UK 2017: May Loses the Unloseable Election

I’ve been rather quiet about the snap-election called in the United Kingdom that took place on June 8. This was for two reasons: (1) it was completely unnecessary and was a contradiction by Prime Minister Theresa May who had promised not to call an election, and (2) I was terrified, UK Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn was polling very poorly and under unwarranted media scrutiny. It looked like a disaster was on the cards.

The campaign was fascinating, the UK Conservative Party was able to squander a 20% lead in the polls to a 2.3% lead on voting day, while Corbyn led UK Labour to their best result since the early Blair years. It was the result those of us on the left had hoped for, but didn’t hope for too strongly given the past heartbreaks we’ve endured. There’s a few points that I would like to raise from the whole event

Labour’s messaging was superb, from the leaked manifesto which offered policies that appealed to marginalised Britons, to turning the “weak on security” meme back onto the Tories with their criticism of spending cuts to police and fire services. The Labour result was extraordinary, the vote share was now up to 40%, with 12.9 million votes, which eclipses Milliband’s result from the 2015 election.

Thus Corbyn’s position as Labour leader is now secure and there is no prospect of a leadership challenge, with the exception of the moronic Chris Leslie who had another go with the now discredited Blairite slogans. I was always a fan or Corbyn, like Bernie Sanders in the USA, he had the potential to redefine politics with his straight-talking decency. I was impressed by his substance over style manner and how he would relay questions from the public during PMQs. I can think of no better representatives for the people than Corbyn and those who follow his example.

It was amusing to see right-wingers give themselves whiplash by shifting the goalposts following Corbyn’s better than expected result. Firstly he was criticised because he would lead Labour to a humiliating defeat. When he does well enough to strip the Tories of their majority, he is criticised for not winning. Such analysis focuses on the 56 seat gap lead the Tories have while ignoring that this is a distortion caused by the FPP system. If the seats were allocated by PR, then the gap would only be 15 seats which doesn’t look like a great victory? It comes as no surprise that right-wingers choose to ignore FPP distortions as it benefits their party and demonstrates their contempt for democracy when it doesn’t go their way.

There’s another great irony in this result. One of the most common criticisms of MPP, the electoral system used in my home country of New Zealand is that minor parties hold undue influence when forming a coalition with a major party. This was predicted to bring economic ruin (which hasn’t happened) by failed finance ministers and corporate robber-barons. FPP was praised for producing strong governments with working majorities, even though it screwed the will of the people. MMP was derided for allowing the “tail to wag the dog”. And lo, here we have an FPP election that produces that exact result!

To hold on to power, the Tories look set to do a deal with the corrupt, wasteful retrogrades known as the Democratic Unionist Party. This leads to all kinds of problems in terms of the Northern Irish peace process and concessions that will be unpopular in the UK. May’s hold on the Tory leadership is also weakened, although nobody seems interested in replacing her. Time will tell whether this government can last, or if a new election will be held. So long as Labour doesn’t trigger it (parties causing unnecessary elections seems to be unpopular), they are well placed to win next time around, although post-election polling is still thin on the ground at the time of writing.

Most importantly, this is a huge defeat for vapid centrism, the prevailing line of thought in 21st century centre-left social democratic political parties the world over. Their obsession with the vague concept of electability has been demonstrated to be a falsehood. It’s no longer good enough to be “not as bad” as the lunatics occupying the political right-wing, now is the time to make a positive case for popular left policies in a way that involves the public. Now is the time for Jeremy Corbyn.

France 2017: Le Pen’s Strange Definition of Secularism

I’ve written about the upcoming French presidential election in the past. Since then, free-market lunatic Francois Fillon has tanked following the revelations that he gave fake jobs to his family members. Benoit Hamon and the PS have slipped off the radar as a resurgent Jean-Luc Melenchon has just about drawn level with Fillon in polling in the high teens. Centrist Emmanuel Macron and extreme right-winger Marine Le Pen are level in the lead, both polling in the low to mid twenties. The trend as of mid-April shows Macron, Hamon and Le Pen losing support with big gains to Melenchon and a slight rise for Fillon.

Given the large number of undecided/abstaining voters and the rapidly changing trends, any two of the top four could succeed in the first round of voting on Sunday (French time). The situation in French politics is such that it was covered by British-American comedian John Oliver in Last Week Tonight. In general the segment was light on policy and highlighted the deep unpopularity of figures such as Valls, Fillon and Macron who were caught on camera getting hit with food items. Interestingly, there was no mention of Hamon which should be a signal to his voters to switch to Melenchon in order to see their interests represented.

Most of the segment covered Le Pen, who draws obvious parallels with Brexit, Trump, and now the outrageous Turkish constitutional referendum (although I can’t imagine she would like to be compared with the latter event).  Oliver pointed out that even though she has polished the FN from when her father was in charge, she still lets some unpleasant ideas slip through. One example of this was when interviewed, Le Pen stated that she would ban all religious clothing. Le Pen has also stated that she is attached to secularism. Her ban on religious clothing is no doubt inspired by her staunch secularism.

As the title alludes to, I think that a ban on religious clothing has nothing to do with secularism and in fact goes against secular principles. Firstly, let’s look at a definition of secularism from the National Secular Society (UK):

Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

One of the misunderstandings about secularism (normally by religious fanatics) is that it is akin to compulsory atheism or involves preferential treatment for atheists. Not true, if anything the above definition is a statement of neutrality. This position of neutrality is beneficial to the most people as should be obvious to anyone capable of empathy. While a powerful group may be upset that it can’t do whatever it likes, less powerful groups do not experience oppression.

In terms of the second part of the NSS definition, I think that bans on clothing represent a deviation from neutrality and indicate a bias in favour of irreligion. While I think an irreligious society is generally better than a religious society, turning everyone into an atheist will not solve all the world’s problems (just read PZ Myers’ blog and consider some of the examples of asshole atheism that he has confronted). Bans on clothing push the widespread understanding of secularism towards the cartoon definition that religionists use to claim that secularism is persecuting them. Let’s avoid that and acknowledge that individuals should be free to wear the clothing of their choice.

It’s also interesting that in the West, non-religious and Christian people wear clothing which is generally not explicitly associated with religion. That’s probably due to privilege bias and thinking that their “normal” is the only “normal”. I can’t help but think secularism is being misappropriated by Le Pen as a tool to bash religious minorities in France. Bashing religious minorities is a godsend to terrorist organisations who will happily recruit those who have been persecuted. Terrorist organisations will find things a lot harder when the mainstream of their religion have secure comfortable lifestyles, individual rights and freedoms to participate in society and a sense of belonging. True secularism offers us all of those things. Le Pen’s policies only serve to enrage and endanger us.

My preference is Melenchon, whose concerns about economic insecurity are more credible than Le Pen’s. He recognises that neoliberal economics has underlined the noble vision of the European Union. Hamon also has some interesting policies such as a UBI, and investment in infrastructure and the environment. However he is a long shot on current polling. I was wrong to characterise Macron as a Bernie Sanders type figure in my last French post (well spotted Old Deuteronomy), it is clear now that Melenchon is deserving of this sobriquet. It’s now up to France to do what the US couldn’t: put a socialist voice in charge for constructive change.

*You may notice that I haven’t used any of the accented letters in the candidate names. That’s because I have a US English keyboard and I can’t be arsed remembering the ALT codes. This is Zeitung f­ür Katzen, not Journal pour les chats!