In my view column

Don't blame religion

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Where do homophobia and transphobia come from? Many people point to religion as the root cause. But the belief that religion is to blame is a reworking of an old argument first fought out in the 1840s.

Then as now there was an argument about where awful ideas come from and how we can change them. It was not Richard Dawkins who first said that "religion is the root of all evil" but the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. It was against Feuerbach's ideas that Marx and Engels first formulated their ideas of historical materialism.

Our Right to Protest

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We are all familiar with the continuing attacks on the welfare state, public sector, and vulnerable groups in society by a raft of ideological spending cuts. In addition to that, we have seen a barrage of assaults on the basic democratic and civil right to assemble and protest, a phenomenon that has reached new heights of savagery in recent weeks.

The Royal Wedding was little more than a 24-hour suspension of civil rights. The so-called "Charing Cross Ten" were arrested for having placards wrapped in a bin bag - they weren't even demonstrating. They were shipped off to Surrey, where an entire police station's cells had been reserved for anyone unwilling to go along with the message of patriotism flooding the nation's screens.

Eton Whine

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The other day I heard a recording of a Thatcher speech on the TV. It was one of those awful repetitive dogmatic dirges she was so fond of. Immediately the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I felt my hackles rise.

It's amazing that after all this time she alone of politicians of my lifetime can produce such deep loathing and an urge to do something unspeakably violent.

There have been plenty of other politicians I have detested, yet none quite trigger the same feeling, and I'm aware it's not entirely logical. I mean there is so much to loathe about Cameron, Osborne and Clegg, smarmy sons of privilege, hiding truly vicious politics behind vague social liberalism.

Culture: it's all in the mix!

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With David Cameron's words on multiculturalism still reverberating round the gutters, now's a good time to take a second look at the word "culture".

The two main overlapping ways the word is used in everyday conversation are: (a) to cover artistic products we consume - plays, films, books, paintings and the like - and (b) to talk of "the way we do things in our everyday lives" - our kinship relations, what we eat, what kinds of dwellings, rituals, music, gestures we make and, significantly, what language(s), dialect(s) and accent(s) we speak with.

Defending Libraries

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Libraries have become one of the expendable, junkable parts of modern capitalism.

The main alibi in circulation supporting the closure of libraries is that they've become less popular. The reason for that, the argument goes, is that a combination of (a) the production of cheap books, (b) multi-genre TV and (c) the arrival on the internet of virtually everything that a book can offer has supplanted the need for libraries.

We need to be sharp about how we defend the library service and indeed be clear about what we are defending and what we would change about it.

Quantum leak

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It's all beginning to feel as if it were a Stieg Larsson novel. You have computer hacking, a journalist exposing the dirty doings of the rich and powerful, outcry and outrage from the said rich and powerful, and before you know it there are attempts to discredit the journalist, legal proceedings and it all ends up in the Swedish courts. All that's missing is a girl with a dragon tattoo.

I have watched the Wikileaks affair with a mixture of astonishment and amusement, and with a deep-seated appreciation of just how nasty and downright corrupt all those people who I'd always assumed were downright nasty and corrupt truly are.

Was I shocked that the lickspittle but bestial Saudi regime wanted the US to bomb Iran? Not for a minute, but to have it in black and white and in their own words was not anything I'd ever expected to see.

Labour's "Red" Ed?

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At times the Labour Party leadership contest seemed to go on forever.

At the beginning it also seemed as if it would be profoundly dull, with four men - of roughly the same age, background and politics - in the running alongside a token "left" candidate in the form of Diane Abbott (token in the sense that she was only there because David Miliband instructed supporters to put her on the ticket).

Work makes you free?

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"In our new welfare contract our message is simple. Do the right thing and we will back you all the way but fail to take responsibility and the free ride is over" - A New Welfare Contract, the Conservative Party (2010).

Just over 100 days in office and the brutality of the coalition government towards disabled people has been relentless. Much of the Tory welfare reform agenda is "a chronicle of a death foretold" but the speed of implementation and the scale of the proposed reforms have been breathtaking.

Afghanistan fears

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The war in Afghanistan is in crisis - the US postponed the summer offensive and the split between Hamid Karzai and the occupation forces worsens.

Afghanistan is changing fast. In the south and east the Taliban resistance controls most of the villages. In the west and north the government has begun to lose control. Crucially, the sort of divide and rule policy the US used in Iraq is not working here. The non-Pushtun militias won't fight the Taliban, and there are no ethnic riots or pogroms.

Moreover, American public opinion now opposes the war. Facing re-election, Obama has pledged to start reducing troops by the summer of 2011.

Positive side-effects

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"These days, nobody seems able to 'keep it in their pants' or honour a commitment! Raising the question, is marriage still a viable option? I'm ashamed to admit that I myself have been married four times, and yet I still feel that it is the cornerstone of civilisation, an essential institution that stabilises society, provides a sanctuary for children and saves us from anarchy."

This was Raquel Welch's response on CNN to this month's fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the pill in the US. Her somewhat internally contradictory argument (she loves marriage so much, she's done it four times!) is that the advent of oral contraception has led to the breakdown of "family values" and rampant promiscuity. She is not alone in putting that case. Tory politicians such as Iain Duncan Smith have argued against making contraception more available to girls, paradoxically claiming it will lead to higher teenage pregnancy rates.

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