The Rumspringa years

In her second article about growing up Amish, Anna Dee Olson describes her experiences during Rumspr

The definition of Rumspringa is running around. This term refers to young Amish people, anywhere from the age of 16 until they get married. It is the time of dating and getting together with other Amish young people that have not married and it is a chance to get to know one another. This is also the time for the boys to take the girls on dates. In my experience (24 years living as an Amish person) it was not okay for the girls to ask boys on a date, the boys always asked the girls.

For a young Amish person this was a very important and exciting time. Being part of the young folks group was something that everyone looks forward to. The young folks gather on Sunday evening for some fun. Playing volleyball in the summer or cards in the winter, singing and dating if you wish to. In my experience, if I was on a date I could stay up until 2:00 in the morning visiting with my date but those who were not on a date were required to be home by midnight. These rules were sometimes followed and sometimes not. I am sure this rule was implemented to try to keep those who were not dating from gathering for late night parties.

During the Rumspringa years, not all Amish communities allow their young people to have cars and street clothes. Most of the communities in the Midwestern United States did not allow this and it certainly was not an option when I was that age. Although I was a part of the group that gathered for late night parties with beer, cigarettes, and music, all of those activities were done in secret. If we had been caught we would have been in trouble or considered in sin and shunning would have been necessary.

When I tell people about my experience with parties some are shocked that Amish teenagers would ever do something like this. I always respond by saying, "We have to remember that the Amish are human beings just like the rest of the world and we all had shortcomings too."

Rumspringa did not mean that I had the option to wear street clothes, smoke cigarettes, own and drive a car, go to the movies, or go on dates on Saturday nights. In some communities this is the case but certainly not in every Amish community. The rules and practices do vary quite a lot from one church district to another but all Amish believe in adult baptism. Once you have accepted instructions and been baptized, you are expected to follow the rules of the church.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.