Friday, August 13, 2004

A Bishop Speaks Out

If Stephen Lowe, the Bishop of Hulme , writing in his diocesan news letter, sees a moral equivalence between nazi Germany in the thirties and today’s Britain he’s clearly got some difficulty with perspective. It’s the same lack of perspective which saw traditional icons such as the flag being condemned as symbols of racism. As a result the flag became the exclusive property of undemocratic racists. It’s good to see the flag now being reclaimed by democrats of all races within Britain, and it just seems silly to go through all this again with I Vow to Thee my Country. Symbols of nationhood play an important part in binding a people together and it doesn't make society a stronger and healthier place when they are undermined frivolously.

But it's a little more complicated than that. One of my favourite songs is Jerusalem. It’s stirring, benignly patriotic, avoids naked jingoism and calls on the singers to build a better country here in England. It’s a song which resonates with both the political left and the right, and as a song specifically about England makes an excellent ‘English’, rather than ‘British‘, national anthem. (The Scots and Welsh have theirs and there is nothing wrong with us having ours) Yet it’s not really a hymn. It’s theology is highly questionable and it’s not about the Christian God in any orthodox sense. Sung in a stadium it brings tears to my eyes. Sung in church it makes me squirm.

With some reluctance I think Bishop Lowe makes one good point. Modern Britain may be nothing like Nazi Germany, but a church existed in Germany when the Nazis came to power. All to often that church acquiesced with the Nazi state. Even Christians who went on to oppose Hitler with some heroism were compromised before hand, because they had been conditioned to support the state unquestioningly. Bishop Lowe is right to remind patriotic, right of centre, Christians (of whom I’m unashamedly one) that they aren't called to put country before God, although in fairness he should also have pointed out that they are called to give the state the things due to it, which certainly include a high degree of personal loyalty. I’m not convinced that I Vow to Thee my Country does call us to put country before God, just before "all earthly things", but he’s probably right to remind us of the dangers of unquestioning nationalism. He’s just wrong to condemn nationalism unquestioningly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Australian Breast Cancer and Immigration

I haven’t blogged for the last few days as I have been finishing off the last assignment of a course. I have also been preparing for a job interview, as a result of which I am now a charge nurse (which is what they call a male sister). I’ve been qualified for eighteen years, so nobody can accuse me of being cursed with an over abundance of ambition.

I had supper with some friends tonight to celebrate. One of these is a fellow nurse, who is off to Oz soon to work for a year at Melbourne Children’s Hospital. As part of her visa requirements she has had to undergo a two hour medical, in which every part of her anatomy has been palpated and every orifice intimately probed. Apparently this is required because the Australian success rate in the treatment of breast cancer (among many other diseases) is now so much better then ours that people with recently diagnosed breast cancer are trying to move to Oz for the better treatment.

I’m deeply saddened that the quality of treatment for breast cancer in this country is falling behind other countries. Personally I blame an NHS philosophy which puts more emphasis on equality of access to health care, however poor that care is, than seeking to raise standards across the board, even if the result is some degree of inequality. I believe that once you stop putting quality top of your list of priorities you're lost. Anyway, as they say, a rising tide raises all boats.

But I’m more struck by the robustness of Australian immigration policy. So clear are they that it’s wrong for Australian taxpayers to be taken advantage of, for taxpayers money to be spent treating people who haven’t contributed to their own care, and who are in the country primarily to take advantage of the health care system, that they make real and vigorous attempts to prevent this happning. I’d like to know if we do the same. Does anyone know?

Friday, August 06, 2004

A Question of Choice?

David Carr, of Samizdata, is on the radio tonight refuting the idea that the state has the right to micro manage every aspect of our lives. (Taking the Fight to the Enemy)

To my mild embarrassment I’m a qualified health promotion officer, although I haven’t practiced for nearly ten years. In my defence I was very, very bad at it. In the end I resigned, in preference to being fired, driven to distraction by the complete absence of any way to measure whether anything I was doing was making any difference to anybody. Such was my stress at the time that I was (secretly) smoking 25 cigarettes a day, coughing up brown phlegm, living off take aways and only exercising when I got up to change channels on the TV. The irony of all this seems delicious in retrospect, but at the time it rather undermined any remaining belief I had that I should be lecturing people on how to live their lives.

It was probably working in health promotion that tipped me from being a ‘modern’ liberal to the old fashioned, small government sort. I remember the missionary zeal of the head of a national anti smoking organisation whom I once met. There was nothing she wouldn’t have done to stop people smoking, fair or foul. I also remember a job I nearly applied for. The job involved the implementation on an NHS trust’s new anti smoking policy, imposing a blanket ban on smoking on their property. The stated rationale for this was that it would "protect people from the effects of passive and active smoking".

Now I know what protecting people from the effects of passive smoking means, and by and large I‘m in favour of it, provided it can be balanced against the rights of others to smoke if they want. But what does protecting people from active smoking mean? It means they think that they know better than you what’s good for you, and they are going to stop you doing it for your own good.

And surely that’s not liberal by anyone’s definition.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Reinvigorating British Democracy

As we observe the declining proportion of the population that bothers to vote in elections, & the seeming disengagement of many people from the political process, I wonder whether the time has come to emulate the American & especially Swiss way of making democracy relevant to their electorates.

It seems to me, that people are apathetic & even contemptuous of the political process, not because they think politics is irrelevant, but because they cannot see how their vote will actually change anything.

In my view, the basic flaw of our 'representative democracy', is that it only represents the views of a very narrow segment of society, ie the chattering classes. The great mass of people are largely disenfranchised, & have therefore given up on politics.

I think the Americans & especially the Swiss have got a much better idea of doing things. There the frequent use of referenda to decide major & minor issues makes the political process unmistakeably relevant to people. The response that we don't have a tradition of referenda, is both inadequate, & increasingly out dated, as Mr Blair has now reluctantly conceded one over the European Constitution.

Also the idea of a system where the masses vote once every few years to elect their leaders, & then look on helplessly as those leaders make law (and enter into international treaties) without any reference to them, is thoroughly out moded. Surely it was designed for a society where only a small minority of the population had an education. This is no longer the case in the UK, and its time for the political class to open up the 'closed shop' of the political process to the people.

I wonder how many of the laws & treaties of the past few decades would have been passed if they had been subject to a referendum? The abolition of capital punishment?

Also, as I understand it in the USA, a citizen can get a motion on the ballot if he gets say 350 000 signatures on a petition. What a splendid way of connecting the people to their democracy!

Lastly, I think if we Tories were to offer this constitutional change to the people at the next election (Labour has changed it so much already anyway), it would reap great dividends, & outflank Labour completely.

Not much Sanity here.

The Telegraph reports the suspension of the leadership of the Falmouth & Cambourne Conservatist Association for the temerity to endorse a video called "Shockwaves" claiming to reveal 'the facts they don't want you to know about the EU'. It's produced by the amusingly named Sanity (Subjects against the Nice Treaty), set up by Ashley Mote, since elected (and suspended) as a UKIP MEP.

While it's understandable that the Tories should be cagy about links to other parties, particularly parties with whom they are competing directly at the hustings, the fact is that for many in the party UKIPs position on Europe seems more attractive than the Tory's own. While for those on the left, the Conservative position is always be too extreme. The Conservatives are in danger of being trapped and outflanked on either side.

If the Conservative leadership wants to avoid the impression that it too is part of the pro EU juggernaut, rolling inexorably towards Euro integration, regardless of the democratic wishes of the British people, it should commit itself to a binding referendum on each and every European treaty, and opposition to each piece of Eurolegislation which doesn't have the support of the British people. It should support the principles of popular democracy and government by consent. It certainly shouldn't gag constituency associations which are more in tune with popular feeling than it's own Central Office.
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