Bashing the Bishop

Criticism for Rowan Williams and praise for John McCain

The best way to unify the blogosphere against you, it would seem, is to come out in favour of shariah laws in Britain, as Rowan Williams did this week.

In a thoughtful piece on the subject, Cranmer concludes: “God forbid that Britain should ever return to the days when religious leaders should determine guilt or innocence, or legislate on matters of crime and punishment. For some of us, those memories are all too acute and dreadfully painful.”

The news brought a swathe of imaginative post titles. Iain Dale comes up with “Who will rid us of this idiotic priest?” Chris Paul responds: “Archbishop: who will rid us of this ID-iotic blogger?”, while Obsolete’s contribution is titled “Opening your mind so much that your brain falls out”.

In one of the few posts that supports Williams’s position, Brian Sloan writes: “It is an issue that calls for informed debate if we are to have a genuinely pluralistic society, and I admire the Archbishop for raising it. Given the ill-informed and immature reactions of some, such a debate seems a long way off.”

Apparently there have been some elections over the pond. At Harry’s Place, Gene serves up some Super Tuesday afterthoughts, including praise of John McCain: “Although I can't help liking McCain (if it wasn't such an insult in certain circles, I'd call him a decent man), I'm quite aware that on many of the social and economic issues I care about, he's far to the right of me. I actually was moved last night when he referred, non-sarcastically, to ‘our friends’ on the Democratic side.”

Danny Finkelstein calls the caucus voting system “ludicrously undemocratic”, highlighting some of the winning margins (e.g. Mitt Romney winning 25 seats in Montana on the back of 625 votes, while Mike Huckerbee needed 120,776 votes in order to win just 26 Arkansas delegates).

While acknowledging it may appear hypocritical judging American democracy as a Brit, Finkelstein states: “Romney, Huckabee and Obama all gained delegates as a result of this system that they otherwise might not have won. Caucuses (and state conventions) clearly favour the choice and enthusiasm of activists over those of ordinary voters.”

And finally, on the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, Jon Bright at Our Kingdom assesses how far we have come in terms of equality of political power between both sexes. He concludes: “I hope that in another 90 years we are able to celebrate the equal access of men and women to positions of power, whilst also celebrating the anniversary of when change first began. Sadly, even today, this is a hope rather than a certainty.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.