My Open Letter to Westminster

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.53am

There is a caustic and remarkably resilient strain of liberalism that is proving intransigent in spite of an unravelling of the trends that caused it. We live in a post-white, post-Christian society; however, an entrenched elite refuses to yield political ground to the sincere viewpoints of Islam and other minority faith groups on a range of vital issues from dress to diet, from war to homosexuality.

These vested interests are manifestly preventing many ethnic minorities from flourishing. I therefore call upon all liberals - a political class that is almost exclusively white - to resign immediately so that a new political order, perhaps one that can reflect the new demography of the country somewhat better, can take root; and liberalism - that relic of an old order - be extinguished alongside the late imperialism that devised it.

This late imperialism may come with extra servings of hand-wringing but its first principles remain the same. Countless Islamic countries are invaded on an almost annual basis in the name of foreign ideals Muslims never subscribed to.

When Muslims do manage to escape their homelands (countries that have become war-torn thanks to western well-wishers whose enthusiasm for demolishing our governments has never quite been matched by their zeal to replace them), they have been exposed to the unrelenting judgement of “the English” (a misnomer surely, for m’learned academics tell us that no such people exist), who no less unremittingly chime to the high heavens panegyrics about their levels of tolerance.

It is this “tolerance” that informs Muslims that the ideals they teach to their children are wrong. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that protecting their women’s dignity is oppressive. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that eating their meat in the Qur’an-honoured way of their forefathers is a disgraceful way to treat livestock.

Historically speaking, we can all understand why this uppity and entitled elite think they have the whip-hand over us. But we are no longer living in an occidental hegemony circa 1945, and we call on Westminster to reflect this.

————————————- Spoiler Alert ~ May contain satire ———————————-

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

We should all be unsettled by the reaction towards opponents of equal marriage

Nik Darlington 10.44am

Looking down the voting list from last night prompts some sadness. They are not what Downing Street might describe as ‘the usual suspects’. Neither are they the types deserving of the subsequent vitriol.

What is done, is done. There is a majority for this in the country; there is a majority for this in Parliament. To make this a partisan issue is as disappointing as it is dull. Move on.

Enough has been said on both sides of the debate about rights and wrongs. It shall do nobody any good to dredge over what are now old coals.

Instead, there are some brief observations to make about the reporting of last night’s historic parliamentary vote.

First of all, the nature of the ‘rebellion’. Broadcasters, broadsheets and tabloids are (unsurprisingly) focusing on the scale of Tory dissent, yet giving scant regard to the 22 Labour MPs who voted against, the 16 Labour MPs who abstained, the 4 Liberal Democrat MPs who voted against, and the 7 Liberal Democrats who abstained. Parliament’s vote as a whole reflects most national polling on the issue.

Though wrong to assume unthinkingly, it may well turn out to be the case that the Conservative party emerges from this difficult (and arguably ill-timed) culture war worse than it entered. So be it, one could say, for ultimately it was the right thing to do.

Nevertheless, should the Conservative party be scarred by this episode, that shall in no small part be thanks to the simultaneously superficial and spasmodic manner of its communication by the press.

Take various references across television and print to Tory MPs’ “failure” to back same-sex marriage. How is it itself a failure? I do not count myself among their number, but the many opponents of same-sex marriage (for whatever reason), not to mention opponents of this particular piece of legislation, would consider their vote a “success” rather than a “failure”.

Broadcasters - bound to impartiality by statute - ought to feel especially guilty about making such a partial editorial judgement. Indeed report that a multitude of MPs from all sides of the House of Commons “failed” to stop the Bill’s progression. That is a statement of pure and simple fact.

Yet do not presume yourself the arbiter of right or wrong. This has been a profoundly difficult situation for many people with variously strong religious, social and cultural beliefs. Nor presume to judge that those people have “failed”, have come up short, are somehow not quite as morally or intellectually vigorous as those in favour.

Time advances, opinions change, but not all at once. That is life; and there is no failure in that.

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Gay marriage vote is very simple: forget the politics, vote for what you believe in

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Nik Darlington 8.42am

There is a lot for Tories - or even just any sensible observer of politics - to be unhappy about over the Government’s same-sex marriage reforms.

No mention in either Coalition parties’ 2010 manifestos. No mention in the Coalition Agreement. Neither perceived nor existential agitation for it from homosexual people or otherwise. Manifesto commitments pertaining to marriage - such as recognising marriage in the tax system - that probably ought to take priority.

So any sensible observer of politics (and there are many insensible observers giving voice) can understand why grassroots Tories are protesting and writing literally thousands of emails and letters to MPs, why there is talk of deselections, and why scores of Tory MPs intend to vote against the Bill today.

It is, therefore, an upsetting and destabilising time. One old-timer I consider to be largely sensible about these things phoned me up yesterday to bemoan politicians spending so much time fussing over it when there are more important matters at stake, whatever the merits of the policy itself (they were in favour of it). This is partially unfair, given that the Government is so sweatily ram-rodding the issue through Parliament (just one bone of contention). Though sensible observers could be forgiven for thinking this is all MPs have been doing lately, given the corybantic manner in which the media are covering it.

Yet these difficulties notwithstanding, there remains a simple, unalterable fact that for me - and I’m sure for many others - makes voting down this proposal impossible. David Cameron maybe should not have chosen this moment to pose the question. Though now the question is posed, I could not sensibly oppose it. We cannot ignore it, or wish it would go away.

It is said that some MPs couldn’t really care much for the policy, but believe the Prime Minister to have been a clod for pushing it and shall vote against (or abstain) to spite him. There are many who genuinely and deeply believe the policy to be inherently wrong - whether out of religious belief or traditional social mores. I am comfortable with it according to my own Christian faith; yet in the same vein, I must respect others’ interpretation. It is a tricky one this, to put it mildly.

The Conservative party cannot gain from this, if ever that was indeed the leadership’s intention. Thus let us forget for now the party political ramifications, even if the media refuse to. 

It is a free vote. MPs should vote according to what they believe, not whether they will gain or lose personally from it, or how it makes their party look, or whether they think they should even be having to cast a vote. Above all, let us not in the heat of the moment, with passions high, make this a more difficult matter than it is.

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Google’s Goggles, Apocalypse and Descartes

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 1.39pm

Recently I was asked by a colleague to explain what I meant by a phrase I had been slurring into my pint glass. Imagine all the pomposity that must lace a statement such as ”the latest symbol of the new order is the antisemitic zionist”, then double it and blame it on the fact I hadn’t drunk in a while. In the end I found myself having to slip into an answer by way of a groovy gadget from Google.

The concept of the “antisemitic zionist” is one that is applicable to all peoples but is most conspicuous in the Jewish example. The phrase is meant to encapsulate the idea that the unique roots of peoples: their histories, their ethnic baggage, their religions/systems of thought, i.e. what makes them radically (Latin radix = roots) different, a key ingredient of genuine diversity, must be sacrificed or flattened to gain access to the homogenous international agora that is governed by completely alien axioms.

It amounts to a repudiation of the concrete tribe and a subscription to a concept defined as “Humanity” (as outlined by the Powers who dominate the arena) for perceived promotion/legitimation.

So Zion gets built but the Jews are forgotten. The castle stands tall but the ramparts are untrodden: a pyrrhic victory in every sense. Material advancement is prioritised but the whys, the whats, the hows are rendered not only unanswered but unanswerable. The big questions become taboo; confined to the cloisters of ineffectual academics.

The Germans have meaningful words for this process. Kultur, containing connotations of blood and soil, is the name Germans give to the phenomenon by which a community’s soul takes a stand, holds fast to something and cultivates exclusive axioms that in turn create a weltanschauung (roughly: ‘world view’).

It’s opposite number is zivilisation. The material, technological advancement, the invisible dead-hand that is the natural product of a world-view applied. It parasitically feeds off the kultur’s energetic expansion until the society is spiritually exhausted and its zivilisational apparatus dissolves.

The West’s kultur began breaking down after Descartes. Its weltanschauung was almost entirely based on the belief that “reality” had its roots both inside the soul and outside it - in God. The synchronicity of the internal truths and external truths, strung together by a  divine Golden thread, were best articulated by Kant:

"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry skies above me and the moral law inside me".

But by the 16th century Descartes had planted seeds of doubt. Though the scorn of the philosophes would come later, Descartes proffered a world view that preferred to make no assumptions about the external. It started with a tabula rasa and recognised only the towering sovereignty of “I”.

This blank slate disposed of the historical inconsistencies that had become painfully apparent in the old model but it also rid itself of the old unity and its evolving tension that kept Man connected to past, present and future at a glacial pace.

Now, the timeless “I” was unchained from its external coordinates and could extend itself into the cosmos on its own terms. But the experience is not one of kultur extending outwards but rather the cosmos staring into the black hole that is “I”.

Freud untangled the Cartesian subject and found the building block of “I” no less mysterious in its nature than that of “God”. Zivilisational expansion: measuring, utilising, systemising, “progressed” until we discovered, in horror, that our core had no inner integrity but was utterly dependent how we interpreted and manufactured the outside.

Which brings us to Google’s goggles. Last year, Google released news about Project Glass, a R&D program looking to create an “augmented reality head-mounted display”. Laden with real-time motion sensors, cameras, apps etc, Google hopes to synchronise the three major actors that currently clumsily operate independently. Subject, environment, and the treasure trove that is the internet, will be coordinated to create a new phenomenon: “augmented reality”.

This concept, once considered the domain of outlandish science-fiction films such as The Matrix Trilogy, Minority Report, Iron Man, The Terminator franchise, Looper etc, now looks to be positioning itself as the natural successor to the smartphone.

Journalists hitting upon this trend tend to become preoccupied with the administrative flares the phenomenon could produce. Intellectual property, rogue agents (TOR, bitcoin), questions about surveillance, artificial intelligence and their implications on freedom, government and identity tend to pop up. Yet very few ask the simple question: whether augmented reality, whilst perhaps performance enhancing, is actually good?

Is becoming more and more detached from external reality the same as becoming more and more independent of it?

In an age in which ecological disaster looms, will our last testimony be reduced to the wish to play video games whilst the world burns?

Rupturing external reality and reconfiguring it to become almost entirely dependent on our internal reality seems to be a very symbolic wish for a civilisation Spengler described as “Faustian”. A play in which Goethe gave the doctor the immortal line:

"He calls it Reason, using light celestial / Just to outdo the beasts in being bestial."


Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

Abandoning the Conservative party over gay marriage is politically self-defeating

Nik Darlington 12.12pm

YouGov has just published the results of a poll that shows more than half of the population are in favour of changing the law to allow same-sex marriage.

Fifty-five per cent of people support the Government’s controversial proposals. However, Conservative voters are divided with 46 per cent in favour, 48 per cent opposed and the remaining 6 per cent undecided.

Meanwhile, 60 per cent of Labour supporters favour the change, as do 77 per cent of Liberal Democrats.

The polling demonstrates how divisive the matter has become. While it supports the Government’s conviction that a majority of people support marriage for same-sex couples, it is only by a whisker.

I remain a bit befuddled about why the policy was suggested at this point in time, and certainly without an electoral mandate to provide some credible covering fire.

Yet I also remain of the view that now the question has been posed, it is nigh on impossible to oppose the notion of allowing same-sex couples to marry (albeit protecting religious freedom). I certainly could not justify it on any reasonable level.

It is such a shame it has come to this. Tory MPs are being bombarded by furious complaints from apparently loyal party activists and voters in their constituencies, who are saying they could never vote Conservative again. I’d just make a few observations on that.

First, for many such disaffected supporters this severance may have been a long time coming. The marriage matter is the straw that breaks the camel’s back; it is not necessarily a singularly defining issue.

Secondly, there is no evidence to suggest that come election time this policy will be uppermost in voters’ minds. This works both ways, of course; quite why the party leadership presumes there’ll be some electoral benefit is beyond me. I sincerely hope that Mr Cameron et al are pressing ahead because it is the morally right thing to do, not to buy votes from a liberal, metropolitan cadre of younger citizens.

Thirdly, if people are threatening to leave the Conservative party over same-sex marriage, where are they going to go? The Labour party is whipping its MPs to vote in favour, Liberals will vote in favour, other fringe parties will vote in favour. A large proportion of Tory MPs - perhaps as many as half - will vote against (unlike the Opposition, Conservative MPs will have a free vote).

As with Europe, it could be argued that it is self-defeating to abandon the Tories (unless perhaps you vote in a constituency with a rare Eurosceptic Labour MP, such as Vauxhall or Birmingham Edgbaston). A Conservative Prime Minister wants to legalise civil same-sex marriage, but protect the right of churches and other religious groups to disagree. Who is to say what a future Labour government would decide to do?

I might be in favour of same-sex civil marriage, but it is plain to see that if you want to support a mainstream political party (i.e. a party that can actually get things done) that contains a significant element of people opposed to same-sex marriage, or protecting religious freedom, that party is the Conservative party.

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There really is no credible reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry

Nik Darlington 10.32am

The Prime Minister is right to say that society is made stronger by people’s commitment to each other. It should matter little whether those people are husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife (admittedly, the same-sex marriage lexicon needs some work).

I was uncertain about the logic or need for the Government’s opening up the debate earlier this year. Few people were insisting on it, fewer still would place it highly on a list of public policy priorities in the midst of economic pain.

Yet now that the question has been put - i.e. should same-sex couples be allowed to marry? - there is no conceivable way that I could disagree, as a Christian and a citizen (the two aren’t incompatible, mind).

Several Conservative MPs cavil at the thought. One has been quoted as saying the policy would unnecessarily split the party. Considering this caucus consists of many who persist in splitting the party over other issues, not least the European Union, that’s a bit rich.

In a cogent and moving article today in the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie writes:

"Every Tory MP needs to think about how they want their vote on same-sex marriage to be remembered. Young people think homosexuality is as natural as ginger hair, skin colour or left-handedness. Tory MPs should think about the day that their children and grandchildren ask how they voted."

It’s been a while now since I was a schoolboy so maybe the ‘gay’ taunts that we would all chuck about are relics of the past. That aside, Montgomerie’s point is apt, however uncomfortably direct for some.

Many conservationist Tories (and non-political conservationists for that matter) will quite rightly insist on our not putting that Tesco megastore there, or that new ring road here, for the sake of future generations. As will environmentalists proclaim the precautionary principle.

So however guilt-inducing Montgomerie’s call to arms might be, the teleological line of argument is correct. There is no longer a convincing case (was there ever really?) for civil society to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to marry.

That this is a ‘civil’ matter is fundamental. Part of me had hoped that following the public consultation, the Government would hold firm on its ban on religious groups offering to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. Now it seems that they will be allowed to, should they so choose (the Quakers and some Jewish synaogogues have indicated they will). My fear is this will open up legal problems for the churches - such as the Church of England - that do not opt in. The Government, however, seems sure of its legal position and we should hope this is indeed the case.

Opponents within and without the Conservative party claim the Government has no mandate for the policy. Taking 2010 election manifestos into account, those opponents have a point. Nonetheless, the forming of a coalition has oft muddied those waters already and shall continue to do so for the duration of this Parliament.

Moreover, while opinion polling is nebulous (depends on how you ask the question), there does appear to be a broad acceptance of the policy in the country. This after one of the most extensive and lengthy public consultation processes in history (something many opponents that I’ve come across have for some reason remained unaware of).

Above all, if Members of Parliament are not our democratic representatives, what are they? Put the matter to a free vote and, as Sir John Major said over the weekend (£), “the Labour party will vote for it, the Liberals will vote for it, huge numbers of Tories will vote for it.”

You can conceivably wonder why the question was put at this point in time. Yet now it’s been asked, why on Earth not?

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Facing a crisis of religious mission, women bishops are a bit beside the point

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 11.26am

The subject of female bishops, which Jack passionately if forlornly addressed on these pages yesterday, is multi-faceted, complex, and, to a certain extent, beside the point.

The theology is hazy, the history is history and the politics are glaring. For my part, I would rather the Church of England focused more on believing in God than reducing itself to a department of the Civil Service, or appealing to that ever-swelling demographic: socialists who are not disciples of Voltaire or who believe the Dalai Lama is omniscient.

The Archbishop of Canterbury elect, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, will do well because he fits the role perfectly. He holds establishment views and a firm belief in God’s word and the teachings of Jesus Christ. He is thus a rare creature in an age where the two characteristics are rapidly diverging.

Depending on the development of that troubling trend, Welby shall either flourish on his fence or fall between two boats.

He is the theological equivalent of Giddens’ Third Way. Though that itself failed, I hope Welby succeeds, though I fear it shall all end up the same.

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

A small minority of the Church has got this all horribly, horribly wrong

Jack Blackburn 9.58am

I write this with a heavy heart. It has hitherto been my fervent belief that the Church of England is an organisation of tremendous value to this country, providing an important voice to public debate and articulating beliefs and positions with sincerity and without a glance toward whether they might be popular.

This is admirable and important in a democracy, and entirely in keeping with a truly secular democracy that such a voice is heard, and it is so with other religions.

However, the Church of England stands at a crossroads. Opposition to same-sex marriage puts it on a collision course with the state, and increasingly it sounds and behaves in an antediluvian fashion, pushing it further and further away from the concerns of its parishioners and from the heartbeat of national discourse.

Crucially, some of the theological arguments fostered in the communion are growing increasingly dishonest, refusing to admit the validity of new ideas and clinging with all of the fastness of rigor mortis to outdated mores and the narrowest possible view of the world.

It must be stressed that this is not the case for every member of the CofE. It certainly has not been the case for the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, and I have every confidence that his successor will uphold and defend the best traditions of this great institution.

As this week has shown, it is not even the case with the majority of the Synod. However, the actions of a grimly determined minority have moved the Church to the point of irrelevance. This can only be rectified when it recognises the ability and God-given right of women to preach at all levels.

Some of the blame must lie with the voting structures of the Synod that has blocked the voice of the majority, but it should never have come to this.

The fact of the matter is this: the only theological tenets that an enlightened believer can hold to are that God created us equal, Jesus treated us all as equals and, whatever truth there is in the words and actions of Christ, that truth can be expressed by any one of us, black or white, straight or gay, male or female.

The decision to block female bishops may be the wish of a minority that is at best misguided and at worst bigoted, but it is not the will of a God who came to Earth and revealed his greatest message of resurrection first to a woman. Imagine if Jesus had told Mary that she was unable to preach the good news. Where would the Church be then?

God did not create us into roles. Man put us into them. Man should know his place.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA