Wednesday, 30 November 2016

No need to be fearful to be Christian

Fiona Bruce MP arose in #PMQs today saying that Christians were 'fearful' of mentioning their religion or talking about Christmas in  public in these tumultuous days in case they receive a backlash.

I hope she was comforted by Theresa May's words who, being the daughter of a vicar, said:

'Of course we are now into the season of Advent, and we have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech and our Christian heritage is something we can be be proud of.

'I'm sure that we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith and also be able to speak quite freely about Christmas.'

When I hear such fears raised, my mind wanders to a wonderful sketch by John Finnemore which appeared on The Now Show several years ago, and I feel confident that our country's Christian heritage is still secure and mentioning Christmas in the workplace might just about be ok.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

When will the real Donald Trump stand up?

First the good news. Donald Trump the president will be nothing like Donald Trump the candidate. The nature of the job means he will be have to be more conciliatory and willing to compromise. He will be surrounded by officials, advisers, ambassadors, secretaries, military figures –relationships he will need and have to nurture – and his bombastic, my way or the highway attitude simply won’t work.

Look at some of his most attention grabbing plans during the campaign and it’s reassuring to see many are illegal, impractical or impossible. All Muslims will not be barred from entering the United States. Eleven million illegal immigrants will not be deported. Hillary Clinton will not be sent to jail. And, while his team remain insistent it will happen, the building of a wall along the 3,200km border with Mexico will prove immensely difficult and expensive to achieve. And the Mexicans have already said they won’t pay.

In his victory speech, President-elect Trump (boy, that’s going to take some getting used to!) was clearly at pains to be as magnanimous and inclusive as he possibly could be. Far from reissuing his threats to Hillary Clinton he said the country owed her ‘a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country’. Trump made an effort to unify the nation:

‘Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division…. to all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to get together as one united people. It’s a time, I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.’

Next, regardless of how isolationist Trump has threatened to be, he will find he needs international allies. Theresa May, ever the submarine, has managed not to say anything too rude about Mr Trump. She will simply have to ignore and rise above the manner in which Trump talks about women in order to build a professional, working relationship. Brexiteers are claiming Trump’s election will make negotiating a free trade deal with the US easier as we might no longer be at the ‘back of the queue’. This, however, relies on having faith in a campaign pledge – a bold step – and Trump might not show one iota of interest in Brexit Britain.

The problems begin when one starts considering what he can do and what might happen. While stopping all Muslims from entering the US won’t happen, it’s hard to imagine that American Muslims won’t face more discrimination and racist attacks under a Trump presidency; as with the Brexit vote here, racists will believe the vote endorses their behaviour, whether it does or not.

Obamacare looks doomed. During the campaign Trump said he would dismantle it ‘very, very quickly’ and replace it with ‘free market reforms’. What this means in practice is unknown, but a hasty repeal will leave millions of people, the poorest in US society, without healthcare. Will Trump even bother to find an alternative?

Trump has indicated he wants swiftly to end any US involvement in international climate change deals. Taxes for the wealthy could be cut and his desire to bring jobs back to the US and hike tariffs could trigger several trade wars.

Many clearly do feel appalled and sick to the stomach that someone who has been openly racist, boastful of sexually assaulting women, someone so crude, someone who, for some, provokes comparisons with disturbing events in the 1930s, could possibly have been elected to the highest office in the free world.

Ultimately, though, what I can’t shake from my head is David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Donald Trump didn’t want his endorsement but had it nonetheless. Trump won and the KKK are celebrating. It's hard to think of anything more disturbing.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Farage loves a vacuum

It really shouldn’t be any surprise that we are in such uncertain territory over Brexit. It’s a pretty big issue after all. But, the longer the two majority parties vacillate over their positions, the bigger the vacuum being created for those who know exactly what they want to get from the June 23rd vote.

For all the cast-iron guarantees from David Cameron, the referendum was a never a vote the former Prime Minister wanted to hold. The offer was to placate his troublesome backbenchers. When, to considerable surprise, Mr Cameron led the Conservative Party to a House of Commons majority and the referendum became inevitable, it was still a vote that, for the most part, the former Prime Minister expected to win with ease. So, what preparation was done in case of defeat? Remarkably little, from all appearances. 

Theresa May’s favourite phrase these days is a commitment to get the ‘best deal for the UK as we leave the EU’, which one would hope is the basic requirement of any British government. But it says little about the relationship the government actually wants with the EU. From the prime minister down, government ministers and officials have been insistent that there will be no running commentary on Brexit negotiations and that by revealing the government’s ambitions they would be undermining their position before talks have even begun.

This is what the prime minister seems to fear after last week’s High Court ruling on the process by which Article 50 is triggered. Just what will the House of Commons want for their vote. Suddenly, the government risks losing control. Even though the overwhelming likelihood is that MPs will give their backing for Article 50 to be invoked, only this morning (Sunday) health secretary Jeremy Hunt repeated their concerns, telling the Andrew Marr Programme the ‘impact on the economy will be far worse if through some parliamentary mechanisms Theresa May is forced to lay out her entire negotiating strategy’.

This strategy does, however, rely on the discretion of EU countries; it would hardly be a surprise if the moment they receive the UK’s demands these find their way into the newspapers.

Simultaneously, we are left with a Labour Party which also hasn’t decided what it wants from Brexit negotiations. Jeremy Corbyn made an appearance in the Sunday Mirror in which he indicated he was willing to block Article 50 if the government breached his four ‘bottom lines’ including ‘access to 500 million customers in Europe’s single market’.

The only hiccup with this strategy is that it appears he hadn’t discussed it with his deputy leader first. With the ink still almost wet, Tom Watson was on the radio saying the Labour Party wouldn’t try and block Article 50:

‘We are not going to hold this up. The British people have spoken and Article 50 will be triggered when it comes to Westminster. Ultimately, when the vote comes Labour will support Theresa May to trigger Article 50.’

And, in reference to the apparent contradiction between himself and his leader, Mr Watson added: ‘We missed each other on the phone today.’

In many ways, it’s perfectly reasonable for the government and the opposition to be struggling to formulate exactly what their strategies are. Theresa May’s government received the ultimate hospital pass from David Cameron’s administration; it shouldn’t be much of a surprise they are taking a little time trying to establish what they can create from the mess.

And Labour’s problems must surely stem from a leader who has long been lukewarm towards the European project if not downright hostile. Mr Corbyn, after all, voted against membership in 1975, against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 and against the Lisbon Treaty in 2009

But, the failure of both to settle upon a position leaves the field wide open for those who do have agreed strategy and know exactly what they want from the Brexit vote.

The interim Ukip leader, still completely dominant within his own party, is the consummate campaigner of our age. In a time when mainstream politicians can be so fearful of the consequences of their words and deeds, Mr Farage benefits from being not highly electorally encumbered, letting him be nimble, proactive and impassioned. That many people can’t bear what he represents only fuels his enthusiasm for the fight.

In The Daily Telegraph last week, Nigel Farage wrote:

‘The British people voted to leave the single market, for full border controls and to take back control of things such as our territorial fishing waters. They expect to see all of this delivered.’

The British people, of course, voted for none of these things as they didn't appear on the ballot paper. Instead, voters were persuaded by a myriad of reasons to vote the way they did - principled, solipsistic and altruistic, and Brexit emerged the winner. But Mr Farage knows what he wants and, with a certainty of mind of which other politicians would rightly be jealous, can fill the airwaves and newspaper columns with his precise demands.