Some reasons why predictions of a “populist uprising” in Europe are off the mark

There are many reasons to be sceptical about the claim, made by many commentators, that a wave of “radical right” populism is about to sweep Europe.

After 2016 brought us Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the narrow defeat of Norbert Hofer in the second round of the Austrian presidential election and the December constitutional referendum in Italy, it has been predicted that 2017 will be the year in which populists across Europe will secure substantial electoral successes as parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in the Netherlands and Germany in addition to a presidential election in France.

However, there are a number of indicators which suggest that the predicted rise in populism has been exaggerated. The recent parliamentary elections in the Netherlands highlighted the obstacles facing populist parties in countries which use proportional representation and where multiple-party coalition governments are the norm.

Firstly, larger “mainstream” parties may refuse to cooperate with populists, just as Dutch parties have flatly rejected the possibility of working with Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV). Naturally, this would prevent the party from having a direct influence on government legislation and policy. Moreover, even if radical right populists were to form part of, or even lead a coalition government, it is likely that they would have to compromise, moderate or reject many of their authoritarian stances.

While support for the radical right may advance in 2017, a possible development which has received less attention is the increase in support for smaller left-wing parties. On election night in the Netherlands, the Greens were among the “winners” having gained nine percent of the vote and ten seats. In Greece, the left-wing SYRIZA won both parliamentary elections held in 2015, a little over a decade after the party’s formation. This provides evidence that once small, peripheral parties with a solidly left-wing platform can prosper.

What certain observers have also failed to recognise is that opposition to this politics voters may vote tactically to prevent a populist party from gaining victory. The obvious case in point is the second round of the 2002 French presidential election between Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen and the incumbent Jacques Chirac of the Republican Party. While Le Pen made only a slight improvement on his first round performance, Chirac, by contrast, retained the presidency with a resounding 82 percent of the vote after securing just 20 percent in the first round. The margin of Chirac’s win was only made possible by supporters of the Socialists and other parties voting for the Republican candidate as opposed to his Front National rival. Many of these voters would not have voted for Chirac had his opponent been someone else.

Although last year’s presidential election in Austria produced a much closer second round result, Green candidate Alexander Van der Bellen made significant gains in the second round after Norbert Hofer had won the first round comfortably. The consolidation of support behind Van der Bellen in the second round of supporters of other parties when the race was narrowed down to two could have ultimately been the difference in terminating Hofer’s challenge for the presidency in what was ultimately a relatively close race.

While it is tempting to view the radical right as potent electoral forces throughout Europe, in some countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, a radical right party or movement has failed to emerge. It is, therefore, inaccurate to view this as a continental issue. Additionally, when commentators talk about the “rise” of radical right populism, they forget that support for such parties, like other political parties, has oscillated over the years. The following table (Table 1) shows that support for several European parties which are commonly categorised as being “far right”, has fluctuated, or remained constant between recent national parliamentary elections.

As observed in Table 2, while FN and Greece’s Golden Dawn party saw their support increase in the most recent European Parliament elections, the Hungarian Jobbik’s share of the vote remained virtually unchanged and the Dutch PVV’s vote share declined between 2009-14. It should also be noted that these elections are generally “second order” elections characterised by lower turnouts and increased levels of support for smaller parties. In the United Kingdom, the UK Independence, British National and the Green Parties have all achieved electoral results in European elections which they have failed to replicate at the national level.

 

Table 1: Results from national elections (% of the popular vote)

Front National (FN)

(first & second round results)

Party for Freedom (PVV) Austrian Freedom Party (FPӦ) Golden Dawn Jobbik
1993 13 6 2006 6 1999 27 2009 0.3 2010 17
1997 15 6 2010 15 2002 10 May 12 7 2014 20
2002 11 2 2012 10 2006 11 June 12 7    
2007 4 0.1 2017 13 2008 18 Jan 15 6    
2012 14 4     2013 21 Oct 15 7    

 

Table 2: Results from European Parliament elections (% of the popular vote)

Front National (FN) Party for Freedom (PVV) Austrian Freedom Party (FPӦ) Golden Dawn Jobbik
1994 11 2009 17 1996 28 2009 0.5 2009 15
1999 6 2014 13 1999 23 2014 9 2014 15
2004 10     2004 6        
2009 6     2009 13        
2014 25     2014 20        

 

While these parties may not achieve significant electoral successes, they may, in fact, achieve victories in other ways, by, for instance, encouraging other parties to adopt some of their rhetoric and policy positions if they fear losing votes to populist challengers.

Depending on what you consider to be the extent of its borders, there are between 40-50 countries which make up the continent of Europe. Viewed in this context, a victory for Marine Le Pen of the Front National in May’s presidency election does not constitute a triumph for populism in Europe. Nor could the admittance of a populist party into a coalition government somewhere else in Europe be viewed as such.

We may witness gains elsewhere across the continent, although these may be matched by gains from younger political parties on the left. If this happens then it could be a signal, to quote academics Groen and Bijsmans, that a “rebalancing” of European politics taking place. [1]

 

 

[1] http://www.e-ir.info/2017/03/15/why-the-2017-dutch-elections-will-not-kick-off-a-patriotic-spring/

Nationalists’ approaches to Jews, Israel and Zionism: Complex relationships

In what may appear like an odd development, nationalist parties and movements have become some of the most vociferous supporters of Israel, the only majority Jewish state in the world.

Nationalist movements have often engaged in anti-Semitism, however, many of the parties commonly referred to as being on the “far-right” of politics have been making direct overtures to Jewish voters by declaring their commitment to Israel and its security. This trend can be observed across Europe. In Scandinavia, the Sweden Democrats supported Israel’s right to self-defence during Operation Protective Edge in July 2014. The Danish People’s Party is also regarded as a pro-Israel party by both the Guardian newspaper and the Gatestone Institute, a conservative, pro-Israel American think-tank.

While in some cases, certain nationalists’ advocacy for Israel and Jews may be genuine, others’ support appears to be strategic, especially among parties with anti-Jewish backgrounds. The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), whose presidential candidate Norbert Hofer contested the second round of last year’s presidential election, was founded in the 1950s with links to the Nazi SS. Yet in 2014, Hofer visited Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Freedom Party leadership has also traveled to the country, although their delegation was not received by members of the ruling Likud Party. In France, the Front National Party was led for most of its existence by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a controversial figure who once referred to concentration camp gas chambers as a mere “detail” in the history of the Second World War. Under the leadership of Le Pen’s daughter, Marine, the party has sought to portray itself as a friend of Israel and of French Jews whom the party has vowed to “shield” from “Islamist totalitarianism”. The younger Le Pen has affirmed Israel’s right to secure itself from terrorism and previously voiced her opposition to the regime of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps the most surprising example of a nationalist party which has pledged support for Jews and Israel is the Hungarian Jobbik. Up until fairly recently, the party was engaging in various anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist rhetoric and activities. The party has claimed, among other things, that Hungary is being oppressed by an unspecified “Jewish lobby.” Jobbik led a protest at the World Jewish Congress conference when it convened in Budapest in 2013 and have opposed investment from Jewish and Israeli sources in Hungary. Jobbik’s leader Gábor Vona has referred to these investors as “Israeli conquerors.” Jobbik has expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, although this may be used to justify their anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist policies and rhetoric. Their website describes Gaza as the world’s largest concentration camp and labels Israel as a terrorist state. It has favoured boycotts of Israeli goods and severing diplomatic ties with the country. Yet Jobbik appears to have undergone something of a transformation of late. In January, the Israeli paper Haaretz noted that the party has sent Hanukkah greetings to the Hungarian Jewish community and now supports Israel’s “right to exist, form its own identity and opinions and articulate its interests.” The party is undergoing a process of reform which Vona describes as it “growing out of our teenage years.”

These attitudes to Israel and Jews could be a reaction to the rise of Islamist terrorism and the increased levels of Muslim immigration in Europe, which has led nationalistic parties to believe that they have a common cause with Israel and Jews, namely to protect and preserve their shared Judeo-Christian heritage. To use a quote from a 2012 Guardian comment article, this “philozionism” we are witnessing among European nationalists is “not an appreciation of Jewish culture but rather the opportunistic endorsement of Israeli nationalism and power.” Front National, Jobbik and the Freedom Party are all established political forces in their respective countries and attract support from sizeable sections of their national electorates. As each party seeks to make further electoral gains, they realise the need to dilute or to suppress extremism within their parties in an effort to appeal to a broader coalition of voters.

While some nationalists embrace Zionism and Israel, others remain suspicious or hostile to both Zionism and to the Jewish state.  Jews are seen as actively seeking to undermine  Western culture and ways of life through politics, finance, the film industry and the mass media. This is based on anti-semitic conspiracy theories about the “Jewish lobby” and control.

Many European and North American nationalists may identify with the “alt-right”, a largely internet-based nationalistic movement which came to prominence during 2015-16. The Jewish magazine The Forward has written about how the alt-right has been reaching out to Jews, in addition to other minority groups such as gays and ethnic minorities. This might be to give the impression of legitimacy, and suggests that one’s heritage or sexuality is irrelevant if one subscribes to the broader aims and ideology of the movement.

Like any political movement, nationalists are not an homogenous bloc. This is illustrated in their attitudes towards Jews, Israel and Zionism. It shows that certain sections of the broad nationalist movement can pivot and adapt their positions based on current political circumstances but also in an effort to project a more respectable image of themselves, their movement and their core beliefs.

A different look at the US Presidential election: Why both Republicans and Democrats may want to forfeit this election

2016_presidential_election_ballot

Photo credit: Corey Taratuta CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52229399

 

It may sound odd, but supporters of the Republican and Democratic candidates for President may hope that their party loses today’s presidential election.

To start with, Trump and Clinton are the two most unpopular candidates in recorded history; both hold negative net approval ratings. Whoever wins tonight will serve as an unpopular and therefore weakened President. This will make the victor vulnerable when they face re-election in 2020, especially if they face a strong candidate from the opposing party who can command the support of a coalition of voters that is broad enough to make a serious challenge for the presidency in four years time.

Then there is the question of what will happen to the economy. In recent decades, the United States has fallen into recession, on average, every 8-10 years. If this trend continues, then Americans will face another steep downturn under the next President. History has shown that a sluggish or depressed economy does not always doom a sitting President’s re-election bid, but it may spell trouble for an already unpopular President Clinton or Trump.

In this election year, twice as many Republican-held Senate seats are up for re-election, giving the Democrats more opportunities to regain control of the upper Congressional House, although recent estimates from FiveThirtyEight give both parties roughly even chance of winning a majority. If the Senate is controlled by a party that is different to the President’s, then this will ensure that there are at least two more years of divided government which could stymie and obstruct the new President’s agenda, whoever that individual is.

Losing the White House race may prove to be a blessing in disguise to the losing party as it will give them the opportunity to move on from Trump and Clinton and prepare for 2016 with, hopefully, a more popular, trusted and unifying figure as their nominee. This would probably not tempt many Trump or Clinton supporters who would not even contemplate handing the reins of power to the opposition candidate in the hope that their party will recover and win in 2020. Democrats will fear that Trump and Congressional Republicans will look to undermine or overturn the Obama legacy, just as Republicans will object to what they see as an extension the Obama presidency should Hillary become President. Supporters of both parties will be aware of what this election means for the Supreme Court. The age profile of the current Court is elderly, and the next Commander-in-Chief will likely have to nominate new nominees during the next 4-8 years. A change in the personnel on the Court bench could have far-reaching political implications.

I realise that this may not be a particularly compelling argument to many American voters, who will be desperate for their candidate to prevail. But looking ahead to what the next four years might have in store for the next occupant of the Oval Office, could it be a case of being careful about what you wish for? Trump and Clinton supporters: your side may lose this battle but end up winning the war.

“A longitudinal study of ethnic minorities’ perceptions of prejudice in Britain” – A summary of my conference presentation

Towards the end of last month, I delivered a presentation at the Social and Political Research Cluster’s inaugural conference at the University of Manchester. Since August I had been working on some research looking into ethnic minorities’ perceptions of prejudice in Britain. The conference provided an opportunity to present my findings, which I have summarised below in this post.

To investigate this topic, I selected data from the Home Office Citizenship Survey (HOCS) during the years of its lifespan, between 2001 and 2011. The HOCS had two advantages; firstly, it contains a high number of ethnic minority respondents and secondly, rather than ask its respondents their views about levels of racial prejudice in present-day Britain, it asks them to make their assessment of levels of racial prejudice in the country over the previous five-year period. Had it, in their view, increased, decreased or stayed the same? To make the data more representative of the wider UK population, a weight was first selected and then applied. As this research focused on ethnic minorities, respondents who identified as belonging to one of the white groups (British, Irish or Other) were excluded from the analysis.

Figure 1 shows the results from this initial part of the investigation. The most intriguing part can be observed between 2007-8 and 2010-11, where the proportion of respondents who believe that prejudice has remained the same increases dramatically. At the same time, the proportion who claimed that levels of racial prejudice had grown falls by a noticeable margin. The who selected ‘Don’t Know’ (DK) as their response climbs steadily between 2001 and 2010/11.

Fig. 1

fig-1

At this stage of the investigation, it occurred to me that a number of high-profile events and phenomena that occurred between 2001-11, such as the so-called War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, the July 7 London bombings and the rise of the British National Party (BNP) had perhaps disproportionately affected Muslims by placing individual Muslims and Islam under greater scrutiny than before. Therefore, I decided to track black and minority ethnic (BME) Muslims’ [1] perceptions of religious prejudice and compare them to non-Muslims who also belonged to an ethnic minority group, to see whether there were any distinct changes that took place over time. I reasoned that we would witness more significant changes among BME adherents of Islam than among ethnic minority followers of other faiths. Figure 2 illustrates that there was, in fact, little difference between Muslims and non-Muslims in their perceptions of religious prejudice, a question which first appeared in the Citizenship Survey in 2005. Muslims were, however, more likely to believe that there was more religious prejudice in each of the three surveys analysed.

Fig. 2

fig-2

In the final part of the study, my objective was to determine the nature of the association between minorities’ perceptions of racial and religious prejudice and the strength of belonging to Britain. One might assume that attachment to the country would be lower among those who believe that levels of prejudice have increased. One might also expect to see a fluctuation across time in how people assess their feelings of belonging to the nation. Citizenship Survey data (see Figure 3) suggests that Britain’s ethnic minorities have been rather consistent in their feelings of attachment to Britain.

Fig. 3

fig-3

Muslims from a minority ethnic background, as shown in Figure 4, have likewise exhibited similar levels of attachment to Britain as non-Muslims from ethnic minority backgrounds. However, as highlighted in the graph, figures are not statistically significant at the 5% level. In other words, there is a greater probability that these figures could have come as a result of pure chance.

Fig. 4

fig-4

As the correlation coefficients found below in Figures 5 & 6 reveal, there is only a very weak, almost non-existent, positive correlation between both perceptions of racial and religious prejudice and strength of personal belonging to Britain. The correlation matrixes figures from the 2005 and 2007-8 surveys were not statistically significant at the 5% level, with the exception being those from the 2010-11 survey, which included a larger number of cases (see Figure 6).

 Fig. 5

fig-5

Fig. 6

fig-6

In concluding my talk, I offered some thoughts on how this research might be developed further. One could include other measures of disaffection and alienation apart from attachment/belonging to the country. The Citizenship Survey, for instance, includes other variables, such as one’s own attachment to their neighbourhood and local area. Moving beyond the Citizenship Survey, one could turn to other surveys which include questions on trust in British democracy and institutions, such as Parliament, the police and the criminal justice system.

 

[1] According to the 2011 Census, 8 percent of UK Muslims identify as white (3 percent White British, 8 percent Other White). As I am only interested in collecting the views of Britain’s ethnic minorities here, all ‘White’ cases have been excluded from all sections this study.

White Heat (1949)

james_cagney_in_white_heat_trailer

James Cagney as mobster Cody Jarrett.

White Heat, a 1949 film starring James Cagney, is on many levels both an entertaining and fascinating film. It can be viewed, like many films, by sitting back and watching without having to follow the plot too closely. At the same time, its characters and storyline would make for an interesting study in psychoanalysis or as a subject for a film essay.

For anyone reading this post who has not seen it, then the following text does, to use an oft-used line from film and TV journalism, contain spoilers.

Like many good films, White Heat has the required components: an engaging storyline, developed characters, strong acting, quotable dialogue and a number of memorable scenes.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the character of Cody Jarrett and, more specifically, his relationship with his mother, known simply as Ma Jarrett. Cody is a violent and psychotic criminal, a remorseless killer who does not seem to truly care about anyone except his mother. Even Cody’s wife Verna cannot compete with Ma for his attention. Ma Jarrett is both a constructive and destructive influence on her son. She is the one who can keep him under control, urging him to get “on top of the world.” It becomes apparent that Ma is the one who is holding Cody together, preventing him from “cracking at the seams.”

When Cody learns of his beloved Ma’s death while he is serving a stretch on the inside, in one of the film’s best-known scenes, there are signs that Cody is beginning to crack at this point having lost all semblance of stability which Ma brought to his life.

Following her death, Cody starts to lean more heavily on Fallon, an undercover police officer going by the name of Pardo, who is tasked with infiltrating Cody’s inner circle and gaining his trust as the law enforcers attempt to bring Cody and his henchmen to justice.

In the latter stages of the film, when the unstable Cody learns of Pardo’s true identity, he finally “breaks” leading to the film’s climax as the police close in.

By this point, we all know that Cody could never be taken alive to face justice and the death penalty (as happened to Cagney’s character Rocky Sullivan in 1938’s Angels with Dirty Faces.) It is fitting for Cody to have a more dramatic exit. Stranded on top of a large gas storage tank, with no possible means of escape, chuckling uncontrollably to himself he triggers a fire and cries out “Made it Ma, top of the world!” before being engulfed in the ensuing explosion. As onscreen exits go, this is surely up with the best of them.

Eight years after first watching it, White Heat remains one of my favourite films.

Has the media helped Donald Trump’s campaign?

Donald_Trump_(27688909521)

Following July’s Republican National Convention, we now know what has looked extremely likely for the past three months: Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s nominee for President and will face Hillary Clinton (who was also officially nominated recently) in November’s election.

Since entering the race back in June 2015, it feels as though Trump has constantly been in the news. It is as if he has been the most talked about individual in the world over the course of the last year. Researchers have analysed data from Google News and other sources and have found that, in the context of the American presidential race, Trump has commanded a strong media presence, in some cases dominating election coverage. Google News is regarded as a good indicator of both coverage and consumption value. It is computer-generated news service which takes content from thousands of different news sources.

Research by the Washington Post has found that between 15 June 2015 (the day Trump launched his candidacy) and 20 July 2016, Trump appeared on Google News’ homepage twice as often as his Democratic opponent, Clinton. Statistician Nate Silver from the FiveThirtyEight predictions website used Google News data to find mentions of Republican candidates in June-July 2015, the first month of Trump’s campaign. Trump was mentioned 46 percent of the time, far ahead of nearest rival in coverage, Jeb Bush, who trailed with 13 percent of mentions. The Internet Archive’s Television News Archive has revealed that Trump held the lion’s share of references on TV (43 percent). Bush, again Trump’s nearest rival for coverage, received 21 percent.

Last August, The Guardian presented findings from LexisNexis and the GDELT Project focusing on the first few weeks of the Trump campaign. It can be observed from these sources that Trump did not dominate all branches of the media. He did, however, continue to receive a substantial level of attention compared to most of his opponents in the Republican primaries. Along with Bush, he was the subject of twice the number of news items than other rivals.

This media attention in the initial weeks of his campaign might have acted as a boost for the Trump campaign, giving him early momentum and a lead in the polls which he sustained throughout the rest of the primary season. The website RealClearPolitics shows aggregations of support received by each candidate from numerous polls. Trump’s  started to rise in the RCP averages in mid-late July and into August, establishing a solid lead he only relinquished for a brief spell in November when retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson peaked, but quickly faded, in true “flash in the pan” style.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has been omnipresent in the news cycle. As someone who is outspoken, confident and brash, he is a character who will always attract attention. Going into this year’s presidential campaign, he had the advantage of being a high-profile figure known to millions of Americans from his years as a celebrity businessman with an extravagant lifestyle and later as the host of the American version of The Apprentice. The same couldn’t be said about former governors Jim Gilmore or George Pataki (how many people outside of Virginia and New York had heard of them, or knew they were running for President?)

According to the “shortcuts” theory in political science, voters, especially when faced with multiple choices, make shortcuts when choosing how they will vote as they have neither the time nor the motivation to study and consider the various options available to them. They, therefore, rely on certain shortcuts to make their decision such as a candidate’s stance on a particular issue, their personality, previous experience or who “sounds” like a credible choice.

Trump’s tough line on immigration and terrorism, his political outsider status (he has never held public office) and bold, confident personality may have been some of the shortcuts used by Republican primary voters who turned out for Trump instead of other alternatives in a crowded Republican field.

To what extent can we attribute Trump’s success in winning the Republican nomination to the generous amount of media coverage he has received? Of course, it’s difficult to say. My feeling that, due to his capacity to create headlines and controversy, his name recognition, his political outsider status and his ability to tap into many voters’ concerns, he would be in the same position today had he received less media coverage. Moreover, he has been able to use the Republican primary debates and his extensive following on social media to reach potential voters.

Whether all of this will help him in November remains to be seen.

Should some people’s votes count for more than others?

Brexit_in_flags (1)

By Vexels GroovyGraphics – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49752970

 

 Britain’s endorsement of Brexit late last month has sparked a (sort of) discussion about the value of certain individuals’ votes depending on their age. Many millenials took to social media and other platforms to express their frustration that older members of the electorate had decided their future and the future of the country by voting “Out” whereas the younger age cohorts had backed Remain.

Lord Ashcroft’s post-referendum survey of 12,389 voters revealed the extent of this generational divide. Whereas 73 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in favour of remaining in the EU, those aged 65 plus voted 60-40% for Leave. Sixty-two percent of the 25-34 cohort voted Remain but a majority of 45-64 year olds voted for Brexit.

Many young supporters of Remain were angry because, as they saw it, the young have longer to live with the potential negative long-term impact of Brexit.

Firstly, it should be pointed out that in this referendum, younger adults failed to turn out in numbers comparable to their older counterparts. Secondly, nobody knows what the future consequences of life outside will be, so how can anyone say at this moment in time whether the country will suffer as a result of this decision?

Surely one of the finest qualities of democracy is that every vote cast is equal, in the sense that additional weighting is not given to someone on the basis that they are a billionaire, or a worker on minimum wage, male or female, young or old. Furthermore, in a referendum all  votes count whereas in general elections under our majoritarian, first-past-the-post voting system, it is voters in marginal and more closely contested seats that decide winners and losers. Democracy has its imperfections but it is surely the only system that has been devised that satisfies the majority of people who participate at a given time.

It would be nothing short of unfair to implement an insurance-style approach to voting whereby the votes of people who lead unhealthy lifestyles or indulge in unhealthy habits are disenfranchised or have their votes devalued on the basis that their life expectancies are judged to be shorter than those fit and healthy individuals. What about servicemen and women in combat zones or fans of extreme and often dangerous sports? We wouldn’t deny a terminally ill person their right to vote.

Older Brexiteers did not enter the polling station with the aim of “punishing” anybody, of whatever age. I’m sure the majority of people, both on the Leave and Remain sides, voted on what they thought was best for the country, themselves and their families. Middle-aged and elderly Brexiteers may have years, decades even, to live with their decision. Just because you are in your sunset years doesn’t mean you are blasé about deciding how to vote on an issue of great importance such as EU membership. Pensioners can lead insecure lives on modest pensions, just as those in their late teens and twenties do when entering the job market and finding a place to live.

Although the referendum was a UK-wide vote, the SNP maintained that Scotland has been dragged out of Europe against its will by England with a little help from Wales. The same could be said about Northern Ireland. Scotland was the most Europhile part of the UK, whose people voted 62 percent for Remain.

Switzerland has an established tradition of direct democracy. For an initiative that seeks to amend the federal Constitution to pass it must be approved by 50 percent of voters in addition to a majority of Switzerland’s semi-autonomous regions, known as cantons. However in the UK’s EU referendum, no such criteria had been established beforehand and so the first side to cross the 50 percent mark was declared the victor.

In a democracy, nobody is afforded special privileges depending on their age or some other trait or characteristic. In the context of the EU referendum, younger voters were given the opportunity to register and to turn out to vote on 23 June, however many chose not to make the trip to the polling station on the day.

Can younger voters really complain about the outcome?

On extending the voter registration deadline for the EU referendum

Earlier in the month, the decision was made to extend the deadline for registering to vote ahead of the EU referendum by 24 hours.

As midnight approached on Wednesday 8 June, many people missed out on the opportunity to register as the website was unable to withstand a late surge of online applications. The registration deadline was therefore put forward to midnight on 9 June.

On one level, this decision can be viewed as a positive because higher rates of voter registration will hopefully mean that more people will go to the polls as the country reaches an important juncture. Yet to those who missed the boat, I would have been inclined to say “tough, you shouldn’t have a second chance.” As is the case with elections, there is a date set several weeks before polling day which one must register to vote by if they haven’t done so already. This date had been established for some time and could have been discovered by anyone via a quick Google search (or via Bing, or Ask, depending on your search engine of choice.)

The registration process itself takes roughly 5-10 minutes to complete and requires you to provide your address and national insurance number. Simple.

If there are people who felt that there is at least a reasonable possibility that they will vote, yet were not registered and missed the deadline, then surely it is legitimate to ask the following: how serious were they about voting anyway?

Many people lead busy and hectic lives and it can be a struggle to make time for things. Yet in an age of smartphones and widespread internet coverage it has never been easier to register to vote. If you’re serious about voting and wish, to use that clichéd phrase, to “make your voice heard” then you will make sure that you will get the registration form done, and done in advance of the deadline. There is undoubtedly more at stake in this referendum than in general elections because every vote counts, and, as we’re reminded, it could well be a once in a generation/lifetime opportunity.

I’m not someone who gets sentimental about voting. I will always vote, and feel a duty as a citizen to do so, but I understand why many people don’t bother because most votes make little or no difference to electoral outcomes. It is for this reason that I am in favour of placing a ‘none of the above’ category on all ballot papers or providing space on the ballot for voters to nominate, or ‘write in’ a candidate or party which isn’t listed on the ballot, or, where if they want, they can write ‘none’. Either way, this would give those who cannot bring themselves to vote for any party or candidate a chance to play a more meaningful part in the process than by spoiling their ballot or staying at home.

To repeat my earlier point, deadlines are set for a reason and we have to stick to them. However after the deadline was extended, it is my hope that more people turn out on 23 June in a race that looks like it could go down to the wire.

(That is, of course, most of them have the sense to vote the way I’ll be voting!)

The Bible: A Remarkable Book

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Photo: Trounce – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=846135

The Bible is one of the best-known and influential texts in human history. It has been translated into countless languages and dialects the world over. Many people in Judeo-Christian societies are familiar with biblical stories and passages such as Adam and Eve, the Parting of the Red Sea and the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Nativity from our school days.

And yet there is probably only a small minority of people who regularly read the Scriptures. Few people have what would be considered a “good” knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. A 1954 book, Why Gods Persist cited a Gallup poll in the USA which highlighted this gap of knowledge. Three-quarters of Catholics and Protestants were unable to name a single Old Testament prophet. Two-thirds were not aware who delivered the Sermon on the Mount while many thought that Moses was one of Jesus’ disciples. And, lest we forget, this poll was conducted in the United States, arguably the most religious country in the developed world with a Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Bible has been a part of literary culture. It is for this reason that Richard Dawkins, a renowned atheist, and critic of organised religion, has argued that the Bible should be part of our education. “Surely ignorance of the Bible is bound to impoverish one’s appreciation of English literature,” Dawkins writes in his best-selling 2006 book The God Delusion. He notes that 1,300 references to the Bible can be found in the works of Shakespeare. The Bible Literary Report provides further examples, thus demonstrating that a degree of Biblical literacy is important to understand and appreciate a wide range of texts.

There are also numerous of biblical, or Bible-inspired, phrases which have entered into everyday or conversational English. An uncivilised and crude individual might be regarded as a “Philistine” whereas a kind-hearted, compassionate person who goes out of their way to help others is a “Good Samaritan.” We might sometimes feel like a “stranger in a strange land” or accuse our government of acting like a “Leviathan.”

Moreover, the beauty of the language can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of whether they are a practicing Christian or Jew or not. This is especially true of the old English King James Version, which was first published in 1611. Like many others, I believe that the words contained in this version hold more power than those found in more recent, modern English versions. When reading from its pages I cannot help but feel a tremendous sense of history. I’ve often thought about the authors of these passages and the individuals who have read and recited them down through the centuries.

This is particularly acute when reading a chapter such as Psalm 23, which has no doubt given comfort to so many people through its timeless verses: …“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul …l Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

#JeSuisJuif

Israel_by_Dainis_Matisons_(3308103315)

Photo: Israel by Dainis Matisons. Wikimedia Commons

The attack on the satirical Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 which claimed the lives of eleven people spawned the famous Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie as thousands showed their solidarity with the victims.

A less well-known hashtag, however, appeared following an attack carried out two days later on 9th January by militants on a Jewish kosher Hyper Cacher grocery store/delicatessen in east Paris which left four people dead. The #JeSuisJuif hashtag was used to highlight the targeting of Jewish people in France and elsewhere who have been the victims of terror.

It would be naive to think that this was a random attack. It was carried out on a Friday, just before the start of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, when the store was probably busier than usual as observant Jews purchased kosher food before the start of Shabbat. Nor was this horrific act of terror a one-off, but one of a series of discriminate attacks against Jews.

A suicide bombing in Istanbul this year killed three Israelis and an Iranian national. It does not seem a coincidence that three Israelis were among the victims. The chances of killing three Israelis in a suicide bombing in a foreign city seem beyond remote. The assailant specifically set out to find, and murder, Jewish Israelis.

In March 2012 Mohammed Merah killed seven people, including four Jews, outside a Jewish school in Toulouse.  In January this year, a Jewish teacher was attacked in Marseille, one year on from Charlie Hebdo. These incidents have not been restricted to the French Republic. In March, a Jewish man in Uruguay was stabbed to death. His assailant claimed he was acting out an order from Allah. In the Middle East, Israeli Jews have been the targets of a series of knife attacks carried out by Palestinians. Alarmingly, some of the perpetrators have been children as young as thirteen. Understandably, Jews in Europe and elsewhere are concerned and fearful. In France, which is home to 500,000 Jews, armed guards have been placed outside Jewish schools and synagogues.

The Huffington Post cites Jewish Year Book figures which state that there are 380,000 Jews in Paris and in 2014, 3,270 emigrated to Israel, a 63 percent increase from 2012. According to the Daily Mail, of the 10,000 Jews who left Western Europe for the Holy Land in 2015, 80 percent were French Jews.

In the United States, the country with the second highest concentration of Jewish residents, the FBI report that more hate crimes have been committed against Jewish people than any other ethnic or religious group. In the present climate where Muslims are at greater risk than before from discrimination and verbal or physical abuse, Jewish communities are at risk from anti-Semitism, especially those individuals who are visibly recognised as Jewish.

Victims of terror include people of all races, creeds and nationalities; men, women, and children of various ages and backgrounds. And, while I’m not suggesting that we rank victims’ lives by how important they are, or overlook the security concerns of any one group, it is Jews who have felt particularly threatened, from the likes of Daesh and other extremists.

The social media age has given rise to what has been called “virtue signalling,” a term used to describe incidents when users proclaim their compassion and decency to others. The #JeSuisJuif hashtag might be, in some cases, considered an example of such.

Many Jews have chosen to leave Europe while others are no doubt considering emigration in the near future. It is important to remember that these people fear for their safety, their lives. I, therefore, have no qualms about finishing this post the way I started it, even though I’m not Jewish myself by writing:

#JeSuisJuif.