Pat Condell – truth-teller or ignorant bigot?

This angry YouTuber is an insult to the many people who kind of agree with him

Pat Condell is an atheist YouTuber who’s in your face and not afraid to insult your religion or your political views. Whether you’re a Muslim, Christian, polite and/or pro-Muslim atheist, Europhile or “middle-class left-wing p***k”, be prepared for his angry wrath.

I used to regularly watch and quite like his videos. Being a former comedian, he has a rather amusing cynical sense of humour and there are some points he makes on Islam, multiculturalism and the EU that either I agree with or are at least extreme mirror images of my opinion.

He has always been subject to controversy, with a lot of popularity (with 164,114 subscribers to his channel as of today) as well as criticism, from the usual accusations of intolerance, racism or “Islamophobia” to malicious death threats (that’s actually a huge understatement if you click on the link).

But a lot of criticism against him is very well-founded. In particular he seems to have become a lot more extreme of late, and his two most recent videos are testament to that. In one, “Insulting religion”, he gratuitously does exactly what the title suggests and appears to blame Islam and Christianity for all the evils in the world. Yes, you have a right to insult religion, but please keep a bit of perspective.

The other video, “An illiberal consensus”, is the one where I got the “middle-class left-wing p***ks” quote from. He keeps repeating this infantile name-calling throughout the video to describe the Guardian and the BBC. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Guardianista either, but when he uses such labels to attack people who disagree with him, he stoops below the level of many people he criticises.

His claim of BBC bias is a reasonable one I might be inclined to agree with, and again I don’t agree with everything the Guardian says. I also agree it’s a shame that the Yes campaign lost the AV referendum because they were too close-minded and stubbornly limited the campaign to lefties. (See Telegraph blogger Ed West’s convincing take on this matter.) Please don’t insult these views by resorting to infantile personal attacks.

You know, I’m no fan of extremist Islam, and – while I don’t accept his conspiracy theory that from the start, multiculturalism was all about Islamization – I think it’s a misguided philosophy. But what is the solution? Banning sharia law and shutting down extremist mosques is all very well, but what else do we need? Integration between ethnic and religious minorities and the rest of us. And I’m afraid, Pat, that integration is a two-way process. So instead of just attacking Islam, we also need to:

a) Have a healthy, civic nationalist sense of pride in our nation and values, including tolerance.

b) Accept Muslims and all other minorities as fellow citizens (this seems to be a passive feeling that many non-prejudiced Britons have, that Muslims are somehow different)

Judging by Mr Condell’s videos, it seems that he has a long to way to go in achieving these things. He, and a depressing number of other people, stubbornly thinks it’s only Muslims who have to change, and he has no obligation to do anything other than insulting people. Well good for you, Mr Condell, but don’t expect to change anything with that attitude.

EDIT: I now regret some of the language I used, specifically calling Mr. Condell a bigot. (25.13.14)

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What if I were Prime Minister?

What would change if I was Prime Minister for the day? Well there’s not much you can change in a day. Come to think of it, the UK Prime Minister can do countless things, from appointing quangocrats to starting wars, without Parliament’s consent, so I suppose I could do quite a lot – unless my Cabinet colleagues kicked up a fuss (which for me is the killer because some of them would).

Personally, I would  try to decrease the power of the Prime Minister and of the government, and hand it over to Parliament. Of course that doesn’t go far enough. If I could be Prime Minister for, say, several months, I would attempt to devolve much of the rest of it to local councils, although Parliament would gain back other power from me withdrawing Britain from the EU (IF I succeeded – but that’s a big if with our politicians).

If I managed to do all that, it would go some way to making the Prime Minister look more like, say, the US President, who can’t get his way all the time, and can’t really do anything without the backing of Congress – or in many areas, simply can’t do anything, because that power is given to states or local authorities. I wish our Prime Minister had that little power. The country would have a smaller government, it would be more democratic and it would be better run – because it wouldn’t be entirely run by David Cameron.

Now there’s a bonus.

P.S. Then again, you can’t really blame David Cameron because he’s too busy; he’s taken too much on. Maybe if he gave some of his power and responsibilities away he would be a better Prime Minister. Who knows?

My mixed feelings about David Cameron’s immigration speech

Well this morning, David Cameron made a speech about how mass immigration has “discomforted and disjointed” communities and therefore Labour’s open-door immigration policy must take part of the blame for the rise of the BNP and other extremist organizations.

To an extent I think this is true. Whilst the previous government can at least be credited for finally deciding a couple of years ago that yes, maybe they had gone a bit too far, they took a pretty long time to do it. Their blind support for mass immigration, and especially multiculturalism, certainly did allow the BNP to attract disenchanted Labour voters (from whom they get most of their votes), and to say the established parties were ignoring the people’s concerns.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

But his solutions? He wants to ban spouses under 21 from being imported into the UK (similar to what the Danish government has done). He wants to dramatically shrink the numbers of skilled workers coming in and tighten rules for student visas, so that immigration levels will go from hundreds of thousands a year to the tens of thousands that came in the Thatcher and Major years.

That first suggestion would do a lot of good, and would certainly go far in stopping forced marriages, but I’m wary about the second proposal. Labour’s policy of completely uncontrolled immigration, which allowed over 2 million people to settle here under the 13 years of Labour government that we had, was clearly unacceptable. But do we really need to bring immigration levels back to how they were in the ’80s and ’90s?

Whilst for most of those years I wasn’t even alive, I do know it was a completely different time. We didn’t have as many pensioners and we didn’t have as few young people as we have today. Britain does need skilled immigrants to help pay for the health and pensions of old people, so that when they make up half the population by 2050 or whenever (and so the Tories will probably be permanently in government!), our whole economy won’t collapse. We should certainly stick to the points system that Labour eventually introduced, and make some steps to further lower immigration, but why not be a bit flexible on work permits so we get a lot of skilled and hard-working people coming to temporarily work here, and instead focus most of our controls on permanent settlement?

Also, why not leave the EU so we can control immigration from inside as well as outside Europe? Why not ban the burka in all public buildings as well as schools and banks (but not everywhere as the French have done, nor go down the silly route of banning minarets as the Swiss have done)? Mr Cameron’s speech is helpful, and it’s not irresponsible and unwise as Vince Cable has said. It’s far less “inflammatory” than probably any speech that any issue-denying Labour politician has ever made. But in some ways it goes too far and in other ways it doesn’t go far enough.

Above all, let’s stop dishonestly making out that we can control immigration properly and be part of the EU at the same time. Eastern European immigrants are on course to be at least as big in number as any group of non-European immigrants, so there’s no point in controlling non-EU migration when you can’t control EU migration as well.

Yes to AV—but it’s the wrong referendum

It’s less than a month to go until the country has to choose between the current system we use to elect MPs – first-past-the-post – and the Alternative Vote. Exciting, eh? I think it’s clear that not many people care deeply about this issue, so it’s a shame that the first nation-wide referendum we get in thirty-odd years is not of more demand.

But which way should we vote? Personally I’m not old enough to vote, but hopefully I can persuade a few people here. If I could, I would vote yes to AV – on balance, although both sides make good and bad arguments.

The main thing that would have held me back from considering AV was if it made hung parliaments more likely. But really it doesn’t. Since Australia introduced AV in 1918, they have had fewer of them than we have (and, if the current coalition government is anything to go by, it’s not as if the current system is immune to them either). And this is because AV is not a form of PR and does not claim to be. It simply makes MPs more representative of their constituents as a whole.

The first-past-the-post system can longer claim to represent the British people. Back in 1950 we had a strong two-party system, with as much as 86% of people voting Labour or Conservative. Since then that figure has slumped to 65% (in last year’s election). We now have three main parties in England, and four in Scotland and Wales.

While our current system works fine elsewhere, in two-party countries like the US, it’s clearly grossly unfair for us. Last year the Lib Dems (though I know that for many this is not an example that will attract sympathy) got 23% of the votes but less than 9% of the seats. UKIP came fourth and got about five times as many votes as the Irish Democratic Unionist Party – but didn’t come close to winning a single seat. How many seats did the DUP win? Eight.

AV could certainly mean a few more minor parties winning some seats, by letting people know that they can vote with their heads and hearts and they don’t have to vote tactically to make a difference. However, the most likely way it would change is making everyone’s vote count. If you vote for a candidate and he wins, great. If you vote for a candidate and he doesn’t win, your second, third etc. choice still means you have a voice and can decide the outcome.

And before any anti-AV people say that this is unfair and means one person’s vote counts more than another, that’s exactly what happens with first-past-the-post. If I vote Conservative in Surrey, my vote will count more than a Mancunian’s vote for the same party; vice versa Labour. If I vote Green anywhere other than in Caroline Lucas’ Brighton seat, my vote won’t count nearly as much. At the end of the day, if I vote for a minor candidate and deep down I know it’s pretty unlikely they’ll win, why shouldn’t my second preference be counted so I can still have an influence on the outcome?

And obviously, it would mean that the vast majority of MPs would be elected by a majority of their constituents. It is incredibly unfair that MPs can be elected with under 30% of the vote, so that a clear majority of their constituents don’t support them. See here for a good example of how FPTP unfairly splits votes, and how eliminating the problem by introducing AV would solve many other problems as well.

Generally, AV is far fairer than the current system, without leading to more unstable governments (and let’s face it, even if it did it’s better to have occasional instabilty than an ongoing cycle of the same old Lab-Con-sensus). And if you are a supporter of real proportional representation and you think AV is too much of a compromise, just remember this will probably be the only chance we get for decades to change the voting system. If we say no, we are rejecting change and a whole generation will miss out on it.

But again, it’s a shame that the referendum we’re getting is really just a coalition deal that doesn’t prey on people’s minds much. I doubt much more than a third of the electorate will bother to turn up and vote. What we really should get is a referendum on leaving the EU, for which a yes vote would make a huge difference – for the better, in the minds of many, many people who care about this issue.

Still, this is the choice we’re being offered, so if we want any kind of reform, we should go for it.

Smaller is greater

What is the smallest thing near me? Well obviously, everything is made up of tiny particles, so in a sense “everything” is the answer. If this wasn’t the case, nothing in the universe would work. And of course we are continually discovering that these tiny particles are made up of even tinier particles and quarks may actually be supersymmetric strings or whatever.

If all this is true then great; small is great. And, as a more general point, being small is what makes things – at least a lot of things – work.

For example, computers are more useful, and easier to use, because they are a lot smaller than they used to be.

Most people would rather read a reasonably small, short blog post divided up into small, short paragraphs, than a long sea of words with no spaces in between.

Smaller countries, particularly in Europe, are generally happier ones. Appreciating, finding satisfaction in and reminding yourself of all the little, daily good things in life, makes you happier than if you want everything to be BIG, or if you adopt the attitude that you’re either number 1 or you’re nothing.

Also, excuse me for politicising the question, but if a country is small, has a smaller government and if that government devolves its power to smaller, local authorities, things in that country work better, and the country is wealthier and happier. Why is Switzerland far wealthier than the EU as a whole and the second happiest country in the world? Why is Hong Kong wealthier than China, Singapore wealthier than Malaysia, and the U.S. GDP in excess of $14 trillion?

Answer: because all these countries are either small, have small governments and enthusiastically devolve power, or have a cultural mindset that sees small as beautiful. Or all three in the case of Switzerland.

Whether you’re talking about politics, ways of life or science, small is great and beautiful. That’s all I have to say.

The Lib Dems are better than they’re given credit for

Before the election last year, Nick Clegg had a higher public approval rating than Winston Churchill had at the end of the War. Now he has lost more than half of his party voters, he has been burnt in effigy in demonstrations and has had dog shit posted through his letterbox. But I really think he deserves a lot more credit for what he’s done as Deputy PM, and what his party in general, has done in government.

Of course, the thing that has understandably angered people most, especially young people like myself, has been their broken promise that they would always vote against any increase in tuition fees. This sparked angry and sometimes violent protests, with some even targeting the chairman of the Nation Union of Students because he had condemned the violent behaviour of some of the protesters as “despicable”.

Obviously it was a stupid promise for the Lib Dems to make, given that there was always a very high chance of a hung Parliament, and both of the main parties (both – including Labour) would have risen tuition fees. But it’s not just the Lib Dems. Tony Blair promised fourteen years ago that the Labour Party had “no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education”, and what did they do? They introduced tuition fees for higher education. That was just one of the many important things they said they were or were not going to do, and then went back on their word. Still, dismayingly, their blantant hypocrisy of using this of all issues to gain votes from the Lib Dems appears to be working, if opinion polls and the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election are anything to go by.

NUS leader Aaron Porter being led to safety from violent protesters. Apparently he’s “a f***ing Tory too” for saying that throwing a fire extinguisher over the Tory headquarters is despicable.

And this may seem surreal to everyone who is only concentrating on the fee rises and not the change of system, but overall, most of us – especially the poorest – will be better off in our twenties than before, under Labour. No-one will have to pay up-front tuition fees; it will all be transferred to loans. The rate at which we have to pay off our loans will depend on how much we’re earning, so that if my first job is working in the London Metal Exchange for £100,000 p.a. I’ll be paying off my debts far more quickly than if I’m just earning £21,000. If I’m earning less than that, I won’t have to start paying them yet at all. And these progressive changes are mostly likely due to Lib Dem pressure on the Tories to make the fee rises more progressive.

And let’s stop assuming that tuition fees discriminate against the poor – they don’t. The gap between rich and poor going to the top universities was always large, even way before fees were introduced. In the US, where universities are very expensive indeed, half of the poorest fifth of the population – and half of the overall population – goes to university. It all depends on the system, and on how well competition is encouraged between the universities, which needless to say, is not going to happen if we don’t have fees.

And generally, considering the Lib Dems are a far smaller party in Parliament than the Tories, they have had quite a lot of very good influence on government policy. Because of them, those earning less than £10,000 a year no longer have to pay income tax, ID cards are being scrapped, civil liberties are generally receiving more attention (except with regards to the EU, obviously), we’re having a referendum on AV, the government is more “environmentally friendly” and rich people are bing taxed more. Personally, I don’t entirely agree with the latter two points, but you can’t deny the party is making a lot of influence, given their smaller number of votes and seats.

So let’s stop bashing the Lib Dems. They are still putting their position in government to some good use. And frankly, if they actually deliver on their manifesto pledge to give us a referendum on EU membership, I’ll forgive everything else. But we’re still waiting…