Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Can we live in harmony with our fellow members of the animal kingdom?


Our attitude to the animal kingdom defines who and what we are. That we, as humans, are part of the same world as all the other living creatures is not an opinion but a fact. Obviously. And that we need to live harmoniously with all the rest of “God’s creatures” and treat them with respect - a statement of the obvious. What harmony means is open to debate though - I try to address this debate here.

Our relationship with animals is diverse and to an extent culturally dependent. But it is possible, in my view, to lay down a few principles which ought to override culture. Let’s take as an example the ritual slaughter every five years of around 300,000 animals for religio/superstitious reasons in Nepal. Yes this barbaric event only occurs in Nepal and yes it is a part of Hindu culture there. But these facts are no reason to turn away and shrug our shoulders surely? Similarly, though slightly differently, the killing and capture of dolphins in the Japanese coastal town of Taiji , and also the annual killing of whales and dolphins in Denmark’s  Faroe Islands.  The extent of the historic tradition for these horrific events is clouded somewhat – not all are ancient at all. But surely the “it’s tradition” justification doesn't wash at all – you could say that we once had a tradition of public executions but that was eventually outlawed for the grotesque obscenity it was (though not everywhere on the planet of course).

In the instances of Nepal, Japan and Denmark most of us would say unhesitatingly that what goes on should not be tolerated in the 21st century. It is at the extreme end of animal abuse and it has also the “blood lust” component. People kill animals primarily because they want to. This is not the killing of farm animals for food in humane slaughterhouses – this is men and women killing for their own satisfaction at the deed itself. Which brings us to hunting.


In Africa if you want to kill a Lion, or almost any other creature, you can do so if you pay enough. And it’s perfectly legal. This is the ultimate blood lust – inexplicable to most of us. Why on earth would you want to take the life of a beautiful creature like a lion? But then what about stag hunting – a pastime enjoyed by many who are rich enough to do it, including David Cameron?

stagIs the hunting down and killing of a deer any more acceptable than the killing of a lion. Not for me it isn’t. The only thing that’s different is that killing deer in this way is our cultural tradition not that of the Japanese, Americans or the Nepalese. I doubt that this fact would be of much comfort to the poor stag.

So is it possible to lay down some rules which transcend culture and are universally applicable? What does harmony mean? What about Zoos for example? We have made progress in the last 50 years and in the main the best Zoos treat their animals with respect, look after them and don't abuse them. But when something horrendous happens, like the killing of a baby giraffe for no good reason in Copenhagen Zoo, we rightly begin to raise questions (the same Zoo killed four young lions a few weeks later). Just Wrong. And what about SeaWorld where large sea mammals like Killer Whales are kept in tiny pools to “perform” in front of visitors. Wrong as well surely?

Clearly those of us who care about the animal kingdom will have different views about what is acceptable. I eat meat, for example, which comes from farmed livestock. Does that make me a hypocrite – possibly, and I’m not going to argue in favour of meat eating? And I have respect for those who are vegetarians for principled reasons. That said the odd fly or wasp aside I have never knowingly killed another living creature and the idea of hunting I abhor. And I make no distinction between fox-hunting (rightly called  The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable”  by Oscar Wilde) and the stalking of deer which become venison on the table. I eat venison, but as far as I know, only the farmed variety not one shot for “sport” by the Prime Minister.

Hunting is wrong. Always, in all circumstances. Because it all depends on accepting the premise that the killing of animals is something that is in some way “sporting” when, of course, the reverse is true. Those who chase the fox, stalk the deer or pay huge money to aim a high-powered rifle at a lion in the Veldt are no different from one another. They cross the line of respectability as soon as they organise or take part in the killing of creatures for their pleasure.

David Attenborough said this about the controversial conservationist Steve Irwin

“He did wonderful conservation work but I was uncomfortable about some of his stunts. Even if animals aren't aware that you are not treating them with respect, the viewers are.”

Treating animals with respect goes beyond not hunting them. It also means protecting the environments in which they live – something in which man has an abysmal recent record! It means not exploiting them by putting them in circuses. It certainly means protecting them when they are a key part of a sport, like horse racing or show jumping. These are proper sports with long histories and I would not argue for their banning. But the participants do need to clean up their act – the deaths of horses every year over the fences of Aintree is an obscenity.

So there you have it. I have tried not to be sentimental - much as I like animals I accept that they are part of our lives, as food, and in certain circumstances they compete happily with us in equine sports. But in the world today there is too much grotesque mistreatment of too many members of the animal kingdom in too many places. Animals have rights but these rights will only be honoured if those who care speak up. Lets do it.







Saturday, December 27, 2014

Man of the Moment - Jihadi John is a game changer and The Times "Briton of the Year"

Jihadi John has travelled a long way. It is not impossible that he could the year hold the balance of power in the Middle East - an astonishing achievement for this charismatic Briton.  More likely, he will fall short of winning over all the region's leaders but a continued strong ISIS showing could mean that his  appeal to traditional Muslim supporters will succeed. He champions people who feel that today’s Islamic leaders have all broken promises - his unconventional methods  may have made ISIS a less coherent political force but it has certainly made it a more popular one. A sprinkling of humour has helped - his response to critics "I'm not going to lose my head over the matter" was typical of his style.
No issue has been more important to ISIS growth than Jehadi John's faith. Whatever the public concern he blames non-Muslims. While his strong rhetoric appeals to many followers it also explains how ISIS became the world's most disliked political force in 2014. A majority of us worry about racist tendencies in ISIS and the way so many of its leaders are repeatedly exposed as sexist, homophobic or unpleasant. 
The establishment has not been able to ignore ISIS, however, whatever they may think of its more toxic members. Jihadi John's threat has forced Leaders around the world to to pay more attention to the concerns of heartland Muslims.
The year 2014 may turn out to be ISIS's high point. Next year Jehadi John could be forced from the limelight. Later he may decide to spend more time with his wives, cigarettes and pints [Ed: Are You sure about this?]. For the moment, however, no one did more to shape politics in 2014. For good and ill he is therefore The Times Briton of the Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Is it UKIP policy to legislate to reduce the birthrate of British ethnic minorities?


I have been arguing for some time that UKIP's anti-immigration position is actually mainly about multi-culturalism and ethnic diversity rather than immigration per se. Recall that one of their journalist  supporters Leo McInstry said in the Daily Express that the party 

"...has tapped into the growing despair of the public at the relentless transformation of our country"

Put less opaquely what he was saying was that the section of the public that chooses UKIP doesn't like the fact that ethnic minorities have "transformed" parts of some British cities. That transformation has been mainly caused by decades of immigration from the Indian sub-continent, primarily India and Pakistan, and the concentration of their communities in specific areas. That population (immigrants from South Asia and their children and grandchildren) is now around 3million, virtually all of them British citizens of course. Net migration from these countries is approximately 30,000 per annum which therefore adds around one percent each year - barely perceptible. If this immigration was halved (or doubled for that matter) it would make no  difference at all .

In the Twitter exchange above UKIP's parliamentary candidate for Wakefield, Alan Hazlehurst, addresses the fact that ethnic minorities, like those of South Asian heritage, have a "higher birthrate" (than white Anglo-Saxons presumably). He them argues that this fact requires a "cohesive immigration policy". Andy Cavaster rightly asks why immigration policy should be linked to the birthrate of British citizens. A good question, and one that is easy to answer if you realise that what it boils down to is that Mr Hazlehusrt seems just not to like non-White (Asians) - whether (as he says) they "may or may not be British". So because they breed so much it's all the more important to stop more coming - in his warped view! The fact that such tiny numbers actually come each year adding just 1% to the total South Asian population, and that tighter immigration restrictions would make no difference, has passed Mr Hazlehurst by!

I do not use the words "racist" or "racism" lightly but I believe Mr Hazlehurst's position is racist. He clearly believes that British children born to South Asian heritage parents are less desirable than those born to those like him with a long indigenous heritage. That's racism. Andy asks whether it is also "UKIP policy". Is it ?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thank you for your "E-Christmas card", you lazy self-promoting cheapskates!

Dear Mike and Sue

Your "E-Christmas Card" arrived in my Inbox today. Unlike that from Lucille and Harry it didn't contain any self-congratulatory guff about how you had donated what you would have spent on Christmas Cards to Cancer Relief. So I must assume that your motives were twofold. Firstly by dispatching  these abominations to your friends you, in theory anyway, manage to "send" a Christmas Card without actually having to make the effort of choosing and writing a card, buying a stamp and posting it. I hope that you used the time saved productively. Second you have saved yourselves some money. A card and stamp sets us back around 80p so to Email 100 greetings rather than post them is a handy saving of £80 - not to be sneezed at I'm sure. It'll buy you a couple of bottles of decent wine on your upcoming Caribbean cruise.

As for Lucille and Harry they not only enjoy the time savings that you have but manage to preen themselves among their friends at the same time, "The money we would have spent on cards we have donated to Cancer Relief" they say. Right it's an act of charity then, not laziness. But hold on a second. Lucille and Harry are not exactly on the bread line - blimey Harry's brand new Jaguar must have set him back £40k at least ! So if he'd wanted to donate £80 (or whatever) to his favourite charity he could have done so and at the same time spent the same on sending Christmas cards couldn't he? But he wouldn't have been able to boast about that would he? Very Un-British to congratulate yourself in public on your charity and generosity.

I suspect that both you, Mike and Sue, and Lucille and Harry probably did send a few actual Christmas Cards to family and to those on your lists they really wanted to keep in with. It's just that we didn't make the cut. I thought about printing and cutting out your ghastly electronic cards and hanging them on the wall alongside those real cards in which people had written their personal messages to us, and which they had taken the trouble to buy, and write, and stamp and post. But I decided not to and transferred them instantly into my "Junk Mail" Folder instead.

Merry Christmas, I hope our card arrived safely

Paddy and Ann

Monday, December 22, 2014

The fetid tip of the rotten UKIP iceberg

If you reference the fact that a significant minority  of UKIP's voter support previously voted for the overtly racist British National Party some kippers will descend on you to, as they see it, put you right. "We are the only Party that does not allow previous BNP members to join" they will tell you. Aside from the fact that a once BNP member is hardly likely to want to join Lib, Lab, Con or Green this UKIP claim rather misses the point. It's not about membership but about voting - there is nothing UKIP can do about Nick Griffin, and others who agree with him, voting UKIP. And UKIP will take a vote from anyone whether they openly seek it or not, as will most parties, and although they don't focus on it much, as "Revolt on the Right" showed, there is cause and effect between the decline in the BNP vote and the rise of UKIP's - the latter has replaced the former as the repository of the vote of the Far Right. Let me stress I am not saying all UKIP supporters are racists nor that they embrace all the other non-race related policies of the BNP (although if you look at the BNP platform at the last election it is not that different from that of UKIP today).

This week, as seems to happen most weeks, the UKIP leadership has had to censure and this time expel a supporter for holding extreme views. A Thanet councillor, Rozanne Duncan, has been kicked out of the party for making "draw-dropping" remarks in a TV interview. She joins the likes of the deranged Godfrey Bloom in having views so extreme that they "damage UKIP's image". Possibly! I say that because there is a case to be made that Mr Farage and his crew don't  deep down mind the appearance above the surface of the unquestionably racist and Fruitcake element from time to time. It allows them to distance themselves and promote a quasi-respectable alternative, and it reminds voters of the broad political ground that they inhabit - the same broad ground that is home for the BNP and the English Democrats (EDP) and "Britain Right" as well. 

UKIP is an extreme Right party, at least in a British context. However if you talk to their supporters (I have!) you will find that many are well to the Right of the party leadership, or where (I should say) the party leadership claims to be. The UKIP voter, or prospective voter, is not a moderate on anything. Withdrawal from the EU immediately. Stop all immigration and deport some immigrants. Stop overseas Aid. Sell off the BBC. Bring back hanging. Privatise the NHS. And so on. They combine this lethal cocktail of scapegoat-seeking faux-libertarian and neo-liberal positions with flag-waving nationalism and a suspicion and, sometimes hatred, of things foreign and foreigners. And above all they will tell you that diversity has killed Britain "Parts of our cities aren't British any more" they'll tell you "most of them don't even celebrate Christmas". They will use selectively the horrors of the child abuse scandal in Rotherham, or the rise of home-produced Islamic terrorism, as evidence that multi-culturalism is evil. The indisputable fact that most immigrants and children of immigrants are hard-working, decent and law-abiding citizens doesn't cut any ice. 

The Duncans and the Blooms may be ostracised by Farage because he sees them as damaging UKIP's electoral prospects but in reality they have views much closer to UKIP's core support than he would dare to admit. They are the tip of the fetid iceberg that is the party's likely supporters in the ballot box. If you look through Farage's speeches and writings over the years you will find content not that different - even though his current positions are nominally more moderate. It may be the ambition of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless to position UKIP as a new Conservative Party rather than the anti-establishment party that it currently is. Or to so threaten the Tories that they segue in that direction anyway. Perhaps they are playing a long term "Unite the Right" game? For now, however, UKIP is a breakaway pressure group masquerading as a legitimate political party and gathering its support in not insignificant numbers from the "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" once accurately referred to by David Cameron.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cover-ups are the Cancer of politics

There is a truly principled article from Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph today about the despicable failure to publish the Chilcott report. Cover-ups, like this,  are the Cancer of politics. Democracy is grievously weakened when position power is used to protect the guilty and prevent the truth being told to the people. The failure to publish the Chilcott report is scandalous. Cronyism preventing the proper investigation of politicians' complicity in child sex abuse is disgraceful. It is also contemptuous because it assumes that we, the general public, cannot cope with the truth. We can. And we can spot a phoney. 

The Establishment protects it's own - celebs like Rolf Harris aren't part of it so they get sent down. Politicians (well you know who they are) are protected. We know that Blair lied to us over Iraq. We know that there was a paedophile ring in Thatcher's administration. We know these things because we can read the runes and because a few brave people dig hard for the truth and promulgate it. Open Government means just that. Tell us the truth ! 

There are very, very few national security matters which need to remain secret. Everything else should be in the open - let's have genuine "freedom of information". And could we have a new breed of principled politicians not a mutual appreciation society of cronies. Too much to ask ?y