18 February 2012

Grasping the thistle

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David Cameron had “grasped the thistle at last” declared The Scotsman’s Joyce McMillan after the Prime Minister’s Edinburgh speech was well received by most commentators both north and south of the border. Although many noted that was just one early move in an emerging debate about the choices which might be on offer over independence or the future of the United Kingdom.

For OurKingdom, Gerry Hassan declared it “one of the most nuanced interventions made in Scotland for many a year” and noted Scottish Labour’s difficulty in formulating a coherent response, finding Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran “caught between her mutual loathing of Tories and Nats”, while The Spectator’s Peter Hoskin observed that Cameron’s offer of more devolved powers to Scotland will also require him to address the English dimension.

British Future’s Matthew Rhodes offered his take on the Total Politics blog noting the ability to incorporate plural identities and affiliations in what David Cameron enthusiastically described as a “United Kingdom which is not monoglot, monochrome and minimalist but multi-national, multi-cultural and modern in every way”.

How do you solve a problem like Abu Qatada?

Home Secretary Theresa May is flying to Jordan to try to make progress on assurances from Jordan that the radical cleric Abu Qatada would face a fair trial if deported, following the recent ECHR judgement. With many calls for Qatada to be deported immediately in defiance of the ECHR judgement – such as Douglas Murray suggesting the government’s response to the ECHR should be “you and whose army? –  this growing  “contempt for the rule of law” worried Bagehot in The Economist. A defence of the European Court of Human Rights  had been made by The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne while Alex Massie at the The Spectator’s Coffee House argued that Qatada should be allowed to stay in Britain.

But it will also become more difficult to defend human rights if no publicly legitimate solution can be found within the human rights framework, as Shamit Saggar and I argued here on the British Future blog, Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam also supported the government’s efforts to secure the assurances to make a deportation possible, while arguing that the case should be used to celebrate the British commitment to the rule of law, and to weaken Qatada’s credibility for seeking these ‘infidel’ protections too.

In bad faith

Professor Richard Dawkins had a bad morning on the Today programme on Tuesday. The problem was not really that he couldn’t recall the long subtitle of the Origin of Species, but the overturning of principles of liberal autonomy and self-definition by telling those who self-describe as Christians that they were not ‘truly Christians’.

Giles Fraser, having come off best in the bout with Dawkins, also challenged claims of a militant secularist takeover, voiced by Conservative Party chair Baroness Warsi as nonsense too, appealing for a return to the liberal spirit of religious tolerance:

“Suddenly, debates over religion are getting nasty, with both sides beginning to look more and more like each other: both angry, both agreeing that Christianity has to be literally understood and evangelically expressed in order to count as the real thing.”

Nick Spencer, research director of Theos, offered a conciliatory conclusion in a Prospect blog on the interesting poll findings from Dawkins’ eponymous foundation:

“The lesson remains instructive. We do not have windows into one another’s souls and all of us—whether it is Christians inflating the figures and their significance or atheists deflating them—should think very carefully before pronouncing on how many real believers walk among us.”

Athens, do we have a solution?

Since everybody agrees that the Greek crisis is being handled badly by Greek and European politicians, the Crooked Timber blog invites you to do better and to find your own policy response, with ‘a choose your own adventure’ exercise in the politics of monetary policy.

The sociologist John Holloway, previously dubbed ‘the philosopher of Zapatistas’, while professing a dislike of violence, declared a “surge of pleasure” at “flames of rage that we rejoice in“. But the hope in his Guardian commentary that delight in “spectacular flames” can be combined with the “patient construction of a different way of doing things” seems extremely unlikely.  His rallying cry “we are all Greeks” is probably not the slogan likely to mobilise all of Europe out to the streets this weekend either.

Germany’s Presidential merry-go-round

There was an embarassing distraction from the eurozone crisis for Angela Merkel, with the resignation of a second German President in two years.

The outgoing President Christian Wulff  has been lampooned on German satirical television shows with the coining of the the new verb “Wulffen” – “to wulff”. Press reports suggest several overlapping meanings: to leave an insufferable message on someone’s answering machine (Time), after the President’s voicemail message asking the tabloid Bild not to run the story about a secret loan; to be evasive without telling a clear lie (Guardian); and taking something without paying for it (Reuters).

But if Wulff has become part of the German language, he had almost no name recognition outside of Germany. There are seven monarchs and twenty presidencies in the European Union. Most – apart from the presidents of France, Finland and Cyprus – are constitutional figureheads. Apart from President Sarkozy of France, how many can you name?

This land is our land

Finally, a spot of high treason at the Daily Telegraph, unusually bored with too much patriotic BBC tub-thumping for The Great British Countryside. TV reviewer Michael Deacon notes that Hugh Dennis “may not have much documentary experience, but he knows what he likes, and that’s Britishness” – and even wonders whether the British landscape really has any more going for it than anywhere else.


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