“No Deal Brexit” Is A Remainer Trap

“No Deal Brexit” Is A Remainer Trap

Ultra-brexiteers all over internet forums are keen to declare that they want Theresa May to walk away and “Just Leave”. They relish “Hard Brexit”.  Maybe they just like the name, they think it sounds rigorous and strong. They are stupidly, foolishly playing right into the hands of the EU. Brexiteers need to smarten up. Fast.

There is something about being British that makes us prone to a certain bloody-mindedness. Nowhere is this more true than amongst hardcore brexiteers who are keen for us not seek any deal, leave the EU, Customs Union, the EEA, and probably Eurovision too while we’re at it.

There is a strange feature of psychology that, when faced with enough complexity, we tend to retreat to a sort of “back to basics” auto pilot.

I can’t help feeling that, in amongst all the to and fro of the debate over the last 2 years, which as been made needlessly complicated at times, a large number of people have simply been lost along the way. They have retreated to the simplest form of their position. This is true on both sides. Remainers desperately cling to anything familiar of the EU in a completely illogical manner, such as the customs union, while brexiteers adopt a ridiculously hard-line position of “Leave everything – now”.

The problem here is that, actually, the brexiteers are going to get their wish by default. If nothing else happens between now and March 29th 2019 then we will have the hardest of all possible Brexits.

Article 50 was set up this way. Those EU hating brexiteers should consider that point carefully. Article 50, which was specifically written by the EU to keep nations in the EU defaults to giving nations the exact scenario that brexiteers claim to want. Isn’t that very strange?

Isn’t it also very strange that the EU have at every stage of the negotiations said “No” to everything suggested, and seem really quite happy for the clock to run down. Again, Brexiteers should really ask themselves why that is. If “no deal” brexit is the brexit that we want, then why on earth would the evil EU be pushing us towards it?

Here’s the reality about what happens after 29th March next year if we leave without a deal: No one knows.

There are significant differences of opinion. Some brexiteers are of the opinion we’ll be just fine, but there are many smart brexiteers who consider that post 29th March we would slip into something not far short of an economic Armageddon.

The reality is likely somewhere between two I suspect, but even if it’s only half as bad as the worst predictions of Brexiteers like Peter North, then brexiteers are in deep trouble.

Yes, Leave won the referendum, by a decent clear lead, but not an enormous one. Not all of those 52% were ardent brexiteers. Some would have been won over at the last minute. Likewise, for the 48%, many would have been sorely tempted to vote leave, but just came down on the side of the remain.

Then, of course, there are the extremists at both ends.

There isn’t consensus amongst the whole 52% that a “No Deal” brexit is the way to go, let alone amongst the 48% who voted remain.

If the “No Deal” scenario plays out and there is even just a couple of major hiccups (and there will be) then the media will fall on those like a flash.

Here’s a realistic possibility: Several major companies who depend upon close working relations with the EU could go bust with job losses or abandon their UK operations. I’m not saying all will, but some could.

Supply chain problems created by border disruption could lead to shortages of medicines for several weeks or months after 29th March. Someone’s grandmother could literally die because she can’t get the drugs she needs and she will be on the front page of the Guardian. Again, it won’t be all drugs, it won’t be every patient, but it could quite feasibly happen to a significant number of people. Enough to make a news story.

At least one low cost airline could easily go bust if we hit freedom of movement buffers on 29th March and there are no arrangements in place. Lastminute.com type holiday booking will simply be impossible if you need a visa 100 days in advance of travel. That will seriously hurt the travel industry.

Even in the most moderately bumpy scenario, there will be so much material for the remain backing media to make stories out of that an atmosphere of absolute hysteria will take hold very very quickly indeed.

And I have to say, no deal brexit could be really bad. Really really bad. I honestly don’t know, because there are so many different factors which could play out in different way,s and no one really knows. The extreme end of the spectrum is full flat out economic chaos. Think Hyperinflation in Germany in 1923. Think 1929 Wall street crash. A similar No-deal brexit economic collapse is a plausible scenario at this point.

I stress again, however, we don’t need to get anywhere near that level of disaster for the no-deal brexit scenario to become seriously unworkable for the brexiteers politically. If we even dip into a slight recession for three economic quarters, the media will be telling everyone the sky is falling in.

It’s all very well, if you’re a hardcore brexiteer to say you’ll simply keep calm and carry on, but the rest of the country won’t. We will lose the support of soft-brexiteers, non-voters, and, that rare breed, those who voted remain, but are genuinely trying to get behind brexit in the best interests of the nation.

The result? Suddenly the scene is set for a remainer comback. Politics is still stacked with remainers. Nothing has changed in that regard. All of a sudden, re-entry to the EU will suddenly seem like our economic saviour. They will go and beg for re-entry, and the people will cheer them on.

We will sickeningly give up the pound for the Euro, join Schengen, do whatever  it takes to get into the “safe harbour” of the EU after our brief journey on the stormy seas of brexit, and it will happen with the broad support of much of the population, leaving only the 20% of real hardcore brexiteers angry and disillusioned. “We tried it your way – it didn’t work!” the rest of the UK will say.

Now, in the long run, I think we could make an absolute no deal brexit work. However, you could only make it work with a brutally committed freemarketeer government that we do not have. You would need to have a government who was willing to pretty much scrap nearly all government spending, drop tax rates to the floor, particularly for business, and get rid of an absolute swathes of regulations to generate an “economic miracle” similar to that which lifted Germany after world war II.

It won’t happen. What instead would happen is tax rises in a desperate attempt to maintain public spending, which would further choke the economy and ensure no deal brexit was doomed. We would never get as far as seeing any of the economic benefits.

In summary, no deal brexit is an absolute disaster for brexiteers, because even on the most optimistic view, it involves a good deal of pain before you get to the benefits, and in the current political climate, that just isn’t going to work.

We must have a brexit which works well for day one, and is smooth and gives remainers as little to complain about as possible. Give them a few years to adjust to it, and then we can maybe push for more separation as we gather confidence as a nation.

Fortunately, such an option is on the table: It’s called EFTA/EEA Brexit. The beauty of this is that it’s an option we can take without needing anything from the EU. All we would need is to join EFTA with the agreement of its current 4 member states. This is crucial, because it’s the one form of Brexit which affords us a degree of control.

We are already in the EEA, and so do not need permission fro the EU to join it. However, to remain part of it, we would need to join EFTA. EFTA is an arrangement between Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, by which they have free trade with the EU. EFTA has already negotiated third party trade deals with other nations that we would become party to, so, off the shelf, we would have a working brexit.

It gets us outside of the common fisheries policy, the Agricultural policy, we can make independent trade deals with other nations. While there is still an agreement of free movement of people between EFTA nations and the EU, it is an agreement and subject to change and negotiation, in a way that freedom of movement is not negotiable while we remain in the EU. Liechtenstein for example, has agreed a cap on numbers for movement. We could certainly do similar.

What’s odd is how little coverage the EEA/EFTA options receives. Brexiteers seem to dismiss it as “soft brexit” (stupidly) and remainers, I suspect, don’t want to draw attention to such an eminently sensible and pragmatic solution, because keeping brexit as this catastrophic dichotomy between “leave” and “remain” ultimately serves them well.

It’s not perfect. It doesn’t give total control. It is, however, considerably better than what we have now, it would work smoothly, it would allow us greater economic prosperity. It would allow us to grow international trade, and, in a decades time, when we are in a stronger position than we currently are, we can press the EU for even better terms.

However, no-deal brexit will ultimately benefit no one but the remainers in the long run.

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Look Deeper: Trump’s Child Detainment At the Mexican Border Could Mask a Deeper Scandal

Look Deeper: Trump’s Child Detainment At the Mexican Border Could Mask a Deeper Scandal

The images we have seen from America in recent weeks of children crying in cages are traumatic and worrying. Clearly there is a problem there which needs sorting out. However, the real problem may be more sinister and deeper than we imagine

It is enormously dangerous to divide politics into “nice” and “nasty”. That “nice” Mr. Obama let the children come in, and that “nasty” Mr. Trump is caging them like animals. It’s so neat, it’s such an understandable narrative. It’s just unlikely to be true.

The simplistic narrative behind what is happening with the Mexico border goes like this:

The previous administration of Obama was “nice” and “compassionate”, so it let in people from across the border in a welcoming manner, and wasn’t too worried about the technicalities of whether they had the right paperwork. Just let them in first.

The Trump administration is hateful, and so is wanting to “other” those crossing the border by locking them up in concentration camps.

The vast majority of British observers seem to think that’s what’s going on here, and we need to understand some background facts:

FACT 1 The earnings disparity across the border is huge

First, the average Mexican earns around $6000/year, while the average salary in California is around $52,000.

That huge discrepancy just across the border is a clear economic incentive for anyone to want to get across, legally or otherwise.

If you operated a completely open border between the US and Mexico basically the entire population of Mexico would probably try and move tomorrow. That is surely neither sustainable or desirable for either nation.

It also creates a major issue because the dramatic difference in cost of living and relative currency strength makes Mexico an incredibly powerful Export market to the USA.  This is true for legal trade (Which is why so many goods are made cheaply in Mexico and sold in the US). It’s also true for illegal trade, trafficking of drugs and people.

That’s an important point we will return to.

FACT 2: Documentation is a huge problem

If a Mexican is found with documentation marking them as Mexican on the US side of the border and has entered illegally, they can theoretically be sent straight back. However, if someone from a third country, such as Guatemala enters the country illegally, they cannot be sent back over the border to Mexico.

This means if you are a Mexican you are better off crossing the border with fake ID, or even no  ID on you and claiming to be from some other South or central American country. That way you can’t just be sent back to Mexico.

For this reason entering with either fake ID, or no ID at all is going to be extremely common with illegal immigrants from across the border.

FACT 3: Mexico has a huge problem with child prostitution and sex trafficking

Having a look at this report will give you a good starting point on this topic, but the scale of child prostitution in Mexico is unbelievable. UNICEF consider Mexico the second highest risk country for child prostitution in the world.  The numbers involved are staggering. There are tens of thousands of child prostitutes in Mexico.

So where do those three facts take us?

If you add those facts together, what you get is that there is very likely to be a significant trade in illegally trafficking undocumented child sex workers out of Mexico into the USA.

How significant? Well, without the kind of stringent border control that Trump recently imposed, it seems likely there is no way to really know.

Why not? Well, let’s talk for a moment about how the immigration system from Mexico to the USA used to work until Trump’s reforms in the last couple of months.

A border guard picks up and adult with a young child near the Mexico border. They are detained. They don’t have any documentation to prove who they are. The adult claims to the be father of the child. They claim they are claiming asylum and are from Guatemala or some other country.

Previous to Trump’s reforms, a “catch and release” system was in operation. Essentially, this would mean they were given a time and place to attend at a later date in a nearby town for a court hearing on their asylum. Click here to see this policy explained by the President of the National Border Patrol Council.

Now, while people have expressed anger about this from an “illegal immigration” point of view, what few people have commented on is how potentially negligent this policy could be from a child protection point of view.

So what do you suppose happened if, in fact, that adult and child were not who they said they were, but a trafficker with a child destined for slavery or prostitution? In these brief cursory interactions with border control, with no period of detention, could that be reliably ruled out?

After release, they would simply not turn up to the hearing. They could disappear. Any ID details they gave could turn out to be falsified.  The child disappearing into the underground economy. Possibly never to be seen again.

A crucial point at which child protection policies could step in to save children was being missed.

Why would anyone allow this to happen? Surely that kind, nice, Obama administration wouldn’t want to let children end up slipping into child prostitution would they?

Well, unfortunately, it seems to me the answer is that, the previous administration cared less about this than they did the “poor optics” of detaining people at the border.

The numbers of people crossing the Mexico/USA border illegally are huge. Thousands every month. If you are serious about detaining those people and processing them, checking out who they are and documenting them, you’re going to end up with some kind of mass detention camp.

And that looks bad. And Obama didn’t like looking bad.

Trump cares considerably less about that kind of “bad optics” and so went ahead with detaining everyone. He chose to instigate a zero-tolerance policy. Everyone gets stopped and detained.

In just 6 weeks of the policy, the camps filled up with 2000 children. That has created the harrowing images we have seen on TV.  To be clear, previous to this, 2000 children would have been slipping into the country undocumented every month.

They weren’t being detained by the government. They were slipping ghost-like, largely undocumented, unprotected and unregulated into the underground of the United States. Many might legitimately be families. Some would very likely not be.

We have seen how children who entered the USA in the last six weeks from Mexico have been left crying in detention centres, which is horrible.

However, what we have no real handle on, is prior to the last six weeks, how many thousands of children have poured into the USA from Mexico, and been left crying, or even dead at the hands of abusers? How many of those might have slipped through the “catch and release” net?

As no one knew they were in the country in the first place, I simply don’t think there can be really any reliable data on that. It wasn’t on the news.

The situation in mexico regarding child prostitution is horrendous. This story, of a girl raped over 40,000 times is just the tip of the iceberg. We simply have no idea how much of a similar story might be going on within the USA, and be largely undocumented.

Given we know Mexico is a hotbed of child prostitution and trafficking, given we know there’s strong financial incentive to smuggle children across the border, the previous policy is anywhere from staggeringly naive to downright wicked. It is a gross dereliction of duty of care to those children.

The problem is that Trump has slammed the brakes on a freight train.  The momentum of thousands of people crossing the border every month can’t just be stopped overnight. The sudden implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy has suddenly created enormous processing and legal backlog, that the system was completely unprepared for. This is a major flaw in his approach for which he might rightly be criticized on practical organisational grounds, rather than ideological ones.

Hence the sight of poor children being held in processing centres. While these are clearly harrowing scenes that we would rather not see, it’s important to realise these cages are not intended to be where the children stay for the duration of their detention. You can see videos of those far more pleasant facilities here but, because of the sheer numbers, it is true that people are being held in the initial holding facilities longer than intended

That’s definitely a problem, it definitely needs looking at, but it doesn’t mean the underlying policy is wrong.

Let’s put it this way: Are you ok with adults with children with little or no documentation or proof of who they are, where they are from or where they are going, illegally crossing the Mexico/US border, out of a known hotbed of child trafficking, and authorities simply waving them on their way with the most cursory of checks?

If the answer is “No”, then, one way or another, you’re looking at something more akin to the Trump policy in principle, even if you apply it somewhat differently in practice.

If your answer is “Yes” then you are much nearer to the Obama policy previously, but you are also giving tacit approval to child trafficking.

What’s truly shocking about that approach is it means it’s entirely possible that trafficked children literally passed through the hands of US border officials, who may have had an opportunity to rescue them, and missed it under the previous system. That may well have been happening on an industrial scale. If that’s the case, one could liken it to the Rotherham scandals in the UK, where government agencies were found to be complicit or woefully lacking in their care of children.

If that is the case, there will be many people in the previous administrations desperately keen to ensure that doesn’t come to light, and thus trying to deflect as much attention as possible by howling loudly as possible about how terrible what Trump is doing is, as a smoke screen from the real scandal that has been going on for  years beforehand.

One can’t help feeling that the relaxed attitude to the welfare of these kids and the US government’s duty of child protection towards them had something to do with them “only” being south american kids, not US citizens incidentally. Thus, it seems likely there was some implicit racism going on.

Of course, the real answer to all of this is to not  have all these people crossing the border in the first place. To avoid having detainment at all. Have a properly secure border instead. Have a wall.

That way you control who comes in at point of entry. Some would say this would make it more difficult for those fleeing problems like slavery and trafficking to get into America and get to safety. The response to that is that a nation has a duty of care to anyone within its borders, it’s no good simply moving the problems inside your border. If you want America to be a safe haven to flee from trafficking and abuse, you need to make sure that it is that safe haven, and you cannot do that without meaningful border control.

Interestingly, Trump receives more derision on his “wall” policy than nearly anything else. People think it a terrible, hateful idea.

There’s one group of people who desperately hope the wall doesn’t get built though: People traffickers. They definitely wouldn’t want it.

If you’re opposed to the wall, do you really want to be on the same side of the argument as basically the very worst people on earth?

 

 

The Emerging Brexit-Shambles. Why Is There No Plan?

The Emerging Brexit-Shambles. Why Is There No Plan?

The country was not led off a cliff on the 23rd of June 2016, when we voted for Brexit. However, it is in severe danger of being led off the cliff on 29th March 2019 by spectacular incompetence of Government in the intervening period.

The country voted to leave the EU. This should not, and need not, be a catastrophe. Plenty of nations operate quite happily in Europe without being EU members. Norway, Switzerland etc.

However, Brexit is an enormous undertaking. It does require real leadership, vision, confidence, charisma and purpose. None of these things are terms readily associated with Theresa May, who’s definition of “risk taking” is running through a wheat field.

The need to have a Brexiteer in charge of Brexit is not merely partisanship. It’s simply that Brexit needs to be driven by a vision. It is absurd to try and take the country forward through something as big as brexit with a leadership which fundamentally doesn’t believe in it.

It almost matters less what that vision is than that you have one, but we need to decide on some version of Brexit and commit to that option. May simply refuses to do this, because she doesn’t actually have a clue of what she wants.

Broadly speaking, there are Four main Brexit camps:

“Left Wing Brexit” – Key players: Dennis Skinner and George Galloway. Almost politically irrelevant, but these are old school left wingers who despise the big corporate globalist nature of the E.U. Unfortunately, not enough left wingers have really rallied to this cause to make it a serious player in the kind of Brexit we have. Even though it’s not really my view, I find this unfortunate, as they have basically denied themselves a voice at the table. Ironically, they could have had that voice if Corbyn had the guts to back Brexit, but he didn’t. He choked. Galloway and Skinner, to their credit, and despite my many disagreements politically with them, did not.

“Far Right Wing Brexit” – Driven by a desire to reduce immigration motivated by xenophobia and show that we can pull up the drawbridge and we don’t need Johnny Foreigner to be a great nation. Led mostly by Britain First and similar types. Not nearly as important as the remainers would have us believe.

“British Independence Brexit” – Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg.  Motivated by the concept of sovereign control of the nation. This means a keenness for control over immigration. Most likely to say things like “We don’t want to pull up the draw bridge but control who comes over it!”

“Internationalist Brexit” – Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell. Almost entirely unconcerned about Immigration, and happy for the Four Freedoms to continue, but determined that we should have the fullest possible de-regulation of our internal market and ability to trade with third countries in a much more open way. Concerned about lack of EU democratic accountability and over-regulation.

These are broad themes. There is overlap. They agree on some things and disagree on others. My own views overlap with aspects of both of the latter two, although moreso the internationalist view.

The first one is not politically a live entity. The second is probably quite common on the street, but is basically happy to site itself within the third stream of Brexit politically, and thus is not politically relevant.

Which leaves the last two. They are not clearly divided camps, but the problem is that Theresa May will not commit herself fully to either one.

From an independence perspective, the correct play would be to not have triggered Article 50, to have started work on upgrading every aspect of the country’s port infrastructure to deal with customs checks, to have laid every preparation for a “No Deal” brexit possible, and only then told the EU we were leaving and said “We’re quite prepared to leave without a deal..give us your best offer to persuade us to do otherwise”. On this approach we would probably have needed to start acting in breach of EU regulations prior to actually leaving and simply taken the political flak for that. You would need someone prepared to play seriously hardball with the EU and not blink. Theresa May is not that person.

From an internationalist perspective, the thing to do would be to start working towards joining EFTA, the trade association between Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and determining what agreement we could come to on maintaining (near) friction free borders while opening up the possibility of wider international trade. You would need to be clear at the outset that you were going to make pretty sizable concessions on the four freedoms for at least the medium term to secure amicable and free flowing trade with the EU.

Ironically, a remainer like May is the worst possible person to try and cut this sort of “soft brexit” deal, as she would of course, be accused of “watering down Brexit”. It would not be politically tenable for her. Had this kind of Brexit been led by a Daniel Hannan type figure, they could have said, quite legitimately,  that this was always the kind of Brexit they believed in and wanted.

As a result, we have not really taken on either of these positions. Instead, we have triggered article 50, set an exit date, and are then floundering ever nearer to leaving the EU with no coherent vision of Brexit beyond March next year.

There are two theories of how it has come to this, and neither is pleasant:

The first is just sheer incompetence, derived from the fact that none of those piloting this ship have any real sense of where they want to go. Putting almost any brexiteer at the helm, with some kind of vision and ambition for Brexit would be better than this.

The second is worse, which is that the still overwhelmingly remain dominated establishment, which has not been properly cleared out, post referendum, is quite deliberately steering us towards a cliff-edge Brexit.

If we stumble out of the EU without any kind of deal being struck, a truly horrendous scenario in the first few weeks and months of post-EU Britain awaits of failure of imports and exports. It’s not impossible the country could run out of things such as essential drugs imported through the EU. Even if we sort that out after 3 or 6 months, people could literally die in the meantime.

If we don’t sort out what the airlines are going to do then flights will be cancelled. Holiday companies will go bankrupt. People will be stranded at airports. If we don’t sort out what the customs arrangements will be then there will be enormous tailbacks and queues at ports.

None of this would be permanent. In reality, it’s all problems on paper, and paper problems are always solvable when the harsh reality bites. Either we would come to an arrangement and the problems would ease, or we don’t come to an arrangement, and the hauliers and holiday companies go bust, and then there won’t be any queues at airports or ports. I think the former is more probable. That either the EU or the UK would choose the “nuclear” option of killing off travel industries and haulier businesses simply because they can’t agree over how to deal with customs paperwork beggars belief. However, in the short term, there would be chaos.

This is entirely avoidable by coming to these arrangements ahead of time, and yet it’s starting to loom as a plausible scenario that we will not do this. It’s almost hard to believe that such an obviously avoidable scenario could occur, other than by deliberate intention.

Why would it occur deliberately? My theory is, I’m afraid, quite darkly conspiratorial.

A short term “shock” Brexit which flings the UK into Crisis would very likely spark a strong demand to rejoin the EU as quickly as possible.

The only mechanism for doing so would be re-application to join. Which would mean rejoining, but only on the basis of joining the Euro, and Schengen. The Europhiles would finally get their dream: Full EU federal integration more than ever before.

It seems to me worryingly plausible that this is now the preferred hard-remainer plan: Catastrophic brexit, and bounce the UK back into the EU via  Article 49. Even at the expense of everything up to, and including, British lives.

 

 

Why Don’t the “Yes” Lobby Ever Actually Want To Talk About The 8th Amendment In The “Repeal the 8th” Debate?

Why Don’t the “Yes” Lobby Ever Actually Want To Talk About The 8th Amendment In The “Repeal the 8th” Debate?

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The above text is the 8th amendment. This is what Ireland is voting on today.

Yet, virtually no one on the “Yes” side to repealing the 8th, as far as I can establish, is actually talking about the 8th at all.

All their focus is on all the reasons why legal abortion is good for women and society. Now, that may or may not be true, but, that’s not what is being voted on today. What’s being voted on is those words in bold at the top of this post. That is therefore what the debate should be about.

There are basically, two approaches you could take to morally justifying abortion.

  1. You could acknowledge that the fetus does have a right to life, but then argue that, in certain circumstances, other moral imperatives are so great that they are a defeater to this right.
  2. You can refute that the fetus has a right to life, in which case, there is really no case to answer with respect to whether abortion is morally justified. Abortion itself is not an immoral act, but an amoral one. No more of need of special ethical consideration than removing a polyp.

 

Option 1

Let’s talk about the first of these options. If you took that approach, you would not need to repeal the 8th amendment. The amendment asks only to “respect as far as is practicable” the right to life.

All you need to do is show that, in a given case it is impracticable to respect the life of the unborn.

Leave aside the unborn and talk about other human beings for a moment to see circumstances of how this could work: There are any number of circumstances where it might be necessary to overrule the right to life, even of innocents, and that could be morally justified. It should never be an easy decision, but it could be made if the circumstances justified it.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this in recent history was on 9/11. When it became clear that airliners had been hijacked, and were being crashed into buildings, the US air force were scrambled to intercept any further flights which were hijacked and shoot them down. Had this occurred, obviously, innocents would have died, yet lives would have been saved on the ground. On United Airlines 93, the fourth aircraft hijacked that day, some of the passengers manged to take over the aircraft and resulted in it crashing into a field rather than into the White House. They are hailed as heros for saving lives, not seen as villains for taking the 44 lives of the people who died, which would, in the context, clearly be absurd.

No one is saying here that the people on those airliners didn’t have a right to life. No one is saying their right wasn’t innately equal to that of any other person. We don’t need a special constitutional amendment to eliminate the right to life of people on airliners and say that they are not “people” in order to morally justify the action of shooting those airliners down. No, what we say is that, tragically, there may be occasions where, despite our best efforts to protect all life, we must make choices between one life and another, without that meaning we are denying that both hold inalienable rights.

Suppose for example there was a constitutional amendment which said “The state acknowledges the right to life of airline passengers…” that would not exclude the possibility of military action against an airliner in a 9/11 type scenario.

Now, you could take that approach to abortion.  You could argue the case that there are circumstances where, even acknowledging the right to life of the unborn, there is still sufficient moral imperative to allow abortion in certain circumstances.

It’s a hard sell. The cases where you could argue this would be limited, but you could do it, for some abortion, some of the time. It is on these grounds that you would want to make a powerful and impassioned case for why, for the good of women, abortion was sometimes required, but nothing about that would innately disqualify the 8th amendment.

If your case was good enough, and compelling enough it would overrule the 8th rather than be blocked by it. The very admission of the “yes” campaign that the 8th needs to be struck down in order for abortion to be legal, is an admission that the case, on these grounds simply is not that strong.

Option 2

Then there is the second of the two options. Simply argue that the unborn are not “persons”. Argue that they do not have a right to life, because they are not (in some sense) alive.

If you can make that argument stick, if you can make it convincing, then you have a moral justification for abortion on demand in any circumstance. For any reason, or no reason at all. In the balancing scales of the morality, there is simply nothing to be weighed in one side, and only all the perceived advantages of women having greater control over their fertility in the other.

However, if this is your argument, then you need to be talking almost exclusively about topics like fetal development, at what stage human life begins, at what stage a fetus becomes a person and making your case for why abortion is not “killing a person”.

It makes no logical sense at all, on this view to go on and on about how good legal abortion is for women if this is your view. It’s actually irrelevant to the argument. The moral “goods” of abortion are only relevant on the “option 1” approach where you are trying to argue for the advantages of abortion over the moral disadvantages.

If the fetus isn’t a person, why expend so much time and energy on arguing for the positives of abortion? It makes no sense.

It makes no sense in the general pro-choice argument, and it makes even less sense in the specific case of the “Repeal the 8th” debate. Read the wording of the 8th amendment. It’s all about the unborn. The debate, if it were an honest one, should be entirely about those first 10 words of the amendment and whether they are valid or not. The goods or evils of abortion for woman are an external influence. Maybe they outweigh the right to life of the unborn, maybe they don’t, but they don’t intrinsically determine whether the unborn has a right to life.

The Sinister “Option 3”

There is of course one way in which you can connect  the rights of women to the rights of the unborn in a causal way, but involves introducing a principle, which, if you really take it seriously should be extremely disturbing to any right thinking individual.

That principle is as follows: That the right to life is not innate, but rather awarded to individuals based on the social expediency to the society as a whole of doing so.

Could it possibly be the case that we think abortion is socially expedient? And therefore, because it is socially expedient, we choose to withhold the award of “the right to life” from the unborn?

Then the question arises; is that all that is required for the right of life to be withheld from one group, or one individual? For it to be sufficiently socially expedient?

That’s a truly terrifying principle if you followed it to its logical conclusion. The infirm, the elderly, the disabled, the socially marginalised could all fall under the remit of that principle if you take it seriously and follow it through consistently.

If you don’t follow the principle through in all situations, then you are “special pleading” for it in the case of the unborn. You need some special case for why it applies there and nowhere else, which takes you back to the question of personhood again.

However, in response to discussions about “The right to life of the unborn”, the pro-choice movement nearly always respond by talking about the rights of women as the moral counter to the rights of the unborn.

They almost never, except in the most perfunctory and dismissive way, really engage in questions about when life begins based on questions like fetal brain activity, or heartbeat, or somatic development or any of these things. You will notice that, in any conversation, they are keen to divert from this, to the question of the rights of the woman at the first opportunity.

This strongly implies an “option 3” approach to an understanding of what constitutes a right to life.

That anyone would vote to repeal an amendment which opens with the words “The state acknowledges the right to life…” on grounds of greater social expediency is deeply concerning. Look long and hard enough down that road, and on the far horizon you will see the gates of Auschwitz.

Did Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Address Inspire you?: Then what now?

Did Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding Address Inspire you?: Then what now?

In a wedding with a beautiful A-list celebrity cast, an aging Episcopalian Bishop, Michael Curry, stole the headlines with a passionate address about love. Why did he capture attention? Clearly he inspired many of the millions of listeners with that address, but what does it all mean?

The first question is relatively simple to answer. The Bishop, despite his Episcopalian denomination being known for staid tradition, addressed the audience of a royal wedding with the passion and zeal of a pentecostal preacher. It was always going to raise a few eyebrows and cause some amusement. (Episcopalian is basically the American branch of the Church of England incidentally.)

Moreover his message of love was hopeful, uplifting and timely.

Michael Curry’s sermon drew plaudits from across the board. According  to The Sun Newspaper Michael Curry “Stole the show”. According to The Guardian the sermon will “Go down in history”.  According to the Daily Mail, Curry was the “breakout star” of the wedding. The Daily Telegraph said he “stole the show” The Independent described him as “stunning” The Daily mirror picked up on Harry’s comment “wow”.

Notice how broad that appeal is? Broadsheet, tabloid, left, right…universal acclaim.

That, in this day and age of polarised politics is a really rather extraordinary thing, and deserves some consideration. What is going on here? It is unusual enough for a vicar to get any plaudits, let alone from across the board.

I think different people liked it for different reasons. It would be dangerous to assume that your friend who re-posts this sermon on facebook is doing so for the same reason that you are.

Committed, Bible believing, church-going Christians across the country were just pleased to see someone speak with passion and enthusiasm about matters of faith and make the world just sit up and take notice of a vicar in a positive way for once. Vicars are not usually on the front page of newpapers for happy news. Christians with wildly differing theologies from Curry’s are likely to at least commend him on that. Curry, while being known as something of a radical in many of his views, wisely kept the majority of what he said within the realm of that which is universally agreed on by all Christians, (at least on the most accommodating interpretation of his words he was orthodox).

All such Christians passionately believe that Christianity has love at its very centre, and many would maintain that, in fact, love is uniquely central to the Christian faith more than any other faith, and an “advert” for Christianity which laboured that “unique selling point” could surely only be a good thing.

They should be wary of Matthew 10:16 here though. “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

An innocent message of love in the complex world of media and politics just isn’t that simple. They might want it to be, but it isn’t. Before the sermon was even off Curry’s lips, it was already a pawn in a wider political game. Curry hasn’t got the plaudits he has for this sermon simply because people across the board thought it was a great piece of oratory. It’s more complex than that.

For example, those who see everything through the lens of identity politics just loved seeing a black man lecture the white privileged classes on racism, talk about slavery and quote MLK in the most privilege of white privileged environments: A royal wedding. The internet is already full of memes laughing at the “shocked” faces of the royals. The aforementioned Daily Mirror article couldn’t resist a dig of that nature either.  While an element of the humour is good-willed, there is also a meanness, a gloating, in some of those memes. Given this was a sermon about universal love, the fact that the very first thought of many is to weaponise it into snide internet memes against the royals or the “privileged” is unfortunate.

Some who had done a little bit more homework on Curry may even have been commending him because they know him to be “on their side” politically. Ed Miliband tweeted appreciatively Curry could “almost make him a believer”. I wonder, do we think Miliband was aware that Curry is an outspoken critic of Donald Trump? I suspect so, or, at least, do we suppose Miliband would not have tweeted appreciatively of him were Curry a supporter of Donald Trump, as many evangelical Christians in the USA are?

Which feeds into, perhaps, why Curry has managed to achieve such universal acclaim from both Left and Right in the media for this sermon.

A lot of “identity politics” boxes were ticked for people on the left which made them like Curry almost irrespective of what he said.

The right who generally champion the religious establishment were keen to have something good to report about religion for once, and as Curry was smart enough to keep his less orthodox views out of direct attention in his address, they were happy to draw a veil over them also.

The Curry Address In a Nutshell

So what did he really say?

I’d say his 13 minute address can boil down to three elements:

  1. That love is a powerful force in the world because it comes from God.
  2. That Jesus was sacrificial in his death and that this was “love”
  3. That if “Love was the way” in every aspect of the systems of this world (government, finance, business) then we would have a “new earth”.

He only very lightly touched on (2), so, it’s really impossible to establish from the sermon itself what he may or may not have meant by it. I can draw my own conclusions from a wider study his theology, but a casual listener need not take much more from what he said on this point than Jesus gives us a good example of a loving sacrificial life and death. That’s potentially a problematic oversight, but we shall return to that later.

That leaves us with (1) and (3).

I could boil this down further to simply this:

Love is powerful and good because it is a force that comes from God, and if everyone loved each other completely, and all our systems and structures of society perfectly reflected that love, the world would be a much much better place.

I don’t think I’m missing anything substantial from Curry’s sermon in that last sentence. Beautiful oratory and enthusiasm aside, essentially this is what Curry communicated. I have no qualms with what Curry is saying here as far as it goes, but, it leaves a lot unsaid, and what was left unsaid is crucial.

What Curry left out

One thing about Curry’s sermon, is you will get no clue from Curry on why Christians deem it important to go to Church on Sunday, or pray, or read the Bible, or sing songs of Worship to God. i.e. You will get no clue of why one would do anything which is distinctively Christian rather than merely good. Curry tells us we should all love each other more, but it’s not at all apparent, at first glance, why the Church, or Christianity should have any kind of monopoly on that, or even any particular greater insight then those outside it.

I can see how Curry’s sermon might encourage one to give to charity, or try to be a nicer person. I fail to see any reason why it might make someone think there was something to be gained from going to church. That might not necessarily be a failing, but it seems a point worth making.

Part of the reason Curry’s sermon was so popular is that, the message, as simplified above, is basically uncontroversial. You would struggle to find anyone who disagreed with it. An atheist would quibble at the idea that the power of love derives from God, but the thrust of the message isn’t really altered if you remove that aspect.

And one of the reasons why few would bother to disagree with it, is because it doesn’t cost anything to agree with that message in principle. David Beckham, Elton John, Camilla and the Queen, and Megan’s mum and a a billion people all around the world can all nod sagely and agree with phrases like “When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again“, but tomorrow the world will still be exactly the same, and children will still be hungry.

Curry wants us to imagine a world in which there is a love so wide that all of humanity is caught up in it, and our courts, schools, hospitals and everything down to our train services run on it, but we all know, deep down, what the problem with this is:

Think about the one person you love most in the world. Your spouse, your parents, your children. Now, you can probably think of some way in which you have failed to love them as properly or fully as you ought to have done within the last month.

In fact, if you really raise the bar,  if you raise the standard of love to which you aspire, you can probably think of some way in which you could have loved them better within the last week, or even the last day than you have in fact done.

And that’s only how you have failed by your own standards of love. Imagine how far below the bar you have fallen if you were to be measured against a standard of perfect love, of perfect self-sacrifice.

Maybe you are reading this, and you don’t have a “significant other” that you love. Well, consider even yourself, most of us fail to even treat ourselves as well as we know we ought to. Have you given up junk food yet? Quit smoking like you told yourself you would do?

Curry wants us to run the world on pure sacrificial love indefinitely. Yet, we can barely even conduct our own households, or even ourselves on principles of sacrificial love for a straight 24 hours without screwing it up. What good is the advanced lesson Curry is teaching when we fail at even the elementary one?

I think we all know this. This is part of why Curry’s imagining of a New Earth where “Love is the way” is so popular, it’s not challenged by anything remotely close to reality. Despite his warning at the outset to not sentimentalize  love, is that not exactly what we find ourselves doing here?

Suppose Curry had, instead of loftily imagining a whole new earth based on love, brought this down to the nuts-and-bolts level of the mundane lives of individuals. Suppose he had simply  implored people that they really ought, for example, to just try loving their spouses a little better than they currently do? To give them more time and help more with household chores and to redouble your commitments to being faithful and sticking with your marriage even if it’s on the rocks or not nearly as enjoyable as you wish it to be, and divorce would seem easier and better for all involved. Would his sermon have been anywhere near as well received then?

I suspect not. If he took that tack, he’d have been cast as a moralising busybody, and people would ask “how dare he presume to speak into my unique circumstances?.”

You see what is happening here? What Curry proposes is like a Monet painting: Beautiful at a distance, but a mess when viewed up close. The same principle of sacrificial love which looks so attractive when held at arms length as a model for world government, is hard to be as enthusiastic about up close; when you apply it to the governance of your own household. It is nothing like as pleasant when you have to volunteer clean up the living room carpet after the the cat has been sick out of sacrificial love as it is to imagine a world of sacrificial love in the abstract.

We all know this is true of ourselves. We all know it’s why new years resolutions rarely make it to the end of January. We all know it’s why, even though you love your children dearly, you probably harbour some guilt or paranoia that you’re not as good a parent as you should be. We all know that it is why, beautiful and in love as they clearly are, the national statistics suggest there is a 42% chance that the Royal Marriage will end in divorce.

None of this made it into Curry’s address. Perhaps because one wouldn’t want to put a “downer” on a wedding day, but Curry himself told us we must not over sentimentalize love, and all of this is very much part of the reality of what needs to be addressed if “love is the way”.

He left the audience marveling at the beauty of the picture he painted. He left it as a goal that we should be aiming for, and it is good, and right, and proper that we do this. We need to fully envisage the beauty of what Curry is describing fully in order to fully appreciate the gravity and sadness of what needs to be said next, the part that Curry did not go on to say. The depressing “reality check:

The Reality Check

That utopia Curry spoke of? It’s not going to happen. Not ever. Not within this realm of existence at least. We cannot try hard enough, as a human race to make it happen, and even if we could, we will not, because we don’t really want to. You don’t want to, and I don’t want to. Not really. Not left to our own devices. We might think we want to. We might want to want to, but even that is beyond us a lot of the time.

Somewhere, some element of self interest, pride, conceit, corruption, arrogance or deceit will ruin it. Let us not kid ourselves that it will be “one bad apple” who spoils it for everyone. No, it’s the cumulative effect of all our failings which means that any enterprise humanity undertakes is ultimately always doomed to fail in the long run.

It is as if something is fundamentally broken, as if there is a fundamental bug in the system that just won’t be eradicated, no matter how times we build the system up in different ways. The more wonderful the system seems, the more catastrophically it goes wrong.

After World War I, the League of Nations was formed “to promote international co-operation and to secure international peace and security”. A quite wonderful idea, but within 25 years 50 million people would be dead from World War II.

Oxfam, was founded as the Oxford committee for Famine relief in 1942 by Quakers to relieve the plight  of the starving citizens of Greece. Its intentions could not have been more honourable, and were all the more remarkable for arising in Britain during the height of World War II and rationing at home. Yet in 2010 its staff sexually abused women in Haiti while its CEO took home a six figure salary.

The litany of organisations and structures founded on good intentions which at best, failed, and at worst actively produced evil, is long and distinguished. Ultimately it’s always for the same reason; the failures of the people who run such systems, which always seem to spoil things.

The Software Bug in Humanity: Sin 

Christianity has a word for this bug. It calls it “sin”.  Sin is an intensely “religious” word, but the phenomenon that Christianity is really describing when it uses that word, is surely objectively true to anyone, irrespective of their religious persuasion: There is a kind of moral entropy at work in the human heart, we tend to fall to the lowest baseline standard of moral acceptability in any given circumstance, and only by will of effort do we temporarily rise above this, and often we fail to do so.

Humanity’s moral triumphs are infrequent peaks on a plataeu of moral mediocrity, with all too frequent chasms to the moral abyss.

And it is this “sin”, this fundamental flawed aspect of human behaviour, which prevents us from ever attaining the world where “Love is the way”. That is the problem to which the Christian Gospel claims to the the answer.

So it is in this sense, that I rather think the Christian Gospel really starts at the point Curry stopped.

Curry used the word “love” 67 times in 13 minutes.  Once every 12 seconds. That’s impressive. The entire gospel of John only manages to use the word Love around 57 times. However, he only used the word “sin” only once in reference to a “sin sick world”.

That is a good term for it. I have spoken of sin as a “software bug” in humanity, but maybe sin is more like a disease within the condition of human society than it is anything else. It is contagious. It spreads. It can cause more symptoms at some times than others, but lurks beneath the skin of even those that appear healthy at the surface.

And it tends to manifest most when seemingly “healthy” individuals undertake an enterprise together. Even a good one. Winston Churchill once opined “You may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.”. He was right. The sad reality is that the collective behaviour of human beings when they undertake to form a club, or a society, or charity, or a government, is liable to trend towards the sum of their vices rather than to represent the sum of their virtues.

The science of psychology has demonstrated this with disturbingly repetitiveness. The Milgram experiment  and The Stanford Prison Experiment are probably the two best known examples.

What we see in these experiments is that the malevolent behaviour spreads, like a contagious disease in the group, who seem all too readily susceptible to it. Christianity teaches that this disease doesn’t just transmit from individual to individual, it is also like a hereditary illness. We are born into it. It’s innate. It’s already there from the start, handed down all the way from Adam, the first man, (whether  you consider him literal or metaphorical is irrelevant to this point.)

What if there was some kind of vaccine that could make one immune, or at least, resistant, to this contagion?

The Christian gospel says there is. It says that the way, ultimately, to immunity from this, is to be a different kind of being altogether. Just as your dog does not catch your cold from you, because the disease cannot cross that species barrier, the cure to sin is to be of a kind of species which sin cannot touch. To be a new kind of man, a new  kind of woman. It requires not merely a new will of effort, nor a simple repair job, but an entire re-birth.

Jesus called this being “born again”.  In John 3v3 he says “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God”. By “the Kingdom of God” he means that world where “Love is the way”, the world that Curry invited us to imagine. However, he recognises that the kind of people we currently are cannot get us there.

And if we are to be born again, what must that mean for our old selves? Well, that dies a kind of death. The Apostle Paul expressed this by saying in Galatians 2v20 “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live”.

Which links in to that other rather strange thing that Curry said about Jesus dying to save us. Curry might have left one with the impression that this was merely an example of loving sacrifice, which it was, but that is not, primarily, why it matters in Christianity. The Christian belief is that when Christ died on the cross, and subsequently rose from the dead, he conquered death itself, and thus allows us all to do in a spiritual sense, what he did in a literal one, if we ask for his help to do so: That is, to die and rise again..as new beings.

Not that the Christians believe that this results in a total overnight transformation. Another reason for Jesus using the analogy of birth is because birth results, not in an adult, but a baby. Being “born again” means to be reborn, not in the the fully fledged “New Man” or “new Woman” that God intends for us to be over night, but to be reborn as a “Child of God”. To start to take the first baby steps in a new kind of life which we may scarcely get beyond the adolescent phase of before the end of our lives here on earth.

It also doesn’t mean we are instantly free of all sin in this life, but it does mean that sin is no longer a terminal illness, but a transitory one. It becomes something more like a cold than a cancer. Some of us remain more prone to more colds than others. Occasionally even the best of us can even get a dose of really rotten flu.

This difference matters, because Christianity has in mind the long game. It is about ultimate consequences far more than it is about the here and now, (important thought that may be). Alongside the ability to experience this rebirth, Christians believe that Christ’s defeat of death, by God becoming a man, dying on the cross ,and rising again gives us Eternal Life. That our spiritual new birth is a foretaste of a literal one; of a hope beyond the grave. (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life“) And notice that this process, which involved (if we can grasp this) God himself undergoing great pain and loss was an act of Love.

This is the Love which will change the world. I fear that the casual listener of Curry’s address may have been led to believe that Curry thought the world would be changed by the love of one person for another person. It will not…or at least, not until those people are of the kind person that can give and receive love sinlessly. The thing that enables any of this “Way of love” to happen is that God has initiated, by love, and through love, this rebirth process, through the death and resurrection of Christ. This is why, elsewhere in the New Testament it says “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Against that backdrop, what matters is the trajectory of our development in this life, not necessarily where we get to. What matters is that we have the fundamental change of direction that this rebirth requires, and are moving and growing in accordance with that rebirth. That we are headed in the right direction, even if we are only taking the first few  stumbling toddler-like steps down that path. Until we are “born again” as Christ described, we are very much not headed in the right direction.

The problem is we cannot do any of this until we first really wish to put that old self to death, and we cannot really do that while we continue to think that old self is really actually quite a decent sort of individual just in need of a little tweaking or fixing.

We need to first accept the bad news of how sick  we are with this sin-disease, to genuinely ask for God’s help to put that old way of ourselves to a spiritual death and adopt a new way. Which is why the Bible says in 1 John 1v8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.

Then, and only then, might we be able to “make love the way” and see the Kingdom come that Jesus spoke of, or the “New Earth” as Curry put it.

This is not at all a pleasant thing to take on board. It wouldn’t make the majority of the cast of A-list celebrities at the Royal Wedding nod approvingly and smile. Indeed, it’s so insulting and offensive that a good deal of human history has involved governments and individuals trying to shut people up from spreading this kind message.

A stubbornness to believe that we can fix ourselves by our own efforts, rather than accepting this message is almost part of sin’s self-defence mechanism. An aggressive, often violent reaction against the message that we need to be fundamentally changed nearly always accompanies any individual’s first encounter with the gospel, much like the first dose of a necessary but unpalatable medicine may often induce vomiting before it is the cure to the illness.

All of what Curry envisaged in his sermon cannot and will not come to pass until all of the people of the world have undergone this kind of rebirth which finally does away with this destructive force of sin, and yet there is a tremendous innate resistance within us to the only cure. It is because of this that Christians believe this won’t fully come to fruition until the second coming of Christ when “Every knee will bow” (Romans 14v11)

In Conclusion

There are two aspects of how I will conclude this post:

The first is to say, that if all of this is new, yet interesting to you, I strongly recommend reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis for a fuller and better explanation than I can possibly manage here. The ideas I have outlined in this blog post,  are immeasurably the most important subject this blog has ever tackled.

The second is to those readers for whom this is not new. Those who consider themselves to be in the  New Life that I have described, I would simply pose the following:

If really, all hope, the only hope of the world is aimed at getting as many people as possible into that new life, into that rebirth in Christ, then, what really, do we need from our government?

It seems to me, that we need the kind of society which maximises the potential for the communication, the understanding, the receiving, and the acting upon of the Gospel.

  1. This will certainly need to be a society with the most robust defence possible of free speech. I would go so far as to say that this comes at the expense of almost everything else as a value that the the Christian should support in society. In particular we must be very wary of restriction of free speech on grounds of “offence” in the absence of explicit threat. If offense is to be considered a reasonable limitation on free speech, then the Gospel will be restricted, for it is inherently offensive. If the state is to have nearly any kind of veto over speech, we must expect for that veto to be used against the Gospel at some point by some government.

2. We need a society which defends life maximally and seeks to preserve it, so that as many lives as possible may hear the gospel and come to new life through it.

3. We need a society that maximises literacy, numeracy and the academic disciplines of argumentation, reason and critical thinking,  for these will allow for the understanding and defence of the gospel.

4. We need a society which protects the liberty of the individual from the state, rather than one that seeks defence of the individual by the state, because the lesson of history is that, the periods of time when states has been the friend of the Gospel are few and far between. We enjoy a period of a few hundred years of relatively benign interaction between the Church and the western states only by mere accident of history, and my instinct is that time is ebbing away.

5. A secondary aspect for being strongly defensive of individual liberty is that a genuine response to the gospel requires genuine freedom. There is little point in telling a man he is free to leave a room if you have locked all the doors. Liberty of action is inherently tied to freedom of speech anyway, and even if it were not, a society which allows the individual, as far as possible without impeding upon the liberties of others discussed here is required for the most authentic and genuine response possible to the gospel.

6. A society which seeks to defend the five liberties above is almost bound to find itself threatened on its external borders. It must therefore be robust in defence of itself from external threat. It should seek to interact in societies outside itself primarily in a manner which seeks wherever possible to share and encourage the five values listed abroad wherever possible by consent.

This sort of society would, I think, be inherently fertile ground for the gospel, and equally, hospitable to those that choose to reject it. It is, in essence, libertarian.

Finally, what we must not do, is engage in the folly of attempting to build Curry’s new world with the “old” kind of people. We must not think we can build our way to the new world by laws, by legislation, by organisations, by structures. This is the folly of the Tower of Babel.  We cannot, ultimately, be successful in that mission.

Even if we could manage it for a short time, it would be of no consequence. Change all of a society, and it will one day be all for nothing. The empires of Egypt and Rome, were once mighty, but are now in the dust, and so shall ours one day be. We should never forget that.

Change one human heart however, with the Gospel, and you have changed something which will last forever.

 

 

 

Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard: Why It’s Important That Parents Have The Right To Be Wrong

Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard: Why It’s Important That Parents Have The Right To Be Wrong

We awoke this morning to the sad news, that in the early hours of this morning, Alfie Evans has passed away.

The news stories will quickly move on. Soon, we will struggle to remember his name, just as you would have perhaps struggled to remember Charlie Gard’s name, a case with many similarities from a few months ago, if you had not been reminded by the headline.

Charlie and Alfie, it goes without saying, will never be forgotten by their parents, long after the cameras and news crews have moved on. They will not be forgotten either, by the doctors involved in their care, whom I have no doubt, believed sincerely they were trying to do the best could for those two little boys.

However, there is another sense in which these cases will not be forgotten. They will not be forgotten in law. They will not be forgotten as legal precedents, and the consequences of that should concern all of us
The State as the Sole Arbiter of “Best Interests”

The principle that these cases have established is the following: That the state must always enforce “The Best Interests Of The Child”, even if that is against the wishes of the parent.

The problem here is that the specifics of the case blind us to really grasping hold of what an extraordinary principle this is, and what this principle would mean if taken to its logical conclusion. Please remember, that is exactly what law courts do: They take the principles established by previous cases, and apply them to their logical conclusions in the next.

Before looking at what I consider to be the really disturbing legal principles, I want to make something of a disclaimer here:

Based on my understanding of these cases, (which is only partial, as not all the information is really in the public domain) it seems to me that, in both these cases, I would tend to take the view that my interpretation of the best interests of the children would agree with that of their doctors and disagree with that of their parents.

I worded that last sentence in a slightly complicated way for a very specific reason. I know a lot of doctors who simply have stated they think the doctors were “Right” and the parents were “Wrong” and of course the Judges made the right decision. In a sense I agree with them, but I think they are failing to see that when they say this, they are really only adding one more opinion to the situation; namely their own.

I want it quite clearly understood that I believe the right and proper thing for a child who is irrevocably, terminally ill, is to be treated in a manner that maximises their comfort and dignity, rather than merely flogging the last fraction of life you can out of them with every possible medical intervention. This is the quite reasonable and sensible view that the doctors in both cases took, and, for what it’s worth, I agree with them.

Now, with that said, (and I hope that no one reading the rest of this article forgets it) I will make my case for why there is a problem here:

By the very nature of the cases, the supremacy of the state over parents was intrinsically established.

Both cases involved the following scenario: A judge, doctor on one side, and the parents on the other side.

The doctors made their case as to what they thought was in the child’s best interest. The parents made theirs. The Judge decided what they thought was in the interests of the child.

Now, the point I want to make here is that even if the judge decided in the parents favour this would still be the state deciding what was in the best interests of the child. The judge is an agent of the state, the very fact that a judge is the arbiter shows that the whole process is set up in a way which means the state is supreme. They might agree with the parents, they might agree with the doctors, but, very fact that it is the judge who has the power of decision means the state is 100% in charge here.

The Judge was not being asked to determine whether what the parents wanted to do was illegal in any specific sense, he was merely being asked to determine what was in the best interests of the child.

This, in a free society is really quite extraordinary. In a free country, if something isn’t unlawful, then it is lawful. That means you are free to do it. Just because you are free to do something doesn’t mean that it is good, or right or proper.

You are, for example, free to commit adultery. It’s a terrible and immoral thing to do, but it’s not against the law. I think most people would recognise that, despite that fact, we probably would not want to live in a country where adultery was illegal because of what this would say about the intervention of the state into personal liberty.

This is notwithstanding the fact that adultery can cause enormous pain, and damage and harm to many people (not least the children of people involved). Yet, we mostly accept that it lies within the realms of personal liberty, rather than state intervention. We understand also that, if something is not specifically against the law, then you are free to do it.

That which is not unlawful is, by default, lawful. I’d go so far as to say, that’s almost what “living in a free country” means.

Now, it is very hard to see, in a basic common law principle why parents should not choose to transfer the care of their child from one group of qualified doctors to another group of qualified doctors, and move that child to a different place, which is essentially what the parents were asking for. There is nothing in that which seems, in any general sense to break the law. So why is a judge even involved in the first place? And if a judge is involved, why is he not working from the principle that, unless the parents wish to do something unlawful, then they should be free to do it?

The legal defeater here is section 1 of the The Children’s Act 1989, which says a court must always act such that “The Welfare of the Child is Paramount”. The issue with this is that paramount is a superlative term. What does it mean for something to be “paramount” other than to defeat all other considerations at all times? This has, in subsequent legal and parliamentary commentary codified into the principle of “Best Interests Of The Child” The judgment on Alfie Evans referenced the term “Best interests” 11 times. Justice Hayden Refers to “Best Interests Of The Child” in Section 47 of his judgement as the “Lode Star” of the court.

Note what a powerful game changer that is as a legal principle: If there are two courses of action, both of which are perfectly lawful, but the court deems one to be “better” for the child than the other, then the judge is compelled to choose the one he considers “in the best interests of the child” irrespective of the parent’s wishes, even if the suggested action of the parents is, in itself, perfectly lawful. He must do, how could he choose any other course of action if he holds the welfare of the child to be “paramount” as the Children’s Act states he must?

I’m not sure whether, at the time of creating the Childrens Act it was really understood the full extent of the inversion of the default legal principle which this generates, and in part, it does seem to come from the subsequent case law application of the act, which is, in a sense, part of my concern.

No longer is it merely enough for the parents to show that their action with respect to their child is lawful, but to show that it is the best action for the child.

This is fraught with difficulty. Not least of which is that “best interests” is so obviously subjective in many cases. Even if one assumes that the state really will always seek to act in the best interests of the child (and I personally think that is an awfully big assumption), it is innately problematic to think that the state knows better than the parents what is in their child’s best interests.

It implies that there is actually no real freedom in parenting at all. Essentially, you are free to parent your children however you wish, provided the state doesn’t disagree with you. Which is, in other words, no freedom at all. It is no use complaining that your parenting has broken no laws. It doesn’t have to. It merely has to fall below the standard of being “in the child’s best interests” as the court sees it. “Best” is a very narrow term. It’s a superlative. It doesn’t allow for “quite good interests” or “reasonable interests”. No, anything less than “best” allows the legal overrule of the state of the parent. It sets the bar extremely low for state intervention, should the state be so minded as to intervene.

To see how restrictive this is, imagine if the same standard was applied to adults as well as children. Imagine that courts were asked in all cases, at all times, not merely to assert whether the defendant had broken any law, but whether they had acted “in their best interests”.

Suppose you decided, aged 18, despite having achieved an excellent university place to reject it and go travelling instead, and the state intervened, tapped you on the shoulder and said “I’m very sorry, but we don’t think that would be in your best interests, so we are going to make you take up the university place”. It’s not hard to see how this, as a principle is the very antithesis of freedom.
Boundaries of Parental Responsibility

Now, of course the situation is very different with children, who as individuals, at varying degree of development, are not able to make all relevant decisions for themselves, but surely this is why nature has seen fit to give them parents?

Of course outer legal boundaries of what parents can and can’t do with their children should be defined by law, just as we have outer boundaries on our freedom as adults.

I would suggest the following are basic “outer boundary” principles that the state should seek to impose:

A) That the Parents must be acting in an appropriately parental way.

That is to say that, neither by acts of commission or omission should the parents be acting against the interests of their child. (Note I did not say best interests).

Acts of commission is surely easily understood: A parent who physically emotionally or sexually abuses their child is clearly not acting as a parent. They are deliberately and intentionally acting with the express intention of harming their child.

It’s worth pointing out here, that no special appeal to the “interests” of the child is really required in one sense in these situations. You are quite clearly breaking obvious common laws. Assault and rape are criminal offences when committed by one adult against another anyway. All we are really saying is that if you break the law against your child then you are not parenting them, which is self evidently true.

Acts of omission are also easy to understand: Abandoning a child, not feeding him or her, leaving a small child alone and unattended. These are different from the first category in so far that they wouldn’t in all cases be breaking the law were it not for the dependency Parent/child relationship, but it’s still easy to see how they transgress legal principles of reckless endangerment of another.

Another situation here would be an incapacitated parent, or a parent who dies and leaves a child without care. It is natural to see that the state would need here to intervene.

In all these cases, it is obviously appropriate, in the absence of any other suitable person, for the state to act in loco parentis, because there is no effective parent available.

B) The Child’s life or limb is endangered despite well meaning parents

The right to life of all citizens is one of the ethical absolutes where it is right and proper for the state to intervene.

Suppose a well meaning parent deeply believes in homeopathy and doesn’t trust conventional medicine. Their child has an appendicitis and is going to die, without surgery, but they will not consent to the surgery.

The parent may be a well meaning and sincere parent, but their action is going to lead to the death of their child. It is right and proper for the state to intervene here to preserve life. By the same token, if they refused treatment or wanted to choose treatment which would do disabling harm, then, again the state may act on the child’s behalf.

The underlying principle here, from a libertarian perspective, is that the point of childhood is to deliver an intact human being to adulthood, and that adult can than be a free, able bodied decision maker for themselves. If the parent’s actions will prevent this, then the state is acting to enhance the liberty of the future-adult by preserving their life.
Terminal Care And the Cases of Charlie Guard and Alfie Evans

Neither (A) or (B) can be said to apply in the case of determining the interests of a terminally ill child where there is a difference of opinion between doctors and parents however.

Clearly, in the highlighted cases, the parents were neither absent or negligent, nor acting to deliberately harm their children.

It’s important to note that the families were in neither case proposing to remove their children from medical care, merely to change from the care of one group of doctors to another.

Essentially, in both cases, two approaches were available

  1. To continue “Active medical treatment” – giving treatment, potentially experimental or unproven which may have some possibility of being life prolonging or improving
  2. To give only treatment which acted to alleviate pain or suffering – palliative care.

In both cases, the doctors felt option (1) had gone as far as it could, and it was time to move to option (2). The parents disagreed.

In both cases, there was also apparently other qualified doctors who disagreed and were willing to take over the children’s care. Many doctors have suggested that these doctors were being irresponsible or reckless. That is, of course, quite possible, but, if that is the case, then why were their peers or colleagues not reporting them to their governing bodies for malpractice?

The proper dispute here should be between the two groups of doctors. If the new doctors are claiming what they are offering as a treatment plan lies within the reasonable licenced medical practice of a nation with reputable, well regulated healthcare, like the USA or Italy, then that is what should be challenged.

In essence my view would be this: The parents should not need to show that the care plan they wish to pursue for their child is superior to that suggested by their current doctors neither that it is equal, but merely to show that it is not unlawful in the general sense of criteria (A) given above, nor harmful in the sense of (B) which is highly unlikely to be the case with a terminally ill child.

It’s important to note that the treatments suggested were, for the most part a further continuation of treatments that the children had already received from their current doctors. Artificial ventilation for example. It seems odd for the current doctors to argue that a treatment they have themselves been giving for many weeks or months is now suddenly so cruel, so awful and dreadful as to constitute an illegal harm to the child in question.

They might feel the harm/benefit ratio to have ebbed away to the point where there was all harm and no benefit, but that is clearly something which is a matter of degrees. The further continuation of such treatment for a little longer, while another team takes over care, and quite possibly comes to the same view of the futility of further treatment and withdraws it scarcely seems to amount to a major difference.

Now, again, to return to the very first point I made, I do not doubt it would be better for these boys to remain under the care of their current doctors, but that is not, in my view the key question in a free country. The key question is whether the alternative treatment suggested by the parents drops to the level of unlawful negligence or harm.
Jimmy Brown: The boy who demonstrates why this principle matters so much

I sense many of my readers will be impatient with me. Why would I not just want what is best for the child, as, by my own admission I think the doctors were probably right?

There are many reasons why I will not be quickly moved to that conclusion, but I will conclude this article by presenting just one potentially unforeseen logical conclusion of this train of thought.

What happens if Euthanasia is legalised, for adults, in, say, twenty years time?

And what happens if, some fifteen years later, say, in 2053, a terminally ill teenager argues that, although they are not an adult, being a child should not deny them their right to Euthanasia, and that to do so is an inherent inequality of care, and wins their case and dies by Euthanasia?

At that point, it is established that children can die by Euthanasia.

Now, lets imagine another 10 or 15 years down the line, so in maybe 2065 or so, when, if I am still alive, I am a very old man, a case not dissimilar to the ones previously discussed, crops up, of a terminally ill boy. Let’s call him Jimmy Brown.

In Charlie and Alfie cases, the judge was deciding between two options. Active treatment or palliative care. However, in our 2065 case, the Judge would have a third option available to consider for little Jimmy: 1) Active Treatment 2) Palliative Care 3) Active Euthanasia

And what if, for any number of reasons, the Judge, on the advice of the medical team is persuaded that really, the best way to alleviate Jimmy’s suffering, his best interests, if you will, is served by option 3?

And what if his parents passionately, fervently disagree?

And what if the doctors of that time grumble and complain that the parents just don’t understand how much suffering a natural death would inflict on poor Jimmy.

And so the parents are restrained by the police from reaching their child, as he is, in their eyes, executed, against their will, by the state?

That possibility really should send shivers down the spine of any right thinking individual.

Now, what has happened in these recent cases is in one sense a million miles away from this future hypothetical. I cannot stress strongly enough that palliative care is not Euthanasia. I am strongly opposed to Euthanasia, which is exactly why I consider excellent palliative care to be absolutely critical to good medicine.

However, unpicking the legal principles working away underneath these cases, it does seem to me that, should (as seems to me quite likely) Euthanasia be legalised at some future date, then the domino chain of events I have suggested above follows quite logically.

  1. If Euthanasia is ever legalised, it will be because it is successfully argued that it can be in the best interests of a patient.
  2. If Euthanasia can be in the best interests of a patient, there is no obvious reason why that could not be a child patient.
  3. If that patient could be a child, there is no obvious reason why the scenario where Euthanasia is considered to be the best option by the doctors, and the parents are in disagreement should not arise.
  4. If that does happen there is no reason why the “state gets to overrule parents on best interests” principle would not also apply.

I cannot see why anything other than those four logical steps is required, and I cannot see why any one of them would not, given enough time, come to pass.

I can already hear the objection “Oh, but if Euthanasia was ever legalised I’m sure there would be a parental veto involved”. Are you? I’m not sure of that at all, or at least, while I can imagine it being part of the initial law, I can well see why it would later be removed.

Moreover, is this not a case of the Taxi-cab fallacy? That is, of dismissing a logical principle at the point it is no longer convenient for you, like a passenger dismissing a taxi cab once they have reached their chosen destination? If the principle that the state knows better than parents applies in the general case, why would you abandon that in the specific case of Euthanasia?

There are other reasons why I think the safeguard of parents having meaningful veto over the care of their children against the state is important, but the Euthanasia hypothetical question serves as perhaps the most immediately striking. I hope it is striking enough for the reader to at least question whether we are really on the right road in how we are dealing with the ethics of these cases, and to think about what might lie further on down this path if we do not have a serious rethink.

So, am I saying I think the wrong thing happened in the Alfie Evans case? No. I’m saying I think the right thing for Alfie probably happened, but for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way, and that should make us uneasy. The road to hell is paved with good intentions they say, and well intended legal principles could well end up leading us to a place none of us really want to go.

David Lammy. Disingenuous about Windrush Generation?

David Lammy gave this speech in the house of commons which is doing the rounds on social media.

Before we go to the specifics, it’s worth just spending a moment to see what the overall message of the speech is. We are, I think, supposed to see David Lammy as standing as a beacon in the darkness. Bravely speaking about institutional racism. The message Lammy wants to convey is that the population of people who immigrated to the UK in the Windrush generation have been malevolently and systemically racially abused by the system because of the system leaning towards far right racist politics, even, his speech suggests, to the point of deportation from the country. If I were a member of that community, I think Lammy’s speech would frighten me, make me feel the system was against me by intentional racist design.

First the basic background to the speech:

Between 1948 to 1971 nationals from commonwealth nations such as the West Indies could come to the UK freely. In 1971 this movement was restricted, but with the understanding that anyone who arrived before 1971 was free to remain indefinitely.

However, 1971 was a simpler time. No one thought to really instigate any significant paper trail or proof of who was here or wasn’t here in 1971. Migration just wasn’t such an issue. One must remember that the total number of people in the Windrush generation was around 500,000. Compare that to current  yearly migration figures of a quarter of a million or more and you see the difference in scale of the situation.

The problem was that, at that time, it was possible for children to arrive on their parents passports. The result was that those children had very limited proof of their right to remain, or exactly when they came to the UK.

In 2012, new immigration policy was introduced (interestingly not by any new act of parliament or law) which required that people show proof of their right to residency when taking up a new job.

Since 2012, as windrush generation kids have changed their jobs, there has been a steady trickle of people running into various administrative hurdles as a result of this. Some employers, unable to show proof that their new employer is legal, have therefore treated them as illegal. AS in the case of Michael Braithwaite

This is  a significant issue arising out of significant administrative incompetence, lack of foresight and planning by the government, and stern questions should be asked about the government’s inability to organise boozeups in breweries as a result.

That’s not the tack that Lammy took in his speech though. He chose to make this about race.

Let’s look at how Lammy’s speech breaks down:
“Can I say to the Home Secretary that the relationship between this country and the West Indies and Caribbean is inextricable.”

Absolutely true. No one denies this.

The first British ships arrived in the Carribbean in 1623. And despite slavery, despite colonisation, 25,000 Caribbeans served in first world war and second world war alongside British troops. When my parents and their generation arrived in this country under the Nationality act of 1948, they arrived here as British citizens.

This part of the speech, is, I think, indicative of Lammy’s worldview, and his general approach. What he says is true in one sense, but surely it just begs the listener to ask the question “Well why did Caribbeans serve in the First and Second World War?”. Presumably because, by the time of the first world war, Britain has been had the vanguard of opposition to slavery for nearly a century.

Surely,  to mention the arrival of British slave ships in 1623, and to skim straight over to 1914, without mention of Wilberforce, or Britain’s role in leading the world in stopping slavery with the abolition act in 1833 is disingenuous?

Yet Lammy directly connects 17th century to the 20th with the words “despite slavery” while studiously ignoring the spectacular achievements against slavery that Britain made in the 19th century. Why? Because it doesn’t fit his narrative. His narrative is that Carribbeans have and always have been oppressed by the British establishment. That’s what he wants his listeners to hear.

“It is inhumane and cruel for so many of that windrush generation to have suffered so long in this condition, and for the secretary of state only to have made a statement today on this issue.”

Here we see an interesting juxtaposition of extremely strong language “Inhumane” and “Cruel” applied as adjectives against, basically a very vague term “in this condition”. Exactly what condition is he referring to? It’s not really clear. Many windrush descendants will not be aware of any issue if they haven’t changed jobs since 2012.

“Can she explain how many have been deported? She suggested earlier that she would ask the high commissioners. It is her department that has deported them. She should know the number.

Can she tell the house how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country? Can she tell the house how many have been denied health under the National Health Service? How many have been denied pensions? How many have lost their job?”

Lammy then uses a strong of rhetorical questions. Now, the issue here is that Amber Rudd, to whom he was speaking could not honestly give any answer other than “I don’t know” because as Lammy well knows, the whole point of this situation is that it’s an unforeseen loophole, and hasn’t been monitored or reviewed.

However, that said, he asks questions which are frankly hysterical: “How many have been deported”?  Lammy here is trying to paint a picture here of people being forcibly ejected from the country…possibly in significant numbers.

It’s important to note Amber Rudd’s response “I am not aware of any specific case of a person being removed in these circumstances”. 

The high probability is that the total number is zero. Lammy knows this.  It’s also highly improbable that anyone has been denied NHS care. It’s well known that the NHS is spectacularly bad at enforcing any rules about limitations on its use. Pensions and jobs? It is entirely possible that many windrush generation people have faced difficulties with these things, which is, as previously stated, an appalling lack of management on the part of the government.

However, what people will remember from the speech is David Lammy riling against people being deported. This echos back to his comments about slavery at the start. He’s laying out the dots for his audience to connect together: An ongoing narrative of oppression and control from the 17th century into the 21st. Unabated.

“This is a day of national shame, and it has come about because of a hostile environment policy that was begun under her Prime Minister”.

Notice a little bit of interesting wording here from Lammy. Why the wording “under her Prime Minister”? That’s an unusual phrase. Why not “her party’s government”? Well,  presumably because this all results from policy from 2012 – under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

It’s much harder for Lammy to connect this all up with “nasty right wing politics” which is his aim, if he concedes it came about during the Lib-Dem coalition period, so he wants that awkward detail pushed to the background.

“Let us call it like it is. If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas and that is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country.”

This is the really the centrepiece line of the speech. This is the crux of it all for Lammy. All this mess up is because of a nasty, racist far-right wing agenda. It’s the ideology of the 17th century slave ships all over again.

Except that, as previously stated, the policy problems with this date back to 2012, where, if the Conservative party were “lying down” with anyone it was the Liberal Democrats.

Most notably, we’re talking about a time where there was no suggestion of a referendum on European Union membership from the UK government of the time. Why? because there’s absolutely no way the Pro-EU Liberal Democrats would allow such a thing.

With unabated EU migration,  and unwilling to offer any meaningful change, as the 2012 government was fully committed to EU membership, the only controls the UK could impose was upon non-EU residents. Which lies behind the political motivation for the Government imposing these tighter non-EU resident controls in 2012 in the first place.

So here’s the irony: The political pressure which resulted in these controls came about as a direct result of the Pro-EU consensus of the government at the time.

David Lammy, remember is radically pro European Union Membership.

Interestingly, it has been a long standing part of the Brexiteer narrative that the UK ought to take better care of its commonwealth partners, rather than the EU.

This is why the following meme appeared recently on the Leave.EU facebook page. I don’t particularly like the meme, and Leave.EU are far from my favourite organisation, but it makes the point very clearly that the Lammy’s “far right dogs” are not actually his enemies on this point of non-EU immigration:

leaveEU

It was Lammy’s own pro-remain stance which is the originator of the problem he is riling against.

Lammy’s speech, far from being a beacon of light, was creating fog, hiding rocks to shipwreck upon. Moreover, it seems to me, he was intentionally seeking to stoke a narrative of division by creation of an oppressor/victim narrative. While conveniently ignoring his own political view’s negative influence upon the situation.