Tim Farron’s religious folly

I was born and brought up in a country where I knew that, on account of my family’s faith, I was barred by law from marrying the sovereign. Not much more than a theoretical hardship, since until recently the law would anyway prevent me as a man from marrying the heirs to the country’s throne because they happen to be male as well. In any case, by the measure of social progress fawningly used at the time of the marriage of Catherine Middleton and William Windsor, I’m still two generations too close to a coal miner.

Nor has any Catholic ever been Prime Minister of the UK. Up to and including Blair’s flirtation with Rome, there was an assumption that, while not strictly illegal, it might be practically difficult or impossible for a Catholic to fulfill the role, given the office’s involvement in church matters.

On the other hand, I grew up knowing that one of America’s greatest presidents was a Catholic, like me. And whether I was first told at primary school or at home, I knew from an early age that John F. Kennedy had given a great and important speech that had persuaded non-Catholic Americans, including Presbyterian and Jewish Americans, that they could safely vote for him without fearing that he was answerable to Rome; or that his decisions in the Oval Office would be made with Catholic doctrine in mind.

In this context, Tim Farron’s stated reasons for resignation are a massive step backwards. There should be no religious disqualification to political office, and Farron’s is self-imposed. If the illiberalism of his church is more important to him than the liberal instinct he claims always to have had, he should have taken some time for private reflection, and in the public sphere worn his religion much more lightly.

I have some sympathy with what seems likeliest to be his position; that whether or not something is a “sin” is a religious rather than a political question, and that he therefore won’t discuss that as a politician. But in how he has, in fact, chosen to answer and not answer the question (as well as in his earliest votes cast on gay rights issues) he has allowed that private religion into his public role.

But it was by using this as justification for his resignation where he did harm. He has explicitly supported the idea that being religious is incompatible with leading a political party with any claim to liberalism. He has projected his own fundamental illiberalism (or at least, his difficulties reconciling his religious and public life) onto others in public life who have personal faith.

We live in a country which has not yet managed fully to reintegrate the Christian sect that I was born into, where the ruling party courts sectarian trouble by seeking the support of the DUP, and where intolerance of Islam is on the march. This is the context in which Tim Farron seems to have confirmed the worst fears of secularists; he has raised the religious bar an inch or two, at least for those who don’t fit the establishment as cosily as do the “sons of the manse” and the “vicars’ daughters.”

I’m sorry, Brenda, but the only moral thing to do is to have another election

It doesn’t matter that I despise the medieval social views of the Democratic Unionist Party, their creationist and climate-change denialist leanings.

It doesn’t matter that another election would, with any luck, wipe out the Tories and bring in the first truly socialist government of my lifetime.

Were Arlene Foster the fluffiest of bleeding-heart liberals, were the Tories committed to the redistribution of wealth and social welfare, I would still hold a new election necessary. Should the Queen’s speech not pass and Jeremy Corbyn thus have an opportunity to form a government then he, too, would be beholden to refuse and precipitate another election.

The simple arithmetic of the make-up of the House of Commons as it stands is that neither of the main parties can form a working majority without the support of the DUP, and this cannot stand. The Good Friday Agreement—which we are now so accustomed to that we forget quite what an extraordinary achievement it was—is predicated upon the Westminster government acting as a neutral broker ensuring effective power-sharing in the devolved government of Northern Ireland. It is blindingly obvious that dependency upon sectarian votes in any way compromises this.

No government should be formed in Westminster that is reliant—whether through formal coalition or looser agreements—upon the votes of any of the sectarian Northern Irish parties for its majority. It so happens that the only such party that both has seats and the intention to take them up is the DUP; but I would hold this position for the SDLP, the UUP, Sinn Féin (were they to take up their seats), excepting only the non-sectarian Alliance party.

Any kind of dependence in Westminster upon sectarian votes imperils the peace process—which is still a process, not an established fact—in Northern Ireland. The irresponsibility—to put it mildly—of the Tories in even entering talks with the DUP would be breath-taking were they not already, clearly, lacking a moral compass of any kind. Theresa May is attempting to cling on to power at the risk of imperilling twenty years of progress towards peace.

This is bigger than austerity; this is bigger than socialism. This is way beyond party politics, Brexit, or the extreme annoyance and waste of public funds that yet another election would be.

On Saturday I will be protesting this coalition in London. I urge you to do the same, or to write to your MP (especially if they are a Conservative) urging them to vote down the Queen’s Speech, and to do the same should Corbyn attempt to pass one.

We need to talk about Theresa

In the wake of the latest senseless act of terror by warped and vicious individuals, the Conservative party may have officially suspended campaigning officially but one cannot help but note that Theresa May’s response qua Prime Minister—that greater regulation of the Internet is needed to fight terrìorism—aligns nicely with her campaign manifesto.

But we need to talk about Theresa, and about terrorism. And we need to talk about money.

One of Theresa May’s showcase “Global Britain” visits was to Qatar, where she made a speech the day before the Brexit negotiations began, stating (not a week after the Westminster attack):

The relationship between the United Kingdom and our allies in the Gulf is not just of great historic value – but also fundamental to our shared future. It is fundamental to our shared security because Gulf security is our security, and together we face the same global threats from terrorism and extremism, as we saw again so tragically in London just last week. Already the United Kingdom is Qatar’s number one destination for foreign direct investment, with investments worth over £35 billion ranging from the iconic Shard to new housing in the Olympic Village in East London. And Qatar is already the third largest market for UK exports across the Middle East and North Africa, with over 600 UK companies already benefitting from the opportunity to support your growing infrastructure and provide goods and services to your people. But this week I hope that we can go further, by laying the foundations for a bold new chapter in this partnership between our nations. Last night we signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding to support Qatar’s 2030 National Vision […] As a global Britain, I am determined that we will be the most committed and most passionate advocate of free trade in the world – and I look forward to continuing these vital discussions on growing our trade and investment as part of hosting the Gulf Co-operation Council in London later this year. […] Through this enduring commitment between our countries and our peoples, let us meet the shared challenges to our security; grasp the shared opportunities for our prosperity; and build a brighter future for the United Kingdom and Qatar, today and for generations to come.

Inspiring stuff.

Putting aside the fact that we are jumping into bed with a state whose economy is basically built upon slavery, the Qatari government openly funds Hamas—precisely that organisation that the Tories are seeking to damn Corbyn for having “friends” in. The Qatari government has also long been accused by experts of supplying arms (some of which, no doubt, were purchased from the lucrative arms deals which May and her predecessor were so eager to line up) and possibly even direct finance to extremist groups in both Libya and Syria, including the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and possibly even ISIS itself. Islamist fund-raisers operate openly in Qatar. In 2014 a bipartisan letter from US Representatives raised the permissive environment for terrorist fund-raising with the US government. Qatar, the country which Theresa May chose to make her flagship post-Brexit “Global Britain” co-operation partner is, in short, Terror Funding Central.

Theresa May has also recently visited Saudi Arabia to promote arms sales—arms sales which she claimed “keep people on the streets of Britain safe.” Once again, let us put aside the hideous, medieval nature of the theocratic dictatorship that is the family of Saud; let us forget that precisely the arms that we sell to Saudi Arabia are used in a brutal and vicious war on Yemen; and let us focus solely upon terror groups. Of course, this goes right back to 9/11, and the 15 out of 19 of the hijackers who were Saudi; but as Al-Qaeda have waned so ISIS have waxed and the Wahhabist extremism which is the idealogical centre of the Saud dominance is utterly committed, as are ISIS, to the destruction of Shi‘a Islam—the links between them run deep. Minimally, alongside Qatar, Saudi authorities have turned blind eyes to the substantial flow of private money from these countries into the coffers of ISIS. One of Hilary Clinton’s leaked emails exposed the reality as it is actually understood by our leaders: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups.” In the news just today is the fact that the Home Office is trying to suppress our own report into terror funding exactly because it focuses upon Saudi Arabia. Theresa May’s own love affair with Saudi Arabia—a country where she only manages to appear in public uncovered and without a male family member because she is a foreign dignitary—is not a new affair either. Back when David Cameron and Chris Grayling’s hideous policy of selling the services of our own Justice Department to the Saudi state—whose “justice” includes floggings and public decapitations—was becoming so obviously toxic that they were forced to drop it, Theresa May was one of those who sought to persuade Cameron to keep the policy in place.

Theresa May offers one solution to extremism: surveillance, surveillance, and more surveillance. She would have us living in a Big Brother state, the Internet entirely regulated because of a minute proportion of the activity on it. Yet she has taken 22,000 police officers off the streets, and seeks to reorient Britain’s economy to be further entwined with precisely the two states most directly accused of funding the extremist Islamist groups. She would sacrifice our safety—as she will our well-being, our welfare, and our health—at the altar of corporate gain.

Theresa May has made you less safe, not more so. Theresa May is a friend of the friends of terrorists. A vote for the Conservatives on June 8th is a vote for placing British arms deals above the security of British citizens.