Cottam on positive discrimination   (28.2.11)

Perhaps I am not going insane after all. Either that, or me and Mr Cottam are going to be taken away by the same wo/men in white coats:

Peter Cottam, chairman of independent heads group, SHMIS, said skewing admissions towards state pupils is tackling the issue from the wrong end. [...]

"Discriminating against independent school pupils using a mechanistic template will not solve the problem, and it will also be unfair," he said.

"It sometimes feels as though our critics believe that the academic success of many of our pupils has either been handed to them on a plate or drilled into them and does not reflect any real ability or potential," he added.

I did not realise that universities are allowed, indeed encouraged, to impose lower entry requirements on pupils from state schools. I am slightly scandalised to learn of this fact. Does anyone know if the policy has been subject to any legal challenge? Might there be grounds under the Equality Act 2010?

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Went to Gloucester   (28.2.11)

I have mixed feelings about this case. Mixed, because 1) there seems to be a logical incoherency about barring people from caring for children simply because they hold a politically incorrect opinion. If we don't demand politically correct opinions from biological parents before they raise their children, why should we demand them from foster carers and adoptive parents? It seems more dogmatically puritanical than liberal. Yet 2) it is true that foster parents conduct a public service in a way that ordinary parents don't. Applying norms of equality, which are rightly and routinely applied to the conduct of public servants, does therefore make some sense. It is also true that foster parents are by definition caring for troubled children, some of whom are in such a position precisely because of their sexuality. Again, in this context, it doesn't seem unreasonable for local authorities to make decisions about what emotional treatment those children are likely to receive by considering the convictions of their prospective foster parents. Yet the Johns' views are not unreasonable ones, and it seems disproportionate to bar them from all fostering situations, rather than just those where such views would be likely to cause further problems for the child.

The case does seem more ambiguous than this court ruling would suggest, and I wouldn't be surprised if an appeal were to succeed.

It's also more ambiguous than the "Christian" Legal Centre would have us believe, of course. They declare that the ruling "sends out the clear message that orthodox Christian ethical beliefs are potentially harmful to children". Putting aside their deceptive and ahistorical usage of the term "orthodox", the "Christian" Legal Centre imply with this statement that holding "Christian" beliefs means you can do no wrong and cause no harm. That, friends, is the beginning of the self-justification of tyrants and totalitarians. But let's not worry about that. Christian children all must be mild, obedient...

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Human aid and human rights   (23.2.11)

Charles Tannock, foreign affairs and human rights spokesman for the Conservatives in Europe, says that aid to Africa should be accompanied by loud and clear proclamations of the need for human rights in African nations:

However, in our dealings with African countries we cannot compromise on our belief that criminalisation of sexual orientation is not the mark of a civilised society. The UK and EU should make explicitly clear to African countries receiving aid that we expect them to improve their respect for and protection of human rights, not least those related to sexuality. We are generally far too timid in voicing our views on this subject because - perhaps from the perspective of post-colonial reticence - we fear being accused of cultural imperialism. We need to remind Africa's leaders that successful, prosperous countries are all characterised by a profound respect for human rights and equality between people of different sexual orientation.

And still just the occasional platitude from Lambeth Palace, and, as far as I can discover, not a squeak from Sentamu since 2009.

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World Service as Muscular Liberalism   (19.2.11)

Bishop Nick Baines writes sagely on the downsizing of the BBC World Service:

The problem is that you can’t measure the real value of the World Service’s impact on shaping the world views of people who might otherwise be shaped by other (less ‘helpful’?) perspectives. You certainly can’t measure this impact on some spreadsheet in an office in London.

But, perhaps that is why it is so important not to diminish it in the short-term when the longer-term cost to the global village might be to leave all the space for the village idiots to spread their own darkness.

I realise that this could be read as paternalistic superiority. I don’t think that should stop us from thinking about the communication of values we still think are worth hanging on to or commending to others. Or do we let the prevalent cynicism of our own culture keep us quiet?

Perhaps David Cameron needs to give some thought to how our duties to be muscular liberals also apply to the international community, and how that international voice of political liberalism ultimately benefits Britain, its security and its civility.

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Bagehot on multiculturalism   (15.2.11)

Bagehot on Cameron's multiculturalism speech. (This was my take on it.)

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Scott Mills on Uganda   (15.2.11)

You can find follow-ups to this post here and here.

In case you missed it, here is Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills' documentary on homophobia in Uganda.

Is there any GOOD reason that Rowan Williams or John Sentamu couldn't have made this programme? It is no exaggeration to say that, by making a one-hour show for BBC Three, Scott Mills has done more for the cause of human rights in Uganda than the entire Anglican communion.

And the Church of England wonders why it's in decline? Perhaps because Radio 1 DJs are doing a better job of proclaiming Gospel values than the Archbishops.

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Lol   (14.2.11)

This made me lol:

A Church of England spokesman [...] added the worry was that any changes could "lead to inconsistencies with civil marriage, have unexplored impacts, and lead to confusion, with a number of difficult and unintended consequences for churches and faiths. Any change could therefore only be brought after proper and careful consideration of all the issues involved, to ensure that the intended freedom for all denominations over these matters is genuinely secured," he said.

Why, when I read this to myself, do I hear it in Sir Humphrey Appleby's voice? Oh, yes, of course...

It is axiomatic in government that hornets' nests should be left unstirred, cans of worms should remain unopened, and cats should be left firmly in bags and not set among the pigeons. Ministers should also leave boats unrocked, nettles ungrasped, refrain from taking bulls by the horns, and resolutely turn their backs to the music.

Usual moral leadership from the senior CofE, then.


Cambridge Accord Text   (12.2.11)

This is the text of the 1999 Cambridge Accord -- the document that (then) Bishop John Sentamu declined to sign:

In the name of God, we, the bishops of the Anglican Communion who have affixed our names to this Accord, publish it as a statement of our shared opinion in regard to all persons who are homosexual. We affirm that while we may have contrasting views on the Biblical, theological, and moral issues surrounding homosexuality, on these three points we are in one Accord:

That no homosexual person should ever be deprived of liberty, personal property, or civil rights because of his or her sexual orientation.

That all acts of violence, oppression, and degradation against homosexual persons are wrong and cannot be sanctioned by an appeal to the Christian faith.

That every human being is created equal in the eyes of God and therefore deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

We appeal to people of good conscience from every nation and religious creed to join us in embracing this simple Accord as our global claim to human rights not only for homosexual men and women, but for all God's people.

Published October 1, 1999
Episcopal Divinity School
Cambridge, Massachusetts

You could make excuses for Sentamu: after all, de facto Anglican theology seems to allow any practice or omission to masquerade as an instance of Christian integrity... just so long as those practices and omissions preserve the false peace of "church unity".

I prefer to ask: what kind of faith is it that would prevent Sentamu from signing such an uncontroversial document?

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Good news   (11.2.11)

BN has been released from immigration detention.

Meanwhile, in a stronger statement than the Church of England has yet managed, Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills travelled to Uganda to film a documentary about attitudes homosexuality in that country. It will air on BBC Three on Monday.

On another topic, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu will be visiting the University of Manchester on March 1st to talk about "Relations between Church and State Today". This will be an opportunity to see both men in their academic element.

In 1999, as Bishop of Stepney, Sentamu was one of a few senior clergy who declined to sign the Cambridge Accord, a document affirming the human rights of homosexual persons. And Rowan Williams has capitulated to the conservative fringe on the issue of homosexuality more times than I am inclined to recall. Anyone want to come and heckle?

For legal reasons, following a recent court ruling, the full name of BN has been removed from this article.

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Not just black and white   (10.2.11)

Further to my earlier post, take this response by Oxford University to David Lammy's allegations of racial bias on the part of that institution's admissions record.

If there is any evidence of discrimination against black and ethnic minority applicants, or against applicants from poorer backgrounds, of course universities should be subject to appropriate sanctions. But the point about the inequalities visible in university admissions statistics is that they do not stem from discrimination but from a background inequality of opportunity created and perpetuated by the annexation of this country's top schools.

It is unfair to hold the universities to account for the failure of the nation's school system. To attempt to do so also places them in an impossible legal position -- effectively being asked to implement some positive discrimation policies to shoehorn pupils from deprived and BEM background into higher education. To do so would itself be illegal under equal opportunities legislation. But if we, as a society, want some such positive discrimination policies to be adopted, that is a debate the whole country must have. Universities must simply take the best candidates.

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Cart before horse   (10.2.11)

When 13 out of the country's top 16 universities fall below government benchmarks for student intake from state schools, it kind of suggests that the state sector is not producing students of a high enough academic standard to attend those universities. Strange, then, that the blame for this situation should be seen to rest with the universities and not the schools. Even stranger, when it is manifest that the comprehensive system has reduced social mobility in Britain.

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On the grid   (10.2.11)


On the grid

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Guilty conscience   (8.2.11)

What is more incredible than stories like this is that anyone credits for even a moment the defence of "but it offends my Christian conscience!" Such people are content to invoke conscience to excuse them from fulfilling their professional duties. Would they object, then, if I were a doctor and refused to treat them because they are Christian? Or should gay B&B owners be allowed to refuse service to Christians on grounds of conscience?

Once upon a time I thought the answers to these questions would be obvious, but... perhaps no longer. Thankfully they remain obvious to the judiciary.

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Multiculti   (5.2.11)

Following Angela Merkel's comments on multiculturalism last year, David Cameron has made a similar speech in Germany, addressing the particular issues raised by British multiculturalism. I think Cameron has it half-right and half-wrong -- and that his argument could do with a bit more nuance. Here's why.

Cameron says, "Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism". Muscular liberalism -- yes, I like the sound of this. Not the pseudo-liberalism which would fail to make the arguments for the existence of a liberal state out of a misguided and self-defeating relativism, but a liberalism which champions liberal values. Yes, muscular liberalism is a nice way of putting it. But muscular liberalism does, in fact, also require the "passive tolerance" that Cameron presumes it to be in opposition to. "Muscular liberalism" and "passive tolerance" are not mutually exclusive options; indeed, a truly "muscular" liberalism is strong enough to advocate publicly and unrelentingly liberal views about morality and the state, while also permitting the existence and articulation of alternative visions of morality and the state.

Therefore, there are in fact two kinds of tolerance at work in this speech, but Cameron supposes that there is only one: the kind of relativistic tolerance which would never confront others out of a blind veneration of "cultural difference". Cameron is right to oppose this. But there is also the kind of tolerance which permits the pursuit of different values while openly and vociferously arguing against those values. In my view, the latter is "muscular liberalism". But if liberalism gets any more muscular, for example by "banning" illiberal convictions, it ceases to be a form of liberalism, and Cameron would be wrong to claim it as a form of liberalism.

Yet he comes dangerously close to doing just this. He says "We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values." The apposition of these two sentences might lead you to believe they are paraphrases of the same sentiment. But they are not. The first sentence, "We have failed to provide a vision..." is indeed a critique of that wishy-washy pseudo-liberalism that dares not speak its name. But the second sentence, "We have even tolerated [...] ways that run counter to our values" should be a hallmark of muscular liberalism. British society is indeed one that believes in "Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality." But these rights precisely vest all British citizens with the freedom to advocate different visions of morality and the state.

There's one other, unrelated difficulty I have with this way of talking about "multiculturalism". There seems to be a tacit assumption that multiculturalism is just a failed left-wing political doctrine. Well, insofar as "multiculturalism" is simply rhetorical camouflage for a total lack of liberal authenticity, it should be abandoned. But it is not just a doctrine; it is also a simple statement of fact. Racially diverse countries are multicultural, and the job of a liberal system of justice is to arbitrate the conflicts that do in reality arise. Multiculturalism in this sense is not going away, and I for one would not want it to.

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BN early day motion   (4.2.11)

Pressure your MP to sign the early day motion calling on the government to exercise its powers to allow BN to remain in the UK.

For legal reasons, following a recent court ruling, the full name of BN has been removed from this article.

O'Sullivan on the brink   (3.2.11)

My tip is that Ronnie O'Sullivan is about to retire from competitive snooker.


Prayer   (2.2.11)

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

— Carol Ann Duffy


EDL demonstrates its idiocy   (2.2.11)

Check out Jeremy Paxman's recent interview with Stephen Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, leader of the English Defence League. It shows nicely that the best way to defeat an insidious campaign like the EDL's is to allow its idiocy to be widely witnessed. I've rarely seen such a ragbag of barely associated racial and religious prejudices in the same interview! And if the interview hadn't been allowed for reasons of editorial or governmental illiberalism? Well, I might not have become aware just how nonsensical the EDL's views are.

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Newfred is where Andrew Wilshere blogs about
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