A number of constituents have emailed me to demand the prosecution of Sports Direct for allegedly not paying the minimum wage. Of course, it is proper that the law is enforced, and if it is found to be inadequate, it must be strengthened. Politicians however, must have nothing whatsoever to do with individual decisions to prosecute. To allow them to have any such influence would be to breach the important constitutional principle of ‘the separation of powers’. We have witnessed the corrosive influence of political agitation recently when the Police responded to the demands of Tom Watson MP to pursue allegations against Leon Brittan, which they knew to be groundless. If politicians were to decide who is investigated, prosecuted, or imprisoned, then our Liberty would not long endure.
For the benefit of those constituents who email me about the dangers of Islam, I want to share the contents of a letter from Dr Mohammed Fahim, Imam of the South Woodford Mosque, which was inside his Christmas card:
“ISIS are criminals who hijacked Islam, a religion of peace, tolerance and justice. They are not Muslims, even if they claim that they are responding to wars waged against innocent people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, or the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis, and the support given to tyrant rulers in the Middle East.
Any Muslim who agrees with their Ideology or condones their evil practices, or sympathises with them in any form is regarded by God in the Quran and by the tradition of the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, as an unbeliever. This means he is not a Muslim. A severe punishment awaits him in this life and in the Hereafter, as detailed in the Quran in verse 93 chapter 4 and verses 32-34, chapter 5.
Those who carried out the heinous attack on innocent harmless victims in Paris on 13th November, are nothing but criminals who should be eliminated, and their organisation destroyed. Our hearts and prayers are with all the victims and their families. May God be with all of them. May God’s peace prevail.”
Tim Peake’s spectacular launch into space coincided with a visit I made to the Southern Hemisphere, so I was looking out at completely different stars to the ones that I habitually see with my telescope in the New Forest. The awesome size and age of the Universe laid out before us in night sky never ceases to fill me with wonder, and presents a certain tension -if not a standing challenge-to my professed Christianity, particularly at this time of year.
The principal Christian truth is that we are the critical factor in understanding God’s purpose: that humanity is central to the creation; that we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever; and that -to this end- God created Heaven and Earth and then intervened in human history, through Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind and restore the integrity of that original purpose. This dramatic intervention took place only a couple of thousand years ago. Indeed, human history itself only stretches back before Christ by some 5,000 years.
So the key problem is this: Given that the age of the Universe is nearly 14 billion years, why did The Almighty leave it so long before adding the central feature of the creation –humanity, and to make his key intervention –through the life of Christ?
I believe that the answer, if there is one, lies in the fact that we are literally made of stardust: the heavier elements -so critical to the formation of the larger molecules essential to the existence of Life, take eons of time to form, being the product of the life-cycle of generations of massive stars, and the enormous pressures created by their subsequent collapse.
The proper response therefore, on looking out into the Universe, from the space station window, from the Southern Hemisphere, or from a garden in the New Forest, shouldn’t be one of ‘how insignificant we are’ as such recent and tiny occupants in such an incredibly old and massive universe. Rather it should be the opposite: ‘How incredibly important we must be to God’s purpose’ that we are the product of such a vast and time consuming process.
Donald Trump’s intervention, demanding the exclusion of Muslims from the USA, suits Daesh and its terrorist agenda very well. He is delivering the suspicion and the hatred that it craves: It is determined to present its grotesque violence as a war between the Muslim caliphate and Christendom. Trump has fallen right into the elephant trap that it dug for him. This tiny group of psychopaths believe themselves to be the only authentic expression of Islam. Trump has gone some way along the road to accepting their analysis and, in effect, presenting them with a badge of honour.
The same is true of all those constituents who have emailed me to demand an end to our programme of affording asylum to 20,000 vulnerable Syrians over the next five years. My correspondents believe that what happened in Paris makes it just too risky. Closing the programme -which we’ve only just started- would be another spectacular own-goal: Daesh would love it; the very idea of the ‘Christian’ west giving sanctuary to war-weary Muslims, runs utterly counter to their ideological narrative.
In any event, with 700 ‘home grown’ terrorists having left UK to fight for Daesh in Syria, the arrival of refugees, many of whom have fled Daesh’s terror, will itself be a powerful corrective to Daesh’s perverted version of events.
Daesh massacres Muslims. So, just as I believe that Muslim fighters should take the lion’s share of the endeavour to defeat Daesh on the battlefield, equally I believe that Muslims must take the lead in exposing the falsehood of its perverted ideology. It is for this reason that I am delighted to have received a Christmas card from the Imam at the Woodford Muslim community centre, wishing me God’s peace, mercy and blessings. The card points out that over 1.5 billion Muslims believe in Jesus Christ and his second coming. On the reverse of the card is the following statement
“Islam is a religion of peace, justice and tolerance. It rejects violence and condemns the killing of civilians anywhere in the world irrespective of their race or religion, even if Islam is insulted or ridiculed”
Now, that is a much more effective antidote to Daesh and its poison.
A number of constituents have emailed in indignation to demand an apology from the Prime Minister for being branded ‘terrorist sympathisers’ for opposing the extension of air strikes from Iraq to Syria. I was at the meeting when the comment was made and I have assured them that he said nothing of the sort. What he did say was that many colleagues with legitimate and quite understandable reservations should beware of entering the voting lobbies with terrorist sympathisers. That is not to say that opponents are terrorist sympathisers, but to accept that there are indeed some terrorist sympathisers, and there really are: Over the years there are a number of apologists who, at every terrorist atrocity, have taken the opportunity to blame our foreign policy rather than taking time to condemn the personal responsibility of the terrorist for choosing to blow innocent people to pieces.
Nothing is ever as reported: and neither were the screaming headlines announcing the ‘countdown to war’, they ignored the fact that we have been flying these missions daily against Daesh for the last 14 months into Iraq. All we have now done is to extend them to attack Daesh’s operations in Syria.
I sat through the entire 10 hour debate listening carefully. I accept that the conditions for destroying Daesh are not yet in place: there will have to be forces capable of prosecuting a ground campaign against Daesh’s ‘capital’ in Raqqa. I cannot understand however, the logic of those who said that we must destroy Daesh, but should do nothing now because those ground forces don’t exist. Clearly, an air campaign can contain and harry the enemy, severely restricting its offensive capability, even if it cannot alone destroy it.
What really unnerved me were the armchair generals on the green benches giving us the benefit of their expertise and demanding all sorts of undertakings and guarantees before their support would be forthcoming. I really wonder if we could have fought the Second World War in the current parliamentary environment. No doubt Monty would have been summoned before a select committee and asked to guarantee the weather in the Channel before contemplating the Normandy Landings. Lethal military operations involve risk, the important thing is to calculate the risks carefully. It was the French World War One leader Georges Clemenceau who said that war was too important to be left to generals, but I’m not comfortable leaving it to politicians either.
Comrades, I just couldn’t believe it when John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor -in his response to George Osborne’s Autumn Financial Statement, quoted Chairman Mao and then passed his personal copy of Mao’s little Red Book across the despatch box.
I had forgotten that I had once owned a copy. It was the early nineteen seventies and the ‘cultural revolution’ was well under way in China. I recall that a number of us at school wrote to the Chinese Embassy in London for a copies of the Thoughts of Chairman Mao. My excuse is that I was a mere schoolboy with no knowledge of the enormity of Mao’s crimes and the poverty, starvation and misery that he inflicted on millions.
Armchair revolutionaries could be in no doubt about the nature of Maoism because it is all there in black and white, spelt out in the book. How about this for a taster:
“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”
No compromise with the voters then!
‘Champagne socialists’ and other lefty intellectuals at their Islington dinner parties (I am confident that such dinner parties are not to be had in Ringwood or Fordingbridge, -but perhaps Lymington? No, surely not!) need to wise up to what ‘revolution’ really means. Here is further guidance from the Great Helmsman’s thoughts:
“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
To the barricades then Comrades, but make sure you know which class you’re in. I thought we were all middle class now, but then perhaps that just shows that I need to be sent to a re-education camp, along with capitalist roaders, some members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, and others who have taken the wrong road.
Paris and its aftermath have prompted a flurry of emails from constituents which fall into two broad, but very different categories.
Islamophobe: emails denouncing Islam as inherently violent and evil and that we need to constrain or remove the Muslims already here; or those who believe that we already have too many Muslims in the country and that we certainly mustn’t let any more in -including Syrian refugees;
Pacifist: those who don’t want us to get any more involved with fighting Daesh (ISIL), but who want us to take many more Syrian refugees than the 20,000, to which we have agreed.
I disagree with both.
Daesh kills vastly more Muslims than it does of all other religions put together. Its whole ideology is based on the demand for Muslims to cut themselves off entirely from wicked infidels – with our democratic and ‘decadent’ liberal way of life. Those Muslims who fail to obey this demand are as deserving of death as any infidel.
Daesh would be delighted if we rejected all Syrian refugees: the notion of generous western democracies giving sanctuary to Muslims, runs counter to their entire narrative.
Overwhelmingly, Muslims are appalled by Daesh’s perversion of their religion into a fascist death cult. There is no escaping however, that the terrorists claim to be the only truly faithful Muslims. Destroying Daesh will require victory both in the use of force, and in the force of argument. It is vital therefore, that many more articulate Muslim scholars step up to the task of showing exactly how the terrorists have misinterpreted and perverted the true meaning of Islam.
Daesh is an armed military occupation operating from the territory it controls, and from which it exports terrorism. Daesh’s territory straddles Syria and Iraq. It ignores the border between the two countries. Currently we are prepared to attack it in Iraq, but not in Syria where its principal strength is concentrated. This strikes me as absurd. If we are to crush the serpent, we have to crush it wherever it appears.
As to the question of admitting even more Syrian refugees than the 20,000 to which we have pledged, this takes too little account of our main effort, which has been to provide relief to the 4 million refugees in the countries surrounding Syria, where our money goes so much further. We are the second largest donor to this crisis, spending £1.2 billion – more than we have spent on any previous humanitarian relief effort. Those who – like the bishops and the judges – have plucked numbers from the air, in their demand that we accommodate more, have no idea of the complexity and difficulty of finding homes, livelihoods, and support for the 20,000 to whom we are already committed. I believe that we are maintaining the right balance between the needs of the millions of refugees in the region surrounding Syria, and accommodating the only most vulnerable cases here in Britain.
In 1986 a bill to allow unrestricted Sunday Trading in England and Wales was defeated in Parliament. Strangely there never has been any legal restrictions on Sunday trading in Scotland (except for pubs). In 1994 however, another less permissive regime did manage to pass into law. This enabled the current situation which we now enjoy: the larger shops (those over 3000 Square feet) are allowed to open for up to six hours between 10 o’clock in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening on Sundays.
Following the successful extended Sunday opening during the Olympics there has been some pressure to revisit the question of extending Sunday opening once again. Personally, I think that it is unfair to restrict high street opening when internet shopping proceeds unrestrained on a Sunday. Restrictions have never applied in Scotland but they appear to get along quite reasonably: Sundays there seem to remain ‘special’ and I understand that Church attendance is proportionately higher than in England.
In recent weeks. I have received quite a large number of emails asking me to vote against changes to Sunday trading hours which are now before Parliament. This is a false premise and I have replied pointing out that no such proposal is before Parliament. The proposal was not to change opening hours, but to change the responsibility for determining the trading hours. Currently Sunday trading in England and Wales is a matter for Parliament in Westminster. The proposal was to allow decisions for England and Wales to be devolved to local authorities, so that elected councils would be allowed to say how long on a Sunday larger shops could remain open for. So, there was no plan to change the hours, only to change who makes decisions about the hours.
Frankly, it seems reasonable to let more important decisions be made locally, as indeed they are in Scotland. This whole issue has apparently now been shelved because, with a majority of only 12, a small number of Tory rebels threatened to vote against the measure as they believe it is important to defend the rights of Christians not to work on a Sunday. As a Christian myself, I think they are mistaken but I respect their decision and their principles.
Labour is opposed to the measure because the Trades Unions oppose it. Though I rather suspect that many workers would welcome the extra overtime and the additional jobs it will create.
The Scottish Nationalists however, really do win the prize for unprincipled absurdity. They have no restrictions in Scotland, and they can control hours if they want to in their own Parliament at Holyrood. Yet they want to prevent English councils making decisions which do not affect Scotland at all. Having failed to get the Scots to vote for independence last year. I sometimes wonder if their new strategy is to annoy the English to such an extent that we vote for it instead.
Junior doctors work seven days per week, they are the backbone of medical care in hospitals every day, at weekends and at night. I have had a number of emails from them complaining that, under the provisions of the proposed new contract, they will have to work harder and for less pay. I assure them that they won’t – that is an absolute guarantee that no-one will lose out compared to their current contract.
This Government was elected on a mandate to deliver a 7-day NHS and ensure care is the same quality across the week. At present, if you are admitted to hospital at the weekend your chances of dying are 15% higher. Illness does not take weekends off, it is essential that we so organise the NHS so that it doesn’t either.
Changing this means reforming the current contracts – put in place by Labour (for junior doctors in 2000, and for consultants in 2003). Last week in the Commons the Government guaranteed that not a single junior doctor will see their pay cut compared to their current contract. On the contrary, they will get same pay as they receive under their current contracts; but with a reduction in the maximum number of hours that can be worked in any one week (in order to end the unsafe practice of tired doctors treating patients).
This is not a cost cutting exercise. We are not seeking to save a penny from the junior doctors’ pay bill. We want the new contract to improve patient safety by better supporting a seven day NHS. For junior doctors, this means some increase in hours which aren’t payable as overtime, but backed up with a significant increase in basic pay.
Our ambition for the NHS to be the safest health care system in the world, is underpinned by reducing, not increasing, the number of hours junior doctors work each week.
This is a fairer deal for doctors. The new contract will mean no junior doctor is required to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, with tougher limits on unsafe hours including a new maximum working week of 72 hours, and a new maximum shift pattern of four consecutive night shifts and five long day shifts, compared with the current contract which permits more than 90 hours a week, 7 consecutive night shifts and 6 long day shifts. It will also better reward pay progression based on achievement and experience.
To threaten strike action is bizarre in the circumstances. Beyond the present dispute however, doctors should think about the profound implications of such a step, and the consequences for patient safety. By adopting the mores of the unionised factory shop floor, thet would abandon the standards of their profession.
It is time that the British Medical Council got back to the negotiating table, and inform its members of what really is on offer.
I have been deluged with emails protesting about the reform of tax credits. I disagree. Gordon Brown designed a system where one office the in Treasury taxed working families, whilst another used a highly complex system to pay the money back again to 9 out of 10 of those families. It’s like Charles Dickens’ ‘Circumlocution Office’.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more effective not to have taxed them in the first place?
We inherited this system in 2010. We’ve cut the 9 out of 10 families eligible to 6 out of 10. The current modest reform is now designed to cut it to 5 in 10. From the furore you would have thought that we were proposing a massacre of the innocents. A woman even broke down on BBC Question Time, but it turns out, on examination, that she will be unaffected.
We have to ensure that it always pays to work. This system however, simply doesn’t do that: in its first year of operation it cost £4 billion, this year it will cost £30 billion yet the number of ‘working poor’ has risen by 20%. Instead, what it has done, is to subsidise low wages. Employers have been able to get away with paying less, in the knowledge that taxpayers will make up the difference.
It is a horribly complicated system that has clogged my mailbag for years with cases of thousands of pounds being demanded in repayments. The tax credit payable in the current year is calculated on the basis income received in the preceding tax year, with a requirement for recipients to notify the Tax Credit Office immediately of changes in their circumstances that will alter their current entitlement. Of course, they neglect or forget to do this, or don’t even realise that they were supposed to.
Alternatively, the tax credit office fails to make the necessary alteration to payments when properly notified – not untypical of the Circumlocution Office. Either way, the bill for repayment comes as a disaster for the families concerned.
If we are to prosper we have to end our addiction to welfare. The UK has 1% of the world’s population, 4% of its income, but pays out 7% of its welfare. The reforms will help us move from high tax, high welfare, and low wages to an economy based on lower taxes, lower welfare, and higher wages. It’s a clear choice.