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.

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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.

 

4 reflections on unemployment

I’ve just emerged from a time of unemployment, well, sort of. I finished a long-ish term position in April this year, and have now just been offered a full time role (praise the Lord!), having had a couple of intermittent short term temporary posts in the intervening period. Here are 4 reflections.

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1. Fundamental truths

You’ll maybe have heard and have believed the basic truth ‘God provides what his children need everyday’ or a variation of it for years. And yet, during the last few months, God has led me to believe this in a fundamentally deeper way as I’ve been unsure as to what the future holds. I think this has something to do with the fact that when a safety net like a job is removed, we (as was the case for me) are forced to trust in God’s providence in a more real way than previously. As we do so, we see the folly of self-reliance and the wisdom of God reliance.

Likewise, you may be familiar with the adage – ‘your value is in Christ.’ During this season of uncertainty, It’s been a real privilege to see more clearly how in a culture that screams at us ‘you are your job’, ‘your value is defined by your career’ and so on, how our value is actually defined solely in Jesus. This is to say that whether we’re a CEO, a cleaner, banker, lawyer, baker or whatever, when God looks at the believer, he sees Jesus – we can have no higher value! As I worried about my friends ‘getting ahead’ in the world of work, and how others might think of me now I was unemployed, God drew me back to this unconditional reality – enabling me in the process to perceive and appreciate this truth more acutely.

2. It’s not about me….

When jobless, it can be very easy to get caught up in ourselves. That is, as we expend lots of energy and time trying to find that job, I think we can become somewhat cocooned, as if the world revolves around me and finding my job. At church, we’ve just started studying Ephesians and one the amazing truths of the book is not only that as believers, we were chosen to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world, or that God has a plan to unite all things in heaven and earth under Jesus, but that the reason he does these things is so that he might be praised. We’re also told elsewhere in the Bible to do all things to the glory of God. Applied today, the Bible as a whole teaches us that life is not all about me and my life, but about God’s glory, and the praise of that. This acts as a real challenge to me!

3. How’s the job situation?

During the last month, I’ve been greatly blessed as friends and family have shown love and support through prayer, practical advice, offers of financial support and more. I’d like to think that as this has happened, we as the wider body of Christ have grown together in Godliness. As such, we shouldn’t see the joblessness of our brothers and sisters as a burden, or something to be ashamed of, but as an opportunity for love and service.

Having said that, I’ve been doing some thinking about the amount of times I’ve been asked ‘How’s the job situation?’ No doubt, I was asked this out of genuine loving concern. However, I wonder whether the frequency to which this question was put to me shows something of the sometimes unhelpful value we place on work and the employment status of our friends and family. In actual fact, I wouldn’t have minded if my employment position hadn’t been raised as much in conversations. Why? Firstly, out of slight social embarrassment on my part if there had been no change from the previous week, or feeling pressured to put a positive gloss on things when asked that question. Secondly, because our lives don’t revolve around jobs, nor, as discussed already, do they define us.

4. It could be you

In employment terms, we live in an increasingly short term, fragile and transient age. Gone for the most part are ‘jobs for life’, and in are short term temporary assignments, zero hours contracts and consultancy agreements. And while it’s still far too early to assess the consequences of Brexit, sizeable job losses may take place in certain sectors in the months and years to come. Even if you are on a relatively secure, ‘perk-tastic’ contract, many will tell you that an unjust boss, a hostile work culture, and sub-par personal performance could leave you out of work. Put simply, unemployment can happen to anyone. This should keep those of us currently in work humble – not in anyway thinking ourselves as superior as unemployed brothers and sisters.

Summing up

Overall, the last few months have led me to a deeper appreciation of certain biblical truths. I’ve been reminded that trials exist to refine our faith, and to help transform us into the image of Jesus. This time has also helped alter my perspective; in the grand scheme of things, my career really doesn’t matter that much! Finally, God has used the last few months to help me better understand how we can be helping those in the church who find themselves without a job.

Hooliganism and Euro 2016 – A review of Russia vs Slovakia

As this year’s Euro 2016 football championships draw to a close, I thought now would be a good time to offer some reflections on a theme that has apparently put a stain on events in France – hooliganism. The predominant offenders were seemingly English, Russian and French fans, and the ‘Three Lions’ for their part were threatened with all out exclusion. Such action proved unnecessary of course as England were dumped out in the last 16 by Iceland, lest we forget.

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As this year’s Euro 2016 football championships draw to a close, I thought now would be a good time to offer some reflections on a theme that has apparently put a stain on events in France – hooliganism. The predominant offenders were seemingly English, Russian and French fan cohorts, and the ‘Three Lions’ for their part were threatened with all out exclusion. Such action proved unnecessary of course as England were dumped out in the last 16 by losing to Iceland, lest we forget.

I was keen to gain a first-hand account of the goings on in France on 15th June, when I travelled to the Franco Flemish city of Lille to watch Russia – (home of 150 highly trained aggressors out to cause as much carnage as possible), verses Slovakia. As well as these two sets of fans, I was also told to expect a strong English contingent, whose team were playing Wales in nearby Lens the following day. It seemed like a recipe for a cake made out of violence, strife and thuggery.

I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed early on Wednesday morning, and set off for Kings Cross, where my Eurostar carriage awaited me. I met up with my travelling companion and we completed the formalities of check in. Things once on-board were very civilised. Yes, there were a good number of English football fans, but the chatter was excitable and fun – more tactics and diamond formations rather than Sambuca chasers and fantasies of Russian pounding. We were briefly blessed with the presence of a British police officer – but the conversation remained smiley and convivial and she was soon on her way. It was good to know there was a security presence on board should things take a turn for ‘le macabre.’

In a relative blink of an eye (1hr 20 mins) we were in Lille, and upon disembarking we were greeted by what felt like our own guard of honour, complete with assault rifles the size of small children and all the associated garb. Yet despite this somewhat unorthodox welcome, Lille on first impressions certainly did not feel like a city on lockdown. Quite the opposite in fact.

We made our way to ‘Place du Général-de-Gaulle’, an excellent spot to enjoy the eclectic yet coherent architecture and an excellent chocolatey beverage and an equally excellent cheese burger. Yes, there were numerous clutches of gendarmes, and yes there was out of tune singing (mostly alas from the English) but little more than that. Indeed the Lillois appeared to be taking the whole thing in their stride, going about their daily lives as normal, and (in contrast to previous experiences it has to be said) going out of their way to be friendly to ‘le English.’

Full on chocolate and ‘du boeuf’ we made our way to the stadium Pierre du Mauroy –which was a little way out from the city centre (as is the norm with many modern stadia these days). The journey via driverless metro was a masterclass of efficiency (not something you’d normally associate with ‘le French’), whilst fans from various European nations were mingling with one another like one happy supra federalist family. Had Jean Claude Juncker been there he would have probably cried.

The game itself was a 2-1 win to Slovakia, and alas no grisly hostility greeted us here either. The Russians did let off a solitary non exploding red flare mind you. The unrelenting efficiency continued as we made our way back to the city centre – and when settled in a charming street corner bar reports soon emerged of a ‘scuffle’ involving English fans and tear gas. Our curiosity piqued, we arrived at the scene of the crime mere minutes later to be greeted by the aftermath – lots of empty plastic beer containers in a pile. As seemed the custom, everyone seemed very relaxed about the whole thing – including the many nearby gendarmes on their mobile phones playing ‘le candy crush’ – probably. The Lille public too, rather than boarding up their maison’s and cowering under tables seemed quite entertained, if a little bemused by the whole thing.

As night fell more news of scuffling emerged. By this point I was tucked up in bed and well gone. Yet having reviewed the video footage the next morning it seemed little more serious than what had gone on earlier in the day.

With that in mind, I reflected that perhaps the media had blown the whole hooliganism thing out of all proportion. It’s easy to look at the reports on TV and social media and think anarchy and wanton violence rules the day at Euro 2016. Conversely, my experience of Lille shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

 

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.

A review of Louis Theroux’s ‘Drinking to Oblivion’

Last week, the ever popular Louis Theroux returned to our TV screens for a one off documentary exploring the issue of alcoholism. In common with much of his work, Theroux, rather than drawing on statistics and expert evidence chose to explore this topic by talking to those affected themselves – the people experiencing alcoholism and various associated others (spouses, partners, boyfriends etc.) In watching this latest offering, I was left with a whole range of different impressions and emotions in comparison to his earlier work.

Louis Theroux - Drinking to oblivion review pic

Charting Louis Theroux’s career to date is an intriguing exercise. In his earlier output, Theroux came across as somewhat smug and sneering as he engaged with various perceived fringe groups in western society, whether they be ‘survivalists’ or those who believe in the existence of UFOs. This trend for engaging with alternative sects continued throughout Theroux’s career into the early and mid-2000s, minus the smugness and sneering I’m glad to say.

Whether it was leftfield groups or charismatic celebrities, the Oxford graduate soon built something of an imitable trademark style – altogether emotionally neutral, deadpan yet also charming and relatable. This odd mix of qualities perhaps helps explain why he has been able not only to gain access to notorious groups and people but also able to build relationships with them, bringing out their human side alongside their oddities.  All of this has made for rather compelling viewing over the years. Did ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ continue this trend?

Perhaps the first thing to say about this latest documentary is that its subjects are fundamentally different from any of Theroux’s others. As already noted, Theroux has built his career on being able to engage with society’s fringe, and whilst alcoholics are in many ways similarly seen as fringe, they are in many ways seen as far more relatable, visible and knowable (if not literally, then certainly culturally) than any other group Theroux has explored. We are far more likely to know an alcoholic for example, whereas how many of us can say that we know a survivalist or a member of Westboro’ Baptist Church?! We are also far more likely to ‘know’ about alcoholism in as far as we know (even if on a basic and/or flawed level) what it is. In comparison, I might have heard of the survivalists or Westboro’ Baptist Church but not much more than that – who they are, what they believe or how they behave for example.

Further, the way Theroux relates to those he meets in ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ is patently different to how he has done so in the past. Here, he seems to wear his emotions much more openly, he is visibly saddened and stirred by the way in which alcohol has gripped and destroyed the lives of a number (if not all, thankfully) of those he meets. Accordingly, he comes across as much more attached than in the past, it is clear that he dearly wants to help those he meet escape alcohol’s clutches. This is no more apparent than when Joe, in the depths of an alcohol induced crisis decides (whilst at hospital) that he wants to go out and buy a bottle of vodka, to which Louis responds by imploring him not to. It isn’t merely the words he says to Joe, but the way in which he almost begs Joe not to that sticks in the memory.

All of which leads the viewer to respond to ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ in a wholly different way than to previous Theroux offerings. In the past, we might have been entertained by Theroux’s dalliances with people to whom many feel deserve our mockery, derision and laughter. This certainly isn’t the case here. Rather, Drinking to Oblivion is an often uncomfortable, hard-hitting and altogether sad watch. Indeed, we aren’t encouraged to be entertained, intrigued, and to mock, deride and laugh but to lament, be saddened, discomforted and moved by how this terrifying affliction can affect significant numbers of people. Thus, given the subject matter, Theroux’s change in tone is welcome (I say this as someone who has enjoyed much of Theroux’s earlier work).

In summary, drinking to Oblivion is indeed hard, discomforting and saddening, and it is all the better for it.

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: