We Do Not Suspend Our Democracy As A Gesture Or Tribute; The Batley And Spen By-Election Should Be Contested

Airey Neave Assassination - INLA

Suspending democracy is no way to pay tribute to a murdered MP

I’m strongly inclined to agree with Archbishop Cranmer’s take on the decision by the major political parties not to contest the Batley and Spen by-election brought about by the despicable murder of Jo Cox, essentially giving Labour a free run at a seat they were almost certain to hold regardless.

Metro reports:

The Lib Dems and Ukip have joined the Conservative Party to announce they will not contest the by-election in Batley and Spen resulting from the death of Jo Cox.

Mrs Cox, 41, died yesterday after she was stabbed and shot outside a library in Birstall.

The Labour MP had held her seat in West Yorkshire since the General Election last year, which she won with a majority of 6,057.

No date has yet been set to elect a new representative.

To which Cranmer writes in response:

Whoever Labour chooses to be their candidate will be gifted a seat in Parliament. We honour a murdered democrat by suspending democracy. Our political leaders respect her values service, community, tolerance – by treating her former constituency as heritable property. There can be no disjunctive voice, no division and no dissent: Jo Cox’s values, her political philosophy and her apprehension of the world order must be perpetuated “as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician”. The Batley and Spen by-election thereby becomes a memorial, and her successor a living monument.

[..] The thing is, there is something odd in not contesting a seat after a sitting MP has been murdered:

1990 Murder of Ian Gow by PIRA – By-election contested – LD gain
1984 Murder of Sir Anthony Berry by PIRA – By-election contested – CON hold
1981 Murder of The Rev Robert Bradford by PIRA – By-election contested – UUP hold
1979 Murder of Airey Neave by INLA – No by-election, but GE seat contested – CON hold
1922 Murder of Sir Henry Wilson by IRA – By-election uncontested.

So the last uncontested by-election in this tragic circumstance was in 1922 for North Down (which had occasional uncontested elections into the 1950s).

Perhaps things have moved on since the murder of Ian Gow: 26 years is an eternity in politics. Or is it that only murdered Protestants and Tories have to be challenged in the hope of driving their particular brand of hatred, division and intolerance from public life? Whatever, the decision not to contest Batley and Spen permits the Labour Party to put into Parliament anyone they want. Although it is extremely unlikely that the seat would have changed hands, it is an offence against democracy to respond to attack upon democracy with a rigged political appointment. Far better for all the main political parties to put up a full slate of candidates, and then for  those candidates to selflessly exhort the people of Batley and Spen to vote Labour as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician. At least then the people would have been free to honour Jo Cox’s values of service, community and tolerance as they would wish to do, instead of being coerced into a contrived expression of political unity, or hectored into a mellow manifestation of Anglican generosity and integrity.

“A contrived expression of political unity”. And isn’t that all that this would be – like the symbolism of MPs mixing it up in parliament and sitting next to members from opposing parties on one day before calling each other’s motives and morals into question again the next? If so, it hardly seems like a good enough reason for the suspension of democracy in one constituency.

And let’s not pretend that this will not happen. The Labour Party in particular have tremendous form in suggesting that those with conservative leanings are morally defective or singularly lacking in compassion. Is this all to cease now, because of the awful murder of Jo Cox? Will Labour MPs finally accept that it is possible to care about the poor and the vulnerable while believing that conservative policies are best for them and the country? I wouldn’t bet on it.

In fact, while there is an undeniable and odious far right element in British politics at the fringes, in terms of the voices currently heard in parliament and in the mainstream media, I would argue that it is the supposedly morally virtuous Labour Party which is guilty of most of the intemperate and divisive rhetoric heard today. And if we are to be political about it, if one party’s behaviour has been least deserving of being given a free run in a by-election, one could make a strong case that it is the Labour Party.

And yet how things seem to have changed. As Archbishop Cranmer points out, after the brutal assassination of several other MPs during the twentieth century, the idea of suspending competitive by-elections was never even considered. Of course the affected constituents should pick themselves up and avail themselves of their democratic right, was the prevailing thinking. And yet in 2016, in order to show solidarity or respect (or in actual fact, I’m almost hesitant to say, to signal virtue) it is apparently necessary to suspend democracy. To make a nice gesture.

As a society, we are getting very good at making nice, sentimental gestures in the face of tragedy. In the West, we have become particularly adept at lighting up our national landmarks to mourn terrorist attacks in one country or another. And there is obviously an important place for vigils, and grieving, and ritualised mourning. But it rather seems that this is now all that we can do. We can make the public gesture but not change the behaviours which makes the gesture necessary in the first place.

Just as one can predict with fearful certainty that the London Eye, Eiffel Tower and Brandenburg Gate will soon be lit up in the national colours of the next country to face a major terror attack while our politicians remain unable even to properly articulate the nature of the Islamist terror threat which we face, so it seem we are now about to celebrate democracy by effectively suspending it. In a twisted homage to Jo Cox, we are about to allow the Labour Party, through whatever opaque selection process they choose, to parachute a new MP into parliament without giving the people a real choice.

There are many appropriate ways to pay tribute to the late Jo Cox, a universally liked MP and the cruel victim of presumed far-right terrorism (for we should call it what it is). But the spectacle of an uncontested by-election, or a by-election fought only by a handful of ugly fringe candidates, is not one of them.

And for once, it would be gratifying if our commitment to democracy could trump the desire to make ourselves feel good with showy but ultimately counterproductive demonstrations of virtue.


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If Supranational Government Is Necessary For Peace And Cooperation, When Will The Vatican State Join The EU?

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If you love the EU so much…

Yesterday, this blog took to task the motley crew of Christian bishops and other assorted British faith leaders who signed their names to an insufferably glib and ignorant letter imploring the British people to vote to remain in the European Union in the 23 June referendum.

But the Archbishop Cranmer blog has now gone one better, and published a satirical spoof article reporting that the bishops had actually called for Pope Francis to commit the Vatican State to joining the EU – the joke being that the bishops would never dream of insisting that the Vatican surrender sovereignty to Brussels but are perfectly happy to demand that Britain does the same.

From Archbishop Cranmer:

Religious leaders from the UK’s main faith communities – including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – have joined forces to urge Pope Francis to commit the Vatican State to joining the EU, saying membership is vital to preserving peace, fighting poverty and tackling the migration crisis.

In a letter in the Observer, 37 leading figures from across the faiths say that they hope the Pope will reflect on whether joining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals might contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world.


The letter is obviously not endorsed by any Roman Catholic leaders, but is signed by Anglican archbishops and bishops, Church of Scotland academics, reverend professors, deans, distinguished rabbis and imams, ecumenical coordinators, baronesses and peers, leaders of Sikh and Hindu faith communities, and Global Leader Steve Chalke MBE.

The ‘Stronger In’ campaign have today dispatched comedian Eddie Izzard to tour the Vatican State in an attempt to get the Curia to pray for Pope Francis, that he might incline his ear toward justice, peace and righteousness, and commit the Vatican to immediate EU accession negotiations. “It makes sense,” said Mr Izzard, “to have the Pope of Rome subscribe to the Treaty of Rome.” He added: “We know the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic leaders and laity support membership of the EU because of the opportunities it presents to work, to study and to travel to Lourdes. I share their positive view of Europe, and I think Pope Francis ought to, too.”

And who can argue with this faultless logic? If we accept the Remainers’ fatuous assertion that Britain must remain in the European Union because only by being subordinate to a supranational government based in Brussels can we work pragmatically with out neighbours to solve problems which transcend national borders, then why should this not apply equally to the Vatican?

In fact, why should it not apply especially to the Vatican, being both an extraordinarily rich state and a hugely influential one, often bypassing other national governments to lay a claim on the hearts, minds and souls of people in countries all over the world? Given the Vatican State’s unique advantages in this regard, surely (according to Remainer logic) it is practically criminal for the Pope to stubbornly hold out, clinging to anachronistic national pride and refusing to be subsumed into the greater European whole.

And yet nobody makes this argument. The Vatican is left to go about its business as a sovereign state unmolested – quite rightly. But the fact that the European Union’s Christian cheerleaders would rather not afford Britain similar freedom is yet more proof of the inconsistency and subjective nature of their case.

As this blog recently remarked:

Britain is and will always remain part of a “bigger whole” whether we remain in the European Union or not. The European Union is a political construct, and a very recent and unproven one at that. It is not interchangeable with the continent of Europe, and it has no democratic legitimacy when it arrogantly claims to speak and act on behalf of the many diverse European peoples. There is a positive case for Brexit based on leaving euro-parochialism behind and engaging more fully in the world, and pro-EU Christians participating in the debate should at least acknowledge this fact rather than arguing against the two-dimensional cartoon Ukipper they hold in their minds.

But this is the very low standard of debate we have sadly come to see from those who claim to represent the Christian perspective. At its core, their argument amounts to little more than “the EU is about friendship and peace and cooperation, and Jesus was in favour of all those things, so what’s not to like?”

[..] Seriously – boil down most of the [Christian pro-EU arguments] and they amount to little more than that. You’ll hear endless variations on the theme that because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, somehow it naturally follows that we should be united under the same supranational political umbrella – though curiously the Church of England never wastes its time clamouring for Asian countries to merge together, or for Canada, Mexico and the United States to institute a shared parliament.

So, about that rigorous, intellectual, Christian case for the European Union – where is it?

We are still waiting.


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What Conservative Government? – Part 6, EU Referendum Legacy: A Tory Party Hated By Left And Right Alike

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By waging such a disingenuous, fear-based campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, David Cameron and George Osborne are sowing the seeds of their own political destruction

The excellent Archbishop Cranmer blog gives it to David Cameron and George Osborne with both barrels for the grubby, underhanded way in which they have gone about fighting the Remain case in this EU referendum campaign.

The devastating conclusion:

Frankly, both George Osborne and David Cameron have disgraced their offices of state in this referendum campaign, with their lies, hyperbole, disinformation and deceit. Whether or not the UK takes the first step toward leaving the EU on 23rd June; whether or not it becomes our Independence Day or is confirmed as the day we resigned to plod inexorably toward becoming an offshore regional council of a United States of Europe, David Cameron and George Osborne will go down in history as Tory charlatans, cheats and political frauds. They have successfully re-toxified the Conservative brand and made it impossible for many to support a party led by either. You cannot call a referendum on something as crucial as fundamental identity or the determination of national destiny, and then collude with corporates and conspire with other elites to feed the electorate a diet of blight, pestilence and woe. It’s enough to make a man never trust a Tory again.

Amen. And the curious thing is that both Cameron and Osborne seem utterly oblivious to the medium and long term damage they are wreaking on their party. Wanting their side to win the referendum is understandable – both men’s authority and political careers ride on the public voting remain. But the desperate and underhanded means to which they are going to win the referendum – the national propaganda leaflet, the Treasury statistics mysteriously missing an analysis of the Brexit to EFTA/EEA scenario – are storing up serious problems for the future.

In this blog’s opinion, both Cameron and Osborne are overrated as master political and strategic minds. Cameron actually failed to win the 2010 general election, and prevailed in 2015 only against a phenomenally weak Labour leader. Osborne, meanwhile, is much more of a tactician than a strategist, often quick to exploit opportunities to win a particular argument, but with little sense of the knock-on impact on other matters.

This is exactly what is happening now. Cameron and Osborne look at the polls, which generally show a steady lead for Remain, and mistakenly assume that this is the same as approval of themselves. But this is not so. Strip away the vast majority of Labour and non-aligned voters siding with Remain out of fear or ignorance, and over half of the Conservative Party may well oppose the prime minister. Had David Cameron conducted his campaign with a shred of decency or respect for the opposing side, this might not be a problem, and eurosceptic Conservatives might well have kissed and made up after being defeated on 23 June. But the sheer barrage of misleading statistics, analyses and inappropriate interventions from global figures organised by Cameron means that no rapprochement will be possible.

The bitter truth is that far from detoxifying the Conservative Party, David Cameron has retoxified it – to a supercharged degree. The prime minister may not be to blame for the Left’s hysterical reaction to any and every limited attempt at fiscal restraint by this government – with Labour shrieking that attempts to curb growth in public spending amount to a holocaust of the sick and disabled, the Left are to blame for much of the toxicity in our politics today. But Cameron is very much responsible for alienating vast swathes of his own side.

After the referendum is done, there will be a large number of small-c conservative voters who would sooner die than lift a finger to support a Conservative Party led by David Cameron or any of his cabinet allies from the Remain camp. This blog is among them. The Conservative Party is now as toxic among many conservatives as it is among the British Left. How then to fight a general election once the Labour Party finally gets itself organised?

This is David Cameron’s true legacy – a Tory Party hated by the Left despite being so boringly, forgettably centrist as to be indistinguishable from New Labour, and equally hated by many on the Right for having betrayed innumerable conservative principles through a policy of government by appeasement rather than the bold pursuit of conservative goals. Hated by the Left for having risked Britain’s place in the European Union by holding the referendum in the first place, and equally hated by the Right for having shamefully come down on the side of supranational, antidemocratic rule from Brussels.

Dave and George are probably not looking that far ahead right now – they are probably too busy lining up the next NGO head to go public about how apocalyptic Brexit would apparently be. But you could not pay me enough money to change places with either of them when it comes time for the first meeting of the Conservative Parliamentary Party after the referendum.

The anger and vitriol will be immense, and may well consume our arrogant prime minister and his chancellor soon after their moment of ill-begotten triumph.

And who will mourn their loss? If David Cameron and George Osborne are the best that the Conservative Party can offer, we may as well have a Labour government anyway.


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Where Is The Serious Christian Case For Remaining In The European Union?

Bishops - Catholic Church - Church of England - Brexit - EU Referendum - European Union

Friendship, cooperation and overblown claims about the EU keeping the peace in Europe do not amount to robust Christian arguments for staying shackled to the European Union

When the Church of England-sponsored Reimagining Europe blog launched last year, I was vaguely hopeful that it might lead to some fruitful discussion about the real Christian case for or against Brexit. Not just the kind of woolly left-wing platitudes which many bishops excel at delivering, but a real granular theological case for why Britain should either remain in the European Union or vote Leave to regain our independence.

Fast forward seven months and the promise of Reimagining Europe remains largely unfulfilled. The only really decent arguments have been those guest posts from Adrian Hilton of the Archbishop Cranmer blog, which have effectively demolished the laziest of the Christian cases for staying in the EU. There have been a few other decent commentaries and a large number of hand-wringing prevarications, but as far as I can tell not one unambiguously argued Christian case for Remain.

This recent blog entry by Guy Brandon is typical of the output in this regard:

At the same time, placing national identity above our identity in Christ should raise a warning flag. Our own legal system might be underpinned by biblical foundations and Christian heritage, but it is not God-given. Sovereignty should not be absolutised, whether the issue is approached from a practical or spiritual direction.

The question mirrors, on the national scale, our view of our own personal autonomy. To what extent do we see ourselves as the architects of our own destiny? We all make personal compromises in the interests of living together. As Freud remarked, ‘civilisation is built on the renunciation of instinct’. For the Christian, there is the added dimension that we have been purchased by Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and are free – not to do anything we choose, but to ‘serve one another in love’ (Galatians 5:13-15)

So, should we give up a degree of national autonomy in the interests of the common good? As ever, the question is not cut-and-dried. There may be benefits we enjoy, such as guarantees around freedom of religion, which we would no longer have if we withdrew from the EU. Christians might contemplate the risks of withdrawing from such protections, as well as the attractions of being masters of our own destiny.

Immediately there are red flags that this is not a serious analysis, or even reflection.

For a start, the author takes it as a given that the European Union is the “common good”, against which national autonomy is perpetually placed in opposition. But why the European Union (with its dogmatic insistence on representing 28 countries with a single voice of compromise) is in the common good is never explained – and not just in this piece. Over and over again in Christian ruminations on the European Union, the most fundamental europhile assumptions are accepted as Gospel. Of course the European Union represents the common good.

Then we get the old workhorse about the EU guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, it is profoundly antidemocratic in claiming that the British people should have rights imposed on them by others. Of course we should all have freedom of (and from) religion, but we the British people should establish and maintain this right for ourselves – ideally through a written constitution.

The same goes for workers’ rights, which are forever held up by the Remain camp as a scaremongering warning that if we leave the EU, it will be back to seven day working weeks and young children going up the chimneys to earn their keep. Why are so many self-professed Christians so happy for our most fundamental rights to be imposed on us from above, rather than arising organically as the democratic expression of our own hearts and minds?

Christianity - Europe - EU - Brexit - 3


The Catholic Herald’s recent review of church attitudes toward the EU also reveals an excess of woolly thinking at the top:

Cardinal Nichols is also fervently pro-EU, but his support for it has a less Roman flavour. He is, as I remember from his days as general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference, a man who works through committees and relishes bureaucratic procedure.

His politics bear the stamp of his Liverpudlian upbringing. He favours public expenditure over private enterprise; his speeches employ the vocabulary of the state sector. It’s hard to think of a bishop less in sympathy with Eton-educated Catholic Tory Brexiteers such as Charles Moore and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The Nichols philosophy embraces the dirigism of Brussels; in this he is typical of the moderate British Left, which changed its mind about the Common Market after Jacques Delors persuaded it that Europe was an indispensable ally against “free-market fundamentalism”.

One suspects that Cardinal Nichols would admire the modus operandi of the European Union even if it had no association with the Church. The same could be said of many bishops of England and Wales.

This instinct to remain in the EU is borne out of fear of change and bureaucratic preference, which are understandable human emotions but about as far as one can get from being sound justification for continuing with the current mode of supranational European government.

As this blog recently concluded:

As a Catholic eurosceptic, it is frustrating to witness so many fellow Christians accepting the pro-EU, pro-Remain position almost by default, without actually engaging their brains or making considered reference to their faith. I’m no theologian myself, but I’ve read my Bible and I know that the New Testament offers little by way of clear instruction or even guidance as to how any entities larger than individuals and faith groups should organise or govern themselves, while much of the Old Testament reads as a “how not to do statecraft” manual.

If we restrict ourselves then to the teachings of Jesus, from where do Christian EU apologists draw their inspiration? The EU is not a democratic entity, nor is it likely to become one any time soon. What is so Christian about defending an organisation which insulates a continent’s leaders from the practical and political consequences of their rule? What is so Christian about sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and loudly repeating the mantra “the EU is about peace and cooperation, the EU is about peace and cooperation”, while ignoring the known history of European political union and disregarding the fact that fruitful inter-governmental cooperation could take place just as well outside the EU’s supra-national structure?


Regrettably, I have come to the conclusion that much of the Christian case for Remain rests either on a lazy “agree with the Left by default” mindset, or the desire to virtue-signal generally “progressive” values across the board. I will be happy to be proven wrong, and to be presented with a serious Christian case for the EU based on the argument that staying part of a supranational political union unreplicated in any other part of the world is 1) what Jesus would do, or 2) what is best for Christians in Europe. But I’m not holding out much hope.

And if that’s what this is really about – cheering on the EU because it signals that one holds the “correct” progressive opinions in other areas – then they picked a really lousy time to do it. Our politics is suffering a crisis of legitimacy, and yet many in the Church have taken the decision to cheer on the one entity which best represents the interests of a narrow European elite overriding the interests of ordinary people.

In short, I have yet to see a Christian case for Remain that consists of anything other than woolly, tenuous and unsubstantiated assertions that the EU equals being friendly and co-operating with our neighbours (which, unlike the countries of every other continent in the world, can for some reason only be accomplished in Europe through a supra-national government), and that if we vote to Leave we will essentially be voting for war and the stripping away of religious freedom.

Well I’m sorry, but that facile level of argument is not good enough. I’m still waiting for serious theologians or senior figures in the Church hierarchy to put forward one good reason why Jesus would favour Britain’s participation in a remote and antidemocratic-by-design government of Europe.

If staying in the EU is so goshdarn godly, let’s hear why, without recourse to the fluffy, prevaricating jargon about ecumenism and friendship which Christian EU apologists tend to deploy like chaff to distract us from the paucity of their argument. And let them explain too why they are so desperate for continued political union in Europe, yet utterly blasé about the fact that Asia, Australasia and the Americas get by just fine without such a union.

There is a fight for self-determination and democracy underway right now, and far too many voices within the church are coming down on entirely the wrong side. Those who stay silent or openly advocate for Remain will justifiably find themselves on the hook and personally implicated in every future crisis which befalls the EU, and will bear some responsibility for each incremental unit of economic and political suffering experienced by Britain as a continent glued together by unwanted, inflexible political union slowly begins to rip itself apart.

The clock is ticking, and there is little time left for Christian Remainers to defend or amend their position before they go on to face the judgement of history.


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When The Established Church Goes To War With Half The Country

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What to do when the established church makes no attempt to hide its hatred for conservatives?

Those who watch Gogglebox are no doubt familiar with the Reverend Kate Bottley, whose ambassadorship for the Church of England probably reaches many millions more people than most bishops.

Should we be concerned, then, that one of the established church’s most high profile characters holds a seething contempt and hatred for one of our country’s two main political parties?

Archbishop Cranmer lays down the charge, based on Bottley’s recent on-air admission that “I hate it when I agree with a Tory”:

She wasn’t wearing her dog collar this week, but she doesn’t need to: the whole country knows (and so do Channel 4 editors and producers) that she is a Church of England vicar and a minister of the Word. And she is very well liked and respected: there is no hint of moral or doctrinal delinquency, but national admiration for her personal spirituality and great teaching capacity. She is a manifestly gifted, active communicator who is dedicated to serving her parish.

But ministry isn’t simply service, for that is the whole of Christian life. Her task as a vicar is distinctively liturgical, catechetical and pastoral, principally for the needs of the whole Christian community, including Tories. As an ordained priest, she is both servant and shepherd among the people to whom she has been sent, and that includes Tories. Her task is to proclaim the Word of the Lord and to watch for signs of God’s new creation, including in Tories. Her vocation is to teach, admonish, feed and provide for her flock, which includes Tories.

The majority of England is instinctively conservative: it appears to be a natural disposition; an affinity with the natural order; part of the psyche of essential Englishness. The Rev’d Kate Bottley is by no means obliged to approve of that: indeed, she is free to repudiate its consoling power and turn her religious fervour to more meaningful transcendent bonds. But you’d think there might be some sensitivity to the political-philosophical implications for mission praxis. Why should those Tories who attend her church bother to listen to her tell the story of God’s love, if all the time she is pinching her nose at their spiritual halitosis? Why should all those Tories who watch Gogglebox even consider walking with her in the way of Christ, hoping to be nurtured and encouraged in their faith? Why should they gather round the Lord’s Table if their vicar deems them to be unworthy or unable to resist the evil philosophies of men?

Bottley is far from an isolated case. Seething anti-Tory sentiment clearly exists much higher up in the church hierarchy, too, judging by the Bishop of Manchester’s decision to play host to Jeremy Corbyn and a left-wing rally coinciding with the Conservative Party conference taking place in the city.

Long gone, it seems, are the days when the Church of England was commonly known as the Tory party at prayer. And with church personalities using their pulpits to inveigh against right-wing policies and pontificate on the supposed dangers of Brexit, the time has come to urgently look again at the privileged position which the partisan established church holds in our constitution.


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