Next steps for Brexit?

This is the perplexing question of our time and I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject.

1) To claim that the UK should not be permitted a second referendum because the will of the people was clearly expressed in June 2016 is just plain wrong.  We know that the Leave campaign was riddled with dodgy claims, such as the ludicrously misleading £350 million per week claim that (as of 29th September 2018) apparently 42% of the British public still believed!  There is also the issue of Russian influence and interference, which is repeatedly swept under the carpet but must have been significant with such a close referendum result.

Most significantly, the 52% did not know exactly what they were voting for and were promised dazzling, bright “sunlit uplands“, a land flowing with the milk and honey of freedom from constraints and a trade bonanza.  Just take a look at these claims, which have been exposed as utterly hollow.

So, that’s why we should have another vote to confirm the will of the people.  We can clearly see now how complicated and costly untangling ourselves from the EU will be.  In terms of the price paid, please note that already we have lost the equivalent of £500 million per week due to the decision made on 26th June 2016 and our actions since.  Government forecasts suggest that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller under a “no deal” best case scenario after 15 years, than if we stayed in the EU.  Surely, very few people voted to be poorer and those who did were certainly not considering the interests of those are most vulnerable in our society and subsist on the breadline.

2) Nevertheless, I can see the merits to accept May’s Brexit deal for now, working towards “near-frictionless trade” with the EU and keeping the “Norway-style” option as a “Plan B” if a bespoke arrangement does not emerge from the negotiations.  There are clear benefits to leaving the EU in terms of fishing and agriculture, which are hardly being mentioned at the moment but are important to many communities across the UK.

We have probably lost so much already in terms of EU agencies and bank HQs that have relocated away from the EU, maybe we should persist on a sensible, gradual uncoupling from Brussels and pursue the opportunities this bring, whilst seeking to maintain as much of our trading relationship as possible.  I can see that a second referendum would be very disruptive, though if Parliament is deadlocked then that will become the best way out of the impasse.

Mind you, how much of the current Westminster inertia is based on lack of an overall majority for any one party and what chance is there of a General Election delivering a more decisive, satisfactory result?  There is also some doubt about whether the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 and easily maintain our current EU membership.  Moreover, if there the first referendum result was reversed, would too many people feel betrayed and disillusioned by British politics, sowing the seeds of future discord.  Yet again, we can see the merits of May’s Brexit deal and only wish that she was better able to sell this across party lines…

3) Whatever happens, we must learn from this shambles.  Referendums are complex, emotive and divisive.  They do not solve issues but simply unleash mayhem.  They are a distraction from the serious and important business of government.  Think of how much could have been accomplished in the last 30 months if we were not so distracted by Brexit.  Is the price of a spurious vision, “Britannia Unchained”, truly worth the uncertainty and chaos.


The case of the much-maligned Samaritan’s Purse

Why do people trust the truth so little that they feel the need to distort the facts in order to “win” a case or promote their agenda? Case in point is Toynbee’s broadside entitled “This Christmas, beware evangelical Christians bearing gifts”. Admittedly the headline was quite intriguing but the argument was frustratingly flimsy.

Firstly, why does it matter that Samaritan’s Purse has a monthly income of £16 million? Don’t you think every single penny is being used to promote the charity’s aims and objectives? Oxfam, recently rocked by a child abuse scandal, still managed to accrue a monthly income of £34.5 million (2017).

Secondly, wouldn’t Christians be abject hypocrites if we just doled out goodies and said nothing about our reason for doing so? We believe our Lord Jesus Christ’s ultimate act of grace — leaving the glories of heaven to enter the cesspit of earth for the sake of our salvation — is the greatest possible motivation for any human being to show love. In fact, why should humanists even bother to be charitable if they believe this life, so scarred by suffering, irrationality and unfairness, is all there is?

As we know the source of grace and truth, we are obligated and motivated to share this treasure. There’s no point in talking about love without also displaying kindness. Individuals and communities have physical and spiritual needs — Samaritan’s Purse aims to meet both, but recognises that what makes Christian charity unique is Christ Jesus the One who created us to care.

Thirdly, why would we not send boxes to the most needy people who, yes, live in Muslim countries? The sad fact is the West is woefully under-informed about Islam — please take time to read-up on what the Koran actually says and how this directly influences the beliefs and behaviours of millions.

For example, although Muhammad did not envisage modern terrorism, some of his instructions and actions can be used to justify such. For example, Q 8:12: I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.

Islamic tradition (namely the hadith, which is said to record Muhammad’s sayings) also justifies spreading fear: “I have been made victorious with terror.” (Bukhari 4.52.220)

Just look at the desperate plight of Asia Bibi in Pakistan where mobs are baying for her blood after she was accused of maligning Muhammad.  Despite that country’s highest court ruling that she is “innocent”, she is in hiding and refused asylum by a UK government that appear desperate to avoid a violent Islamic backlash.  How can anyone objective seriously give any credence to the claim that this is a “religion of peace” when its followers direct so much animosity against those who refuse to “submit” to Allah’s rule?

Now listen to Jesus: “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” — statements found nowhere in the teaching of Islam. Jesus never killed anyone, and criticised Peter for taking up a sword in his defence. Instead of killing and maiming, the Messiah healed people and even raised some from the dead.

Truthfully, we do a grave disservice if we only pack a shoebox, or send-off a tenner for “Children in Need”. Surely, everyone deserves to know the reason for the hope that we have.

In following-up Toynbee’s hyperlinks, I noted that the origins of this article seem to be from a website, “Wales Online“.  You can see again the misrepresentation: the author claims to present the case “for and against”, implying a degree of objectivity, but nearly every point is very much antagonistic, concluding with a link for a letter template to write to schools demanding they reconsider their support of Samaritan’s Purse. What a travesty. “Bah humbug” Scrooge would be proud of such efforts but who does the Humanist Society’s invective really help?

Rather than the legal eagle who walked by on the other side of the road, I’d rather be the compassionate Samaritan, getting stuck in to assist the man badly injured at the side of the road and share the Good News of great joy.

“Austerity isn’t over” – but you should at least get your facts right

Long-standing Guardian journalist and commentator Polly Toynbee just wrote an article that encapsulates why mainstream media have such a trust deficit.  To be fair, I actually agree with many of her central propositions about the damage radical Tory cuts have wrought on our social fabric but that’s no excuse for such a serious misunderstanding of the Resolution Foundation‘s figures, on which she bases her latest broadside against the government.

She fails to grasp the reality of the cuts to various government departments as a result of austerity.  All the figures Toynbee quotes, such as “Local authorities face another 57% cut in grant”, are actually “real-terms per capita RDEL cuts between 2009-10 and 2023-24”.  It is woefully inaccurate to portray these as a further, majorly worrying reductions – i.e. “a walloping cut in subsidy [for Transport and railways], presumably a gap that will be filled with fare rises.”

In a different misreading, Toynbee writes that Gavin Williamson’s “Ministry of Defence” gets a 12% cut when, in fact, the Budget marks an increase and improvement.  Yes, of course, we will not somehow be able to magically return to spending levels that could be expected if there was never a financial crash (a crisis that happened on Labour’s watch). The way these figures are repeatedly misrepresented as “ANOTHER” cut, in addition to everything that has gone before, is deeply disingenuous.

Yes, commentators are right to point out that the government still plans to make spending cuts in certain departments but Toynbee’s economic illiteracy is deeply alarming and incomprehensible for a media organisation that proudly boasts “Facts are sacred”.  If the Daily Mail or Donald Trump was bandying around similar figures in such a misleading way, they would be the first to complain and shine a light to embarrass them into a correction, so I hope they will act accordingly to sort out their own “fake news” problem.  I wrote to the Guardian’s editor earlier today and I sincerely hope that this news outlet, which has many great features, fixes this issue soon.

MPs are not exempt from austerity

The proposals to cut the UK Parliament down in size from 650 to 600 MPs must not be abandoned.  Money has already been spent painstakingly redrawing the constituency boundaries so they are each of a similar size.  In the long term, this change would reduce costs (an expected £12.2 million saving) and why should MPs be exempt from austerity?  If the police have to tackle rising levels of crime with fewer officers, is there any justification for Labour and The Guardian’s arguments against the reform?

Yes, of course, I would like to see a more comprehensive electoral revolution with no wasted votes or safe seats but don’t let the best become an enemy of the good.  This re-adjustment has been completed fairly and impartially, so if (as predicted) Labour would lose out, they should be thinking how to appeal to a much broader range of voters, not bemoaning their lot.

There is only seating capacity in the House of Commons for 427 MPs, so even with the proposed reductions we will still have a packed Parliament.  Opponents argue that 23% of MPs will have some sort of government position and be dependent on patronage but Parliament could easily introduce a measure to limit how many of its members can work with the executive branch.  This could be tabled as an amendment to the bill, a condition for cross-party support.

There is no excuse for MPs to duck out of the unpleasant but necessary task that is cutting down Parliament to size.  This is a chance to actually make change happen, so please lobby your MP and make sure they don’t duck out.

A SMART teaching assistant

Technology should be all about enhancing what human beings can offer, not replacing them. As I am about to start another academic year as a lecturer, I wish the astonishing developments in voice recognition and artificial intelligence would be applied to the classroom.

Imagine a smart assistant for teachers that works around the slides you have already prepared. The app, which would hopefully interface with the likes of PowerPoint and Prezi, listens to what you are saying and brings up slides, as well as wider information from the Internet, as appropriate.

Behind the scenes, this technology could record and summarise key points of what was discussed, which are then presented to the teacher for review and upload to the school or College’s Virtual Learning Environment.

This sort of system would enable more dynamic and learning-focused lessons, following the needs of students, rather than the predetermined teacher script. There are so many times in a lesson when I wish it was easier to follow spontaneous lines of enquiry or even just change the order of what is covered, based on where the learners currently are. Such tangents or re-routes could be seamlessly incorporated into teaching, if the tech gurus focused on this issue, rather than silly distractions like Juicero or Washboard.

Guardians of the Galaxy – what does “redemption” actually mean?

The open letter released by the “Guardians of the Galaxy” stars, petitioning Disney to reinstate James Gunn as the director of the third installment of this blockbuster franchise, raises interesting questions about what redemption actually means.

Gunn has admitted posting tweets from 2008-11 in which he joked about the Holocaust, AIDS, rape and paedophilia. The BBC declined to publish all the details but quoted two: “I like when little boys touch me in my silly place.” and “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped and it’s like, ‘whew this feels great, not being raped!'”

Now, I don’t think these are just examples of “inappropriate jokes” (as described by Chris Pratt) – they are, in fact, deeply troubling and reflect attitudes that family-friendly Disney understandably wants to completely disown.  It was the right decision to sack Gunn because, as we need to realise and acknowledge, our actions and words have consequences.  I would be more alarmed if we just shrugged and laughed such tweets off as just a bit of risque humour.  They are not.

However, I do believe in redemption.  James Gunn should not be blacklisted or become the latest victim of humanity’s “mob mentality” – he has apologised and is a tremendous talent.  He should be allowed to work on further project, hopefully tackling with wisdom, grace and truth his past misdemeanours and present maturing.  This should not be the end of his story.

Redemption always comes at a cost.  I believe Christ Jesus paid the ultimate “once for all” price on cross, freeing us from the eternal penalty for our sins, our wrong-doing.  When we come to Him in contrition and repentance, He welcomes us with open arms.  Nevertheless, this does not mean he sweeps our transgressions under the carpet – there will still be earthly consequences but, crucially, we can change and overcome through the power of His Holy Spirit.  We can grow beyond our, often self-inflicted, wounds because of His amazing grace.

I hope Disney will stand by their decision to sanction Gunn and I pray that more people will see what redemption really means.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

…become a comedian on “Mock the Week” and slag-off any public figure perceived to put a foot wrong! Whilst this kind of comedy can seem alluring, harmless fun, I think it is important to dig more deeply into this issue.

Satire was first discussed critically in Ancient Rome where a distinction was set-up between Juvenalian and Horatian forms. The former encompassed any bitter and ironic criticism of contemporary persons and institutions that was filled with personal invective, angry moral indignation, and pessimism. Meanwhile, the latter was seen to provoke a wry smile by being indulgent, tolerant and witty, holding up to gentle ridicule the absurdities and follies of human beings. Personally, I much prefer the more whimsical version.

Fast-forward about 1700 years and Jane Austen’s fictional Emma learns an oft-repeated lesson for would-be satirists when she insensitively mocks the relatively impoverished spinster Miss Bates – never belittle those less fortunate than yourself. Despite the fact this character is garrulous, sustaining an apparently endless flow of trivial speech, she does not deserve to be insulted and her mistreatment exposes the heroine’s impatient pride, which can then be corrected.

What is missing from so much of today’s satire is the lack of any positive, redeeming features. Everything is focused on deflating perceived pomposity and ridiculing stupidity with no attempt to even hint at a better alternative. It is easy to point-out the faults but very few are willing to actually correct them.

On turning to satire in the Bible, we always see a balance. Prophets like Isaiah mock the idols of Babylon, inanimate so they must be carried, made by human hands and thus unable to save anyone (Isaiah 44:9-20 & 46). However, he also holds out hope, proclaiming in beautiful poetry the One who is all-powerful: “those who trust in the LORD will find new strength: they will soar high on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint” (40:31).

Similarly, Jesus satirises the punctilious rule-keeping of the self-righteous Pharisees. They would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23), meaning they carefully filter their drinking water through a cloth, so they do not swallow even the smallest of ceremonially unclean animals. Yet they ignore much more glaring and obvious character flaws, such as covetous greed or orchestrating the execution by crucifixion of an innocent man. Jesus, wonderfully, moves beyond the critique to point people to the solution: “whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again… the water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life” (John 4:14). Not just a diagnosis of the problem but also an unbeatable offer. What is the point of knocking down a house of cards unless you are planning to help build something better?

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Dehumanised and marginalised

Recently, I was reading an in-depth report on the appalling treatment of refugees by many European democracies, which concluded: “We must be alert to the ways in which some politicians try to convince people to give up rights and protections that exist for the benefit of everyone. Any authority figure who says: “We should look after our own before we look after refugees,” probably isn’t interested in doing either. And we should recognise the importance of collective action. There will not be “solutions” to this crisis, in the sense of one or more policy decisions that will make refugees vanish.”

How could anyone disagree?  Now, imagine that the word “refugees” was switched for “unborn baby”.  This is particularly pertinent because so often we hear the complaint that those who campaign to end abortion are simply not interested in making life better for the poor and those who struggle in our society.  They say we must look after those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile, not sadistically insist they actually give birth to a baby they do not want.

Yet, as we can see with the argument against those who demonise asylum seekers, this is a false dichotomy.  I cannot speak for every pro-life campaigner but from I see this is a movement which cares passionately about all life.  There is a focus on the unborn because they are the most vulnerable and easily overlooked.  Everyone who manages to squeeze out of the birth canal at least has a fighting chance, but the life of those who are conceived, yet not born, is cruelly snuffed out before they can even utter their first cry.  It’s definitely not a case of “either or” – rather a plea for society to listen to the voiceless and follow through on the logic of equal rights.

An inconvenient truth – life begins in the womb

Abortion is the murder of innocent lives. What is progressive about “health care” that destroys boys and girls before they can even utter a cry to protest this inhumanity? That snuffs out their potential on the whim of a would-be parent? What is “modern” about a change in the law that endorses the actions of 170,000 women who have travelled from Ireland to (mostly) the United Kingdom for an abortion since 1980? What is laudable about a vote that condones the three every day who order pills to terminate a pregnancy? Of course, how many of those choices have been swayed by the vociferous advocacy of the well-funded abortion lobby? Laws should not be changed to aid and abet this slaughter – do we leave our doors open to make life easier for burglars?

How can the referendum result be a victory for women’s health care, as touted by the likes of Leo Varadkar, when at least half of those killed in the womb will be females, and many more would-be mothers will now be exposed to the risks of abortion operations?  Stop framing this as being all about choice and compassion, which you refuse to extend to anyone who has the misfortune of not being born.

I am profoundly saddened by the fact that society so often find these realities too painful to confront. They prefer to completely ignore the human rights of the unborn baby, which are never mentioned by those cheerleaders for abortion. Individuals are invited to ignore their responsibilities and opt for the quick fix. There is incontestable science evidence validating the humanity of a so-called foetus, which by Week 12 has a beating heart, can swallow and yawn, can kick, stretch & jump, has arms, legs, fingers & toes, has fingernails & hair, has all his or her vital organs, has vocal chords, responds to touch and has a fully formed face. In fact, there is more certainty on this point than any of the dire climate change predictions that shape our policies on renewable energies.

The point is that both issues – “on demand” abortion and burning fossil fuels – highlight the inability of the majority in this world to make meaningful sacrifices for future generations. To those who object that abortion is a useful limit on the world’s population remember scientists believe our planet could easily sustain ten billion human lives and, if we adapted our lifestyles to waste less food, fight fewer wars and share resources better that figure would surely be much higher. Indeed, that foetus you abort might become the brilliant scientist who cracks the successful colonisation of Mars. As Ghandi wisely observed: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

So please do not be discouraged. Keep living for one another, considering the interests of others as well as you own and remembering that all life is precious and worth protecting. Future generations will see the light and reverse Ireland’s tragic mistake.


Pro-abortion misinformation

I was very frustrated and saddened to hear the misleading claims made by Irish pro-abortion activist Sinead Redmond on BBC World Service’s “HARDTalk” show (listen from about 15:40 minutes into the programme). In response to a specific question suggesting that abortion “on demand” will lead to more terminations, she replied “I don’t [accept that]… that’s not consistent with what we see internationally.” As evidence, she brought-up the example of Portugal, claiming that their abortion rate in has actually reduced since – and by implication as a result of – the law being changed in 2007.

This is very misleading and should have been challenged by the presenter. Firstly, any figures (such as the 14 women who died from back-street abortion 2001-2007) are estimates – and, of course, we have no idea how many babies were aborted before the ban. We do know 2008-2015, there were 145,000 voluntary abortions – apparently the trend is downwards since a peak of 20,480 in 2011, blamed on the recession, but is still expected to “stabilise” at 15,000 deaths per year.

Consider also that “abortion on demand” in Portugal is a relatively recent development and it is still too early to forecast long-term trends. A better comparison is the UK where the figures did appear to decline 1973 to 1976 but soon rose to almost 200,000 per year by 1990 (though there are continuing fluctuations). The worst year, 219,454 lives lost in 2007, was before the financial crash and resulting economic downturn!

However, if you listen to the HARDTalk interview, the pro-abort activist makes it sound like there are fewer (or at least the same number of) abortions now in Portugal, since the law changed, than there were before 2007, which is clearly misleading. She ignores the caveats and the many who have reservations about the change in Portugal’s laws.

The programme would have benefitted from slowing down and actually investigating properly some of the numbers, especially this one, which were thrown around, so that individuals were not misinformed about what changing abortion laws actually leads to. The BBC must do better and not abet the broadcast of “fake news”. I have complained to them and I hope they will set the record straight.