Why in today’s disunited times, biblical unity matters

‘The times, they are a-changing’, so goes the familiar melody by Bob Dylan, and when you look both at the world we live in today, and how it might change in the future, it would be hard to disagree with Mr Dylan wouldn’t it? To me, this change is particularly characterised in two ways. First, we seem to be in a state of increased disunity. The changes thrust upon us in recent times seem to have exposed divisions based on colour, religion, politics, income, I could go on. Second, we live in a world of uncertainty. Of course, change of whatever kind often brings uncertainty, and events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are no exception.

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You may be pleased to read that I’m not going to spill any ink analysing policy, scrutinising decisions and their implications or studying the character and morality of figureheads. Plenty of this has been done already and will continue to permeate our screens in the days, months and years to come. Instead, in part 1, I want to argue that the disunified and uncertain times we live in should lead Christians to take heart, and perhaps surprisingly, rejoice. Part 2, focusing on the theme of uncertainty, will be published in due course.

Disunity

I’ve just finished looking at the book of Ephesians with my Bible Study Small Group. One of the things we saw was how both Jew and Gentile believers have been united as one body. This wasn’t done on the basis of race, income, politics or any human means, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, Paul is saying that if people groups as different (and as vehemently opposed to one another) as Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by the blood of Jesus, then so have we today in all our differences.

And so, because we are unified in one body, Paul prays that:

‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’

This prayer shows us that the unity that has been achieved isn’t just any old unity, but an incredible, amazing unity so much better than anything the world can offer.

Paul goes onto say that if we have been unified in this way, we should act like it. Paul wants us to maintain this amazing unity we’ve been given, and one the ways we do that is by building up the body by speaking the truth (that is, the truth of the Bible) in love with another:

‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’

Now, it goes without saying that we’re still sinners, and this unity won’t be fully realised in all its glory until Jesus comes again and ushers in the new creation. In addition, we as a body, in our own families, congregations and churches will sometimes find it hard to maintain this unity, and we won’t always feel that unified. It is true however to say that in Paul’s eyes, we are undoubtedly unified now. Further, as well-being able to know this factually, we’re also able experience something of the joy of this unity today.

In an increasingly disunified world, these realities should provide great comfort to us as a body today.

It isn’t just about us though. My hope and prayer is that as the church displays this unity, outsiders would see be attracted to it[1], particularly in today’s increasingly fraught environment.

Maybe they’ll notice the way which we actively seek to speak the truth in love with those who have different views about Brexit or Donald Trump, instead of segregating and sowing discord. Or perhaps they’ll be struck by the way we refrain from calling people who are different to us nasty names, instead affirming them as part of a closely-knit body. Alternatively, they might see the way we don’t merely tolerate those different to us, but cherish them as if we dearly need them in our Christian walk.

Needless to say of course that there’s more we as a body can be doing to pursue biblical unity, but the fact remains that to my mind, these things even only slightly demonstrated show the Church to be a more united institution than any man-made equivalent.

To sum up, making efforts to pursue and maintain unity is worth it for at least three reasons. First, it’s a biblical command. Second, it’ll do us individually and corporately as a body the world of good. Thirdly, this unity puts the majesty and glory of God’s church on display to both the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’, and to the world at large. With all this in mind, let’s keep going in pursuing unity, in good times and in bad and whether it seems easy or hard.

[1] See 2 Cor 2:15-16, John 13:34-35

On Trump, part 2

Part one of my thoughts on Trump explored why he won, this second part seeks to offer some ideas on where we go from here.

—-

If we are to learn one thing from the 2016 US Presidential election, it is this:

Shouting at, or telling people that certain things are innately good and decrying alternative viewpoints as outrageous or wrong doesn’t necessarily lead to very desirable outcomes.

lots-of-trumps

That is, being given a seemingly irrefutable worldview by an elite of how the world should be doesn’t necessarily make it correct. Indeed, recent events like Brexit and the 2016 US election tell us that the question of what kind of world we want to live in is as contested as ever.

Ironically perhaps, more and more of our public discourse seems to be focused on ‘preaching to the converted’ and creating safe spaces around us where we are incubated in our self-contained echo chambers from people and views deemed ‘offensive’ or intolerable rather than seeking to discuss, argue and persuade others of how we think things should be. In other words, if you think your vision of the world is better than mine, then talk to me, convince me, don’t shout at me that it is simply so!

Indeed, in getting to know people outside our circles, we might be surprised not only to discover these people are human, but that their views and concerns are more valid than we think, even if we don’t agree with them. The same goes for reading outside our normal frames of reference. Hence, being exposed to ideas different to our own doesn’t mean we have to compromise, but it might result the beliefs we hold dear being sharpened, this being a very good and important thing.

Before we move on, there’s a commercial aspect to the echo chamber effect that is worth touching on. That is, the ‘old way’ of paying for journalism have given way to expectations that what we read should be free. As a result, proprietors are now increasingly turning to ‘click bait’ to pull in the readers, and the advertising revenue that comes with it. We’ve known this for a while, but what seem far less explored is the way in which this new model portrays language, people groups and ideologies in increasingly polarised terms. In short, people will read the controversial and the divisive more readily than they’ll read the nuanced, in depth and balanced. Given the above, this is a concern.

In saying all of this, I’m not as naive as to think that this engagement will lead to a ‘Lennon-esque’ world where people of all different backgrounds all hold hands in a circle singing Kumbaya all united in every way imaginable. Indeed, it would be optimistic for a proponent of high levels of immigration to think that anti-immigration sentiment will disappear if we just talk to people who have concerns about the issue. This is a dilemma the UK Labour Party has experienced in recent years; having embraced immigration under Tony Blair, the Party in red are finding that a good number of their voters don’t like immigration very much (or, they may well have known all along, but assumed it didn’t matter), or at least in the numbers seen in recent years. The dilemma they have faced is whether to argue the case as to why immigration (either in general, or at as high levels as it was under New Labour) is a good thing, or to cave in and say, actually, no immigration can be a problem and/or we need to reduce it.

I should also say that more engagement shouldn’t necessarily lead to more pandering either. Those whom we find (for whatever reason) genuinely hateful or offensive should be called out as such. Worryingly, I recently read something (I can’t remember where) which argued that those in positions of privilege and/or power are (especially in today’s times) in danger of shutting down dissenting views – this of course being one of the defining features of Fascist ideology. Ironically, given both his and his supporters protestations about being gagged, signs of this can be seen from both Donald Trump and his supporters.

This whole issue of the need for better engagement issue was summed up perfectly in a podcast I was listening to the other day. One of the journalists was talking about the change seen in Shoreditch (an area in Central London) in recent years. To him, Shoreditch used to be a place full of ‘undesirables’ – racists and the like. What was telling though was that he thought that the change seen in the area (I think it’s now become something of a self-parodying theme park myself) had been brought about by the irrepressible rise of social liberalism in the area. On the one hand, he’s right, as gentrification has taken hold in areas like Shoreditch, these parts have definitely become more socially liberal. What he missed out though, and this is critical, is the question as to where the so called ‘undesirables’ went. Shoreditch isn’t an area of social transformation, more an area subject to ‘social shifting’. The people who used to live in Shoreditch haven’t just disappeared or magically changed their views but have moved to other areas. Certain groups that used to live in Shoreditch and inner East London have moved outwards towards Essex for example. Thus, it isn’t as if social liberalism has taken over the UK or the US. Rather, over generations, certain areas have changed in terms of their makeup. This reinforces a point made earlier – the battle as to what kind of nation and society we want to live in is by no means settled.

There is one more theme that needs discussing before summing up – uncertainty. The election of Trump epitomises this on a global political, economic and social level, and to a degree not seen before by many of us. Will he bring in policies in line with his bombastic rhetoric or will his tough talk be just that, all talk, and the neo-liberal orthodoxy seen in the past will, more or less, continue unabated? We just don’t know. My own view is that Trump on his own doesn’t have the nous to implement or oversee a substantial change in direction, political, economic or social. His presidential picks on the other hand might, and Trump may be happy to operate like a Chairman, rubber-stamping the direction of things (and of course taking the credit where the opportunity presents itself), leaving the nitty gritty to Messrs Pence, Harbertson etc.

Let’s briefly explore this theme of uncertainty through one issue – world security. Trump has indicated, in line with his general isolationist bent that he wouldn’t necessarily object to the USA withdrawing from NATO under certain circumstances. Such an action would obviously cause great levels of uncertainty. Up until now, if a NATO state were to be attacked by, oh I don’t know, Russia, then the USA would be legally obliged to step in and help defend that nation state. Might a USA-less NATO arise, then it’s states (not to mention surrounding world regions) would be far less secure and far more vulnerable to attack from an enemy. Even if the USA doesn’t leave, Trump’s apparent cosying up to Vladimir Putin could in itself signal a change in geo-politics. Put it this way, if I were a citizen in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia, I’m not sure I’d be confident of the USA coming to my aid should Putin fancy a westwards invasion. And this is all before we think about any relationship between Trump’s impetuousness and the red button! Should such a pressing come to pass, then we all could really be in trouble.

It is perfectly possible that none of the above will happen of course. Nonetheless, people are understandably fearful about the coming weeks, months and years. I hope to write something in due course on how fear doesn’t have to be the last word however.

For now though, let us conclude. Many have been worried about what a Trump presidency might bring, and these concerns may well manifest themselves. But I also think Trump (and Brexit for that matter) present a great opportunity. For much of my lifetime for instance, there has been a broad consensus about what kind of world we should want to live in (pro-globalisation, socially liberal, pro- welfare to work, pro Europe, pro-immigration). The election of Trump presents a real challenge to this consensus, and an chance to ask ourselves about what kind of world we want to live in. It also provides an important challenge and chance for proponents of the consensus to make their case. As such, now seems to be an ideal opportunity for the main parties and media to do better in engaging with the public, including unfashionable minorities, and offering alternatives that don’t necessarily pander to racism and unkindness but offer chances for people of all backgrounds to be heard.

Indeed, maybe Trump has shown us that ‘business as usual’ in terms of politics, the economy and society and the media for that matter just won’t do anymore.

On Trump – Part 1

Now before I start, please allow me to offer something of a disclaimer. A lot of the following should be treated as theoretical possibility rather than certain fact. Owing both to the complexity of humanity, the fact that the election fallout is still unfolding, not to mention the uncertainty around the man himself, we just don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks, months and years. Neither do we know whether the explanations proffered for Trump’s victory are correct, or the extent to which they are so. Indeed, one of the regrettable consequences of how our 21st century media landscape works is the clamour for immediacy in the wake of significant events – manifesting itself through shallowness, slogan instead of prose, and catchy and ‘confirmation bias esque’ explanations. This is one of the reasons why I’ve waited a little while before offering some thoughts. I believe in potentially seismic times as these, it is wise to let things percolate before spouting off, and I say this as someone who all too often has been guilty of this.

trump-1822121_1280

So, why did Trump win? A lot of reasons, probably.

Much of the commentariat have pounced on a whole array of data and hypotheses to try and explain why Donald Trump is now the president elect. Early on, there seemed to be at least two camps, the economic and the socio-cultural. The former argue that this election was won because a high number of poor to middle income voters plumped for Trump – those who have had their incomes squeezed and who have lost jobs (which haven’t been replaced) as the manufacturing bases which formed the bedrock of many communities have moved overseas. It is true that the rust belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all voted Trumpwards. And even more remarkably, there was a 16 point swing toward Trump amongst voters earning $30,000 per year.

Indeed, a core component of politics in the last 30 years has been the consensus around neo-liberalism, an important part of which has been the embrace of globalisation and with that, the embrace of things like international trade arrangements and the free movement of labour. Proponents will argue this has brought widespread national and international economic growth, but inevitably, there have been losers, many of which can be found in the aforementioned rust belt communities. Thus, voters, fed up with seemingly unending economic stagnation wanted change and to them, Trump represented just that. Whether he’ll bring in jobs and greater prosperity for these communities (as he’s promised) is still to be seen, as is the reaction if he doesn’t.

Others have pointed to more cultural and social explanations to explain the result. Yet these explanations aren’t totally divorced from the economic. Again, globalisation, along with what many perceive as the ever increasing pace of social reform (gay marriage, shifting social norms around gender and sexuality), and high levels of immigration has left many in the USA (and in the UK for that matter) feeling threatened, uncertain and increasingly disconnected from debates around what kind of nation they want to live in. Elites, whether they be political, media or otherwise have imposed new ideas on their citizens and many are rebelling. Trump, the scheming pragmatist that he is, capitalised on these legitimate concerns and offered an alternative vision of a better society. As with the above, it is still to be seen whether Trump will have the desire or ability to carry through on bringing about the social reforms many of his voters desire.

I wonder whether to many Trump voters it matters that much whether he actually brings in any significant change. To many, he represented a refreshing change from what had gone before, and he appeared to listen to and represent groups who felt they hadn’t been listened to in a long time. On the flipside, it may be that if Trump and his team are unable to bring in the promised changes, supporters may deem him to be in fact no different from the rest, and a backlash may ensue. It’s worth saying that if the president elect doesn’t do much of what he has promised, excuses are already being made for him. ‘Alt Right’ stalwart Alex Jones for instance, quite literally the day after Trump won, said that the mainstream media and the political elite were scheming against him to make sure he failed. Thus, if Trump does indeed fail, it won’t (in the eyes of Jones and no doubt many of his supporters) be because of any malpractice or incompetence of the Trump administration, but because of an elitist conspiracy to stop him succeeding. It’ll be interesting to see whether many of who voted for him will buy this if perceived failure does ensue.

Moving on, it is impossible to overlook the role race played. It can’t be denied that Trump was supported (and voted in) by those who are overwhelmingly white. White men voted him in by 63% to 31%, whilst most white women also voted in favour of the Trump-meister, despite his infamous comments. There are undoubtedly links between this point and the above; communities affected by the decimation in the manufacturing base in the US (plus many more besides) and who have valid concerns/views regarding immigration tend to be white. Perhaps correspondingly, elements of the ‘coastal media elite’ have wrongly labelled these legitimate concerns regarding immigration, job losses, security and terrorism and economic difficulty as racist, or racially motivated. Yet, as legitimate as these concerns are, it could well be true that there is a genuinely racist overtone to the Trump vote. That is, some voters simply don’t like ethnic minorities, and the fact that the changes brought by pro-globalisation policies have resulted in an increase in the number of people from these ethnic groups, or rather, a perceived increase. Nonetheless, it is imperative not to conflate these two groups.

There are other factors too that could and perhaps should be explored. Others have pointed to educational background being a factor. As seems normal these days, certain commentators and individuals have (both implicitly and explicitly) mocked and derided Trump voters for being stupid. This would be a grave error. For one thing, this label stands at odds with the fact that white men regardless of educational level voted for Trump, and secondly (and more importantly) it gives an excuse to delegitimise certain viewpoints as lesser, without proper engagement, something not helped by the way in which our social media platforms are designed (shouting and sloganeering rather than thoughtfulness and insight.)

Moving on, a piece in the Financial Times also raised the impact of personal values. What particularly caught my eye in this piece was the research cited – it found that most of those analysed DIDN’T change their personal values they had been raised with during university. Further, it found that those who went into degrees around the political and social sciences didn’t find university as an experience which challenged their views on the world, but merely entrenched pre-existing opinions further. This then is a challenge to the oft espoused notion that education is the key to making everyone that bit more ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive.’ It could be that personal values are entrenched earlier on in the education system, at primary or secondary school. Another alternative could be that parents play a key role in shaping the personal values of their children.

Maybe we’re overanalysing all of this. Celebrated pollster Nate Silver remarked in a podcast just after the election that every so often people just fancy a ‘change.’ It doesn’t go much deeper than that. Every so often, the electorate want a change see a change in the party in power, regardless of whether it’s red or blue. Perhaps this is why Barack Obama back in 2008 utilised the word ‘change’ and placed it front and centre of his campaign (to great effect, he won the thing). He successfully persuaded enough of the US electorate that he was the ‘change’ candidate. Indeed, whatever you think of Trump, few will disagree that he likewise was the ‘change’ candidate in 2016. It is unnecessary to explore what exactly constitutes ‘change’, merely that a decent portion of the electorate feel something different is required every now and then, and whoever happens to be in opposition and perhaps manages to utilise the desire for a different direction reaps the benefits.

Returning back to the media, the way in which this fourth estate works is such that its less about WHAT is said but WHEN it is said. That is, due to the fierce competition for clicks (more clicks means more advertising revenue) there is a race to put out articles which quickly and comfortably offer explanations for certain phenomena or results. By ‘comfortably’, I mean explanations which offer relatively simple explanations for events which although often controversial, confirm one’s view and opinions. This results in publications and websites offering output which sits well with audiences, while at the same time offering novel enough explanations as to generate the advertising revenue. Further, in the age we live, we simply don’t have the time to mull over the reasons for and the implications of certain events. The danger then is at least twofold; a.) we fall for simplistic explanations of the world and the events around us, without leaving ourselves and each other the time to fully consider the evidence and or experiences, and our own views of these experiences, and b.) we naturally gravitate towards explanations which conform to our own pre-determined views of the world and events.

I feel like this latter point has been done to death, but the first point is an important one. In the case of Trump’s victory, I think it’s probably true that all the aforementioned factors, plus more, played a role in the Republican candidate’s victory. Thus, it is true that BOTH economic and cultural factors played a role in his success (as well as many others.) And whilst its fine to focus in on an individual factor and examine its role in an outcome, it is surely just as, if not more, important to consider how ALL the factors interacted with one another to foresee an event. I’ve seen precious little of this in the coverage around Trump; it’s been ‘education levels key to Trump victory’ or ‘economic decline amongst US middle classes key to Trump victory’ etc. Admittedly, considering a number of factors and their relative importance to an event can be very difficult, and is probably beyond the remit of statistics or quantitative research alone. By no means should we give up in the pursuit of explaining events, but as already said, humans are incredibly complex beings, and it therefore might be impossible to totally get to the bottom of why Trump won the election.

So, why did Trump win? A number of reasons, probably.

On Trump – Part 1

Now before I start, please allow me to offer something of a disclaimer. A lot of the following should be treated as theoretical possibility rather than certain fact. Owing both to the complexity of humanity, the fact that the election fallout is still unfolding, not to mention the uncertainty around the man himself, we just don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks, months and years. Neither do we know whether the explanations proffered for Trump’s victory are correct, or the extent to which they are so. Indeed, one of the regrettable consequences of how our 21st century media landscape works is the clamour for immediacy in the wake of significant events – manifesting itself through shallowness, slogan instead of prose, and catchy and ‘confirmation bias esque’ explanations. This is one of the reasons why I’ve waited a little while before offering some thoughts. I believe in potentially seismic times as these, it is wise to let things percolate before spouting off, and I say this as someone who all too often has been guilty of the former.

trump-1822121_1280

So, why did Trump win? A lot of reasons, probably

Much of the commentariat have pounced on a whole array of data and hypotheses to try and explain why Donald Trump is now the president elect. Early on, there seemed to be at least two camps, the economic and the socio-cultural. The former argue that this election was won because a high number of poor to middle income voters plumped for Trump – those who have had their incomes squeezed and who have lost jobs (which haven’t been replaced) as the manufacturing bases which formed the bedrock of many communities have moved overseas. It is true that the rust belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania all voted Trumpwards. And even more remarkably, there was a 16 point swing toward Trump amongst voters earning $30,000 per year.

Indeed, a core component of politics in the last 30 years has been the consensus around neo-liberalism, an important part of which has been the embrace of globalisation and with that, the embrace of things like international trade arrangements and the free movement of labour. Proponents will argue this has brought widespread national and international economic growth, but inevitably, there have been losers, many of which can be found in the aforementioned rust belt communities. Thus, voters, fed up with seemingly unending economic stagnation wanted change and to them, Trump represented just that. Whether he’ll bring in jobs and greater prosperity for these communities (as he’s promised) is still to be seen, as is the reaction if he doesn’t.

Others have pointed to more cultural and social explanations to explain the result. Yet these explanations aren’t totally divorced from the economic. Again, globalisation, along with what many perceive as the ever increasing pace of social reform (gay marriage, shifting social norms around gender and sexuality), and high levels of immigration has left many in the USA (and in the UK for that matter) feeling threatened, uncertain and increasingly disconnected from debates around what kind of nation they want to live in. Elites, whether they be political, media or otherwise have imposed new ideas on their citizens and many are rebelling. Trump, the scheming pragmatist that he is, capitalised on these legitimate concerns and offered an alternative vision of a better society. As with the above, it is still to be seen whether Trump will have the desire or ability to carry through on bringing about the social reforms many of his voters desire.

I wonder whether to many Trump voters it matters that much whether he actually brings in any significant change. To many, he represented a refreshing change from what had gone before, and he appeared to listen to and represent groups who felt they hadn’t been listened to in a long time. On the flipside, it may be that if Trump and his team are unable to bring in the promised changes, supporters may deem him to be in fact no different from the rest, and a backlash may ensue. It’s worth saying that if the president elect doesn’t do much of what he has promised, excuses are already being made for him. ‘Alt Right’ stalwart Alex Jones for instance, quite literally the day after Trump won, said that the mainstream media and the political elite were scheming against him to make sure he failed. Thus, if Trump does indeed fail, it won’t (in the eyes of Jones and no doubt many of his supporters) be because of any malpractice or incompetence of the Trump administration, but because of an elitist conspiracy to stop him succeeding. It’ll be interesting to see whether many of who voted for him will buy this if perceived failure does ensue.

Moving on, it is impossible to overlook the role race played. It can’t be denied that Trump was supported (and voted in) by those who are overwhelmingly white. White men voted him in by 63% to 31%, whilst most white women also voted in favour of the Trump-meister, despite his infamous comments. There are undoubtedly links between this point and the above; communities affected by the decimation in the manufacturing base in the US (plus many more besides) and who have valid concerns/views regarding immigration tend to be white. Perhaps correspondingly, elements of the ‘coastal media elite’ have wrongly labelled these legitimate concerns regarding immigration, job losses, security and terrorism and economic difficulty as racist, or racially motivated. Yet, as legitimate as these concerns are, it could well be true that there is a genuinely racist overtone to the Trump vote. That is, some voters simply don’t like ethnic minorities, and the fact that the changes brought by pro-globalisation policies have resulted in an increase in the number of people from these ethnic groups, or rather, a perceived increase. Nonetheless, it is imperative not to conflate these two groups.

There are other factors too that could and perhaps should be explored. Others have pointed to educational background being a factor. As seems normal these days, certain commentators and individuals have (both implicitly and explicitly) mocked and derided Trump voters for being stupid. This would be grave error. For one thing, this label stands at odds with the fact that white men regardless of educational level voted for Trump, and secondly (and more importantly) it gives an excuse to delegitimise certain viewpoints as lesser, without proper engagement, something not helped by the way in which our social media platforms are designed (shouting and sloganeering rather than thoughtfulness and insight.)

Moving on, a piece in the Financial Times also raised the impact of personal values. What particularly caught my eye in this piece was the research cited – it found that most of those analysed DIDN’T change their personal values they had been raised with during university. Further, it found that those who went into degrees around the political and social sciences didn’t find university as an experience which challenged their views on the world, but merely entrenched pre-existing opinions further. This then is a challenge to the oft espoused notion that education is the key to making everyone that bit more ‘tolerant’ and ‘progressive.’ It could be that personal values are entrenched earlier on in the education system, at primary or secondary school. Another alternative could be that parents play a key role in shaping personal values on their children.

Maybe we’re overanalysing all of this. Celebrated pollster Nate Silver remarked in a podcast just after the election that every so often people just fancy a ‘change.’ It doesn’t go much deeper than that. Every so often, the electorate want a change see a change in the party in power, regardless of whether it’s red or blue. Perhaps this is why Barack Obama back in 2008 utilised the word ‘change’ and placed it front and centre of his campaign (to great effect, he won the thing). He successfully persuaded enough of the US electorate that he was the ‘change’ candidate. Indeed, whatever you think of Trump, few will disagree that he likewise was the ‘change’ candidate in 2016. It is unnecessary to explore what exactly constitutes ‘change’, merely that a decent portion of the electorate feel something different is required every now and then, and whoever happens to be in opposition and perhaps manages to utilise the desire for a different direction reaps the benefits.

Returning back to the media, the way in which this fourth estate works is such that its less about WHAT is said but WHEN it is said. That is, due to the fierce competition for clicks (more clicks means more advertising revenue) there is a race to put out articles which quickly and comfortably offer explanations for certain phenomena or results. By ‘comfortably’, I mean explanations which offer relatively simple explanations for events which although often controversial, confirm ones view and opinions. This results in publications and websites offering output which sits well with audiences, while at the same time offering novel enough explanations as to generate the advertising revenue. Further, in the age we live, both we simply don’t have the time to mull over the reasons for and the implications of certain events. The danger then is at least two fold; a.) we fall for simplistic explanations of the world and the events around us, without leaving ourselves and each other the time to fully consider the evidence and or experiences, and our own views of these experiences, and b.) we naturally gravitate towards explanations which conform to our own pre-determined views of the world and events.

I feel like this latter point has been done to death, but the first point is an important one. In the case of Trump’s victory, I think it’s probably true that all the aforementioned factors, plus more, played a role in the Republican candidate’s victory. Thus, it is true that BOTH economic and cultural factors played a role in his success (as well as many others.) And whilst its fine to focus in on an individual factor and examine its role in an outcome, it is surely just as, if not more, important to consider how ALL the factors interacted with one another to foresee an event. I’ve seen precious little of this in the coverage around Trump; it’s been ‘education levels key to Trump victory’ or ‘economic decline amongst US middle classes key to Trump victory’ etc. Admittedly, considering a number of factors and their relative importance to an event can be very difficult, and is probably beyond the remit of statistics or quantitative research alone. By no means should we give up in the pursuit of explaining events, but as already said, humans are incredibly complex beings, and it therefore might be impossible to totally get to the bottom of why Trump won the election.

So, why did Trump win? A number of reasons, probably.

 

Why I’ll be voting to stay in the EU

It’s hard to believe, but the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) is little more than a day away. Which way will it go? With the polls neck and neck, it really is anyone’s guess.

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Countless claims and counter claims have been made about innumerable topics, but to my mind two issues have stood out – the economy and immigration. Both these are well worth considering for sure, yet for the Christian there is something even more important to think about, the implications for the spread of the Gospel – the Great Commission to evangelise and make disciples of Christ. This could certainly involve the sending of missionaries and the planting of churches, but it could also entail individual Christians moving abroad to undertake ‘normal 9 to 5 jobs’, wishing to do their bit in building brothers and sisters up in Christlikeness.

Before I go any further, I don’t want to claim that whether to ‘bremain’ or ‘brexit’ is an issue of primacy where disagreement should lead to division. Many faithful Christian brothers and sisters are sure to disagree on this question, and that’s ok.

With that in mind, allow me to make my case as to why I will be voting to remain in the EU.

At present – I could move to European nations such as Spain, France, or Germany to work and it would be done. No visas, no restrictive domestic immigration rules, no fuss.

Now, if we do vote to leave, we could remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) or the single market and do a Norway or Switzerland respectively. This would mean that despite being outside the EU, we could still work and live throughout the EEA and single market which includes countries in the EU plus a few others, and with the same ease as is currently the case.

It’s worth noting however that the Vote Leave front men – Messrs Gove and Johnson believe we’d be better off out the EEA and single market altogether. The argument goes that once outside Britain will be able to negotiate it’s own deals with individual European nations regarding the free movement of labour. In other words, Britons could move and work throughout much of Europe as before even if outside the EEA and single market..

However, and bearing in mind that Vote Leave want to tighten the rules restricting the flow of migrants into the United Kingdom, how likely is it that the powers that be in Brussels will allow the British to move to other countries freely to work, yet will also allow Britain to impose tougher rules on who can come through it’s borders? Some may wish to take this chance, but personally I don’t view it likely that a complete withdrawal from the EEA and single market would mean things would go on as before. In fact, I think things would be tougher for British believers wanting to move abroad.

Why? Well consider the argument that because we are a major trading partner of the EU, we would be able to use this leverage to negotiate preferential labour movement terms vis a vis the above (we can move freely, and restrict the numbers coming in). However, this ignores the fact that the EU is an even more important trading partner for us. In other words, in terms of trade, we rely on them more than they rely on us.

Only God knows how things will go both on Thursday and in terms of free movement negotiations should Vote Leave prevail. However, given the above, I think the risk is too great. For the reasons given above, I think there is a more than reasonable chance that Brexit would make the spread of the Gospel throughout the Europe harder than it is now.

As a result, I will be voting to remain in the European Union on Thursday.

My take on the 2016 Budget

George Osborne was described on Wednesday as the man who wants to have it all. He’s a man for all seasons, someone who on the one hand can introduce policies with widescale appeal, yet on the other be on the side of big business.

I believe however that this week’s budget represented something of a departure from this bent. That is, many of the Chancellor’s fiscal measures can be interpreted as a helping hand to the richest in UK society, to the detriment of the poorest.

Here are my four takeaways

  1. As hinted at above, Osbo’s measures, particularly around personal income tax will actually benefit the richer much more than the poorer. Two such policies that will ensure this will are a.) the increase in the personal income tax threshold to £11,500 and b.) the increase in the point at which the 40 per cent threshold will kick in. Provided your eyes haven’t glazed over at this point, I’d urge you to take a look at the nifty graph below from the respected Resolution Foundation. It shows that the greatest benefit of the aforementioned income tax cuts will go to the richest 10% of the population. ‘How can this be?’ I hear you ask. Well, in regard to increasing the personal income tax threshold to £11,500, whilst its true that you can now earn this sum without paying any income tax whatsoever, the poorest probably aren’t paying any already, so any further increase in the threshold won’t help them, at all. Sorry about that. Secondly, our tax system is based on what you earn as an individual, taking no account of those in your family who might not earn anything. Indeed, measures like this will give more benefit to households where both members of a couple are earning over the threshold than only one. And unsurprisingly, poverty tends to be more likely in single earner households. Despite the facts, policies like this are popular with the electorate, hence why Gideon, ever the politically astute cat, persists with such ruses.
  2.  The Chancellor also announced measures to introduce something called a ‘lifetime ISA’ If you’re under 40, you’ll be able to save up to £4,000 per year, and if you do, the Government will very kindly top that up by 25%, thus boosting your nice little nest egg by £1,000 per annum. Savings are good, if you can earn enough to save. The problem is, many can’t. And don’t think this only applies to unemployed layabouts. Many who are in paid employment cannot save anything either. Bad news if you want a pension, or a property deposit, or a rainy fay fund should things get rainy, or a packet of crisps. Its also worth mentioning that this won’t even begin to deal with the biggest problem facing the housing market, supply. If this sticky wicket was remedied, perhaps mega ISAs like this wouldn’t be needed in the first place. Ha, that’s funny.
  3. George Osborne bravely (like King Arthur) has promised a surplus of £10 billion by 2019-20. This Excalibur like pledge coming despite Government numbers predicting a deficit of £21.4 billion just the year before. Such a promise seems implausible at best. This serves as a timely reminder then that economic forecasts can and often do change from one budget to the next, thus, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to them. Lest we forget the promise by Ossie G that the dastardly deficit would be eliminated by 2015. Sadly, even if Osborne does break his fiscal rules, its unlikely the public on the whole will mind too much. Make of that what you will.
  4. George ‘four seasons’ Osborne has carved his reputation on the notion that those with the broadest shoulders (or some other like-minded metaphor) should bear the biggest burden in terms of getting our blasted deficit down. Which makes one his measures announced on Wednesday rather curious – cutting £4.4 billion of disability benefit – directly affecting a group which many will surely agree are a pretty vulnerable segment of our population. To put it another way, 200,000 people with access to the PIP (Personal Independent Payment) will lose almost £3,000 per year. Not one of George’s more politically cat like moves, a view shared by many of his own MP’s. This one hasn’t finished yet though I fancy. On Thursday’s edition of Question Time, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said ‘discussions were still ongoing on the issue’ or something.

*UPDATE 18/03/2016 – As I said, this one hasn’t finished yet. DWP Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith has tonight resigned, seemingly over the disability cuts announced by the Chancellor. You can read his resignation letter here:

Jeremy Corbyn’s Win is Good News, Even if you Don’t Agree with him

So, apparently the ‘unthinkable’ has happened. In shock news, the polls (and YouGov in particular) were absolutely spot on and Jeremy Corbyn, maverick socialist, was by some distance elected leader of the Labour Party. It’s clear, given the massive margin of victory, that his views and general way of ‘doing politics’ resonate with many. It’s also obvious that a number of others, not least in his own party, do not see things his way. Yet I want to argue that whether or not you happen to personally approve of ‘Corbynism’, his arrival into the upper echelons of UK politics is good news.

First and foremost, it’s abundantly apparent that Corbyn and his team (not least his left wing firebrand friend John McDonnell, now shadow chancellor) will vociferously challenge the neo-liberal consensus that has dominated the middle ground of British politics since the mid 1990’s. That is, Tony Blair, through his New Labour project embraced and promoted policies that quite simply would have been unheard of in the Labour Party before the mid 1990’s – epitomised through, for example, PFI and New Labour’s various economic policies. Corbyn and his team, who comprehensively reject this way of doing things, will offer an alternative to the British electorate. It won’t be unbridled communism (despite what some commentators say) but it’ll be genuinely different from what we’ve been offered by the major parties in the past 20 years or so.

This presence of an alternative (not just economic, I hasten to add) isn’t just good in itself; it’s good for democracy and it has the potential to reignite what for many UK citizens has become an increasingly stale, boring and irrelevant political and policy process. In other words, the arrival of Corbyn will give the British political process a kick up the proverbial. Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying what Corbyn is offering is necessarily better than what we have now, but it’s an alternative that could engage people and get them thinking about politics in a way they haven’t before. This has to be good for British democracy.

Corbyn has already shown that he intends to do things his own way, and that he won’t be corralled by Westminster hacks into presenting himself in ‘the right way’. This is apparent through his shadow cabinet selection, his refusal to commit to doing TV and radio interviews, and his commitment (confirmed by his first appearance today) to approach parliamentary institutions like Prime Minister’s Questions differently. Out with the theatrics and Punch and Judy pantomime style hectoring and in with more reasoned, fact based and sensible debate.

Further, many seem to underestimate the pronounced anti-establishment and markedly left wing mood present throughout much of Europe at the moment. As such, lots will baulk at the prospect of Corbyn winning in 2020, but who could have predicted what has happened in Greece with SYRIZA and what is happening in Spain with Podemos? It would be wrong of course to blindly assume what has happened elsewhere in parts of Europe will happen here, but present events around the continent is showing politics to be an increasingly unpredictable beast. As such, it would be unwise to rule anything out come 2020.

Secondly, even if (as I suspect) Corbyn doesn’t win in five years time, his leadership won’t have been for nothing. No, as well as the reasons already given, Corbyn’s promotion may finally force Labour to have a tough conversation that in all honesty it needed to have since its defeat to Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010. Namely, what does its future look like? Does it go back to the centrism that gave it power for 13 years under Blair and Brown, or does it carve out a new direction under a new leader? One got the impression that Ed Miliband tried to do this under his own headship but couldn’t quite pull it off, whereas a more fearless Corbyn may force Labour to confront its divisions front and centre. Yes, this might mean a Labour loss in 2020, but such an approach could reap dividends in the longer term as Labour is compelled to carve out a new direction, with or without Corbyn as its leader. This is both good for Labour supporters and has the potential to win back those previously unimpressed with what they’ve put forward in the past.

Others also seem to forget how dull as dishwater the Labour leadership election was before Corbyn turned up. Let’s not kid ourselves, neither Burnham, Cooper or Kendall would have (barring a massive economic catastrophe between now and 2020) stood a real chance of leading Labour to victory in the next election. In light of this, why not use this time to both take a calculated risk (which could very well pay off) and give Corbyn a go and try and come up with a new direction to give the Tories a real fight? Again, this is good for those who identify with the left, those hoping for an effective opposition against the Conservatives and those as yet unconvinced by Labour. It is also worth mentioning that this process may have already begun via Corbyn’s apparent willingness to include the more centrist MP’s in decision making regarding party policy.

In closing, Corbyn’s leadership is good news, regardless of whether you agree with him, for two key reasons. First, and most importantly, Corbyn’s comparatively fresh approach to the political process has the potential to shake up politics, engaging those who have lost interest in recent years. This has both wide democratic benefits and may encourage those previously disenfranchised and uninterested in politics to take a greater interest. Second, Corbyn’s win may force Labour to engage in an honest conversation with itself about how it moves on from Blairism, a conversation which up until this point it had patently failed to have.

Hence, Corbyn’s arrival is likely to include a fair number of thrills and spills, and represents the most major political event in recent years. As such, you’d be very wise not to take your eyes off this one!