Category: United Kingdom

Top judge leads calls to scrap mandatory daily Christian worship in UK schools

Influential report urges end to religious assemblies and raises concern over segregation

The Guardian, By Harriet Sherwood, December 5

Schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, under radical reforms being proposed by a top-level inquiry into the place of faith in multicultural Britain.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, [organization website] led by former high court judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, also recommends curtailing the segregation of children by faith and a radical overhaul of the teaching of belief to make it more realistic and relevant in a diverse and increasingly secular country.

The weighty report is expected to set out proposals on the place of faith in the next coronation, as well as examining religion in relation to education, the criminal justice system, the media, social provision and politics. The commission’s patrons include the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and its members are drawn from all major religions in the UK.

Among its proposals is the repeal of a legal requirement for most state schools to hold daily acts of collective worship that are wholly or mainly of a Christian character. Non-Christian faith schools are permitted to choose their own form of worship. “The arguments in favour of retaining compulsory Christian worship in UK schools are no longer … convincing,” the report says, according to draft seen by the Observer. Instead the commission endorses an inclusive “time for reflection”, embracing children of all and no faiths.

[…]

“It is in our view not clear that segregation of young people into faith schools has promoted greater cohesion or that it has not been socially divisive, leading to greater misunderstanding and tension,” the report says. “Selection by religion segregates children not only according to different religious heritage but also, frequently and in effect, by ethnicity and socio-economic background. This undermines equality of opportunity and incentivises parents to be insincere about their religious affiliation and practice.”

The report is to be published December 7th, a day which will live in Infamy.

UDA re-emerges amid Northern Ireland’s power-sharing crisis

Statement from loyalist terror group says it ‘won’t be leaving’ as talks continue to save devolution after crisis sparked by alleged IRA killing.

The Guardian, By Henry McDonald, October 6

The loyalist terror group the Ulster Defence Association is still in existence and refuses to dissolve, it has announced.

At one time it was the largest loyalist paramilitary organisation, with thousands of members across Northern Ireland. It has now said it has no intention of disappearing.

The UDA statement comes as political parties represented in the Stormont assembly continue talks aimed at saving power sharing in the region. At the heart of the latest crisis destabilising devolution are allegations of ongoing paramilitary activity – most notably claims that the Provisional IRA still exists and was responsible for murdering ex-member Kevin McGuigan in August.

The UDA’s intervention will further complicate negotiations between unionist and nationalist parties, chaired by the British and Irish governments. A report drawn up by three government-appointed security, legal and academic experts is to be released this month, which will rule on the status of the IRA and other paramilitary organisations.

Researchers Apply For Permission To Alter DNA Of Human Embryos

Some say gene editing shouldn’t be performed on human embryos until its effects are better understood.

The Huffington Post, By Sam Levine, September 18

The first British researchers have applied for permission to alter the DNA of human embryos to better understand the reason women have miscarriages, amid a broader debate over whether the testing is appropriate.

Earlier this year, Chinese scientists became the first in the world to modify human embryos. Researchers from the Francis Crick Institute are the first to seek permission to use the technique in Great Britain, where it is currently illegal except for research purposes.

The researchers hope to better understand the key genes involved in the first stages of fertilization and ultimately to determine the reason some women miscarry, according to The Guardian. The embryos, which are donated by couples who have a surplus after IVF treatment, would be destroyed after the research is completed. They cannot legally be studied for longer than two weeks.

Labour Elects Far-Left Leader in British Politics Shake-Up

AP, September 12

London — A veteran anti-war campaigner known for his unapologetically socialist views has won a landslide victory to lead Britain’s opposition Labour Party — an outcome that delighted supporters and dismayed others who never imagined he could be elected.

The overwhelming support for far-left lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn, 66, was one of the biggest shake-ups in British politics in decades.

His win Saturday marks a sharp left turn for his party — and will significantly challenge the tone of mainstream British politics, which is now dominated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives.

“It’s certainly the most high-profile position an overt socialist has held in British politics since the 1980s,” said Martin Wright, lecturer in history and politics at Cardiff University. “It’s an absolute earthquake. For the last two decades, the center ground has been moving ever further to the right. This moves the frames of reference to the left and opens up an alternative.”

Ian Welsh: So, Corbyn in now the Labour Leader in the UK

I’ll have more to say on Corbyn going forward. Also of great interest are Sanders in the US Democratic Primary and the ongoing Canadian election. While Sanders and Mulcair are both problematic on foreign affairs in ways that Corbyn isn’t, both are a big upgrade from the status quo.

We may be at the beginning of a realignment of possibilities, where the electable spectrum changes radically. The last one, in the Anglosphere, ran from 76 to about 1984, and destroyed the old left.

Archbishop of Canterbury promises sex abuse inquiry

The Archbishop of Canterbury has promised to investigate sex abuse in the Church of England if the judge-led abuse inquiry does not look into it within six months.

BBC, July 12

Justin Welby made the promise during a private meeting with survivors of clerical abuse earlier this week.

The independent inquiry into child sex abuse led by Justice Lowell Goddard is expected to last five years.

Lambeth Palace said the archbishop wanted the Church to be reviewed first.

But it said if this did not happen within six months, the archbishop would instigate an “independently-led past cases review”.

Welsh government responds in Klingon to UFO airport query

Klingon was the chosen language for the Welsh government in its response to queries about UFO sightings at Cardiff Airport.

BBC, July 10

While English and Welsh are the usual forms of communications in the Senedd, it opted for the native tongue of the enemies of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.

Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar had asked for details of UFOs sightings and asked if research would be funded.

A Welsh government spokesman responded with: “jang vIDa je due luq.”

The Welsh government statement continued: “‘ach ghotvam’e’ QI’yaH devolve qaS.”

Spy Agency’s Secret Plans to Foster Online “Conformity” and “Obedience” Exposed

Internal memo from secretive British spy unit exposes how GCHQ and NSA used human psychological research to create sophisticated online propaganda tools.

Common Dreams, By Jon Queally, June 22

With never-before-seen documents accompanied by new reporting on Monday, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman are offering a more in-depth look than ever into how a secretive unit of the UK’s GCHQ surveillance agency used a host of psychological methods and online subterfuge in order to manipulate the behavior of individuals and groups through the internet and other digital forms of communication.

[…]

Among the most troubling revelations is a 42-page internal JTRIG memo that describes in detail how the elite unit developed, maintained, and apparently sought to expand its “scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behavior can be influenced” in order to increase its ability to “manipulate public opinion” via online tools like email, social media, video, discussion forums, and other platforms.

Stop!

Britain sends biggest warship for NATO drills on Russian border

RT, May 24

Britain is ramping up its military rhetoric, sending its biggest warship for NATO drills in the Baltic, right off the Russian coast, in this latest show of force. The drills kick off on June 5 and will last for two weeks.

The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean is expected to reach Russia’s city of Kaliningrad sometime this week, carrying aboard about 80 Royal Marines who are to join other NATO troops in Poland, the Sunday Times reports.

Named ‘Baltops 15,’ the games’ objective remains, as before, to test battle-readiness and in so doing continue to voice disapproval over the situation in Ukraine. The Baltic nations believe Russia poses a military threat to Europe and are using its alleged actions in Ukraine as pretext to show off their own military prowess and push for increased NATO presence in the region.

David Cameron to unveil new limits on extremists’ activities in Queen’s speech

Prime minister will announce counter-terrorism bill including plans to restrict harmful actions of those seeking to radicalise young people

The Guardian, By Patrick Wintour, May 12

A counter-terrorism bill including plans for extremism disruption orders designed to restrict those trying to radicalise young people is to be included in the Queen’s speech, David Cameron will tell the national security council on Wednesday.

The orders, the product of an extremism task force set up by the prime minister, were proposed during the last parliament in March, but were largely vetoed by the Liberal Democrats on the grounds of free speech. They were subsequently revived in the Conservative manifesto.

The measures would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”.

The aim is to catch not just those who spread or incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake harmful activities for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print. The bill will also contain plans for banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech in public places, but it will fall short of banning on the grounds of provoking hatred.
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Revealed: how Tony Blair makes his millions

Exclusive: Former prime minister is being paid to advise the Colombian government on how it spends £2 billion earned from mining deals

The Telegraph, By Edward Malnick, Robert Mendick and Harriet Alexander, April 18

Tony Blair is facing fresh accusations of a conflict of interest over his business affairs after it emerged he signed a controversial contract overseeing mining deals in Latin America.

Mr Blair is being paid to advise the Colombian government on how it spends £2 billion earned from mining deals.

The contract, obtained by The Telegraph, reveals that the Colombian government does not pay any fees for his services. Instead, the fees owed to Tony Blair Associates (TBA), Mr Blair’s consultancy firm, are paid for by an oil-rich Gulf state where Mr Blair has developed close links.

The deal raises questions over Mr Blair’s role as a Middle East peace envoy and whether he has used that position to befriend wealthy rulers in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who are now funding his private consultancy work in Colombia, among other countries.

The disclosure will add to pressure on Mr Blair to quit as envoy. According to one well-placed source, he is expected to announce his resignation from the role in the coming weeks.

Britain tells United States: We’ll always fight by your side

Reuters, By Andrew Osborne, March 23

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the United States on Monday his country would always be at Washington’s side on the battlefield “when the chips are down,” part of a concerted campaign to assuage U.S. fears over British defense spending.

The U.S. army’s chief of staff said earlier this month he was very concerned about the impact of spending cuts on British defense and future cooperation with London, traditionally a staunch U.S. ally.

Ahead of an unusually close national election on May 7, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party are under pressure from lawmakers across the spectrum to commit to protect defense spending after the ballot. Both have dodged firm pledges.

Preventing dissent

How Britain’s new police state will radicalise us all

Medium, By Nafeez Ahmed, February 13

In the UK, an insidious secret network of violent extremists is plotting to subvert democracy. The members of this network detest our way of life, and hate our freedoms. Walking amongst us, this dangerous fifth column is exploiting the very laws we hold dear to campaign for the establishment of an extremist, totalitarian state that would police every aspect of our lives based on a fanatical ideology that is devoid of reason.

No, the ‘Islamic State’ is not about to conquer Great Britain. But the neocons in government and industry who profit from fear might well be.

In the name of fighting terror, the UK government, hand-in-hand with the US, is leading the way to turn freedom of speech and dissent into mere formalities that, in practice, have no place in societies that will function, effectively, as full-fledged police-states.
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US, UK and France announce closures, evacuations of embassies in Yemen

Fox News, February 11

The State Department announced late Tuesday that the U.S. Embassy in Yemen had been closed and evacuated after much of the country was taken over by Shiite rebels last month.

Hours later, Britain and France followed suit and ordered their citizens to leave Yemen as soon as possible.

The U.S. embassy had already been operating with severely reduced staff for several weeks. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said remaining diplomatic personnel had been relocated “due to the ongoing political instability and the uncertain security situation.”

Al Arabiya: France, Britain suspend embassy work in Yemen

Almost 7,000 UK properties to be sacrificed to rising seas

Properties worth over £1bn will be lost to coastal erosion in England and Wales over the next century, with no compensation for homeowners, as it becomes too costly to protect them.

The Guardian, By Damian Carrington, December 28

Almost 7,000 homes and buildings will be sacrificed to the rising seas around England and Wales over the next century, according to an unpublished Environment Agency (EA) analysis seen by the Guardian. Over 800 of the properties will be lost to coastal erosion within the next 20 years.

The properties, worth well over £1bn, will be allowed to fall into the sea because the cost of protecting them would be far greater. But there is no compensation scheme for homeowners to enable them to move to a safer location.

In December 2013, a huge tidal surge flooded 1,400 homes along the east coast and saw numerous homes tumble into the ocean. Earlier this month, the environment secretary, Liz Truss, visited Lowestoft on the anniversary of the surge, which flooded the town.

First woman bishop: parish priest Libby Lane is surprise choice

Bookies off the mark as Church of England names the Rev Libby Lane as its first female bishop in Stockport, Greater Manchester
The Telegraph, By John Bingham, December 17

A parish priest from Hale has made history as the first woman to be named as a bishop in the Church of England.

The Rev Libby Lane, a 48-year-old mother of two, is to be the next Bishop of Stockport in Greater Manchester.

It comes more than 20 years after the ordination of the first female priests in the established church and almost a century after the first attempts to open the ministry to women.

After the announcement, she said: “This is unexpected and very exciting.

[…]

The appointment, which was kept a closely guarded secret, is being formally announced by Downing Street after being approved by the Queen.

The Established Church is now the last great institution of public life in Britain to open its upper reaches to people of both sexes.

The milestone is expected to be the first of a handful of announcements in the coming months of women being admitted to the episcopate.

It comes as ministers also prepare to introduce new legislation to fast-track women bishops into the House of Lords.

They hope it will mean the first female clerics will be taking their places among the “Lords Spiritual” of the Upper Chamber before the General Election.