Saturday, 28 June 2008

Ignoring a red light.

Another interesting story from the Daily Telegraph.

It's difficult to see what possible rationale there can possibly be behind the Cycle Touring Club's claim that the Highway Code forces cyclists to break the law. Cyclists these days seem to regard the highway code (let alone the law) as an entirely optional extra without any official sanction anyway.

The only justification there could possibly be for legalising the crossing of red lights on pedestrian crossings by cyclists (I was knocked down in such circumstances last year) is that the law is so little observed as to be meaningless, and anyway it would free up the police to devote more time to catching real criminals. No doubt Jacqui will share her thoughts, along with whoever the Minister of Transport happens to be at the moment, before too long.

Rattled Tories feel the heat at last

The prospect of Harriet as the next Prime Minister has obviously got the Tories worried; they're having to resort to publishing stories like this in the Daily Telegraph.

Lets pay women more to do less.

And lets make employers give them the jobs. I'm not really sure who could have come up with such a vote-winning suggestion and persuaded the Cabinet to back it.

They'll obviously be a front runner in the upcoming Labour leadership election though.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Putting right the injustices of the past.

Over on Fora I have (unusually) been having a difference of opinion with the Political Umpire over the rights and wrongs of pardoning the soldiers who were executed for cowardice during the Great War (I think the decision was right, he begs to differ). I will post on this here in due course, offering my views at greater length.

There is another injustice that demands correction though, and I suspect that the Umpire will agree with me on this one. Probably the most shameful act of Harold Wilson's premiership was his forced evacuation of the Chagos Islands in order to allow the US to take out a fifty year lease on Diego Garcia for a military base. The Islanders have been conducting a campaign through the courts against the UK Government for some years now, seeking the return of their home. At every stage the courts have upheld their right to return, and every time the Government has done its very best to thwart that right.

Next week the Government is appealing the decision to the Law Lords, and it is to be hoped that their appeal will be rejected and that they finally accept defeat. Even then there will still be the matter of the US lease on Diego Garcia. When the US took out that lease, I very much doubt that they ever intended to hand the island back. So lets hope that we have a Foreign Secretary who's prepared to tell them that their tenancy (due to finish within the next ten years) is not up for renewal, and that they should make sure that the place is clean and tidy before they leave.

It's just not cricket

One day cricket scarcely qualifies for the name, but even that doesn't excuse Paul Collingwood's decision to confirm the appeal for 'run out'. It should not even have required time for thought, and his subsequent apology (welcome as that is) doesn't alter the perception that sportsmanship has long since been replaced by gamesmanship.

The big cricket story though rests with our Government, and the question of what to do about the Zimbabwe team. We know that the home series has already been cancelled by the ECB in response to a government request but there is still the thorny issue of the 20/20 World Cup, due to be held here later next year. That is organised by the ICC and since Zimbabwe are currently a member of the ICC they are entitled to attend - pretty much on the same basis as Robert Mugabe attending that UN conference in Italy a few weeks ago.

Those who follow cricket know that the ICC will shortly be holding a meeting where there is a good chance that Zimbabwe's membership will be suspended, thus solving the problem. But why wait? It would be far more satisfactory if the Government showed a bit of leadership rather than continuing to evade responsibility in the hope that others will get it out of a hole. Ahead of the ICC meeting they should state plainly that they are not prepared to admit sporting teams from Zimbabwe, and that their position is not negotiable. If that means that the ICC relocate or cancel the 20/20 World Cup, so be it.

It is quite conceivable that the next Government will face the same dilemma in 2012; how much better if our position is clear now.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The dangers the police face

I had an email complaining about my last post, suggesting I was trying to score cheap political points from a policeman's death. The writer didn't understand what it was in Ms Smith's remarks I took exception to, so perhaps I'd better comment further.

The police face many dangers on our behalf and I readily acknowledge that. But it is not a danger that they face every day, nor should they ever have to face, that they are unwittingly killed by a colleague in a training exercise with a weapon that has been adjudged safe for use by the Home Office. Maybe Ms Smith is now approving weapons whose safety level is marginal as part of her campaign of increased toughness in going after those she considers villains, but more likely she's just too stupid to realise that the blame for this tragedy lies squarely at her own door.

There were two victims in this incident, and one has to feel for the officer who fired the shot. Police officers are entitled to rely implicitly on the Home Office in its judgement on issues of safety in such matters. On this occasion that trust was shown to have been seriously abused not by a criminal but by lax complacency in a Government Department overseen by Ms Smith. Since our Home Secretary is a lady who has made clear for some time that she doesn't even consider the police worthy of a reasonable pay rise, her sanctimonious remarks seem all the more contemptible.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Jacqui Smith again.

I wouldn't have posted on this sad accident were it not for the nonsensical comment from our Home Secretary. In making it she insults not only our intelligence but also the memory of those police officers who have given their lives facing danger on our behalf.

Of course none of this takes away from the unnecessary death of Ian Terry or the grief of his family. I doubt that grief has in any way been assuaged by Ms. Smith's trite comment.

It wasn't me, honest!

This blog unreservedly supports the statement on the banner of those rooftop protestors:
A father is for life and not just conception

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Iraq: Good news for once.

I suspect a degree of irony in that title. Just look here.

Recording Responsibility.

It deflected from the main thrust of my last post so I'll say it here instead.

The reason that the Rt Hon James Purnell's name is found on the above report is because, despite all the weasel words, neither the welfare of the child nor the right to a father are of any great interest at the Department of Work and Pensions; the possibility of extracting child support certainly is though.

Human Fertilisation & Embryology: IVF - rights and responsibilities.

The Government has just published a White Paper 'Recording Responsibility'. It can be downloaded here. As part of an upcoming Welfare Reform Bill, it is intended to impose a requirement on a mother when registering the birth of a child to name the father, unless it is 'impossible, impractical or unreasonable' for her to do so; should the mother consider her circumstances falls into one of those categories, she will have to persuade the Registrar that they do. The new arrangement is called 'joint registration' and is intended

to promote child welfare and parental responsibility.

It has a lot to say about fatherhood. Before one even gets into the paper itself, the Ministerial foreword tells us that

The role of both father and mother is important to a child’s development.

and goes on to say that

Fathers’ involvement in their child’s life can lead to positive educational achievement, a good, open and trusting parent-child relationship during the teenage years and reduce the risk of mental health issues for children in separated families. Engaging fathers around the time of their child's birth, including through being registered as father, is important in establishing that close involvement.

These fine words, with which I entirely agree, are purportedly written by the Rt Hon James Purnell (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and the Rt Hon Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families).

The paper itself says

At the heart of our reforms is a desire to promote child welfare and the right of every child to know who his or her parents are. In most cases, a child's right to be acknowledged and cared for by his or her father should not be dependent on the relationship between the parents.

At this point I suspect that I'm not alone in wondering whether the Rt Hons Purnell and Balls voted against the proposals related to the registration of children to same-sex 'parents'. But of course they didn't, and the paper itself has a sting in its tale. It doesn't

cover... the changes proposed in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to allow a same-sex couple to be recorded as parents at birth.

Let's forget fathers for a moment, and suggest that the Government should consider 'recording' its own 'responsibility'. Our Government is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that

children, whenever possible, have the right to know their parentage.

Now I don't think that when this convention was drawn up, what was meant by 'parentage' was the names and addresses of the people who were bringing a child up. What it meant was the two people who had each contributed half of a child's genes, the child's mother and father. Nature's inconvenient like that, continuing to insist that children get one of each, despite the best efforts of our scientists and politicians. And it has been very well established through the latter half of the twentieth century that children have a very strong need to find out about, and more often than not to find, their biological parents. Despite all that, the Government has now done something that it never countenanced with adoption; allowing the birth certificate to be no more than a lie, that records either, or maybe neither, of a child's parents without regard to nature or fact. Adoption has taught us more than that children need to know the facts of their biological parentage; Dr Barnardo's would not be alone in recognising the long term grief and anger that results from the telling of lies, and particularly those that have legal sanction.

I wouldn't dispute that same-sex couples are entirely capable of providing 'supportive parenting', and many already do, but that doesn't alter the unavoidable fact that at least one of them won't be the parent of the child. In that context, I find it impossible to consider IVF morally acceptable unless the couple concerned are the biological as well as the supportive parents; beyond that denies a child its most basic rights.

In the end, it's the same as the abortion debate. There's far too much talk of rights, far too little about responsibilities. The rights being talked up here are once again those of selfish uncaring adults (and are not really 'rights' at all); never are they those of the rights of the child. As for responsibilities, none of the supporters of the recent changes in the law seem to have regard for those whatever.

Human Fertilisation & Embryology: a woman's right to choose.

I posted on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill prior to the Parliamentary debate, and then had an interesting discussion with the Political Umpire, through the comments attached to both my original post and his own on the same subject. In fact, I think I probably achieved greater clarity in those comments than in my first post. I said that I would return to the subject when the dust had settled, and it has so I am.

Re-reading my original post, I'm not sure whether my sense of priorities at the time was correct. The stem cell research proposals, horrendous as they seem to me, have such an uncertain outcome that it is difficult to be absolute in condemning them. Scientists will in the end disregard legal niceties anyway, particularly as the technology already exists. So I'm deeply unhappy, but have nothing to add to what I said at the outset. However the other two issues (abortion, and the need to consider the need for a father) were not covered as I now wish they had been, so I'll set down my thoughts on them in separate posts.

Abortion. As I said previously, I support the existing 24 week limit on obtaining a termination, and believe that they should be easily available. However undesirable it may be it is the lesser of two evils (unwanted, abandoned babies and the return of the back-street abortionist seeming worse). Nevertheless, I think that the limit is a subject that it is entirely reasonable to review from time to time.

Those who oppose abortion outright tend to do so from religious conviction, and are entirely entitled to do so. However the debate as to whether we permit abortion or not took place in 1967, and there has been no likelihood of abortion's opponents even beginning to approach a majority in the Commons since. This leaves a difficult problem in its wake, because when you have the secondary debate as to the point in a pregnancy where termination should no longer be permitted, it becomes skewed by the opponents always supporting the shortest period available as an option, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. It is a dilemma that is just about impossible to resolve, but it does mean that any final decision is likely to err on the side of caution, and that at least is no bad thing.

What struck me most about the debate itself though was the repeated invocation (by supporters of the status quo) of a woman's 'right to choose'. What on earth is this supposed 'right', and where might it come from? Women have clear rights with regard to pregnancy in this country, in particular the right not to get pregnant unless they wish to do so. They are not compelled to have sex, and if they should choose to do so they are not prohibited from using contraception (including a 'morning after' pill).

Pregnancy though is not a right it itself, rather it is a responsibility. A woman who chooses to get pregnant takes on a responsibility for her unborn child, to which her own rights are entirely secondary. Regardless of the law, she should not for example place the child at risk through the excessive use of alcohol or of other drugs; to do otherwise would be immoral and entirely to be condemned.

It is offensive that women claim a 'right to decide'. If they possessed such a right (and they don't) it would surely permit that they be allowed terminations right up to the point of delivery, maybe of infanticide beyond that. There is of course no such right, and those who claim that there is simply encourage women to disregard the immense responsibility that comes with conception.

I recognise that there are many unwanted pregnancies that arise from emotional and sexual immaturity, from lack of education, and sometimes as a consequence of non-consensual sex, and that there are many other valid reasons why a woman might need a pregnancy terminated. But if we talked less about rights and more about responsibilities, I suspect that the number of terminations would fall, regardless of the limits set out by the law.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Israeli academic boycott

Norman Geras over on normblog has a lot of strong words to say about this, all entirely justified.

If the University and College Union members weren't so hell-bent on pursuing this offensive and facile policy, they might have found themselves able to exert a positive influence in cases like this one.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

42 days

In 2003, there were far too many Labour MPs who voted to invade Iraq not because they believed it was right, but because they lacked the courage to say they believed otherwise. Next week it's going to be the same from the sound of things, and our illiberal Government will pursue its quest to deprive us of hard-won civil liberties with ever more vigour.

Since I'm deeply cynical, I suspect that most of the MPs who end up supporting the proposals will do so in the belief that they will never get past the Lords anyway, thus providing further grounds for knocking that institution, as well as for accusing the Tories of being 'soft on terrorism'. They're gutless far beyond contempt, yet they still don't understand why people are not going to vote for them next time around.

Mugabe and the UN

Robert Mugabe's presence at the UN Food summit in Rome is an affront to civilization, and the UN should be held in as deep contempt as Mugabe for even contemplating inviting him, let alone doing so.

Mugabe is a murderous fascist despot and Italy should have told him that regardless of the diplomatic niceties of the UN's invitation he would be arrested with a view to trying him for crimes against humanity as soon as he set foot on European soil. As for our own Government, what on earth are they doing lending legitimacy to this farce by attending?

Monday, 2 June 2008

No internal armed conflict in Iraq

This story raises several issues. It is however one of many similar that shows the capacity of our government for self-delusion. I doubt if many outside the corridors of power would doubt the existence of 'internal armed conflict' in Iraq, the trigger for which was the ill-considered 2003 invasion.

It is not entirely surprising that our unprincipled government should attempt deportations to Iraq, since the most basic notions of morality seem to have been abandoned entirely, replaced with an overwhelming desire to pander to the Daily Mail readership. The willingness of their lawyers and the judiciary to play with words in order to support them in doing so however does no credit whatever to our legal system.