Dr Evan Harris, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association and keen advocate of rational policy, science funding and secularism in parliament, lost his Oxford seat in the election last week. The news was gleefully welcomed by a number of opposed commentators, including the delightful George Pitcher. Sholto Byrnes defends Harris against some of the ad hominem.
If more MPs had been like him, it is highly unlikely that politicians would have come to have been held in such low regard. If more Liberal Democrats had been like him, I suspect they would be doing much better – might even have stood a genuine chance of replacing Labour as the main party of the left.
A consistently strong voice for the NHS and for science, he shared the title of “Secularist of the Year” with Lord Avebury in 2009 for their work in helping abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. He has campaigned against faith schools and argued courageously in favour of abortion, euthanasia, immigration and gay rights.
Some readers – especially those who have described me as being “an apologist for religion” – may be surprised to see me praising him. On the contrary, although I may disagree with some of Evan’s stances, I think he has been one of the most principled MPs in parliament, sticking to his convictions and standing up for a true-liberal view of free speech – and of the idea of liberty itself.
… Evan lost Oxford West & Abingdon by less than 200 votes after being the target of campaigns by at least two priests, one of whom was behind a leaflet distributed in his constituency that again described him as “Dr Death”. Such blatant and ad hominem interference in the political process demonstrates how much voices for secularism are needed in parliament, although that message evidently did not get through to the voters.