Tony Blair was somewhat shamed in the House of Commons last night when he failed to cast the single vote needed to save the Government from defeat over its plans to introduce a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, and in so doing unwittingly allowed blogs like this the freedom to continue putting the much-needed and proverbaial boot into religion.
Blair, for some reason, neglected to vote in a second division when MPs voted by 283 votes to 282, majority one, to back safeguards inserted by the Lords. Had Blair voted, then the division would have been tied, leaving the deciding vote the Speaker, who more than likely would have voted with the pro-Blair faction.
Acknowledging that the Bill, as amended, would still go on the statute book, Home Sec Charles Clarke said: “The Government accepts the decision of the House this evening. We are delighted the Bill is going to its Royal Assent and delighted we have a Bill which deals with incitement against religious hatred."
Because of the Lords amendments, only "threatening" behaviour will be unlawful - the government efforts to prohibit "abusive or insulting" actions having been drop-kicked into the history books. People cannot be now prosecuted for recklessly inciting religious hatred. Instead, prosecutors will have to prove they intended to do so.
So, the Commons has voted to accept amendments designed to ensure only the most menacing statements would be caught by the law. Under the amended Bill statements would only be illegal if they were "threatening", removing an attempt to ban "abusive or insulting" statements and behaviour, all of which I guess makes sense. I'm not into into urging people to harm the religious, but I'm all for hitting out at organised religion's bloody absurdity when the opportunity arises, and if this upsets people, then tough! And no doubt the police in Glasgow will be delighted - the Bill, as it stands, saves them having to cart 50,000 gers and boyz fans down to the nick after a local derby.
From what I can make out the Bill is still ambiguous as to what exactly qualifies as a religion – the capitalistic worship of the god mammon? - and whether it counts if the religious incite hatred towards those who are ant-religious (like me), which is still a religious stance and, indeed, just what qualifies as “hatred” and “incite”. I mean I hate organised religion and wish to help nurture in people a revolutionary class consciousness which would consequently mean they would imbibe a hatred for religion too, but is this “inciting hatred”? Hmmmmm.
Blair, by all acounts, missed the aforementioned vote because he was wathching a football game. When it comes to issues of national importance, Fulham FC will come first every time.