No Plan, No Funds, No Staff

Conservative manifesto only says that hospitals will be ‘properly staffed’, and nowhere does it say that this will be achieved by making junior doctors work anti-social hours for less pay

Junior doctors have been on strike this week, an astonishing thing to happen that, in itself, demonstrates the terrible political diplomacy that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, has demonstrated as he attempted to push through his agenda.

Mr Hunt’s central talking point is that the policy he is pursuing is a manifesto commitment.  In interviews he suggests that the British Medical Association (BMA) is attempting to block the manifesto commitment, and therefore the will of the British people.

That is not quite true, for several reasons.  First, the manifesto pledge is for a so-called “7 day NHS”, the idea being that routine clinics and elective procedures should also take place at the weekends, when its more convenient for many people.  The manifesto pledge only says that hospitals will be ‘properly staffed’, and nowhere does it say that this will be achieved by reducing the out-of-hours pay for doctors (achieved by re-defining late evening and Saturday work as normal working hours).  It would have been an odd sort of voter who assumed that would be the case. Continue reading “No Plan, No Funds, No Staff”

Legalising abortion in Northern Ireland is vote-neutral for the Westminster parties

Last week, U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump provoked outrage when he said that women should be punished for having an abortion.  Unusually for the self-styled maverick, he walked back the comments in subsequent interviews, saying that, actually, the woman is the victim in such cases.  The idea that a woman who seeks an abortion should be criminalised (instead of or in addition to the person performing the procedure) is far outside mainstream political opinion, even in a country where religious fundamentalists have high levels of politically engagement.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, a woman has been given a criminal record and a three-month suspended sentence for aborting her baby in Northern Ireland. Continue reading “Legalising abortion in Northern Ireland is vote-neutral for the Westminster parties”

The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite

Three separate parliamentary committees have made a total of 123 recommendations

Yesterday I wrote again in defence of politicians.  Many of the frustrations that give rise to ‘anti-politics’ are borne of people not understanding how politics works: there is a constant need to compromise and any hard choice will end up disappointing people.

Sometimes, however, the anti-political feeling is justified.  I have rarely been as angry with politicians as I was when the coalition government passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in just two days in 2014.  This legislation made lawful a number of mass violations of privacy that the security services had been caught doing without public or parliamentary consent.  The politicians from all parties made mendacious arguments in favour of the new law, claiming an ’emergency’ when there was none.

From that low point, my faith in parliament is slowly being restored. Continue reading “The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite”

Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer

Part of me actually wants Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination.

The Trump candidacy is looking ever more likely.

Here are a couple of opinion pieces noting the rise of the anti-politics he represents and why leaders within the Republican Party are now unable to stop him.

First, Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, describes the political ‘debt’ to the truth that the Republicans have racked up in recent years. Continue reading “Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer”

Peter Tatchell’s Surprising Support for the Homophobic Bakers

I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the homophobic Bed & Breakfast owners. But Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.

Remember the controversy about the ‘gay cake’?  Last year, a bakery in Belfast refused to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.  A court ruled that the bakers had discriminated against a customer on the basis of his sexual orientation, contrary to equality legislation.  The customer, Gareth Lee, was awared £500 in compensation.

The case will be considered in the Appeal Court this week.  Ahead of the hearing, the veteran gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has published a surprising article defending the bakery.  There’s a version on the Guardian comment pages, and a longer version sent to Peter’s mailing list.

I recommend reading the entire article, but the crux of Tatchell’s argument is this:

It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.

The bakery refused to support and propagate the idea of same-sex marriage.  Lee was not refused service because he was gay, but because of the message on the cake.

This is a subtle point but also a persuasive one.  The implications loom large.  Tatchell asks:

Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one the words of a Holocaust denier? Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? … If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.

Freedom of expression and freedom of conscience surely means the freedom not to engage in the commerce of distributing ideas that you oppose.

I’d previously written off the Asher’s case as exactly analagous to the case of the Bed & Breakfast owners who refused service to a gay couple—This blog has previously discussed the issues raised by such cases. However, Peter Tatchell’s article has persuaded me otherwise.

The Medium of Icing

Who would have thought that patrsies are political! Almost 10 years ago, this blog also discussed the Medium of Icing.

Rhodes, Political Correctness and the Censorship of History

Is this censorship or merely curation?

You’re all aware of the controversy surrounding the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oxford University, right?

To recap: Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) was the colonialist, businessman and white supremacist whose career in Southern Africa had huge impact on the continent.  The celebrated Rhodes Scholarship programme at Oxford University was established by his estate. As such, there is a statue of him at Oriel College at Oxford.  Some current students are campaigning to have the statue removed on the grounds that Rhodes was a racist and not someone who should be glorified in stone.

This campaign is happening in a milieu of renewed debates about freedom of expression and decency at universities.  I am against ‘no platform’ policies,  and against the abuse of useful innovations such as Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings as a way to shut down offensive speech. Continue reading “Rhodes, Political Correctness and the Censorship of History”

Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist

Do extremists continue to preach underground when they get banned?

Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.

The audio of our discussion has just been published.  You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website. Continue reading “Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist”

Anyone calling for candidates to drop out of the Labour Leadership race is an innumerate idiot

A quick point, if I may: You know how Jeremy Corbyn is now 20 points ahead of his rivals, and some people are urging the lesser candidates to consolidate behind a single Anyone-But-Jeremy candidate?

That’s stupid and wrong.

Its stupid because the election is being conducted on an Alternative Vote system.  The electors rank the candidates in order of preference.  The candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are divided up amongst the remaining candidates.  That process is repeated until one candidate has a majoirty.

Mathematically, that is exactly the same as if the lesser candidates had pulled out… but with one important exception: its more democratic.

The ‘drop out’ suggestion is also morally wrong.  With the AV system, each elector gets to express a preference for who drops out and in what order.  That’s far better approach than a candidate being peer-pressured or media-pressured into dropping out mid-campaign, which is anti-democratic and makes the entire contest a hostage to bad opinion polling.

The fact that people are calling for the poorly polling candidates shows that they are stuck in a First Past The Post mentality, even though the election is being run with more sophisticated and fairer rules.

Can Labour give the country what it wants?

Tony Blair gave a speech today, warning the post-defeat Labour Party of a lurch to the left.  Meanwhile, the most left wing of the four Labour Party leadership candidates, Jeremy Corbyn, is apparently leading the polls.

I find the pragmatism of the centrists in the Labour Party to be enticing.  If you want to win power and achieve social justice, they say, there is no point in positioning yourself too far away from the electorate.  To place Jeremy Corbyn at the top of the Labour Party is to distance the party from the rest of Britain.  And that means further election defeats.  Instead, the answer is to be more centrist, more Blairite, because at least that is where the rest of the country sits. Continue reading “Can Labour give the country what it wants?”

Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

A couple of people have asked me my opinion on an article published on Vox this week.  Writing anonymously, a university lecturer laments the entitled, consumerist tendency amongst his students, which means that they complain whenever they are exposed to ideas or opinions that make them uncomfortable.  The article carried hyperlinks to examples where academics—both students and in some cases teachers—have successfully shut down discussion or caused events to be cancelled because they were deemed ‘offensive’ or upsetting.

If this is a real trend then it’s appalling.  As I and others have argued previously and constantly, there are numerous benefits to having offensive statements made openly.  Such statements can be countered and challenged on the one hand; but they may actually have some merit and change minds and morality (for example, women’s suffrage or gay marriage).  Offence can shock people out of complacency, or be the only thing that makes people question traditional values and the structure of their society.  Finally, it’s far better to have offensive views out in the open, rather than driven underground where they can fester and grow, and where those who have been censored can claim to be a ‘free speech martyr’.

I do want to raise a few aspects of the article that give me pause for thought, however. Continue reading “Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?”