Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Conspiracy? Or cock-up?

Maybe I'm being too cynical, but when I got round to reading the Times this weekend, I discovered that Gordon Brown is taking an axe to the Ministerial code of conduct that he had said needed to be strengthened.

The sleaze and scandal under previous administrations resulted in a strengthening of the rules in 1997. Ministers were required to obey "the letter and the spirit" of these rules - and one of them was that they were not allowed to be directors of companies while they were government ministers.

The new rule allows ministers to dispose of the interest, or take "alternative steps". So they get to keep the jobs if they can convince themselves and their senior advisers that it's OK. The prospect of conflicts of interest is all too clear.

What is not quite so clear is why Gordon Brown thinks this rule should go. Maybe it was an accidental cut in his rush to simplify the rules - but it's unfortunate that when it was proposed, one of his junior ministers was still on a number of boards of directors.

Fortunately somebody in parliament has noticed, and the Committee for Standards in Public Life is taking a look at the new code of conduct.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The saints go marching out?

The Catholic Church has asked its members to stop giving money to Amnesty International, and the Catholic auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor has advised that school links with Amnesty should be severed. It's because Amnesty International now supports abortion for rape victims in war zones.

It's fair enough to stop funding organisations that campaign for things you disagree with - indeed, it's a reasonable way to express your opposition. I've done it in the past.

But should all links be cut? In general, is it a good idea to withdraw from organisations we don't agree fully with? Is it even possible?

And what about people who want to remain in such organisations, and express their opposition on the inside? Is it reasonable to ask members of a church to leave an organisation, like AI, that also does a lot of good?

I think the Bishop is confused about the kind of organisation Amnesty International is. The catholic church is (at least in theory) a take-it-or-leave-it-all organisation that exists partly to teach its members what to believe and what to do. "You don't get to pick and choose," as a catholic friend of mine once said.

Amnesty, on the other hand, is not in the business of telling its members what to think. So far as I know, they don't excommunicate their people for differing from the party line. You are allowed to disagree.

So if people want to join in the Amnesty's work against oppression while still holding the Catholic church's absolutist position on abortion, they can. They can even try to overturn Amnesty's policy from within. Amnesty won't excommunicate them, and the Catholic Church shouldn't stigmatise them either.

As Christians, we're supposed to be in the world, but not of the world. We're supposed not just to be different, but also to make a difference.

Anyway, where would such complete withdrawal end? From politics? From employment? From education? From genetic research? From the arts? And how would we pick the supremely important issues that prompt withdrawal? Abortion? Slavery? The death penalty? Social justice? Failure to care for others as we care for ourselves? Failure to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Arrrr! Today be talk like a pirate day! Shiver me timbers!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

#*$*% Residents' Association

Bah Humbug! The residents' association has been wittering for ages about getting ramps built on the roads where I live. I thought that idiocy had gone away - but no such luck. There is now a dirty great ramp just down the road.

So now we're going to suffer the inconvenience and wear and tear of driving over ramps, with the increased traffic noise as cars slow down before and speed up afterwards, and the resulting increase in pollution.

It's not as though there were even a problem with speeding, or kids having to play in the street.

It looks like I'm going to have to keep an eye on these witless do-gooders! Who knows what they'll come up with next? Parking permits?