24 May 2013: Equal marriage must come to Northern Ireland, writes Adam McGibbon
Finally – marriage equality has cleared the House of Commons. There can be some glee for those who enjoyed the rabid witterings of homophobic Tories while watching their party split down the middle.
But what wasn’t quite so funny was the behaviour of the Democratic Unionist Party MPs as they got to their feet to oppose the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Their opposition is a grim reminder that they will seek to hold back marriage equality from nearly two million UK citizens.
The last few months have seen many parliamentary speeches from the DUP that shame the majority of people in Northern Ireland. Pathetically, Ian Paisley Jr (North Antrim, pictured) sought assurances from Maria Miller that gay marriages that take place in England will not be recognised in Northern Ireland. During the second reading of the bill in February, Paisley Jr also stated that since same-sex marriage was introduced in Spain and Portugal, the number of heterosexual couples marrying had declined – implying somehow that legalising same-sex marriage would stop heterosexual people from marrying. Meanwhile, Strangford MP Jim Shannon claimed to be speaking for quite literally all of his constituents, who are all allegedly opposed to gay marriage. Willie McCrea (South Antrim) also rose to make the no-holds-barred assertion that just as ‘we are sending troops across the world to fight for freedom, we on the verge of losing ours.’
Some of their speeches drew laughter from other MPs. It drew less laughter when the 38 DUP MLAs in the NI Assembly – and MLAs from other parties – shuffled through the voting chambers last month to block a motion in support of equal marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is only the latest chapter in a long list of anti-gay pronouncements the DUP have made. Some of the highlights include Ian Paisley Jr calling for David Trimble's aide to be sacked because he had a civil partnership, health minister Edwin Poots calling a gay rugby team 'apartheid,' Iris Robinson saying homosexuality was worse than child abuse, the expulsion of a MLA outed as gay, support for 'gay cures', and, of course, the famous 1982 DUP campaign ‘Save Ulster From Sodomy,’ to attempt to stop the legalisation of homosexual intercourse in NI. Not to mention the DUP councillor who said that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment from God to the gay people of New Orleans. It goes on and on. They are a party pathologically obsessed with a fundamentalist Christian view on homosexuality – and not at all obsessed with the bible’s much stronger views on the evils of poverty.
The DUP’s actions portray a picture of a Northern Ireland full of bigots, and shame us all. The abstentionism of the five Sinn Fein MPs amplifies their voice. So many of us – particularly young people – sat listening, watching, reading the reports of the debate, cringing. They represent a minority view preaching about the supposed evils of those who just want to have the same rights as heterosexual people have.
For the majority of the Northern Ireland populace who don't vote for the DUP, we have long since got used to their ridiculous medieval sideshow. But we are too quick to laugh about them. Laughing belays the very real harm that their views do. Jim Shannon's very dangerous prouncement during the bill’s second reading that gay people ‘already have equality’ is complete rubbish and shows the DUP's willingness to overlook any LGBT issue, as well as the vast amount of hate crime against gay people – their constituents – which is a serious and increasing problem in Northern Ireland. In fact, their ever-so-public opposition to gay people living their lives is actively enabling and legitimising that hate crime.
And now they will oppose equal marriage in the Assembly. It was only 1982 when same-sex activity between adults over 21 was legalised in NI – compared to 1967 in the UK. And even then, it was only legalised on the back of a successful European Court of Human Rights ruling. A gap of fifteen years.
There cannot be a fifteen year gap between marriage equality in different parts of the UK this time round. Equal marriage must come to Northern Ireland – by the Assembly floor or by the courtroom.
Adam McGibbon is from Belfast and works in London training student activists
24 May 2013: Paul Mobbs reflects on the national extreme energy gathering, and the challenges for our campaigns during the coming year
Attending 'Camp Frack' in Lancashire recently was heartening. After all our efforts over the last few years, things are starting to take off. There is a real buzz in the movement as people get informed, network with other groups around Britain and beyond, and pressure the government and the energy lobbyists to justify the wild claims being made about unconventional gas.
The weekend saw a gathering of 'unconventional gas' activists from across the globe. Despite the rain and gales we set up in a field near Southport for a weekend of speeches, workshops and fun. Organised by the Manchester Trades Council and the Campaign Against Climate Change, it was also significant because environmentalists were working closely with trades unionists to promote the alternatives to the government's 'fossil-fool' policies.
Over the last three years, the movement has developed a strong case against the unconventional gas industry. The presentations and speeches over the weekend directly challenged the claims made by the industry's supporters in the government and business lobby. This confidence in our case has also brought a much clearer focus to the work of the movement. For example, rather like nuclear power, unconventional gas looked set to split the environmental movement. With natural gas being 'cleaner than coal', some supported unconventional gas, believing it could reduce coal burning. Such assumptions expose the reliance of this debate upon a heavily lobbied and partisan media for their information – and is something that, with the wealth of information available, we can demonstrate is factually wrong.
Camp Frack was also attended by activists from Australia, where these processes have been operating for a decade now. They shared their valuable knowledge and experience with us. Not only are Australian activists further along in developing a response to the harm these developments create, the Australian media have also done a far more responsible job in investigating and highlighting the damage caused by these processes. As a result, the Australian unconventional gas industry has been on the retreat following recent grassroots protests – such as the 'Lock The Gate' campaign.
Today, from the USA to Canada and Australia, there is plenty of official and objective information on the impacts of unconventional gas extraction. Unfortunately, the work of scientists and expert groups which contradict the political and industrial lobby's statements on unconventional gas are rarely explored in Britain. In contrast to what we see in the media here, the public are very surprised when they see what the rest of the world knows about these processes. For example, in 2012 the United Nations Environment Programme concluded: 'Hydrologic fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [unconventional gas] is extracted properly, and more so if done inadequately. Even if risk can be reduced theoretically, in practise many accidents from leaky or malfunctioning equipment as well as from bad practises are regularly occurring.'
This contradicts the UK government, which has been hiding behind the statements of the Royal Society and others, that shale gas and fracking are safe if 'operational best practices [are] implemented and enforced through strong regulation'.
Again, sharing information with Australian activists has produced great benefits on the 'regulation' issue. Dart Energy recently closed its Australian facilities in response to highly effective local protests, publicly stating that it is coming to Britain because our liberalised regulatory process is more favourable to their operations. For example, at Dart's operations in Scotland the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency allow them to monitor their own plant. It's also from one of Dart's sites near Canonbie that we've received the first reports in Britain about methane leaking into local water supplies. So how can we ensure that there will be no problems here if there are already problems in Australia where the regulations are more strict?
The challenge for the movement now is to use the evidence we've gathered to publicly expose the corporate-sponsored spin and misinformation which has hijacked Britain's energy debate. And to that end we've got some testing times ahead. Scotland, Sussex and the Lancashire-Cheshire area are likely to see extraction sites developed soon. Lord Browne, government minister and chairman of Lancashire driller Cuadrilla, has said they will invest 'whatever it takes' to develop unconventional gas here. And David Cameron has just replaced his pro-gas energy and climate advisor with a UKIP-supporting climate change denier.
However, the unconventional gas companies have described the coming year as 'make or break' for the industry in Britain – so there's everything to play for. Perhaps that's also why we see pro-industry figures, such as former Tory minister Peter Lilley, launching attacks on environmentalists over unconventional gas developments, trying to poison the public's perception of the arguments against current energy policy.
After Camp Frack, I'm looking forward to challenging the unconventional gas industry and their political supporters. It's not just that we can prove they are factually wrong on so many points. For me, Camp Frack demonstrates that we have the capability to take these people on and, as the Australian experience shows, win the public debate.
For a fully referenced version of this article see Paul Mobbs' website.
23 May 2013: Michael Calderbank says nothing excuses the Woolwich killing - but the hands of our political classes are no less besmirched with blood
The brutal killing of a young man yesterday afternoon in Woolwich, South London, was made all the more shocking by the apparent lucidity of one of the attackers, who was filmed launching into a 'justification' of the act whilst still brandishing a meat cleaver and covered in the blood of his victim.
Nothing whatsoever can excuse this murderous act. But the immediate attempts to appropriate the incident - whether as evidence of the 'evil' hatred of Muslims in general towards the West, as yet more evidence of how we should be grateful to our 'heroes' for their sacrifice in fending off this existential threat, or as part of a concerted terrorist plot requiring an immediate security clampdown - are both unwarranted and dangerous.
Thankfully, this kind of brutal episode is rarely seen on British streets (although acts of apparently random extreme violence are less uncommon than we might imagine). But for British troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, violence and suffering has been an unavoidable part of their lives, whether as victims of insurgent attacks, or as perpetrators of brutality towards the people whose countries they have been sent to occupy by military force.
The involvement of British troops in the torture and death of Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa, or in the mass slaughter in Fallujah, or the systematic brutality dished out to the people of Afghanistan over the course of an occupation now in its 12th year, demonstrates that the hands of our political classes are no less besmirched with blood than the Woolwich killers. This obviously criminal act cannot be a green light for Britain to intensify its criminal foreign policy any further. It’s time to break from this cycle of violence, end the occupation of Afghanistan, and bring the troops home.
Needless to say, this is hardly the lesson the far-right Islamophobes of the English Defence League want us to draw. They immediately latched on to the incident by attempting to stoke hatred and fear of all Muslims, despite the obvious revulsion with which Muslims up and down the country greeted news of the attack. To suggest that the killers were representative of all Muslims is akin to suggesting that racist Norweigan mass-murderer Anders Breivik is typical of all Christians or all white people. Palpable nonsense, but the kind of dangerous rhetoric that has already led to reported attacks on mosques.
We need to reject extreme reactionary politics, whether Islamist or Islamophobe, isolate the fanatics whatever their ethnic backgrounds, bring criminals to justice, and defy those who - like the Woolwich killers - would see us further ratchet up the violence, fear and hatred.
22 May 2013: Leigh Phillips looks at Richard Dawkins’ proposal to put scientists instead of bishops in the House of Lords
Richard Dawkins. Photo: Shane Pope/Flickr
Richard Dawkins, professional atheist and Twitter provocateur, has branched out beyond his recent foray into Muslim journalist-baiting to offer his recommendations for parliamentary reform. Following Labour ex-minister Frank Field’s call for the new Archbishop of Canterbury to give up the 25 seats the Church of England appoints to the House of Lords, and have the seats awarded instead to people from civil society, Dawkins burped out a series of tweets saying that these seats should be given to scientists and other ‘elites’.
‘Replace Lord Bishops by (elected) heads of Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, Royal Academy etc,’ he tweeted, adding: ‘I want to be operated on by elite surgeons, flown by elite pilots, have my car fixed by elite mechanics. Why not elite electors of Lords?’
Each of these colleges of presumably godless elites would select their own representatives to the upper chamber, a suggestion that was met with a chorus of approving retweetage from the atheist brigadier’s amassed troops of skeptics, secularists and science fans.
However fond of science and evidence one may be, it should be simple to spot the problem here. Who chooses which colleges of elite experts, scientists, technocrats? Perhaps we could have an expert panel that has an expertise in choosing experts. But then how is that expert panel chosen? Perhaps there are experts in expert panels that have expertise in choosing experts. One way out of this infinite regression is that grizzled old idea, democracy.
Dawkins is not alone these days in his greater faith in elite experts than in lumpen voters. The crisis response of the European Union has been to hollow out democracy and put in place new institutional mechanisms that remove fiscal policy-making from elected chambers and place it in the hands of unelected technocrats, central bankers, judges and diplomats instead.
As they could not be trusted to push through the necessary austerity and structural adjustment in the face of popular opposition, elected leaders have been thrown under the bus in Greece, Italy and Portugal by EU powerbrokers. And across the European periphery, ‘troika’ wonks are flown in to superintend governance. Without experts at the reins, Brussels says, electorates will keep voting themselves ever deeper into debt.
This elite anti-political stance – encompassing a fear of ‘excessive’ democracy, contempt for ordinary people and a faith in experts – is just the contemporary expression of an older distaste for taking democracy too far that dates back to the revolutionary republican upheavals that followed Dawkins’ beloved Enlightenment. Kings may have been overthrown or cowed by the insurgent Enlightenment-reading bourgeois, but that was as far as it was supposed to go.
Upper houses – Senates, Bundesrats, Chambers of Peers, Councils of State and so on – were all intended as wiser, wealthier, more knowledgeable checks on what US founding father James Madison described as the ‘fickleness and passion’ of lower chambers. They are in essence houses of republican nobility. (And, in the House of Lords, actual nobility, but its bicameralism is defended for the same reasons.)
As one of the world’s leading historians of the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel, has documented, there were in fact two Enlightenments: the moderate Enlightenment of Rousseau, Newton and Kant that embraced science and secularism but made its peace with or defended established power; and the radical Enlightenment of a hardier bunch inspired by Baruch Spinoza, the ‘prince of philosophers’, who went further, targeting the injustice of the entire social order and demanding democracy, equality and what we now call human rights.
There is much to be celebrated in the arrival in recent years of a popular militant secularism and cheering of science and reason. From the youthful Skeptics in the Pub groups popping up across the country, to homeopathy overdose die-ins, to the popularity of ‘science comedy’, it is hard to be curmudgeonly about a revival in Enlightenment thinking when Louisiana schools are teaching that the Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution.
But there can also be at times something a little bit sneering and, well, elitist, about bits of this ‘movement’, the same attitude that inheres in the affinity of Dawkins and his followers for a scientised House of Lords, that democrats amongst the geeks would do well to try to excise. There is insufficient effort at understanding why people might embrace religion, New Age mumbo-jumbo, or alternative medicine, and occasionally a smug dismissal of the dumb, unlettered mass of humanity. Is this not the contemporary analogue of the moderate Enlightenment, an elitist rationalism comfortable with illegitimate power and disdainful of ordinary people?
Another famous haranguer of religion, Karl Marx, understood religion to be a protest against real suffering, and that the struggle against religion is pointless without a struggle against a political economy that requires religion as its analgesic. His frequently over-shortened quote, that religion is the opium of the people, continues: ‘The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.’
A House of Lords with 25 extra godless scientists is still a House of Lords. The living flower would not have been plucked.
22 May 2013: Morten Thaysen Laurberg previews a week of workshops, skill shares, organising, and talks in London in the lead up to the G8
From 10-15 June in London The Spark is promising a packed programme of workshops and events exploring what a more socially and economically just world would look like and how we can get there.
In the run up to the G8, where leaders of the world’s most powerful countries will assemble in the UK, the Spark will host a range of events for people to learn, create, and connect around social justice issues. With workshops and talks about a broad spectrum of topics and methods, the space aims to bring together people and groups that don’t usually work together, to see what we can learn from each other, and to build networks and relationships that will help bring more strength and unity to groups and individuals fighting for social justice.
During the days groups and organisations such as Jubilee Debt Campaign and the London Roots Collective will be hosting a large selection of workshops on everything from economics to direct action. Maddy Evans from Jubilee Debt Campaign advises people to register for the daytime workshops, as there are limited spaces available.
Each evening has a specific theme and will feature films, talks, and debates with activists, food growers, community organisers and many more.
Monday: Life and debt - An evening of film and discussion with Jubilee Debt Campaign and friends.
Tuesday: Military Britain - A discussion on the UK arms trade, military spending and new drone technology.
Wednesday: Food sovereignty - An evening with the growing food sovereignty movement.
Thursday: The climate room - connecting the dots between climate and cuts.
Friday: Policing and security in the UK
All in all The Spark looks like an exciting opportunity to learn, share knowledge, and organise before the G8.
You can find more information at: www.thesparkspace.org
Equal marriage: DUP homophobia shames Northern Ireland Equal marriage must come to Northern Ireland, writes Adam McGibbon
To ‘Camp Frack’, and beyond! Paul Mobbs reflects on the national extreme energy gathering, and the challenges for our campaigns during the coming year
After Woolwich – Stand together against the politics of hate Michael Calderbank says nothing excuses the Woolwich killing - but the hands of our political classes are no less besmirched with blood
Dawkins vs democracy Leigh Phillips looks at Richard Dawkins’ proposal to put scientists instead of bishops in the House of Lords
The Spark of learning Morten Thaysen Laurberg previews a week of workshops, skill shares, organising, and talks in London in the lead up to the G8
Right-to-buy in the great rip-off economy On the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, all the council homes are being demolished in a £1billion regeneration project. It is a perfect illustration of why we have such a housing shortage says Koos Couvée
Fasting to support Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers We spoke to Maya Evans during her fast over the weekend in solidarity with Guantanamo Bay hunger-strikers
A new party of the left comes one step closer Salman Shaheen of Left Unity, the group supporting Ken Loach’s call for a new left party in Britain, reports from its first national meeting
Diary of a ‘wannabe MP’: local elections, UKIP and the left Davy Jones is Green Party parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown at the next general election and a member of Red Pepper’s board. This is the second of a series of regular blogs on his campaign
South Africa’s poor resist home attacks Amid Britain's decision to cut aid for South Africa by 2015, Caroline Elliot hears from poor shack dwellers who vow to resist the destruction of their homes.
Confronting the Climate Crisis: Graham Petersen interview On Saturday 8 June the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group is holding a conference bringing together climate scientists, trade unionists and environmental activists. Red Pepper's environment editor Kara Moses speaks to Graham Petersen, UCU environment and Greener Jobs Alliance co-ordinator
Tapping the resistance in Greece A combination of opposing privatisation and putting forward practical alternatives is helping water campaigners mount an effective challenge to austerity in Greece. Hilary Wainwright reports
The seven faces of Michael Gove Mike Peters looks at how the Tory education secretary uses the words and ideas of the left to win support for his policies
The Brighton pay dispute: the union view GMB union organiser Rob Macey puts the workers' side of the argument
The pay dispute at Brighton council: a Green view Davy Jones, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown, gives his view of a dispute that has caused huge debate among Green Party members in the city and across the country