Sifting through the ashes in search of something, anything

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Shantih Shantih Shantih, wrote Eliot in the final lines of ‘The Waste Land’, a fragment pillaged from the Hindu Upanishads. It is bewitching, it is intensely mournful, almost inexplicable, and today in particular, it is the most poignant expression of ultimate resignation.

Along with David Dimbleby, JK Rowling and a good chunk of the country’s students, among a vast array of others from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, I stayed up all night to watch the results of the EU referendum come flooding in over the airwaves and through the slippery plumbing of the social media pipework. And, just before 5am, the BBC called game, set, match for the “Leave” campaign.

Newcastle was the signal fire that first spelled doom for those championing solidarity with Europe, bringing in a tiny “Remain” majority despite confident projections that it would be much higher. This was almost identical to the role of the Dundee result in the Scottish referendum, which in the same way brought in a much smaller win for the “Yes” campaign than predicted, crippling them for the rest of the count.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.41.19But this was by no means the first speed bump of the night that was last night. Next came Sunderland, then Swansea, the latter with a huge “Leave” majority, a trend that was incidentally set for the rest of rural Wales in stark contrast with cosmopolitan Cardiff. And when Birmingham, with its 700,000 or so votes, came in with a “Leave” win, all hope was lost. Though it was a narrow margin the fact that “Leave” triumphed at all was unprecedented, the great swathe of votes in the region therefore serving to just about cancel each other out. The disappointing Euroscepticism of the outer London boroughs nailed the coffin shut despite soaring “Remain” majorities in the likes of Lambeth, Hackney, Camden, and the rest of the city. Scotland of course voted “Remain” pretty decisively (albeit with a 67% turnout versus the 85% of September 2014 and the 72% of yesterday’s national average), but so did Northern Ireland, prompting calls from Sinn Féin as well as NI’s Deputy First Minister to reignite the debate for a unified Ireland. One can hardly imagine a UK consisting of just England and Wales, the very prospect of which seems simply absurd, outlandish even. And yet here we are.

The steep “Leave” trend, however, in the xenophobic and pensioner-rich middle class enclaves of the North East and Midlands was expected, but the bitter truth is that it was Corbyn’s polarising leadership bid that splintered those red-rose strongholds and so compromised the voice of Labour’s “Remain” proponents. And now on the eve of chaos, he has been served a motion of no confidence.

But as Iain Martin of CapX put it in the wee hours, “Labour: it’s the fault of the Tories. Tories: it’s the fault of Labour”.

Undoubtedly, one of the first seismic political tremors following the result occurred when David Cameron emerged from 10 Downing Street at 08:18 just moments after rumours had swept along the rope line of the press that he would be resigning.

At the podium he began by championing democracy, thanking those who took part on “my side of the argument”, and congratulating the opposition, stating categorically that “the will of the British people is an instruction that must be respected.” He swiftly went on to reassure the markets, the armies of investors, and those Brits living abroad as well as those non-British EU citizens living here that there would be no immediate changes, stressing the need for preparations for negotiations to ensure the interests of “all parts of our United Kingdom” are heard. That rather cemented the trajectory of his speech, and sure enough, he was soon expressing how proud he was to have been Britain’s PM these past six years and listing his government’s achievements, before insisting we must “confront, not duck, big decisions”. This, he said, was that so quintessentially British spirit that saw the first coalition government in seventy years being forged in 2010, a “fair, legal and decisive” referendum in Scotland, and the EU negotiations he carried out with his “head, heart and soul”. That’s when he delivered the words that we were all expecting to hear, that he was not the “captain” to steer the country in this new direction, and while giving no precise timetable, that there must be a new prime minister in time for the Conservative conference in October. “Delivering stability” was the priority he emphasised, with a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday and the Bank of England taking steps to ensure this stability. He said he had already spoken to the Queen and will be attending the European Council next week to formally explain Britain’s decision. He finished on a note of solidarity, encouraging “those on the losing side” to help make it work, because ultimately, Britain is a “special” country, driven by its astonishing history of science, arts, engineering, creativity, and though certainly not perfect, it can be and will remain a model of a multi-racial, multi-faithed nation. “I am the first to praise our incredible strengths,” he concluded, voice breaking, “I love this country and I’ve been honoured to serve it.”

MP Anna Soubry hailed the PM moments later on the BBC for his “beautiful composure”, looking rather shell-shocked as she described how he “led from the front” and how sincerely she hopes “this won’t cloud our memory of him”, while across the Channel MEP Philippe Lamberts condemned him as “utterly irresponsible” on the doorstep of the HQ in Brussels.

Of course, Cameron really had no other option than to resign. As Salmond dryly remarked to the BBC earlier this morning, “I have some experience in this field”. And so, the three month leadership battle begins. Johnson, May, Davidson, Crabb… whoever emerges on top, it will be a sensationalist Tory pseudo-drama of Freudian proportions.

But much caution has already been expressed over the rapidity of implementing Article 50, with many prominent “Leave” politicians encouraging cool-headed patience and negotiations. And yet, Corbyn appeared on BBC1 at 07:30 saying it should be invoked “now”, a reminder of his reluctance at backing the EU at all given his long history of resistance against the establishment, the status quo, the bureacracy. He did, after all, express his support for the EU at only “7 and a 1/2”, whatever the hell that means. And now speculation is stirring that Corbyn will be ousted by the end of the week.

Speaking of speculation, Carney emerged after the night’s global turmoil in the wake of Cameron’s resignation to reassure the markets that the banks were fully backed with a £250 billion reserve ready to secure credit for both households and businesses. It was at the sight of the Newcastle signal fire that the pound, which had soared to around $1.50 against the dollar right before the vote, plummeted to its lowest level since 1985. The FTSE was down 500 points at its open, Barclays bank tanked 35%, with RBS and Lloyds quickly following, and shockwaves rippled though the Nikkei. Expressions of Britain’s bad judgement appeared in morning papers across the globe, from the New York Times to El Mundo, with Obama receiving a “briefing” on the result in the White House around 6am. Indeed, some have hailed this disturbing realisation of xenophobia, regression and isolationism as the harbinger of everything from the resurgence of Europe’s far-right groups to the wall-building, Muslim-banning madness that would be a Trump presidency. Sensationalism aside, the EU has been guaranteed at least two years of uncertainty.

As for Scotland, we now know that every council area across the nation voted to stand with the EU, and Nicola Sturgeon just made her assurance from Bute House that preparations for a second referendum will now begin. She was careful not to confirm it, but that is undoubtedly the trajectory we are now on. Indeed, the weight of the Glasgow result at 2am temporarily tipped the total national count into a “Remain” majority. The consensus in Scotland is beyond doubt, but the case for independence of course will now be made even more complex and polarising by the reality of a Britain outside the EU and an EU rocked by the messy exit of its second largest economy. Of course there is the possibility that “Brexit” will now trigger any number of copycat referendums in the most traditionally Eurosceptic countries from Greece and Spain to Latvia and Hungary, not to mention the looming spectre of potential bank runs.

It may just be that the EU was the crucial pressure point on the windowpane of the UK. Now it has been hit with such surgical precision, spidery cracks have bloomed across it, obscuring all beyond. A second independence referendum will be the tap that shatters it forever. But, there will be two Nationalist reactions. Sturgeon has made her position clear, while expressing respect for those No-voters who will want to rationally reevaluate their position. However, many senior figures within the SNP leadership, Humza Yousaf among them, will be reluctant to use Brexit as a vehicle for statehood. For one thing currency is now even more of a roadblock. It will have to be the Euro or a brand new currency, perhaps pegged to the pound. Also, there is the simple reality that Scotland receives £9 billion per year from Westminster while juggling a deficit three times the size of the rest of the UK, particularly problematic given the lack of oil revenue. And we must remember that over a million people voted to leave the EU and the SNP would certainly not want to initiate a referendum that would most likely take place in 2017-18 without being certain of victory. There would also need to be a border, a proper, real-life border between Scotland and England. But there is now a new independence case for previous No-voters to consider. There is not space here to elaborate just quite yet, particularly in the swirling Charybdis that is today, but yes… there is certainly a case.

The fact remains that 17 million is a lot of people, a hell of a lot, and yet it’s not even a third of the UK’s population. Nor is it actually a majority of the electorate, despite the record turnout. The result was so close that a 72% turnout didn’t give “Leave” over 50% of the votes when those other 10 million-ish people who couldn’t or wouldn’t fill out a ballot are taken into account. Just look at the demographics. 64% of 18-24 year olds nationwide voted “Remain”, while 58% of 65+ year olds voted “Leave”. If, as in the Scottish referendum, the 1.5 million 16-17 year olds in the UK had been granted the vote, the nation would have awoken to very different news this morning. Instead, our futures have been decided by the oldest generation to the detriment of all.

Marina Hyde of The Guardian took to Twitter this morning to muse over Farage’s comment that “this is a victory for ordinary people, decent people”, pointing out that all us Remainers are therefore extraordinarily indecent. Indeed, we are the “indecent minority”, as JK Rowling wryly replied.

From the terribly bitter and painful ashes of this referendum, several things will rise. The question and intense likelihood of a second Scottish referendum, the question of a possible Irish referendum, the question of fresh party leaders for both the Tories and Labour, the question of the timing and logistics of Article 50, the question of citizenship for Brits abroad and Europeans here at home, and the question of trade and foreign relations now we have cut ourselves loose from the continent.

Not all of these things will survive the battle to wing their way across the sun-splashed skies, but the ones that do will determine the future of this isle full of noises in every single possible sense of the word.

Shantih Shantih Shantih

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A Revolution in British Politics: Fragmentation and Frustration

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He that commends me to mine own content

Commends me to the thing I cannot get.

I to the world am like a drop of water

That in the ocean seeks another drop,

Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,

Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself.”

In Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’, Antipholus of Syracuse speaks these words in a poignant soliloquy as he struggles to define himself, demoralised in a desperate quest for identity, for a sense of self. Here he despairs that this dream will be shattered, that such a dream is futile. He worries that in seeking this self-definition, he will instead lose any identity he may have had in an ‘ocean’, an undifferentiated mass. In the trials of modern reality, this fear of a loss of identity and the disillusionment with the status quo has become increasingly evident.

Over the last decade, there has been a growing divergence between public support and satisfaction, and the two main political parties of this country (I say two not three because I personally don’t feel the Liberal Democrats constitute a ‘main’ party). The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have been in government in one form or another since 1922. This turbulent century has seen both progression and regression, and now, in a world still riven by conflict we are not only on the brink of departure from the EU, but are at risk of breaking up the UK.

It is perhaps a flaw of the British political system that a two-party state has emerged, and though millions of people across the country support minority parties, some argue these interests are not effectively represented in Parliament. This is partly due to the system, and partly due to the consequence that voters are discouraged from backing the minorities because they know it will be a ‘wasted’ vote.

But over the last few years, these parties have been gaining more and more momentum. Though they started out as protest parties, they now advocate a wider range of policies and have become parties in their own right. In recent by-elections and indeed the European elections several weeks ago a trend is emerging. People are losing faith in the mainstream political parties of the UK and the system is beginning to fragment. Though these are still minorities, minorities must never be ignored or dismissed. The electorate is no longer satisfied with the leadership of this country and with the rise of charismatic figures (in prominence whether or not this is also in popularity) such as George Galloway and Nigel Farage, the biggest parties are being forced to adapt or get left behind, much like natural selection. This represents a certain degree of disillusionment within British politics, fuelled by the ongoing economic issues in the rest of Europe. This is evident in the pressure on David Cameron to call for reform in the EU and the criticisms of Jean-Claude Juncker, the front-running candidate to become President of the European Commission. And closer to home incidents like the accusations of a Trojan Horse conspiracy as an Islamic takeover in Birmingham schools have fuelled the growing anti-immigration sentiment.

The way I see it, this political fragmentation and disillusionment has grown in three main stages. Picture, if you will, the three bursts of acceleration of the steam train in Back to the Future III. These stages were the Iraq War, the expenses scandals, and austerity. Tony Blair’s entry in 2003 into what many believe was an illegal and unjustified conflict utterly disillusioned the British people, especially when it was discovered the war had been declared under false pretenses. It cost the lives of almost 200 British soldiers, resulted in the death of almost 1 million Iraqis, the majority of these being civilian casualties, and it achieved nothing. Secondly, the expenses scandals saw the growth of further distrust and resentment towards politicians who were seen as spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money to finance what were widely believed to be unjustifiable aspects of their lives. The frustration and anger towards George Osborne’s austerity measures have also played a role. Despite these spending cuts being necessary after the damaging years of the bloated Labour government, hostility towards such policies and their short run effects is somewhat inevitable. Their negative connotations combined with other accumulating factors have hampered their popularity despite long-term benefits.

politics 5The most divisive of these three factors, the one that has led to the greatest polarisation between politicians and the public, was the Iraq War, a conflict backed by all our main political parties. The invasion began on 20th March 2003 and US troops did not leave until December 2011. Even now conflict is still ongoing. The pretext for this war was the accusation that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction, but it was discovered in the Duelfer Report of 2005 that Iraq had ended all its nuclear programmes in 1991. The CIA claimed that Iraq would have restarted the programmes if sanctions were lifted and so even if Bush knew the WMD accusations were unfounded the war would have happened anyway. There is no question that the entire conflict became deeply unpopular among many, much like the Vietnam War had been several decades earlier. In both the US and the UK anti-war protests were staged, such as those coordinated worldwide on 15th February 2003. This led the New York Times to comment that there are two world superpowers, the US and public opinion. Many of these rallies were organised by groups formed in protest against the war in Afghanistan, with most of them occurring in Europe. Indeed, the protest held in Rome which involved over 3 million people still holds the Guiness World Record for the biggest anti-war rally of all time.

In the past few months the legality of the war burst once more into headlines due to the repercussions of the Chilcot Enquiry. This was carried out in the UK between 2009 and 2011 to investigate the causes of the war, the decisions made and the lessons that could be learned. The recent controversy was over the retention of certain documents from the public eye because of concerns over the effects on British-American relations. The document in question was a transcript of a phone call between George Bush and Tony Blair just days before the invasion, which was hoped would clear up the matter of why exactly the duo invaded Iraq. This issue is particularly current because of the ongoing controversy over the privacy breaches of the NSA after Edward Snowden’s discoveries. Many argue that if the government can access the private details and conversations of the public then why can’t the public reciprocate, a very convincing argument in my view.

Nevertheless, the whole affair exacerbated the fractures beginning to proliferate in the fragile relationship between the government and the public. And this heralded the rise of the minority parties, a rise which has accelerated in recent weeks and fuelled the claims that there has been a ‘revolution’ in British politics.

The most notable party which has gained significantly more support recently has been the UK Independence Party. Their leader, Nigel Farage, celebrated victory in the European elections of 22nd May, in which he emerged with the most votes. Another older but also prominent party are the Greens. Though they only have one seat in the House of Commons and are ‘left-wing’, they do feature in many debates, and their leader Natalie Bennett does seem to talk sense mainly due to their liberal approach to social policies. Scotland and Northern Ireland also have their own Green Party. But the Greens won’t feature prominently in the 2015 General Elections, UKIP might.

Another minority party that I confess I only actually heard of recently is the Respect Party. They emerged in 2004 as an anti-war organisation before evolving into a far-left party concerned with democratic socialism and anti-imperialism. The name itself is an acronym for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade Unionism. Due to the third and seventh words I would never vote for them, however, once again their liberal social policies are to be commended. But undoubtedly the most interesting thing about them is their leader, George Galloway. As a Scot myself I naturally feel a certain tug of comradeship towards him. He was born in Dundee and was a member of the Labour Party until 2003 when he was expelled for his impassioned opposition to the Iraq War. He branded the government “Tony Blair’s lie machine” and described the invasion as one by “wolves”, calling on British soldiers to “refuse to obey illegal orders.” No one can dispute that Galloway is a truly fearsome debater, just watch a clip of him on YouTube. Again, I admire him greatly for his liberalism, pacifism, morals and especially his opposition to Scottish independence but I just cannot get behind him fully due to his apparent anti-Semitism which seems to contradict his advocacy of ethnic equality, and his socialist economics.

So let’s take a closer look at these three minority parties (I refuse to include the BNP). One measure of support to look at are the number of Twitter followers each has because, well, why not! UKIP have 62.1 thousand followers, the Greens have 63.1 thousand, and the Respect Party have 1.6 thousand. But it is perhaps more enlightening to look at their leaders, Nigel Farage has 142.9 thousand followers, Natalie Bennett has 21.7 thousand, but George Galloway has 178.4 thousand. Galloway certainly pulls ahead in the popularity polls, and perhaps the Greens in the policy polls (though we should remember that the Greens have existed since 1972 so are twenty years older than UKIP). Nevertheless the reason smaller parties have never made much of a dent in the overall votes of the General Election is because people know that voting for them will not count for much if they are in a constituency which has always been red or blue. Labour and the Conservatives benefit from the ‘economies of scale’ of being traditionally large and powerful, posing high barriers to entry. It was suggested on Question Time once that state funding may help these smaller parties to grow and to campaign on a more level playing field with similar resources at their disposal but this would undoubtedly be deeply unpopular with the public, just as the expenses scandals were. At the end of the day perhaps our ‘simple plurality’ system is the least worst way to do it (the first past the post system). After researching several alternatives, many of which can become very complicated as rankings are introduced in which voters can score the different choices, the only other method I personally thought showed merit was the Condorcet method, which indeed allows one to rank the candidates. However, this can lead to the ‘voting paradox’ when the requirement for a majority means there is no clear winner. Ultimately, I don’t think it can be concluded that the British system is undemocratic. Nevertheless, there must be more authority to local governments, and more local referendums on certain policies which affect different regions in vastly different ways. There must also be less bureaucracy, more devolution (perhaps even federalism!), and action must be taken to restore faith in our biggest parties because of the very fact that they are our biggest parties and they will govern for the foreseeable future. To do this they must listen to the people.

My problem is that all of the parties have some attractive and unattractive qualities. No one has it all. There is no truly neoliberal or libertarian free market party.

Sometimes I think UKIP could be that party, but then they go and say something just a bit too conservative. Also we have yet to see their full manifesto for the General Election so cannot fairly judge their standpoint. What we can do is begin to ask the question, is Nigel Farage a 2015 contender?

UKIP have been stereotyped as a protest party of racist, homophobic bigots. Indeed, this is a common perception held by much of the electorate today, or is it? This stereotype is perhaps fair considering the racial prejudices of so many of its politicians, or is it? After much research I have concluded that these accusations are simply naïve and indeed that an admirable philosophy for all areas of life is not to conform to society’s perceptions and certainly not to accept stereotypes.

Last week saw arguably the biggest upheaval in British politics in a century. Though the turnout for the European elections on 22nd May was just under 34%, the results can undoubtedly give us some indication as to the voting trends throughout the country. 4.3 million people voted UKIP, a figure which simply cannot be dismissed. That’s almost the size of Scotland! With less than a year to the next general election, when millions throughout the UK will take to the polls to decide which party will govern the country from 2015-2020 and which leader will be Prime Minister, the campaigns for power are starting to gather momentum. David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg… yes this is regrettably an all-male line up but this is the line up and someone must come out on top. The question now being addressed by many newspapers and asked by many voters is: will Nigel Farage be that man? Well, probably not, but what can the other leaders learn from him? Again, without seeing UKIP’s full manifesto I don’t think he can be fairly judged but he has undoubtedly made an impact. He won an election. Yes the turnout was low but he won an election. He also seemed to come off very well in a recent appearance on the Andrew Marr show just after the victory in the polls and I would be willing to bet that UKIP gains some seats in Parliament. I think if they play it right they could indeed translate their current support into actual seats, as recent polls have suggested, such as the one by ComRes which surveyed their supporters and discovered 86% would still vote UKIP in May 2015. This suggests that though Farage may not be a contender for PM, he is definitely a contender for seats.

So who will emerge victorious in 2015? Well Nick Clegg does seem to have suffered too much damage to recover, and Ed Miliband just doesn’t do it for me. Labour’s policies (bar a few exceptions) just haven’t seemed to have worked as well as those of the opposite side, despite both parties being relatively ‘centre’. Cameron will also be celebrating today’s unemployment figures, showing that the rate has now fallen to just 6.6% with 2 million more jobs having been created in the private sector since the government came to power in 2010. So for me the only viable option right now are the Conservatives, and I do think that the EU will be a massive topic of debate in the run-up to the elections, so Cameron’s assurance that he will deliver an in-out referendum in 2016 after negotiations seems to be one of his strongest points. The most crucial thing for him to do is to listen to the people.

Of course Cameron will arguably be irreparably damaged if there is a majority Yes vote on 18th September and Scotland leaves the union. It would be crippling for Labour to lose so many traditionally Labour-voting constituencies, but the government that saw such a large chunk of the land and the population choose to walk would have to be very lucky indeed to be reelected.

Personally I think the independence debate has become as much about identity as about economics or politics. Both campaigns can twist the figures either way because ultimately it is all just speculation. To me at least the economics is obvious, to rely solely on a declining industry whose prices are some of the most volatile of all commodities is just absurd. But Salmond would say the oil could sustain us all on its own, certainly to maximise our potential for renewables we should remain part of the union. When you listen to him speak you’d think Scotland was some deeply oppressed country, not one with higher GDP growth and GDP per capita than the rest of the UK, not one which boasts Europe’s fourth largest financial centre. I hear child poverty mentioned frequently in debates, but this isn’t an issue exclusive to Scotland. Glasgow has Scotland’s highest rate, 33%, but this is still lower than Tower Hamlets, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Derry, Belfast and Islington. It is a problem that all large cities face and of course is abhorrent, but is one which can be better tackled as part of the UK. Who was it that said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? The fact that Scotland doesn’t get the government it votes for is also an argument I hear frequently. Again I find this difficult to understand because do those who advocate this mean the SNP or Labour? The SNP may have scraped a majority in the Scottish Parliament with 50.3% of the seats, and their powers are set to increase with all the UK parties promising further devolution, but in 2010 Labour took 41 Scottish seats, the SNP only took 6. And since 1922 the government has alternated solely between the Conservatives and Labour, so to advocate the previous argument seems to be just an argument against the Tories. And there are still half a million Conservative voters in Scotland, why are we just dismissing them? What I’m getting really tired of is the insistence by the more extreme nationalists that Scotland is an ‘English colony’. This just defies reason. We were one of the kingdoms that united, our economies have been deeply intertwined for three centuries and indeed Glasgow was the engine of the British Empire. But back to what I said about identity. Ultimately, when we tick one of those boxes on 18th September (which is also my birthday!) I think it will come down to whether people want to be Scottish or British. What people need to realise is that this isn’t mutually exclusive.

Personally I don’t want to see this country veer to the left. The superiority of market liberalisation over the centralisation of power and nationalisation has been proven throughout history. Certainly elements of regulation to safeguard against market failure is necessary, but the inevitable outcome of excessive control and intervention is not only a loss of political liberty but undeniably negative economic repercussions. Scotland is not an English colony, we are one of the kingdoms that united and to achieve more progression and more of a movement towards this essential market liberalisation we must stay united.

In terms of the 2015 General Election I would say again that I think the EU will be a big topic of debate. The recent criticisms of Jean-Claude Juncker, the leading candidate to become President of the European Commission, have fuelled the Eurosceptic camps in the UK. He is deemed a conformist, someone dedicated to the status quo, and right now the status quo is not what we need. Just look at the trend across Europe. Now a third of the seats in the European Parliament are occupied by Eurosceptic parties. If you think UKIP’s bad you should take a look at some of them!

The most prominent are the Front National Party in France. Their founder, and father of their leader (Marine Le Pen), said that the Ebola virus should be unleashed on immigrants. He also called the Nazi gas chambers a “small detail”. And they took 25% of the French vote. Then there is the National Democratic Party of Germany who have marched under banners with slogans such as “Money for granny instead of Sinti and Roma” and those bearing the Nazi ideology of “National Socialism”. Speaking of the Nazis, the main spokesman of Greece’s Golden Dawn Party has a swastika tattoo and many of its members are in prison. Its slogans include “So we can rid this land of filth”, and have been painted across mosques and synagogues. They are the countries third most popular party. Finland’s ‘Finns’ also picked up two seats in the European Parliament despite many accusations of racism and homophobia. The Danish People’s Party pulled in a third of Denmark’s votes. Their leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, said in response to criticisms from Sweden: “If they want to turn Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmo into a Scandinavian Beirut, with clan wars honour killings and gang rapes, let them do it. We can always put a barrier on the Oresund Bridge.” But it gets worse. The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom vehemently oppose Islam, with their leader Geert Wilders once having commented that “Islam is the Trojan Horse in Europe, if we do not stop Islamification now, Eurabia and Netherabia will just be a matter of time.” And Hungary’s Jobbik Party wants all Jewish citizens to sign a special register, claiming they pose a national security risk. The leader of Austria’s Austrian Freedom Party who also gained European seats is fiercely anti-immigration and anti-Islam, but said that he himself was not a racist as he “eats kebabs.” However, there was a collective sigh of relief when Britain’s fascist and generally abhorrent BNP lost their seat. Frankly they don’t deserve to have the word ‘British’ in their title.

Nevertheless, people voted for these parties in a free and democratic election which is something that simply cannot be ignored. I fear that Juncker may do just that.

Ultimately, multi-culturalism and immigration has indeed enriched the UK. But understandably concerns have arisen due to the enormous strain on public services and the growing fears of extremism. Such concerns do not make one racist. On a more general note, I think it is undeniable that religion can play a very divisive role in society. Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Fry among others have spoken very eloquently on this subject. There is an apparent intolerance of religions towards each other. A recent example is the outrage across the UK induced by the comments of Northern Irish Pastor James McConnell, comments endorsed by the First Minister Peter Robinson, which condemned Islam as evil and the “spawn of the devil.” Another example close to home is the English Defence League which claims to fight against Islamic extremism but only fuels it, as well as encouraging general Islamophobia. There are endless examples of intolerance and violence linked to religion abroad, indeed the causes of all conflicts seem to be religious causes for as Voltaire wrote, “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes and the death penalty in Sudan while she was eight months pregnant just for marrying the man she loved and refusing to renounce Christianity. And in Nigeria almost 300 young girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok by the Jihadist group Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is a sin.” And these are only two recent examples among countless many. So much conflict seems to be rooted in the clash between religions. It makes me think of something George Carlin once said, notorious American comedian and writer, “Religion is like a pair of shoes… find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes.” There needs to be a worldwide recognition and respect of the freedoms of speech, expression, sexuality and religion. Apostasy and denunciation of other religions must stop. Different faiths must learn to co-exist.

Equality. That’s what everyone should strive for. But in the words of Edgar Allan Poe:

“All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination and poetry.”

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