Increasingly illiberal

For those who watched leader of the UK Liberal Democrat, Tim Farron, give his resignation speech and question just how liberal Britain actually is, I sincerely hope that his words resonated, penetrating the fog of hazy assumptions about the supposed superiority of secular humanism.  In the words of a man who has been hounded and persecuted for his faith, finding such a prominent position in public life impossible to maintain: “we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”

What a sad indictment.  This one man’s political fate is only the tip of an iceberg. I have previously written about the vilification of Andrew Turner, which ultimately also led to his resignation.  Two Christians in the House of Commons both being forced out in the space of a couple of months is not a blip, but a wider trend in our society where disagreeing with the recently inaugurated status quo is the ultimate sin.  No-one is allowed to mention that, for example, 61% of HIV infections are accounted for by 2% of the gay population in the USA or that 29% of adult children of homosexual parents had been specifically subjected to sexual molestation by said person who should be caring and protecting them.

Another very recent instance of an attempt to close down the debate on issues deemed too sensitive to challenge is abortion.  Thankfully, an Ontario judge rejected an attempt to hide abortion statistics from the public, stating that there was no justification for suppressing information vital to having an informed debate on a matter of life or death.  I thought liberals liked Freedom of Information and believed in reasoned discussion, based on the evidence.  Clearly, that’s only the case when the facts suit their prejudices.

I could go on, but I’m sure you see the problem.  What kind of society are we really creating and what horrors are we storing-up for ourselves and future generations because we refuse to listen?

Terror strikes again

I’m so saddened and shocked that the United Kingdom has again experienced carnage and slaughter as a result of Islamist terrorism.  The butchery on London Bridge and Borough Market is sickening and must be utterly condemned.  People, whatever their beliefs or behaviours, are made in God’s image and precious to Him.  As each individual walks on this earth, they need those who profess faith to demonstrate the superiority of the One they follow. This is accomplished through living a life of love for everyone, and hating only the twisted ideologies that ensnare and entangle those who have not yet seen the Light.  I hope and pray that we who seek to walk in the way of Christ Jesus will display His amazing grace to this hurting, broken world.

Looking at some of the responses to this outrage, there are some important points to make.  Theresa May repeatedly mentioned “tackling extremism” was her priority.  But what does this actually mean?  Previously, several commentators and even government ministers have indicated that this term encompasses those who express negative attitudes about homosexuality.   Polly Harrow, who works at a college in Huddersfield as Head of Safeguarding and Prevent, voicing any opposition to same-sex ‘marriage’ could be against the law.  Privately-held belief is “your business” but “if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law.”  Really?

So, we should just ignore the numerous studies that highlight the dangers faced by those who indulge in deviant sexual behaviour.  It’s a kindness to warn people of the consequences of their actions, though this should always be in the context of offering support and help. Sadly, many in power want to ban counselling, talking therapies for those with “unwanted same-sex attractions”, shutting down yet another escape route.

Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan cannot bring himself to even use the phrase “Islamist terrorism”, despite the fact we know very clearly that the example and teachings left by Muhammed motivated the attackers (more than 100 verses in the Qur’an advocating the use of violence to spread Islam). There is also Khan’s disturbing history of links to Islamist individuals and organisations, which has never been properly addressed and explained. Now, all I ask is that these people seriously examine their own beliefs and past actions before leaping into writing new laws that are misdirected and will only sow the seeds of more divisions.

This nation is teetering close to collapse and the only One who can save us is “the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  He teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, which is one of the best responses to terror.  Hatred will only make them stronger and us weaker. Only grace can break the chains.

Corbyn – unfit to lead

I am shocked that in all the UK General Election coverage so far there has been so little focus (if any) on Corybn’s appalling record as leader of HM Opposition.  80% of his Party – over 170 MPs – voted against him in a motion of no confidence less than one year ago. One-time economic guru (Richard Murphy) gave this damning verdict on his fruitless time with Corbyn and his cronies: “there was no policy direction, no messaging, no co-ordination, no nothing. Shadow ministers appeared to have been left with no direction as to what to do. It was shambolic. The leadership usually couldn’t even get a press release out on time to meet print media deadlines and then complained they got no coverage.”

There are countless other tweets and comments from prominent Labour figures that all point to one simple message: Corbyn is unfit to lead. Surely, we should listen to those who are closest to this mess and have the most experience of his manifest failures. For the record, I tried to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt and I do agree with many of his concerns about social justice, the Iraq war and the need to properly invest in public services. However, our negotiations with Brussels on the future UK-EU relationship will be fundamental to our future – we need someone who is capable of reaching a sensible deal and will be respected by those on the other side of the table.

Now, outlets like the BBC ask questions (rightly) about his views on the IRA, Trident and Brexit, but I’ve not heard once – since the election was called – any interviewer confront Corbyn and co with views of those who have seen him up close, in action. Those IRA quotes are about 20 years old; the criticisms of his leadership were made about 10 months ago! Which one do you think is more relevant? So, why does a questioner not just read out the critiques and see how they respond. Here’s just one example, from Scottish Labour candidate (Blair McDougall) on 23rd July 2016 as “utterly unfit to lead. Petty. Irresponsible. Small.” Imagine that plastered on posters across the country!

This is probably the most vital question in this election. There’s no point having an amazing manifesto if you cannot deliver it by holding together a majority in Parliament. Corbyn has given no evidence that he is even capable of doing so. He is a “hypocrite” who “lectures on loyalty, even though for decades he was himself grossly disloyal to Labour on literally hundreds of occasions”.

I struggle to understand how Corbyn ended-up elected as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. He has narrowed the viable options for government in this country by refusing to realise his unsuitability for leadership. I dread the prospect of PM Corbyn, sincerely hoping and praying that he is never allowed anywhere near 10 Downing Street.

 

Time for change in Moray

I’m disappointed about the dark mutterings aimed by the SNP at Douglas Ross’ refereeing commitments. Firstly, it’s a positive that we have a politician who has a life outside the Parliament and engages in ordinary, wholesome activities, gaining experiences that broaden his horizons and keep him connected to real people. If he misses a Holyrood committee meeting, let’s remind ourselves that these are probably pointless as the indy-obsessed SNP currently represent a massive roadblock to any progress through our devolved institutions.

Secondly, consider the cheek of the Nats – they have two MPs suspended for financial scandals and another, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, being investigated by the Law Society of Scotland. They’re the ones with the worst record of corruption and incompetence – who are they to throw stones in a desperate attempt to rescue Angus Robertson’s electoral prospects? Speaking of which, what has been doing at Westminster for the last 16 years – abstaining on numerous votes, using his position to divide the United Kingdom and claiming £1,119 for a TV on expenses (not to mention £20 for a corkscrew). Do, please, look them all up. As a former journalist and special advisor, I think our incumbent urgently needs a reality check.

The SNP have no coherent vision – they won’t even guarantee that we would re-join the EU as that would upset too many of their core voters. There’s no point in a strong voice for Moray/Scotland if they ignore what 57.56/55.3% of citizens are saying. We know that 300 years of shared history between two nations with a land border is much more important, and will always outweigh, a mere 40ish years in a less cohesive bloc. The fact is the SNP are hell-bent on a disastrous separation and will use any excuse to accomplish their narrow aims, ignoring the damage they inflict on Scotland through their chronic mismanagement. They are unprincipled and unfit for government of any sort (or even Opposition).

Meanwhile, Corbyn says he is “absolutely fine” with another divisive referendum and fails to command the loyalty of his own MPs, those who have seen him in action. Yes, it’s a mess, but – given the current choices – I believe we need to vote for change on 8th June.  We must unite behind the only candidate capable of delivering a message to the ultra-nationalists and actually representing Moray.

Here we go again…

Firstly, let’s deal with those who claim calling an election is unscrupulous. Look at the evidence. There’s the mounting dissent to PM May, from Sturgeon’s unspecified threat of “further action” after the Easter holidays in her quixotic campaign for “indyref2” – would she have called an unofficial referendum in defiance of Westminster? Then, the 2015 manifesto that ties her hands in terms of tax changes (such as fixing National Insurance contributions for the self-employed) and year-on-year pension increases of at least 2.5% (even if we see price deflation and wage growth turns negative).

With a wafer-thin working majority of 17 and no prospect of much happening in Brexit negotiations until after German elections, this was the last chance to address these issues. Yes, I wish she’d not so unequivocally spoken of governing till 2020, but she has now fully assessed the mountain ahead, from a position of being in the driving seat, and realised that upgrades are needed to the engine. We should give her the benefit of the doubt that this represent a genuine change of mind, based on sound reasons, not merely political expediency.

Quite simply, there are many good reasons to call a general election and solidify support for a strong United Kingdom negotiating the best possible relationships with all our neighbours in the “global village”.

Turning to the only potential alternative to Prime Minister May, we must see that Corbyn is a depressing joke. Unable to command the respect of his own Parliamentary Labour Party, who he should be working with most closely and uniting in opposition to the Tories, he is a dismal failure: too busy being friends with Hamas and Hezbollah, unable to articulate clearly a manifesto for change and described by his fellow-MPs as an “insurmountable obstacle to victory”. If he really cared about Britain, he would recognise his glaring weaknesses and step aside, so that Labour can function properly.

So, whilst I sympathise with everyone who feels fatigued by the prospect of more trips to the ballot box, I would encourage everyone to vote strategically. We must send a message that the SNP’s abysmal performance in Holyrood is unacceptable. How can they justify being given a £466 million increase in their budget, whilst simultaneously cutting £327 million from Local Councils, gutting vital public services? This complacency and incompetence must stop now.

Focusing on the General Election, the SNP simply cannot form a government at Westminster, given their fixation on independence and unwillingness to even explore the promising federal options outlined by former-PM Gordon Brown. They are a dangerous irrelevance who draw a generous salary, do next to nothing and were forced to suspend two of their misbehaving members within months of their election in 2015. So much for a “new politics”.

Looking at the electoral maths in Moray from 6th May 2016, if those who voted against the SNP incumbent united behind the Conservative candidate, who was only 2,875 votes behind Richard Lochhead, we’d finally have a proper MP and the United Kingdom would be much secure. Sadly, there’s just one option on the paper where your vote won’t be wasted.

Surely, it is in our best interests to give the current government a strong cohort of Scottish MPs, so our voice is at the heart of decision-making and shapes policy.

Indyref2!?

Like the voracious, blood-sucking Dracula, the SNP have again shown their true nature.  Another Scottish independence referendum is completely unnecessary, divisive and a scandalous distraction from the work of government.  What do they really care about more – lifting children out of poverty or some geographical delineations on the map?  Think about all the time, energy and money that could be (for example) removing the need for Food Banks in this country but will actually be wasted in rancorous debate, Twitter trolling and yet more bits of paper shoved through our doors.  I’m appalled at some people’s priorities!

The Scottish Parliament has been granted increased powers since 2014 and must use these, and all the other levers at their disposal, to help Scotland catch-up with the rest of the UK.  Currently, England are ahead of us in offering free childcare for 3-4 years olds – expanded to 30 hours per week this year by the Tories in Westminster but all the SNP offer is a similar move by the end of this Parliament (i.e. 2020!)  It’s scandalous that given the extra cash which comes to Scotland as a result of the Barnett formula, the SNP have not even been able to sort this out because they’ve been spending so much money on White Papers and so much time plotting “indyref2” – ignoring the fact 55% voted against that outcome barely two years ago in a referendum that was supposed to be “once in a generation”.

They seek to exploit “Brexit”, and the climate of confusion, for maximum party gains.  Rather than patiently work to build the case for an independent Scotland, waiting until polling shows a clear and decisive majority in favour, they wish to gamble with our futures and cannot even guarantee that we will be able to join the European Union as an independent nation.  In fact, we won’t because of the “Barroso doctrine” and vetoes from Spain, Belgium and Cyprus.  I can only think that any positive noises, which the SNP have heard from Brussels’ real politic, a ploy to weaken the UK’s bargaining position.  Blindly embracing further upheaval is sheer folly and recklessness.  I’m upset that Holyrood seems more interested in agitating and campaigning, soaking-up the applause of the party faithful, rather than making the tough decisions that are part of governing our country.

We still face the same questions about what currency Scotland would use post-separation with no obvious or attractive solutions.  Oil prices have tanked since September 2014 and the economic case for independence is in tatters, especially as Scotland alone would be responsible for decommissioning the North Sea platforms.

Then there’s the timing.  At least give PM May a chance to negotiate for all the United Kingdom the best possible “Brexit” deal.  Yes, we didn’t want this outcome and it’s painful but it’s what 52% of that electorate opted for and must be at least properly attempted.  For maximum effectiveness in these negotiations, we must have as much flexibility as possible and full backing – no divisions that can be exploited.  If the promised “sunny uplands” turn into a squalid swamp after 2019, then they can possibly start talking about “indyref2” but please stop stoking discord in the middle of an immense challenge that we must face together as the UK.

If the SNP must ask Scotland to consider their destiny again in a “once in a generation” referendum, then at least offer a different question. I’m sure we could unite more easily behind more devolution for our nation and a federal arrangement. This would mean we have all economic and social powers, except currency, defence and foreign affairs, which we would pay Westminster for. We should aim to preserve the best of our Union, whilst giving Holyrood all the autonomy necessary to make Scotland a better place to live, removing any grounds for blame-shifting.

Yes this will raise many questions – what happens to the UK state pension, North Sea oil, capital gains and inheritance taxes, to name a few? However, where there is a will, there is a way and, if there is a clear, unambiguous vote for this kind of incremental, sensible change from Scotland, then no-one can refuse to listen or implement the people’s verdict. By discussing and drafting details through negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster, we can actually be confident about the choice in front of us.

Rather than rushing into a vote on independence where the polls demonstrate where are bitterly divided and a majority still want to remain in the Union, a responsible government would take time to consider and explore all the options, seeking to build consensus and unity, rather than sow discord and despair. Will the SNP rise to that challenge?

Finally, don’t forget to consider just how fatigued we all are by endless elections and just how grateful we would all be if our government actually got on with the job they were elected to do.

Absolute truth

The most marginalised position in public discourse today is “good things are good and bad things are bad” (Tom Whyman, Twitter, 26th August 2016)

I came across this comment today and was struck by how perceptive this tweet is. Of course, this deceptively simple statement raises many issues which need to be unpacked but the fundamental point is so clear: morality has become muddied and tolerance has gone too far.  Too much time is spent defending the indefensible in the name of free speech.  Not enough people stop to consider there is a higher value, a greater goal than just spouting whatever random nonsense you can pass-off as your (protected) opinion.

Of course, the malaise runs deeper.  Society struggles to understand good and bad when relativism runs amok.  What “I feel” has become paramount, even though we must realise this is subjective and dangerous.  We all know in our hearts the numerous toxic and hateful attitudes that battle inside us.  These need clear, unambiguous, loving truth-telling and discipline to be subdued in this life.  Ultimately, only looking to Christ can begin to cleanse us.

Yet how can society function without a rock solid foundation for discerning fact from fiction, good from evil?  The answer is, of course, that we see nations break apart and flounder as families become divided and fragmented, neighbours cheat each other and public services become corrupted, whilst business only cares about the bottom line because individuals have lost sight of what is right.  We desperately need to recapture our sense of accountability, which can only properly grounded in understanding the judgement of God – the one court where we cannot bluster, fudge or con our way out of a guilty verdict.  We will all face the One who sees everything and from whom we cannot hide.

It’s only through accepting and embracing this reality that we begin to search for Good News that really saves.  We’re more wicked than we ever realised but more loved than we ever dreamed.  I hope and pray that our world will waken-up to who we are, what we will face and the lengths to which Christ has gone to rescue us.  Without Him, we might as well give up because we can never even agree what is good or bad.  With Him, we are more than conquerors and this good creation He has made can be redeemed.

Shoddy goods

What’s you most recent experience of buying a sofa?

We bought a large DFS corner sofa about five years and five months ago after marrying. It looked great in store, but as with this customer, we soon noticed problems. Not just misshapen arm cushions, but also threads unravelling within about two years of purchase. Now, it’s looking a very sorry state and was simply not built to last a reasonable length of time in a decent shape.
dfs_sofa
Of course, I should have complained earlier, but didn’t really think till now when we are hoping to move into a new house soon and despair of how this item will look in our “dream” home.
Currently, DFS say that there is nothing they can do as I have contacted them outwith the “two-year manufacturers’ guarantee, and five years for springs and frames”.  That’s just ridiculous – the sofa cost £1695 (£2283 if you throw in the extra chair we bought and delivery!)  When you’re spending this huge sum of money, you really do expect better!
The most alarming point about this episode is that increasingly we are encouraged to buy “big ticket items”, like sofas, that should last a lifetime but (according to the most recent surveys) actually end-up being replaced within (on average) 7-9 years.  The range is because I’ve heard/read both those figures touted.  Regardless, what’s clear is how profligately wasteful we are as a society.  We just don’t build stuff to last and this is yet another example.
If we’re going to look after this planet, we must start legislating for sofas that come with 10 year guarantees (minimum) and a proper, “doesn’t cost crazy amounts” repair service.

The “Guardian” fake news problem!

For days now, the Guardian Online has railed (quite rightly) against the impact of “fake news” in spreading misinformation, legitimising racism or anti-Semitism and, generally, polluting the Internet.  Commentators propose (again, correctly, I believe) that Facebook should rank the veracity of news, or always provide a clear counter-link giving the opposite side of debate in a contentious issue, whilst Google must sort out its algorithms, so typing “are Jews…” doesn’t auto-suggest numerous websites with despicable views.

Then, after watching an episode of “Big Bang Theory”, when Sheldon Cooper claims that references in the Bible to camels belonging to Abraham must be made-up, I came across this article through Google in the Guardian.  In his blog, Andrew Brown asserts that “the Old Testament camels” are “made up” without any caveats. This should be a trusted source but it’s completely wrong.

Ironically, one of the best rebuttals is by a commentator on the article called “hybridartifacts”, but tragically his response is buried within 15 pages of other comment, presented in very small, difficult to read text.   The basic message is that copious evidence exists of domesticated camels in Mesopotamia and Egypt before and during Abraham’s lifetime.  He points out that camels would not COMMONLY have been used in the territory that is now Israel c. 2000BC but Abraham, as someone who travelled from Ur and diverted to Egypt could very probably have been expected to own 10 camels (and more – read the Bible for the full story!).  He was an exceptional figure.

The evidence deserves to be quoted more fully and properly appreciated:

“A Sumerian text from the Old Babylonian period, ca. 1950 – 1530 B.C
found at Nippur describes the use of camels milk, and they are listed along with domesticated animals in a text from Ugarit in a Sumerian text from 1950 – 1600 BC. (Archer, Gleason, 1970, “ Old Testament History and Recent Archeology from Abraham to Moses” and Davis, John J., 1986 “The Camel in Biblical Narratives,” in A Tribute to Gleason Archer: Essays on the Old Testament)

There is a rock carving near Aswan and Gezireh showing a man leading a camel by a rope dated to the 6th Dynasty of Egypt, ca. 2345 – 2181 B.C by the patina, an inscription with it and the style of the petroglyph suggesting the camel may have been domesticated in Egypt as early ca. 2200 B.C (Michael Ripinsky, 1985, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 71) – but there is also evidence for an earlier date – the 1st Dynasty (ca. 3100 –  2890 BC). A ointment vessel in the form of a recumbent camel was found in a tomb of that period and Frederick Zeuner (a key figure in early research into animal domestication) thought it was carrying a load. (F.E.Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals, New York, 1963)
There are also Some Early Bronze Age finds of clay camels attached to miniature clay carts suggesting they were domesticated in Southern Turkmenistan by the early 3rd millennium BC.

There is the Black obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858-824), which shows a man leading camel, but this is much later than the evidence mentioned previously. There is also a stone panel in the British Museum from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal showing camels used as steeds by Assyrian troops but that is from around 645 BC…

The references to Camels in Genesis may be anachronistic not because they were not domesticated by then in the area, but because they were not commonly used in the area at the time or because their use was sporadic or short lived – there is a strong suggestion that later on they were not used at all (especially as they came to be seen as unclean). There is a difference between sporadic and limited use and widespread and frequent use and surely that would affect any archaeological finds?

It is quite possible (even probable) that the investigation of camel bones described in the article shows they were not in common use in the area as beats of burden – but that does not necessarily mean they were never used as such. Zooarchaeological evidence does seem to be at odds with some other archaeological evidence, and I suspect there may be a bit of specialisation blindness at work here – its very easy for specialists to see only the evidence from their own field as being truly significant and to overlook other evidence or see it as less relevant, and coupled with that everyone wants their work to be really significant in itself and this can lead to overstating it.”

So, don’t worry about camels – there is no reason to suspect that the references were made-up.  In fact, they lend credibility – you don’t include difficult-to-believe details if you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes.  There are so much more evidence to support the historical details provided by the Bible – please do take a look.  However, we must beware those that rush to twist facts to make it appear that God’s word cannot be trusted.  Whilst aspects may be difficult to understand, again and again the Bible prove its doubters wrong, and declare the LORD Almighty is faithful – He never lies.

What do British Muslims actually believe?

A report by Policy Exchange notes that the majority of British Muslims (55%) prefer not to use sharia banking.  Only 4% actually use this alternative finance model, which is considered “a striking statistic, given how much emphasis elements of the banking sector have placed on the provision of Sharia banking facilities. It is surely worth considering whether the huge investment of resources diverted to this sector is entirely warranted.”

Note how certain aspects of Christian faith have been de-prioritised (i.e. keeping Sunday special) and not protected by law, unlike Sharia finance..  The argument for refusing to protect those individuals who refused to work on the “Sabbath” was to recast this as a preference, not actually mandated by any major Christian denomination, or with a widespread following.  I’m sure, however, more than 4% of Christians refuse to work in commercial settings on Sundays and certainly almost all of us would prefer that the whole day was considered to be a protected “rest day”.

I’m unfortunately forced to conclude that successive governments pick and choose what they would like people to believe, and this selection of “kosher” religious practices is ruled by business interests.

Then, there’s the publication of Dame Louise Casey‘s year-long review into integration, which cites claims that some sharia councils have supported the values of extremists, condoning wife-beating, ignoring marital rape and allowing forced marriages.   Of crucial importance is that the facts demonstrate communities becoming more divided and segregated, despite the passage of time.  Casey joins many others in warning society that we must be able to discuss these issues without fear of being labelled “racist” or “Islamophobic”.

An example of how this debate is being shut-down is found in the fascinating account of an anonymous someone who flirted with “alt-right” viewpoints online.  He describes being initially convinced by the videos and articles he discovers online, despite having deeply ingrained liberal or left-leaning tendencies.  Clearly, to disturb this viewpoint, the arguments that certain interpretations of Islam were a “threat to western civilisation” must have been persuasive.  What turned him away from what he describes as “indoctrination” was a reference to being “red-pilled” and suddenly thinking that this all sounded too much like a “cult”.

Whilst so much of what the “alt-right” says is abhorrent and panders to our worst tendencies, are we in danger of failing to engage with this discussion because we’re worried about being “politically correct”?  Mr Anonymous gave no indication that he was rationally persuaded that Islam was harmless and I’ve never seen any evidence of this much-repeated assertion.

In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary:

– wherever Sharia law is embraced by an Islamic nation, oppression of women, religious minorities and ex-Muslims follows.  For example, principles derived from the Koran were used to justify repeated violence against Nissar Hussain in Bradford.

violent Jihad is unique to Islam: whilst only practised by a small minority of Muslims, the devastation they have caused is truly shocking. Their ferocity, ruthlessness and inhumanity is unparalleled – just look at the aftermath of terror attacks in Paris 2015 or IS in Syria-Iraq.

– the prophet Mohammed, revered by millions of Muslims around the world, is the only founder of a major religion to also be a warrior and military leader.  Islamic biographers describe how he fought with neighbouring tribes, killed PoWs, exploited women and children, blessed violent, religious Jihad and made people slaves.

What is shocking about liberal Western attitudes to Islam is the complacent lack of scrutiny.  So few people understand the actual origins of the world’s second largest religion. This ignorance allows extremists to spread their messages of hate and entice individuals, like Rasheed Benyahia, into committing terrorist outrages.

We must hope and pray that everyone learns the truth about Islam and recognises the superiority of Christ Jesus who came not to be served and to slaughter, but to serve and be sacrificed for our sins.