Monday, 23 December 2013

The Forces of Conservatism versus Relativism

Conservative is a misnomer for extremists
There is nothing more annoying than when commentators refer to radicals and militants as “conservative”.  By definition radicals are not conservative.  They throw away the lessons built up over centuries and go back to the root.  So the Islamic radical rejects the wisdom of ages in Muslim thinking, that has taken on board Aristotle, living amongst Christians and Jews and accommodated real human-nature.  In the same way the political radical, whether Bolshevist or Jacobin, rejects the institutions that have evolved over the centuries, in the hope of reverting to some ideal original state of nature.

Islamic extremism has been in the public eye recently with the trial of the two murderers of Drummer Rigby, in a brutal and barbarous attack.  It is the argument of this blog that what leads to extremist evil is a subjective approach to life that rejects the shared lessons of history.  In effect the radical attempts to shake off shared values accumulated over time and assert their own opinion in the place of common values.

Thus the young Islamist extremist living in Britain attempts to define himself against the more moderate and conservative Islam of his parents.  For the extremist the wisdom of the ancestors, the building up of knowledge and tradition, should be rejected in favour of the original, pure “truth”, which happens to be his own subjective view of the truth.  In Mali the Islamist extremists set about destroying traditional Islamic art and historical artefacts. 

Just because it's your opinion doesn’t mean you are right

The real danger to Western society is not dogmatism, but the rejection of shared dogma in favour of “my opinion”.  People talk about their opinions as though because they own them they somehow possess a special validity.  Actually it is only that person’s opinion and it cannot contain the experience of generations that exists in our traditions and inherited values.  It is inevitably a partial and limited view.

It also commands no intrinsic legitimacy.  For example, one of the late Drummer Rigby’s murderers claimed to be a soldier and justified his atrocious crime in this way. He did not really belong to an existing army it was just his own opinion that he was a soldier.  There is no existing army that I know of, with commissions, paid salaries and a duty to serve a head of state that gave him such an order.  I have not heard of such a State that would give this order, outside of the conventions of war, in violation of the Geneva Convention.  There was no call from the established institutions of the Islamic faith for a crusade; only some madman in a cave in Afghanistan had unilaterally created his own violent creed.  This so-called army has been set up without legitimacy and without authority.  The murderer’s view that he belonged to an army was nothing more than his subjective viewpoint – it was only his opinion, with no authority.  He is in fact a subject of Her Majesty protected by Her Majesty’s forces that he attacked and will now be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.  Whatever he thinks, that is what the case is in the real world.

Contrast this pretend “Islamist” soldier with Drummer Lee Rigby.  He belonged to a real army that serves an actual head of state and works to defend a physical nation state, with real boundaries and a rule of law and a Parliament.  This State is a signatory to international conventions on what its army will do and not do in war.  When individuals violate these rules, they are prosecuted by the State they serve.  Drummer Rigby’s real army is a vivid contrast to the imaginary army serving an imaginary nation that his murderer claimed to belong to.

The other extremists are just as subjective
This subjectivity and idolatry of one’s own opinion manifests itself in many other ways.  We see it in the animal-rights extremists, who have set up their own warped, subjective moral code and demand that others adhere to it – a code that justifies abuse of their fellow human beings in the name of their own idea of what rights animals possess.  We see it when traitors such as Edward Snowdon, who took the view that his own nation fell short in his own opinion and therefore acted in breach of the laws of his land to reveal secrets he was under a duty to keep.  A particularly dreadful example of this subjectivity and vainglorious philosophy is of course Julian Assange, who would rather see the West’s enemies benefit and her allies suffer than put aside his own ego.

Well, the common trap that ensnares all these people together is the sanctity to which they grant their own opinions, regardless of common values and shared traditions.  Whether in the name of religion, as with Drummer Rigby’s murderers or in pursuit of some skewed political ideology as with Juian Assange, these people share the same idolatry of their own opinions.

The danger of Liberalism leading to relativism
The danger is that the West, in attempting to remain true to its values of freedom and liberty is falling into the very same trap of accepting someone’s opinion is true simply because it is held – the danger of relativism and multiculturalism.  Tolerance is the sacred value of the West, which stems from its Christian heritage.  Tolerance means not persecuting that with which you disagree, it does not mean the values of society and our culture are neutral.  Replace tolerance with relativism and the moral authority is lost.

For example, how can you argue with the Islamic extremists without any grounding in faith yourself?  It is impossible to reject beliefs as false if you yourself do not believe in truth!  The greatest disrespect to all religions is to say that they are all equally valid, which means in effect they are all nonsense and invalid; rather the truly tolerant outlook is to remain true to our Christian values and to tolerate and speak to other faiths on that basis.  Not all beliefs are equally valid, many beliefs are wrong (as manifested on the Woolwich street)– but that cannot be said without we ourselves holding to a belief in something that is true.

Conservatism is the way to counter extremism
Conservatism is about accepting that our values are handed down to us and that we are shaped by that heritage.  We are not able to reinvent a whole set of universal values ourselves as we can only have a partial view.  Reject what is handed down to us and we lose the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors.

Now that does not mean accepting longstanding injustices, but continually comparing what is with what should be according to those inherited values.  Thus William Wilberforce in light of his Christian faith opposed slavery and Emily Hobhouse fought against Lord Kitchener’s camps for the Boers.  On the other hand, the Islamist extremist, the animal-rights extremist, the followers of Assange have all lost touch with their inherited values and turned their own, partial opinions into idols.  Only conservatism, by recognising civilization is based on shared, tried and tested values, can resist this subjective relativism and act as a force for moderation and piecemeal reform.     

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Tale of Two Revolutions

In January 1649 the House of Commons’ High Court of Justice convicted the nation’s King, Charles I of High Treason and sentenced him to death.  Around forty years later Charles’ son, James II was chased out of Britain and replaced by a new King, Willliam of Orange.  These two different revolutions speak volumes about what works in terms of political reform and what makes matters worse.

The excesses of Charles I were to be supplanted by the far-worse sanctimonious-oppression that was the Commonwealth.  A judgemental, puritanical view had been taken of the real world and found it wanting.  Its solution was to tear down institutions and attempt to replace them.  The experiment did not work because it failed to follow the grain of human nature and relied on ideology.

This nation’s second revolution four decades later was pragmatic and worked with the grain of human nature.  It maintained the institutions of state, but reformed them and rearranged them to be more in balance with each other.  In the first revolution of Oliver Cromwell, Parliament and the New Model Army, Monarchy and House of Lords were abolished.  Anglicans and Baptists persecuted.  Folk traditions were stamped out.  Rather than recognise that all human institutions are maintained by flawed humans, the Roundheads seemed to believe abolition of institutions would mean human flaws could be overcome.

Parliament had learnt the second time around in 1688 that the flaws lay with the men who held these institutions on trust, not the institutions themselves.  They therefore kept the monarchy but constrained the power of the individual who filled the office. 

The argument of this blog is that the institutions themselves are natural, right and indeed Providential.  The blogger argues further that all institutions of Western, Christian Europe that are prescriptive and longstanding are legitimate in their own right.  Monarchy, Parliament, Church, nation and family are gifts handed down to us.  If we attempt to straighten out Kant’s crooked timber of humanity by stripping away these institutions we will cause that timber to splinter and shatter.  Because of the crookedness of the timber the answer is piecemeal not radical reform.  That is the lesson of our nation’s two revolutions.

This principle can be applied to the local and the domestic too.  Many families have their problems undoubtedly, but the family itself is a valuable gift to be treasured.  It is completely mad to say that because some individuals are bad and ruin family life that this means family life is itself bad.  No, it is our own flawed nature that can prevent us from living family life to the full.

Because some men are bad husbands to their wives or are unfaithful, it does not follow that the tradition of Man and Wife should be abolished, as some radical feminists might argue.  The problems are specific to the individuals and do not lie in the institution of family itself.

The answer from government and law should be to protect the wife from being disadvantaged, but not to downgrade marriage itself.  The specific mischief should be addressed not the institution attacked.  In the same way our longstanding institutions such as the Monarchy should be valued not abolished.  Our current constitutional set up means no individual could now abuse the office for the purposes of arbitrary government as James II did.

This is the lesson of our history:  When we attempted to abolish the institutions in an attempt to create a utopia we were confronted with a dystopia, where the institutions that bind us together were no longer there to hold our society together.  When we instead reformed specific parts of the mechanism of government in the Glorious Revolution we created a lasting settlement centred on the continuing institutions of constitutional monarchy and the established church.  That is the tale of our two revolutions and it is unfortunate that the French copied and took to its extreme of terror our first revolution rather than our second revolution. 


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Nostalgia is good - Progressives might not like it, but there was a lost golden age

The current political class is dominated by the ethics of vanity identified by Jesse Norman MP in his book on Edmund Burke MP as liberal individualism.  This liberal individualism permeates the thinking of the metropolitan class that has the time and money to govern the rest of us.  It is the nadir of a gradual decline in Western thinking that puts the material before the spiritual, the modern and novel before tradition, the atomised individual before society and science before religion.

On the Left we see this reductionist outlook represented in its disparaging of institutions that make up the fabric of our society, sneering at valuable institutions from monarchy to marriage.  If we are all individuals the Left says we should not be oppressed by conjugal vows or subject to a Queen.

Meanwhile the Right has forgotten its duty to conserve our institutions and has turned a legitimate institution, the market, into an idol. It regards market economics rather than values and norms of behaviour as explaining human actions.  Patriotism and faith are replaced by rational choice theory.

Things really seemed to go wrong after the wonderful scientific discoveries of men of faith such as Isaac Newton.  This great deepening of our understanding of the material world, which began as a wonder at Creation was turned into idolatry of science, where science was claimed as the explanation of all things and our institutions and traditions were only seen as valuable if they could be justified by scientific tests.

Not only was this so-called Enlightenment anti-religious it was also in a sense anti- human.  The one man who did most to pervert our new scientific understanding was that serpent in the garden of philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  At university the blogger undertook a whole module on this leading thinker of the Enlightenment and discovered a misanthrope.  He seemed to regard human interaction as leading to a destructive amour propre.  For him the human institutions that bind generations together with their accumulated wisdom were forces of oppression.  He therefore detested the society Man had built up in the light of religious faith. 

The French revolution with its belief that Rationalism independent of tradition could explain everything followed, with Rousseau as its hero.  Since then this rationalist and materialistic outlook has continued to attack tradition and faith.  It has chipped away at our social bonds, questioned the norms of behaviour that make living together possible and indeed life enhancing.

Much is attributed to the Enlightenment from individual freedom to parliamentary democracy.  England gives the lie to this.  Much of what people give the Enlightenment credit for was already underway in these Islands before Rousseau and the others put pen to paper.  Religious pluralism came about following the new settlement of the Glorious Revolution (one hundred years before France committed regicide), but this was only implementing ideas that were gradually developing following the Restoration in 1660.  Charles II’s reign might have seen reversals in the journey towards religious pluralism, but a compromise was being worked out.  It was finally achieved with the accession of William III, but not by reverting to the narrow Puritanism of Cromwell and the Regicides.

A middle of the road solution was reached without reference to abstract theory.  In good Anglo-Saxon fashion a compromise was cobbled together that allowed people to worship God true to their own interpretation of the Bible, Parliament was given freedom from Royal Prerogative and the Whigs therefore got what they wanted.  It was a compromise that worked however because it realised men live by tradition and affections not rationalist theory.  So the settlement preserved the monarchy and indeed the pageantry of monarchy.  It preserved the House of Lords and it continued with the Church of England as an established church – so the Tory affection for tradition was acknowledged too.  It recognised that while we must be free we are also social creatures who need institutions and traditions.

 Over the Channel, when abstract principles were followed rather than the lessons from history, the Terror and the guillotine resulted.  That is not to say that only the French make such a mistake.   While atheism and materialism took power by force in 1789, in the United Kingdom its growing strength has been more insidious and by stealth.  “Clever” people no longer respect our traditions.  They act as though our institutions survive by some strange accident, some oversight when we were embarked on dismantling the structure of oppression while on the road to liberty.  What they do not realise is that true liberty depends on these institutions rather than the false freedom of liberal individualism which is to be lonely and weighed down by the material world.

So people are right when they look back nostalgically to better times, because as these abstract, rationalist ideas have gradually permeated our nation more and more we are constantly losing what is life enriching. 

As we approach Christmas however the whole country returns home, casting off abstract rationalism.  Family, tradition and the Christ Child are seen again for how central they really are to our lives.  It is a return to the Merry England of carolling and wassailing, Christmas pudding (banned by the Puritans), Father Christmas, hunting (banned by New Labour), hawking and feasting.

So our resistance to the liberal individualists with their economic theories and their scientific explanations of religion begins when we wish each other “Merry Christmas”.  Certainly if we start to wish each other “happy holidays” instead, we have given up the fight. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Pointless Divorce

After over three-hundred years of one Parliament, fighting as one State against Republican France, Imperialist and then Nazi Germany, Scotland is considering whether to break the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It is worth remembering that the opinion polls consistently show a majority in Scotland wish to remain in the Union.  However, the SNP was never supposed to be able to win outright in Scottish Parliamentary elections, so Unionists recognise Salmond’s political ability and are right to be vigilant.

Perhaps what Scots find attractive about separation comes from their disillusionment with Westminster politics.  The irony is that they probably share that disillusionment with the rest of Great Britain.  The Nationalist politicians however are a more spiteful and negative crowd.  They are of the same ilk as the most sanctimonious of Liberal- Left English Guardianistas –preoccupied with minority issues and disconnected from the values and prejudices of ordinary people.

On Saint Andrew’s Day it seems right that this blog should focus on the elephant in the room, which is of course the possible end of Great Britain as a nation state.  When one actually thinks about it the decision of Scottish voters will be momentous for all of us, because if they vote for independence they will be changing all of our identities. 

We have grown up regarding the Union Jack, Scott of the Antarctic, Adam Smith, the writers Sir Walter Scott, John Buchan and Robert Louis Stevenson, the brave Highland Regiments, Scottish Royalty such as the late Queen Mother, Balmoral Castle, traditions such as the Edinburgh tattoo and Burns Night as belonging to all of us because we are British.  Scottish independence, whatever is said, will change how these things make up our identity.

Of course the factors that really held the Union together for many years were the benefits of Empire (wanderlust Scots generally being far more adventurous empire builders than the English) and a shared feeling of a common Protestant faith in the face of a hostile, absolutist and Roman Catholic Continent.  The Empire is now gone and with it the economic opportunities it brought for the Scottish.  Religion is much less of a factor in our British identity and the threat of being colonised by a Catholic hegemony no longer realistic (many might say the current threat is domination by a secular bureaucracy based in Brussels).

History might be important for the Nationalists, but it is important for the Unionists too.  The difference is that whereas Nationalists pick out specific and Medieaval examples of grievance, without looking at the whole narrative, Unionists recognise history is a story of gradual evolution.  Look at history as a whole and Bannockburn in 1314 can be put into perspective.  The Union is a history of a growing relationship and coming together.  From the joining of Monarchy when the Scottish king succeeded to the English Throne in 1603, to the Act of Union in 1707, which might count as the marriage following the century of engagement, then the ongoing and growing relationship in which Royalty and aristocracy intermarried becoming entirely British  As with a marriage, each partner showed  respect for difference, so that each nation kept its own legal system and own established church.  This is a more real interpretation of history.  In this context independence is a tragic breach of a relationship not a putting right of Mediaeval wrongs.

Scottish Nationalists are like the worst sort of Socialist who is more preoccupied with hurting the rich than helping the poor, for they dwell on ancient grievances and want to pull down the existing settlement to replace it with something ideological.  Indeed Scottish Nationalists are more Jacobin than Jacobite.

A word on Jacobitism - The last great breach between Scotland and the British establishment.  Jacobites however put their political descendants to shame.  For the Jacobites fought for Monarchy and Church – good Tory principles, against the Whig hegemony with its disregard for tradition.  Jacobites had allies in the Tory movement South of the border.  They were not simply nationalistic and resentful, they believed in the institutions this Island shares.

There is something narrow and resentful about the SNP and they just cannot seem to make the breakthrough in the polls with the Scottish public.  This is because the Scottish public are far more decent than their politicians.  A sort of spirit of Jacobitism remains in Scotland, with the novels of Walter Scott, the numbers of young men who serve the Queen in the armed forces and the respect in which the Monarchy is held – so that the Nationalists would not dare suggest a republic.  The blogger therefore believes that the Union will survive despite the politicians and because of the Scottish people.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Travesty of British Justice!

The Deputy President of Britain’s new Supreme Court, Lady Hale (who calls herself “Miss Diversity”) was one of five judges who dismissed the appeal of Christian guesthouse owners previously found to be in breach of equality law for turning away a homosexual couple from their own bed and breakfast.

The victims of Britain’s legal system, for they are undoubtedly victims, Mr and Mrs Bull, refused to allow two homosexual men to share a room.  They were of course running the guesthouse according to their own principles.  The homosexual couple were under no obligation to stay at the bed and breakfast at all.  They instead chose to victimise a Christian couple, using British Law as the means by which they bullied and persecuted them.

The couple have now had to close their guesthouse, following the controversy, which led to them being victims of vandalism and having their website hacked.  Whether one shares the views of this couple or not, anyone who has an ounce of decency or any inkling of justice and fairness must be outraged by the decision of our nation’s most senior judges.

There are of course different interpretations of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.  For example, some believe Saint Paul’s unequivocal condemnation is actually an attack on forms of pagan licentiousness, rather than condemning two people of the same-sex being in a long-term relationship.  To read Scripture as condemning all forms of homosexuality is not however to adopt some strange or absurd reading of Scripture – it is a pretty straightforward response to the text.

Since the Glorious Revolution we have nurtured a political settlement that is based on pluralism of denominations and the acceptance that people interpret the Bible differently.  This attack by our legal system on people acting in accordance with their beliefs as to what the Bible says is an attack on liberty of conscience and religious pluralism.  How can we claim to be a Christian country when this sort of injustice has occurred?

Of course, some will argue that it is all very well holding your own beliefs, but in terms of offering a service to the public, one should not discriminate against members of the public who live their lives contrary to your beliefs.

Well, a guesthouse is surely not quite the same as selling goods in a shop.  The guesthouse is in that grey area of being a private home offered up as a public house.  Surely there must be sensitivity towards people’s scruples when the house in which one is choosing to stay is their house?

People are not homophobic if they object to same-sex couples sleeping together in their own home!  They have every right to bar people from anything in their own homes.  The blogger believes that right over your home should also apply to your guesthouse.

Miss Diversity as Lady Hale calls herself, claims that Mr and Mrs Bull’s offering of separate rooms to the visitors in their own guesthouse was “an affront to their dignity as human beings”.  Actually the real disrespect was shown by the homosexual couple, when they made demands as to what they should be able to do on someone else’s property.  We hear a lot about discrimination and equality legislation nowadays; there is a much older principle our judges should remember and that is:  “An Englishman’s home is his castle”! 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ring-fence Defence of the Realm

Of all areas of Government spending, defence is the one area that suffered during the years of Labour mismanagement.  Despite fighting two wars at once, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Government continued on a peacetime budget, stretched our armed forces to breaking point and failed to honour the military covenant.  This disastrous approach led to the defeat in Basra and the British public’s dramatic change in its view of foreign intervention – whereas once most of the public saw Britain as a force for good when it intervened militarily abroad, after Blair’s foreign adventures, the public no longer seems to believe that we will intervene for the right reasons or make things better when we do intervene.

Whether this failure by the Exchequer to fund our forces in the frontline had anything to do with the Chancellor’s hostility to a prime minister so keen on exercising the Royal Prerogative to send our troops abroad and as a means of spiting his political rival cannot be proved.  In all other areas of public expenditure Gordon Brown was profligate in his spending of taxpayers’ money and government debt.

With the election of the Coalition Government we have seen drastic defence cuts as part of an overall policy of reducing the large deficit incurred by Labour.  Sadly, as defence saw serious under-funding during the Labour years this means that in effect the defence budget is being hit harder than other budgets, particularly the NHS, which saw lavish spending under Labour.

Of course with our aging population there is a strong case that the NHS should be exempt from spending cuts.  On the other hand, with recent scandals in the NHS it is also clear that spending large amounts of money on the health service does not necessarily ensure a better service for the patient.  Of course, it does expand the number of people working in the public sector, who thereby need government expenditure to remain high to keep them in work.

There is something slightly difficult in trying to justify why departments that did very well out of Labour should receive special treatment when defence is in real terms being hardest hit.  While defence expenditure is not a means of creating or protecting employment, it is very troubling to see those who have risked their lives for us being made redundant.  With regard to the impact of cuts on dockyards such as Portsmouth, while it cannot be argued that money should simply be spent to keep the workforce in work, it can be argued that it is not in the national interest to lose skills that may be necessary in the future.

Meanwhile, the undoubtedly politically-courageous policy of ring-fencing international aid has been zealously adhered to.  It is a courageous policy because it would clearly be very unpopular in a recession to spend taxpayers’ money on poverty abroad rather than at home.

Of course the British public are rightly generous when emergencies such as the recent disaster in the Philippines occur.  Indeed it is right that in such an exigent situation Government money is spent as a means of relieving the suffering of our fellow humans.  That is not the sort of international aid that the British public distrust.  They rather distrust regular payments of their tax money to countries with expanding economies and corrupt governments.  One would have to move in very rarefied circles indeed to believe that such a policy would be popular.

Ring-fencing international aid was therefore no election gimmick.  It is rather a clear foreign policy, which aims to influence by so-called soft power and to head off problems such as anti-Western terrorism by paying money to countries that dislike us.

The British public has less reservation about defence expenditure and the reason is perhaps that
defence of the realm is the first duty of the State.  It is a public good, which cannot be provided by private companies for profit.  It works as a result of an altruistic concept of patriotism. 

It is unlike other public services in that it is not about delivering a service to each of us as individuals, but all of us as a nation.  It cannot therefore benefit from an internal market, whereas other public services can often learn from some aspects of the market.

Defence expenditure is paying for an insurance policy against unforeseen threats.  While the Government no doubt identified important new threats through its strategic defence review, when threats become manifest they have often been unforeseen.  Would we have necessarily forecast the invasion of the Falklands as a threat, when we were more worried about a nuclear Soviet Union?  Would we have foreseen the threat of Islamism?  Judging by the State’s tolerance of Islamic extremists who fomented discontent, hatred and sedition in the 1990s, probably not.

So while it is regrettable to see such a drastic reduction in our professional armed forces (with the Army shrinking by 20,000 men) and a planned reliance on the amateur (in the best sense of the word) element of the TA, it is also worrying.  With Ship-building ceasing at Portsmouth, no aircraft carriers until 2030 and the cutting back of regiments such as the Royal Fusiliers, Britain seems to have embarked on a change in its historic role that has even worried the United States.  This could be as serious a turning point as our withdrawal from the East of the Suez Canal.

The Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is an honourable politician.  For example, unlike many politicians, he took a principled stand on the issue of same-sex marriage.  One of his greatest skills is his business acumen.  It is important that he remembers though, that the Armed Forces do not operate like a business, but according to older values.  Cost-cutting is necessary across departments, but defence is the department that should be cut least.  Changing Britain’s world role must be about our national interest and values, not just the bottom line.  


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lifting the Veil on Modern Culture! Some reflections in the wake of Sir John Tavener's passing

With the passing of Sir John Tavener there has been much coverage of his explanation of where he received inspiration from and how he was able to create beautiful music.  The fuel for his talent was he believed his religious faith – and words such as “inspiration” and “create” have particular resonance for those with religious faith.  It is also very interesting to note that Sir John Tavener’s work was both modern and popular – usually mutually-exclusive adjectives where classical music is concerned. 

Sir John’s spiritual background was rich – he began life as a Presbyterian, but spent time adhering to both Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

Sir John  said:  “I think I’ve been very lucky all my life because the writing and the faith seem to go together.”

The point is of course that the late Sir John’s music was beautiful and we can all appreciate beauty.  It sometimes seems as though today’s artists and composers try to avoid beauty and distrust popularity.  There is a strange snobbishness against beauty – this blogger however is a simple soul and believes that the point of art, music and poetry is beauty.

It is the argument of this blog that Sir John achieved beauty, which led to a broader cross-section of popularity, because of his faith, which gave him a profound understanding of objective truth.  The danger for many modern artists is that they have gone down the dead end of subjectivity.  In fact they make a virtue of subjectivity!

Surely though, this is exactly what art should avoid – it should rather bring us closer to the truth if we are to share a common appreciation and all be inspired in response.  Subjectivity can sometimes risk becoming self-indulgent; following the truth is an act of selflessness.  Was it not subjectivity that the Old Testament prophet in part condemned when he spoke of each going their own way like lost sheep?

It is often commented that religion at least gave us great works of art.  Well, I would have thought that by definition religion leads to great art, because it leads us to truth and there is a true form of beauty that is not subjective (to paraphrase Keats).

Richard Wagner commented that the atheist cannot produce art.  Indeed, Sir John Tavener found his ability to compose greatly inhibited when he had a crisis of faith.  Speaking of this he said:  “When I became ill . . . I became conscious for the first time, the religious zeal I had before, I found had gone, but so had my ability to write music.  It was about three years without anything, I just wanted to lie in a darkened room.  And then the faith came back in a different way, with writing.”

The question that is begging is how can the atheist be inspired?  Well of course he can be inspired, even if he does not identify the source of inspiration.  It seems to the blogger that the trouble is that the artist will find his own subjective outlook gets in the way.  Much modern art seems indeed to regard subjectivity as conferring authenticity on creation.  Well we are all individuals and have something unique to say of course.  The danger is that once we start making an idol of our own talents and ideas then we become inaccessible to others and are no longer able to communicate beauty.  And that is not something to feel superior about!

What Sir John Tavener gave us were works of music that were a result of his own individual talent and personal outlook interacting with a shared concept of truth.  That is why he was able to achieve popularity with his modern music.  Surely to be authentic and popular is the aim of all creative people, because you thereby speak to many more people about the truth you wish to impart.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

In Memoriam

At this time of year, as the evenings draw in and nature goes into its annual decay, we spend time remembering.  The leaves are falling and the migrant birds have flown. In terms of festivals the Christian Feast of All Saints or All Hallows is preceded by Hallowe’en and succeeded by All Souls.  All Saints being a time when we remember the elect who went before and are now in Heaven, on Hallowe’en we traditionally try to ward off the evil spirits and on All Souls we remember the departed.  The veil between this world and the next seems at its most thin.

It is also a time of year when we remember the survival of our institutions of Monarch in Parliament on Guy Fawkes’ Night and in burning the eponymous effigy, we attempt the re-enactment of extirpation of menace from the Kingdom. We are exhorted to remember the fifth of November.  We remember again on Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day those who have fallen in defence of these Islands.  With the centenary of the Great War next year, there will be much remembering of the young men who died for us in the trenches.

It is a time of year when elderly relatives who are unwell or frail often sadly pass, as the weather turns colder.  For many then there is a personal remembering of departed loved ones.

So at this time of year we are most conscious of the past and the eternal.  We remember the cloud of witnesses that surround us in Heaven.  We remember those we miss too.

At such a time, when those who went before feel so close, we sometimes realise that the past is not another country to misquote Harold Pinter, but the same country.  People lived on the land where our houses now sit.  People before us looked at the same hills on the horizon.  For many of us our own relatives lived in the vicinity or the same country for centuries before now.

As Housman wrote:

“Then, ‘twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.”

There has been a constant stream of events linking us all the way back.  Ancient Briton, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Viking and later migrations all were gradually absorbed.  We are all therefore connected to the past and while it does not define us, there is no breach between us and our forebears, but a continuous stream of people and events.  That is why traditions and institutions that bind one generation to the next are important for a nation.  If we lose the sense that we are linked with those who went before, thinking only the novel and new matters we become shallow and lose touch with who we are.  

Following traditions mean we acknowledge our link with our ancestors.  We celebrate the same feasts, are subject to the same Crown, are married and committed to the next world in the same ancient churches, live in the same land.  So at this time of year we can be especially conscious of our belonging to the country and the past.  By remembering the past we remember who we are, forget it and we break the bonds that hold us together.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A Message to “Elf and Safety” – We will not be Druv!

The blogger for another year attended the Lewes firework celebration, where tradition, controlled anarchy and fireworks gain control of the streets of a Sussex town for one night of the year.  To anyone sick to the back teeth of our molicoddled, standardised and blandly modern world of political correctness and health and safety Lewes bonfire night is the greatest antidote.  Of course the P.C. forces of the nanny state hate it, but they just cannot control it.

The bonfire societies have a long tradition of resisting authority’s attempts to control bonfire night and their constant refrain is “We will not be druv!”  Sadly in Twenty-First Century Britain even Lewes is not unaffected by the dull and officious spirit of the age with all its health and safety and fear of anarchy.

Nonetheless the 2013 Lewes bonfire celebration kept that old spirit alive and –much to the frustration of the official mindset – it goes from strength to strength.  In a society as controlled as ours, where an impolite tweet on "Twitter" can lead to a police investigation, we all need a night off from the oppressiveness of the politically-correct atmosphere and Lewes, with its effigies, its controlled chaos, costumes, parades and vibrant traditions provides this.

Lewes does however highlight how in every other respect we are losing touch with our traditions and real life.  In a world where conker trees have to be cut down for reasons of health and safety or politicians with a little more character find their careers destroyed because they are not bland enough for the media and actually say things people feel, we are fast losing touch with real life and indeed losing touch with fun!

Yet again the political class lies at the root of the problem.  Many of the people who govern us have their roots in cosmopolitan London and move in a different sphere, ignorant of our nation's traditions.  The only way to succeed in politics is to be bland and dull.  Therefore the successful politicians are terrified of anything exciting, traditional or dangerous. 

Many politicians want us to live in a standardised, bland and modern world. Indeed “Modernisation” is their shibboleth – which means the chipping away at traditions seen as irrational, but which actually hold us together as a nation.

If more of our politicians were more rooted in England and its traditions we might see a different attitude.  There is however a self-perpetuating class of people who govern us, moving from Oxbridge to political researcher to MP, with little interaction with people outside the Westminster bubble.  The political class is standardised and boring and follows the same pet issues as the equally dull media class.  It then tries to remould our old country in its own image.

It is only in a Britain governed by such people that such a great tradition as Lewes Bonfire Night could be put under pressure or frowned upon.  Luckily the British public do not take the governing class very seriously and carry on anyway!  As the Bonfire Boys say:  “We will not be druv!”

Friday, 25 October 2013

Nimbyists of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your reputation with politicians!

Two interesting publications have recently come about.  One is the much-publicised report by the Office for National Statistics suggesting that people are happier in rural areas and small market towns, while they are unhappiest and most anxious in urban areas.  The other is a book by developmental economist, Paul Collier on the impact of immigration, called Exodus:  Immigration and Multiculturalism in the Twenty-First Century.

While Collier has previously focused on the impact of a lack of common culture in African countries, he has now turned his attention to the impact of immigration in the developed world and the erosion of mutual regard.  Mutual regard is lost when people have very different cultures – whether that be tribal differences in the modern African state or multiculturalist divisions in Western countries.  Collier appears to realise what politicians do not: That concern about immigration has much more to do with a loss of a common understanding of norms of behaviour and values, than economics alone.  Diversity has a corrosive effect on a shared identity and therefore undermines trust in a society.  This has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with the damaging doctrine of multiculturalism and the sheer scale of immigration in recent years.

The ONS report on the other hand makes clear that we are less lonely and less anxious when we live in more local communities – the market town in particular stands out as an ideal form of community.  Of course what holds the market town or the village together is that people know each other – they are not strangers in their own community.  People have a common understanding of norms of behaviour and shared values. 

The common thread to these two publications is a fact that might be blindingly obvious to the man in the Dog and Duck, but is rarely articulated and completely misunderstood by the political class.  That fact is surely that what strengthens community is the local and the cultural things held in common.  We all need to belong to community to feel fulfilled and we need to share common values, manners and standards with our neighbours.

The way to achieve this goal of the happy society is to live in smaller and more homogeneous communities.  This is directly contrary to all recent governments’ agendas, which have pressurised local authorities to build more and create larger and less homogeneous communities.  Indeed in the blogger’s own home district, a recent report has shown that the primary cause of housing demand is immigration. 

This leads to two negative effects: It undermines the smallness of the community and makes it more diverse.  This is not at all good for general wellbeing.  It must be right to recognise that a healthy society is not only about how economically rich it is, but how happy people are.  We can be materially wealthy, but spiritually poor.  The latter poverty is far more serious.

This blog is not arguing that we should close the doors on everyone, rather the argument is that a society can deal better with immigration, maintain its own wellbeing and make the immigrant more welcome, when people are better assimilated.  That requires a strong community into which the immigrant can be absorbed.  Otherwise we all end up as lonely atoms randomly bouncing around a bleak and urban world.

The Government is looking closely at how to increase general wellbeing.  Surely, the lesson from these recent publications is that we need less development in our small towns, more controls on immigration, protection of our nearby green spaces.  It is time for the political class to acknowledge that concern about these issues is not only about house values, but is a valid concern about losing something far less tangible but far more valuable - our wellbeing.  It is time to start listening to and stop dismissing the so-called Nimbyists!   

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why Socialists don’t understand Conservatives

The Socialist sees politics as being about systems, economic systems to be more specific.  He regards anyone who does not support his agenda for systemic change as a partisan for all that is wrong with this imperfect world. 

The true conservative is not an advocate for usury or capitalism.  He is rather distrustful of systemic and revolutionary change as advocated as an alternative to capitalism.  He does not see life as being all about economic systems.  For him life is about values and he is sceptical of radical change, because in the attempt to create the perfect society much that holds society together is swept away.

Conservatives are at risk of falling into the elephant trap the Left set, once they see themselves as being ideological advocates for an economic system such as capitalism.  Rather the best rebuttal to the Left is to make clear that living morally is not to rant about changing economics, but to do your best in your own society – join the little platoons to make life better for your neighbourhood.

Of course there is greed in our present society, of course there is ambition.  There would be just as much greed and ambition in a society dominated by the state.  The ambitious individual would simply be sycophantic towards the chief bureaucrat in a socialist system instead of the corporate boss. 

Conservatives are strongest when defending a free society based on private property.  This is different from advocating capitalism red in tooth and claw.  When people can own their own property, separate from the state, they gain independence.  They could even pool their property and set up their own communes, opting out of capitalism if they so choose.  It is the tradition of freedom under the rule of law, not so much the market that conservatives should be defending.  Capitalism is a consequence of  a free society, not the be all and end all!

For too long conservatives have allowed the Left to define the parameters of debate.  It is time to start arguing that the solution to many of society’s ills lies at the local and neighbourhood level.  It is about individuals themselves, not political or economic systems being changed.

This is not a philosophy that is about resigning and abdicating one’s responsibility to others, rather it is the very opposite.  It is about taking responsibility as an individual for one’s neighbour.  The true abdication of responsibility is to claim the solution to the problems around me is political and that it is all the system’s fault. 

It is no accident that the famous quotation “For evil to triumph it is necessary only for good men to do nothing” was first uttered by that conservative thinker, Edmund Burke.  It goes to the heart of conservative values.

The Left seems to distrust anything that puts responsibility back onto the individual.  An example of this is the Left’s distrust of religion.  Religious belief identifies the real need for change as lying within the soul of the individual, not within political systems.

It is completely possible to be conservative and dislike the consumerist society, casino banking, the soul-less shopping malls and the greed around us.  Indeed it is consistent with conservative thinking, if by conservative we mean placing emphasis on time-honoured customs and values, such as patriotism and faith, rather than materialism.

As individuals move away from such values towards materialism, the solution is not political, but social and spiritual.  The onus lies on us not the state, to ensure we uphold our Christian values and sustain a more meaningful way of life.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Trafalgar Night reminds us . . .

When a parliamentary candidate the blogger was pleased to partake in the local Conservative Association’s annual Trafalgar Night dinner.  It is understandable that Plymouth Conservatives in particular should want to keep alive the immortal memory.  In Plymouth the memory of our Naval history is very strong.

Admiral Horatio Nelson’s defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet was a story both of superior Naval discipline and daring tactics.  Indeed the national celebrity that the one-eyed, one-armed admiral was becoming had a history of daring risk taking and ignoring orders since his teenage years as a midshipman when he allegedly attempted to hunt a polar bear.

The Royal Navy’s victory at Trafalgar, which confirmed Great Britain as the supreme naval power in the world, was part of a pattern and should remind us of that pattern.  Throughout history it has generally been the free societies that have won wars.  Whether it be the Ancient Greeks defeating the despotic Persian Empire or the British defeating Napoleon’s republican empire, the free polities win.  It seems generally societies less militaristic and less organised defeat their more ruthless and apparently more organised enemies.  In the early Nineteenth Century Great Britain, an old and free country governed by unplanned institutions that had evolved almost accidentally, defeated republican and imperial France – organised and planned on a war footing, where the whole society was galvanised to achieve an overriding ideological goal. 

Whatever people might assume, chaotic democracies do better than centrally-planned regimes.  Often voices in democratic societies have asserted we need to become more like the planned societies of the East, whether it be the Soviet Union in the Cold War or the Persian Empire.  In fact, history and the empirical evidence teaches us that free countries survive their despotic opponents and they survive, this blogger believes, precisely because they are not restricted by planning.

Let the dictator in the bunker micro-manage the war and his own flawed and limited understanding will lead to disaster.  Whether it was Napoleon or Hitler, hubris led them to attack Russia too early.  Because they were dictatorships, there was no alternative view.  The centralised planning in those regimes eventually led to their downfall.

Much as centrally-planned economies lead to disasters, where thousands of toothbrushes might be delivered when there is an overwhelming need for bread or other ridiculous situations arise, so dictatorial regimes cannot adapt in the flexible way they need to, to survive.

True democracies can seem to be bickering and short-sighted places – one thinks of the recent crisis in the politics of the United States, with a dictatorial China looking on as American government shut down.  However, for all their bickering, free societies ensure an alternative view can be put, which might have been overlooked.  Free societies allow individuals who think in a different way from the norm to succeed and bring their genius to the situation. 

Trafalgar Night should remind us; there would have been no room for someone like Nelson in the regime of the Little Corsican – and that is precisely why we rather than France won!   

Monday, 14 October 2013

Is a Privatised Royal Mail an Oxymoron?

In the debate about the recent sell-off of the Royal Mail, there has been far more attention on the price of shares than the fact that the ownership of the “Royal” concept is in private hands.  The greatest privatising prime minister of them all, Margaret Thatcher, held back from privatising Royal Mail precisely because she recognised the sensitivities over selling off not simply a nationalised company, but an institution linked to the monarchy.

Conservatism is not just about economics.  Perhaps the way to differentiate between conservatives and the Left is that conservatives take into account more than the dismal science – as Thomas Carlyle described economics.  For a conservative, concepts of patriotism, tradition, religion and the family are what make society function too.  We are not simply defined by our economic class and our economic needs.

It was an ideology (Socialism) that defined people simply by their economic interest and ignored custom and tradition that led to the dire national crisis of the winter of discontent in 1979.  When people began to regard themselves as fighting an economic war against the ruling class, rather than being part of a nation with shared customs and traditions, conflict and instability were the outcome – as demonstrated by militant trade unionism.  If the modern Conservative Party only relies on economic arguments and forgets those values that are fundamental to conservatism then it has already given up the fight to economic rationalists and socialists.

A conservative should be able to say with conviction that the Queen’s head being on the stamp, the Royal epithet to our postal service, even the red pillar-boxes have a meaning that is not necessarily economically quantifiable. 

Conservatism recognises that emotions are often more important than the bottom line.  Monarchy, the established church, the House of Lords are there not because they are economically efficient (although the suggestion they are costly is a misconception put across by left wingers with an agenda); rather, by preserving and protecting these institutions we recognise that the commonwealth is more than an economic polity and is held together by qualitative rather than quantifiable values only.

If the debate about privatisation of Royal Mail only focuses on the cost of the shares and not on the importance of Royal symbolism then sadly it is the Whigs and not the Tories who have won the great debate about the spirit and soul of our nation.

Friday, 11 October 2013

My latest blog for the British Monarchist Society

. . . can be found here:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My latest blog for the British Monarchist Society

Monday, 30 September 2013

My new blog for the British Monarchist Society

Saturday, 28 September 2013

True religion versus diabolical doctrine

No one of faith, whatever faith that might be, can fail to be deeply appalled by the atrocities committed in the name of religion last week in Nairobi, Kenya and Peshawar, Pakistan.  In Kenya people of different faiths and none, women and children were brutally murdered by thugs claiming to act in the name of Islam.  In Peshawar eighty-five Christians, men, women and children, were martyred as they worshipped God.  Once again, this attack was carried out by people claiming to act in the name of Islam.

Many are now bereaved because of actions of those claiming to be Muslims.  Although this must be a very difficult time for true Muslims it does not mean Muslim leaders should avoid hard and searching questions as to why evil men are carrying out atrocities in the name of God and Islam.  There must be deep soul-searching and critical reflection as to how people can go so astray from true religion and a solution found as to how Islamic teachers can guide their adherents away from what can only be described as evil.

The blogger does not claim to be an expert on Islam, but as someone of Christian faith, sharing the Abrahamic heritage with Muslims, he is concerned that religion should not be hijacked by people who are doing the work of the Devil and claiming it to be the work of God!

Coming from a Christian heritage, where we are taught that true religion is to visit the widows and the fatherless, it is incomprehensible how murdering people, widowing women and turning children to orphans can be carried out in the name of religion.  Surely true religion is showing compassion and love to one’s neighbour whatever their faith.

The point of this blog is not to argue any theological points: As a Christian I have different beliefs, but I am not writing this blog to win any theological arguments.  I simply mean to argue about structure and governance.  Looking at Islam from the outside it seems one thing that is lacking is the guidance of an institution.  It seems that Sunni Islam is not really an institutional religion in the same way as Christianity.  Imams do not appear to be part of a hierarchy and teaching of the Khoran is apparently on individual interpretation.  That lack of structure means fanatics can claim an authority that an institution would deny them.  To put it bluntly it is not clear where authority resides for excommunication or who polices the fanatics.  It is often said that Muslim leaders do not speak out strongly enough to condemn evil carried out in the name of Islam.  This however begs the question: Who has the authority to speak out?

Perhaps the solution for Islam in policing extremism is to build a stronger institutional framework.  If the comparison is made with Christianity, one is only a Christian if he belongs to the family of the church.  The Church being the Body of Christ, to act separately from that, in contradiction to the Church, means one is not a Christian.  True there are schisms within Christianity, but new denominations have maintained an institutional structure in the form of the Church.

Of course it is not impossible for the institution to go astray, but it is made up of a great body of individuals, with a heritage of thought and tradition.  The Church has made its fair share of mistakes through history, but being an institution it has accumulated wisdom and learnt from its mistakes.  This great heritage and the authority residing in the hierarchy of the Church means that it is very difficult to claim some entirely invalid interpretation of Scripture and carry out atrocities in accordance with a very subjective and incorrect view of religion.

Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox all adhere to the Nicene Creed (some accepting it with the Filioque) with its acceptance of the Holy, Catholick and Apostolic Church.  The maverick is therefore generally contained within the agreed values of the institution or simply finds he cannot establish himself and leaves religion to the faithful.

Many may be tempted to blame Islam as a whole in some way for the recent atrocities.  This blog is arguing that such an approach of general blame is wrong, there are many more moderate, mainstream Muslims and they must be given more authority, following the model of a more institutional structure, such as that of the Church. The blogger does not claim any theological understanding of Islam, rather it is argued Christians should put forward in a spirit of sharing something of Christian heritage and government that might in a practical way give true and moderate Muslims more authority and take away any claim to authority from the criminal thugs and murderers who claim perversely that committing the Cardinal Sin of murder leads to salvation.

Of course, with the concept of the Incarnation in Christianity, which is absent from Islam, it is easier to build the foundations of an institutional church, which can derive authority as the continuing Body of Christ on Earth.  That however is a matter of theology and this blog is not looking at such matters.  I cannot claim to know how a stronger institutional framework in Islam can be justified theologically, but I am sure it would help practically in ensuring only adherents to True Religion could claim to act in the name of Islam.

To the agnostic and the atheist, these recent attacks could be seen as religion generally (rather than a fanatical perversion of Islam) being a cause of division and violence.  People of all faiths must make clear that there is a distinction between True Religion and – to use an old fashioned concept – heresy. 

For the secularist, without a clear grasp of Truth being absolutely and objectively true, it is easy to slip into the view that because someone claims to be acting for a faith, they are in fact truly acting in the name of that faith.  Well that is wrong and once we accept objective Truth exists we can say that there is True Religion and False Religion.

Institutional religion is more able to police and control fanaticism.  It has the authority to promote and give legitimacy to valid understanding of True Religion.  To the atheist it is worth pointing out that just because someone acts in the name of faith does not mean they are doing so:  Christ was tortured and crucified at the instigation of religious leaders in the name of religion.  The murderers in Nairobi and Peshawar were not men of faith at all, but wicked nihilists.  These fanatics are the very people whose world view those with true faith must resist with sound doctrine.  Stronger institutional government would aid this goal. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The hijab, the niqab and the burka – statements of faith are all well and good, but what if they are in breach of good manners?

There has been much political discussion recently about when and whether it is appropriate for women of Islamic faith to hide their faces.  Birmingham Metropolitan College attempted to ban the full-face veil or niqab, but pulled back from this rule.  The Liberal Democrat MP and Coalition Minister Jeremy Browne MP criticised the wearing of full-face veils and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health has asked the NHS to look at its policy on dresscode, due to the feelings of disquiet some patients have when treated by a medical professional who keeps their face hidden from them.

The matter that sparked off this debate was when a defendant in a criminal trial wished to hide her face when in the box.  The judge required her to remove her veil when under examination, so that the jury could observe her facial expressions.  This seems a commonsense solution.  The defendant might have felt subject to unwanted scrutiny when her face could be seen, but when you are a defendant in a criminal trial that is an inevitable part of the process.

As a conservative who believes in freedom I would be very reluctant to follow the French example of banning the veil in public places.  France is an avowedly secularist country and can therefore consistently ban expressions of religious faith.  On these islands we are a free society with a Christian heritage.  To ban expressions of religious faith goes against the grain.  With an established church and Lords Spiritual in the upper house, religious faith is woven into the fabric of our constitution.  And so is freedom.  Not the French idea of freedom based around secularist ideology, but the freedom to be left alone – an Englishman’s home is his castle, as the expression goes.

The trouble is when a very different culture is grafted on to a longstanding society such as ours that is based on unspoken norms of behaviour, there can be cultural clashes and misunderstandings.  Yes we are a free society, but we achieve that by giving each other space and not forcing our opinions on each other.

The veil adopted by some Muslim women is a strong and uncompromising expression of religious opinion.  In a free society it should not be banned, but the blogger questions whether the veil is actually the sartorial equivalent of forcing your opinions on others.  It creates an awkward social situation just as someone talking about religion and politics down the pub makes for an unpleasant atmosphere.  It steps over a certain boundary and while strictly-speaking it is simply an individual choosing how they dress, it is really a non-verbal statement and creates a physical barrier.  To put it bluntly, in ordinary every day life, the veil can be perceived by non-Muslims as crossing the boundary into bad manners.

In our culture it is good manners to look a person in the face when you speak to them.  I do not condemn recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to Western society.  Rather, the fault lies with those in the political class and liberal elite who close down debate about the veil in the name of that chimera the multicultural society.  This means people new to our society do not appreciate how many of us are made to feel awkward by the hiding of the face. 

I am sure there are good cultural reasons in Muslim countries for the veil – I do not presume to say otherwise. The flipside of this is that to help the new immigrant societies to integrate they should be helped to understand that the hiding of the face in our culture sends a very different message. 

Many would argue that it is up to us to be tolerant of this choice of dress.  In terms of the law I agree; it is not for the state to criminalise dress.  It is however, the role of society to nurture good manners.  To give a less controversial example - Perhaps in some cultures the physical contact of a man’s and a woman’s hand through the handshake would be unacceptable.  In our culture to decline the handshake would seem bad manners.

A blanket ban, outside of the workplace, is not right in a free society; however, the blogger cannot see anything wrong with requiring employees or students to dress in a way compatible with those institutions' dress codes.  In the health service, when people are often feeling vulnerable and are unwell or in pain it seems very sensible to ban the full-face veil.

Interaction between people is enhanced by facial expressions.  You can tell how someone is reacting to what you say.  It is about being able to engage fully.  If immigrant communities dispensed with the veil it would make it all the easier for stronger bonds to be built with individuals of the indigenous community.    

Friday, 20 September 2013

British Monarchist Society

My first blog for the British Monarchist Society can be found here:

Friday, 13 September 2013

Secret Justice or Fair Law?

In the light of the recent case of a well-known actor being found not guilty of rape and other charges, the decades-old question of anonymity in rape cases has again risen its hoary head.  In 1976 victims and defendants in rape cases were granted anonymity.  The relevant statute was the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976.  The purpose of anonymity for victims was to encourage them to come forward when the offence committed against them meant the victim often had feelings of shame and did not want to suffer further indignity of their violation being made public.

The defendant was also originally granted anonymity for the purposes of avoiding stigma for innocent defendants and ensuring equality between complainants and defendants.  In 1988 this provision for anonymity for defendants was repealed. 

There has been much comment that the present arrangement is inequitable.  The defendant can be wrongly accused and even if found not guilty will forever suffer under a cloud of suspicion.  Meanwhile the complainant who has made a false complaint does not suffer any stigma.  This seems inequitable and even unjust.

In 2010 the new coalition government indicated it would look at reintroducing anonymity for the defendant.  It reneged on this because it took the view that there was not enough empirical evidence to justify the reversion to the earlier law.

Recent events, particularly the revelations about the BBC employee Sir Jimmy Savile, demonstrate that when accusations are finally made other witnesses gain the confidence to come forward.  It is argued that anonymity for the defendant would mean those who did not have confidence to bring further accusations against a serial offender on their own initiative would be discouraged from doing so.

The trouble with this situation is that there is not sufficient deterrent for false accusers and the outcome of the Le Vell case shows false accusations clearly occur.  The defendant in that case not only suffers the stigma that the jury might have got it wrong, but also suffered his whole personal life and peccadilloes being paraded to the public through constant media commentary.

This is inequitable, but it seems to the blogger there is no easy solution.  Revert to the 1976 law and we end up with virtual secret courts, which is inimical to the founding principles of British justice.  Allow one party to have anonymity and there is minimal risk to making false accusations.

Rape is a crime, but it is not only a very heinous crime, it is also of its own type.  The victim must have suffered a deep personal violation, different from ordinary injury.  On the other hand, it is often difficult to know whether a crime has been committed.  Due to the often intimate-situations in which these crimes can take place, with no witnesses, it is difficult to prove the crime has occurred beyond reasonable doubt.  Unlike a murder, there is no body.  Unlike a burglary, there is no missing property.  The flipside of this problem means false allegations can be brought too.

One very straightforward way of making the situation equitable and discouraging false allegations is to do away with the complainant’s automatic right to anonymity.  That would restore full open justice and mean that we had reverted to the usual way of prosecuting crimes, whereby allegations of a serious crime could not be made secretly. This would accord with principles of natural justice.  Such a move would not affect the position of children or other vulnerable witnesses.

However, this could deter genuine victims from being willing to enter the witness box for the prosecution.  Our adversarial system, important as it is in reaching the truth and particularly when a criminal act so serious is concerned, is not welcoming to the victim.

This is a situation that must be addressed and far greater minds than this blogger’s should and will cogitate this.  The matter must not be left to rest though, for the current state of affairs is inequitable.  The only solution the blogger can see is whereby both parties retain anonymity, but the defendant loses his right to anonymity if found guilty (as would inevitably be the case on conviction) and the complainant loses their right to anonymity if the jury finds the allegations to be false or at least not provable beyond reasonable doubt.  This may not be the answer, but this is an area that must be looked at and not left to rest.