From that spiteful 50p tax to Harriet’s mad sex war, Labour is blasting Britain back to the dark ages

A particularly gloomy take on current events this morning from Melanie Phillips:

“For with the economy in far worse shape than even the most pessimistic among us had imagined, we appear to have entered a time machine which is blasting us back to the dark ages of state control and economic paralysis.”

There are instantly problems with this comparison – to take the obvious, it’s only really the banking sector the state has started moving into, and you’d be hard pushed to say that it ‘controlled’ banks when it can’t even get those it owns to lend money to small businesses. The idea of the machine ‘blasting us’ towards a point where it’s not just the banks the state controls is scare-mongering – the state has no money to take over anything particularly impressive, we still remember things not working so well the last time it tried, the government is currently trying to offload the state-owned postal service suggesting little appetite for further state expansion and the likely candidates to form the next government are opposed to any such expansion. It also misses the way we got into this mess in the first place – through historically lax state control leading to a necessary take-over of the banking sector. Although there is some comfort to be gained from seeing current events through the prism of history, we shouldn’t let superficial similarities scare us into believing the two are the same – this focuses our fears on the wrong things, meaning we miss the real issues while paranoidly waiting for unrealistic evils to befall us. For example,

“The 50p tax rate has left the out-manoeuvred Blairites aghast for the very reasons that the fossilised Left is triumphant. By singling out the wealthy as scapegoats for the failure of government policy, it implicitly classifies as the enemies of society people whose efforts are essential to its prosperity.”

There are a few things to note about this. Firstly, the Mail was, not so long ago, leading a witch-hunt against the well paid (eg.), which arguably does more to mark out the well-off as enemies of society. More crucial though, the duties on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol all went up in the budget – these all disproportionately affect those on low incomes, making them at least equal targets of the Chancellor’s disapprobation.¹

“It punishes them for the crime of achievement and acts as a powerful disincentive to others to seek success or advancement, thus ensuring the stagnation of the country. It is a throwback to a primitive era of class prejudice and economic illiteracy. It is the dogma of political and economic cavemen.”

This is debatable – one could easily argue that they are being rewarded for high achievement by being offered the opportunity to contribute mote to society, adding additional incentive to succeed. On this argument, the problem here is not the tax, but the ideology pushed by the mainstream media that defines success in terms of materialistic self-aggrandisement. Possibly more compellingly, a 50% rate of tax (rising to 60% with various alterations to personal benefits announced at the same time) on £150,000 leaves the earner with 50p in the pound for every pound over £150,000. Although this is 10p less than they used to get, they still have 40p’s worth of further reasons to strive.² Unlike a salary ceiling, tax brackets do continue to offer incentives to earn, they merely make it slightly more difficult to do so.

“It is also, as the rest of us can clearly see, a fruitless act of cynical spite. Far from increasing tax revenues, it may even mean less money comes into the Exchequer as people resort to various tactics to offset their losses.”

It’s worth considering, at this point, the raft of steps the Chancellor announced in the budget to make it harder to avoid paying tax. More than this, however, is the general point that the Chancellor has to do something to increase the money coming in as the economy tanks. He’s not going to be coining it from corporation tax on the banks any more, what revenues came in from the employment of low earners will be eroded by rising unemployment, a new source must be found. So up go cigarettes and alcohol, increasing incentives for people to source them on the black market to offset their losses. It’s not an option everyone will take, as the costs of such evasion will, for some at least, outweigh the financial benefits – for the increase to result in lower tax-take the number of people evading, and so dropping out, would need to out-weigh the increase secured from those not avoiding. It’s a calculated risk, but to suggest that it’s a risk not taking purely because it is a risk is to say that no tax increase should ever be made as any tax increase will carry the risk of prompting evasion.

“With this huge and increasing burden of higher taxes, red tape and ruinous regulation, yet more entrepreneurs are going to pack up and leave Britain altogether for more hospitable climes.”

There are a few things to consider about concerns of a brain drain. One relates to the Mail‘s equivocal relationship with high-earners – by their lights, it is not just the brains that will be drained, the increase in tax-rate will rebate a certain amount from the public sector and the much demonised banking sector and possibly drive some of the ‘fat-cats’ away, presumably opening the way for thinner cats or people who aren’t cats at all. This is to say nothing about the sense or justice of the measure, but only to note that, from the newspaper’s point of view, this will do much to resolve some of its recent concerns. More pressingly, the evidence of brain drain in countries with high tax rates is equivocal – looking at research into Canada, for example, while there is definite evidence of people moving to the lower-tax regime of the USA to earn more, the numbers are low and appear to be influenced by more than just taxes. This makes intuitive sense – brains need somewhere to drain to (at bare minimum, a job market where they can gain more after tax for the same amount of job which at the same time offers a comparable or better quality of life, difficult to find in the face of a worldwide recession), and to be sufficiently mercenary to be willing to drop their current home and lifestyle to do so. Undoubtedly, some will, but the extent of this is unlikely to be overwhelming.

So the 50p rate of tax is not the obviously bad idea Melanie presents. Indeed, she herself seems confused on the import of it all:

“Indeed, since it was Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s 1988 Budget that reduced the top rate of tax from 60 per cent to 40 per cent, last week’s travesty can be seen as not just burying Blairism, but reverting to the era before Mrs Thatcher came along to try to arrest Britain’s apparently irreversible decline.”

If we’re trying to conclude that Labour are reverting to type using Lawson’s budget, we must also bear in mind from the same that Thatcher was more than happy for the majority of her time in power with a taxation of the rich higher than that of the current Labour government, that this high rate coincided with the arresting of our ‘apparently irreversible decline‘ and that we’re now actually reverting to the dark days before the halcyon days of the Major government (which started in 1990). As such, we should be concluding that this is a bold return to Thatcherite tax policy, and not statism at all. In her attention to the superficial similarities, in this case that Thatcher got rid of a high tax rate, she misses the obvious differences in our situations, such as the fact that the rate of tax wasn’t Labour’s alone and it wasn’t the only thing Thatcher undid.

Nothing is ever as simple as Melanie makes this. After 12 years of Labour, we need a lot more than a 5% increase on the top-rate of income tax to herald a return to ‘the dark ages of state control and economic paralysis‘. The choice isn’t between the dark forces of socialism making us all poor and the bright Reaganomics of the future where the rich get rich and trickle it down. It’s not between a Thatcherite tax regime and a mass exodus of the long-suffering rich. At the moment, the choice is between definite lower tax revenues or possibly slightly less-lower tax revenues. It’s a gloomy choice to have to make, but not as gloomy as a time machine that only took us to the 70s would be.

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¹ The Guardian claims that “Early indications suggested the poor would still pay proportionately more than the rich because of a rise in fuel duty.” but don’t provide anything to back the statement up.

² This section is corrected as of 29th April, thanks to Ben (see comments below). The original, incorrect text, read: “with £75,000 after tax (£60,000) – this is still a fairly impressive reason to try and earn £150,000. Taking this further, the maths of the tax-bracket system also means that what disincentive there is only kicks in on a relatively small range of salaries around the £150,000 boundary – the previous 40% rate on a salary of £149,999 meant you took home £90,000; you would need to earn £30,000 more to take home the same amount at a 50% rate. This means that you have no incentive, at £149,999, to earn anything less than £30,001 more, but it would still pay you, increasingly handsomely, to aim at a job worth £180,001 or more.” As Ben kindly and correctly points out, this reading is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the tax system. Ben is too kind to call me an idiot, but he could very fairly have done so.

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At last! A judge speaks up for British laws but when will we wake up to the REAL folly of human rights?

An interesting example of how a series of assertions do not equal an argument, from Melanie Philips:

“Lord Hoffmann, the second most senior Law Lord, has questioned the court’s constitutional legitimacy, ridiculed its judgments and said it should get its nose out of our national affairs.

Given the fact that human rights law has effectively become a secular religion for the higher judiciary, this is what you might call a flying wig moment.”

The moment in question is this lecture to the Judicial Studies Board, which is a good and an interesting read. To nutshell it, Lord Hoffmann has no problem with the concept of universal human rights, but feels that their interpretation and application should be a national matter. He fears that the unelected European Court of Human Rights is appropriating political power, after the fashion of the American courts, something it is ill-placed to do given its lack of understanding of the British context in which laws are applied and its inconsistency in application. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“For this country has seen its laws and values turned inside out because of the obeisance paid to the rulings of the European human rights court.

In some cases, these have unilaterally challenged moral norms without public opinion even being consulted, and have undermined concepts such as family life, truth, social order, citizenship and law itself.”

It is very difficult to know which specific laws and values Melanie is referring to, and so how she thinks the European Court has undermined them. It would be interesting, taking just the example of the undermining of family life, to see examples, as the Court is specifically set up to defend, among other things parental rights and the respect for private life, family life, the home and correspondence. If it is undermining the concept of family life, it is doing very badly. I would suspect, given Melanie’s feelings on the subject, she is thinking here of things like the defence of civil partnerships and of adoption by, and IVF for, same-sex couples. If this suspicion is correct, I think we would disagree – here the right to a family has been extended from its conventional limits to others who previously fell outside of it; this isn’t an undermining, but a confirmation.

Moving on from these vague assertions, Melanie says:

“But the issue is much deeper than how the European judges have behaved. The real problem lies with human rights law itself.

The liberties of this country traditionally rested on the fact that rights were not codified but grew out of English common law. As a result, everything was permitted unless it was expressly prohibited.

Once codified into statute law, however, rights became dependent on what the courts said they were. So, far from expanding our liberties human rights law has diminished them.”

Which is a specific assertion, but again one that appears implausible given that our initial objection to the Court was its application of universal liberties without regard to local context. When a petitioner asks the Court to rule on whether their national law is depriving them of their human rights, and are successful, their liberties have been extended – liberties that had been denied them by their local legal system and which, through the compound interest of case law, would have meant denial for future generations, not just in identical cases but also in vaguely comparable ones. The very point of the Court is to look at things which have been expressly prohibited and extend liberties by expressly permitting them.

In addition to this, the idea that you could somehow lose rights by writing them down is an odd one. What is codified in the Human Rights Act (1998), and the principles which the Court is enforcing, are essentially a set of benchmarks, standards which laws must not fall beneath. The situation with regards courts defining rights is the same as it ever was because courts were, and still are, the arbiters of what behaviour is in correspondence with the law. The difference now is that we have an appeal against that law and its enforcement. Essentially, we all now have the liberty to question the justice of laws and their enforcement through the appeal to an outside observer. This is an exponential expansion of liberty. In the face of this, Hoffman’s objection is a somewhat weak one – the very point of a universal principle is that it ignores local context; if your trials deny human rights, they deny human rights, regardless of whether the local populous think they’re fine or historically they’ve always been that way.

Melanie is right to highlight Lord Bingham’s thoughts in this area:

“Lord Bingham, the former senior Law Lord, actually declared that the Human Rights Convention existed to protect vulnerable minorities against the majority. So majority opinion, it seemed, was essentially illegitimate and the judiciary would use human rights law to do it down.”

I don’t think I can improve on Lord Bingham himself in providing a riposte to this argument:

“It is, however, plain that the robust and independent-minded member of Parliament is rarely able to make an effective impact when faced by a determined government. Governments for their part are understandably anxious to retain the support of the electorate and accordingly concentrate on measures which will earn the gratitude of a majority of the voters. Thus Parliamentary opinion is likely to reflect the opinion of the majority and show less concern for the interests of minorities. It is accordingly possible, looking back over our history, to identify a number of groups who have been either unpopular or disregarded and whose rights and freedoms have as a result been of little or no Parliamentary interest: Jews, Roman Catholics, dissenters; vagrants, vagabonds, beggars, gypsies; married women; children; prisoners; mental patients and the disabled; immigrants of various kinds, asylum seekers, aliens; homosexuals; strikers; single mothers; paedophiles. All of these have had occasion at some time or another to feel that the defence of their rights by a sovereign Parliament was something short of whole-hearted.”

The problem Lord Bingham highlights is not the illegitimacy of majority opinion, but the fact that, where it is illegitimate, it is very difficult to overturn. The judiciary’s job is to ensure equality under the Law for everyone who comes before it – at some point that has to mean rejecting unequal laws. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“As a result, it has been used as a judicial battering ram by those determined to up-end this country’s core values. The police and even the security service have been paralysed by the fear of damaging the rights of one ‘grievance group’ or another.

Christians have come under the human rights cosh for expressing a preference for heterosexual couples to adopt children.

Most egregiously of all, human rights law reduced asylum and immigration policy to chaos and destroyed this country’s control over its own borders.

This was the result of the uniquely zealous way in which English judges interpreted Strasbourg’s rulings against torture, making it impossible to deport suspected terrorists to any country suspected of abusing human rights.”

I was not previously aware that condoning torture had been a core British value, that receiving public funding to discriminate against a minority was a core British value or that having the security services and police target and isolate specific communities was a core British value. That these are core values and, if so, that they are defensible one is something I will need to be persuaded of, which Melanie does not attempt. Notice she also doesn’t here invoke her earlier complaint about liberties being lost through codification – although in a real sense liberties have been lost, they were liberties to infringe the liberties of others, which is not a liberty that’s readily justifiable. I am not sure what the Act or the Court has done wrong here, and do not see the argument made. So when Melanie concludes:

“To some of us, of course, that is precisely why we should leave the EU, in order to restore our powers of self-government and democracy as expressed through our own laws.”

I cannot see why she does so. She appears to be yearning for the days when the law was arbitrary and political, merely because the application of external benchmarks has prevented the persecution and discrimination of groups she doesn’t like. Which is exactly the sort of diminishing of liberty she protested about the Court making.

When a bishop has to leave the Church of England to stand up for Christians, what hope is left for Britain?

An interesting exercise in differing perspectives today from Melanie Phillips, which moves from the resignation of the Bishop of Rochester to pursue missionary work overseas, through a number of slights and marginalisations of Christianity in public life through to this:

“With multiculturalism discriminating in favour of all who challenge the established values of this country, it would appear that it is Christians who have become the oppressed minority. “

It is worth remembering at this point that the head of state is also the head of the national branch of the Church, Christian religious leaders sit unelected in the second house of our legislature, the school system is predominantly a collection of Christian faith-based organisations, charity law allows tax breaks for organisations devoted to ‘advancement of religion’, our national broadcaster carries a weekly televised Christian service and Christian (and other religious) organisations have exemptions from various pieces of equality legislation allowing them to discriminate against people while still receiving public funds. For an oppressed minority, Christians do quite well for themselves.

So, how has Melanie got to the point where all the perks of Christianity are overlooked – what has generated this feeling of oppression?

“Yesterday, it was revealed that a Christian council worker was suspended for encouraging a terminally ill woman to turn to God. He says he was also told it was inappropriate to ‘talk about God’ with a client and that he should not even say ‘God bless’.

This follows the case of the nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient’s recovery, the Christian who lost her role on an adoption panel because she disapproved of gay adoption, and Christian adoption agencies which lost their public funding because they had the same approach.”

So, there seem to be a series of well publicised attacks on people merely for being Christian. It’s not quite Rome, but people are losing their livelihoods, merely for stating their faith. They might still have spiritual leaders in the Lords interfering with bills on science and health, but on the ground the secularists are winning.

Except, from another perspective, this isn’t what’s going on at all. The Christian council worker in question is accused by his employers of subjecting a woman who came to him to discuss her housing situation to an extended ‘religious rant’¹. Were this any other religion, or no religion, I’m not sure Melanie would feel as uncomfortable. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, and his comments were neither extended nor ranting, then rather than doing the job he was paid to do, he was proselytising, again something Melanie would probably feel less comfortable with were it on behalf of another god. Alternatively, imagine he weren’t proselytising at all, but suggesting an alternative remedy – would it be appropriate for a homelessness officer to suggest to a supplicant that they go home and eat goji berries because, even though the doctors say there’s no hope, you sometimes hear about people switching to the berries and pulling through? For a newspaper so often concerned by local government spending, the implicit claim that Wandsworth’s rate payers should be funding unqualified health advice with every housing consultation seems odd. The idea that someone should be considered persecuted because their employer expects them to do their job and leave their medical advice for after hours is equally strange.

In the case of the nurse, someone was sufficiently taken aback by her offer of prayer to complain about it – so Malanie is now asking us to accept that nurses should be allowed to make patients feel awkward and uncomfortable. The Christian who lost their job on the adoption panel did so because she wanted to base adoption not on the law or the scientific evidence which informed it, but on her private beliefs – Melanie is asking us to accept personal belief as a legitimate reason to ignore the rules which govern our jobs. The Christian adoption agency were allowed to continue to discriminate against couples on the basis of their private beliefs, but were no longer allowed to ask the taxpayer to fund that discrimination – Melanie is asking certain members of the community to happily stump up for someone else to persecute them.

In all of these cases, we can easily imagine the problems we would have were it not Christianity, but another set of private beliefs which were influencing the public behaviour. Were we to substitute racism in the adoption cases, for example. The issue is not, in this light, the persecution of Christianity, but the exclusion of certain private beliefs from the public sphere. It is not Christianity which is under attack, but the idea that private beliefs should influence your public duties.

In some ways, the confusion between the two is understandable – historically in this country, Christian private beliefs have coincided with public duties. When homosexuality was illegal on grounds of morality, the question of discrimination in adoption never arose. The problem Melanie is having is not that multiculturalism [is] discriminating in favour of all who challenge the established values of this country’, but that not all the established views are universally held and that the acceptance of this necessarily implies a retreat of all private beliefs from the public sphere. The illusion that Christianity is being persecuted arises because Christian beliefs have further to retreat. This in no ways undermines her feeling that:

“Although most people may no longer be churchgoers, Christianity infuses all this country’s institutions, traditions and values.”

Even retreating to the private sphere, Christian values will still influence public life because the worthwhile ones are universal. Christianity does not have the monopoly on tolerance, decency and the Golden Rule². Christians will still be able to agree with laws based on equality and reciprocity of expected behaviour, and with institutions which foster the same. ‘Christianity’ will still be the basis for our public conduct and discourse, we will still indulge in ‘Christian behaviour’ in as far as that basis and that behaviour overlaps with ‘human’ behaviour. That basis and that behaviour will still tolerate the discussion of private beliefs which run against our desire for equality and justice in the appropriate fora, but will still believe that such fora are not the ones funded by the public.

Even when we’ve sorted the monarchy, and the Lords, and the education system, and the national broadcaster, and the charity law, and the opt-outs of equality legislation, Christianity will still have a place in public life. That place still won’t proselytising, or ignoring the law, at the taxpayer’s expense. That’s not oppression, that’s even-handedness, which the Christian god, among others, was all for³.

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¹ I’m basing my comments on this on an article in the Telegraph – oddly, only they and the Mail appear to be carrying this story.

² It’s worth noting here that Melanie is discussing Christianity as if it were a uniform monolith – the brand of the faith that is failing to love homosexuals as they love themselves is arguably missing the point sufficiently to not merit the name and to allow that particular animosity into public life would be the failure to uphold true Christian values, not its exclusion.

³ Deut 10:17-18 – For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.

Doctors struck off for denying patients the right to die? What a sinister distortion of medical ethics

A fascinating column today from Melanie Phillips, not least for some impressive rhetorical sleights of hand.

“The disturbing fact is that many leading doctors no longer have a clear ethical sense at all. Many of them subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Quite a conclusion, so here’s the background. Chapter 9 of the Mental Capacity Act of 2005 (see here, particularly of relevance are sections 24-36) created a framework to protect the decision making of those of diminished decision making capacity. The basic principle is the preservation, as much as is possible, of the autonomy of the individual, and the Act looks at how we can best ensure that those without the capacity to make decisions for themselves have their interests protected and how we can take account of the life decisions of individuals who lose their decision making capabilities.¹

The mechanism it lays out for solving this latter problem is the ‘advance decision’, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you the ability to decide in advance, while you still have the capability to do so, up to what point you will be treated. This extends the traditional principle that we have the right to refuse treatment, even life-saving treatment, if we have the competence to do so. In the same way as the refusal of treatment, this protects our autonomy and so our ability to define ourselves, give meaning and coherence to our lives and take responsibility for the sort of person we are². We might not agree with someone who does not seek to prolong their life, any more than we might agree with someone who refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds, but part of respecting them as an individual is respecting their right to live their lives as they see fit. The advance decision allows individuals to make that choice while they still can, enabling us to take responsibility for a part of our lives which previously fell out of our hands.

In light of this legislation, the GMC has revised its guidelines on the care of those who, while dying, could have their lives prolonged but who are not capable of making decisions themselves. (See here for the guidance in full, points 14, 95 and the Appendix outlining the new position, the sanction for ignoring it and the legal thinking behind it.) To summarise briefly, the new guidelines suggest that the law, in the form of advance decisions, should be complied with unless there is reason to belive that the decision may not longer be in force. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“As a result, the terrible truth is that doctors will now be struck off and may be sent to prison for refusing to kill their patients.”

There is clearly some space between my reading of the law and Melanie’s and it comes in that word ‘kill’. There is a fundamental difference between an act and an omission, the former being something that you do and the latter being something that you don’t. While your omission may lead to the death of someone, it does not cause their death, it merely fails to avert it. Now we are not talking here about, for instance, insisting that doctors give slight overdoses of pain medication as a form of passive euthanasia – this is illegal and thus not something you can decide in advance. Instead we are talking about the suspension of feeding. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“The crucial point is what is now included in the accepted definition of ‘treatment’. It has always been an important medical principle that no patient should be forced to have treatment against their will. Patients have always had the right to refuse treatment, whatever the consequences to their own lives.

Ever since the landmark case of Tony Bland, however – the Hillsborough disaster victim whose feeding tubes were disconnected after he was left in a persistent vegetative state – ‘treatment’ has been held to include giving patients food and liquids through feeding tubes.

But although the tubes involve a medical procedure, food and drink are not ‘treatment’. They are simply what we all need in order to stay alive. And so stopping feeding someone who would not otherwise die is simply and straightforwardly to kill them.”

The stopping of feeding is not so much an act as it opposite, its negation. It is no longer acting, or, in the terms used earlier, an omission to feed. As such, it is not the active ‘killing’ but a letting die. Note here that the patient is not being starved, they are not having food withheld, they are merely not being fed. The distinction is subtle, but immense. Were the patient able to feed themselves, the food would be on offer for them to take but as they are not, and they have been asked not to be fed when they cannot eat freely, food is not fed to them.

The sense in which this is a ‘treatment’ should be obvious – it is a treatment in exactly the same way that a tank of oxygen is a treatment for those who cannot get enough from the air, despite oxygen being ‘simply what we all need in order to stay alive. Melanie invokes the comparison between the patient and ourselves when she points to our common need for food, then ignores the fact that we do not need to be fed, but to feed ourselves if we are to avoid death. It is a treatment precisely because it is feeding, artificially sustaining life for someone who would otherwise die.

It is in this context that we have the advance decision to refuse treatment. While capable, the decision is made that life should not be prolonged beyond the point where we are incapable of feeding ourselves and, when the time comes, the doctor is caused to act on this decision by not feeding us. At this point, in the words of the GMC (see earlier link, point 79) “In all cases you should assess the patient for the presence of distressing symptoms, for example signs of pain, breathing difficulties, confusion, and dry mouth. Symptoms should be alleviated appropriately following up to date professional guidance”. That is to say, the doctor should ensure that the patient suffers as little as possible. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“To give doctors no choice but to comply forces them to act against their ethical principles and their conscience.”

By which she means that the traditional principle of ‘First do no harm’ is being violated and doctors are forced to kill their patients. The latter point, I hope we’ve dealt with, the former hopefully requires only reconsideration of the principle of not treating those who are competent to refuse. Take the well-worn example of Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions – would we harm a believer by forcing a blood transfusion on them, even if it saved their life? Melanie, on this basis, would be forced to say no – for the believer to die would be the harm. However, by ignoring the religious beliefs of the patient we ignore their autonomy and ability to live their lives as they see fit. We undermine their self-identity and force them to live a life that they do not approve of and be a person they do not want to be. If that is not a harm, I am not sure what is. And, if we take this line in the case of the individual who is still capable, we have to take it for those who lose that capability – the undermining of their self-identity by ignoring their wishes and imposing your own values on them is the same in both cases. This is the direct opposite of the accusation I quoted at the start of this piece that “Many of them [‘leading’ doctors] subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Implicit throughout this piece is the assumption that living is an end in itself which, while a perfectly valid opinion is not one shared by all. Indeed, I would say that it was a denigration of our humanity to reduce it in this way to mere biological life and the value of life is value we create through our committments and investments. While I can understand the fear which Melanie plays on,³ suffering is not limited to the physical. The Mental Capacity Act is a recognition of that fact and allows both Melanie and myself to construct our lives according to our own values to avoid what we class as harms and suffering. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing and it does doctors credit that they are upholding it.

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¹ It is an inspiring, life affirming piece of legislation and I am proud to pay taxes to sustain the legislature that created it. I am unashamedly partisan about this – it easily and comprehensively replaces the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951) as my favourite bit of legislation. If we want to thump tubs, as the Mail often does, it makes me proud to be British, underlining as it does key principles of respect for autonomy and compassion.

² Here I crib slightly from Dworkin’s Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Cambridge: CUP, 1988.

³ As, without irony, she goes from “Such doctors are … playing on people’s fear of dying in extreme pain or suffering” to “The terrible irony is that, out of the similar fear of hideous suffering which leads people to make ‘living wills’, they may be instructing doctors to cause them to suffer by starving and dehydrating them to death”, overlooking the ethical principles and conscience she sees as underlying the medical profession which would ameliorate this suffering.

Britain’s a world-leader in sharia banking – but we haven’t grasped the sinister and dangerous implications

Right, just a quickie, because this is fast becoming a blog about Melanie Philips, but my attention was drawn to this and it seemed a little, erm, questionable.

The $18billion (£12bn) in assets of Britain’s Islamic banks are said to dwarf those of Muslim states such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Egypt. And there are also 55 colleges and professional institutions offering education in Islamic finance in Britain – more than anywhere else in the world.”

Just to start with, having more money invested in sharia compliant banks than Bangladesh manages is not what I’d call impressive, or threatening. While being a Muslim nation, Bangladesh is also very, very poor. I haven’t the time to check what the status of sharia compliant banking is in, say, Egypt, but I’m guessing you don’t know how popular/legally accepted it is either. All we have is a list of countries, we know nothing about their circumstances. Before we know how impressive the £12 billion is, let’s not panic.

What they refuse to acknowledge is the real price that is to be paid for this. They don’t understand that the spread of sharia banking in Britain and America is a significant part of the attempt to Islamise Britain and America. Acceptance of sharia finance furthers the Islamist objective of gradually legitimising Islamic sharia law more generally in the west.”

I vaguely remember something similar reminding me of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – who has this nefarious scheme to Islamise the West? A few terrorist groups do not an international conspiracy of Masons and bankers make. And surely the legitimisation of sharia banking only helps legitimise sharia banking, not the whole system of sharia. I can approve of a tidy return on my capital without also agreeing that apostates can be stoned.

The point which is being missed is that all who use it must conform to the dictates of sharia law. Sharia financial institutions may not be making this clear now – they don’t want to frighten people away – but at some point that IOU of sharia-compliance will be called in. This is how sharia-compliance will be spread to both the Muslim and non-Muslim population.”

While there is still capital available for lending in a competitive banking system, any company whose sharia compliant loan is called in will find one elsewhere. The price of pork is unlikely to fall on the basis of lending blackmail anytime soon.

Any Western institution that endorses sharia-compliant products therefore effectively endorses the extremist ideology behind it of conquering the west for Islam, whether it knows it or not.”

No, again, you endorse the product you’ve bought into, not the principles behind it. In exactly the same way, worshipers of the Church of England do not, merely by virtue of weekly donations, endorse the arms companies the Church invests in. You are still entirely free to oppose them or to find alternative places of worship run along similar, but less offensive, lines.

The most important point to grasp is that Islam recognises no authority superior to sharia. Sharia banks will therefore not recognise the superior authority of the law of the land. When trillions of pounds and dollars are locked into them, who will argue with them?”

A redundant point – the Law still recognises no law higher than the Law.

But charity in Islam is more like solidarity. So some of this money donated to Islamic charities may well find its way to organisations promoting jihad and supporting suicide bombing including Hamas, Hezbollah, the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and Islamist madrassas in places like Pakistan.”

See earlier point about the Law – particularly in this case the laws on money laundering and funding of proscribed groups – and watch them try.

Only certain Islamic authorities are entitled to issue the religious rulings or fatwas that can recognize investments as sharia-compliant. But the people and institutions making the decisions about where this money is sent are themselves often highly questionable.”

Indeed they are, which counsels caution on which product you invest in/borrow from, but doesn’t demolish the principle of sharia banking as such. In the same way, the fact that some banks have been very badly run does not mean you should avoid usury.

What has to be understood is that sharia finance is simply a modern jihadi strategy to help Islamise Britain’s institutions and society. It was devised in the mid-20th century by the ideologues who promoted the radical Islamism that threatens us today.”

And here’s the rub – how, exactly, does the banking ‘Islamise’? What would ‘Islamise’ even mean in practice? The fact the local mosque holds my mortgage does not make me any more likely to worship Allah. It wouldn’t make me any more likely to subscribe to any Islamic principle. So long as there are non-Islamic banks I can seek a remortgage from, it is never possible that they can. I still find their fruitier beliefs repugnant and continue to resist their enforcement through the democratic process. The law is still the law and will still be upheld. Nothing in this article offers any reason to believe otherwise. It’s just paranoia.

To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available, just to uphold a brutal dogma, is a sickening assault on family life

Right, just to justify another mention of the redoubtable Melanie (although, in my defence, she’s been extremely busy recently), I’ll start with the conclusion of her column and work my way backwards:

“The underlying agenda behind gay adoption, as it is behind the whole gay rights movement, is nothing to do with protecting the rights of gay people. Were it really so, there would be no objection. No-one should be discriminated against simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality.

That does not mean, however, that gay lifestyles must be regarded as of equal value to heterosexual households when it comes to the raising of children. To say that anyone who makes such a distinction is prejudiced is to turn reality on its head.

But that is indeed the whole point of the gay rights movement – to destroy the very notion of heterosexual norms of sexual behaviour and the definition of the family so that gay lifestyles can present themselves as ‘normal’.”

Which is an opinion.

So how did we reach this bold conclusion? Well, via

“The reason why adoption is so successful at raising healthy, well-adjusted children is that it replicates as far as possible the biological mother and father whose presence in the family is so crucial to the well-being of their children.

The prevailing argument that all types of family are as good as each other as far as the children are concerned simply isn’t true. While some children emerge relatively unscathed from irregular households, children need to be brought up by the two people ‘who made me’ – or, in adoptive households, in a family which closely replicates that arrangement.

Where that does not happen, the child’s deepest sense of his or her identity as a human being is at some level damaged.”

Now I like my sub-Freudian rhetoric about concept formation in the young as much as the next man, but sometimes I find myself yearning for something a little more substantial. Doesn’t Melanie have anything more compelling to hang her conclusion on? Well, as it happens, there is this:

“Such people routinely claim that research shows there are no adverse outcomes for children from same-sex adoption. These claims are totally untrue. The fact is that there are virtually no studies of children adopted by gay couples – or raised by male same-sex couples. In general, studies of same-sex child rearing are in turn extremely thin on the ground and methodologically too unsound to be authoritative.”

Now here is the crux. This is an empirical question – there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Or, if we’re picky, answers which have more support from evidence and answers which have less. Your average person on the street, although they have access to the evidence to make this judgement, tend not to have the time. We could find out, but we have lives to lead. Instead we rely on authority. A comparable example would be a war abroad – in principal we could find out what’s going on ourselves, but we’re busy. You can see where this is leading. Newspapers, surely, are there to inform. On matters of opinion it’s all well and good to say ‘there is an editorial line – we are pro-X and anti-Y’, but on matters of fact you’re either informing or misinforming. Leaning as we do on the authority of those who have the time and inclination to look at the evidence, we should be able to expect, at the very least, that newspapers debating fact have looked at the evidence.

Which is why I get worried when the Mail routinely denies climate change, ignoring bodies of evidence and scientific studies. Or, as now, when Melanie ignores scientific data en route to telling the non-homosexual members of her readership that the Left is marginalising them and their way of life in favour of reprobates¹. If Melanie tells us there’s no evidence for healthy children from same-sex relationships and we know no better, we assume she probably knows better than we do. She has the evidence, we don’t.

Except she doesn’t. She denies that there is any, then speculates on what she believes is probably true. As it happens, she’s wrong. As one set of researchers puts it, this is a “growth industry” (Stacey and Biblarz, 2001). I thought I’d start with something nice and small scale – a single, peer reviewed study from an academic journal. A quick straw poll of journals with likely sounding names dredged up Brewaeys et al. (1997), who concluded “These results, like those of prior research (Steckel, 1987; Patterson, 1994, 1995; Flacks et al., 1995) indicate that child and family development in lesbian mother families is similar to that of heterosexual families.”. Feeling that this might just be a lucky stab, I tried to find a multi-article review² in a peer reviewed journal, instantly alighting on Patterson (2006) (“Does parental sexual orientation have an important impact on child or adolescent development? Results of recent research provide no evidence that it does. In fact, the findings suggest that parental sexual orientation is less important than the qualities of family relationships. “)

There was still a risk of lucky picking, so I went one further – are there any serious medical/psychological associations who have voiced an opinion on the matter? As it happens, yes – the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and even the American Psychoanalytic Association support adoption by same-sex couples, to name but three. I have not found any serious organisation with a position on the matter who are against it.

This is not hard. This information is readily available with only the lightest searching. Melanie and the fact-checkers at the Mail have no excuse for not knowing that when she says “These claims are totally untrue”, her claim is, in fact, totally untrue. A newspaper isn’t just a throwaway item – if it weren’t able to influence they wouldn’t be wasting their time with it.  They have a responsibility to come down on the right side of factual arguments, whatever the position they want to take in debates on ‘morality’ or ‘standards’. To do otherwise is to cheat and fool their audience into believing that their bigotry carries the weight of scientific fact.

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¹ And just while we’re thinking of the Left; surely Melanie has her left/right distinctions wrong – human rights are, and always are, libertarian matters. They are about what people cannot do to you. When we talk about the right to adopt, we’re not talking about granting homosexuals a boon, we’re talking about not standing in their way. Which is what she’s talking about when she conjures her evidence that same-sex partnerships harm children – there is a reason, she feels, to stand in the way, to annul what would be a right in the natural scheme of things. She’s totally upside-down, the Right should be rallying to the cause of the individual, not weighing itself down with tradition and small-c-consevatism.

² When originally published, this said ‘meta-analysis’. I corrected it because it wasn’t a meta-analysis, and I wanted to look like less of an idiot. Apologies for the mistake.³

³ Although, if you want a meta-analysis, try one which informed the decision of the American Academy of Pediatrics (above): Allen and Burrell (1997) Comparing the Impact of Homosexual and Heterosexual Parents on Children: Meta-Analysis of Existing Research Journal of Homosexuality 32:19-35

Arrogant, ignorant and out of his depth, is Banana Boy Miliband our worst Foreign Secretary ever?

I’ve touched previously on the paranoid style in Daily Mail articles, but I thought this was quite impressive even by usual standards.

“Beyond hectoring this country’s allies in this way, Miliband also remains a global warming zealot. This is even though the world’s climate is actually cooling, the ice is expanding, the seas aren’t rising at a rate which should concern anyone and there is overwhelming evidence that the whole man-made global warming panic is an anti-west scam of unprecedented proportions.”

I’ve spoken before about climate change in the Mail and I’ll not do it again so soon. What I find more interesting is the idea that it’s a conspiracy  – who by, and for what purpose? Is the West ripping off itself, or is this some sort of evil developing world scheme to hobble our once proud industry further? How have they managed it? I mean, it is a hell of a scheme – it’s not just Miliband they’ve fooled/bought, this con is big. A lot of people who really should know better have gone and got the wrong answer to a simple either-or question. That’s a good scam.

“Much of this comes from a way of looking at the world through a highly ideological and distorting prism. Miliband is very much a child of the post-modern era in which the dominant  belief system of the progressive classes comprises ‘soft power’ – under which negotiation, legal processes and compromise take the place of war whose objective is actually to defeat an enemy with an unconscionable and non-negotiable agenda; ‘trans-nationalism’, under which the nation state is defined as the source of all the ills of the world; and ‘cultural relativism’, under which the west refuses to hold itself superior in its values to the third world, whose ‘narrative’ of its own oppression and powerlessness thus trumps all attempts by the west to defend itself against the attacks the third world mounts upon it.”

I admit that this juxtaposition reads a little strangely, there were some intervening paragraphs, but I’m assuming that the argument is consistent, and this is the first bit that would seem to reflect back on the dastardly scheme to scam the West. Turns out that all those Tuvaluans with their plans to live in New Zealand once their nation submerges are really only trying to undermine Western values with their narratives of oppression. First the petty cultural relativists¹ let them take our light bulbs, and next it’ll be our wives, castles and prejudices.

What this misses is the perfectly reasonable middle ground between mea culpa and right all along – that the nation state, while having its plus points, can also be guilty of some fairly dodgy things. For example, the system of propping up odious dictatorships as a protection of ones own people is a rum one, as are protectionist tariffs and the Olympics. We can safely question these without giving in to self-flagellation – think of it not as relativism but healthy jingoistic introspection. Thinking things through, we might find that we are, in fact, responsible for some of the ills of the world, and that some ways of improving things may be available through negotiation with those we’ve disadvantaged (or ‘wronged’, should you wish to be accurate).

The idea that we can just pretend that the damage we sometimes cause doesn’t happen is one we should have grown out of before hitting school. We can’t pull girls hair and claim that they’re making it up when they go crying to mummy – it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now. Ad hominem attacks ( “a twerp of the first order”) won’t change that. And claiming that the crafty poor majority are coming to steal you incandescent light bulbs under false pretences before accusing  other people of disconnecting from reality won’t either.

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¹ As an aside, she’s right about cultural relativism – to suggest that ‘x is wrong’ is the same as ‘x is wrong for me, but other people may disagree and are entitled to their opinion’ seems to me to misunderstand the meaning of ‘wrong’. Presumably we’re none of us relativist about, for example, rape – when we say that is wrong, we’re saying exactly what we mean. I’m not sure how ‘chauvinism is wrong’ or ‘causing animals unnecessary suffering is wrong’ are different – that is to say, what makes them different has never been adequately explained to me.