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Friday, 10 February 2012

Health, prayers and spitting

Tory Health Minister Simon Burns is on the television saying that ConservativeHome's story about the health reforms ( is "tittle tattle". If three Conservative Cabinet Ministers have contacted Tim Montgomerie about the bill, then he must be delighted, as it is a massive boost to his site's profile and demonstrates what excellent Tory contacts he has. And imagine the outrage if Lib Dem Voice had reported that three Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers had been in touch to say that they oppose a flagship piece of Coalition Government legislation. People like me would be calling it an outrageous act of indiscipline and would be urging all Lib Dems to borrow the secret weapon of the Tory Party - loyalty! It would appear that the Tories' latest version of that secret weapon does not come with batteries included. David Cameron has clearly been appointing Tory Cabinet Ministers who lack what his party's whips would once have called 'bottom'. There is a distinct lack of bottom if Tory Cabinet Ministers are speaking out of turn to Tim Montgomerie in this way.

As a secular agnostic, I must ask what the National Secular Society is doing by backing this atheist chap who claims to have been terribly upset by the recitation of prayers at the start of local council meetings in Bideford in Devon. I used to sit in the public gallery at Barnet Council meetings (it was a simpler era, in which we made our own entertainment) and full meetings of the council always started with a prayer, led by that year's mayor's chaplain - be that year's mayor's chaplain a rabbi, a vicar or possibly a Greek Orthodox priest. It was all over in about a minute and I simply stood, bowed my head, closed my eyes and muttered "Amen" at the end. I refuse to accept that such an act of worship could in any way be offensive to anyone. I'm sorry, but I think that this case is a ridiculous waste of time and I hope that it is over-turned on appeal. It is surely very sixth-form to say "I'm completely secular, so it is an abuse of my human rights if I am at a meeting that begins with a one-minute mumbled prayer - you're forcing me to take part in religion!"

And I heard on the wireless that my neighbouring London Borough of Enfield is proposing to ban spitting in the street. Quite right too. I'm not being sarcastic. I hate seeing people spitting in the street. Unless someone really is ill and cannot help it, then it is wrong to spit in the street. Where this issue can become edgy is that, while spitting is taboo among some groups of people, it is arguably less taboo among some other groups of people. And you could say that some of those latter groups genuinely don't realise (like noisy kids on buses) that other people might find their behaviour annoying.

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