings, and are beginning to pick at the very strings of reality itself as humanity starts trying to understand quantum physics. It may indeed be true that plenty of western kids grow up thinking only about material things, but that doesn't mean the entire human race is in darkness. And those western (and other, of course) cultures are also producing the sort of minds which are working to understand the nature of the universe itself. If we are in darkness, it's only because we're such a young species and are only just beginning to light up some of reality's gloomier recesses.

The Church, of course, doesn't see it that way. But I find it mind boggling that an organisation which clings to an anti-condom message, in an age where AIDS is ravaging parts of Africa, for example, and which teaches the concept of original sin, and still prevents women from joining the priesthood, has the gall to tell non-believers like myself that we're the ones in darkness. The automatic fear of God, and the thrall in which that enabled all the Churches to keep ordinary people, has largely gone in many western cultures. People's eyes are open, not just to their choice in the matter of theology, but to their right to question religious dogma which can be far out of touch with many of the societies they purport to serve. Is it any wonder, when some of the messages coming out of their Churches' highest offices are so apparently antiquated, that people are secularising?

As always, while I entirely respect the views of an elder, I'd respect them more if they came from an elder who had not lived out most of his existence within he strictures of a religious ideology. I don't mean this disrespectfully, but I don't think an 84-year-old man who hasn't lived outside the Catholic church since he was a child can teach me anything about how to lead my life in the early 21st century. I genuinely believe that lights are going on all over the place, banishing the darkness of the Church, not the other way round.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

News coming out on April Fools' Day should always be treated with suspicion, but just occasionally, you get one that's so bizarre it has to be true. This story, of the latest Government plans to be able to monitor email and web communications on an individual basis, without first obtaining a warrant, is nothing short of scandalous.

Labour were bad enough in office, eroding the ability to protest peacefully where they didn't like it, and stamping down so hard on dissent within their own ranks that they resorted to using security guards to physically remove a pensioner from their conference because they didn't like his t-shirt. They were, though, unable to push through the sort of powers which we see proposed here because of very strong opposition, not least from the Tories.

Those same Tories evidently see things differently now they're in office, but don't see the contradiction between their position now and their position while in opposition. These powers, though we'll doubtless see them implemented in some shape or form, wouldn't be out of place in some dystopian, Orwellian vision of our own future. To say they're an infringement of civil liberties does not even begin to describe them – they sound like some nightmarish foundation work for the building of some future police state. It's not common to hear a senior politician within government openly dispute a policy, but David Davies has done exactly that, which is a measure of the discomfort that even some of the senior Conservatives must be feeling about this.

Imagine you were writing a thesis on religious extremism, or the effects of terrorism on democratic policy – you may very well visit websites which could then draw you to the attention of the authorities for entirely the wrong reasons. Then there are those who could be exposed, for example, for cheating on their partners. Wrong, of course, but not illegal, and a private matter for those involved to sort out. There will, inevitably, be cases where people suddenly find themselves under suspicion and possible surveillance when they've done nothing wrong. Allow this to happen, and where will it end? Exactly how much of our lives should they be privvy to? Will we soon all be compelled to open our post for the inspection of government officers, just in case?

The defence of the case by a spokesman is particularly unconvincing: "It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public," a spokesman said." Err, they already can. If there's genuine need to monitor email or internet activity of somebody suspected of, for example, terrorist activity, then that can already be achieved without alerting that person by using the existing legal framework.

There will be opposition within Parliament and hopefully from the Lords. In a move of extreme daring on their part, the Lib Dems' Chris Huhne has even suggested there needs to be 'a balance', so we could also see some signs of life from within the coalition's erstwhile sleeping partner. It's only to be hoped that there will be sufficient resistance to these proposals that they at least be watered down, and at best be scrapped.