An odd thing about the upcoming British general election

It is baffling why Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, is so feted in the lead-up to the general election. It seems that no debate, interview or political discussion can take place without her featuring in some way.

But there’s a problem. Yes, she’s leader of the Scottish National Party, which is tipped to do quite well in Scotland, so we can understand why she might be in a leader’s debate. She is also already an elected politician, albeit in the Scottish parliament, so we can understand why she might have something to say on SNP policy. But here’s the problem: she isn’t standing in the election.

That’s worth saying once more, so the implications can sink in – She isn’t even standing in the election for the Westminster parliament.

And yet she is everywhere in the discussions of the general election. It’s an old-fashioned idea, perhaps, but in a democracy it is assumed that people stand for election and, if elected, then get to boss us about and make policy. But only if they are elected.

This simple fact should have been a major point of contention these last few weeks. But it hasn’t, has it?

What we have is Nicola Sturgeon shaping the debate and making promises that will bind elected members of the SNP when they get to Westminster. But she has no democratic mandate and will have no democratic mandate on May 8.

Are we to expect that she will instruct them how to vote once they are in? If so, we will be living in a democracy compromised even more than it already is. The point surely of democracy is that elected politicians decide, not outside forces.

If I am mistaken, and she will have no say at all, then why is she being so feted now? It is a fraud. The electorate is having its views shaped by someone who is going to have no role in parliament – certainly no legitimate role. That’s actually a bit of a disgrace, and evidence of the ludicrous state of affairs we have got ourselves into, particularly concerning our constitution.

Syria-related terrorism arrests in Dover

On Friday morning (3 April 2015) West Midlands Police reported some breaking news as follows:

Good, I suppose is the thing to say – police following up tip offs, chasing down the bad guys and generally protecting society. Doubly good because this is Syria-related and we’ve heard on the news about the sort of things going on over there and we definitely don’t want it over here.

But it’s important to remember they have only been arrested – not charged; and only on ‘suspicion’ – they have not been convicted of anything yet. So for all we know they could be normal folks like you and me. There but for the grace of God go I, etc.

This isn’t much to be going on with. Really, it could mean almost anything: from the rightful arrest of six terrorists primed with suicide vests on their way to Canterbury for Easter day; to the mistaken arrest of six archaeologists on their way home from an international conference on saving Syria’s heritage from the lunatics presently smashing it up.

So West Midlands Police helpfully tell us more:

‘Departure zone’ should tell us something. They were not on their way into the country; they were on their way out. So we can perhaps exclude the possibility they were about to do harm in Britain, unless they had designs on the ferry, which might in a way be termed British territory, unless the ferry companies are all French these days.

‘Departure’ and ‘Syria’ recalls the recent departures of schoolgirls to Syria to assume the romantic role of ‘Jihadi Bride.’ Except it’s not that romantic, when you think about it. They go there to marry Islamic State fighters and have children who will one day take the place of their fathers in the great fight for progressive Islamism in the Middle East – and perhaps North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and anywhere else they want to extend the benevolent rule of their kind of Islam.

There’s another issue burning away with these schoolgirls. Their teddy-bear-clutching families are ever ready to tell the willing news outlets that they are distraught and have not the slightest clue how the idea got into the heads of their ‘straight A-grade’ daughters and it was almost certainly the fault of the police, MI5, British Foreign Policy, America, Israel, the usual culprits. But whatever the cause, it had absolutely nothing to do with them or Islam.

Except it did, kind of. When your dad’s caught on camera rocking it alongside noted moderate Adebolajo and plenty of other equally moderate brothers who just happened to have an accident with the matches at the same time as carrying US and Israeli flags and who burst into renditions of that well-known Eurovision hit “Allahu Akbar” for only the best of reasons, it is perhaps not all that surprising that, growing up in his household, you feel the pull of Jihadism a little more strongly than little Daisy Becket down the road.

But these were men and women. So a little different to schoolgirls heading East for a bit of baby-making time with the brothers.

There’s more from West Midlands Police:

The mention of Birmingham is not a surprise. Although you have to be careful how you phrase things because if you get the substance right but the detail wrong (admittedly in the most cack-handed way imaginable), and you are American, and you are an American who appears to be on the right of the political spectrum, the willing news outlets and other well-meaning folk will go into a frenzy of ‘You’re so ignorant,’ and ‘It’s nothing like that,’ and ‘Let me just take this opportunity to deflect from the matter at hand – namely the Charlie Hebdo murders.’

There probably won’t be much more reported on this case. Matters under investigation, for obvious reasons, are not usually splurged over the papers until the potential court case us underway and preferably post-verdict.

So what do we have?

At about 8am on Friday 3 April, five men and one woman were arrested in the departure zone of the port of Dover on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences. They are now being held in the West Midlands area and searches are taking place at various addresses in Birmingham. Four of the men, in their twenties, are actually from Birmingham; the other man and woman, also in their twenties, have no fixed abode. These arrests were part of an ongoing investigation.

That’s about it. Except that this incident, whether it leads to a court case or not, is part of a growing pattern. As the spaceman said to Houston: ‘We have a problem.’

If only we could use the quote in its original form: ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem.’

But this would be inaccurate, wouldn’t it? It is not a past tense matter. This sort of Islamist, Jihadist, Syrian kickback terrorism, whatever we want to call it, is not something we can claim lies behind us. Is it?

Do we actually understand our parliamentary system?

There’s a general election on its way. You might have noticed, but if you haven’t: it’s on Thursday 7 May 2015 at a polling station near you, during which the 650 constituencies of the United Kingdom will elect one person each to represent them in the House of Commons.

It is worth noting that we in Britain elect a single member of parliament to represent us—we do not elect a party, neither do we elect a Prime Minister. We elect a person; and these persons subsequently group themselves together, at which point the largest of these groups forms a government.

OK, so the party affiliations of each candidate are well-known before votes are cast, but the principle stands: people often vote for someone they like even though they might not be too keen on their party. This is our system, and it has worked extremely well for quite a few centuries.

Yet some people – advocates of proportional representation in particular – don’t seem to get this. They propose that if a political party wins, say, ten percent of votes, it should be allocated ten percent of seats. First Past The Post, they say, prevents this, which is supposedly undemocratic.

There’s a logic to their argument, of course there is. It’s the logic of PR. It is also a logic that begins from a misunderstanding about our system. That is a problem. Our system is not primarily a party system. It is a system of individual, personal representation, whereby those individual MPs are accountable to their constituents—not to their party.

Of course MPs are accountable to their parties, you might say. What are the whips for if not to ensure MPs answer to their party? Sure, but their first loyalty is to their constituents. MPs are elected by their constituents, not by their parties.

I raise the point because James Kirkup has been wondering how many seats UKIP will win. He concludes that it is unfair for them to get only one percent of seats in the Commons if they have won ten percent of votes. Not only is it unfair, but it will also feed one of the resentments he believes fuels support for UKIP in the first place. Namely:

‘Ukip is at least in part an expression of anger at the system, the cosy Westminster establishment that Kippers believe colludes to ignore and frustrate their wishes and the wishes of the electorate as a whole.’

He fears that if UKIP voters notice the discrepancy, they will only become more frustrated with the system:

‘Because an electoral system that could well leave a party with 2.5 million voters holding just 2 seats in the legislature is a poison that could kill faith in representative democracy.’

He has a point. People do say that our political system is a conspiracy against the people. But if that is the case, it might be a good idea if the people had our ‘system’ explained to them. That way, they might not get so angry.

It is false to assume that an MP voted into parliament on, say, thirty percent of the vote cannot represent the seventy percent of constituents who did not vote for him or her. Representation is not an absolute. There will be times when even the thirty percent feel their opinions are not being adequately represented by the person they elected. (For example: Conservative MPs agreeing to defence cuts against the wishes of many of their voters).

But that’s the nature of politics. That’s what happens when you elect one person to represent thousands of people. They all have their own pesky point of view. That’s the problem with people: their individuality. It’s what certain celebrities playing at politics don’t realise. There is no way to represent everyone’s view absolutely in parliament. Those who think there is simply misunderstand how representative democracy works.

I am not referring to James Kirkup here. But his thought about FPTP is interesting:

‘First-past-the-post really is a conspiracy between the Conservatives and Labour against smaller rivals and against the electorate.’

FPTP certainly encourages a two-party system, even though sectarian loyalties in some parts of the country seem to refute this principle. It is indeed one of the arguments cited in favour of FPTP: that it enables strong government and an easy way to change government.

But the charge that FPTP is ‘a conspiracy… against the electorate’ is the exact same charge levelled at PR. Which one is it? It’s probably both, up to a point. But that brings us back to the original point: people not understanding our system.

We do not have PR. We have FPTP. And the main advantages of FPTP are that it enables strong government; it offers a straightforward way to change government; and, perhaps most important of all, even though I put it last, it allows us to cling to the notion that we are represented by an individual and not by a party machine.

There may be weaknesses to the system as it stands today, but there are weaknesses in all systems (as James Kirkup acknowledges). We miss the point if we simply look at the maths and deduce that our system is junk because a small party gets a higher proportion of votes than seats.

Our system is not about voting for parties. It is about voting for people. If we don’t like voting for people, and want to vote for parties instead, leaving the selection of MPs even more in the hands of parties than it is now, then fine. But let’s be clear about what we will be doing. And let’s be clear that there will be consequences, some of which we won’t like.

Jihadi John is named

It seems that the crassly dubbed Jihadi John – supposedly named after John Lennon on account of his British accent, which if I were one of John Lennon’s relatives would annoy me somewhat – has been outed as Mohammed Emwazi by The Washington Post. That’s what various sources think, anyway – though they could be wrong.

But if they are right, who is he? Apart from the mental deficient in those vile murder videos of Islamic State, that is?

We are told that he is a ‘Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming.’ That college being The University of Westminster. Perhaps not a complete mental deficient then, though I don’t know how exacting Westminster is on its application forms.

We can debate the ‘Briton’ part – I, for one, do not hold British nationality so cheaply; but the suggestion that he is ‘well-to-do’ and ‘a graduate with a degree’ puts paid to the dubious claim that it is poverty and discrimination that makes these people do such things, doesn’t it?

If only we could rid Western culture of Islamophobia, racism and discrimination, so the argument goes, decent people like Mohammed would not be forced – Forced! I tell you! – to go about beheading people.

But it’s all nonsense. These people are not driven to Jihadism by poverty. They are called to it by their understanding of Islam and their belief that Islam and the state ought to be one and the same; and anyone getting in the way of that is fair game for abduction, rape, enslavement and murder.

Oh, I see: we are then told he is ‘Kuwaiti-born’. So not British, then. Except in the deranged minds of those who think nationality is like a t-shirt one picks up in a flea market: get bored if it, then exchange it for something else.

It is odd, though, that the report goes on to say that counterterrorism officials prevented him in 2010 from returning to Kuwait, the country of his birth in which he had the offer of a job and plans to settle. He was already on their radar; he was not picked up on a whim; so why not let him go home, and then pass on their evidence to the Kuwaiti embassy for appropriate action?

Yeah, OK, don’t bother to answer that – I know why.

We are making language a battleground

Another forced apology. Cathy Newman, newsreader at Channel 4, has done what increasing numbers of people are doing – grovelling and apologising because of something they have written on Twitter, the micro-blogging site everyone’s talking about. But at least she still has her job, for now, which is more than some people can boast.

What seems to have happened is this: The Muslim Council of Britain organised something called #VisitMyMosque after becoming distressed that the British people might be getting the wrong idea of their religion because increasing numbers of its adherents are murdering people in the name of that religion.

The idea was to show, by inviting non-Muslims into local mosques around the country, how they and the religion of Islam were not fomenting unrest and hostility towards long-held British principles such as freedom to speak one’s mind without being shot. Indeed, freedom to speak one’s mind full stop.

The corollary was to confront the supposed epidemic of Islamophobia sweeping the country. If the mosques could just show how peaceful and contented Muslims were with Britain, just as she is, then non-Muslims would be less inclined to assume that all Muslims are violent, rampaging psychopaths just because some Muslims are violent, rampaging psychopaths.

It’s easy to be cynical, but this is probably a good idea, even though one might argue it is based on a false premise. There is a growing sense of separateness between the Muslim population of Britain and the rest, so anything that connects the two or breaks down the walls of separation is probably a good idea.

So what could Cathy Newman, a woman who seems to lean leftwards and support the general thrust of feminism, have done to require an apology? It can’t have been her leftish sentiment, which is at one with Muslim sentiment and grievance, so it must have been her feminist outlook. After all, we know the Muslims don’t like women much, so women flaunting their independence from and their equality with men is not going to go down too well, is it?

Well, who knows about that? And who knows why Cathy Newman chose to go along to the local mosque in Streatham? Her reasons are her own, but perhaps, as a journalist, she simply wanted to see what this MCAB initiative was all about; or perhaps she thought the #VisitMyMosque campaign to reduce Islamophobia was just the sort of thing to appeal to her progressive instincts. As I say, her reasons are her own.

So she went to the mosque; and then she left the mosque almost immediately, commenting on her #VisitMyMosque experience in terms that seemed disparaging, saying that, despite covering her head and taking off her shoes and not carrying the flag of Saint George in an offensive attitude and not crying death to the non-infidel, she had been ushered back onto the street.

Soon afterwards, and perhaps unwisely when the benefits of hindsight are factored in, she took to Twitter, that conduit of measured debate. She said she had been ‘ushered’ out of the building by a ‘man’ despite being ‘respectfully dressed’.

This was construed as her saying she was treated badly by a Muslim man because she was a woman and why oh why won’t these Muslim men learn how to treat women with respect – thus conforming to the ‘Islamophobic’ narrative these #VisitMyMosque visits were designed to confront.

She was duly found guilty of the newish and pressing crime of Islamophobia, with all the judicial efficiency only Twitter can offer. After all, justice delayed is justice denied. The obligatory apology soon followed.

Twitter fulminations tend towards the irrational, but in this instance it seems Cathy Newman really did have something to apologise for. The Huffington Post has since acquired CCTV footage of her arrival and departure, and it gives the distinct impression that the things she suggested happened in her tweets did not in fact happen. She arrived, took off her shoes, spoke to someone, put her shoes back on and then left with no sign of any sort of ushering taking place.

So, of course, it is right that she apologised. But for what? The relevant tweets are now deleted, but those captured by the Guardian newspaper suggest she was simply commenting on what happened.

First she tweeted, ‘Well I just visited Streatham mosque for #VisitMyMosque day and was surprised to find myself ushered out of the door…’ Then she tweeted, ‘I was respectfully dressed, head covering and no shoes but a man ushered me back onto the street. I said I was there for #VisitMyMosque mf’ And finally she tweeted, ‘But it made no difference.’

By your words will you be convicted. I have it in mind that someone famous said something like that, but I could be mistaken; might just be my words, but they seem apt. Those are the things she said on Twitter (assuming she didn’t delete other comments). But in a letter of complaint later released by the mosque she was accused of ‘suggesting she was forcibly ejected from our mosque for being a woman’.

Now, the word ‘usher’ is certainly on the same spectrum as ‘forcibly ejected’, but it is not quite the same thing: not by a long way. In fact, to be ushered somewhere is decidedly not to be subjected to force of any kind. Yet she was denounced for saying she was ‘forcibly ejected’ from the mosque. It doesn’t appear that she said this at all (again, unless there are other incriminating tweets).

And this is the problem, isn’t it? We are making language a battleground, quite literally in some instances. Just to remind ourselves: people have recently been murdered in Denmark because they attended a debate on art, blasphemy and freedom of expression and in France because they drew satirical cartoons. And there is a connection to Islam, isn’t there, no matter that the majority of Muslims would not murder people for what they say or draw?

But if murder and extreme violence is anathema to the majority of Muslims in the West, not quite the same thing can be said about Muslim attitudes to free speech, the use of language and satirical images. Earlier this month in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders thousands of British Muslims demonstrated in Whitehall and presented a petition signed by over 100,000 people to No 10 Downing Street that says, among other things, ‘I denounce the actions of all these people who are connected with the production of the cartoons of the Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him’.

Under the guise of a ‘Global Civility’ movement, a sizeable number of Muslims are campaigning to somehow end the rights of people in free countries to draw cartoons. The Muslim Action Forum has even devised a ‘legal strategy’ to ‘prevent the continuous insulting and derogatory publications depicting and abusing the personality of our Holy Prophet Muhammad peace be upon Him.’

They intend to mount a ‘series of legal challenges in the English Court system to establish that such depictions of our Holy Prophet peace be upon Him is the worst kind of ‘Hate Crime’ that can be perpetrated on the 3 million Muslims in the UK and 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide.’

Legal challenges?

This is a clear statement of intent, which should chill the blood of the civilised – even those who have no wish to draw any kind of ‘derogatory’ cartoon. This Forum even says it has plans for a Private Members Bill to bring this into effect.

It’s all linked, isn’t it – cartoons, language and the discussion of Islam?

Cathy Newman, however, finds herself caught in the melee. On the one hand her language was, as she said, ‘poorly chosen’. But her poorly chosen words were not the words for which she was condemned. Her words were distorted and inflated by those who wish to use the incident (such that it is an incident) to further their own authoritarian interests.

As such, her apology was perhaps overdone. She said, via Twitter naturally, that she offered here ‘sincere apologies for tweets she sent in haste’, and accepted her ‘tweets were inappropriate’ and that she had ‘caused a great deal of offence’.

Do some of those words sound familiar? ‘Inappropriate’; ‘offence’; ‘tweets sent in haste’. This is the pusillanimous language of political correctness. Those cartoons, we are told, cause offence. They are inappropriate. They are hate crimes that must be punished with the full force of the law.

So it seems we are at in impasse. On the one hand we have the principle of free speech and free expression, and on the other we have a desire for something they are calling ‘Global Civility’ which isn’t really about global civility at all but rather the introduction of a set of special legal protections for one religion in particular. It is difficult to see how these two positions can be reconciled.

Of course most people want to live in a world without insult or offence, but that world is not a real world. If someone wants to, they will always find offence in what someone else says or does. It’s the way of things. Muslims, above all, should know that the world is an imperfect place. Many of the countries in which they form a majority of the population demonstrate that simple, obvious fact every day.

If we try to legislate offence out of humanity, we will soon find that we are legislating something else out of humanity as well – and that something is freedom. He is offended by cartoons; she is offended by sexist language; we are offended by everything. There is no logical end to it. If we don’t watch out, this will consume us.

Oh, look! Russell Brand is in interesting conversation with Owen Jones

I see from an email that the ‘Guardian’s renowned journalist and commentator Owen Jones’ is going to be talking to Russell Brand, the narcissist, about justice and revolution. They will be exploring progressive revolutionary ideas. As if progressive revolutionary ideas never came out bad. Tickets will cost £15. Up the revolution.

I suppose Russell Brand is renowned like Owen Jones is renowned, in the way Dan Brown’s characters are renowned, and make-believe. Brand is also an ‘incendiary writer and comedian.’

That’s two big names upon which justice and fairness are now presumably dependent – Brand and Jones. But more big names will be dropped into conversation, like the renowned Orwell (he’s a famous thinker, on politics) and the renowned Piketty, whose work inspires Brand.

Personally I find it offensive that this ragtag bunch of callow, pseudo-intellectual, self-regarding, dangerous ‘revolutionaries’ – who, incidentally, are wrong at the most basic of levels – seek to co-opt the likes of Orwell to their pompous, destructive cause. But they have their jobs to do, I suppose – Owen promoting his book, Brand promoting his book as well as his indomitable ego and the Guardian taking the opportunity to promote their equally indomitable sense of moral self-worth.