Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Beware Britain's new relationship police
If ‘controlling behaviour’ is made a criminal offence, no relationship is safe
I have always thought that otherwise sensible people can turn into complete nutcases around their partners. Relatively mellow people can become obsessed with the most insignificant nonsense when it involves their other half. This is because relationships involve the development of a peculiar, often pretty weird dynamic, which often only makes sense to those involved. I thought this was all pretty normal and had been part and parcel of relationships since the dawn of time. Last week, the UK government made it clear that it thinks I am wrong.
UK home secretary Theresa May announced that a new offence of ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’ is to be introduced to combat the threat of ‘extreme psychological and emotional abuse’ within relationships. Examples of this so-called abuse include: ‘preventing the victim from having friendships or hobbies; refusing them access to money; and determining many aspects of their everyday life.’ The new offence follows the government’s expansion of the official definition of domestic violence in 2013 to include emotional and psychological harm (under the new category of ‘domestic abuse’).
The latest move was justified on the basis of a consultation over the summer. The government said that 85 per cent of those consulted were in favour of reforming the law on domestic violence. But reading the consultation paper presents a different story. Firstly, only around 750 people responded. And the headline 85 per cent who responded positively did so to the absurdly broad question, ‘Does the law do enough to protect the victims of domestic violence?’. Responses to this question could just as easily reflect public dissatisfaction with the justice system and the way the law is enacted in general, rather than dissatisfaction with the specific law relating to domestic violence. When asked whether a new offence of ‘controlling or coercive behaviour’ would help protect potential victims, only 55 per cent of respondents said ‘yes’. So this new offence is in fact being introduced because around 330 people thought it would be a good idea.
But those 330 people are in the minority. Reaction to domestic-violence law reform has been almost exclusively negative. Women’s charity Refuge said the new offence would do little to assist victims, and further expanding the definition of domestic violence could detract attention from securing prosecutions on the basis of the law that already exists. Given that the offence would not be a serious one, it would necessarily be a short-term fix, meaning that a court would have limited powers to deal with a genuine perpetrator of domestic violence.
Many also pointed out that the new offence does little to change the law as it exists at the moment. The law can already prosecute individuals where their behaviour causes emotional or psychological harm. The statute books already prohibit ‘harassment’, which requires only that behaviour causes alarm or distress. And the offence of ‘stalking’ can lead to the prosecution of individuals for repeat attempts to monitor and control people. It is not at all clear what new forms of behaviour would be caught under the new law that could not have been prosecuted under the old law.
What the reform does is focus official attention on what are often normal aspects of people’s relationships. A relationship, by its very nature, involves ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’. After all, if your partner said he or she wanted to get involved in bare-knuckle boxing, it may not be objectionable to try to dissuade them against doing so, particularly if you like the shape of his or her face. I often control when and where my partner eats – partly because we sometimes like to eat together. It would be extremely hard to arrange a meal if both of us simply ate whenever we felt like it.
Of course, advocates of the new offence will dismiss the above examples as making light of the seriously controlling dynamics that they say exist within ‘problematic’ relationships. But is the line ever crystal clear? While the government might say that the dividing line between the normal to and fro of a relationship and criminal ‘control’ will be clear, it is likely that the reality will be far more blurred. In fact, it will fall to police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what is normal relationship behaviour and what is not. Absurdly, it will be prosecutors, no doubt fixated on hitting the numerous conviction targets which govern domestic-violence policing, who will decide what is okay within a particular relationship.
The new offence is part of a dangerous trend. The government thinks it can use the law to legislate domestic violence out of existence. By criminalising more and more aspects of people’s relationships, it shows that it thinks the justice system can magically intervene to prevent even the possibility of violence within relationships. This is fantastical and dangerous. We have to accept that with the free and intimate act of entering into a relationship comes some responsibility for deciding what constitutes the boundaries of mutually acceptable behaviour. The new law does little to protect real victims, but a lot to invite the police to regulate one of the most intimate areas of our private lives.
250,000 people turn out to support Boxing Day hunts
Renewed calls for fox hunting ban to be repealed
More than a quarter of a million people are believed to have turned out to support the traditional Boxing Day Hunt, amid renewed calls for the fox hunting ban to be lifted.
Hunt members and countryside groups welcomed the Conservative Party’s plans, disclosed by the Telegraph, to include a manifesto pledge promising to offer MPs a free vote on repealing the hunting ban if it wins the general election.
Prince Charles’s favourite hunt, the Duke of Beaufort’s Hunt, reported thousands more supporters than usual attending and in defiant mood, 10 years on since the ban was imposed.
Jo Aldridge, spokesman for the hunt, said: “We normally get a crowd of maybe 5,000 people but this year it’s extraordinary; we reckon somewhere in excess of 7,000 people.”
She said she believed momentum was building to push for a repeal of the Act. “It’s 10 years since the ban, there’s an election coming up and people are being defiant and determined,” she said.
“We have got to get a change of law and a government that can produce a change of law. If it’s a Conservative manifesto pledge that would be a very good thing.”
She claimed the ban was “nothing to do with animal welfare and hasn’t saved the life of a single fox.”
Close to 300 hunts are thought to have taken place around the country on Boxing Day, using trail hunting – where a trail is laid, often using fox urine, to create a scent for the hounds to follow.
Charlotte Cooper, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said there would have been about 250,000 people out to support the hunts, boosted by “lovely weather” in parts of the country.
She welcomed the Conservatives’ manifesto plans. “We want to open up a dialogue about how the Hunting Act can be repealed or improved,” she said. “A first step would be a free vote to see whether there is appetite.
“We think the whole law needs to be thrown out. We are happy for hunting to be regulated but we feel the Hunting Act as it’s written has a lot of inconsistencies, is very difficult for even judges to fathom.”
The Hunting Act prevents chasing or killing foxes with packs of hounds. A maximum of two hounds may be used to flush out a fox ahead of shooting it.
“In places like the uplands of Wales where you’ve got a lot of forest and enormous spaces in which you’re trying to track a fox it’s just impossible – there’s no way you can do it with just two hounds,” Ms Cooper said.
The Conservatives pledged in their 2005 and 2010 manifestos to offer a free vote on a repeal. While the Coalition agreement indicated it would do so, no vote has been forthcoming.
Ms Cooper said this was “disappointing but understandable”. “If we had had a Tory government it is likely we would have had a vote but it’s difficult working in a Coalition. We understand we are not the top of the priority list, but we still think we are an important part of the countryside and this a problem.”
In Thornbury, south Glos., hundreds of people turned out to watch the pre-hunt parade by an estimated 50 riders or more from the Berkeley Hunt, the oldest pack of foxhounds in the country.
Sue Ravenhill-Handley, 47, a hunt subscriber from Charfield, said the Tory pledge would “absolutely be a vote winner”. "It has been a let-down, with it not already been done, but you have to negotiate. That is the nature of coalitions," she said.
Haydn Jones, 50, treasurer of the hunt, said: “Hunting is very important, not just to rural people - it's about liberty. There were more important issues before; I understand that hunting had to wait.
"They have got the economy back in shape, so now they can look at other issues."
But Lorraine Fox of the “Blue Fox” group of Conservatives Against Fox Hunting warned that the repeal campaign was “toxic to the perception of the Conservative Party”.
“For too long, the party leadership has appeared to be swayed by the hunting lobby rather than representing the majority of the public’s support for the ban on hunting with dogs,” she said.
The RSPCA said that chasing and killing live animals with dogs was “a barbaric and outdated pastime and has no place in modern Britain”.
A spokesman said: “The fact remains that it is only a tiny minority of people who, seek a return to cruelty.”
Polling carried out by IPSOS Mori for the RSPCA, League Against Cruel Sports and IFAW late in 2013 found that 80 per cent of people in Britain believe fox hunting should remain illegal.
Immigration beats economy as number one worry for UK voters
Pollsters say Britain is more concerned about migrants than money for the first time since 2010
Immigration is now consistently the most important political issue of concern to voters, pollsters have revealed.
Over the past year it has moved ahead of the economy as the British public’s top priority, according to YouGov.
Since May, voters have put it above or tied with the economy in every survey conducted by the organisation.
At one point, in September, it was selected by 58 per cent of voters as one of the three most important issues for the country while only 48 per cent had the economy in their top three.
YouGov chose ‘Immigration becoming the public’s most important issue’ as one of its top five public opinion trends of 2014.
Will Dahlgreen, from YouGov, said: ‘From May to December immigration was seen as the most important issue facing the country, except for on three occasions when it was tied with the economy.
‘Although immigration began to narrow the gap at the end of 2013, 2014 is the first year since 2010 when the economy has not been the top issue.
‘Immigration had an average lead of one point over the whole year, compared to a deficit of 18 in 2013 and 32 in 2012.’
Polling data also showed Europe has increased hugely as an issue of concern over recent years, from just 7 per cent of voters choosing it as an issue in June 2010 to 25 per cent in October this year.
In recent months, as both immigration and Europe have soared as issues of concern, Ukip has moved up in the polls. In May it triumphed in the European elections, winning 4.3million votes and beating Labour into second place and the Tories into third.
Ukip has also won two House of Commons by-elections in Rochester and Clacton after MPs Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell defected from the Conservatives.
David Cameron has responded to the rise of Ukip by promising to stop EU migrants from claiming a raft of in-work benefits, including tax credits, until they have paid into the system for four years.
Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have responded to the rise of Ukip by strengthening their positions on immigration
David Cameron takes tough stance on immigration
Ed Miliband has also attempted to toughen Labour’s line. But the party was embarrassed recently when an internal party document emerged which told activists to ‘move the conversation on’ when voters ask them about immigration.
Crossbench peer Lord Green of Deddington, chairman of the MigrationWatch think tank, said: ‘These are remarkable findings. It’s simply not possible for the political class to remain in denial any longer.
‘Suggestions that those who are canvassing should simply change the subject are now clearly absurd. The public want effective answers on immigration and will see through attempts to dodge the issue.’
Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk said politicians have been too slow to recognise immigration as an issue. He said he would like to see a stronger line from Labour on border controls and lowering migrant numbers.
He said: ‘People have been mentioning immigration to me a lot on the doorstep, people from all different backgrounds including ethnic minorities, working class and middle class people. People feel strongly about it.’
The polling data shows how other issues have risen up the polls in the past four years. Welfare did not feature as a significant issue in 2010, but by October this year was chosen by 25 per cent of voters.
Health has increased significantly as a concern to voters, while crime has declined sharply. Other trends highlighted by the pollster were the rising support for the Greens who finished the year tied with the Lib Dems on 7 per cent.
It also pointed to Ed Miliband’s falling support, with one poll at the end of October registering him as less popular than Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
YouGov also found that voters’ perceptions of how well the economy is doing peaked in August.
Is science showing there really is a God?
IN 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete — that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumours of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place — science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion — 1 followed by 24 zeros — planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion — 1 followed by 21 zeros — planets capable of supporting life.
With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis — 0 followed by nothing.
What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest ... We should quietly admit that the early estimates ... may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life — every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
There’s more. The finetuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the finetuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces — gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces — were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction — by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 — then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology ... The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator ... gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something — or Someone — beyond itself
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.