Saturday, July 10, 2010
'I'll end health 'n' safety farce': New British PM vows to cure Labour neurosis
He's got a big hill to climb to achieve that
Britain's health and safety 'neurosis' will end as Labour regulations are torn up, David Cameron reveals today. The Prime Minister pledges to free police, emergency workers and teachers from red tape which has been blamed for creating a culture where someone must be to blame for any mishap.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, he says health and safety has 'gone mad' and promises to implement key advice from a forthcoming government review.
Margaret Thatcher's former Trade Secretary Lord Young will recommend excluding the police, paramedics, ambulance drivers and other emergency services from prosecution under health and safety laws while they are carrying out their duties. His report, commissioned by Mr Cameron, will also propose lifting the red tape which has made many school trips impossible.
Excursions will be legally classified as classroom activities. Parents will be asked to sign a one-off consent form when their child joins a school giving permission for such trips throughout their school career.
People who work from home, or are self-employed, will also be exempted from onerous health and safety 'risk assessments' of their own living spaces.
'These things will happen,' promised the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister said it was clear from 78-year-old Lord Young's work that there was 'too much intrusion' into everyday life from health and safety bureaucracy. 'He has done a brilliant job helped by members of the public who have been sending in examples, including a schoolteacher who sent in a ten-page form that has to be filled out when you do any sort of school trip.'
He said the health and safety obsession had 'encroached into various different parts of national life, whether it's stopping Bonfire Night or stopping an ambulance getting to an emergency. We need to deal with it all in a comprehensive way.'
The Prime Minister said the Government was particularly determined to stop teachers refusing to take pupils on school trips because of red tape.
'We all want our children to have great experiences outside the classroom, whether it's visiting museums or farms or geography field trips or residential courses. We want all the things we had in our own childhood to be available today.
'There is a worry that it's becoming too difficult to do because there are too many forms to fill in, too many risks to assess.
'Of course teachers have to be responsible for those in their charge. But the common law does a huge amount of that anyway without adding these extra layers.'
Mr Cameron did not rule out abolition of the Health and Safety Executive, the quango which oversees law and regulation in the area. 'We do have a good record of health and safety at work in this country, and we have a low level of industrial accidents and that's important.
'You can deal with this problem without jeopardising that at all. The neurosis comes from excessive litigation fears, unclear law, mission creep, Europe, town halls. It's all of those things and we have to deal with each one. That's what we will do.'
Despite the challenges of his new job, Mr Cameron has appeared remarkably unruffled in the first few weeks. But he confessed that while he might appear at ease, 'I'm paddling manically below the surface.' He added: 'I'm finding it a challenge, but a rewarding challenge because after five years of talking I'm finally able to do some doing.'
To add to the pressure on the Cameron family as they adjust to life in Number Ten, the Prime Minister's wife Samantha is weeks away from giving birth to their fourth child.
Cry halt when Islamists take liberties
Comment from Australia. Incitement to violence is not usually regarded as protected free speech and could amount to the crime of sedition
LAST weekend's Hizb ut-Tahrir conference in Sydney, part of a series of events being held around the world by the group to campaign for the formation of a transnational Islamic caliphate, has served to remind us of the main challenge that has emerged to the security of the modern liberal democratic state.
It is not a military threat from another nation state or a threat to borders from people-smuggling. Nor is it a threat posed in secular, ideological terms such a fascism, Stalinism or communism. Today the threat is radical Islamism. Unlike traditional Islam, which sought to avoid modernity, modern Islamism seeks to confront it, seeking not only to expose the incoherence at the heart of secular modernity but to engineer an apocalyptic confrontation with it.
At the vanguard of this movement is Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation). First established in the Palestinian territories in 1953 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group was formed in opposition to the creation of the democratic state of Israel in 1948. Since then, it has grown into a sophisticated worldwide movement with offices across Europe, Asia and Australia.
Islamism's supranational ideal and protean character means that it can organise, plan and recruit much more effectively in Western cosmopolitan cities such as London, Paris or Sydney than from its more traditional homelands in the Middle East or South Asia.
The committed Islamist prefers tactics translated from a national to a transnational battlefield as a means of subverting open democracies and destabilising the alliance structures built by the US during the Cold War.
Islamism also addresses the conflicted allegiances of minority second-generation communities living in the West by offering its recruits a simple explanation and a complete solution to a broad range of grievances. Democracy and Western foreign policy are seen as the root cause of all evil. In order to facilitate the global insurgency and its appeal, its strategists exploit the infrastructure of global communications technology, particularly the internet. Following the Sydney conference, Hizb ut-Tahrir issued a press release denouncing Australian foreign policy, rejecting efforts to engage with "moderate" Islam, and calling on all Muslims to work outside the democratic process.
There's no easy solution to countering this broader challenge of political Islamism and its potential radicalising influence on vulnerable youth. We know that radicalisation by peer pressure and introduction to a firebrand preacher are better predictors of violent extremism than education, unemployment, mental illness or wealth.
Hizb ut-Tahrir's Australian activities and its website introduce and reinforce a sense of alienation among Muslim youth. One way to support mainstream Muslims in addressing this dangerous ideology is to facilitate their engagement online, bringing religious knowledge to bear on issues being debated in extremists' virtual study groups.
We should continue to closely monitor Hizb ut-Tahrir. They take advantage of our tolerance of intolerance and engage in ideological warfare. They seek to create an "us and them" divide with the rest of Australia, including the vast majority of Muslims who don't subscribe to its ideology. Banning the group, however, may prove counterproductive. It could drive radicalisation underground and encourage support for even more extreme views. Penetrating and monitoring these groups poses a particular challenge for our security agencies. But the federal government, having recently committed $10 million to counter radicalisation programs during the next four years, should be examining if we need to change our legal approach to this group.
The sedition laws in the Criminal Code, for example, make it an offence to intentionally urge the use of force or violence by one group in the community against another on the basis of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
Terrorist offences in the Criminal Code target preparatory activity or activity that renders more likely the carrying out of a terrorist act. And some of Hizb ut-Tahrir's extremist material may contravene Australia's anti-discrimination laws. Its inflammatory online material should be examined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to see if a take-down notice should be issued to the group.
We have seen in other parts of the world how the sort of hatred of the West that Hizb ut-Tahrir promotes can turn into violence at short notice. Western democracies such as Australia have an obligation to protect their citizens, and to defend the values and principles of their political system.
Stop policing our thoughts, including the hateful ones
Presenting himself as part John Stuart Mill, part Uncle Sam, the Lib-Con deputy PM Nick Clegg last week launched his Your Freedom initiative for which he NEEDS YOU to help make Britain a ‘less intrusive, more open society’. You log on to the Your Freedom website, propose which nannying New Labour laws and other unnecessary legislation should be fed into the shredding machine of history, and who knows, says Clegg, ‘some of your proposals could end up making it into bills that we bring before parliament’. The ultimate aim, in Cleggspeak, is to ‘restore Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness’.
Okay then. Leaving aside, for now, the small matter that freedom is better understood as a living, breathing thing that individuals exercise every day rather than as a tradition that the authorities must preserve on our behalf, spiked is going to take this initiative in good faith. Over the next two weeks we’ll call for the repeal of various acts of law, in the interests, not merely of restoring certain freedoms, but of clarifying what freedom is and why it is, in our view, the most important thing in society. And to kick off: Clegg, I want you to rip up the Racial and Religious Hatred Act.
Introduced by the New Labour government in 2006, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act is an attack on what is for spiked the most important freedom of all, the freedom upon which all other freedoms are built, the freedom without which we cannot be free-thinking, free-associating, independent citizens: freedom of speech. The act captures the dual fear that has motivated the authorities’ many, myriad attacks on free speech over the past decade and more: their fear of ideas, which they consider to be toxic and virus-like, and their fear of the masses, whom they look upon as an easily stirred-up mob, a pogrom waiting to go forth and decimate.
Building on earlier acts of law that criminalised inciting racial hatred, the 2006 act makes it an offence to ‘stir up religious hatred’, too. It makes it a crime to use words or imagery – explicitly covering everything from placards to plays performed in a theatre to making a recording with the intention of distributing it – which intend to ‘stir up hatred against persons on religious grounds’. The use of any ‘threatening words’ or ‘display of any written material’ which is designed to spread hatred of a religion or its adherents is banned and punishable by a fine or prison sentence.
One of the most striking things about the religious hatred legislation is how determined New Labour was to introduce it, and how keen it was, initially, not only to criminalise the ‘stirring up’ of hatred but also any potentially hurtful criticism and ridicule of a religion and its followers. New Labour first floated the idea of criminalising religious hatred and ridicule after 9/11, when it predicted, wrongly of course, that there would be an outbreak of mob madness against Muslims. After much wrangling, and boosted by another, post-7/7 panic about anti-Muslim uprisings (which again was wrong), New Labour finally introduced the legislation in 2006.
But its outrageously Orwellian desire to make it a crime to ridicule religion was defeated – by comedians, campaigners and, unfortunately, the House of Lords – and the final act contains a clause pointing out that nothing in the legislation ‘prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents’.
This, however, was a shallow ‘victory’. For while New Labour was forced, to its great umbrage, to give up on its illiberal ambitions to curtail open debate about religion and to police and punish some of our thoughts – such as our thoughts of anti-religious ridicule or our feelings of antipathy – it still reserved, and institutionalised, the right of government to police and punish other thoughts we might have – the hot-headed, hateful ones. So effectively we are free to ridicule religions, but not to really, really ridicule them. We are free to ‘dislike’ religious faith (thanks for that, New Labour), but not to hate it and certainly not to express our hatred of it. New Labour might have given up on outlawing the expression of any form of dislike of religion, but its criminalisation of words and images that might ‘stir up of hatred’ of religion still represents the policing of our minds, our emotions, our thoughts, our words.
The authorities’ belief that all heated language is potentially inciteful and dangerous is captured in the terminology used in the Racial and Religious Hatred Act. There was a time when, in legal terms, to incite meant to be in a close relationship with another person or group of people and to try to convince them or cajole them, face-to-face and intensively, to commit a crime. Today the term ‘incitement’ is used far more promiscuously so that everything from a speech at a rally to a Jamaican dancehall song playing at a disco to a placard saying ‘I hate Islam and you should hate it too’ can be said to incite hatred or violence. This reflects a new, degraded view of the public, those listeners to dancehall music and viewers of daft placards, as incapable of rational interpretation, judgement and cool-headedness. In the view of the powers-that-be, all public speakers are now akin to those criminal inciters of old, and all listeners are like their wide-eyed charges, easily led towards doing Something Bad.
Indeed, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act goes even further than using the super-woolly redefined category of ‘incitement’ and instead repeatedly uses the vague phrase ‘stirring up hatred’. And it clearly believes that this hatred can be ‘stirred up’ – whatever that means – in any number of ways and settings. So it outlaws the display of hatred-stirring written material on demonstrations, for example, and also says that the directors, producers and actors in a play that ‘involves the use of threatening words’ that could ‘stir up religious hatred’ are guilty of a criminal offence.
The Act’s refusal to distinguish between criminal conspiracies, heated demos or works of art shows that it believes all words, whatever the context, can be dangerous, and that all people, whether on a rowdy protest or in a quiet theatre, are easily ‘stirred up’. Context and meaning count for nothing when you view the mass of the population as one hateful image away from turning into a super-mob. And this is only one of many pieces of legislation that polices us so patronisingly. Clegg, the obscenity laws, the ban on glorifying terrorism, the treason law and all those word-curbing quangos – from Ofcom to the Advertising Standards Authority – must go too.
Unfortunately, many liberals and atheists campaigned against religious hatred legislation on the basis that it protected religious people but not atheists – us! – from ridicule. And so the final law also outlaws ‘stirring up hatred’ against people on the basis of their ‘lack of religious belief’. This is a travesty, not only because I am most inclined today to stir up hatred (well, to really, really ridicule) New Atheists, with their illiberal, intolerant, screechy streak, but also because it misses the main point: that the authorities have no business policing and punishing our hatred of anything. So long as we don’t physically attack someone or something, we should be free to hate it as much as we like and to tell people that we hate it. Hatred might not always be big and clever (though it can sometimes be a trigger for positive changes, if aimed at dumb political traditions rather than people who believe in God), but it’s a thing that lies in the realm of thought and speech, and the authorities have no business there. If we are not free to hate – that is, to think what we want to think, to feel what we want to feel, and to express it as we see fit – then we are not free.
Intolerant, Insensitive and Downright Annoying
Long and painful self-analysis has revealed that I am the embodiment of the title’s characteristics. Nothing can make me change. Counseling won’t help. Neither will a thorough astrological review. Ditto for yoga or aroma therapy. Not even a session chanting mantras in the hot tub. I cannot change, for I am a Christian.
I am intolerant because I refuse to accept the modern definition of tolerance. This new, enlightened definition did not storm the landscape in hard boots. It did not thrust itself on the American culture as a result of a single, polarizing event. It crept, instead, ever so slowly into our national lexicon. It diffused below the radar of conscience. It succeeded in becoming the anchor of our modern morality.
My old college copy of the American Heritage Dictionary states clearly that to tolerate means to “...recognize and respect, as the rights, opinions, or practices of others whether agreeing with them or not.” With respect to another’s particular inclinations or behaviors, the classic definition of tolerance allows me to honor their freedom while still honoring my conscience. I am able to judge actions, not people, from afar and hold those actions up to the scrutiny of my moral code. Both of our free wills are rightly respected. Makes perfect sense.
The revised definition of tolerance, however, removes my ability to disagree with another’s actions. I am now under pressure to recognize, respect and approve all actions of my fellow man, regardless of where such actions reside on the moral continuum. In other words, I must sanction that which is immoral, unlawful, or just plain sinful to avoid severe penalty. What severe penalty? The notorious badge of “intolerant.” It’s the label that ends the discussion, closes the issue and hisses loudly that its recipient is a social leper. For absolute censorship, I expect “judgmental” added on as well.
So there I am - accused, indicted and executed without a trial. The true import of this penalty is that it now taints everything else that I have to say in the future. Its broad scope ensures that I am properly vilified as one who considers himself above all others, looking down with disdain on a vast ocean of sinners. The sentence passed on me ensures that my moral code is bludgeoned out of existence. It’s been deemed old-fashioned, out-of-touch, or completely unenlightened. I am now persona non grata for my temerity in declaring anyone’s behavior to be wrong.
Funny thing is, in labeling me intolerant my culture fails to realize that I am simply honoring the time-honored precepts I have chosen to live by. I am not operating from a set of principles developed on my own. I am not rendering my personal opinion. As a subscriber to a code of life known as Christianity, I have sworn to honor its demands. Going to Mass, fasting and prayer are part of my faith and pose few problems to society. Caring for the poor and dispossessed even garner a degree of respect and approval. Identifying right and wrong actions, however, opens the door to untold woe. I am instantly silenced and shunned for observing these demands of the same code of faith. Could it be that the modern notion of tolerance, unmasked, is simply hard-core intolerance?
On to my insensitivity. Yes, I am utterly insensitive, a regular Attila the Hun. A bona-fide lost cause. Why? Because, like tolerance, the term sensitive has been modified to fit the emerging theology of the now. Due to numerous socio-political contortions, I no longer have any earthly idea what this word means. My faithful dictionary reminds me that to be sensitive means, “...susceptible to the attitudes, feelings or circumstances of others.” No doubt it is important to pay attention to welfare of others. Compassion and understanding are two hallmarks of human nature. Makes perfect sense.
But wait. Since nobody ever wants to be perceived as devoid of such attributes, what better way to obtain sanction for wrongdoing than to declare someone as lacking in them? Modern sensitivity casts a shadow that spans from those truly heartless all the way to those rejecting the latest self-indulgence. Its scope allows every deviancy to be protected by the gospel of feelings. We are now in the position of having to render at least tacit approval of another’s actions or risk alienation. Being labeled insensitive, just like intolerant, results in societal leprosy. Cowering in fear of such a badge of infamy, we sell out our values without a whimper. We are just like the villagers who lived adjacent to the concentration camps. In order to avoid retribution, we support the “atrocities” while pretending we really don’t know what’s going on. We offer our souls to the God of feelings rather than the God of Abraham.
When I point out wrongdoing, when I fail to approve a deviant lifestyle, or when I choose not to accept another’s brand of morality, I am awarded the “insensitive” badge for my vest. Sew it on, for I cannot back off for fear of society’s punishment. I cannot water down or compromise my beliefs. I simply do not have that choice.
Which brings me to being downright annoying. Here I am, plodding through life wearing the badges of my societal sins. Now that my status is known, I present a problem to the enlightened ones. They know for what I stand and have to figure out how to avoid my bothersome beliefs. After all, my faith may awaken long-dormant notions of right and wrong in their own minds. Perhaps my presence will prompt them to walk down the hallways of conscience, chancing upon old friends. Loyal but bothersome friends like virtue, truth and faith.
It’s kind of like inviting your loud Uncle Joe to your Christmas party. Protocol demands you tender an invitation, but you cringe at the thought that he’ll regale your guests with stories from your childhood. Stories that are terribly embarrassing mainly because they’re all true. Having a guy like me around is equally troublesome. Someone might discover that what I profess to be true is actually just that.
Thanks to my Baptism, I bought into the notion that God has standards which he established for a reason. He set the bar at a challenging height. His Commandments, Beatitudes and Gospels are designed to continually fortify my intolerance and insensitivity toward sin. When I don’t live up to his standards, I am compelled to take responsibility for my failures. With utter disdain for my transgressions, I must humbly seek Reconciliation. In turn, God lavishes his mercy and forgiveness. In his goodness, however, God never relieves me of the mandate to live rightly. I am continually reminded to,“...Go and sin no more.”
So, off I go in search of others who still like old-fashioned dictionaries. I look for those whom society deems intolerant, insensitive and annoying for their steadfast refusal to capitulate to the culture. Those who still believe that God’s law is not negotiable. Those who understand that we cannot redefine our vocabulary to serve as a smokescreen for sin.
When a new term or a redefined old term comes along, I must ask the key question: What exactly am I being asked to compromise? I must demand clarity. I must ask the hard questions. I must not let my culture off the hook with feel-good euphemisms. I must not allow myself to be manipulated. Too much is at stake.
I have already navigated the minefields of political correctness, multiculturalism, diversity, alternate lifestyles and inclusion. With every one of these fancy terms, drilling down uncovered the multitude of moral compromises buried in their meaning. None could stand the scrutiny of my trusty dictionary.
I am unashamed of the new badges on my vest. They tell an important story. By all means alert the enlightened members of society. Have them strike my name from all party invitations. Delete me from their Christmas card list. Make sure they don’t include me in any important convention, meeting or event. After allFree Web Content, if I am included people might come over and check out my vest.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.