The Problem at the Heart of our Democracy: the Voter

“Outside the hall in which the meeting was being held a large crowd of poverty-stricken Liberal working men, many of them wearing broken boots and other men’s cast-off clothing, was waiting to hear the report of the slave-drivers’ deputation, and as soon as Sweater had consented to be nominated, Didlum rushed and opened the window overlooking the street and shouted the good news down to the crowd, which joined in the cheering.”  

– The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell (1914)

Amongst the fallout following the General Election nigh on three weeks ago, one of the loudest calls for those of a reforming mindset has been for electoral reform. This is in light of a Conservative majority secured by only 39.6% of the vote, SNP domination north of the border and UKIP and Green disappointment south of it. The Electoral Reform Society has seen a petition for a change from First Past the Post to a more proportional system (and theirs is only one of many such online campaigns) already accrue nearly 140,000 signatures. Others are already looking ahead to 2020, suggesting that proposed boundary changes is an act of gerrymandering that will hand the Conservatives a significant advantage next election.

However, when it comes to electoral reform, fewer people, especially the average person on the street who may talk about PR or constituency reviews, want to consider reforming the voter. This is curious, as a nation can establish the most perfectly representative electoral system imaginable but if their electorate is as downtrodden, apathetic and under-informed as ours in the UK is, then all that hard work will still produce undesirable results. It is not fashionable, nor politically advisable, to pin any kind of blame or onus for a certain outcome on the voter, but that is the case in Britain in 2015, and anyone who truly believes in democracy should seek to remedy that. We have to ask ourselves if an engaged, informed and socially aware population would have allowed a party that has overseen a huge rise in the reliance on foodbanks, a slump in living standards unseen in decades and fiscal policy of austerity condemned by two thirds of economists to return office undiluted by coalition.

Voter apathy, ensuring that turnout at general elections has not risen above 70% since 1997, is not just dangerous for the overall goal of democracy, but it results in a skewed advantage for parties which favour the wealthier owing to a marked correlation between financial anxiety and voter inactivity. Constituencies up and down the country with high levels of deprivation, especially in the South and Midlands of England, voted in Conservative MPs whose agenda has precious little to benefit the impoverished. Turnout was lowest in the poorest seats, giving the parties elected there less credibility than they could otherwise deserve. Fortunately, the remedy to this issue is straightforward and at least notionally familiar: compulsory voting.

Compulsory voting would reduce voter apathy both in the practical sense of increasing turnout and the psychological sense of preventing eligible voters from shutting out all political discourse from their lives on the grounds that they simply cannot be bothered to vote or because they have decided spontaneously that “all of them are the same” (comparing David Cameron to Alex Salmond or Dennis Skinner is enough to bust that myth). What it does though is throw them into the deep-end of politics and current affairs along with the rest of the electorate. Opponents to compulsory voting protest that it takes away an individual’s right to not vote, although this is clearly nonsense: plenty of ballot papers are spoilt every election, and the inclusion of a “none of the above” option is always possible. Once in a voting booth with the power of a cross at their fingertips, those who hitherto profess apathy would be given the chance to scrutinise their decision and consider whether it is still truly their position on democracy. Online voting would resolve the issue of unforeseen emergency circumstances that remove a voter from their constituency obstructing their new obligation. The penalty of a fine for evading the vote would further discourage those from less fortunate socio-economic brackets from disengaging on election day.

However, 100% (or thereabouts) turnout means nothing if the voter is incapable of making an informed decision. In fact, it would only serve to amplify that incapability further. Herein lies the more deep-seated and more firmly-rooted problem with the electorate in the UK: it is grossly misinformed, underinformed and difficult to re-inform. Work by the Royal Statistical Society in 2013 revealed the alarming degree to which the perceptions of the British population about issues such as immigration, crime and benefit fraud- some of the most emotive policy areas of the last election- are wrong. It is impossible to accept that voters will choose the policies that are the best for their country and for them as employees, parents, business owners, welfare claimants or any combination of such if the facts, or the opinions of the most qualified experts, are not delivered to them.

Nowhere was this more apparent in the last election than in the debate surrounding Labour’s fiscal legacy and the Conservative-led response to it. Time and again, the Conservatives conflated household microeconomics and nation state macroeconomics despite the fact that the two work very differently. Government debt is perfectly normal and manageable, and it is the kind of private debt encouraged by financial deregulation which voters should be wary of. Despite this, the Tory narrative (and their seemingly logical solution of retrenchment) stuck, and Osborne’s promise in 2010 to see that “like every solvent household in the country, that what we buy, we can afford, that the bills we incur we have the income to meet” sounded remarkably similar to the attack from one voter on Ed Miliband as he compared the government running a deficit to being able to buy a pint even without sufficient money at the end of the week. The Conservative Party managed to triumph with a blatant blurring of the boundaries between two separate economic realms because they employed a concept that related to the average voter’s narrower sphere of reference. Even a Nobel Prize-winning economist was not going to change that.

This illustrates the greatest cause and sticking point of voter misinformation: voters are often unable to grasp the ideas that lie at the most abstract or ‘macro’ end of the spectrum, those which often defy what would seem to be ‘common sense’. Immigrants are causing a net economic loss by straining our public services, people on benefits are lazy and scroungers, making those wealthier at the top will see prosperity for all eventually, poverty for one is rightful gain for another, outlawing drugs is the best way to stop them being an issue. All seem like perfect comprehensible, straightforward ideas and processes that voters can easily grasp at, process within the framework of their experiences and then hold onto in the face of more nuanced and ultimately sensible yet intellectually-heavy counterarguments. Consider long working hours that leave little time and energy for thorough self-information and a lot of motivation for selfish introspection, teachers mercilessly harried by the goal of government targets rather than inspired by the goal of creating critical and aware citizens, and a right-wing press that dominates print and online fora (peddling the same ‘common sense’ as the right-wing politicians) and it is utterly unsurprising that we, as an electorate, especially those of us from less affluent backgrounds, are in this position of severe information deprivation. We are like the decorators of Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: time and again cheated by the system of Edwardian free market economics, yet time and again defending that system whilst looking to our obfuscating newspapers and underhand, untruthful ‘betters’ for guidance.

The challenge of resolving voter misinformation, indeed ignorance, is far more difficult, especially when people begin to fall into the trap of equating the equality of each vote to the equality of the opinion of each voter. A politician cannot simply stand up and tell millions of people that they are probably wrong about most things, that they have either been duped or are frankly unable to properly understand the truth. Nor is the quixotic idea of introduce eligibility tests that are grounded in political, social and economic awareness advisable, as the better off who are bound to be- generally- better educated (if not necessarily more socially concerned) would at first dominate the electoral register in a way unseen since 1867. However, fighting for the expansion of the BBC as the only outlet capable to disseminating impartial reporting on a wide-ranging scale and  supporting the break-up of media empires, which are monolithic in their editorial stances and often underpinned by big business, would be a start. It is unsurprising that the current government is against either of those propositions. The inclusion of a proper ‘citizen education’ in  the state school curriculum that goes beyond the effects of smoking and how to write a CV and instead touches upon elections, economics and abstract reasoning would also be welcome. Combine these with a renewed engagement in politics resulting from the establishment of PR and compulsory voting, and maybe this nation will get closer to the goal of a better democracy founded on better voters.

We as a country lay claim to the “Mother of All Parliaments”, yet we as a country have an appalling record of sending those who have our best interests and the best idea of how to benefit the people as a whole to represent us within it. We need to break the myth that the voter is sacred and everything around him or her is broken, and instead recognise that the solution to policies that cheat us and politicians that lie to us does not principally lie anywhere else but within us.

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Five Reasons to NOT vote Tory this 7th May

It’s understandable. We’ve probably all been there: sitting at our computers, reading the newspaper, maybe, dangerously, fiddling with the biro in the voting booth and had that nagging thought, “Maybe I should vote Conservative…”. I myself, who was a member of the Conservative Party for around 3 years, campaigned for them in an important marginal in 2010 and voted for them in council elections in 2013, know this curious sensation all too well.

However, this election, there can be no place for slip-ups and follies of this sort. It is too close to call and  every vote counts. So, for all of those who look back on the past 5 years and wonder if Cameron and his team are worth a second chance- an opportunity to “finish the job”- here are 5 reasons not to vote Tory.

1- A programme of austerity was vital in 2010, and has been instrumental in securing the UK’s economic recovery. This is the most dangerous lie that supporters of the Conservative Party deploy when defending the past government’s record. They cry that the kind of mindless, socialist profligacy that invariably taints Labour governments brought UK public finances to the brink of oblivion, and that only a severe cutback of spending had the potential to rectify this egregious situation. Otherwise, who knows, London may have become the next Athens! They praise Osborne’s toughness, his rectitude and wisdom that led him to do what was economically sound, and now we can bask in the glory of 0.3% growth in GDP on the eve of the election. It’s slow progress, but apparently better than what a less firm administration could have delivered. This is all utterly ridiculous. George Osborne may not have been an economist at any point of his life, but Robert Skidelsky and Paul Krugman both are acclaimed in the field, and both have demonstrated convincingly that there was no real macroeconomically sensible case for austerity, and that far from ensuring the recovery, government cuts have retarded it so thoroughly that it may well have cost every UK citizen an unnecessary £1500 as a result. Furthermore, Skidelsky illustrates that the current Labour government was by no means outrageously wasteful, and that the leap in national debt under their watch was as a result of their bailouts for failed banks (the supposed saviours of our economy, if any Tory is to be believed). Conservative-led austerity has been an ideologically-driven experiment that has gravely harmed the country, lacerating it to its breaking point. And yet it is an experiment to which it will continue to subject this nation and its citizens if re-elected into office, mutilating a postwar state that has proudly (and sustainably) maintained the livelihoods of everyone born within it.

2. Conservative-led welfare cuts have justly penalised scroungers and protected those who want to “get on in life”. Using one of the most cringeworthy phrases in the lexis of modern British politics (followed closely by the “global race” paradigm), apologists for the outgoing government have pointed to their record in the DWP to defend the Tory pretence of being committed to working families. Okay, so Universal Credit may be one of the most lamentable failures of this government, but- so the narrative goes- at least it’s making work pay and giving those scroungers what they deserve for parasitically sucking the lifeblood of the state. If, of course, you ignore the fact that a record number hardworking families trapped in low-paid, low-hours contracts have slid into poverty during the past 5 years, suffering more than the intended aim of these welfare cuts as working tax credits are slashed. Analysis of food bank users in the borough of Wandsworth- hardly an atypical corner of Britain- reveals that nearly a quarter of those resorting to philanthropy simply in order to feed themselves and their families do so because of insufficient wages. And who are these scroungers being rightfully punished anyway? The 53-year old mother, whose children had recently moved out of their home, who committed suicide after being threatened with docked benefits because of the bedroom tax? The 54-year-old with a osteoporosis, emphysema, asthma and a digestive condition, resorting to payday loansharks as her disability benefits are hacked away? The jobseekers, who are not loafing around with their blinds drawn as Osborne would have you believe, are in actual fact forced to resort to foodbanks to keep their families fed? The whole narrative of “shirkers v. workers”, those on benefits against those earning an honest day’s pay, is so riddled with falsehood and deceit at every point that it is tantamount to slander against those battling to survive at the bottom of the pile in our society. This Conservative-led government has punctured gaping holes into our much-vaunted safety net, allowing the desperate and disabled to slip through into the abyss of deprivation and destitution. The Conservative Party, gearing themselves up to cut another £12 billion from the welfare budget, without touching the £74 billion spent on the state pension, will tear such holes to new extremes, allowing thousands upon thousands more of our most vulnerable countrymen and women to be unjustly swallowed by poverty.

3. But the outgoing government has secured over a million new jobs? The boast from the Conservative Party that they have helped create 1.9 million private sector jobs is as deceptive as their claims on welfare. The illusion is that these fall under the bracket of sustainable, meaningful employment that can support an individual if not a family. Notwithstanding the fact that at least 196,000 of these jobs were conjured up by a simple trick of reclassification, hundreds of thousands of workers have entered a trap of low-wage, low-hours jobs that are barely something that a party which has placed so much emphasis on their recent unemployment record could be proud about. 60% of those who gained employment in 2014 did so through taking up positions that do not pay the living wage and instead promised a horribly substandard minimum wage that does not guarantee even basic living standards. Hundreds of thousands of other jobs have been ‘created’ through more and more workers, often those laid off through the swinging cuts imposed on our public services owing to the thoughtless and ideological application of austerity, registering as self-employed as opposed to necessarily finding other gainful employment. This constitutes a move which the labour market specialist for the Bank of England himself labelled as “often a last resort of desperation”. It is small wonder than despite this apparent jobs ‘miracle’, in-work poverty is rife and living standards for many hardworking families still showing little indication of recovering. With such poor hours and wages, there is the obvious problem that the same individual could be double or even triple-counted in employment statistics as he or she takes on multiple positions in order to keep financially afloat. The success which people attribute to the outgoing government in the fields of jobs is a façade, and a flimsy, tawdry one at that. And is there any provision within the Tory manifesto for lifting people out of these grossly insufficient posts? Any guarantee of substantially raising the minimum wage to better match a figure that will afford even the poorest worker dignity and security? Of course not. There is but more fanfare about jobs, with little insight into what these jobs might consist of, what they might pay, how secure and dignifying they might be.

4/5. Nonetheless, the Conservative Party enables wealth creation for the richest, which in turn benefits the whole of society. Moving away from this specific government’s record into the realms of more general ideological arguments for supporting the Conservative Party that I have encountered, one of the most prevalent is the notion that in propagating and perpetuating the wealth of the rich the rest eventually profit through living in a more prosperous nation. The affluent spend, which in turn encourages employment and, with more in work, tax receipts rise. So the theory goes. But the reality? After nearly 40 years of the application of this model, the poor are relatively poorer whilst the opulence of the rich has skyrocketed, with wealth inequality in the UK higher than the average for OECD countries and approaching a level commensurate with the United States. Wealth has not ‘trickled down’ in any sense, not least because the most wealthy in the UK seem to be reticent in paying taxes due to the Treasury. It’s not even as if, as some venture, these levels of inequality are profitable for a society, encouraging people to work harder in order to climb the ladder to the top where they may then enjoyed their well-deserved riches. With greater inequality social mobility grinds to a halt as privileges, connections and opportunities are shored up at the top of society, leaving little for the rest to grasp at regardless of how hard they may work. What occurs is a complete inversion, indeed perversion, of the original ideal, as those born into privilege need not work nearly as hard as their compatriots from more modest backgrounds in order to secure the same level of ‘success’. Who knows how many deserving candidates have had their aspirations stifled by this absurd system that can only be justified through noxious and antiquated notions of entitlement? Who can truly quantify the misery and distressed caused as a result of the startling, unforgiving, intransigent levels of inequality in this country? For economies with a vastly disparate spectrum of wealth and incomes perform neither as economically nor as socially well as their more egalitarian counterparts. We all lose out as a result of inequality; not just the poor, but everyone. And who will strive to reverse this pernicious trend that has left a Britain broken? Would it be the Conservative Party, with their proposed income tax cut for the highest earners, increase in the threshold for inheritance tax and retention of the non-domicile status that cheats the Treasury out of billions of pounds every year? There’s a greater chance of Nigel Farage defecting to the Green Party.

The 7th May is likely to produce a confused outcome, with no clear winner and a plethora of potential combinations for coalition or minority governments. But it is with your vote that you can secure one certainty: the cessation of governance by the Conservative Party, the cessation of the misery it has wreaked upon the poor, disabled and vulnerable, the cessation of the lies that it has unashamedly peddled to a population which entrusted them with office, the cessation of the imposition of its philosophy, flawed to the point of rotten, onto national policy. As current polls suggest, it is still a difficult battle to be won, but is one which is vital. Be mindful of these 5 reasons, and there are far more besides, for you have the opportunity to play your role in seeing that a Britain that is teetering on the brink of ruin is recovered, retrieved to pastures safe and bountiful.

What Is To Become of the Nation State?

Nation States II

In the forthcoming months, an awful lot of people will be discussing the UK, its parliament and its laws. The tenure of the present administration is coming to an end, and soon enough there will be a new (although not necessarily different) government making legislation on behalf of us, the British people. At this time, when the direction of this country and the policies that will guide it that way becomes the paramount topic, it is interesting to ponder just what the nature of the nation states of the world in the 21st Century is and, therefore, what the object of the government within it and the laws they make should be.

When nation states first came into being, what defined their boundaries and made them functional may have been factors as diverse as economics, logistics, culture, religious beliefs, geography, conquests or language, but what actually legitimised them as ‘states’ was that everyone living within those borders recognised a body of authority and the laws it passed. The degree to which each polity could acknowledge a political ruler who was situated within it and the independence with which that ruler could legislate and mete out justice determined the polity’s ‘statehood’. Hence the tensions across Europe once the Papacy began to acquire temporal power, or the fact that, through the system of vassalage, England could be a nation state but be ruled by an individual who became the notional subordinate of the King of France once he crossed The Channel into a territory like the Duchy of Normandy.

Furthermore, the other, practical building blocks of a nation state- for example, the economy, the judiciary, defence- could all be viably controlled by laws within those nations. Despite the obvious presence of international trade throughout history, economies in history have generally been localised enough to be viable without cross-border cooperation or reliance on the economic condition of other polities. Even with the judicial pretensions of the Papacy during the High Middle Ages and beyond (which generated a messy and confusing struggle between national and super-national governments as opposed to the concession of power from the former to the latter), monarchs were still viewed and viewed themselves as the supreme temporal judge, the highest bench, of their realm. International military alliances were formed between nation states, but these were nearly always predicated on the betterment of the individual powers involved. Furthermore, international armies were an aspiration of some but not a reality: even the Crusades had a deeply nationalistic element. To broadly sum up what has historically made a nation state, it is a polity whose government is the supreme executive, judiciary and legislature, and whose government has the power to- and feels able to- viably legislate on and control all aspects of the state which make it functional.

When we look at our nations today, we realise that this model no longer applies. The UK participates in a trading bloc and trading groups which determine its economic policy, as well as that of the other nation states within it. Governments are reluctant to embark on radical fiscal or monetary policies for fear of ‘upsetting the markets’ or causing ‘wealth flights’ in which the rich look to settle elsewhere where tax rates are more favourable. Whether some on the right-wing fringes fulminate against it, we defer legal decisions to courts which are superior to our own national ones, to the judges who sit in Strasbourg of The Hague, and our leaders acknowledge their judgements as lawful. We subscribe to internationally-recognised rules for war, with accepted sanctions if they are not followed, as well as contribute, along with many other nation states, to global military forces and multilateral permanent alliances that have essentially internationalised elements of the armed forces. Our government heeds the legislation of the European Union when debating our laws in Parliament and, even were a Brexit to occur, I doubt our leaders would pass anything that contravened or contradicted the liberal Western orthodoxies of abstract ideas such as freedom of expression and the right to education lest nations around us then forsook or turned against us. Overall, the building blocks which I mentioned have both outgrown the nation state itself- especially the global economy- and rendered national governments less and less powerful. This is not something to be lamented: it’s the inevitable result of a globalised world with globalised economies and ideas that then break down borders and result in international values reified as international laws. In actual fact, it makes the ultimate sense for legislation on something like the fiscal and monetary policy of the UK, which is a mere part of a structure which intrinsically covers pretty much the entire globe now, to be determined on an appropriately global level by global representatives. Thomas Piketty was proposing something similar with his idea of a global wealth tax. People scoff at it as impractical, but that is only because people still cling onto an antiquated and redundant idea of the power of the nation state residing with in.

So if nation states, individually, are powerless and would be better governed by super-national bodies, what validates them as nation states now? The answer is their individual cultures, idiosyncrasies, customs, rituals, languages and history. The UK is essentially a cultural and historical unit. If someone were to draw up a nation state today on the grounds of economic, judicial, military, legislative, and logistical functionality, they probably would take no notice of a slim strip of sea between a big continental mass and an island, nor would they separate the top of Ireland from the rest of it. Take aspects like culture, language and history into account, and they just might.

So perhaps, with the functional aspect of the nation state eroding (both theoretically and practically) along with any notion of national political and economic sovereignty amongst an increasingly internationally-focused youth, perhaps the national governments of today will be the regional cultural guardians of tomorrow. I will certainly still be voting for a party to legislate for Britain in this upcoming general election, but whether my grandchildren shall be doing the same seems increasingly unlikely.

Extremism: the Forgotten Dimension

The bainlieue of Grennevilliers, where Cherif Kouachi became radicalised.
The bainlieue of Grennevilliers, where Cherif Kouachi became radicalised.

One of the defining characteristics of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks has been the renewed focus on the cultural and political dimension of Islam (or, to be more accurate, radical Islamism) and the West. The questions which have been most frequently raised follow the lines of “Where does Islam fit into the infrastructure of ‘Western’ values such as freedom of expression?” or “How can better-established European communities respond to their Muslim neighbours to prevent radicalisation?”. The topics of debates range from secular liberal democratic principles to immigration to the influence of social media to Western foreign policy.

This cultural and political inquiry may well be valid intrinsically, but we are fooling ourselves if we think that it paints any more than half of the picture which formed the background to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Quite frankly, a certain topic has been ignored by our political leaders in the last five days or so. It is a topic that suggests how we could be best saved from future attacks of this nature again. I am referring to the socio-economics of this violence.

Being poor can very often be desperate and survivalist. A constant battle to put food on the table and a roof over the head, where a cut in wages and welfare or a job lost could spell disaster. Furthermore, on top of the existential struggle, there is also the psychological impact as the least fortunate find themselves trapped in a society of staggering (and increasing) inequality which demands that they consume products in order to validate themselves. The engine of social mobility is current breaking down across the West as austerity devours public services whilst many of those with the greatest wealth squirrel the money they rightfully owe to the state into tax havens.

So it really is no surprise when those who find themselves so helplessly hemmed into the lower socio-economic brackets are susceptible to extreme views. Some are looking for a form of solidarity, validation that is not based on financial potential. Others for a scapegoat which explains their economic precariousness. Other still for a way of expressing their anger at their deplorable condition. Frequently people are looking for all three. The fact that the poorest people often have the least access to high-quality education and are compelled to leave school to find work at the earliest opportunity possible only exacerbates this slide into radicalisation. They find themselves frustrated and in low-wage, long-hour jobs- if they are lucky enough to have a job at all- with neither the public resources, energy nor time available to develop their understanding of the world. Or they find themselves in prison for crimes unrelated to religious or political fanaticism, incarcerated because they tried to alleviate their abject situation through theft or drug-dealing. An abject situation that society at large, in particularly those with the greatest resources available, seems to care little about solving. The narratives which the extremists offer present a straightforward explanation for all this social and economic injustice that can be grasped easily, as well as a group of people who will accept them not for their wealth, but their dedication and personal character.

This is particularly relevant in the case of the recent atrocities committed in Paris. All of those who were definitively involved in the murders- the Kouachi brothers (Cherif and Said) and Amedy Coulibaly- came from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and had not managed to achieve financial stability. Cherif Kouachi had settled in one of the notorious banlieues of Gennevilliers in the north west of Paris, where thousands of Muslim families are crammed into crumbling, unsanitary flats. Coulibaly had last been employed in a temporary job at a Coca-Cola factory. One has to ask if they would have been so readily subsumed into the radical Islamist network that exists around Paris were they both holding down full-time, well-paid jobs. Or whether the fact that the French government and society overall was prepared to see so many of their ‘own kind’ living in such dreadful conditions may have had something to do with their anti-Western sentiments. People who find themselves economically integrated into a society, with those whom they identify most closely culturally presented with the same opportunities as everyone else, rarely feel motivated to declare war on it.

Furthermore, those of a minority background who feel socially integrated are less likely to want to inflict harm upon their compatriots either. However, the current socio-economic circumstances of a nation such as the UK place huge obstacles in the way of this process to occurring. Integration requires the cooperation of both the established and the newcomer. However, at present, the ‘established’ British population which shares the most geographic and socio-economic contact with the Muslim population is closing its ranks against it in fear. Anti-immigration, anti-Islamic sentiments and rhetoric are rife through some of the poorest areas of Britain. Again, a combination of an inadequately-funded education system and lack of resources for self-study amongst these communities breeds ignorance of the real situation and of what Islam is actually about. The financial instability of many white, working-class families left behind during the Thatcher Era provokes both a nostalgic longing for the “good old days” (an image from which ethnic minorities are conspicuously absent) and a suspicion of anyone who could be in gainful employment instead of them. You don’t catch people from Guildford or Wilmslow joining Britain First. And it’s not because people from Guildford or Wilmslow are any more morally robust or just or clever (although they may be better-informed) than those who are swelling the ranks of that abhorrent organisation. It is simply because they fear less.

This is not an apology for extremism as an ideological position. It does not condone slaughter. Nor does it presume that just because you are worse-off than many others that you are destined to a life of fanaticism and hatred: I’d wager any day that the kindest, gentlest and most honourable people out there are to be found in council estates rather than country estates. Nor do I believe that the key to this is for the poor to stop blaming any one other than themselves for their poverty: such a notion is an affront to intelligent discourse. What I am saying is that any truly long-lasting and holistic solution to extremism in the West has to include a concerted effort to improve the condition of the poor in Europe, to enhance educational opportunities and create sustainable, reliable jobs. Then there would be less fear and less ignorance. There would be less of a sense of oppression. There would be fewer sentiments for the fanatics to exploit and, ergo, there would be less extremism.