Friday, 2 October 2009

Four words no man should ever have to say – Harriet Harman is right. But only about topless models

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and even Harriet Harman speaks sense once in a blue moon - in this case when she mocks that British institution, Page Three.

I’m not a big fan of the St Paul’s Girls School-educated Minister for Equality, whose brand of second-generation feminism makes fundamentalist Mormonism seem rationalist in comparison. I also think she represents more than anyone else the political caste’s betrayal of and disgust for the working class.

But, anyway, she’s right about the topless models on Page Three of the Sun. Read more
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Thursday, 1 October 2009

The two policewomen and OFSTED

The creeping invasion of the state into what was once the preserve of the family and the individual – the databases, the intrusive checks, the inevitably disastrous attempts by bureaucrats to engage in social engineering through the promiscuous use of shoddy legislation and lazily-devised "initiatives" – has become so much a feature of modern life that most of us no longer notice it. Until the day it comes knocking at the door.

For Detective Constable Leanne Shepherd, that day was Friday July 10 of this year when an official from the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) called at her home in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire. A CID officer in Thames Valley Police, she was enjoying a day off with her daughter, Edie, just two-and-a-half years old, when the bell rang.

“She was really lovely, the Ofsted lady,” remembers DC Shepherd. “She said there was a report that I was child-minding illegally. When I asked her what she meant – was I committing a criminal offence or something - she said she wasn’t 100 per cent sure.”

DC Shepherd’s alleged "crime" – and even in the age of the nanny-state-gone-wild, this takes some beating – was to have embarked on an arrangement with her friend, colleague and job-sharing partner, DC Lucy Jarrett, by which they took turns to look after each other’s daughter during days off. It was, according to both women, a “perfect” arrangement that lasted more than two years and allowed them to pursue challenging careers part-time (they conduct investigations together), and spend sufficient time with their first-borns in the years when they needed their mothers most.

There was no rigid pattern to the arrangement – its virtue was its flexibility – but it was reciprocal: each woman received a benefit in the form of two, and occasionally more, days of free child care during most weeks of the year. This supposedly violates the Childcare Act of 2006, which prohibits adults not registered as child-minders looking after other people’s children for more than two hours a day for reward – the reward being the free care. Read more
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Let the decent citizens reclaim our streets

All the crime figures over the past 50 to 100 years show how anti-social disorder has gradually taken over. In my constituency of Birkenhead, there are now more violent crimes against the person than there were in the whole country 50 years ago. When I first started campaigning in Parliament against anti-social behaviour there were too many unruly youths in Birkenhead, but I didn't come across more than six "families from hell". Now the Prime Minister puts the total at 50,000 across the country. This is a national emergency, and it is time for the Government to empower decent citizens to reclaim the streets.

At present, the neighbourhood can go into court and get a warrant issued against these low-level community terrorists. But because this is deemed a private action, the police will not enforce the warrant to bring the thugs into court that day. The bench must be given power to rule that neighbourhood-inspired action is a public action, and to enforce the warrant immediately. This would, for example, have allowed Fiona Pilkington's neighbours collectively to have protected her family and themselves. It is a reform that could be enacted in 10 days' time, when Parliament returns, and at a stroke would change the balance of power in favour of decency.

We must also address the fact that our country is increasingly losing the knack of producing good parents. In short, we need a government that believes in turning out good citizens as seriously as did our Victorian and Edwardian predecessors. Only then will the fight against the evil forces that destroyed Fiona and her family be made more equal. Read more
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Monday, 28 September 2009

England wasn't built on babysitting bans

What would Orwell make of a nation in which mothers are investigated for looking after each other's children?

When did it happen? When did the English, described by George Orwell in his famous essays, as a byword for tolerance, eternally suspicious of "power worship" and the overweening authoritarian state, turn into people who report their neighbours to the authorities for babysitting each other's children without permission?

The case of two female police officers who have been subjected to accusations of running an illegal childminding business seems to exemplify the new England.

Someone – apparently a neighbour – anonymously reported that detective constable Leanne Shepherd, who has a two-year-old daughter Edie, had a reciprocal childcare arrangement with her job share partner and friend DC Lucy Jarrett, who also has a toddler, Amy, aged three.

After an unannounced visit from Ofsted established this was indeed the case, the two families were ordered to stop the arrangement forthwith as neither was registered as a childcare provider with the appropriate authorities.

Surely this is painful, monstrous nonsense? "It was devastating, I was crying all day. Every day Edie says 'going to see Amy?', but it's just not possible," said Shepherd, who has had to place her daughter in an expensive private nursery so she can continue working. Read more
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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Atheists examine Christmas from angel-free angle

It is a book about Christmas but there's not a manger, virgin birth or angel in sight.

Buoyed by the success of their campaign which proclaimed There's Probably No God, Now Stop Worrying on the side of London buses, some of Britain's most prominent atheists have come together to publish a book for the festive season.

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas features contributions on the theme of Christmas and God by scientists Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh and Adam Rutherford, agony aunt Claire Rayner, pop star Simon Le Bon, illusionist Derren Brown and Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker.

Due for publication this Friday, the book is already ranked at number 40 in the chart compiled by online retailer Amazon and could be a surprise bestseller. Read more
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Stop the Exodus: Anglicans issue rallying cry

An extra half a million people are expected to help fill the pews in churches across Britain today. Regular worshippers are being asked to help swell congregations by bringing friends or the lapsed faithful back into the fold as part of the Church of England's Back to Church initiative.

Although there are around 41 million self-described Christians in the UK – three quarters of the population – a mere 10 per cent of them actually attend services regularly, and that number is falling.

Most people find themselves in church only at Christmas, Easter, or for weddings, funerals and baptisms.

The Christian Research organisation, which gathers information on religious trends, said that in 1990 more than 5.6 million people in the UK – then 10 per cent of the population – were active church members. By 2000 this had fallen to 4.3 million; and by 2015, the organisation estimates it will be down to barely more than three million people.

Eileen Barker, emeritus professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (Inform), said that the decline in congregations reflected "increasing social diversification". Read more
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