After confidently predicting a 80 to 100 Conservative Party majority in last week's election the shock of reality is a slap in the face. This election has been, as the blog Archbishop Cramner put it: “an unmitigated, self inflicting disaster.” A hung parliament, an unsecure Prime Minister, Islamic terrorism and Brexit is not a combination of events that can give any confidence. The hubris and arrogance of calling an early election is blisteringly clear, my own hubris in thinking that this election was in the bag is also painful to reflect on.
There are slivers in the dark clouds to be thankful for. With Conservative gains in Scotland and Wales and a likely coalition with the DUP, we are a kingdom united once more. Scottish independence was dealt a heavy blow, for which we can all rejoice. Many young people registered to vote for the first time, of course, they voted Labour but hey, today's Labour voter is a Tory just waiting to happen. And to the great annoyance of a lot of my friends, my MP Philip Davies (Conservative) held his seat, increasing his votes, in-spite (or because of) a concerted campaign against him by “feminist zealots”.
But these are only the smallest flakes of silver in some very heavy and dark clouds. Serious questions have to be asked: what went wrong? What happens next? Both tricky to get good answers to. But this kind of reflection is needed, for the right lessons need to be learnt. The Bible verse which is solidly in my mind is this:
Disclaimer: This is not a perfect comparison but it is a workable one. It's traditional at this point to say something like: “I'm not a racist for talking about Islamic terrorism” but I doubt that will hold any weight for anyone wanting to call me a racist for talking about Islamic terrorism.
The American Gun Control problem can be phrased simply as: “Is the gun owner a good gun owner or a bad gun owner?” The bad gun owner is the angry teenage boy who will go into a school and shoot people. The good gun owner is the woman wanting to make sure she can defend herself, if assaulted. The difficultly is twofold: a) determining which is which at point of purchase and b) determining which is which within the gun owning community (36% of US population).
The Islamic terrorism problem can be phrased similarly: “Is the Muslim a good one or a bad one?” The bad ones are the angry men who will drive cars into people and blow up pop concerts. The good ones are happy to co-exist with Westerners. The difficult here is also twofold: a) determining which is which at point of entry into the country and b) determining which is which within the current Muslim community (4.5% of UK population).
In both cases, a minority of each community are violent killers who will show no regard for the sanctity of human life. The very existence of this minority brings the whole community into disrepute.
I am deeply humbled by winning the prestigious award for Feminist of the Year 2016, while not as respectable as Bono winning Woman of the Year 2016, nevertheless this prize will sit with pride on my mantelpiece and in my heart. My fellow two contenders also deserve a mention – Hilary Clinton and Emma Watson, I could not have won without their truly pathetic attempts to further the cause of the Sisterhood. Hilary's “all women should vote for me because I'm a woman” was insulting beyond words, silencing rather than empowering women in the political sphere. And Emma's attempts to spread feminism by leaving the odd book on the London underground is bordering on the absurd. I'm sure the three people impacted by her sterling efforts will go on to change the world.
But I'm not here to deride those who have lost any further. Feminism in 2016 and moving into 2017 faces challenges unlike any other time. These challenges can be summed up in one word and that word is not “Trump”. He is a sideshow, a distraction from the obvious challenge we must all face up to - the battleground for feminism in 2017 is that of consistency.
I am not talking about consistency of action. Whatever the issue, our response in creating internet petitions, calling for resignations and generally heaping scorn on “opponents” seems aligned across all branches of feminism. My concern is with the intellectually consistency of feminism, that is, how well it holds up against its own standards. Consistency is a fundamental part of believability. Human beings, as a general rule, do not hold two mutually inconsistent views. For feminism to survive for more than a few generations it needs to find an intellectual consistency it currently lacks. Consider the following four issues:
Sunday 4 December could likely mark the beginning of the end of the EU, again. Two events occur on this day: the first is a referendum in Italy and the second is the re-run of elections in Austria. Unlike the Brexit vote, the opinion polls are already showing that the anti-EU option is likely to win in both votes.
In Italy, a referendum on centralising political power in order to make change easier to implement is looking very likely to return a no result. If this happens, the Prime Minister has promised to do a David Cameron and resign. It could also lead to the collapse or bailout of the Italian banking system (already struggling with high levels of bad debt). Such a collapse could in turn force Italy out of the Euro or even destroy the Euro.
In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party is leading (albeit only just) in the opinion polls and could become the President of Austria. His campaign is to put Austria first and end the “welcoming culture” towards immigration.
Somehow, Brexit might not be the worst thing to happen to the EU project in 2016.
Two years ago, I had just started a new job, it was a fancy career job which paid a salary and everything! For the first time in my life, I had an "adult" income stream coming in. And for the first few months I did not give a full tithe (10%), as Christian tradition suggests. There were a whole host of reasons for this in my head, most related to the uncertainty of what expenses I would be incurring and what the taxman would take from me (always too much).
For the next three months, I worried about money a lot. It was on my thoughts almost daily and my income, though much bigger than anything I'd ever earned before, just didn't seem enough for what was required. December was the third month and Christmas was a struggle not to panic at how expensive the festive season is.
Over the Christmas holidays, my conscience finally won through and I was convicted that as my God had given me a salary, so I had to make giving my first priority. So in fear of what might happen and what unplanned expenses would be incurred, I increased my giving to the full tithe.
Almost overnight, my money worries vanished. This surprised me. It should not have. For my story is not unique nor is it out the ordinary, it is the economy of God working as it always does.
For the last decade or so, come general election or referendum, there’s one comment that I always hear. More than Donald Trump, the upcoming housing market crash take 2 and the life and times of J-Dog Corbyn, it makes me worried for the future of democracy and Western civilisation.
“I wish stupid people didn’t get the vote.” It is said as a ‘joke’, you know, the one that will never get a laugh and is completely true but there’s enough residual guilt there to force it across as a lame attempt at ‘wild make believe’. Invariable, the person saying this wishes it was no fantasy, it is always an expression of a genuine desire to limit the voting rights of a certain section of the population.
It involves a line, drawn in the sand, between us and them. Us are the enlightened, the professional classes, the “educated” and “well read”, the “thinkers”, the eaters of avocado toast and the buyers of the Guardian.
As the defining voice of a generation, it is no surprise that Taylor Swift should offer such an accurate reflection on the economic prospects of Millennials. As TayTay sings in 22:
“We're happy free confused and lonely at the same time
The magic of the 21st century is that I can pick up my phone and video call a friend on the other side of the world. I can set up a virtual personal assistant who would manage my diary, travel plans and bookings for me. In a decade, I'll likely be able to buy a car that drives itself.
The misery of the 21st century is that home ownership, retirement, a good pension, a garden, free university education and, probably at some point soon, free healthcare are or will be entirely beyond the average Millennial's ability to have or afford.
Technology rich, asset poor – happy, free and confused at the same time. It's miserable and magical oh yeah.
Many months ago I was visiting my sister and at her church we sang “This I believe” a song by Hillsong Worship based on the Apostles' Creed. The chorus stuck in my head and it popped back in today, here it is:
I believe in God our Father
To burkini or not to burkini? This is the vexing question facing France at the moment and the rest of the Western world soon enough. Is it a symbol of the oppression of women or part of the right of a woman to wear what she wants? Is it an attack on liberal French society or a statement on the value of modesty? To reduce it down to its simplest level: is it a good burkini or a bad burkini?
The answer is not clear. A bad burkini, we might all agree, is one forced upon a woman who actually would rather be a little less modest and feel a bit more of the sun of her skin. Yet even in this case of oppression is it any worse than the oppression of the modern media that tells women they must dress immodestly and look amazing while doing so? A good burkini, we might again all agree, would be one freely chosen by the woman. But where does peer pressure, cultural pressure, parental pressure and societal pressure all end and a woman's choice begin? How free our are free choices?
Yesterday was a bit grim on Facebook, I will include my own response here, tired and frustrated as it was. One half of the country wailing and gnashing their teeth through a whole variety of ways: insults, calls for another referendum, prophecies of doom; declaring a burning desire for independence from the UK or leaving for other countries. And on the other side, sarcastic digs as life went on, frustration at being so maligned for voting leave and anger at the calls for another referendum (please, anything but to go through the last month again!).
In the midst of all this rubbish, between posts of anger and grief and hate, there were a few posts of great comfort and encouragement and peace. They were the ones which quoted from the Bible. Without fail, the person quoting was always so much more gracious and understanding of the division the referendum has caused. They were far more likely to expresses forgiveness and compassion rather than insults and anger.
These Christians, of which to my shame I cannot count myself, had a vastly different perspective on the shock event. The same human response was there: sadness, joy, hurt and surprise, but these were muted, in a healthy way, not given to extremes, not likely to be dominating in the person's mind.