Antony Flew dies

The world-famous atheist who found God (sort of).

Professor Antony Flew, a distinguished British philosopher whose 1950 paper Theology and Falsification was, according to the Telegraph, "reputedly the most frequently quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century", has died at the age of 87.

Flew was also a celebrated atheist, for many decades often referred to as the best-known proponent and justifier of that position on the planet. But then, within the past few years, he changed his mind. The headlines (over)simplified it -- "Sorry, says atheist-in-chief, I do believe in God after all" was how the Sunday Times reported the story in 2004. 

Flew had in fact become a deist, a word that the Sunday Times managed not to mention once in its article. As I wrote in the 2009 NS "God" issue:

Flew was no more sympathetic to the revealed religions of the Book, with their "monstrous Oriental despots" of gods, as he called them, than before. He had simply come to the conclusion that, at the very least, there was probably some kind of "first cause"; and that this, rather than an interventionist deity presiding over an afterlife, was what he meant by "god".

You can find the full piece here. My own sadness is that I would dearly have loved to have met and talked with Professor Flew, but as I explained last year, he refused my request for an interview -- not because he bore me or the NS any animosity, but because he clearly felt buffeted and hurt by the turmoil in which he found himself after he announced his conversion.

All I would say is that he was a man who bravely sought the truth as he saw it right to the end, and at some considerable personal cost. Few of us could hope to do better than that.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.