Marriage is dead on its feet, but it’s still the best safeguard for a future Baby P

A glorious example of the pocket intellectual’s most basic argumentative error today from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“The Canadian figures show that  a child is 50 to 100 times safer with natural parents than with a step-parent in the home. The British research found married homes were 33 times safer than those with serial boyfriends. Stable marriage safeguards children.”

Correlation is not causation, nor does it imply causation. I see ‘Peter”s  research and I raise him, as an example, Sidebothama, Heron and ALSPAC Study Team (2006) Child maltreatment in the “children of the nineties”: A cohort study of risk factors Child Abuse and Neglect 30:497-522:

“This study supports previous research in the field demonstrating that a wide range of factors in the parental background, socio-economic and family environments affect the risk of child maltreatment. By combining factors within a comprehensive ecological framework, we have demonstrated that the strongest risks are from socio-economic deprivation and from factors in the parents’ own background and that parental background factors are largely, but not entirely, mediated through their impact on socio-economic factors.”

The Office of National Statistics don’t collect data on marriage by socio-economic status, but taking a couple of proxies, we can have reason to believe that it is deprivation which is underlying both marriage rates and incidence of child abuse in the UK. Taking the most recent data on marriage rates in the UK¹: starting on page 36, table 3.1 – married couples with dependent children tend to be better educated than either co-habiting or lone parents with dependent children². Turning to maps 5.2 on page 74, the geographical distribution of marriage/co-habiting/lone parent families broadly mirrors the geographical distribution of wealth. If you’re unmarried with dependent children, you are more likely to live in a poor area and have a poor quality education. Taking these as proxies for socio-economic status, unmarried people with dependents are more likely to be poor than their married counterparts. Given the research linking poverty to likelihood of abuse, it seems likely that poverty is co-determining abuse and marriage, providing a sensible alternative explanation to their correlation.

On this basis, ‘Peter”s conclusion is somewhat wide of the mark:

“But all those who have connived at the dismantling of marriage, and continue to connive at it, should recognise their own grave guilt in sacrificing the welfare and happiness of children to the selfishness of ‘liberated’ adults who ought, above all, to be shielding the young from harm.”

Marriage is not the good we should be pursuing, but a distraction. Consider how we might ‘promote’ marriage – the discussion tends to be around tax breaks and other financial incentives. Leaving aside for the moment considerations of the efficacy of such policies³, given that you’re more likely to be married with children if you’re middle class to start with, these policies would have the immediate effect of redistributing wealth to the middle-classes. This wouldn’t necessarily entail a decrease in funding for poverty reduction, but would be less effective in reducing abuse than a comparable increase in poverty reduction spending would be. If our object is reducing abuse, giving money to those who already don’t abuse for living lives emblematic of their low likelihood of abuse as an incentive merely to remain in that emblematic state seems counterproductive. To put it more simply, if marriage is merely a symptom of being well off, and abuse a symptom of being poor, we should be treating the root causes of poverty and the marriage will look after itself.

It’s easy to look at the world at some arbitrary point in the past (‘Peter’ chooses 1965 as the date when, for him, everything started going badly wrong), pick differences between then and now and see patterns. We could draw graphs linking global temperature and Tesco’s market share, women in parliament and divorce, number of countries in the EU and UK birth rates. Their correlation, however, would not be enough to imply a link, or enough to base policy on. The fact that you’re less likely to be abused if your parents are married is not a good reason to promote marriage if it’s only another way of saying you’re less likely to be abused if you’re well-off. It would be nice to believe, as ‘Peter’ seems to, that marriage is the panacea for all social ills, but it’s almost certainly more complicated than that.

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¹ Incidentally, if you’re looking for an eloquent precis of the difference between correlation and causation, you could do worse than the box on page 39.

² Tables 3.9a and b, page 43, show the knock-on effect from this, as you’re more likely to continue in education if you’re in a family with married parents, educational status and marriage acting in a declining spiral.

³ Such policies seem to rest on the assumption that people will happily live together if only there was enough financial incentive – that a couple of hundred a year from the government will save troubled marriages, or that such money will encourage people whose relationship is not solid enough for them to choose to marry currently to form a stable and lasting marriage. Which n those terms, it seems more likely that such policies will merely reward people who were staying together anyway.

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Baby P’s mother: The final injustice

Allison Pearson’s column today shows the nice dividing line between due process and mob rule:

“So now we are allowed to call him Peter. Baby P finally has a name. Yet the identity of the man and woman who caused his death remains a closely guarded secret. How come guilty adults enjoy more protection than an innocent child ever did?”

Some wonderful emotive sensation to get us going – we’re asked to consider why people who currently subject to legal investigation are given the anonymity not on offer to their victim. There are some very obvious answers to this – the protection, in this case, is temporary and genuine. This is the same as anonymity for Baby Peter – whose anonymity, if anything, went further, being not just temporary but, to some extent since we don’t know his surname, ongoing. In Peter’s case, however, it is unclear what genuine protection anonymity offered – the covering up of his name had more to do with securing a fair trial for those implicated in his death, rather than anything substantive to protect him. At most, it aimed at ensuring a right to justice for him. Allison is deliberately conflating the genuine protection anonymity offers to the adults with an anonymity which would be almost entirely pointless to offer to the victim. At the same time, she invites comparisons between the physical vulnerability of the Baby with the vulnerability of the adults, suggesting that they are being screened from a similar violence which is their due.

“The law, as we saw in the trial of the brute and his girlfriend for a separate crime at the Old Bailey last week, does not protect vulnerable children. Instead, it may end up shielding the adults who abuse them.

It makes a four-year-old girl come to an intimidating court to relive the trauma of being raped at the age of two.”

As a point of order, it should be noted that the person who made a four-year-old girl come to court was the person found guilty of raping her – who knew what they had done but tried to avoid taking responsibility for it. It should be noted that the court did all it could to make the experience less intimidating for the victim – removing wigs and conducting communication through videos rather than having the girl there in person. The alternative to this approach would be that no evidence was adduced at all in open court for these rapes taking place. That would not protect vulnerable children, but mean that someone who raped children got away with it. Alternatively, it would mean removing the solid principle of law that you have the opportunity to question evidence brought against you, allowing convictions on mere hearsay. No one wants to see children testifying in court, but when they do it is unfair to blame the justice system for it.

“The jury was not told the adults in the dock were also the couple in the Baby P horror show. The woman was found not guilty of cruelty to the raped child. Do you really think this would have happened if the court had known how she hoodwinked officials during Peter’s brief life? Of course not.”

Here Allison comfortably answers her own question as to why people in criminal cases are allowed anonymity. The fact that Baby P’s mother was involved in the Baby P case says nothing about her involvement in this case. The fact that you are guilty of one crime does not make you automatically guilty in all similar cases. It might make you more likely, but how is a jury to distinguish honest judgements of probability from the natural animosity which would stem from knowing that the person in front of them had committed something heinous previously? Surely there is a right to be tried for the crime you’ve been accused of, and not for others which you’ve already been convicted of?

“Do I sound angry? Well, too bad. Who will stand up for these children if their mothers won’t?

The brute, the mother and their lodger will all be sentenced on May 22 for ‘ causing or allowing the death’ of Baby P. The brute, whom Peter knew as ‘Dad’, can expect to get a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Perhaps the baby torturer could attend a woodwork class in prison and see if he comes out with his head still on.”

And so it ends – with the actual blood lust only hinted at in the introduction, carefully couched as a suggestion for the baby torturer to run a gauntlet of others fulfilling Allison’s desires. The anger is understandable, the feeling that a fixed sentence is insufficient is understandable, the abhorrence is understandable. It stems, however, from the feeling that this person has been brought bang to rights, a feeling which we have because we know our legal system to be fair and impartial with our juries unbiased by former prejudices. Were we to follow Allison’s prescriptions and take away protection from those we ‘know’ are guilty because we’ve shown them to be guilty of other things, that confidence would be gone. At which point we wouldn’t just have mob justice, but mob injustice as we started woodworking the genuinely innocent, fitted-up and reformed. Some guilty would, no doubt, ‘get what was coming to them’, while others would walk, free to carry on doing whatever abhorrent things they did while the innocent literally took the rap. Justice requires a uniformally fair system, even for people we don’t like.

What are you ashamed of Ms Winslet… there is absolutely nothing wrong with being middle class

Much ado about nothing, courtesy of Stephen Glover:

“I suspect Ms Winslet may be exaggerating a little. I mean the idea that she was working class is rubbish. And the fact that she is at such pains to lay claim to this accolade tells us a great deal about Kate Winslet, and quite a lot about modern attitudes to class.”

To bring you up to speed, Kate Winslet gave an interview to Marie Claire in which, among other things, she laid claim to working class origins. Stephen feels this is important.

“What fascinates me is that Kate Winslet should be so anxious to pretend that she is working class. Why disown your origins? Is there, in the back of her mind, something wrong with being middle class? Has it almost become a dirty word?”

Stephen here begs the question – he assumes that Winslet is ‘disowning’ her origins, rather than merely disagreeing with him over what they are. For example, Kate may be a good Marxist and believe that, since her father clearly was not party to the ownership of the means of production, he was working class. Alternatively, following Thompson and Hickey ¹, she may feel that the preponderance of blue collar and service sector jobs her father took, combined with his low income made him working class. To put it simply, she may disagree with Stephen’s reading that:

“Her error is to confuse a person’s class with the amount of money which he or she earns. Our Kate thinks that because her family was poor it was working class.

But there have always been people who earn more money through hard, physical work than some members of the middle class do in less strenuous occupations. Equally, there are impoverished members of the aristocracy.”

Here Stephen is confusing class with social grouping – an aristo who relies on his labour to survive is working class, in the same way that a working emo is, for the simple reason that however you define it, class is not an inherited genetic trait. Simultaneously, Stephen appears to be following the aforementioned Thompson and Hickey by calling the professional sector ‘middle’ and the manual sector ‘working’ and ignoring Kate’s assignment of her father to the latter. The money here is a straw man – Kate says that her father was poor and blue collar, not just poor.

From this uncertain base, we get to the meat of the piece, as Stephen has a pop at the sort of person Kate might be:

“There is, though, a sizeable group of people, usually Leftist, sometimes intellectual, sometimes pseudo-intellectual, who sneer at traditional middle-class values.

These might include hard work, thrift, a certain moral conservatism (though that is not so closely associated with the middle classes as it used to be) and a suspicion of fashionable trends, whether in art or fashion.”

The very idea of traditional values and conservatism (moral or otherwise) is a ‘Rightish’ one, based as it is on the status quo which favours the ruling social groups – the money, the landed, the religious and the male – so it is unsurprising that those who sneer at them tend to fall on the left. Indeed, the label ‘leftish’ tends to be applied only to those in opposition to such values, regardless of their actual political alignment – feminism, for instance, tends to be seen as ‘leftish’ despite its clear libertarian underpinnings in the right to self-determination and freedom from constraint. There is also a problem here in Stephen’s post hoc appropriation of traditional values as being ‘middle class’ – the fact that he feels Kate to be of middle class stock yet (possibly) in opposition to these values suggests that they are not definitional, but merely coincidental, that is, values often held by the middle classes rather than values which define someone as being part of the middle class.

So when Stephen asks:

“Why would someone born into this class wish to disown it?”

it’s a non-question. The ‘disowning’ suggests a rigid and obvious categorisation which is not the case. Stephen’s proposed answer (“For reasons of snobbery, I suggest.”) is mere mud thrown at people who disagree with his conception of the the correct values to hold. It is possible to see yourself as middle class and passionately disagree with the values Stephen feels are ‘middle class’, just as you can see yourself as working class and share them. The former position isn’t snobbery, any more than the latter is grasping. Snobbery is feeling superior to someone else merely by virtue of some defining feature, such as being comfortable with your perceived class – and writing an article to prove it.

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¹ eg. Thompson, W. and Hickey, J. (2005) Society in Focus Boston, MA: Peason

Oh, dear! That was a total dog’s breakfast

A column startlingly rank in its unpleasantness today from Jan Moir, ostensibly talking about the pre-Budget press breakfast hosted by the Chancellor and his wife:

“Never mind the Budget, what about that ghastly budget breakfast? Alistair and Margaret Darling’s stagey repast on Wednesday morning was more theatrical than an end-of-the-pier Christmas panto – and slightly less believable.”

Quite apart from this missing the point spectacularly¹, the meanness of spirit evident in the sentence is striking – Darling is a man derided as being almost inhumanly dull (to take an example, in his sketch on the budget yesterday, fellow columnist Quentin Letts described Mr Darling as ‘the voice of accountancy manuals made flesh‘), and yet when he does try and present himself in a more relaxed setting he’s set upon. Which way should we have him – personable or inaccessible? Inaccessible it seems:

“‘The regrettable message from this most bogus of brekkies is that the Treasury thinks we are all as stupid as a huckleberry muffin.

It is obvious Mr Darling starts the day with nothing more than a bracing glass of tap water and a frozen suppository.”

Now, there is an obvious debate to be had around the presentation of politics, how necessary it is to have photo ops of you and your wife prior to giving the Budget speech and the idea of the paradox of liberal democracy², but surely we can have it without resorting to personal attacks? Apparently not:

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I bet it’s the first time Mrs Darling has had a frock on at breakfast time since the day she got married.

In her previous life, as a journalist on a Scottish newspaper, her occasionally frowsy appearance meant she was sometimes mistaken for the office cleaner.”

It seems we can’t even avoid collateral damage.³ Somewhere in all of this mud was a point about the manufactured nature of political image, but what Jan determindly misses is her own role in it. She presents a series of caricatures, drumming home the idea of the robotic Darling, his slovenly wife and their snobbish life when they’re off-duty, people disconnected from the electorate they are trying to appeal to. Her objection is the gulf between this ‘truthful’ depiction and the depiction of the Darling’s at breakfast, without stopping to wonder whether the former has bred the latter.

“Look. Kissing babies and posing for unlikely pix may be a necessary, regrettable part of the political landscape, but please, Darlings, don’t insult us too much.”

It isn’t, it’s completely unnecessary. We could be discussing policies, but instead we’re reducing everything to a soap opera of character misjudgements and personal attacks. This column does nothing to improve matters, it just further constructs the public image which the Chancellor will need to oppose if he is to get his message across and be taken seriously. While objecting to the cheapening of politics through theatrics, the column itself cheapens it, defeating what little object it had. To do it so poisonously only compounds the fault. If there’s no place for Darling’s breakfast there should certainly be no place for this.

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¹ It’s similar to bemoaning the traditional photo op hosted on the steps of number 11 with the red box – the Chancellor would never wave it about like that if the cameras weren’t there, it’s all a sham.

² Which essentially runs that the more you tell people what you’re doing as a politician, the more likely they are to believe you’re a liar.

³ As a side point,  if you need to apologise or justify your comment before you make it, you probably shouldn’t be making it – it suggests a knowing guilt that what you’re about to say transgresses some sort of boundary.

We CAN turn back the clock and make our schools places of excellence. Here’s how…

An extraordinarily wrong-headed column on education today from ‘Peter’ Hitchens:

“All the solutions to all our problems are obvious but shocking.”

Which is reassuring, as I had previously thought that the complexities of life from which our problems arise would lead to equally complex solutions. I for one am quite glad that our fixes will be quick, and can only hope that the solutions ‘Peter’ suggests will also be effortless and painless with regard to me.

“Teachers need to be given back the power to use corporal punishment. We should leave the European Convention on Human Rights and other treaties which prevent the operation of commonsense British laws.”

One of the things which is interesting about the argument for corporal punishment in schools is that it’s never made in other areas – for example, if we take that most disciplined of institutions, the British Army, no one suggests that it needs to add slapping its recruits around a bit to its roster of punishments. Even in terms of convicted criminals, the debate tends to revolve more around making prisoner’s lives more difficult through enforced labour and harsher imprisonment conditions than it does around physical violence¹. There seems to be something special about schools and children that renders violence a useful solution to their discipline problems. Were this the case, it would be fascinating, as it would overturn the large body of psychological research that finds that positive punishments are less effective than either positive or negative reinforcement. ‘Peter’ seems to be unaware that research in this area (eg.) in fact suggests that this is not the case, and that corporal punishment is not helpful in putting children on the straight and narrow. We should be careful about enacting commonsense measures which the evidence suggests are ineffecatious.

“The school-leaving age should be reduced to 15. Secondary schools should be divided between the vocational and the academic, with selection on merit.”

This falls short of ‘Peter’s previous calls for a re-introduction of the grammar school system, but suffers from the same problem – its ahistoricity. If we assumed that everyone were the same and started from the same point, the segregation of children’s futures at 11 might not be so objectionable. However, in the world as we live it we have children who are naturally advantaged by supportive parents, nurturing home environments and access to stimulation and a culture of intellectualism at home, while we also have children without such advantages and with positive disadvantages such as family histories of academic non-achievement. To expect schools by 11 to have ironed out these advantages to such a degree that stupid rich children get the vocational education that they ‘merit’ while their intelligent poor counterparts are groomed for the life of intellectual activity that they ‘merit’ seems a bit fanciful. However, should schools not be able to do this we are left with a system which confirms educational and class divides, making them generational. The taxes of the underclass will go to confirming their status in the underclass, which is not so much a restoration of “order in our State” as a further corruption of it.

“The law permitting ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawsuits should be repealed. So should the Children Act 1989 and the other social workers’ charters which have robbed sensible adults of authority for two decades.”

Here I believe ‘Peter’ is referring to The Courts and Legal Services Act (1990) which opened the way for conditional fee agreements. The particularly interesting thing about these is that in the first few years since 2000 when Legal Aid was abolished for personal injury claims the number of people claiming compensation for personal injury fell suggesting that, rather than making it being easy to seek compensation, things are actually harder. It’s also worth remembering that ‘compensation culture’ isn’t about whingers getting money they shouldn’t, but about the realisation of a legal and social right which, in many cases, will largely go towards the costs of incurring an injury. Schools owe a duty of care to their pupils, and this will remain the case if it is harder for pupils to seek compensation for injuries incurred while at school. Making it harder merely introduces injustice into the system while simultaneously removing the incentive for schools to ensure that appropriate standards of care are met. Quite how abolishing the Children Act (1989) – with its seemingly sensible provisions insisting children are educated and protected from ill-treatment or neglect and that local authorities seek to reduce the need for interventions and, where possible, enable the family home to be maintained – will help the education system is unclear. This is somewhat weak – if ‘Peter’ is really proposing genuine solutions, he should at least explain how these solutions will resolve genuine problems, rather than just listing things he dislikes.

“Then we should embark on a Restoration Of The Married Family Act, which would end the many-headed attack on stable married families and restore the lost position of fathers in the home, one of the major causes of bad behaviour by boys.

Divorce should be difficult. Every social institution, every law, tax-break and benefit, should discriminate clearly and unapologetically in favour of those parents committed to each other by the marriage bond.”

Given the obvious benefits which already flow from being in a stable relationship if you have children, not to mention the unpleasantness of relationship breakdown and divorce, it is hard to see what difference tax breaks will make. Divorce is not easy, especially if you have children, representing as it does the failure of a common project with someone who was a major source of support and an independent arbiter of your self-worth. It would be interesting to know who ‘Peter’ is aware of who is having a happy and painless divorce but would have equally happily stayed together were there a little more money in it. Equally, while the incentivisation of stable relationships is understandable, how many people would actually marry for the money? It seems more likely that this would not disincentivise having a child out of wedlock, but merely penalise it further than in its natural state (and being a single parent is hardly easy), meaning further hardships for the child to cope with ensuring further difficulties in school.

“There are plenty of people still living who can testify that when such rules operated, millions of British people lived free and happy lives, learned useful things in orderly schools, did not need to be under police surveillance, pass through metal detectors on their way to classes or be watched by CCTV cameras.”

‘Peter’ is here confusing correlation with causation – the fact that things were different in the past does not mean that these differences are the causes of our current difficulties. For comparison, when such rules operated the Soviet Union held sway over the whole of Eastern Europe, but it is unlikely that the discussion and enactment of the Children Act brought about the end of Communism. Factors such as rising inequality, the generational compounding of such inequality, the lack of access to recreational facilities in our inner cities, changes in diet and  erosion of communities will have played a part. Simply making things harder for children and families on the margin, be it through punitive beatings, restriction of access to legal rights or financially penalising them will not improve the situation.

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¹ Although, if you can find a copy, Smith (1934) Corporal Punishment for Cruelty The Howard of Criminal Justice 4:15-18 gives an interesting view on the state of the debate at a point where people were still suggesting that flogging prisoners would do some good.

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.