"If you don't do politics, politics will do you." Photo: Getty
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Sketch: Ed Miliband meets young people

We re-run yesterday’s unremarkable debate between Ed Miliband and young people.

“The 2015 general election is just around the corner, and regardless of what you think about voting, if you don’t do politics… politics will do you.”

And we’re off at Leaders Live, an attempt to engage young people with politics run by a new organisation called “Bite the Ballot”.

We’re just here with the kids, just chatting, just talking to the Labour leader, just keeping it political #leaderslive #bitetheballot #youngpeople #engagement #newpolitics #2k15.

The presenter seems to be called Michael Sarnie. He turns to Ed. “Welcome Ed, how are you?”

Ed: “Great to be here, thank you.”

We’ll presume Ed’s fine.

Sarnie: “Our studio audience is made up of some influential people… collectively they have an online reach of millions…”

Cue picture of some slouched kids in t-shirts.

Ed: “Well first of all can I say it is great to be here…”

No Ed you can’t say that.

Ed: “I want to go back to 70 yaerrrrrs ago, when the government set the target of full employment: I want to go beyond that.”

The young people wonder why Ed says “yaerrrrs” like that. We all wonder what is morethan full employment.

Ed plows on. He’s doles out the trademark eyebrows up, head forward, slightly incredulous half-smile. The “Isn’t it so obvious we need good jobs guys I’m just trying to do good things!” one. Finishes talking, relaxes face, drinks some water.

Ed plows on. He doles out the trademark incredulous half-smile.

Sarnie: “Okay, well thank you, yeah… thanks for that Ed.”

But was Sarnie actually listening.

Cue a video. We need the “right kind of jobs” says someone called Mawaan.

Those kind of jobs sound good.

“What would you do about youth unemployment?” Asks the evening’s backseat MC, Jamal Edwards (founder of SBTV, the music video channel).

Ed: “We would tax the bonuses of the bankers and we’d use the resources to guarantee every young person who's been unemployed for more than 12 months a job… It’s a very specific transfer.”

Jamal: “And it’s actually possible, 100 per cent?”

No, Ed was l-y-i-n-g.

Here comes Sarnie again.

Sarnie: “You might have seen the pictures on the social media… The debate on MP salaries, the chamber was packed, the debate on the public sector, there were only a few people…”

There was a debate on “the public sector”? Sarnie seems to be referring to the largely made-up memes of MPs not participating in debates on like important issues – debunked by Isabel Hardman at the Spectator.

But was Sarnie actually listening.

Some guy called Max weighs in on Ed’s job guarantee: “It sounds like a great sound-bite, but it doesn’t sound particularly workable.”

Ed: “It’s much more than a sound-bite Max…”

Well the good news for Ed is 76 per cent of people are responding well to his ideas on Twitter, Sarnie tells us.

Ed: “I want to stop the privatisation of our National Health Service.”

Can Ed actually name three ways the NHS has been privatised?

One senior Labour minister who knows far more than Ed about how public services work told May2015 the party’s war cries on privatisation are overblown.

We wade on. Ed: “I haven’t taken drugs…” Cue the news stories… (Even if he said this three years ago.)

Ed: “We should always be looking at the ways in which we discourage young people from taking drugs.”

Way to win over the young people here Ed.

Sarnie has a follow-up. “But if THC levels [in marijuana] were lower, it might not have as drastic side effects… is that not an interesting debate?”

Ed: “Look I understand the argument. I do understand the argument.”

But does Ed know what THC is.

Here’s a new question from “Jezza”.

“There was a gentleman on the live stream… who I don’t think likes you very much…” he begins, before bringing up the way New Labour sort-of-privatised-the-way-the-NHS-is-financed-but-ssh-don’t mention-it.

He means whom but grammar is like not important.

Ed: “Well let me answer directly Jezza. We did bring in private finance to build hospitals. I think some of the deals weren’t the best deals, but overall…”

But overall private finance is not the evil privatisation the Tories are doing, Ed is clear on that.

He means “whom” but grammar is like not important.

Private finance “modernised” the NHS, he continues, but the government wants “markets and competition”. Because there are no markets or competition in the NHS…

Time passes.

Ed: “We need to hear the voice of young people more in our democracy…”

One of the young people pipes up. “I think about 80 per cent of 16-24 year olds voted for [Scottish] independence,” he says.

Yeah well sort of basically but actually like half of that.

The next question is on “Mass surveillance… GCHQ … Ed Snowden for me is a hero.”

Ed: “First of all, I think it’s incredibly important there are rights for citizens… We’ve got to improve… On the other hand, we also have a responsibility to make sure our country is kept safe.”

Great answer Ed.

Ed talks some more. “I understand all your concerns…”

Ed’s interrogator isn’t convinced: “They can access all our computers and cameras, our phones – my phone I’ve got encrypted, and there’s been over 20,000 tracking attempts in the last three weeks of my data.”

Who is this guy?

Someone asks a question that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from a teenager and should demand Ed actually say something.

Kenny: “Yeah Ed I wanted to ask… What about ethnic minorities actually becoming MPs? … [And] You talked about engagement, it’s not just about making me know that my vote can make a difference, it’s also showing that people like me can become like you, and be in your seat. What would you do? And would you do shortlists?”

Ed: “We’ve got to do better… [But] Let me tell you what we’re doing… I’m absolutely committed Kenny… But I’ll be honest with you, I’ll be clear with you, we’ve got to do a better job, and if you’ve got ideas about what we should be doing, I’m happy to look at them.”

But will he actually.

“It could be worse”, Ed says.

Some more chit-chat. A new Ed sentence drifts from lazy language to the other word he pronounces like no one else in the room: “There’s big iss-ewes…”

And it’s time to go to the audience. How has Ed done on “the hashtags”? Do you agree with his views tonight? Twitter is 50:50.

“It could be worse”, Ed says.

That’s the spirit.

Finally we’re onto immigration – the only topic not chosen by Ed’s team.

We go to a video by someone called Harry Hitchens. After a few facts he concludes, “As a 19 year old kid, I’ve got my first vote coming up, I think it’s a failure I don’t know more about this.”

Who’s failure? Ed’s? Ours? If only Harry had, like, a computer with some sort of free online encyclopedia or some news websites where he could, like, learn this stuff so his ignorance wouldn’t be a failure. Our failure. Not Harry’s failure.

Ed differentiates between those concerned by immigrant and racists.

Which is good because otherwise most voters are racists.

A Twitter ticker pops up as Ed continues to say things: “+UREdrum23 Immigration: the most important issue?!”

Yes +UREdrum23, immigration is the most important issue. (You can break down the past 5 years of polls – on everything from voting intention to immigration – by age, gender, party ID and region on May2015.)

+PMills and +HighOnSprite also weigh in. Good to have them with us.

Ed is talking again. “You know… I passsssionately believe…”

He talks some more. He wades into tackling crime. Because Ed has loads of experience of gangs and estates and criminal role models and how to challenge them.

Clegg’s here next week, so you can look forward to another round of earnest jokes, passionate beliefs and mythical plans.

Or you can watch David Dimbleby interview Harold Wilson in 1970, or Robin Day interrogate Margaret Thatcher in 1987, or even Russell Brand jabber with Paxman last year, and recall what quality broadcast journalism looks like.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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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.