Archive for November, 2009

When out canvassing…

November 29, 2009

…and you come across someone’s house where all the windows are plastered with posters of Prince Charles, you know you’ve found yourself a genuine loony.

Am I right or am I right?

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Hizb ut High School Musical and the continuing confusion caused by faith schools.

November 28, 2009

The ‘Hizb ut Tahrir running faith schools’ scandal got big this week.

The Tories made a mess of things by getting the details wrong and embarrassing themselves in Parliament. More fool them. It is not quite a simple case of anti-extremism funds being given to a bunch of extremists.

However, it is still apparent that the state is willing to hand over money to religious organisations and entrust them with educating children even if officials have little idea what these groups’ religious beliefs are exactly or what political organisations (such as Hizb ut Tahrir) they share members with.

For instance, Newsnight dug up an article written by the headmistress of one of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation schools (the ‘charity’ given funds to run faith schools) in which she churns out the usual Isla-mentalist nonsense about the importance of hating democracy and refusing to integrate with Western culture.

How exactly does the screening process work when the Department for Children, Schools and Families is deciding which religious organisations should be allowed to set-up faith schools? How much effort are they putting into examining that fine line – that oh-so-delicate balance – between people who are very very sincerely religious and those who are ideological nuts?

The goal of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation is to develop the “Islamic personality” of young British Muslims. Hizb ut Tahrir also likes to bang on about the “Islamic personality” and this shared outlook is being used as evidence that the schools are promoting dangerous Islamism.

But ultimately all faith schools seek to develop children with religious personalities – whether they are producing good little Christians, Jews, Muslims or whatever.  If we’re not comfortable with public funds going towards an organisation that sees education as a tool for creating Islamic personalities then why are we cool with other religious groups doing the same?

In my opinion the government’s support for faith schools is well-intentioned but misguided. It is hard to make judgements about religious groups and how appropriate it is for them to be involved in running state-funded schools. Much simpler and much fairer to have a system where all schools are run along secular lines.

Sadly, getting to such a situation from where we are at the moment would not be easy and I don’t think anyone has the political imagination or courage to call for the leap.

On a more positive note, it’s nice to see the media starting to get quotes from the excellent new group British Muslims for Secular Democracy when covering a story about Islam in Britain. For too long lazy journalists have just asked the Muslim Council of Britain for their views. Considering how many Islamists there are in the MCB it has been a mistake to present them as  representing British Muslims. Recognising that British Muslims do not form a homogenous block of opinion is progress.

Running up that Stamford Hill

November 27, 2009

I’m currently working on a job that requires me to spend all day knocking on doors in Stamford Hill, Hackney.

Stamford Hill is home to Europe’s largest community of Hasidic Jews. This makes it quite an interesting place to spend all day walking around. I’ve been reading up on the origins of Hasidic dress to try to get some idea of why they wear such crazy clothes.

Hackney’s Hasidics obviously want to keep themselves culturally distinct, but in some of the streets in the neighbourhood residents of other religious persuasions can be found. There surely aren’t that many areas in Britain where most of the doors have either Talmudic or Koranic texts stuck onto them, where there’s a synagogue twenty metres away from a Muslim Community Centre, and where all the women are wearing Tichels or niqabs!

Anyways, I’d better get back to work before Sabbath-o-clock.

Shalom!

Why would Nick Griffin become Lord Griffin of Barking anyway? He was born in Barnet and lives in Wales.

November 26, 2009

A certain Labour MP seems to be arguing that we should oppose reforms such as increasing use of proportional representation and democratising the House of Lords because the result will be “Lord Griffin of Barking”.

PR and an elected second chamber = More Nazis in the legislature, apparently. So shame on anyone who wants such reforms.

Tom Harris thinks the retort to his characteristically sophisticated argument will be “Ah, you can’t stop the BNP by gerrymandering the electoral system. You have to beat them with argument”, to which he replies “And how did that work out in the European Elections?”

If Mr. Harris had been reading his copies of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight (or even if he had just spent more than 5 minutes thinking about the issue) he might appreciate that anti-fascist activism doesn’t simply rely on trying to stop the BNP through having better arguments than them. In-fact, relying solely upon such a strategy (as many advocates of platform-sharing seem to be) is pretty useless.

Far better to have A) mainstream parties offering popular policies that retain the support of enough people in communities vulnerable to the BNP so that the fash find it harder to get elected and B) mainstream parties campaigning hard on the ground and keeping in close contact with the voters in those communities so that the fash find it harder to get elected.

So basically Tom Harris’ arguments are tosh and he’ll have to do better to justify his sneering at supporters of reform.

Papists, the Presidency, and the European Project.

November 24, 2009

Apologies for the lack of posts in recent days. I suffered a slight breakdown after all the excitement of Herman Van Rompuy being designated the first permanent President of the European Council and have only just started to recover.

Much comment has already been made elsewhere about the choice of Van Rompuy as Euro Prez. Some see this cautious decision as evidence that the EU remains an intergovernmental organisation where individual states don’t want to be overshadowed by a powerful supranational polity. I would tend to agree.

Others simply make jokes about ‘Rompuy Pumpy’ being a boring character, dismiss the entire process of European integration as anti-democratic because it’s a bit complicated, and then concentrate on informing the British people about far more important news events such as the insects being poured between Katie Price’s mammaries on ‘Celebrity Jungle Factor’ or whatever its called. I tend to get annoyed by this.

Something that struck me is how one aspect of Van Rompuy’s character makes him a perfect candidate for being the first permanent President: he is a committed Catholic.

Many studies of the EU suggest that Catholicism plays a vital role in encouraging pro-integration sentiments.

Three of the original instigators of European integration – the Christian Democrat politicians Konrade Adenauer of Germany, Robert Schuman of France, and Alcide de Gasperi of Italy – were all very hardcore Catholics whose faith greatly informed their support for greater unity in Europe.

Euroboffins Nelsen, Guth and Fraser conducted some research using public opinion polls and found that throughout the period 1973 to 1998 European Catholics were far more likely to support the EU than non-Catholics, even when other factors were controlled. Countries with sizeable Catholic populations tend to be the most pro-EU whilst Protestant states such as the UK and Sweden are the most Eurosceptic. (Poland’s a funny case before anyone points this out!)

Picking Herman Van Rompuy for the Presidency is therefore consistent with the Catholic tradition that lies at the heart of the process of European integration. This is a man who apparently goes once a month to meditate in a monastery amongst silent monks. He is also opposed to letting Turkey into the EU because he feels letting in a Muslim-majority nation would clash with Europe’s fundamentally Christian values, or something like that.

Of course, there was another devout Catholic wanting the top job, but things did not work out so well for him. I am simply pointing out that Catholics of strong religious conviction have played important roles in the history of European integration; not that the EU is a Papist-run conspiracy (as loons like Ian Paisley think). Obviously being a Catholic was not enough to help Blair in the diplomatic wranglings over who was to get the Presidency.

Stories from the States.

November 20, 2009

Here’s an inspiring story and here’s a sobering story.

Tory candidate stresses to voters the importance of his marriage.

November 19, 2009

Found via Tom Harris, this leaflet is crazy. I have received some pretty odd political material through my letter box over the years, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything as bizarre as this.

Has the candidate, Dr Ken Andrew, actually asked Conservative activists to distribute this bollocks?

Will the voters of Carshalton and Wallington be persuaded that the definitely-not-a-bachelor Dr Andrew should represent them in Parliament because he can successfully get himself married?

Will the local Tories be basing future leaflets around other happy but not particularly politically relevant themes? Maybe a leaflet informing voters that Dr Andrew was very satisfied with the socks he received for Christmas? Or perhaps whilst on his honeymoon he should send a postcard to each household in the constituency detailing all his sightseeing adventures?

The cynic in me checked to see whether Carshalton and Wallington’s sitting MP is a gayer. He’s not – Lib Dem MP Tom Brake is married with kids. Jokes about what Lib Dems get up to behind closed doors aside, it would seem that this leaflet probably isn’t a sly electoral ploy designed to emphasise Dr Andrew’s heterosexuality. The bloke simply wants to tell voters about his wedding.

Tom Brake’s majority is 1000. I wonder whether his opponent’s leaflet efforts will make him feel safer.

Dale is wrong.

November 19, 2009

Iain Dale has been hanging out with Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury.

Dale says: “If you close your eyes, and just listen, Emily Thornberry sounds rather like Margaret Thatcher. I kid you not.”

He is wrong. Emily has a much, much nicer voice than Maggie’s.

 

Gaddafi madness.

November 18, 2009

Guido Fawkes and those who like to leave comments at his blog often refer to Gordon Brown as the “Prime Mentalist” because they think that he is a bit mad.

But imagine if your country’s leader was not only very genuinely eccentric, but he doesn’t tolerate any criticism. In fact, despite his behaviour being so odd, there’s no way of actually removing him from power without resorting to revolution. People who oppose him can get locked up for years without trial. Guido and his fans would find themselves behind bars if they made similar kinds of jokes about this guy.

Another problem is that despite this leader being quite unhinged and unpleasant, his country happens to contain a lot of natural resources. Powerful people around the world are therefore happy to do business with him rather than criticise his regime too forcefully.   

Imagine if your country was ruled by Muammar “It wasn’t Jesus on the cross it was his stunt double” Gaddafi!

Compass madness.

November 18, 2009

I’m happy to see that Comrade Akehurst has been doing quite a bit of blogging recently. As usual, he provokes strong reactions.

I strongly agree, for example, that we in the Labour Party need fighters and believers right now – not quitters and plotters. Calls from the likes of Compass and Polly Toynbee for Labour to dump Gordon and change the leader before the election can’t be taken seriously. It’s too late for that now.

Compass’ frequent emails may address me as ‘Dear Supporter’ (where they got that idea from I don’t know!) and they may be holding their Christmas Bash conveniently close to Jako Towers in Islington, but I don’t think I’ll be joining in the ‘No Turning Back’ fun (and I expect Luke Akehurst won’t be either).