There are elections going on you know!

Reading some parts of the media it would be easy to forget crucial votes across Wales, Scotland and

While Greg Dyke flirts with Labour’s enemies and commentators debate whether David Milliband’s last denial about the Labour leadership contest really was the last, you could be forgiven for forgetting there are local, Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliamentary elections within two weeks.

As these are the first UK elections in which blogs will have a significant influence, this blog review will take a break from Westminster politics for the next two weeks and concentrate on the grassroots.

Thousands of blogs will be preaching party manifestoes. No doubt interested parties can locate them. But here we show what blogs do best: expose incompetence and/or negligence.

Bad news this week for Lib Dems in Darlington as Labour councillor Nick
Wallis
reports: “For reasons not yet explained, Cllr. Jones signed the nomination papers of BNP candidate Daniel Brown, who is also standing in the town's North Road ward. As Cllr. Jones also signed the nomination papers of fellow LibDem candidates Mike Barker and Fred Lawton, he was effectively placing his own candidacy in a very curious position!”

Meanwhile, in West Aberdeenshire, href="http://bsscworld.blogspot.com/2007/04/fools.html">A Big Stick and a Small Carrot has done a bit of research and found holes in a local Labour candidate’s campaign.

The href="http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/news/display.var.1338729.0.0.php">reported
the ‘green’ Conservatives scored 0/10 in a Scottish Friends of the Earth green test. Kerron
Cross
offers his view on the matter: “A cynic would be forgiven for thinking that the Tories' words about caring for the environment are just another cheap gimmick, but I am prepared to be more charitable. But that is probably because I, like everyone else, know the Tories will get very few votes in Scotland whatever they say to us!”

Not only will Shrewsbury be hosting the Shrewsbury cartoon festival this weekend, but as Dizzy
discusses, it will also be trialing a new way of increasing voter turnout:
"Have just heard that the first electronic console polling station in this year’s local elections will be open on Saturday in a shopping centre in Shrewsbury. Let's hope the system is neither overloaded or loses data.

"Apparently Shrewsbury will also be having text message voting and Internet voting as well. Wonder how long it will take for someone to make allegations of electoral fraud after the results?"

Finally, a chance to see how another of a blog’s best qualities can be used in these elections. Welsh blogger Blambell Briefs has invited questions that he will pass on to four Welsh politicians in a feature he is calling Honest
John
.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.