I have been really enjoying the summery weather we’ve been having in London this week. This afternoon in my office - which people refused to come to meetings in over the winter because it was so cold - I even opened the window! S’amazing how some good weather can lift the soul!
I went this evening to a very interesting lecture by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
His title was ”˜the Church in public life’ and he used it to make a powerful claim for the right of people of faith to contribute to public debate.
He started by acknowledging that the Catholic church had had a far from innocent history in using the instruments of the state to enforce Catholicism and said he thought that the statement by the Vatican II Council in the 1960s that it would not do so again was one of the great steps forward in this area of the last century.
But he went on to make a very strong case for the problems of the trend towards enshrining secularism, which is in danger of being what he called ”˜the new intolerance’. British public debate likes to be ”˜neutral’ on the question of religion in public life - but that too often that means excluding a religious view, which is not neutral but aggressively secularist - and so denies the rights of religious people to have their views as much as it does the right of anyone else to be non-religious. And as he pointed out, freedom of religion doesn’t just mean the right not to be persecuted for your religion (which as he pointed out, Catholics and Jews were in Britain until remarkably recently), but the freedom to live out those principles in your life - as long as it doesn’t harm others. And he was right too that British Christians are often somewhat shy and, well, British in asserting that right - in comparison to the ”˜rigeur’ of French Catholicism he thought the British version somewhat ”˜mushy’!
A small prize will be available to anyone who can explain to me why areas of extreme deprivation are currently known as ‘Super Output Areas’ (SOAs). I’m all for talking up areas positively but am having some difficulty identifying what exactly what it is that such areas put out so superbly.
About six years ago, in my first foray into one of the party’s policy mechanism, I sat on the party’s crime policy working group. I was very conscious that I knew less than everyone else in the room and hardly said anything at all. But one thing I do remember asking about was why, when there was such a problem with people seeking to defer their jury service because they had been called at a time inconvenient to them, the system didn’t allow people to volunteer to do their service at a time that *was* convenient to them. There were a few nodding heads saying they thought that was a good idea, but nothing more was ever heard of it.
Until a few weeks ago, when I read the draft of the crime and justice policy paper going to this spring’s party conference - Together We Can Cut Crime. The policy aims to make some improvements to the working of the justice system (it’s actually really good - do have a look at it) and I thought I would try submitting my suggestion as an amendment to it.