Thursday, 8 June 2017

Polling day predictions

Since I’m never short of opinions, including political, I’m going to put down in writing a few predictions for the 2017 General Election. This is based on a combination of polling, feel and a few other observations. I’ve numbered each actual prediction below for ease of reference in the future (and accountability).

Result
Conservative majority (1)

Size

Very difficult to predict. The last polls from each company show between a 1-12% Conservative lead. I believe there are two factors at play:

·      Momentum-type activists lying to/playing the pollsters. This has all but been confirmed, and I expect more will come out about this in the coming weeks(2). Some polling companies have shown a frankly ridiculous youth turnout expectation – I expect this is from young activists signing up to answer surveys and skewing results.
·      Youth turnout more generally. Corbyn, with his far-left positioning, is a lot more appealing to many young voters (who, incidentally, also don’t remember the troubles). I believe there will be a larger youth turnout.

So I don’t think that the ICM-style approach of assuming the same youth turnout as previously holds this time around(3). But I do think it’s closer to the truth than the 80%+ turnout others are showing. For me, I’m going to stick with somewhere in the middle and predict a 7% national vote win for Tories (e.g. 42% Conservative, 35% Labour)(4).

However – and this is a big point – I expect Corbyn to get votes where they don’t really count(5). As disappointing as May’s campaign has been, it has spoken to the types of people who will win marginal constituencies for her – particularly with the expected collapse of the UKIP vote.

In my view, the best indicator for this is where the battle buses have been going. Corbyn’s stayed in safe Labour territory while May has been turning up in Labour target seats around the 30s. That suggests that their private marginal polling is saying these are winnable seats.

Based largely on that dynamic, I’m going to go with around a 60 seat majority (6) for the Conservatives when all is said and done. I’d expect them to lose a few seats, net, to the Lib Dems (largely based on remain/leave dynamics)(7), but pick up a few in Scotland(8). So the majority of wins will come in blue/red marginals(9).

Having said that, there are a number of factors at play and if anyone claims to actually know what's going to happen, they're lying to you (even if they turn out to be right).

Misc/other

I think Caroline Lucas will cling on to her seat(10), due largely to her name being known/popularity. The greens will haemorrhage votes to Labour, nationwide, but I don’t think that will happen so much in Brighton.

UKIP will do better than their polling suggests (5%) (11). Nowhere near well enough to win a seat, but I’m going to say 7% for them(11a). They are the only party clearly offering an alternative response to the recent terror attacks and they will pick up off-the-radar votes.

Tim Farron will be the only leader to step down (12) – due to disappointing progress from last time’s significant losses. This is a bit bolder, and my hardest prediction to make. But Corbyn will cling on, justified by a decent national vote share (12a), May will be PM (12b), UKIP can’t have another leadership campaign just yet (12c) and the various regional groups won’t see enough change to compel change. The SNP is the only one I’m unsure of there but I don’t understand the dynamics well enough.

All my friends on social media will maintain their dignity(13), and none of them will post despairing messages like ‘Britain – how could you?’(14) or just crying emojis(15). No one will blame Rupert Murdoch’s ‘disgraceful smears’(16), no one will blame older people for overruling the younger generation’s choices(17), and no one will complain about our unfair FPTP electoral system (18).


On second thoughts, I’m not so sure about that last paragraph.

Friday, 26 May 2017

A Christian Prayer for ISIS

This is not the only prayer that can be prayed for them, but it is a valid one, from Psalm 58:
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions! 
Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short. 
May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun. 
Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away. 
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. 
Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

NB: Romans 12:19

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Why secular culture can't deal with acts of terrorism

The Manchester attack was the latest act of terrorism to shock us in its sheer barbarity. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and everyone else caught up in the chaos caused by this pathetic act.

We do also have to try to understand and deal with what has happened, though. There is no good time to do this. Waiting a day, a month or even years will never be enough to distance whatever is written from the pain caused by such terrorism. Children have been lost, and will be missing as long as those who knew and loved them live.

A title like that is also going to get me into trouble. I'm talking about a vast number of people, of all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs and in doing so, I'm going to make broad generalisations - it is impossible not to when assessing large groups. There will be many exceptions to the points I make. And I do not judge those who fit my description. I want to hold out an alternative to the culture they are living and breathing.

So here are three problems with current western culture - specifically, atheistic, postmodern, secular culture - when it tries to respond to these sorts of events.

1. It can't account for evil

The vast majority of people in the UK are, functionally, atheists. They may be cultural Christians, they may technically be deists, or pantheists but for regular day-to-day life, they act as atheists. We've been persuaded that we are nothing but biological machines, in charge of our own lives and responsible for creating the meaning and purpose in our lives.

One critical weakness with this position is that there is no objective source for morality, for right and wrong. If we are all meant to create the meaning and value in our own lives and to pursue our dreams, those dreams will inevitably clash with other people's dreams. Your values will clash with other people's values and you will have no objective way to determine who's right. You may sign up to a particular moral code but why should anyone else?

Yet, when something horrific like this happens, we can't help but deny our moral relativism. We must say that it is wrong. We can't help using words like 'evil'. 'Misguided' or 'uneducated' or 'unfortunate' just won't do as words to describe these actions. There is no room to make excuses for the perpetrator(s) of these attacks.

The reality of objective morality - found in God's revelation (general and special) - leaks out at such moments. Terrorists are wrong - they're not merely choosing different ethical codes to us. Our culture cannot make sense of this.

2. It can't handle suffering

The suffering at such times as these is very real, and very severe. Thinking about my kids I can only imagine how horrific it would be to lose them in such circumstances. Where is God in such situations? How long, O Lord?

People think that Christians are on the back foot when it comes to suffering. Why would God allow something so terrible to happen? This is a very real question, which the Bible very much encourages Christians to grapple with. The book of Job, many Psalms, Lamentations and many other parts of the Bible work through these issues. This is why many Christians are tremendous examples of enduring through bereavement, horrible illness and other kinds of suffering.

I'm not here to give trite answers, and the way in which the Bible answers these questions is as important as the answers themselves. But, briefly, suffering is personal (it is happening to real, significant persons), purposeful (it ultimately achieves good), temporary (it will one day end), and God promises to be present in our sufferings to help. Compare that to some vague wishy-hopey spirituality or the cold determinism of consistent atheism ("you're just a bunch of cells, get over it”). 

Again, people's better instincts come out at such times as these. People who live otherwise faithless lives offer their prayers for the victims. We have compassion towards those affected, not because it benefits us but because we recognise them as God’s image-bearers. Secular culture cannot account for this.

3. It doesn't understand religious motivation

We are all baffled at how someone can attack children in the way that happened in Manchester. But many in our culture can’t believe that genuine religious conviction could possibly lead to such an atrocity. Many can’t even imagine why someone would ever die for their religion, let alone kill for it.

This is secularism’s misunderstanding of the nature of religion. Secularism argues for a sort of safe space in society where everyone drops their religious reasoning and motivation, in order to build a society where we can all get along.

It sounds like a very appealing and reasonable idea until you realise all that it simply isn’t compatible with many belief systems. Islam makes specific claims about how society should be formed. Jesus Christ claims to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords – a political claim. Such beliefs do not fit into the secular model of religious neutrality in public life.

Secularism doesn’t understand this. And as its influence has grown in the UK, there has been a diminishing understanding of centrality of religion in believer’s lives. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience make no sense to secularism, because secularism believes that religion is an optional extra that can be tacked onto the side of an otherwise secular life.

Christianity (and religion as a whole), to secularism, is a hobby, like going to the gym or playing bridge. It’s inconceivable to secularist culture, that someone would have such belief in their religion that it would affect every area of their life. That holds true for genuine Christians, who are punished for being consistently Christian in the workplace, as well as for Islamists, who believe that violent Jihad, including suicide bombings, is a legitimate means to advance the Caliphate.

Every conceivable motivation has been suggested for such attacks: grievances with foreign policy, trouble finding a romantic partner, getting high on marijuana, famelust – even climate change. For a lot of commentators and politicians, the idea that allegiance to God (or, in reality, false gods) could be the predominant motivating factor is inconceivable. Again, secularist assumptions are stopping people from naming the problem, which means they will also give the wrong answers.

---
Secular culture can’t account for these realities. As these sorts of attacks inevitably continue, people will grow increasingly tired of secularism’s answers. I hope and pray that they will turn to the Christian answer – which is both true and beautiful.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Why I am observing Lent


It’s been trendy in recent years to write and share articles about why Lent is really rubbish and why not to observe it.

And there’s a lot of good wisdom there, that you can glean from the likes of Dan Hames (at the time of writing, I can’t find his annually posted article!*) and James Cary.

But I differ, and without telling you what I’m doing, I’ll tell you why I’m doing it.

1)    It’s a historic Christian tradition. Tradition is not necessarily a bad thing. Dry, heartless religiosity is no good but good traditions and structures shape us in helpful ways.
2)    I am in more danger of lawlessness than legalism. Our culture, as a whole, is certainly the same. You may be morbidly introspective, and Lent may not be helpful to you. But that’s not me.
3)    I can commit periods of my life to losing weight, training for runs, and improving my chess or guitar skills – why on earth would I not work on my walk with God?
4)    Lent and joy are not incompatible. Jesus wants those who fast to be joyful as if they weren’t. Even more so on Sundays, which trump fasts anyway.
5)    Jesus expected his followers to fast. If not Lent, when? When’s better?
6)    Other people are fasting. So Lent, done right, is corporate faith, not individualistic piety.


Anyway, that’s why I’m observing Lent this year. Call me out if I go on about it.

*Incidentally, the Dan Hames liturgical blogpost calendar goes:
Feb/March: Why no Lent
Sometime in Autumn, I forget when: Happy birthday Jesus
Oct 31st: Something Reformationy
Advent: The lyrics of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus