Out of the blue: what now for the Labour Party?

When the wrong Miliband became leader, Tories rubbed their hands gleefully and named Ed M the heir to Michael Foot. Seeing them vindicated hurts, and yet I don’t regret voting for him in 2010. That Britain glanced at Foot and instantly preferred Thatcher is a fiction – before the SPD split the left vote and the Falklands lionised her, Labour had poll leads nearing twenty points, predicted a landslide, and Miliband’s failure was no more inevitable. The tragedy of Labour’s loss last week is that the coalition years were a unique chance for a leftish platform to succeed: but for his lack of confidence and failure to convince voters, Miliband’s strategy of cornering the anti-Tory vote might well have worked. Ed blew a chance that won’t soon come again.

000His leadership wasn’t without its achievements. Miliband unified a bruised party when internal spats threatened to explode, moved perceptions on from the Blair-Brown era’s most loathed missteps (not least Iraq) and saw strong local election performances. His campaign, albeit futile, put living costs on the agenda and exposed, perhaps unwillingly, the extent of media bias in the UK. Nevertheless, he’ll be recalled as the leader who managed to do worse than Gordon Brown – a fate all the crueller because till the eleventh hour, everyone in the game expected him to be PM. Experts are asking where the polls went wrong, but while left and right fight over what cost him victory, neither has longitudinal data: whereas certain events demonstrably harmed Brown’s support, we have no way to know if Miliband’s numbers were ever accurate.

Labour still needs a strategy, and predicting the next election’s trials will do more good than wondering what went wrong. 2015 shows a fractured electoral map, most of whose distinct battlegrounds broke the wrong way for them – red versus yellow in Scotland, red versus purple in the north, red versus blue in the midlands and capital, blue versus purple in the south, blue versus orange in the west country. Scottish losses weren’t offset by new English seats – even if Labour made extraordinary gains north of the border, where full recovery will now take it a decade or more, all their work would still be ahead of them. To win again, Labour must wrestle traditional votes from Ukip and the SNP, plus swing votes from the Tories in the south, fighting on two contradictory fronts.

The pill is as bitter for me as the rest of the left, but there is no sugaring it – this time around, Labour has to court more right-leaning votes. At the same time, it must shore up and recover grassroots support, broadening its left-leaning base – all on redrawn boundaries that extend the Tory advantage from 99 to some 125 seats. With the road back to power all uphill, how can Labour go the distance? [Read more…]

Election 2015 Live Blog – rolling comment throughout the night

This post provides rolling election coverage – refresh every few minutes for updates.
I can’t promise I’ll be on top of comments here – find me on Twitter instead!


2.35am – Conservatives hold Castle Point

…against Ukip. This was the seat where Farage launched his party’s campaign – it’s the first target seat of theirs we’ve seen announced. I and any number of other observers expect Ukip to ‘melt away’, in Peter Kellner’s words.


2.23am – Douglas Alexander scalped in Paisley

Sure to be the first of a series of high-profile losses – both in Scotland and elsewhere. All but ten Lib Dems MPs are set to be ousted, while Ed Balls seems to be endangered.


 

2.13am – SNP gain Kilmarnock

First Scottish result we’ve seen so far, and first SNP gain – no doubt of many.


1.58am – Dimbleby suggests a Tory majority is possible

Moments later, Andrew Marr says Miliband’s leadership is on the line.

Not a good night in general, then.


1.51am – Conservatives hold Nuneaton


1.23am – Conservatives hold Battersea

It now seems the exit poll was broadly correct – Labour aren’t generating the swing they need, and so far they’re not making the gains in London they expected.

If this continues, there’ll be a long conversation about why absolutely no polls predicted this. My first guess is that voting intention nationwide – what most opinion polls measure – hasn’t accounted for how regional power battles play out. (For example, the SNP are set to gain about four percent of UK votes but just under a tenth of seats.)

The question for the left will now be how to handle the next parliament. Fixed five year terms are likely to prevent a Conservative government holding a second election – it may be that Labour can capitalise on being in opposition by chipping away at Cameron’s support in by-elections, paralysing the government while it convalesces.


1.13am – Labour holds Tooting

Sadiq Khan, Miliband’s right hand man, has held his seat.


 

1.08am – Labour holds Newcastle upon Tyne East

Another strong showing for Labour in the north east – as Nick Robinson suggested to Dimbleby, what this election seems to be showing are exaggerated regional schisms. The north east is as steadily red as ever; Scotland has gone nationalist; the south east has deepened as a centre of Tory support.

More results to come in ‘thick and fast’ very soon, beginning seemingly with Tooting and Wandsworth.


0.58am – Conservatives hold Putney

Justine Greening retains her seat, the first result in London we’ve had. Worryingly, we’ve yet to see any results that contradict the exit poll.


 

0.50am – Alan Johnson erroneously claims Labour gained Swindon North

Speaking to Dimbleby, Johnson claims ‘the Swindon North result was a Labour gain’ – unless I heard wrong, no it wasn’t.


 

0.40am – Tories hold Swindon North

The BBC’s analysis shows Labour failing to compensate for Scottish losses with gains from the Conservatives – this is a result in England that, while just one seat, seems consistent with that.


0.21am – Greens forecast to take Norwich South

Further to the previous update here, Jeremy Vine’s examination of the exit poll predicts Norwich South will be a Green gain.


 

11.50pm – Could Natalie Bennett be the new Green MP?

I doubt it. I think we’re looking at a Green hold in Brighton Pavilion and a gain in Norwich South or possibly Bristol. Note that this is one area where the exit poll isn’t a turnup – both it and previous polls point to one or two Green seats.


 

11.39pm – Ed Balls says if Cameron can’t pass a Queen’s speech, he’s out

Ed Balls is wrong. Based on Fixed Term Parliaments Act from 2011, only an explicit confidence vote – not a failed Queen’s speech – can push a government from office. Should the exit poll prove correct, what we may be looking at is a highly insecure Conservative-led government which could lose parliamentary votes if even one MP rebels.


11.37pm – What happens if Nigel Farage loses?

An unnamed source says via Nick Robinson that Nigel Farage may place third in Thanet South. Based on his past statements, that seems like an almost certain end to his party leadership. If the exit poll’s right, that means a Conservative-led government – the question is, how would the situation with the EU be reshaped?

Nick Clegg seemed to suggest during this election campaign that he’d opposite an EU referendum, meaning that – if the option were there – Cameron might rather work with the DUP. (This is assuming they’d agree to one, and that he insisted on it.) Without Nigel Farage, the biggest voice for a Brexit during the next few years, how would the debate look?


11.30pm – Labour holds Sunderland West

Labour continues to sweep Sunderland. Not much else to add right now.


11.17pm – Labour holds Sunderland Central

As in Sunderland South, a five figure majority with almost five thousand votes again. I’m wondering how the exit poll will tally with the regionality of this election – it might be that of its 20,000 respondents, most voted Tory by a wide margin… but how are those people distributed?


10.55pm – Ukip in second place in Sunderland South

Ukip has kicked the Tories into third place, with the Lib Dems losing their deposit. (Less than a thousand votes!)

My prediction is that in lots of northern seats like this, Ukip will do well – but not well enough to win.


10.51pm – Labour holds Sunderland South

…and it holds it decisively – we’re looking at a majority of something like thirteen thousand for its candidate.

We can’t take only one seat as a bellwether on the accuracy of the exit poll – but Sunderland South does seem a good indicator of sentiment in the north east. This is a very limited sign, but to the extent it spells good news for any party, it’s good for Labour.


10.37pm – Peter Kellner on the exit poll

Speaking to Dimbleby, Peter Kellner of YouGov (who gave Labour a four-seat plurality) gives four interpretations of the exit poll.

  1. The exit poll is right and all the other polls are wrong.
  2. The other polls are right and the exit poll is wrong.
  3. There’s been a seismic shift in the last day. (He discounts this.)
  4. The Tories have done better than predicted, but not by as much as the exit poll says.

I keep saying this because there’s little else to say, but we just have to wait and see.


 

10.30pm – Sunderland result in ten minutes?

Tellers in Sunderland, traditionally first to declare, hope to have a result in ten minutes. This is a seat Labour should hold – if they don’t, or if it’s uncomfortably close, a bad night is ahead.


10.23pm – Harriet Harman is scrambling

The exit poll, she says, shows the Lib-Con majority unworkable. It doesn’t – the fact is, if this poll is correct, Cameron is the clear winner electorally. Our only hope is that it’s not.


 

10.18pm – Paddy Ashdown: ‘I’ll eat my hat’ if the BBC exit poll is right

One can only hope Ashdown goes hungry – it’s a comforting thought that the BBC may have got it wrong. I don’t see how they can be right despite a consensus among all polling companies – but they might be, in which case statisticians will face a long hard, look at themselves they did when John Major won. We simply don’t know at this point. Sit tight, everyone.


10.10pm – Michael Gove says the exit poll shows the Tories will ‘increase their majority’.

He means their plurality, of course.


 

10.08pm – What’s up with that exit poll?

So… how do we process that exit poll?

My first instinct is that if eleven different polling companies with different methods were all equally way out – something is very, very wrong. That might be the case… or the BBC’s forecast might be wrong.

I don’t think we’ll know till we’ve had a certain number of results.


 

10pm – Exit poll: Tories 316, Labour 239

Well here’s a turnout: the BBC’s exit poll predicts a staggeringly larger Tory lead than anyone else has. On these figures, Cameron will walk back into government.

Fuck.


 

9.50pm – Five minutes till the BBC exit poll?

The BBC’s election coverage – Dimbleby’s last stand! – begins in five minutes. I’m expecting we’ll have an exit poll fairly quickly, which will be the last point at which expectations could be upturned – except by actual results.

As it stands, all eleven major pollsters show either an explicit Labour-Tory tie or a one or two point difference:

BNG: Tie
TNS: One point Tory lead
Opinium: One point Tory lead
ICM: One point Labour lead
Panelbase:
Two point Labour lead
YouGov:
Tie
Survation:
Tie
ComRes:
One point Tory lead
Ashcroft:
Tie
Ipsos MORI:
One point Tory lead
Populus: 
Tie

We’re looking at a convergence of many different polling methods around a tie – if an exit poll shows something else, I’d be inclined to question it, but we’ll have to see.


 

9.40pm – Which seats will be a challenge for the SNP?

A friend tells me Kirkcaldy, Gordon Brown’s old seat, will be a key battleground in Scotland – one wonders (hopes) they’ll manage to unseat Scotland’s one Tory, at the least. (Further insight into this year’s regional conflicts from YouGov’s Anthony Wells is here.)

I’d love to say I want to see the SNP take all Scotland because they deserve to – but the truth is that I’m neurotic. If they end up with fifty seats out of the fifty-nine I’ll deal with it; if they win fifty-eight, hair will be pulled out.


 

9.33pm – It’s not overtly political, but…

…since Channel 4 are advertising it, I’m excited for George Miller’s new Mad Max film.


 

9.26pm – Television is giving me royal baby jokes.

The biggest and worst joke is naming a royal Charlotte (Elizabeth) Diana. It’s one thing being named after a divorce; it’s another being named after a constitutional scandal.


9.21pm – Channel’s 4 ‘alternative’ coverage…

It’s all a bit – ahem – laboured, isn’t it?

Sit tight – we’ll switch over to the BBC at ten when the exit poll arrives.


 

9.15pm – What are each party’s goals tonight?

We come down to it then – realistically, in light of what predictions and projections we’ve already seen, what is each party’s best hope in this vote?

Labour is the insurgent party, poised to overtake on the inside. Neither its leaders nor the Tories seem capable of winning outright, but Labour’s odds of assembling a majority with other parties are preferable – how their desire to keep the SNP at arm’s length survives that need, we’ll have to see. The party’s best hope is to inch a precious few more seats than the Tories win, lending them public legitimacy; short of being locked out of power, being the smaller English party and dependent on the SNP is their worst case scenario.

Cameron’s Conservatives have a tough ride ahead. The PM is said to have owned up privately to being unconvinced he can win – the likelihood is that to stay in power, he’ll either need another pact with endangered Lib Dems or find himself daring Labour and the Scots to vote down a minority Queen’s Speech. That’ll be a question of who blinks first, and not one I see him being keen to ask.

The Lib Dem campaign has focused on damage reduction. For Clegg and co, the good news is a seemingly quite healthy vote in Lib Dem/Tory marginals – if he can maintain half his current seats, not least his own, the annihilation pundits predicted won’t come to be, and like Ed Miliband some weeks ago, his tribe will benefit from exceeding expectations. Another coalition looks unlikely based on the maths, but Lib Dem votes might help either Cameron or Miliband (who might prefer them to SNP ones).

The SNP has little to worry about electorally. North of the border, its landslide is all but guaranteed – the question is whether Sturgeon’s party win all Scotland’s seats or just most of them. Their challenge lies instead in parliament – whatever the result, a game of chicken with Labour is probable, in which each party will dare the other to put the Tories in power and alienate supporters. From a left point of view, one can only hope things don’t escalate too much – for if either party should win that game, progressive politics will lose.

Ukip want a good handful of MPs, five or six, say, from their main target seats. The whole situation’s unreadable, largely because their success in elections is so new – we don’t really have any idea what normal behaviour looks like with Ukip’s vote. That being said, I don’t think they’ll do as well as is hoped and feared: the variables are so many, the Ashcroft polls so consistent, that I’d be surprised if Farage’s lot managed more than three seats.

The Greens, meanwhile, would do well to finish with two seats – and it’s entirely possible (though not what I’d bet) that Caroline Lucas will lose hers. Sadly, the Green Party has zero nous for strategy, substituting Lucas for a far less effective leader and spreading out resource it should concentrate.

Plaid Cymru is now a party people outside Wales know about. They’re probably happy enough with that.


 

9.10pm – Jeremy Paxman thinks I’m a moron…

…because I didn’t vote this year. (Or rather, his joke writers do.)

If you’re wondering why – and why I don’t think I’m a moron – you can find my post all about it here.


 

9.08pm – Is this the Isner/Mahut of UK elections?

I was 18 at the last election in 2010 – that night’s worth of kebabs and Coke and still feels fresh. Comparisons between that election and this have been made already and will go on; I want to make one a different kind.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but can enjoy Wimbledon. Five years ago, only weeks after Clegg and Cameron entered Downing Street, John Isner and Nicolas Manut clashed at Wimbledon – a match whose eleven hour duration remains an unbroken record. Neither, at least as far as I’m aware, is a legendary champion like Federer or Nadal, but over those two days (on the second of which I turned nineteen), each played so tightly neither could achieve an advantage. In the end Isner won, but by that point it wasn’t about that – the players hugged because they knew the match would be remembered.

Cameron and Miliband, if anything’s certain, won’t hug, but this election looks set to be the political version of that match. Over a gruelling seven week campaign, neither side made any progress at all – whyever, whatever the plan, the polls remained an almost exact tie.

Over the coming night, perhaps in the week and certainly this month, one leader or the other – neither likely to be mythologised – must outperform their opponent somehow. How that’ll we, we’ve yet to see, and a latent terror in me still whispers Cameron’s name. Whatever happens though, this election will be in school textbooks, and I’m glad to be living through it.


9pm – Let’s get ready to mumble

Hello and welcome, those who are reading. Last night I announced I’d live-blog the UK election, so for the next eight hours, I’m all yours. Buckle up, buckle in and calm your nerves; smoke your cigars. Open your night’s of jelly babies. Now let’s get ready to mumble.

I’ll be watching and reacting to TV coverage all night, starting with Channel 4’s for the coming half hour and sticking, most likely, with the BBC’s from ten. Posts here will include breaking news, commentary and stray thoughts on politics in the slow bits – if there are any.

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Oxford student Ed Miliband wore compulsory Oxford exam dress while at Oxford

I never went in for the arcane bollocks at Oxford. On three occasions in my four years there – matriculation, prelims and finals – I wore a gown; my college had a canteen rather than Latin-prayer meals, and I had my degree sent in the post rather than formally conferred. The rituals struck me as tiresome, a waste of time and thought, and the Daily Mail seems to agree – the one thing it dislikes more than Oxford’s strange quirks, in fact, is any will to reform them.

In my third year, when exam dress was made gender-nonspecific, the Mail told its readers wistfully:

For centuries, the sight of Oxford students in their distinctive academic gowns has been as familiar  in the city as its dreaming spires. But the ancient university has been forced to rewrite its traditional dress code – to avoid upsetting transgender students. From next month, men will be allowed to wear skirts or stockings to exams while women can choose suits or white bow ties.

Under the old regulations, male students were required to wear a dark suit with dark socks, black shoes, a white bow tie, and a plain white shirt and collar beneath their black gowns when attending formal occasions such as examinations. Female students have to wear a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, a black ribbon tied in a bow at the neck, black stockings and shoes.

The dress code is strictly enforced by the university’s authorities, which have the power to punish students deemed in breach of the rules. Punishments range from fines to rustication – the suspension of a student for a period of time – or expulsion, known as ‘sending down’. However, the university’s council, headed by Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, has dropped any distinction between the sexes by deleting all references to men and women.

For my finals, which followed soon after, I was one of the first to wear an ordinary necktie instead of the white bow – an adjustment that made the whole silly ensemble conventional if not quite normal. (Knowing that were men to wear skirts, Oxford’s very pillars would turn to salt, I stuck to slacks.)

In two weeks’ time students will vote on whether to ditch subfusc outright. Should they scrap it, as I’d have liked, the Mail will no doubt moan cultural Marxist youths have ruined one more tradition they ought to respect, but today’s polling day, and so for now it thinks Oxford students who follow the exam dress code are lackeys of the bourgeoisie – not least Ed Miliband, confusingly the son of a real Marxist. [Read more…]

Election 2015: live blogging from 9pm and early predictions

000Death might not frighten me, but I’d rather leave too early than meet my end, as singer Errol Brown met his, on the eve of an election, denied knowledge of the result – like being forced to leave the world cup final at half time. (Brown was a Tory, it turns out. I’ll say no more.)

In a few hours the UK goes to the polls for the closest election in a century. I’ll be up all night live-blogging results – visit this site from 9pm London time for a running commentary. For now the numbers point consistently to a dead heat, no party winning a majority: the coming days and perhaps weeks, all evidence suggests, will be a race to Downing Street via minority government. Second-guessing elections, let alone this one, is asking for egg on one’s face, but I’ll tentatively predict the following:

The Tories will again be the largest single party. The real question, if the polls are right (and there’s no reason to think otherwise) is not if they’ll have more seats than Labour but how many: some forecasts show Miliband’s party trailing Cameron’s by several dozen seats, others by one or two. This will affect not just who can assemble a majority, but who’ll be seen as more entitled to by the public. Update: YouGov’s final seat projection gives Labour 276 seats, the Tories 272 – so maybe not! (Good thing I like eggs.)

Scotland’s revolution will be both live and televised. As with the wider national picture, a wide variety of pollsters with different methods all predict the same – it looks like most or all Scotland’s Westminster seats will fall into SNP hands, scalping a number of Labour and Lib Dem higher-ups, Jim Murphy and both Alexanders (Douglas and Danny) among them. [Read more…]

(Almost) live tweets from the leaders’ debate

In case you didn’t know, the UK has an election next month. Just under an hour ago, the first-ever debate between seven of our party leaders finished. (Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party has been called the winner. I don’t disagree, but more on that soon.) Video is below – skip to 4.05 for the debate.

Since our site doesn’t let me live-blog, here are my tweets from during the programme from those who care.

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No, a Romany man’s body is not being exhumed to placate Muslims

I ought not to be posting this today. I’m up against a deadline on Sunday, so should still be in blog-hibernation, but it can’t wait.

In case you haven’t read this blog before, which you may not have, some things about me:

Most of the time, the Daily Telegraph is far from keen on any of these things. Most of the time, it likes to have a go at various groups I’m part of (and other vulnerable ones). Every so often though, when a chance comes to pit Romanies, atheists, foreigners, queers or poor people against Muslims, the Telegraph falls in love with us all, deeming us at least marginally less subhuman than it does them. [Read more…]

‘Grow up and stop spouting such utter crap': when I told my ‘supportive’ mum she wasn’t a queer ally

Someone I know via social media posted the following update three days ago.

A friend and I went to the gym tonight. After our workout we tried to relax in the hot tub, when a random lady in an American flag bikini approached me.

The lady: ‘What does your tattoo mean?’

Me: ‘Oh, that’s my angry-feminist-bi-pride tattoo.’

‘What?’

‘Angry, feminist, bisexual pride. This is a feminist symbol, and it’s on top of the bisexual pride flag.’

The lady compliments my friend’s nails. An awkward silence.

‘Why are you bisexual?’

‘I don’t know how to answer that. I just am.’

‘But why?’

‘Because I’m attracted to more than one gender.’

‘She’s attracted to all the genders’, my friend adds. We high five.

‘When I was little I was molested. Then I was told I was a lesbian.’

‘Well, that has nothing to do with me. I’m just bisexual.’

Banter ensues between me and my friend about how shitty men are and how glad I am that I never have to date one. The lady says something about how I should learn to tolerate men’s crap, then: ‘Have you heard about your personal lord and saviour, Jesus Christ?’

‘I don’t want to talk about Jesus at the gym.’

The lady continues talking about Jesus.

‘This makes me really uncomfortable. Please stop.’

The lady continues talking about Jesus, mentioning something about hellfire.

‘I don’t appreciate being told I’m going to hell for who I love.’

‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say you’re going to hell. You’re the one who said that.’ (She tells me this in a ‘Gotcha now, queer! You know you’re gross’ tone.)

‘Don’t lie. You literally just quoted scripture to me about hellfire. Go away now.’

‘I didn’t say that. I’m not your judge. I don’t judge.’

‘Well, I judge – and you’re gross. Go away.’

‘Have you heard’, my friend asks me loudly, ‘about your lord and personal saviour, Satan?!’ We proceed to discuss the the black altar and orgasms. The lady walks away.

We reported her to the front desk for harassing us. They seemed to take the matter very seriously.

When I shared it with my followers, the exchange below happened between me and my Christian mum. (Her comments are in regular text, mine in bold.) It makes me want to write about a multitude of things – ally culture, the realities of queerness and Christianity, the fact I’ve lost offline relationships as a result – but for now I haven’t much left in me to say. [Read more…]

Hurrah for Dominic Grieve. We almost went a month with no word of “aggressive secularists”

Yesterday being a slow news day, the Daily Telegraph wrote to a right wing politician so they’d have something to print.

Britain is at risk of being ‘sanitised’ of faith because an ‘aggressive form of secularism’ in workplaces and public bodies is forcing Christians to hide their beliefs, a former attorney general has warned.

Dominic Grieve said he found it ‘quite extraordinary’ that people were being sacked or disciplined for expressing their beliefs at work.

He described Christianity as a ‘powerful force for good’ in modern Britain and warned that Christians should not be ‘intimidated’ and ‘excluded’ for their beliefs.

He said that politicians and public figures should not be afraid of ‘doing God’ and that they have a duty to explain how their beliefs inform their decisions.

The ‘appalling’ scenes in Iraq, which have seen Islamic extremists behead and crucify religious minorities including Christians, showed that it was ‘more important than ever’ for people to express their religious beliefs, he said.

He told The Telegraph: ‘I worry that there are attempts to push faith out of the public space. Clearly it happens at a level of local power.

‘You can watch institutions or organisations do it or watch it happen at a local government level. In my view it’s very undesirable.

‘Some of the cases which have come to light of employers being disciplined or sacked for simply trying to talk about their faith in the workplace I find quite extraordinary.

‘The sanitisation will lead to people of faith excluding themselves from the public space and being excluded.

‘It is in nobody’s interest that groups should find themselves excluded from society.’ Two years ago the Government changed the law to ensure that councils could not face legal challenges for holding prayers before town hall meetings after the High Court backed a controversial campaign to abolish such acts of worship.

There have also been a series of high-profile cases in which people have been banned from wearing crosses at work or sacked for resisting tasks which went against their religious beliefs.

Mr Grieve, a practising Anglican, said that Britain is ‘underpinned’ by Christian ethics and principles.

He criticised the Tony Blair era when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, famously said ‘we don’t do God’ amid concerns that religion would put off voters.

David Cameron once described his own faith as being like ‘Magic FM in the Chilterns’, meaning it can come and go.

However, earlier this year the Prime Minister said he has found greater strength in religion and suggested that Britain should be unashamedly ‘evangelical’ about its Christian faith.

Mr Grieve said: ‘I think politicians should express their faith. I have never adhered to the Blair view that we don’t do God, indeed I’m not sure that Blair does. I think that people with faith have an entitlement to explain where that places them in approaching problems.

‘I think that those of us who are politicians and Christians should be in the business of doing it.

‘It doesn’t mean that we have the monopoly of wisdom, but I do think Christianity has played an enormous role in shaping this country.

‘It’s a very powerful force in this country [but] I think it’s underrated, and partly because in the past it has failed to express itself as clearly as it might.

‘Recognising people’s right to manifest their faith and express it is very important.’

(The article, which could be used to explain the Telegraph to aliens, also complains about the EU and laws against fox hunting.)

Thank fuck for another headline about aggressive secularism – we very nearly went a month without one. Ann Widdecombe, Eric Pickles, David Cameron, Sayeeda Warsi; Keith O’Brien, George Careythe Pope. It’s exhausting to rebut the same thing again and again, but clearly we still have to: if it wasn’t an effective line, the Christian right would have stopped using it.

Because I’m fed up with this nonsense, I’m going to give my thoughts in list format.

I.

‘We don’t do God’ must be the most misrepresented line in journalistic memory. Campbell said it to stop Blair waxing religious in an interview because Blair did do God: he built record numbers of state-run religious schools, cosied up to the Vatican, passed censorious ‘religious hatred’ laws, justified invading Iraq using religious language and started a global ‘faith foundation’ after he left Downing Street.

II.

How many more times can right wing Christians running the country say Britain must be ‘more evangelical’ (Prime Minister David Cameron), promise religion a greater role in public life (Cameron) and gush about Christianity’s excellence (Cameron et al)… while simultaneously claiming to be marginalised?

III.

More specifically, Dominic Grieve: how excluded from public life are you – how mercilessly have you been forced to hide your beliefs – when a soundbite from you about them is what the Telegraph uses to sell newspapers on quiet days?

IV.

Someone on social media told me last month that ‘Christians are persecuted in this country’. When I asked how, this is what they said:

I do not wish to go into detail. I have knowledge that gives me every right to use the word

It’s argumentum ad Laganja: ‘You’re picking on me, but I’m not going to tell you when, where or how.’

A new rule, I think: if you’re going to say Christians are a marginalised group in modern Britain, I want specific examples – not bald assertions or, as in Grieve’s case, vague innuendo about workplaces and councils.

V.

Grieve doesn’t specify because he can’t: the moment it’s confronted with factual detail, the Christian persecution case evaporates.

While it’s true that in 2012 the National Secular Society won a court case against prayers being said at Bideford town council’s meetings (the government swiftly overturned this), the ruling prohibited them only as an agenda item. There was nothing to prevent Christian councillors praying together informally prior to meetings: it was simply deemed exclusionary for Christian rituals to be an official part of council business.

Shirley Chaplin, a hospital nurse, was asked in accordance with the NHS dress code to wear an ostentatious cross pinned inside her uniform instead of dangling hazardously on a chain. She refused to compromise, insisting it be visible to everyone, and was disciplined, losing a string of tribunals and court cases when she complained.

Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker who continually harassed non-Christian colleagues with evangelistic tracts and homophobic comments, claimed BA was persecuting her when asked to wear her cross beneath instead of on top of her uniform. (After numerous court losses, the EHCR eventually found for her last January, but only because BA’s dress code was judged too restrictive.)

Lesley Pilkington, a registered psychotherapist operating highly unethical ‘gay cure’ treatment programmes was struck off the membership roll of Britain’s governing body for counsellors after journalist Patrick Strudwick wrote an exposé on her and others.

Lilian Ladele, the civil registrar who refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies, was disciplined because her job required she do this.

VI.

I’m a secularist because I want a mature democracy, not one based on a lie. Whoever pretends Britain is still a Christian nation knows deep down they’re being silly, and that doesn’t just demean non-Christians: it demeans our democracy by telling us to lie to one another.

I’m a secularist because I believe in sectarian disarmament. I think carving up public life into religious territories, each with its own schools, courts, bank holidays and seats in parliament, creates an arms race of religiosity and social tension, and sharing a secular country is a kind of truce.

I’m a secularist because I believe social support – welfare, education, housing, care – should be unconditional, tax-funded and available to all, not handed to religious groups where not everyone can access them.

Secularism is kind. Secularism is responsible. If you think it’s aggressive, you should hear my other opinions.

VII.

The Islamic State is driving Christian populations from their homes in Iraq; some are being forcibly converted, others killed. Dominic Grieve and the Daily Telegraph see this as a handy rhetorical jab against secular council meetings in north Devon.

VIII.

But really: who looks at the middle east today and thinks bloody hell, that’s what too much secularism does?

Sunnis and Shias are killing each other in Iraq; Muslims are killing Christians in Iraq, atheists in Iran, Jews in Israel. Jews are killing Muslims in Palestine. Religious nationalism is at the core of all these atrocities. Secularism is the opposite: it is nonaggression as a political and national identity.

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Recommended reading: Captain America, autistic adults, white privilege in Islam, good cops, bad cops and the prisons system

Shut up, sometimes a normal-length title won’t do.

Five things to read if you missed them the first time round:

  • ‘Captain Dark Thirty?’, by Jonathan Lindsell (Haywire Thought)
    Steve Rogers is never asked to get his hands or morals dirty. He can just swan around judging Fury and Widow while he remains an emblem for an ideal of American moral integrity that, if it ever existed, is now very much mythological.
  • ‘Fourteen Things Not to Say to an Autistic Adult’, by the Purple Aspie
    Last night somebody shared an article on Facebook. The article was called ‘Things never to say to parents of a child with autism.’ A comment on the article asked why there wasn’t one about things not to say to an autistic adult. I decided to write that article.
  • ‘Anger, Tone Policing, and Some Thoughts on Good Cop, Bad Cop’, by Greta Christina (Greta Christina’s Blog)
    In that hot, flushed moment when we’re doing the Cognitive Dissonance Tango, we respond more positively to the good cop. But that doesn’t mean the bad cop isn’t having an effect.
  • ‘I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail’, by Charlie Gilmour (The Independent)
    A man had been screaming for help all night, pushing the alarm bell and, when that elicited no response, banging a chair against the door. When, after a significant period of time, the officer on duty came to see what the problem was, the inmate told him he was suffering from severe chest pains and thought he might have had a heart attack. He needed a doctor. The officer’s response was to slide a couple of painkillers under the door and ignore his pleas for the rest of his shift. ‘The most terrifying thing,’ said a friend in the cell opposite his, ‘was when his cries finally stopped. We knew he wasn’t sleeping.’ In the morning, he was dead.
  • ‘Muslim Converts, Atheist Accommodationism, & White Privilege’, by Heina Dadabhoy (Heinous Dealings)
    White privilege is being able to visit Muslim communities as an openly gay person with a same-sex partner and being welcomed into them while queer Muslims and ex-Muslims continue to deal with fear, rejection, and marginalization.

Guten Appetit.

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Ann Widdecombe: in the good old days, you could still be a Nazi

Occasionally I wonder if Ann Widdecombe is a Monty Python character jailbroken from the realm of fiction. As a homophobic sexist racist anti-abortion anti-science climate change denier nonetheless considered a national treasure, her existence is almost as hard to accept as the god’s she credits for her politics. Like another fascist, she admittedly shows admirable concern for animals, but as with him it makes her look worse overall: lacking any sense of compassion seems more forgivable than having such a twisted one.

Savaging Widdecombe’s fun and I doubt she minds – reactionaries’ sense of being picked on by leftists, atheists and deviants is what sells columns like hers in the Express. There and in her occasional films, she’s fond of arguing Christians (puritans and hardcore evangelicals especially) are marginalised and persecuted, including to date by laws against banning gay couples from B&Bs and comedy sketches involving chutney.

In a recent radio interview, reports of which I’ve only just discovered, she managed to one-up even her own outrageousness. Audio is no longer online – if anyone has it, please contact me – but the Independent says the following.

Ann Widdecombe has claimed it was easier to be a Nazi or a Communist in post-war Britain than being a Christian today because ‘quite militant secularism’ discourages people from expressing their faith. The ex-MP for Maidstone said it was very difficult to be an active Christian in modern Britain because of some aspects of equality legislation that made people hesitant about being open with their faith in everyday life. [She] said concerns over ‘political correctness” meant people were reluctant to express their faith to others because “they think strong belief offends them’.

Christians now have quite a lot of problems, whether it’s that you can’t display even very discreet small symbols of your faith at work, that you can’t say “God bless you”, you can’t offer to pray for somebody, if it’s an even bigger stance on conscience that you’re taking, some of the equality laws can actually bring you to the attention of the police themselves. So I think it is a very difficult country now, unlike when I was growing up, in which to be a Christian, an active Christian at any rate.’

Christians also faced a ‘sort of atheism’ that ‘wouldn’t once have been said’. There used to be a view that ‘we’ve all got freedom of conscience, we’ve all got freedom of expression’, she said.

In the 1950s when plenty of people had lost lives and limbs and loved ones to the Nazis, it was still possible to be a Nazi in this country. When we were engaged in the height of the Cold War, when there were all those weapons lined up on the borders of the Warsaw Pact countries pointing straight at us, you could still, in this country, proclaim yourself as a Communist, you could still stand for Parliament for that matter as a Communist. You wouldn’t get in but you could stand. You could sell the Morning Star on street corners.

We have always respected, no matter how strongly we felt as a nation at the time, we’ve always respected the right of people to their own views and I do feel nowadays as a combination of political correctness and equality law and all the rest of it, we’ve started suppressing the expression of conscience.’

Ah, the olden days – when it was easy being a Nazi. You’d know, Ann.

As I’ve written before, there are only so many times believers can say in national media, from positions of power that their faith is being swept aside. To say nothing of Britain’s established church, its stranglehold on our state schools and its leaders’ ludicrously inflated media presence – beside all Christianity’s other strange privileges in public life – Widdecombe is an ex-minister with an enviable platform, probably the country’s best known Roman Catholic and once tipped as a potential Vatican ambassador. Her complaints are reminiscent of statements by David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Sayeeda Warsi, praising religion and promising it further undue prominence while simultaneously claiming the establishment to oppose it.

The parliament where all these people have gained seats isn’t just one to which Christians are frequently elected, including ones with strongly religious politics, where I’d guess nonbelievers – half the general populace – are underrepresented. It’s one where the standard oath taken by members invokes ‘almighty God’. If Nazism got this kind of treatment in postwar Britain, I’m concerned. (As it happens, Londoners did elect two Communist MPs in 1945 after their party fought for the opening of tube stations during the Blitz.)

I’ve also written before about the number of believers who feel oppressed by the very existence of atheists. Widdecombe is one of them, and seems genuinely to experience straightforward statements of religious skepticism as a personal attack. The only other kinds of ‘suppression’ she can cite are fictitious: cases of discrimination against cross-wearers in Britain are mythical, and I’ve yet to hear of blessings or prayer offerings being banned, though that doesn’t mean they’re not presumptuous or disrespectful when unwanted.

Ann Widdecombe lives in a fantasy world. That’s fine of course, but I wish she’d stay there.

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