Friday, March 18, 2016

Freedom of Speech rally at NUS headquarters

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Yesterday there was a rally outside NUS headquarters in central London for Freedom of Speech and against the NUS attitude towards the likes of Maryam Namazie and Peter Tatchell who have recently been treated as if they were "problematic" speakers in the NUS's now infamous "safe spaces".

The crime of these respected campaigners is to speak out about Islamism and Islamist speakers and expose their vile views (which many of their defenders like to characterise as "socially conservative" as if they were middle class church elders). About 150 people attended the demo and it was good to see support from the likes of Nick Cohen. Also present was the feminist Julie Bindel who has recently been "no-platformed" for falling foul of some other feminists and trans activists.

Many of the speakers were students who are trying to restore the principles of free speech to universities including the Right2Debate group. You can see what they are up against by reading some of their case histories here.

One issue I would have with the campaign is that they want to reform the no-platform policy rather than abolish it. This muddies the waters a bit I think. Peter Tatchell said that this was because speakers promoting violence or spreading slander should not be allowed. But there are laws against that kind of thing anyway. Groups or individuals should not be banned just because the current leadership of the NUS doesn't like them.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jessica McCallin on Cologne in the Telegraph

There's a very strong article in the Telegraph here by Jessica McCallin about the Cologne and elsewhere attacks on women by mainly Arab and North African men. The author details her experiences while a young woman in Istanbul and some of the horrendous treatment she was subject to. Having personally seen how women are treated in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries it all unfortunately rings just too true.

What is to be done ? McCallin says :
If liberal Europe wants to continue with the current level of Muslim immigration it needs to have an urgent debate about how much cultural relativity it is prepared to tolerate. It needs to stop clinging to the idea that “cultural imperialism” is a purely white western thing, or that to criticise aspects of another culture is to criticise all of it. We need to decide what our values are, protect them and insist that new arrivals respect them.
A excellent statement that should serve as a rallying call to rebuild the Liberal Left out of the morass of intellectual nonsense it has sunk into.

One element of the above could be amended however, as the author mentions she has has not met with the same treatment in all Muslim countries, in Sub Saharan Africa and Indonesia these problems are not such an issue. The problem is mainly specific to the culture of North Africa and the Middle East. This fact destroys the basis for the charge of racism or Islamophobia being shouted at anyone bringing up this issue.

So how should we deal with countries with this culture ? Should we single out countries in some way because we find their culture vile ? We could start with being very strong about our dislike of the policies of eg Saudi Arabia, but for a government to try to do this is problematic - look what happened to Sweden when the Foreign Minister Margot Wallström criticised the Saudis here. Wallström has not given up however - hopefully she will be seen by other governments as a beacon of change.

As for immigrants from Syria and the Middle East driven out by war, well most now see how Germany's policies of letting anyone in has been a disaster especially as many of the immigrants have been young single men. The UK's policy of only allowing in people from UNHCR camps seems like a far more sensible approach.

As to what we should do about immigrants who flout our laws and values by a backward violent attitude to women, the Germans are looking to change laws to allow deportation to be made easier :
On Tuesday, German officials outlined plans to make it easier to deport foreigners. They say the plans could be passed into law as early as next month. 
The new rules would lower the threshold of criminal offending for expulsion, allowing authorities to deport offenders found guilty of sexual or physical assaults or resisting police officers. 
Previously, foreigners could be deported only if they were found guilty of crimes punishable by a sentence of one year or more.
This sounds like a reasonable first step and no doubt other practical changes could be made in eg the education of immigrants who want to come here.

The main good thing would be of course for the Liberal Left to start robustly standing up for its values at home and abroad and to stop indulging in ludicrous false equivalences and whataboutery. There are signs this is happening at last but its been a long and frustrating road.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Corbyn elected leader - FFS

So the much rumoured disaster has happened and Corbyn has been elected Labour leader. What will happen now ?

Well having listened to his acceptance speech I really wonder how long he will last. He managed to sound vacuous and paranoid at the same time with his platitudes interspersed with railing at the media. At one point it sounded like he was ordering them to leave his family alone (no Jeremy you don't get to tell the press what to print yet). 

On that, what was he going on about ? As far as I can see all of the coverage about his connexions has been about his dodgy political friends such as Sinn Fein, Hezbollah and almost every opponent of the West you can think of. This is his political family of course, is that what he meant ? The only other member of his family I've seen mentioned is Piers Corbyn the weatherman and I don't think he's been upset about the extra publicity he's been getting.

In the Independent yesterday he said this about the criticisms of his political friends (or "personal attacks" as he terms them) :
He said they were a symptom of today's "yah-boo politics" that were part of the reason why so many people are "totally turned off" politics in Britain as he called for a more positive approach in Parliament and on the airwaves. 
Mr Corbyn told a packed-out crowd in Islington that one of the main reasons behind the consistently low turnout at elections in the UK was due to people being "totally turned off by a style of politics which seem to rely on the levels of clubhouse theatrical abuse we throw at each other in parliament and throw at each other across the airwaves."  
He added: "As nasty and unpleasant much of the stuff printed is and remains and is deeply hurtful to my wife, family and close friends, we’re not responding in any way; we don’t do that kind of politics."
Yes Jeremy being called out on the loons and far-Left types you hang out with must be most upsetting but it isn't an attack on your loved ones. In fact your responses to criticisms along these lines looks like a deliberate attempt to avoid legitimate questions.

Corbyn looked quite wound up when he was going on about the press, well I think we're going to see him being a lot more upset in future. He said today he won't be doing any interviews tomorrow (he was due to go on Andrew Marr am), is this a sign of things to come ? Its all very well putting on the noble unsullied tribune act when you're surrounded by cheering crowds its a bit different when you're getting tough questioning from journalists.

And what will happen at PMQ's next Wednesday ? The Tories are going to be welcoming him like a Messiah with gales of hilarity while most of the PLP sit like mourning statues. It could well be a pitiful affair and difficult to watch, unless Cameron decides to go easy on him to avoid looking too nasty. Even then the rest of the Tories will be howling like hyenas.

Those of us of a Blairite persuasion are just going to have to see what happens. We are truly cursed to live in interesting times.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Northern Ireland at the forefront of the free speech debate.

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

The increasingly strange media and legal environment we have arrived at in the UK regarding free speech means expressing fundamentalist religious beliefs, making off colour jokes and inadvertently offending groups of people is now a crime and/or a career and potentially business threatening move. Three recent cases from that hotbed of PC politics and hand wringing liberalism Northern Ireland perhaps bring things into focus.

1. Far-Left comic Frankie Boyle (who thinks Israel is a terrorist state) faced protests when he recently played at the West Belfast Feile festival about sundry "offensive" jokes he's made in the past about eg Downs syndrome children.

Various groups including parents of disabled children protested about his invite and called for the gig to be cancelled. (In the end however it appears very few people were actually so bothered that they turned up at the gig to protest - perhaps it was raining even harder than usual that night).

It was interesting to hear on TV some of the protesters, one of whom said she would not be able to go out in public with her disabled son if Frankie Boyle played in Belfast. This kind of personalising of remote offence, the idea that if someone somewhere is saying something subjectively offensive to me, therefore I should feel very upset is surely bizarre in the extreme. The encouragement of this kind of nonsense by our idiotic media in the pursuit of "controversies" is a social and political disaster.

2. In the "you really couldn't make it up" category the airline Easyjet was a) forced to apologise for calling Orange parades "colourful" and "great to watch" in their inflight magazine then b) asked to apologise to Unionist politicians and Orangemen for apologising (aka "demonising the Orange Order").

Now hilarious as this nonsense is it just shows what hoops businesses and organisations now have to go through in order to keep up with the perpetually offended particularly those on either side of partisan conflicts.

3. Perhaps more to the heart of the problem we have the case of Evangelical Protestant Pastor James McConnell who last week appeared in court accused of  “sending, or causing to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.” See here and here (where you can see the sermon) :
An evangelical pastor in Northern Ireland is under fire and will be prosecuted after calling Islam “satanic” and claiming that its doctrine was “spawned in hell”  during a controversial 2014 sermon that streamed over the Internet.
Now no doubt some of his words were offensive to Islam and Muslims but surely that is the point. Whenever fundamentalist religious dogmas come up against each other on basic points of doctrine about which is the right path there are bound to be clear incompatibilities and clashes. Fundamentalist Protestantism in its essence is of course antipathetic to other doctrines, not just Islam but also Catholicism. If you think unbelievers are going to hell for all eternity then you're not going to be happy until all those unbelievers are saved, which means you're going to very anti "false prophets" and other religions in general.

How far can a secular society go in allowing extremist preaching in the name of freedom of religion while ensuring the violence that can ensue does not fracture society ? The question of course has become far more important this century with the very real threat of Islamic terrorism whipped up by fundamentalist preachers but it could also be argued eg that Ian Paisley's anti-Catholic ranting in NI in the 1960's and 70's had very negative results.

Interestingly there has been an intervention in the McConnell case by a Muslim cleric from London Dr Al-Hussaini who claims he will go to jail with McConnell if he is found guilty :

"While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God.  
"For these reasons, I strongly uphold the moral right of Pastor McConnell and myself, as Christian and Muslim, to disagree about matters of doctrine and belief, and further I express my deep dismay that my fellow citizen is being subject to criminal proceedings, when at no time have any of the statements he has made incited to physical harm or hatred against anyone.  
"I therefore wish to place on the record my deep concern and opposition to the criminalising of theological disagreement, at a time when our society should in fact be fostering better quality disagreement and, in that spirit, I further undertake that if Pastor McConnell is convicted and sent to prison, I shall go to prison with him."

That's all very well but if the "theological idea" that is being expressed is a direct threat to eg gays or apostates is it OK to allow such free expression ?  And who clears up after extremist doctrinaires when their disciples have finished fighting each other ? There is a real free speech dilemma there I think but as for Pastor McConnell professing extreme opposition to Islam that is surely not something he should be in court for.

Monday, July 06, 2015

UNITE backs Corbyn for Labour leader

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

The news that UNITE have backed far Leftist Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader may have come as a shock to those who assume UK unions have a sensible pragmatic views on politics, however should this kind of extreme Left advocacy really come as a shock to anyone ?

After all UNITE is the union that has Andrew Murray formerly of the STWC as its chief of staff, a man responsible for such madness as this :
The chief of staff of Britain’s largest trade union Unite has launched a group supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. 
Introduced as representing the Communist Party of Britain, rather than Unite, Mr Murray, 56, a former member of the TUC General Council, branded the Kiev government ‘fascist’.  
Mr Murray – whose union has given £28.9 million to Labour since it was formed in 2007 – also derided Prince Charles for comparing President Vladimir Putin to Hitler, adding that he rejected ‘this focus on Mr Putin, when our enemy is at home’.

The leadership of many UK unions has unfortunately been infiltrated by various far-Left types, this is just another variant of the old Militant style infiltration that caused such disasters for Labour in the 70's and 80's. This often happens because union members are more interested in who can get them the best deal in the workplace than the wider political stances of their leaders.

Now scarily it appears that even commentators such as Luke Akehurst think Corbyn might have a chance of becoming leader. What would happen then ? What would David Lammy do ? He's the man who only backed Corbyn to get him on the ballot as he had previously raised so little support in the PLP.

This is what Lammy said when he "backed" Corbyn :
I spoke to Jeremy Corbyn last night and am pleased to have this morning nominated him to be leader of the Labour Party. While there is enough that Jeremy and I disagree on to mean that I won’t be voting for him, I believe the choice of who becomes Labour’s next leader should be made by Labour members and supporters - not by MPs.
Given the electoral disaster that Corbyn would be for Labour, if the members elected him leader (despite his lack of support in the PLP) there would be absolute chaos in the party and God knows what the outcome would be.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Labour's SNP Disaster

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Yesterday's poll which showed the SNP on course to take every seat in Scotland is a frightening one and its not clear that politicians have woken up to the implications. If Labour was to go into some sort of confidence and supply arrangement with the SNP after next Thursday it could lead to an almighty nationalistic backlash in England, especially because on current projections this alliance would only have c37% of the vote over the UK (v eg c47% for the Tories + UKIP).

In spite of this we still see support for such an arrangement appearing in (where else) the Guardian along the lines of "well who cares, the SNP are to the Left of Labour so its a good thing". But as Eric Joyce points how here the SNP have been and will continue to be all things to all men, in fact in Scotland they have shown no signs of being more Left than Labour in their actual policies, see also James Bloodworth here. Alex Salmond even once said he didn't mind the economic side of Thatcherism - no Clause 4 man he. All they are doing now is pretending to be progressive to get Scottish Labour votes, and the kind of progressive politics they have in mind is more money for Scotland from blackmailing a Westminster administration. Its a win win situation for selfish nationalistic politics.

Now it might well be the case that the Tories (perhaps because of the above prospect) actually get in again to form a coalition with the Liberals. What will happen then ? If Labour moves back to the centre the Scots may well stay with the SNP, if they move to the Left and aim to ally more with the SNP then the English backlash will again come into play.

The SNP surge is potentially a life threatening problem for Labour. Any supporter of a centre-Left Labour party can only hope that the Scots in future come to their senses and reject the SNP's nationalistic opportunism. The majority of Scots do not want independence it appears but if they continue to vote SNP they will not only be playing games with the UK constitution they will potentially be stopping Labour from ever getting into power in the UK again.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

They sure do things different over there 

This post has been cross-posted at Harry's Place

Sometimes its just a real eye opener going to another country, even one that close by and realising how parochial so much of our politics in the UK is and how little knowledge we have of other countries customs, politics and norms.

On a recent trip to Germany it was a bit of a liberation after a long drive to realise the autobahn we were driving on had no speed limit. Yes driving at over 100 mph which is an offence you can lose your licence for in the UK is legal on large parts of German motorways. There has been much discussion concerning the safety aspects of this policy (see here) but it seems there is no definite conclusion that the lack of a speed limit on the autobahn causes a major increased road fatality rate compared to other European countries (note in all countries the % of fatalities that happen on motorways is low < 15%).

Another different attitude can be found concerning the ban on smoking in pubs. In the picturesque Rhineland villages we visited we found most of the the bars ("stubes")  allowed smoking inside (not a totally pleasant experience having been used to the changed UK situation). And even in Frankfurt there was a bar with a sign outside saying “RaucherLokal” (Smokers Local) right in the city centre. Being a bit surprised about this I looked up the situation and found that indeed different regions (Länder) in Germany have different rules (see here), basically it appears that small owner managed bars are exempt in certain regions. Probably this is due to a sensible reaction to the adverse effect that the no-smoking rules have had on the bar sector and look indeed on the effect the rules have had in the UK on the pub trade.

But imagine if it was suggested that in the UK certain non food serving locals should be exempt from the smoking ban. I imagine there would be an outcry in the media with various self-important heath and safety gurus all over the media bemoaning it. And perhaps it might lead to a rise in lung cancer as indeed of course the autobahn lack of speed limit might cause more road deaths. However as with anything else the health implications of a policy are not the only factor we need to take into account in making these decisions.

In the UK these kinds of health and safety issue are nearly always bound up with discussions re cost to the UK health service as we have a fully government funded and publicly run service. But other countries are different. In Germany the service is run by private non-profit funds and insurance companies under govt regulation and nearly everyone pays an insurance premium of some kind. From Wikipedia :
Compulsory insurance applies to those below a set income level and is provided through private non-profit "sickness funds" at common rates for all members, and is paid for with joint employer-employee contributions. Provider compensation rates are negotiated in complex corporatist social bargaining among specified autonomously organized interest groups (e.g. physicians' associations) at the level of federal states (Länder). The sickness funds are mandated to provide a wide range of coverages and cannot refuse membership or otherwise discriminate on an actuarial basis. Small numbers of persons are covered by tax-funded government employee insurance or social welfare insurance. Persons with incomes above the prescribed compulsory insurance level may opt into the sickness fund system, which a majority do, or purchase private insurance. Private supplementary insurance to the sickness funds of various sorts is available.

Who would have thought it eh, a system that heavily involves the private sector in a health service, how awful. Surely Germans are crying out for the implementation of the NHS ?

I imagine that the majority of UK citizens have no idea of how other health systems work even in our close neighbours and the fact that private companies (non-profit or profit making) are heavily involved. The level of political discourse is hopeless on this issue, generally coming down to the tired old "public good, private bad" arguments that Labour still can't properly rid itself of.

These differences are eye-opening in some ways, but interesting, and as they say travel broadens the mind. Its a pity that our politicians and general public don't learn some more about how the rest of the world do things, perhaps we would have a less dogmatic discourse in the political and media arena in this country if they did.