Category Archives: Liberalism

The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


The right to smoke does not equal the right to vote

It is striking to me that Theresa May has said something so straightforwardly sensible in reaffirming her wish for the voting age to remain at 18. I had always been under the impression that, given the dwindling interest in voting and sharp decline in participation over the years, politicians would be looking to 16 and 17 year olds to help beef up turnout by now.

She needn’t have bothered trying to rally the youth ahead of this election. Mrs May doesn’t exactly possess the charm that Nick Clegg displayed in attracting the youth vote during the 2010 General Election campaign, when he promised to scrap tuition fees upon getting into government.

The Tories would have just as much success rebranding themselves as the British Communist Party. Young people consistently show Left wing, liberal biases, and remain far more at home in the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats, at least until they enter the world of work and become taxpaying citizens.

I do enjoy the usual string of arguments deployed by those in favour of lowering the voting age. Especially humorous is the idea that because 16 and 17 year olds can smoke or drive they ought to be offered the vote in order to align rights with responsibilities.

Smoking and driving do not have anywhere near the impact upon public policy that voting can have, and 16 and 17 years by and large do not have the wisdom or knowledge that older voters do. Many will vote according to their parents’ biases, and not on the backs of independent thought or comparison.

It is at least a reminder that we don’t really have any coherent societal position on what exactly our ‘rights’ are. Of course, I appreciate the nuances in this argument. A 17 year old who turns 18 in July of this year might contend that he or she doesn’t lack the wisdom or knowledge of somebody a month older, and that person would probably be right.

But we need to draw lines somewhere. If we extend this argument, we can quite reasonably ask why 15 year olds ought not to be given the vote straight afterwards. It is a bottomless pit that creates nothing but problems and is never forwarded consistently.

The Prime Minister is, though, right when she claims that there are plenty of other ways to become active in politics, though the examples she gave (youth parliaments and councillors) were horrendously uninspiring. I myself used the lure of the summer’s referendum to do so, and with great personal benefits.

Most democratisation has absolutely nothing to do with government. It is arguably the workplace that is in most need of a little more democracy, since that is where adults spend most of their daily lives. I have been encouraged, for instance, by the slow growth in worker owned cooperatives in tiny pockets of the west.

Germany and Denmark operate thousands of successful, communal energy cooperatives, with many able to invest in renewable sources without the clouds of political forces hanging over their heads. A large network of worker owned enterprises has shielded Mondragon, in Spain’s Basque region, from the worst of the country’s economic hardship.

The vote often achieves very little in the way of democratisation. This is particularly so when a largely uncaring base are offered it. On the 11th November 2016, Darragh O’Reilly, a Northern Irish member of the UK’s Youth Parliament, laughably claimed in a parliamentary sitting:

“I tell you this: votes at 16 is no one-trick pony. It is nothing short of handing young people the freedom to achieve freedom. The freedom actually to fund the NHS. The freedom actually to have a decent transport system. The freedom to tackle racism.”

His statement was an enjoyable soundbite and I admire his genuine passion, but his view is baseless and most his age simply aren’t politically enfranchised. And of course no emotive political statement would be complete without a reference to the National Health Service.

Just like most other proponents of lowering the voting age, he dressed up its importance to be something other than what it actually is: a gimmick. If a genuine campaign were to emerge proposing to allow 16 and 17 year olds in the Armed Forces alone the vote, then I would be much more interested (and likely to agree).

Until then, Theresa May is correct to ensure that the voting age stays where it is. Britain is a one-party state and appears to have entered its second era of Tory dominance in the past forty years.

And 16 year olds aren’t about to change that.


Some clarification on my religious reconsideration

I wanted to clarify some confusion amongst readers concerning my most recent blog post on religious reconsideration. The post can be read here.

One of my friends at university, a BBC commentator and journalist at Fulham, Aaron Mandair made the following, rather interesting comment when I tweeted my blog post out. He said: “I wouldn’t just abandon atheism for the sake of it, I would let God find you, otherwise there’s no point to believing.”

Aayush Priyank, a reader and clearly quite a militant atheist, responded to my post by saying that the quote C.S. Lewis quote that I used was ‘redundant’, and that “it is not evidence for God.”

My Scottish friend Ryan Lytwyn, incidentally a Liberal Democrat, pointed out that I used the term ‘liberal’ a little carelessly, which was true.

I think they make very good points, and what was said irritated me because I realised I had not written about my current position with enough clarity. Capturing weeks of consideration in a single blog post is not easy. So, to quickly address Aaron’s point, I should make clear that I am not actively trying to find God. As things stand, I am under the impression that God may have found me over a year ago, and that I was either too stubborn to let Him in, or perhaps that I simply did not realise it. Readers should remember that as I write I am in a place of doubt, trapped a little by confusion. I do not seek belief. Rather, for the very first time in my life, given my known reluctance to worship many of the things non-believers do, like hedonism, I am considering the possibility that God has been reaching out to me.

Mr Priyank, apparently not the best reader I’ve come across, has made a distinct error. Firstly, my use of the C.S. Lewis quote on man’s longing to find happiness in something other than God was not used to prove that God existed. I am not sure how he arrived at the conclusion that it was. I included it because I resonated with it. I felt that it was an accurate representation of Godless societies: man running around desperately looking for things to fill the void, even if those things only offer him short-term pleasure (hence my references to hedonism).

Ryan Lytwyn, a Facebook and personal friend of mine (despite horrendous political clashes) echoed Aaron’s view that faith isn’t something one looks for, and also mentioned that my use of the word ‘liberal’ was not reflective of his type of liberalism and that I was using it to mean Left-wing. I think he is right. I have a tendency to conflate ‘liberal’ with ‘Left-wing’ because that is how I see the political spectrum. I think Left and Right are now anchored to moral, social and cultural beliefs and not economics.

My constant use of the word ‘liberal’ was very lazy. Broadly speaking, those who are conservative are more likely to be religious and those who are liberal less so, but this is certainly not always the case. I have in recent days spent time talking to liberal-minded people who have Christ in their lives to get an understanding of why and how they converted. This was because I wanted to try and find parallels in my thinking when compared with their experiences.

I hope that provides a little more clarity. If readers are a little clearer now, they’ll still be a lot less confused than I am.


I am reconsidering my religious position

I have been running this blog for almost two years, and have managed to cover quite a range of subjects. I am extremely pleased with some of the feedback I have received, as well as with my own progress as a writer and as a thinker. The input of readers has been invaluable and I feel like my political acumen has been strengthened immensely.

I have, though, made quite the effort not to talk about my religious views on here. This is because, in truth, for the past weeks and months I have found myself trapped in a dizzying spiral of thought. I have been, for the first time in my 21-year long life, reconsidering atheism’s role in my life and whether to pursue faith.

About a year and a half ago, my politics underwent a notable transformation. I abandoned what I now call my period of default liberalism and found comfort and sincerity in political conservatism. As a teenager, I was apolitical and did not put any real thought towards major issues. By default, like so many youngsters now and then, I held liberal views. It reflected the environment I was brought up in: very secular, very anti-Christian and welded together by an educational and media establishment that espoused liberal sentiment. This is, of course, not to say that young liberals never have strong political acumen and do not think seriously about important issues.

It is not surprising that young people are so easily led to believe that to be atheist and liberal is necessarily the way to think. Most do so innocently, and like my younger self, are not consumed by critical thinking and political awareness. But, growing up, I felt that tendencies towards non-belief were so socially accepted that I needn’t worry about giving religion any independent consideration.

I often wonder if my upbringing had anything to do with subconsciously rejecting religion. My siblings are not religious and my mother, despite occasional querying, has never shown any sign of believing in a higher power. My grandparents, too, sometimes claimed to have Christian belief, but never spoke about Christ and only attended Church for ceremonial events, like funerals and weddings.

Entering my teen years, and becoming fairly academic at school, I developed a level of confidence during religious debate that, if I could go back now, I would find repulsive. The family and schooling environments I was raised in enshrined in me the apparent lack of importance or value that religion has to play in modern society. I thought that religious people were stupid, and being militantly atheist, and non-believers not so. My rejection of religion, after years of ignoring it, soon became rather more deliberate. To me, God didn’t exist and I hated Him.

This is a surprisingly common notion amongst modern atheists, and only now do I realise how silly it is. It might be because so many people view atheism as the last station on the line; that there can’t be anything after it because that is the direction that society has travelled in after so many years of rampant religiosity. Atheists often dismiss religions on the grounds that they privilege faith over reason, but I do not necessarily think that is true.

Often, those who are religious, or those who have converted to a religion from a position of non-belief are those who have paid more thoughtful attention to the universe and the meaning of life. The other day I was struck by this powerful C.S. Lewis quote:

“…and out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

…on the desire of man to fill the void not inhabited by God through other means. It hit me primarily because I feel so detached from those around me; those who subscribe to the described pleasures of hedonism. It is possible that, by pursuing Christianity, I provide my politics with a more solid foundation. Something, if you will, to complete the package.

I used to think that worship was a binary thing; that individuals either worship God or they do not worship. I now realise this is demonstrably untrue. It is in human nature to worship, but it is precisely what we worship that defines (and separates) us. I can see only three options: God, the state and the self. When worship is considered from this perspective, it is much easier to treat it as a more rational characteristic of human behaviour than previously thought. It is possible that God can fill a personal void for me. I won’t worship any state, nor will I worship the individual as do so many liberals around me.

There is a door ahead of me, but one that I am hesitant to open. I don’t know what lies behind it, but increasingly my suspicion is that it is everything that I have been looking for.


Trump’s inauguration and the new American patriotism

Despite the bold claims and fancy soundbites woven into Donald Trump’s inaugural speech earlier this evening, I thoroughly enjoyed most of what he said. I thought that his message, delivered with conviction and characteristic bite, was refreshingly patriotic. The beauty of Trump’s discourse is that it is precisely not what we would ordinarily expect from a senior statesman: politically incorrect, blunt and wildly ambitious.

I was struck, as I always am by these occasions, by the tendency of those on the conservative Right (or at least those pretending, as I suspect Trump could be) to rely heavily on patriotic sentiment in political discourse. Yes, the ceremony symbolises a transition of power and a new chapter for a republic, but there is always something spectacular about effused, Right-wing patriotism.Today’s inauguration certainly had a distinctly patriotic feel to it. The pomp traditionally provided by celebrity performances was ditched and religious propensity played its typically central role.

Trump said poignantly during his speech that “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” Perhaps this kind of rhetoric is a tactic that the Right finds useful when it comes to setting a narrative.  I have for a long time considered ‘patriotic correctness’ to be a means of regulating acceptable thought, speech and behaviour by those on the Right, almost certainly a defence mechanism designed to counterweight the more liberal-espoused political correctness. But the best part by far of the new president’s inaugural message came towards the end, as he claimed boldly: “We will bring back our jobs, we will bring back our borders, we will bring back our wealth and we will bring back our dreams.” In one powerful sentence, Trump encapsulated why he had been entrusted with office. It was a beautiful line, displaying his love of country and using it to directly address the concerns of ordinary American people.

It tends to be the case that the political Right, or conservatives, are more openly patriotic than those on the liberal Left. Research on this issue is both abundant and unsurprising. The Pew Research Center show that by and large, ‘steadfast conservatives’ are more likely to believe that the United States of America stands out above all other countries, with only a small minority of ‘solid liberals’ agreeing: http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/section-2-views-of-the-nation-the-constitution-and-government/.

A prominent Gallup poll, conducted between 2001 and 2016, showed that while patriotic feeling has stagnated, those most likely to be patriotic are republican voters: http://www.gallup.com/poll/193379/new-low-extremely-proud-americans.aspx, which serves to support the idea that a broad liberal-conservative divide, not by any means perfectly illustrated by voting tendencies, exists when it comes to attitudes towards American patriotism. By July 2016, 68% of Republican voters said that they were proud to be American, compared with just 45% of polled Democrats.

If the new leader of the free world’s combative inaugural address is anything to go by, the exploitation of republican-led patriotic sentiment in America (I strongly suspect Trump’s voter base included many democratic defectors, too) might well be what we end up calling Trumpism. It probably has something to do with how the president connects with people. Simple language, bold optimism and evocative expressions of personality are exotic traits in modern politics, used sparingly and often by those attempting to present themselves as ‘anti-establishment’.

The imagery, too, was remarkable as Trump stood up in front of a White House teaming with establishment figures. Four former presidents sat nervously behind him as he delivered a punchy pledge to unite Americans, reminding them of the privileges they are to enjoy over those he referred to as “outsiders”. This does not mean that the new American patriotism is rooted in xenophobic prejudice or snobbish majoritarian entitlement. Rather, it is a rallying cry against the very mechanisms that have left a large chunk of the population feeling marginalised. In many ways, Trump’s presidency marks the first true test for populism in the modern era. Since Marine Le Pen must wait until May to be elected and Brexit has not yet happened, the next few months will serve as a useful appetiser for those who have spent the last year or so riding populist waves.