Evan and David: showing what liberalism is all about

by Stephen Tall on January 22, 2009

There are times it’s good to be a Liberal Democrat. Take, for example, last December’s Private Members’ Bills ballot for the 2008-09 Parliamentary session. Four Lib Dem MPs were drawn in the top 20, with David Heath and Evan Harris in the top five. David announced the subject of his bill last week: ending fuel poverty.

And yesterday, as widely trailed in the media, Evan announced what he would devote his bill to – reversing centuries of discrimination against Catholics and women under the Act of Settlement and other enactments. Here’s an excerpt from Evan’s press release:

Dr Harris said, “It is wrong that anti-Catholic discrimination is written into the UK’s constitution”.

The Bill would end discrimination against women in the line of succession, so that any daughters of Prince William would succeed their father on the basis of their age, rather than their younger brothers doing so.

“It is not acceptable that our law continues to relegate women down the succession to the crown, at a time when no sane politician would argue in its favour”. …

The Government has indicated that it wishes see these changes take place but has failed to identify any legislative opportunity to do so in the current session of Parliament.

“Although the current discrimination does not have a wide practical effect, because this is still part of our constitution, it is an ongoing symbol of the lingering 2nd class status of Roman Catholics and women.”

So why do these two very different bills make me proud to be a Lib Dem? Because they show a profound understanding of what is at the heart of liberalism: a keen sense of justice and fair play.

While David’s proposals to end fuel poverty is a perfect combination of social justice and environmental action, Evan’s bill aims to right some basic wrongs, ending symbolic religious and sex discrimination by the state which applies to the most privileged section of society.

Can you imagine both of these bills being put forward by either Tory or Labour MPs, and supported wholeheartedly by their colleagues? Neither can I. And here’s why.

Labour ‘gets’ social justice in a way that most Tories just don’t. But for Labour the only inequalities which matter are economic, and Evan’s bill will be seen by many as an irrelevant indulgence; while for many traditionalist Tories it will be regarded as a presumptuously interfering and dangerous strike at the established church.

Not for Lib Dems: injustice can affect the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the uneducated. Anyone who finds themselves powerless to control their own destiny needs an advocate: that is what liberalism is all about. I’m delighted that, in their different ways, David’s and Evan’s proposals reflect the core of this party’s philosophy.

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I’d be more impressed with Dr Harris if he bothered to respond to emails from a constituent.

As it was, I heard about the Lib Dem decision on MP Expenses from Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone on Twitter.

Not good enough, Dr Evans.


by Dungeekin on January 22, 2009 at 9:20 am. Reply #

MPs usually take well over a week to respond to any correspondence, including emails. They do get hundreds a day sometimes. How long have you left Evan Harris?

Well, given that it was only publicised last Friday you cant have given him more than 5 days. If you think that “isnt good enough” perhaps you would support an increase in office expenses for MPs so that they can hire more staff? No, I didnt think so…

by MBoy on January 22, 2009 at 9:46 am. Reply #

You could also, as I commented before when you raised the matter, have taken note of the fact that Evan Harris was one of the first people to sign the Early Day Motion against the FOI Order. It is easy enough to conclude from that that he would have voted in accordance with your wishes anyway.

There doesn’t seem to be any good reason why you should be given the same information twice, at the cost of MP staff time and hence taxpayers’ expense.

by Alix on January 22, 2009 at 9:54 am. Reply #

Evan Harris says

“It is not acceptable that our law continues to relegate women down the succession to the crown, at a time when no sane politician would argue in its favour”

but then no sane politician would argue for a post which is hereditary in the first place.

As a Catholic, I really am not bothered by this mention of my religion in the law of succession, for how can one worry about this discrimination when the system discriminates against anyone who isn’t the eldest son (or daughter if the other bit changes) of the previous postholder anyway?

In fact the whole thing is a bit of colourful nonsense which reminds us of our past. Now, unlike many Liberal Democrats it seems, I’m rather in favour of colourful nonsense, so long as it isn’t too harmful. I quite like the pomp and ceremony of the monarchy so long as it has no real power, and if we’re going to keep this anachronism as a symbolic link to our past, I’m happy to keep all its anachronisms. That includes the anachronistic mention of my religion, for I quite like the way it symbolically labels me as “subversive”.

If Dr Harris wishes to tackle anti-Catholicism, he would do better to consider the way it is considered in liberal circles acceptable to misrepresent it or to pick out, distort, and over-emphasise negative aspects of it, in a way that would be considered completely unacceptable for other religions.

by Matthew Huntbach on January 22, 2009 at 9:58 am. Reply #

It’s the economy stupid!

by Anonymous on January 22, 2009 at 10:11 am. Reply #

Jeffrey Archer introduced a Bill to end Primogenature in the Sucession.

by David Morton on January 22, 2009 at 10:31 am. Reply #

Evan Harris’s bill does seem to be a bit of an irrelevance, although few would demur from the gender equality aspect.

However, on the other part, it may not be liberal but the rule on Catholics not succeeding to the Crown is hard wired into the troubled history of this country, which has developed a largely secular system with a healthy cynicism about our Royal Family which others must envy as they inaugurate their Presidents at huge expense or put up with their Kings having 92 wives.

If the law on Catholics is changed it is likely to bring the whole issue of the monarchy into question, especially if a Catholic were to assume the role.

There are many on our party who would welcome this threat to the monarchy but we should be cautious about picking apart the constitutional settlement which has emerged over centuries without a clear idea of what we want to achieve.

I’m a reluctant republican because I recognise the value of our Royal Family in terms of this country’s ‘brand’ and the tourism income they generate in particular.

Evan Harris likes to go off ‘half-cock’ and he is perhaps a better politician for that. I hope he reflects on this proposal properly before pulling a loose thread which could unravel our whole messy, inefficient but fundamentally stable system.

by wit and wisdom on January 22, 2009 at 11:00 am. Reply #

You know, all the pro/anti monarchy debators are similar to debates about the existance of God. You ultimately get down to one chap not liking the monarchy, and the other one liking the monarchy, and neither person has an arguement that actually bests the other.

To put it simply, it’s like a tug of war between two rugby players who are both attached by superglue to various moons of Jupiter.

by Huw Dawson on January 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm. Reply #

If the Monarch became a Roman Catholic where would they be prepared to publicly criticise the Pope and the Vatican ? If not, then they should not be the Monarch.

by Charlie on January 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm. Reply #

“Interesting” response by the Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic Herald, Dr Damian Thompson, to Evan Harris’ proposed bill.

by Lonely Wonderer on January 22, 2009 at 1:42 pm. Reply #

Good lord, that Thompson article is quite a piece of work, isn’t it?

But it’s a strange priority for Evan the Secularist, no? And if the Editor of the Catholic Herald won’t take Evan’s calls there’s clear no hope for good press for the party in wider Catholic circles as a result of this, so what are we trying to achieve with the bill?

by Alex Foster on January 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm. Reply #

There are other bits of anti-Catholic legislation that survived a very long time. Until just before the 2001 election Catholic priests were barred from standing for election.

by Hywel on January 22, 2009 at 7:25 pm. Reply #

I suspect Evan is simply trying to highlight that we should be against discrimination wherever it is found.

I very much doubt he seriously expects to win over people like the Editor of the Catholic Herald, but it is down to his belief in equal rights for all that he beleives that Catholics should have the same legal rights as anyone else.

by Liberal Neil on January 22, 2009 at 8:19 pm. Reply #

“But for Labour the only inequalities which matter are economic,”

This is borne out by Labour’s approach the the ban on Catholic priests which I discovered on checking my facts above.

In October 1998 the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended a change.

There was a 10 minute rule bill in June 1999.

There were election law acts in:
1998 (Registration of Political Parties – possibly passed by this point)
1999 (European Elections)*
2000 (PPERA and A Representation of the People Act)

At least three, maybe four acts covering election law. However it was not until 2001 that this law was changed (with a bill of 2 clauses and 2 schedules introduced in January). Purely co-incidentally, shortly before that point Labour selected a former Catholic Priest (David Cairns) as a candidate.

* Ok it’s a stretch to have included it in such a bill – but no more than (to take a purely random example) than amending the Data Protection Act in a bill on Coroners.

by Hywel on January 23, 2009 at 12:01 am. Reply #

Let me try and draw the East Wickham result into this. I don’t know the area though I know the Sandwith and Kells ward very well on Cumbria CC. They share in common very recent near misses by the BNP.

Evans bill is very clever in an abstract liberal sense. Any discussion of the Act of Settlement would soon expose the absurdity of Monarchy, the establishment of the Church and the fact Evan would also be change the laws of succession of over 20 other countries which share our head of state.

I don’t begrudge him a minute of parliamentry time. However while he is looking at the stars the rest of us are definately in the gutter. The “its the economy, stupid!” comment upthread is spot on. The national mood is not focused on the abstract at the moment or the whimsical.

the social dislocation caused to a consumerist and debt ridden society by a 4% or 5% GDP contraction is going to be immence. Women and catholics will be a “second term” priority for the BNP. A more immeadiate worry will be ethnic tensions, stigmatisation, rising domestic violence rates, depression, addiction….

If the political class doesn’t talk about these issues then the BNP and other will. or at least feed off the anger.

by David Morton on January 23, 2009 at 1:58 am. Reply #

After the near disaster of the East Wickham by-election, will you start to realise that you are so far out of touch you are making the whole party irrelevant to almost all of the country?

No wonder in spite of us having Vince, we are getting no benefit in the polls. You’re not liberals who understand liberty is not easy, just a bunch of trendy lefties on your soapboxes.

by Anonymous on January 23, 2009 at 8:32 am. Reply #

Anon – I like the way the “us” and “you” changes round during the course of a sentence. One council by-election, does not an electoral disaster make (however much you might wish it to be so).

by Anonymous on January 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm. Reply #

Sorry, anon above is me!

by Grammar Police on January 23, 2009 at 12:57 pm. Reply #

Grammar Police:

Firstly, Us and you are not mentioned in the same sentence, but in different paragraphs.

Secondly, It’s not a single disaster but one of a series – see the Sandwith and Kells comment further up. Every time the BNP get elected, its a catastrophe.

Finally, I want to prevent these disasters/catastrophes, not wish it to be so. I hope you have the same aim too.

by Anonymous on January 23, 2009 at 1:29 pm. Reply #

P.S. Am I the only one who is amused by an id of Grammar Police not knowing where a sentence ends and a new paragraph begins?

by Anonymous on January 23, 2009 at 1:32 pm. Reply #

If Evan’s bill is passed, can we work on finding an older sister for Prince Charles? He’ll never get my vote for King!

by Ian Eiloart on January 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm. Reply #

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