Lib Dem MPs must behave before the grassroots will

If the party's MPs want the leadership debate to go away, then they should stop talking about it.

Well, I’m in trouble. Me and the other 40,000 activists in the Lib Dems. As has been well documented, there has been more than a touch of debate about the party leadership ahead of conference (we’re at 10% in the polls - of course there has!) and the word on the street is that , generally speaking, this isn’t going down well with the Westminster crowd. Apparently the received wisdom is that if we don’t show a united front in Brighton, there’s a chance the world may spot that the membership isn’t entirely comfortable with the way things have been going to date. You reckon?

Well apart from the fact that it just wouldn’t be Lib Dem conference if there wasn’t a barney about something or other (in the last three conferences it’s been around the NHS, the NHS and the NHS), there’s a touch of physician heal thyself about all this.

It all started with Vince saying "I don't give any time to these personal criticisms of Nick Clegg which are being made at the moment", which is, by all accounts, code for declaring war on the leadership. Plenty of others in Westminster have been just as guilty. Adrian Sanders, for example, declared that Clegg must stop "bumbling along worrying about the future".

But it’s not all one-way traffic is it? I notice the term "the continuity SDP" has been slipped causally into the press to describe anyone who thinks the party may have just edged slightly to the wrong side of the centre ground. Then we had Ming declaring of the Cable-Miliband texts: "The truth is that the success of this coalition depends upon everyone who participates in it being a full subscriber, and we were using the expression pick and mix a little while ago. I don’t think it helps a partnership to suggest that you may already be looking for another partner."

Finally, Malcolm Bruce weighed in this weekend, declaring (in a fairly obviously targeted message) that we shouldn’t be laying the ground work for a coalition with Labour. Well, we should actually. And we should be laying the groundwork for another coalition with the Tories. And if the arithmetic works out in 2015, we need to be prepared. We were last time. So were the Tories. Labour, put simply, wasn’t, and, in any case, the electoral arithmetic didn’t stack up. Next time, (if there is a next time) we should take longer about the process– and all the major parties should be ready to negotiate whatever deal the will of the electorate throws up. (Plenty of readers have rushed to the comments section to shout "you see, you’ll deal with anyone who keeps you in power". No we won’t. We’ll talk to anyone the British people tell us too. Doesn’t mean we’ll do a deal).

But more to the point, the folk in Westminster can’t tell the grassroots to show a united front and then bicker amongst themselves through the pages of the press. If they really want the leadership debate to go away, then they should stop talking about it – no matter who you think is parking tanks on whoever’s lawn. But as long as they’re slipping quotes to the press, I don’t see why the rest of us shouldn’t stick our oar in.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

He's behind you, Nick. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Getty
Show Hide image

White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."