Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Life and Liberty

Just in case I didn’t already have enough to do in my life, I have started up a new blog on human rights and freedoms on the University of York’s ‘Nouse’ website.

There will no doubt be some crossover between this one and that, but I will not be posting everything up on both blogs, so please do go over and check it out. As always, let me know what you think, and if there’s anything you would like me to blog on.

Happy reading,


Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I don't believe it!

There are occasions when tolerance of mild, secondary deviations within a particular practice or group are acceptable, and in fact necessary, to aid the unification of the group. When people put aside their differences and come together around the fundamentals of their beliefs and values it is a sign both of the strength of a group and of the humility of those within the group.

There are also occasions when this is taken to extents that are not only damaging to the group itself, say by abandoning a key principle of the group, but also defy every scrap of common sense known to man.

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m not talking about the very thorny issue of homosexuality in the church, although some would see that as a prime example of the above. What I am referring to is something of far more concern, and that, if it leads to more of the same, will be disastrous.

Whether or not you hold to every teaching of the bible, it is probably fair to say that most would accept the need for the existence of God. Klaas Hendrikse, a pastor in the Netherlands believes otherwise. He says that he is an atheist believer, adding “the non-existence of God is for me not an obstacle but a precondition to believing in God.”

This would not be a problem if the Protestant Church of the Netherlands was to discredit him and, if he remains unrelenting in his unbelief, strike him off from the Church. Even to outsiders of the Christian faith looking in, surely this is the only sensible course of action. Not so.

In a letter, the relevant church authorities refused to take any disciplinary action against him, saying that any action taken would lead to "a protracted discussion about the meanings of words that in the end will produce little clarity", adding that people have debated the issue of "God's existence" throughout time. Well of course they have, but not while one of those disbelieving in God has remained an ordained member of the Church, they haven’t.

I’m very much in favour of religious and moral debate, but can they not see how utterly ridiculous this affair is? Those who remain faithful within the wider Dutch protestant church must now decided whether they will object to this farcical heresy and request to leave the church (not individually, but faithful congregations would be well advised to seek independence) or to pressure the senior level authorities within the church to push for some biblical common sense.

Can you seriously imagine a Rabbi who denies the covenant between the Jews and Yahweh? Or an Imam who doubts that Mohammed really did see the Angel Gabriel? The propositions are laughable. So is this episode, and the longer it is allowed to go unchallenged, the more of a laughing stock the Dutch Protestant Church will become. And rightly so.

Monday, 20 April 2009

On waterboarding

It is not normally in the nature of this blog for me to upload a post without any of my own input into the discussion. However, there are several things that have prompted me to make an exception on this occasion.

A piece on the Times Online this morning, saying that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, was waterboarded 183 times has redrawn the debate surrounding this form of “harsh interrogation” to the surface.

I was also slightly concerned by James Delingpole’s blog entry that seems almost to make light of waterboarding in order to emphasise his point.

Many people know remarkably little about waterboarding, and what it entails. I feel therefore that I must upload this video of journalist Christopher Hitchens undergoing waterboarding for a Vanity Fair feature. You can read his written account here. I believe this is a video that should be as widely circulated as possible, made by a man for whom I have the utmost journalistic respect:

Sunday, 19 April 2009

It's in the culture, not the nature.

You can see this morning’s episode of the Big Questions here. Once again, despite having my hand up, I didn’t get a chance to speak.

So here is what I would have said:

The problem is not with the MPs themselves. Taking the example of expenses, we need to look at the other professionals in the UK (let’s not waste time comparing ourselves to other countries and then giving ourselves a pat on the back).

Other professionals, such as lawyers or businessmen, have to fill in their expenses to the penny, accounting for all that they have done and spent. My dad used to come back from business trips armed with wads of receipts for small items, such as cups of coffee, and had to go through all of them meticulously.

Currently, 52% of Conservative MPs are from a legal or business background, and 50% of the Labour MPs who were voted in at the last election have come from a professional background. These are not fundamentally scandalous individuals, whatever Guido Fawkes would have us all believe.

The problem is the culture and the system into which the MPs are integrated – a culture that expects them to claim as much as they can, a culture that remains at the regulatory whim of Parliament, and that until recently allowed MPs to purchase items of up to £250 without a receipt. The public has every right to feel outraged at what it has seen in the last two weeks, but the anger should not be directed at the MPs.

Possibly the most important question – how can this be changed? Given that they are self-regulatory, the only change will be from a party in power who promise to clean up the image of MPs, who promise to make them professional again.

The ball now lies very firmly in David Cameron’s court.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Tune in 11.00 Sunday BBC1

This is just a quick reminder to tune in to BBC's Big Questions tomorrow at 11.00 on BBC1. The panelists this week are:

David Davis, former shadow home secretary,
Christiana Rees, member of the CofE synod, has written for the Guardian,
Father Stephen Maughan, a local Catholic Priest,
Sir Stephen Wall, former Diplomatic heavyweight.

The questions are:

Should MPs be beyond reproach?
Will schools be more disciplined if we re-introduced corporal punishment?
Is the Pope a liability?

I am on the second row and am hoping to raise some point about the MPs question. As usual, I will be posting a response here in the afternoon.

Pleas do tune in.



Monday, 13 April 2009

Some more Big Questions

The BBC's Big Question is once again coming to York on Sunday. I am going, and will again post it here and write about any issues that come up.

It is high exam-cramming season, so apologies for the low posting rate. Once May 4th arrives, I hope to be far more proactive at blogging again.

Just a small point - one big question has been raised about the state of the Labour Party following the smear scandal over the weekend.

Was it huge tactical folly, as Alastair Campbell says in today's Times, or nothing to do with the PM, as Alan Johnson said on Today? Or is it a sign of something deeper; a rotting core of New Labour?

Let me know your thoughts (comment here or email me on peter.campbell @


UPDATE 15.43 - I've been flagged to speak on the question of Independent vs. State schools during the Big Questions. Can't say what exactly on at this stage, but watch out for it!