Saudi Arabia’s appalling behaviour doesn’t stop. The continuing support of the British and American governments is shameful.

Saudi Arabia’s appalling behaviour doesn’t stop. The continuing support of the British and American governments is shameful.

Saudi Arabia continues to be in the news.

1) There is the blockade of Qatar. Saudi and a few other unsavoury Arab governments have imposed a blockade on Qatar – an act which is, in an of itself, extraordinary. They have demanded, among other things that Qatar cease support for various publications – most notable Al Jazeera, most astonishingly, Middle East Eye. Why? To quote Doug Bandow (a respected foreign policy expert, whose 1988 book “Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics“, published by Crossway, remains in print)

“Until recently, life in Qatar was quite pleasant. But then Saudi Arabia, backed by President Donald Trump, who has gone from critic to fan of the ruling royals there, led an effort to isolate its smaller neighbor. With supreme irony, Riyadh, whose people have done more to fund and man terrorist attacks on Americans than any other nation, accused Doha of backing terrorists. “

Al-Jazeera may not be perfect; like most major media organisations it is scarcely impartial; but it still, like the not-quite-perfect BBC, provides a useful service, especially in the context of the Arab world. And, as has been said, the Saudi demand that Qatar shut down Al-Jazeera is the equivalent of the EU demanding that the British government shutting down the BBC.

As for Middle East Eye, it is edited by David Hearst, (former chief foreign leader writer for The Guardian), is not funded by Qatar, is independent of any government or movement, and is highly respected. The Saudi demand that Qatar shut it down is absolutely preposterous.

Have you heard the stern condemnations of Saudi Arabia’s demands coming from Downing Street and the White House? Nor have I.

 

2) Then there’s Yemen. Saudi Arabia invaded two years ago, and since then have repeatedly bombed civilian targets such as schools, hospitals, and funerals. They have also imposed a blockade, ensuring that there are shortages of food and medicine. The result is that children are dying of malnutrition, and (as reported by Daniel Larison)

“Yemen’s cholera epidemic is already the worst in the world, but daily it is growing even worse:

The death toll from a major cholera outbreak in Yemen has risen to 1,500, Nevio Zagaria, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Yemen, said on Saturday, and appealed for more help to put an end to the epidemic.

Last week there were 200,000 cases of cholera in the country, and now there are almost 250,000. In another week, unless things change quickly, there will be even more. Cholera is treatable, but it requires being able to deliver the right medicine in sufficient amounts to the sick, and right now the Saudi-led blockade and the devastation of Yemen’s health care system make that very difficult. Aid agencies are working extremely hard to contain the epidemic, but they are doing so without adequate funding and with scant or no cooperation from the governments with the means to help. The civilian population is now especially vulnerable to preventable diseases like this one because of severe malnutrition caused by years of blockade and war. Because of the damage to the country’s infrastructure, it is difficult for people to find enough clean drinking water. The near-famine conditions make it much easier for disease to spread rapidly, and they make it more likely that the disease will kill many more people than it would have otherwise. These are man-made disasters inflicted on the people of Yemen as the result of deliberate policy choices by their neighboring states and their Western patrons.

The U.S. and other coalition supporters can still try to repair some of the damage they have helped cause, but after more than two years of working to bring about the world’s worst humanitarian crisis it is doubtful that any will make a serious effort.”

 

3) And the latest is that

“A report on the foreign funding of extremism in the UK was given to Downing Street last year, it has been revealed, but Theresa May is still to decide whether to make its findings public.”

Home Office minister Sarah Newton said: “The review into the funding of Islamist extremism in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and reported to the home secretary and the prime minister in 2016.

The review has improved the government’s understanding of the nature, scale and sources of funding for Islamist extremism in the UK. Publication of the review is a decision for the prime minister.”

So why has the government not made its finding public? Because it is believed that it points to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in funding and supporting terrorism.

Tim Farron is absolutely right when he says

““It is a scandal that the government are suppressing this report. The only conclusion you can draw is that they are worried about what it actually says. We hear regularly about the Saudi arms deals or ministers going to Riyadh to kowtow before their royal family, but yet, our government won’t release a report that will clearly criticise Saudi Arabia. “All this government seems to care about is cosying up to one of the most extreme, nasty and oppressive regimes in the world. You would think our security would be more important, but it appears not. For that Theresa May should be ashamed of herself.”

Relationships, apparently

It’s not the first time. Back in September, Jeremy Corbyn questioned Theresa May in the House of Commons about British support and said “The British Government continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia that are being used to commit crimes against humanity in Yemen, as has been clearly detailed by the UN and other independent agencies.” May replied “Actually, what matters is the strength of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. When it comes to counter-terrorism and dealing with terrorism, it is that relationship that has helped to keep people on the streets of Britain safe.” I find that statement horrifying and shameful.   The fact that she probably had seen the report into the funding of Islamic extremism in Britain when she made that statement probably makes it worse.

One could go on. The Saudi government practices public beheading of convicted criminals, had close links to the 9/11 hijackers, forbids its citizens from becoming Christians, bans the selling of Bibles, and tolerates no church buildings on its territory.

My view is that this is disgraceful. It seems to me that if most other Middle Eastern countries behaved like Saudi Arabia, the American government would be doing all it could to topple the government. But different rules apply to Saudi Arabia.

Why? It’s about “alliances”. According to the Washington Post,

. . . .When the operation began, support for a key ally was a foregone conclusion, one official said. “There was this great sense of ‘this is the right thing to do,’ ” the official said. . . . Despite repeated strikes on schools and hospitals, officials see little choice for now but continued support, given the intense desire to shore up a bilateral relationship . . . .”

What we need to remember is that the Saudi government is not an ally of the British or American people. It is an ally of our governments and politicians. Alas, we the people are not entirely without responsibility for our politicians.

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The resignation of Tim Farron: 4) The place of Christianity in public life

In my first three articles about the resignation of Tim Farron, I looked successively at

All these things show that Tim Farron faced various problems. Some, undoubtedly related to his own personal qualities – including the matter of whether he had been as wise (and as consistent) as he ought to have been. But he faced a problem which is much more significant – because of what it says about modern culture, and about the future of Christianity in the public square.

Aliens and strangers

The problem is two-fold.

Firstly, it is ideological. The culture is changing. While Christian values used to be, to at least some extent, part of western culture, that is rapidly changing. Christians who hold to the values of the Bible are now aliens and strangers in our culture – pretty much like the Christians in the pagan world of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles. In a strange sort of way, we find ourselves back in New Testament times.

Anna Strhan is Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and, author of a recent book about how conservative evangelicals see themselves fitting into modern Britain – entitled Aliens and Strangers. In a recent blog post on the Tim Farron’s resignation, she tells of how the minister of a church, in a question and answer session after the sermon at a Sunday evening service, stated that the ‘social and political tectonic plates of Britain are shifting radically, as we move from once-Christian – at least nominally – through to post-Christian Britain….’

Tolerance and liberalism

But this is not just about secularisation. There is a second problem: western society’s increasing unwillingness to tolerate views that it finds unpalatable. In particular it does not like beliefs that are seen as criticising or condemning other people or groups of people.

Hence:

  • Bernie Sanders was horrified that someone can believe that those who reject Jesus Christ stand condemned. He feels that is an insult to Muslims, and is therefore Islamophobia.
  • Many have been horrified at Jenny Tonge’s strong criticism of the actions of the Israeli government, and see this as an insult to Jews, and therefore antisemitism.
  • David Laws is horrified at the thought that someone can believe that same-sex relationships are immoral. He sees this as an insult to gays, and therefore homophobia.
  • And apparently there is widespread horror at the belief that abortion amounts to deliberately killing a human being, because this amounts to condemning women who have abortions, and since men cannot have abortions, if you are against abortion, you are a misogynist.

Strhan speaks about Christians feeling that “wider society is not especially liberal” when it comes to their holding to traditional Christian teaching as private beliefs. One could say that it comes down to an increasing unwillingness to tolerate what seems to be intolerance – but I think that Strhan’s use of the phrase “not especially liberal” is much more helpful in the current political context.

What is liberalism?

The question for the Liberal Democrats is “what exactly does it mean to be liberal?” David Laws says “you cannot be a leader of a liberal party while holding fundamentally illiberal and prejudiced views, … and speaks about “Tim’s failure to be able to give direct and liberal responses on his own attitudes to homosexuality. ” For Laws, being liberal seems to mean not to disapprove of a person: “as a gay man, I do not wish to be “tolerated”. I wish to be respected for who I am.” He speaks about recognising the equality of all people regardless of “sex, sexuality, race, creed or colour” and concludes “Tolerating irrational prejudice has nothing to do with the liberalism I know and love.”

Ian Dunt (and Tim Farron) see liberalism differently. Speaking of the pressure Farron came over about his own personal views, Dunt  (in an article entitled The illiberal persecution of Tim Farron) says

“After a while, he had to give in and say gay sex wasn’t a sin. The sight of him doing so troubled me deeply. It felt like a witchhunt. And it looked like someone having to renounce a tenets of his faith in order to satisfy modern societal norms.”

“This is not liberalism. Farron is entitled to think gay sex is a sin. That, after all, is in the Bible that he adheres to. He is entitled to think abortion is wrong. What he is not entitled to do is to limit the freedom of others to do these things. Liberalism is not about approval. Liberalism couldn’t give a damn what you approve of. It is the belief that each individual must be free to do whatever they like up until the point where it limits the freedoms of others. As long as he does not plan to stop gay men having sex or women having abortions, Farron can hold whatever spiritual mumbo-jumbo in his head about their actions that he likes. Liberalism is defined by actions, not thoughts.

It is hard to shake the feeling that Farron has essentially been persecuted because of his faith. It is not really his record that is under question. It is that his personal convictions are unsayable among liberals. And that seems to completely miss the point of what liberalism is about. ”

Notice that Dunt is willing to accept a distinction between sexual behaviour and sexual orientation, whereas for Laws, sexual behaviour is part of what you are. Laws thinks in terms of respecting people groups; Dunt thinks in terms of allowing opinions and actions. And, significantly, Dunt speaks about freedoms 6 times in 1000 words, but Laws doesn’t mention freedoms at all in his 600 words.

How should we then live?

For Christians, the message is that we need to get used to being aliens and strangers in our culture. In fact, we need to be comfortable with it – as comfortable as a Christian can be in the present world. This is not our home, and we should not expect the culture that surrounds us to be Christian. If we do expect our culture to be be Christian, we are going to be perpetually disappointed. That was not a mistake the early Christians (living in the pagan Greco-Roman world) made. We need to stop making it. And church leaders need to ensure that Christians to see this, and to enable them engage with their neighbours in ways that help people see the Christian message positively.

That is the message – the crucial lesson that we need to learn from Tim Farron’s resignation. But there is, I think, a practical application – about the nitty gritty of the messy business of Christian political involvement. The story of Tim Farron shows what a messy business it is. It also shows the need for wisdom – particularly for those who get actively involved, but even for those who just vote. (Of course, one could make a case that Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics at all, but since that is very much a minority viewpoint, I’ll not address it.)

Liberalism and the golden rule

It seems to me that the main political lesson Christians should take from this is the need to value tolerance – or, if you prefer, ‘liberalism’. Tim Farron ended his resignation statement with a call for tolerance:

“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society. That’s why I have chosen to step down as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”

But he didn’t just use the word tolerance. He also used the word “liberal” – the word that Anna Strhan used when she spoke of evangelicals feeling that wider society is not especially liberal when it came to what they believed. The word “liberal” is used in many different ways, of course, but Strhan is using it in the way the way that Farron and Ian Dunt were using it. This is what Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel would have hoped for in Babylon; it is what the early Christians would have hoped for in the midst of the pagan Roman Empire.  They would have wanted society to have been happy to allow them to believe what they believed – and to respect their right to believe it.

And if we want it for ourselves, then the words of Jesus Christ – that we should do to others what we would like them to do to us – suggest that Christians should forthright in supporting tolerance towards beliefs that we strongly disagree with. In other words, we ought to be, in the best sense of the word, liberal in our politics.

The Resignation of Tim Farron: 3) What it says about the Liberal Democrats and their culture.

In my first article about the resignation of Tim Farron, I considered it as an indication of the growing hostility in western culture to some traditional Christian beliefs. In my second article, I looked at what it told us about Tim Farron as a person.

However there is a third angle that I want to look at. In his resignation statement, he said  To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”

I think that is the crucial sentence in his resignation statement. It is crucial because it tells us about what Farron felt – and it was those feelings that led him to resign. But it is interesting because he did not say “To be a leader of a political party in 2017 . . .”; he said “To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017.” In other words, Farron felt that there was something about his party that made his position particularly difficult.

For me, this raises questions about his relationship with individuals in the party. A party, in the end, is made of people. The philosophy of parties drifts, and their policies change – sometimes remarkably quickly. These things are important, but they are fluid. But it is real individuals that a leader has to work with; and his relationship with those colleagues has a big impact about how much pressure he feels under.

I know virtually nothing about the relationship between Farron and his colleagues, and I don’t know much about what they thought of his Christian beliefs. But there are three individuals in the party whose cases throw interesting light on the party and on Farron’s resignation.

The roll of Brian Paddick

The first is Lord Paddick. Many people assume that the event that triggered Farron’s departure was the resignation of Paddick as the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, since Paddick said “I’ve resigned as Lib Dems Shadow Home Secretary over concerns about the leader’s views on various issues that were highlighted during GE17,” and Farron stepped down within 24 hours.

According to the Independent

Lord Paddick, a former police officer and London Lib Dem Mayoral candidate in 2008 and 2012, did not specify what views he referred to, but during the campaign leader Tim Farron came under heavy scrutiny for his repeatedly refusing to deny that he considered gay sex to be a sin. Lord Paddick is gay, and a practising Christian too. He has been married to his Norwegian husband for eight years, but prior to this spent ten years married to a woman, Mary Stone. “

So, not only did Tim Farron not say what exactly the problem was, but neither did Paddick. And that is not the only thing I find odd about Paddick’s case.

Paddick has said (via twitter) “Tim decided weeks ago to stand down (he didn’t tell me) and the timing of our resignations was pure co-incidence.” Many Lib Dem activists have blamed Paddick for Farron’s resignation and been quite angry at him. However, not only does it seem unlikely that Farron’s resignation was sparked by Paddick’s resignation; it also is not at all clear (at least not to me) that Paddick resigned because of Farron’s views about same-sex relationships – though the Guardian seems certain that he did.

Apparently Paddick wrote an explanation for LibDemVoice, but it was taken down, and he has, so far, declined to post it elsewhere. At any rate, I find Paddick’s resignation slightly puzzling, and am not really surprised that most people assume that he thinks that Farron’s views on sexuality make him unsuitable to be leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The case of David Laws

If Lord Paddick kept his cards close to his chest, the same cannot be said of David Laws, the former Yeovil M.P. Laws, in a highly critical article, wrote

“you cannot be a leader of a liberal party while holding fundamentally illiberal and prejudiced views, which fail to respect our party’s great traditions of promoting equality for all our citizens. . . . Far more importantly, Tim has propagated the dangerous myth that our society can respect and embrace people in same sex relationships, while believing their activities and character to be in some way immoral.”

Laws clearly thinks that it is impossible to hold traditional Christian beliefs about sexual morality and be leader of a liberal party. I think that Laws is talking nonsense. For a start, he speaks about the “the party’s great traditions” – as if it would have been unthinkable at any time in the past for a leader of the Lib Dems or its predecessor parties to hold traditional Christian views on same-sex relationships. But more strangely, his statement that it is a dangerous myth “that our society can respect and embrace people in same sex relationships, while believing their activities and character to be in some way immoral”, must, if taken to its logical conclusion, means that it is a dangerous myth that our society can respect and embrace people in who are having affairs with other people’s spouses, while believing their activities and character to be in some way immoral.

But it still leaves the question of whether such views were common enough in the party to have caused Farron to feel isolated.

The case of Jenny Tonge

While much attention was focused on Paddick in the aftermath of Farron’s resignation, and a reasonable amount on Laws, it seems to me that the story of Baroness Tonge actually throws much more light on Farron’s departure.

In 2003, Jenny Tonge (at that time MP for Richmond Park), visited the Gaza Strip, and what she saw led her to say of Palestinian suicide bombers: “If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself“. She repeated her comments on Sky News, but added “I do not condone suicide bombers, nobody can condone them“. She made clear that she thought that suicide bombers actions were “appalling and loathsome”, but refused to apologise: “I was just trying to say how, having seen the violence and the humiliation and the provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand“.

Charles Kennedy, the party leader at the time, said her comments were “completely unacceptable” and “not compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles” and “there can be no justification, under any circumstances for taking innocent lives through terrorism.” He said this despite the fact that Tonge had never suggested that there could be any justification for their actions, and had made it clear that she believed there could not.

Tonge continued to be outspoken about Israeli government policy. In September 2006 she said: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party“. In response, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell wrote to Tonge commenting that her unacceptable assertion had “clear anti-Semitic connotations”. Tonge responded that her comments “were about the Israeli lobby in politics. They were a big distance from being about Jewishness or anti-Semitism“.

After further outspoken attacks on Israeli government policy in 2012, she was asked by party leader Nick Clegg to apologise for her remarks. She refused to do so and resigned the party whip. I can see where both of them are coming from.

Jenny Tonge had said

“Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. . . . Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

Nick Clegg responded:

“Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel and Palestine. Her presence and comments at this event were extremely ill-advised and ill-judged. The tone of the debate at this event was wholly unacceptable and adds nothing to the peace process. The Liberal Democrats are wholehearted supporters of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.”

Note that this was an honest disagreement about Lib Dem Middle East policy, and about the fact that Tonge was saying things that didn’t fit with party policy, and that were going to cause serious offence to many voters. Nick Clegg felt that as party leader he had to distance the party from her. There was no mention of antisemitism. This was about Middle East policy.

What is strange is the public comments from people that one would not normally look to about Middle East policy who were unhappy with Tonge’s comments:

The chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, said:

“I am appalled at Baroness Tonge’s remarks. They are dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable. I commend Nick Clegg for his decisive action. Views such as those expressed by Baroness Tonge have no place in civil public discourse.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews had condemned her remarks. In a statement issued before Tonge’s resignation, the chief executive, Jon Benjamin, said:

“Given her long-standing, pernicious views on Israel, her comment that Israel ‘is not going to be there forever’ is both sinister and abhorrent. There is no place for someone like Jenny Tonge in mainstream political parties in this country and it is time for the Liberal Democrats to act quickly and decisively, once and for all.”

That is odd. I would look to the chief rabbi for comment about Jewish religious teaching. I would expect that the Board of Deputies of British Jews would be interested in the matter of the welfare of Jews in the UK. Why did they feel that they had to comment about Jenny Tonge’s comments about Israeli government policy? Why are they so defensive about the policy of a foreign government?

In October 2016, Tonge finally left the party. While the Guardian said that she “quit the party after she was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments,” the Independent’s account was more accurate, and explains that she was suspended after chairing a meeting at the House of Lords at which a speaker allegedly compared Israel was to ISIS and suggested that Jews were to blame for the Holocaust.  She said:

“I was chairing, I did not make any speeches, I introduced the speakers and in the course of that meeting there was a great rant.  I remember the rant very well but I don’t remember hearing very much of it. It was a rant. I didn’t know what this person said.  You do get ranters at these meetings and I think the best way of dealing with them – if you challenge them they go on and on and on and on – the best way is to just say ‘yes, thank you very much, next speaker’.”

So what did this speaker say?

“Just as the so-called Jewish state in Palestine doesn’t come from Judaism, Muslims will say that this Islamic State in Syria is nothing to do with Islam. . . . It is a perversion of Islam just as Zionism is a perversion of Judaism.”

The speaker later referred to a rabbi as a “heretic”, adding he “made the economic boycott on Germany which antagonised Hitler, over the edge, to then want to systemically kill Jews wherever he could find them as opposed to just make Germany a Jew-free land“.

Baroness Tonge refused to say if, having read the words, she finds them offensive, instead describing the remarks as “incomprehensible”, and said that she would not have intervened to stop or eject the speaker if she had heard him, adding,

“I think I would have said ‘thank you very much, next speaker’. Because that, I know I’ve chaired many meetings, I’m an old lady, if you take issue with something a speaker has said the whole thing escalates. . . . If I had been comprehending or hearing even what that man was saying clearly it might have been different, but I didn’t. . . . The Israeli embassy is offended all the time by anything that is ever said in criticism of the Israeli government and they always translate it as being anti-Semitism, which it is not, it is criticism of the Israeli government.”

She said she “wouldn’t have thought” there was anti-Semitism at the meeting but that she could not speak for every person at the meeting individually, and added “I know that I have never been never have been, never will be anti-Semitic.

Tim Farron’s roll in the case of Jenny Tonge

What was Tim Farron’s roll in all this?

On 11th October, 2016 (two weeks before the meeting in the House of Lords that resulted in Tonge leaving the party), Farron was questioned by the Home Affairs Committee as part of their inquiry into antisemitism.

He was questioned specifically about Baroness Tonge. He said that he had “no desire to … be defensive about [her remarks] and that he considered them to be “unacceptable.” He also emphasised several times that Jenny Tonge did not have the party whip. He was careful not to say that he considered either her or her remarks to be antisemitic, but nor did he deny that they were.

On May 2nd, 2017, Farron, in the course of a speech where he addressed the problem of antisemitism, said: “I believe in liberal outcomes but sometimes you have to be muscular. And that is why I dealt with Jenny Tonge the way I did and why I dealt with David Ward the way I did.

It seems to me that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Jenny Tonge might be antisemitic. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that she is not. And yet year after year she was accused of it, and her name was associated with it. And while Tim Farron never accused her of being antisemitic, he never publicly defended her from the accusations. And in a meeting in which he addressed the question of antisemitism, he spoke as if Jenny Tonge was part of the problem.

Of course, everything depends on how one defines antisemitism. But according to any standard definition, she most definitely is not. Parliament’s Home Affairs select committee said ” it was not antisemitic “to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”. Neither was it antisemitic “to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.” “

However, by the same token, the question of whether Tim Farron is homophobic depends on one’s definition of homophobia. David Laws never actually said that Farron was homophobic, but in saying that Farron held “illiberal and prejudiced views” he got very close to implying it.

The heart of the matter

And this is where we get to the heart of the matter. While there are difference between what happened to Jenny Tonge and Tim Farron (Farron never appeared to be in conflict with party policy, and went out of his way not to be outspoken) – they are actually very similar. Both were hounded because they were seen as friends of prejudice – prejudice against groups that are generally perceived as “victim” groups. In other words, they had offended against the canons of political correctness. Their offences might not have been seriousness, they might not have technically committed any offences at all, but accusations had been made, and the very hint of antisemitism or homophobia meant that they were not to be trusted.

In other words, nobody went after Tim Farron because he was a Christian. They went after him because he was suspected of not being an orthodox believer in the tenets of political correctness. And in a “progressive liberal party in 2017” there will be no room for those who transgress that orthodoxy.

Or, to put it another way, Farron felt obliged to resign as leader for exactly the same reason that Tonge felt obliged to leave the party.

Which makes it ironic that Farron made no effort to defend Baroness Tonge from the incessant charges of antisemitism.  She seems to have noticed it too, but restricted herself to a short comment on Facebook:

“Nothing becomes Tim Farron more than his passing! He is sticking to his principles (Christian Evangelical).  Maybe he at last understands, that when it comes to Palestinians, I stick to my principles too, supporting human rights and international law. “

I think that I would go a bit further. I am reminded of the famous poem by the German Pastor, Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The resignation of Tim Farron: 2) What it tells us about Farron

In my first article on the resignation of Tim Farron I pointed out that a week before Farron resigned, Bernie Sanders, a member of the US Senate, had said that he would vote against approving Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He felt that because Vought believes that those who reject Jesus Christ do not know God and stand condemned – in other words, that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation – Vought is not a suitable person to be in high public office.

A week later, Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, saying “To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”

One event took place in the USA; the other took place in the UK. But it is unthinkable that either could have taken place in either country 50 years ago. Hence the conclusion of my first article: This indicates that the strange resignation of Tim Farron is not just about Tim Farron, or his party, or the British political climate. It is a sign of something that is happening throughout the western world.

However, while it is not just about Tim Farron – it is about Tim Farron as a person, and not simply about Christians in public life. Farron’s resignation statement made this very clear, because it is a very personal statement.

A very personal statement

Among other things, Farron said:

“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

At the start of this election, I found myself under scrutiny again – asked about matters to do with my faith. I felt guilty that this focus was distracting attention from our campaign, obscuring our message.

Journalists have every right to ask what they see fit. The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.

A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to have remained faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment.

To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

A historic resignation statement

I find that moving, honest, and revealing.

It is slightly odd, in that he didn’t actually say why his Christian commitment was problematical, and he didn’t say what it was about his beliefs that had proved difficult. I would like to know more about this – especially because I cannot think of another example of a politician resigning from a position, and saying that it is because it has felt impossible to be both a political leader and a committed Christian. Perhaps, in terms of historic significance and social importance, this may be one of the most notable political events to take place this year – a milestone that will be looked back on.

The question of wisdom

But leaving aside what Farron didn’t say, there is something that he did say that we should notice – something he actually said twice in a short statement: “Sometimes my answers could have been wiser. . . . A better, wiser person than me may have been able to deal with this more successfully . . . .

It takes humility to admit one has lacked wisdom, and particularly to say it twice.

I’m sorry to say, however, that I think he is quite right. What are these answers that could have been wiser. I suspect that he is referring to the answers he gave to questions about his views on same-sex relationships. And there were plenty. As Ian Dunt writes

“During the campaign he was asked repeatedly – to the point of mania – if he thought gay sex was a sin. He tried valiantly to avoid the question. This was ostensibly because he didn’t want politicians to have to turn into theologians. But it seemed pretty obvious it was because he did think it was a sin. After all, he was happy saying being gay was not a sin, but took longer to confirm the same for gay sex. This is pretty common from Christians, who tend to condemn the action but not the identity.

After a while, he had to give in and say gay sex wasn’t a sin. The sight of him doing so troubled me deeply. It felt like a witchhunt. And it looked like someone having to renounce a tenets of his faith in order to satisfy modern societal norms.”

To say that trying to avoid the question is unwise is putting in mildly. Politically, it is foolish because it gives voters the impression that he is evasive and trying to hide something. Most voters want politicians to be open and forthright.

The witness of Christians in public life

From a Christian point of view, it is even worse. If you are a Christian, you should want to be asked about your belief, and you should want to tell the world about them. To give the impression that you find your beliefs embarrassing is, it seems to me, sending a disastrous message. If Christians in politics are going to act like that, it is far better, from a Christian point of view, that Christians stay out of politics and public life. Christians are called to be witnesses to the truth – and, it seems to me, to do so boldly.

As for Farron’s statement in April that he didn’t thing same-sex relationships were wrong, that too was pretty unimpressive. Ian Dunt’s comment that ” it looked like someone having to renounce a tenet of his faith in order to satisfy modern societal norms” suggests that he thinks that Farron may have changed his mind on the matter in response to the pressure he was under – which, in turn, leads one to wonder if Farron has been haunted by that statement ever since, and that it was one of the main reasons he felt he had to resign.

And the April statement is also foolish because, it seems to me, the Bible is absolutely clear that sexual relationship between people of the same sex are sinful. And Farron believes in being faithful to the Bible. In his resignation statement, did not just say “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, has felt impossible for me”; he said “To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

This is not the resignation of just any political leader, or even any political leader who is a Christian. It is the resignation of a particular individual, with his own qualities.

Tim Farron comes over as someone who is fallible, even someone whose judgement is questionable. But he also comes over as someone who is humble, who realises that he has made mistakes, and who is sincere.

And I get the distinct impression that he did not resign primarily because there was political pressure on him to resign, but because he felt his integrity as a Christian was being compromised by being in the position he was in. I suspect that even if the Liberal Democrats had done very well in the General Election, and he had solid support within the party, he would probably still have stepped down.

(to be continued)

The Resignation of Tim Farron: 1) Bernie Sanders and the place of Christians in public life

(Note: It seems to me that the resignation of Tim Farron is a highly significant event – more significant, I suspect, than most people realise.  As a result, I will be writing about it at some length, and have decided to split it over a few posts.)

Bernie Sanders and Tim Farron have two things in common.

The first is that both, in their own countries, would be called “Liberal Democrats” – indeed they are both well known enough that someone asked to name a liberal Democrat in America might well have said “Bernie Sanders”, and someone asked to name a Liberal Democrat in the UK might well have said “Tim Farron”.

The second is that this month, within the space of a week, they both managed to hit the headlines on the question of the position of Christians in public life in their countries. And I don’t think that is completely coincidental.

Bernie Sanders and the interrogation of Russell Vought

First, Bernie Sanders, a member of America’s Democratic Party. On the 7th June, the US Senate was having a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Emma Green of The Atlantic takes up the story. During that hearing,

“Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article “

Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Later, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sanders brought this up again. “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?” he asked Vought.

Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought replied. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

After a long exchange on tax cuts for the wealthy and other issues directly relevant to Vought’s proposed role in government, this issue—Vought’s beliefs about the exclusivity of his religion—seemed to be the reason why Sanders saw him as an unacceptable candidate for office. “I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders said. “I will vote no.”


The crucial part of the exchange between Sanders and Vought is as follows:

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .

Sanders: I understand you are a Christian! But this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

Emma Green’s comments are, in my view, precisely correct:

Where Sanders saw Islamophobia and intolerance, Vought believed he was stating a basic principle of his belief as an evangelical Christian: that faith in Jesus is the only pathway to salvation. And where Sanders believed he was policing bigotry in public office, others believed he was imposing a religious test. As Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement, “Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office.”

However, on the face of it, that is precisely what Bernie Sanders did. He effectively said that anyone who holds to what was a core belief of the early Christians – and what was regarded as standard Christianity in America at the time of the when America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written – is unfit for public office.

The resignation of Tim Farron

Which brings us across the Atlantic to the case of Tim Farron. On the 14th of June – just a week after the exchange between Sanders and Vought – Tim Farron, the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party, resigned.

In his resignation statement,  he said

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader. . . . To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching has felt impossible for me.”

On the face of it, Bernie Sanders would agree. If what Sanders said to Vought is any indication, he would tell Tim Farron, “It is indeed impossible. If you hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, then you should not be in public life.”

Of course, since Sanders spoke of “what this country is about”, perhaps it would be truer to say that Sanders believes Farron should not be in public life in America. But it does seem clear that on this matter, Sanders sees things very differently from Farron.

And it is, indeed, a very interesting co-incidence these two events, both involving “Liberal Democrats”, one on each side of the Atlantic, should happen within a week.

Which indicates that the strange resignation of Tim Farron is not just about Tim Farron, or his party, or the British political climate.  It is a sign of something that is happening throughout the western world.

 

(To be continued).

U.S. policy in Syria is insane

American policy in Syria increasingly looks insane. A Syrian war plane, involved in the Syrian government’s ongoing battle with ISIS in Eastern Syria, was shot down by America – who thought it was a threat to a local militia that America happened to be supporting.

In the light of this, it is worth remembering that 9 months ago, in September 2016, the American-led coalition attacked Syrian forces near Deir ez-Zor who were involved in a battle with ISIS, killing about 100 Syrian soldiers. The coalition claimed it was a mistake. But it’s funny that it is now twice within a year that America has attacked Syrian forces involved in battles with ISIS.

And exactly what authority does America have over Syrian territory anyway?  Not only is Syria not part of the USA, it isn’t even anywhere near the USA.

Basically, American armed forces went into Syria uninvited by the Syrian goverment, shot down a Syrian plane, and then called it “self-defense.”   That’s like someone breaking into your house, and when you challenge them, they shoot you, and then claim they acted in self-defense.

Are any other countries allowed to operate this way?  Or is it simply that might is right?  What would happen if other countries operated this way?

I can’t help this is yet another case where Galatians 6:7 applies: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

To quote Daniel Larison

” . . . the U.S. has no authority to be engaged in hostilities anywhere in Syria, and [its] government certainly has no authority to attack Syrian government forces operating inside their own country in support for anti-regime insurgents . . . .   [Its] Syria policy . . . is also illegal.”

It is hardly surprising that Russia has now said it will treat coalition forces in some parts of Syria as targets.

And why exactly is the UK involved in the American-led coalition?   It seems extremely foolish to me.

But nobody seems to be asking that question.

 

Note: For background information on the situation in Syria see my previous posts on the subject:

The situation in Syria: 1) The Christian community

Syria 2: Politics, insanity and dishonesty

Syria 3: Motes, Beams, and Russians

And see also Philip Giraldi’s excellent article “Who is destroying Syria?

 

Putting one’s trust in princes: thoughts on the General Election

The General Election turned out to be a little more interesting than expected. As with the referendum on EU membership and the American presidential election, the result was not quite what was anticipated. Until the exit poll showed that a hung parliament was likely, most people reckoned that the Conservatives would have an overall majority – probably a substantial one. However, it was not to be.

And that has made this election very interesting – for two reasons.

The first is that, once again, almost everybody got it so wrong. But one person, in particular, got it very seriously wrong: Theresa May. When she called the election in April, the Conservatives were almost 20 percentage points ahead of Labour in the opinion polls – the only time in the last 20 years, other than a few months in 2008, when they had such a commanding lead. It must have seemed too good to be true.

Polling for the election_crop

It was. The gap narrowed over the course of the campaign, but even then, the Conservatives still appeared to have a lead of 6 or 7 points on the eve of the election – sufficient to give them a good majority. But when the votes were counted, the Conservative lead over Labour was only 2 points – not enough for them to form a government without the help of another party.

Theresa May turned out to have been seriously mistaken.

The fallibility of the powerful

Of course, she wasn’t the only one who was wrong. One of the reasons she was so confident was because Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, was widely thought to be a major electoral liability for the Labour Party. Many people in the Labour Party warned that choosing Corbyn as leader was the road to disaster.

And, in particular, Tony Blair did. In August, 2015, he wrote: “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

I mention Tony Blair for a particular reason. This is not the first time Tony Blair has been badly wrong. He has been wrong about many things, but he will go down in history for being wrong about one thing in particular: weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the decision to involve Britain in the disastrous invasion of Iraq. It is well worth reading his comments over the months on the subject of WMDs as listed by the BBC here.   Until the publication of the Butler Report in July 2004, Blair was convinced that Iraq had WMDs. Only after its publication did he admit that he was wrong.

What is significant about this is that in the House of Commons vote in 2003 about invading Iraq, Theresa May voted for war while Jeremy Corbyn didn’t. Andrew Marr, interviewing her on the 30th April said

And you have raised again and again the question of Jeremy Corbyn. Can I put it to you that when it came to one of the most important votes that we’ve had in recent times, on the Iraq war. Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, he was on the right side, looking at history, and you were on the wrong side. You went into the voting lobbies behind Tony Blair and voted for the Iraq war, which had so many disastrous consequences. And he did the unpopular thing and stood out against it.

Marr called it one of the most important votes we’ve had in recent times. I suspect that’s an understatement. I think it is the most important vote in Parliament in the last 30 years.

But the point is this. Theresa May and Tony Blair have both shown themselves to have the ability to be very seriously wrong. Tony Blair’s mistake in 2003 effectively destroyed Iraq; Theresa May’s decision in April this year looks likely to finish her political career.

But it is not just them. Politicians have a remarkable ability to be wrong. Daniel Hannan’s amusing video “Wrong Then, Wrong Now” (about how most of the British political establishment turned out to be wrong about the Euro) is very instructive. Prime Ministers, Parliament, and the political establishment have a track record of being disastrously wrong.

And yet a remarkable number of people in Britain look to the government – which in practice means Prime Ministers, Parliament, and the political establishment – for solutions to the major problems that the country faces.

They need to heed the words of Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.

Uncertainty

Which brings me to my second comment about the election.

It seems to me that one of the main reactions to the election is concern about “uncertainty.” A lot of people seem to feel that not knowing exactly who is going to be in government is a cause for anxiety.

I find this strange. We live with great uncertainties all the time. Why is not knowing exactly who will be in government such a big problem?

I think that this is closely related to the fact that many people think that a hung parliament is, per se, problematical. They think that the country needs a “strong” government. And, it seems to me, the reason they believe this is because people look to government for solutions to problems. When people see a problem, many of them ask the question “What is the government going to do about it?”

In other words, there is what we might call a “something must be done” mentality with regard to government – and the reason for that is that people have an almost childlike faith in government to solve problems. They may not believe that a particular government will solve the problem – but they believe that government can solve the problem, and should attempt to do so.

I’m sceptical. I suspect that most social problems do not have political solutions.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that in my opinion, the way so many people look to government to solve the social problems the country is facing is a prime example of trusting in princes.

I’m with the Psalmist:

Do not put your trust in princes,
   in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
   on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
   whose hope is in the LORD his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
   the sea, and everything in them—
   the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

Biblical priorities in voting

“When it comes to a matter of public policy, Christians have to assess biblical priorities.”

So says the Christian Institute, in a section of its “Election Briefing 2017” entitled “Biblical priorities in voting.” The question, in other words, is “What guidance does the Bible give to the Christian who is wondering how to vote?”

Of course, elections for public office are not mentioned in the Bible. True, ancient Athens was a democracy, and the Roman Republic had democratic institutions as well – the Centuriate Assembly was elected by Roman citizens, and had considerable powers. But by the time of the New Testament, the emperor ruled supreme, and voting by the citizens was a thing of the past.

But does the Bible give any guidance about what Christians should hope to see in rulers. And, in particular, does it give any guidance about what issues Christians should be focussing on when looking at manifestos and questioning candidates?

Politics and the Ten Commandments

The Christian Institute has this to say:

 . . . the Bible is “clear, direct, and decisive” about a whole host of political issues. For example, a vote for abortion or euthanasia is a vote to break the sixth Commandment on the law of murder (Exodus 20:13). These are the kinds of issues that we focus on in this briefing – straightforward matters of right or wrong.

That is a very interesting comment. It seems to be saying if one does not vote in favour of making abortion a criminal offence, one is voting to break the 6th commandment. The implication is that people are, at the very least, encouraging others to break the break the commandment if they vote this way.  At worst, they may be breaking the commandment themselves.

This immediately raises a question: Does this apply to other commandments? If I were an MP and there was a vote on making adultery a criminal offence, would it be breaking the 7th commandment if I didn’t vote for it? If there was a vote on making it a criminal offence to make idols, would I be voting to break the second commandment if I didn’t support it? If there was a vote on whether to make coveting ones neighbour’s possessions a criminal offence, would I (as a Christian) be under a moral obligation to vote to make wanting someone else’s possessions a criminal offence?

In other words, it seems to me that just because something is forbidden by one of the ten commandments, it does not necessarily follow that Christians should want it to be a criminal offence. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes the Ten Commandments as part of the moral law; it does not suggest they form a basis for the judicial law. It seems to me that there is complete agreement among Christians that breaking the sixth and eighth commandments should generally be criminal offences, and most Christians would also reckon that some violations of the ninth commandment (thou shalt not bear false witness) should also be. But beyond that, there is no general agreement among Christians that breaking any of the others should be a crime. Indeed, I have never encountered a Christian who thought covetousness should be a criminal offence.

What exactly is forbidden by the sixth commandment?

And, speaking of the Westminster Confession, the Westminster Assembly also produced a document called the Larger Catechism, which in answer to the question “What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment? ” includes “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labour, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarrelling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.”

Which, if any of these, should be criminal offences?

The fact is, I believe that murder should be a criminal offence – but not simply because the Ten Commandments forbid it. But I am not sure which violations of the sixth commandment should be criminalised. It seems to me that there is strong case for making abortion a criminal offence because I find it very difficult to see why a living human individual that is entitled to legal protection after it is born should not be entitled to legal protection beforehand. Equally, it seems to me that killing another person in order to relieve their suffering – even with their consent – should be a criminal offence. (That is basically because the law does not generally allow one to do things that are otherwise illegal just because one’s motives are good, and someone might consent to something in a very depressed moment that they might later have changed their mind about.)

What are the Bible’s political priorities, anyway?

If I really wanted to know what the Bible had to say about about priorities in voting, I wouldn’t start with the Ten Commandments. In fact, I wouldn’t start with the Old Testament. We live in the New Testament age – the era of the gospel. As I explain in some detail on my post “What does Jesus want us to do with Leviticus“, things have changed fundamentally since Old Testament times in a way that they have not changed since. The relationship between Christians and government is basically the same as it was in the days of the apostles – in other words, New Testament times.

So my starting point for asking about the Biblical priorities in voting is to ask “What were the things that the New Testament Christians looked for in government – and particularly in rulers? Does the New Testament have anything to say about that?”

And the answer is that it does. I wrote:

it seems that the only matters of public policy that the New Testament has much interest in is that rulers would preserve order and freedom. Paul, writing to Timothy (I Timothy 2:1-2), says I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” The big priority was basically that rulers would allow people to lead a peaceful and quiet life. In other words, pray that we would be spared tyranny, war, and a breakdown of law and order. These seem to be the only real political concerns of the New Testament.

I would suggest that if you are looking for Biblical priorities in voting, you have it there. The priority is that rulers will allow people to lead a peaceful and quiet life. In other words, that we would be spared tyranny, war, and a breakdown of law and order – and that our brothers and sisters in Christ elsewhere may also be spared those things.

And furthermore, I think that by the standards of New Testament times, we in Britain do pretty well for those things. Law and order, by historical standards, is excellent. We have not had war on British soil for hundreds of years. And freedom, including religious freedom, is pretty good.

So – what should our priorities be today?

As priorities in the election tomorrow – and this is true of all recent general elections – I think there are two practical priorities.

The first is religious freedom. The concept of religious freedom is complex, and I would not expect a government to allow anyone to do anything at all, simply on the grounds that it was part of their religion. No modern western government is going to allow, for example, human sacrifice. The freedoms we should be vigilant about, it seems to me, are freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The second practical priority is foreign policy. The actions our government affect our brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries.

The Barnabas Fund recently published an editorial that asked “Are persecuted Christians ‘the elephant in the room’ in the UK election? ” It said

“There is a very real threat that by the time of the next UK general election in 2022 large parts of the Middle East will have been emptied of Christian populations which have lived there since the first century, as Christians flee beheading, enslavement and other forms of religious cleansing by a whole range of jihadist groups.”

Their Manifesto for Persecuted Christians says

Soon after the 2003 Western-led military intervention in Iraq a targeted campaign of church bombings, kidnapping and assassination of church leaders began. Consequently, although only 3-4% of the Iraqi population were Christians, roughly a third of all Iraqis who have fled the country are Christians. When the Syrian civil war started in 2011, anti-Christian violence soon began there too. One of the jihadi groups targeting them evolved into IS. Christians and other non-Muslim minorities such as Yazidis have been executed and enslaved as jihadists seek to religiously cleanse the area of ancient communities such as Christians and Yazidis who have lived alongside Muslims for centuries, and very harmoniously in recent generations. 

That is pretty diplomatic. When you read the words “Soon after the 2003 Western-led military intervention in Iraq a targeted campaign of church bombings, kidnapping and assassination of church leaders began,” what you are basically being told is that the main reason that the Christian communities in the Middle East have been decimated in the past 15 years is the foreign policy of America and Britain. However, the Barnabas Fund is not about to say so in so many words!

What about the Syrian civil war and the Jihadi groups there who have sought to cleanse the area of its ancient Christian community? The plain fact is that America and its Middle Eastern allies were instrumental in instigating the conflict in Syria, and they also supported the Jihadists. This is something that the mainstream media in the west has been remarkably quiet about – but it is well documented – see my blog post last year “Syria 2: Politics, insanity and dishonesty” – and the Christian community in Syria is very well aware of it.

What are the Biblical priorities for voting in tomorrow’s election? It seems to me that the two main issues are religious freedom and Middle East policy.  

And it further seems to me that with regard to Middle East policy, what we really need is the ability to admit that the policy followed by Britain and the US – at least for the past 15 years – has been completely disastrous.

General Election 2017: My questions and the answers the candidates gave

Updated Edition (6th June)

What are the questions that you would ask a candidate for parliament in 2017?

Here are the 15 questions I asked, and the answers from three candidates.  (I also include my reasons for asking these questions, though I did not share these with the candidates.)

I have shown the answers from Olivia Bell (the Labour candidate) in red, the answers from Struan Mackie (the Conservative candidate) in blue, and the answers from Paul Monaghan (the Scottish Nationalist candidate) in Green.  (I have not yet had a response from the Liberal Democrat candidate, but will add his answers when / if I receive them.)

I initially posted this without giving any of my opinions about what they said. I have now updated this post with my own comments (indented).

The Questions

1. Do you believe that reducing the national debt should be a priority for the government? If so, do you believe that should be done primarily by increasing taxes or cutting spending?

(The economy is always a major issue, so it is appropriate to ask a question. I chose to ask this one because debt is a serious matter – but one that is usually forgotten.

I would add that I think it is significant that Jesus used debt as a picture for sin, both in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12) and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 23:18-25). The reason he did so was surely that it was understood that debt was something that one could not run away from for ever; it had to be repaid.)

A strong, growing economy is the foundation we need to make sure working people across Scotland are doing well. That’s why Labour will create a Scottish Investment Bank with £20 billion of investment power to help businesses grow and stimulate the Scottish economy. And we’ll invest in our crumbling infrastructure to connect our country together through a £250 billion National Transformation Fund to drive investment across the UK.

The last few years have shown that wealth doesn’t trickle down. 467,000 people in Scotland earn less than the living wage. Two thirds of them are women. And 57,000 workers are on zero hour-contracts.

So we need action to put more money into the pockets of working people and to make work more secure.

Labour will do that by introducing a real Living Wage of £10 an hour. Labour introduced the minimum wage in 1998, despite the predictions of the Tories and others that it would wreck our economy. Some are saying the same now, but the truth is our businesses can afford to pay a little more so that workers aren’t paid a poverty wage. We can drive up living standards for working people across Scotland.

Yes- I believe that reducing the national debt has to be at the forefront of decision making for the next parliament to ensure that we have sustainable public sector and that the next generation aren’t saddled with sovereign debt that has become unmanageable. I think there are still areas within government spending where the total allocation is unsustainable and we must look to address that.

Just like a household or a private business does I believe that we should aim to a balance budget. It is something that is done regularly in Continental Europe and other nations around the world. I believe that is ‘best practice’.

Yes. I believe we require a radical overhaul of both spending and taxation. I believe taxation should increase in certain areas and spending should decrease. We should be focussed on ethical investment and developing the economy.

[My comment: While Olivia Bell didn’t technically answer the question, but instead chose to quote from the Scottish Labour manifesto, I would take her answer as a “no”. Struan Mackie gave a clear “yes” to the first part, and strongly implied that he believed the main way to reduce public sector debt was by cuts in spending. Paul Monaghan spoke about reducing the debt by both increasing taxation and reducing expenditure.]

2. Do you think there should be another referendum on EU membership within the next 5 years?

(This election was basically called because of the result of the referendum on EU membership, and hence has been referred to as the Brexit election. So Brexit is clearly a major issue.

Whether it is an important one or not is debatable, but I do think that MPs have a responsibility to accept the results of referenda unless there is a very good reason for not doing so.)

No the country has voted.

I believe that we will have left the European Union in around 3-4 years time. At that juncture anything brought in front of the electorate should be by General Election can be used as a mandate in the House of Commons. I personally don’t believe their is an appetite for another referendum on EU membership however that could change in the preceding years and a mandate could be brought in front of the Commons by a pro-EU government being returned to Westminster.

If there is appetite for the United Kingdom to rejoin the EU, the above would be the route map to achieving it.

I think there should be a referendum when the outcome and ramifications of the negotiations to leave the EU are clear.

[Olivia Bell and Paul Monaghan gave clear answers. Struan Mackie was a little more nuanced, but strongly implied that his answer was ‘no’.]

3. Do you think there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next 5 years?

(This is one of the main issues in Scotland. Again, one can debate whether this really matters, but I do find it strange that some politicians called for another independence referendum after the Brexit vote when they had given no hint before the Brexit vote that they might do so.)

Definitely not! Voted No and campaigned for Better Together last time round – devisive and taking away from investing in health, education and public services

No, I believe the referendum was a ‘once in a lifetime’ , ‘once in a generation event’. I do not believe that either of those criteria meet the 5 year marker and I do not believe there is overwhelming demand for a second referendum. Certainly not from my constituents in Thurso and Northwest Caithness nor the doors I have knocked in the rest of the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross constituency.

I think the people of Scotland should have another referendum on independence when they choose to have one.

[Clear answers from Olivia Bell and Struan Mackie. Paul Monaghan‘s answer puzzled me. How do we know when the people of Scotland have chosen to have another referendum. Will there be a referendum on whether to have a referendum?]

4. Broadly speaking, do you think that immigration is good for our country and its economy?

(As with the economy, Brexit, and Scottish independence, this is one of the main issues of the day, so it seems appropriate to ask. For what it’s worth,this short video gives some idea of my views on the matter.)

Yes we need immigration in Scotland to keep our economy strong

Broadly speaking I believe immigration is good for the economy and it can be an asset to the country. Open door immigration however has driven down wages in our major cities and it has put major strains on public services. A managed immigration system, accessible by all, should be the way forward.

Yes. I think immigration is essential in certain areas.

[Fairly clear answers from all three candidates, though Struan Mackie seems to have slightly more reservations about the economic benefits of immigration than the other two. None mentioned the social effects of immigration, which is interesting.]

5. Are you concerned that laws to combat ‘extremism’ could suppress the right to free speech?

(I think that free speech is always an important issue. For Christians, it is of great practical relevance, because the good news of Jesus Christ is something that is communicated, and the communication of it requires an element of freedom of speech. Governments and politicians in many countries find the Christian message, or aspects of it, unpalatable, and would have no qualms about passing laws to muzzle Christians who say things they find unacceptable.

In addition, I think that the whole concept of “extremism” is so ill-defined as to make it unhelpful. We already have laws forbidding incitement to commit a criminal offence.)

balance needs to be struck between freedom and inciting hatred

I am concerned about privacy and free speech, however finding a balance between liberties and safeguarding our country and its citizens is absolutely paramount. The internet has been a breeding ground for extremist who are sheltered from the security services. That cannot be the case going forward.

Yes. We must be careful that restrictions of liberty and speech are not used as excuses for combating extremist activity.

[A clear answer from Paul Monaghan. Both Olivia Bell and Struan Mackie seem to be less committed to freedom of speech – though the former’s concerns are about inciting hatred, and the latter’s are extremism and the security situation (which was what my question was about). The fact that Olivia Bell mentioned “incitement to hatred” does raise the question of whether restrictions on free speech aimed at combating extremism could include restrictions on speech that was seen as inciting hatred.]

6. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear a ‘British values’ oath?

(Such legislation would basically amount to the state demanding that citizens should be barred from public life unless they hold to the values of the current political leadership of the country.

Sajid Javid’s proposal for a British values oath mentioned three particular values: democracy, equality and freedom of speech. While I am delighted that freedom of speech is in there, I don’t see any reason why people in public life have to believe in democracy. In the last couple of centuries, democracy has come to be seen as the best form of government – but before the 18th century, the best form of government was a matter of debate and discussion.  It is not a British value; it is simply the current orthodoxy.)

need to know more about this before giving an answer

I would not be opposed to office holders swearing an oath to uphold a series of British values that promotes fairness, tolerance and to preserve the British way of life. 

No.

[Paul Monaghan‘s answer is clear. Olivia Bell and Struan Mackie are more cautious, but Struan Mackie does appear a bit more sympathetic to a new oath being introduced – something that, as far as I can see, is an unnecessary and an unhelpful demand by the state that citizens should conform to an ideological orthodoxy determined by those in power.]

7. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear an oath to uphold equality?

(This is essentially the same as the last question. Like ‘British values’ and ‘extremism’, equality is a rather ill-defined concept – and, even more than democracy, something that for much of Britain’s history would not have been regarded as a basic British value.)

there are laws to ensure those in public office uphold equality

As above.

Yes.

[As Struan Mackie‘s response (‘As above’) indicates, this question is very similar the previous question. The questions come from the Christian Institute, who appear to use the phrases “equality oath” and “British values oath” interchangeably – even though they are not quite the same thing.

The background is that in a report into integration issued in December 2016, civil servant Dame Louise Casey recommended that there should be a ‘British values’ oath for public office holders, including civil servants, school governors, councillors etc. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid supported the idea, suggesting requiring a commitment to ‘equality’.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Lord Brian Paddick said: “Forcing public servants to swear an oath to British values would be both superficial and divisive. We should be talking about the universal values that unite us, not using nationalistic terms that exclude people. ” Nicola Sturgeon’s comment was “we respect the work that has been carried out by Dame Louise Casey, which deserves to be given proper consideration. I suggest that the UK Government do the same, and commit to giving it proper consideration rather than taking the premature step of announcing that all public servants should be compelled to swear an oath. Such an oath potentially risks exclusion of people who do not define their values as being uniquely British.”

All that said, Paul Monaghan has given a clear answer which differs from his answer to question 6. I take this as meaning that he has a problem with using the concept of ‘British values’, but no problem with requiring an oath per se. Struan Mackie also seems to have no problem with an oath, per se, but seems to be less enthusiastic about putting the concept of equality in it. Olivia Bell‘s response suggests that she doesn’t think a promise to hold to the concept of equality is necessary for public servants because the law already guarantees equality. That seems to me to be a fair position, but as she didn’t actually use the word “no”, one suspects that it is possible that in practice, her position would be the same as Paul Monaghan‘s. But it might not be.]

8. Do you support the campaign by Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools?

(Last year, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood decided to reject a call from Time for Inclusive Education (TIE)  for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools. The Convener of the Committee said: “I don’t think we can ask the government to do what the petitioner asked, which was to set something in the curriculum, and force local authorities to teach it in the way they were asking.”

The basic issue is the extent to which the curriculum in schools is set by the government. However, this also raises the question of the extent to which the state uses the education system as a tool for indoctrination. I think that the Committee were clearly correct, but apparently TIE has not given up.)

A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’ and remove other outdated language such as ‘transsexual’.

Labour will bring the law on LGBT hate crimes into line with hate crimes based on race and faith, by making them aggravated offences.

To tackle bullying of LGBT young people, Labour will ensure that all teachers receive initial and ongoing training on the issues students face and how to address them. And we will ensure that the new guidance for relationships and sex education is LGBT inclusive.

I am not aware of this particular campaign. I am sorry.

Not sure. I support equality and diversity in education but I will have to learn more about this specific initiative before commenting.

[To be honest, I am not much the wiser about where the candidates stand on the TIE proposals. At least two of them admit they don’t know much about this issue, despite the fact that it was dealt with by the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood. Olivia Bell raises the separate issue of “hate crimes”, which I consider to be an unhelpful concept. But that was a question I didn’t ask.]

9. Do you believe that action on climate change is urgent and vitally important?

(This is one of the big issues of the day, so an obvious thing to ask. Most politicians would give a simple “yes” to this question, but I thought I would ask just to see if any of the candidates disagreed with the current consensus.)

Yes

We must balance efforts to protect future generations from the results of changes in our climate. This however cannot be done instantaneously and we must be progressive with change and move wherever possible towards a low carbon future. I think an energy mix is critical to achieving a sustainable energy economy and in my opinion that must include, wind, tital, solar, limited oil and gas in addition to nuclear power.

Yes.

[Clear answers from Olivia Bell and Paul Monaghan. Struan Mackie is more cautious and non-committal. It is difficult to know how much he actually differs from the other two in his views.]

10. Do you think the ‘Named Person’ scheme should be dropped entirely?

(In my opinion, the “Named Person” scheme is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life, and a major blot on the record of the current administration in Holyrood. While this is an election for the Westminster Parliament, the principles are important, so I asked the question.)

The process has been a mess, bringing anxiety for parents. Labour has supported the principle of this scheme. A Labour Goverment would pause this process and ask the Children’s Commissioner to carry out a review.

Yes.

No.

[Clear answers from Struan Mackie and Paul Monaghan. Olivia Bell seems to be somewhere in the middle, but it seems to me that technically, that’s a “No, not in its entirety.”]

11. Do you believe that parents should be criminalised for smacking their children?

(Currently a subject of a lot of debate. Reasonable physical punishment does not constitute assault, and parents can already be prosecuted for assaulting their children. Again, it seems to me that this is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life.)

The world has moved on since my childhood when smacking was routine. I would have to see the detail of any Bill but in general terms it would bring home the message that there are other sanctions for children rather than smacking.

I think times have changes since I was a child, it is clearl incredibly fine line. But current political attitudes would probably be in favour of criminalisation… I personally wouldn’t go that far.

In general no. However “smacking” is a very loose term. It can range from a tap on the hand to a child being thrashed. We must be careful to be definitive in such situations. Clearly different ends of the spectrum warrant completely different approaches.

[Olivia Bell seems to lean yes, Struan Mackie and Paul Monaghan seem to lean no.]

12. Do you believe the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

(No basic change takes place in a child the moment it is born.  If it is entitled to protection after birth and it is a criminal offense to kill it, I cannot see why this is not also the case before birth.)

support current abortion laws

There was a movement several years ago which indicated the law might have been restricted in Scotland. This has not gained ground in the preceding years. It is a very controversial topic, I am pro-life, however in the cases of sexual assault, or fatal fetal abnormality I can understand that the law must take these cases into account. 

In Scotland, my personal view is that the law is about right but I also believe that women are the best placed to make decisions about their bodies.

[Olivia Bell and Paul Monaghan are clearly one one side of this question. Struan Mackie appears to be on the other. Personally, I am not sure that this should be a major issue for deciding how to vote at a general election as it seems extremely unlikely that the matter will come before Parliament any time soon. But it does give an indication of where a candidate might stand on related issues which might come up.]

13. Do you think Donald Trump was right to attack a Syrian air base on 7th April this year?

(I think that this is a very serious matter. Philip Giraldi has argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that Trump’s action was a violation of American and International law – and yet many British politicians have supported it.)

This issue has caused differing opinions in the Labour Party – I think Trump got away with it this time but in my opinion it could have sparked a Third World War and surely no Party would want that?

Yes, I am not Trump’s greatest fan but I believe attacking the base was the first real sign that atrocities such as the gassing of communities in Syria would simply not be tolerated by the international community.

No.

[Clear answers from Struan Mackie and Paul Monaghan. Struan Mackie seems to assume that the Syrian armed forces did indeed launch the gas attack referred to. That is far from certain – and I personally am very sceptical. I am fascinated that Olivia Bell refers to the differing opinions in the Labour Party about this question. I’m not quite sure why – but she seems to lean toward Paul Monaghan‘s (and my) position.]

14. Do you believe that the UK armed services should be part of the American- led International Coalition in Syria?

(The Coalition is responsible for bombing raids that have killed hundreds of civilians, as well as an attack on Syrian government forces that were engaged in a battle with ISIS.  Why are our armed forces there?)

Need to know more about this one before answering

Again, this is a hard one. I believe it was right to intervene. And going forward it is imperative that we must be part of the solution and it isn’t dictated to by Russia and their allies… as such on balance I think we should be part of the American led coalition.

No.

[Olivia Bell‘s answer is extraordinary. She appears to think that this is a proposal, whereas the UK has been an active part of the American led coalition for some time. Struan Mackie and Paul Monaghan are quite clear.]

15. Do you think that the UK should be selling arms to Saudi Arabia?

(Saudi Arabia’s record is appalling both in its domestic and in its foreign policy. See my post on the subject last year.

Furthermore, we now know (thanks to Wikileaks) that the American government knew back in 2014 that Saudi Arabia was providing support to ISIS and other Jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Part of an email between Hilary Clinton and John Podesta that year reads “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

And, according to  the Guardian: “An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.  The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.”

And of course there is the case of the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen two years ago, and have repeatedly bombed civilian targets, and, in an effort to starve anti-government forces into submission, have enforced a food blockade that has caused massive malnutrition.  These things strike me as utterly reprehensible.

And yet the British government continues to support the Saudi government and sell it arms.)

Our party has always pledged to embed human rights and social justice into our trade policy.

No. I do not believe that Saudi Arabia is the kind of ally we should court in the International word. Although they have long supported the United Kingdom on several grounds over the years they still have an appalling civil rights record and are strongly linked to state sponsored terrorism.

No.

[Olivia Bell didn’t really answer the question – which rather surprises me since the Labour Party’s position on this issue is pretty clear. I assume that she stands with it, but why didn’t she just say so? Struan Mackie‘s answer is the most interesting one here. He is choosing to disagree with Conservative Party policy, which I think is very commendable. Paul Monaghan‘s response is straightforward.]

 

Final comments

1) Each of the candidates has their own style.

Olivia Bell referred to the position of the Labour Party several times, whereas the other two candidates didn’t actually mention their parties. She also was a bit more likely to say “that depends”. The fact that she wouldn’t commit herself on several questions could be seen as wise, and means she is less likely to be accused of changing her mind or breaking her promise. It led to the impression that she would generally follow the party line.

Struan Mackie, by contrast, came over as someone who was giving his own personal opinion, and who was willing to go against the party line on some occasions.

Paul Monaghan was very good at giving short, brief replies!

2) In an effort to try to assess the candidates, I tried to work out which questions were more important, and to assign values to them, and then to try to work out how many marks to give each candidate for their answer to each question. Neither of those is an exact science. For what it’s worth, Struan Mackie and Paul Monaghan came out well ahead of Olivia Bell, with Paul Monaghan possibly slightly ahead. All of them, however, are far from ideal from my perspective.

3) When trying to decide which way to vote in a general election, there are a lot of things that come into play. I took the “I side with” test in order to compare my views with those of the different parties. The result was not the same as when I compared myself with the different local candidates. That’s a useful reminder that parties all contain a variety of views, and candidates often are at odds with their parties on important matters.

Another thing that comes into play is personalities. How much I personally like a candidate as a human being is not the same as how much I agree with their views. The same is true of the party leaders. It is possible to like the leader of Party A more than the leader of Party B, but to actually agree more with the policies of the leader of Party B. How do we vote: according to personalities – or according to policies?

The Questions I put to Election Candidates

Update: Answers from candidates have been coming in.  See this post for their responses.

What are the questions that you would ask a candidate for parliament in 2017?

Here are the 15 questions I asked – and my reasons for asking them.

1. Do you believe that reducing the national debt should be a priority for the government? If so, do you believe that should be done primarily by increasing taxes or cutting spending?

The economy is always a major issue, so it is appropriate to ask a question. I chose to ask this one because debt is a serious matter – but one that is usually forgotten.

I would add that I think it is significant that Jesus used debt as a picture for sin, both in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12) and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 23:18-25). The reason he did so was surely that it was understood that debt was something that one could not run away from for ever; it had to be repaid.

2.Do you think there should be another referendum on EU membership within the next 5 years?

This election was basically called because of the result of the referendum on EU membership, and hence has been referred to as the Brexit election. So Brexit is clearly a major issue.

Whether it is an important one or not is debatable, but I do think that MPs have a responsibility to accept the results of referenda unless there is a very good reason for not doing so.

3. Do you think there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next 5 years?

This is one of the main issues in Scotland. Again, one can debate whether this really matters, but I do find it strange that some politicians called for another independence referendum after the Brexit vote when they had given no hint before the Brexit vote that they might do so.

4. Broadly speaking, do you think that immigration is good for our country and its economy?

As with the economy, Brexit, and Scottish independence, this is one of the main issues of the day, so it seems appropriate to ask. For what it’s worth, this short video gives some idea of my views on the matter.

5. Are you concerned that laws to combat ‘extremism’ could suppress the right to free speech?

I think that free speech is always an important issue. For Christians, it is of great practical relevance, because the good news of Jesus Christ is something that is communicated, and the communication of it requires an element of freedom of speech. Governments and politicians in many countries find the Christian message, or aspects of it, unpalatable, and would have no qualms about passing laws to muzzle Christians who say things they find unacceptable.

In addition, I think that the whole concept of “extremism” is so ill-defined as to make it unhelpful. We already have laws forbidding incitement to commit a criminal offence.

6. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear a ‘British values’ oath?

Such legislation would basically amount to the state demanding that citizens should be barred from public life unless they hold to the values of the current political leadership of the country.

Sajid Javid’s proposal for a British values oath mentioned three particular values: democracy, equality and freedom of speech. While I am delighted that freedom of speech is in there, I don’t see any reason why people in public life have to believe in democracy. In the last couple of centuries, democracy has come to be seen as the best form of government – but before the 18th century, the best form of government was a matter of debate and discussion.  It is not a British value; it is simply the current orthodoxy.

7. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear an oath to uphold equality?

This is essentially the same as the last question. Like ‘British values’ and ‘extremism’, equality is a rather ill-defined concept – and, even more than democracy, something that for much of Britain’s history would not have been regarded as a basic British value.

8. Do you support the campaign by Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools?

Last year, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood decided to reject a call from Time for Inclusive Education (TIE)  for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools. The Convener of the Committee said: “I don’t think we can ask the government to do what the petitioner asked, which was to set something in the curriculum, and force local authorities to teach it in the way they were asking.”

The basic issue is the extent to which the curriculum in schools is set by the government. However, this also raises the question of the extent to which the state uses the education system as a tool for indoctrination. I think that the Committee were clearly correct, but apparently TIE has not given up.

9. Do you believe that action on climate change is urgent and vitally important?

This is one of the big issues of the day, so an obvious thing to ask. Most politicians would give a simple “yes” to this question, but I thought I would ask just to see if any of the candidates disagreed with the current consensus.

10. Do you think the ‘Named Person’ scheme should be dropped entirely?

In my opinion, the “Named Person” scheme is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life, and a major blot on the record of the current administration in Holyrood. While this is an election for the Westminster Parliament, the principles are important, so I asked the question.

11. Do you believe that parents should be criminalised for smacking their children?

Currently a subject of a lot of debate. Reasonable physical punishment does not constitute assault, and parents can already be prosecuted for assaulting their children. Again, it seems to me that this is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life.

12. Do you believe the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

No basic change takes place in a child the moment it is born.  If it is entitled to protection after birth and it is a criminal offense to kill it, I cannot see why this is not also the case before birth.

13. Do you think Donald Trump was right to attack a Syrian air base on 7th April this year?

I think that this is a very serious matter. Philip Giraldi has argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that Trump’s action was a violation of American and International law – and yet many British politicians have supported it.

14. Do you believe that the UK armed services should be part of the American- led International Coalition in Syria?

The Coalition is responsible for bombing raids that have killed hundreds of civilians, as well as an attack on Syrian government forces that were engaged in a battle with ISIS.  Why are our armed forces there?

15. Do you think that the UK should be selling arms to Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia’s record is appalling both in its domestic and in its foreign policy. See my post on the subject last year.

Furthermore, we now know (thanks to Wikileaks) that the American government knew back in 2014 that Saudi Arabia was providing support to ISIS and other Jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Part of an email between Hilary Clinton and John Podesta that year reads “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

And of course there is the case of the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen two years ago, and have repeatedly bombed civilian targets, and, in an effort to starve anti-government forces into submission, have enforced a food blockade that has caused massive malnutrition.  These things strike me as utterly reprehensible.

And yet the British government continues to support the Saudi government and sell it arms.

Edit: I’ve just seen this in the Guardian:

“An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.  The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.”

Fancy that.