Fixing the end of Handmaid’s Tale season two

Up until the closing episodes of season two the Handmaid’s Tale had been on a run of over 20 top class episodes. It made the transition from shortish book to expanded television story relatively seamlessly. The ending however leaves me frustrated.

Thematically the women of Gilead coming together to help June is the right choice and could have been a good ending for this story arc. It turning out that Rita knows about June and Nick’s relationship resolves a glaring plot hole. However, the suspension of disbelief is stretched beyond breaking point. It would be literally insane if season three didn’t start immediately with June and Nick being caught and executed. How either of them could possibly get away with their actions is hard to see and in that light the stupidity of June’s decision to go back risk negating both of their sacrifices.

Always when a series reach a point like this it’s fun to imagine what could have been done to ‘fix’ it. Obviously, it’s easier as a critic to look at and imagine what you could have done better than to be the team actually creating something. Nonetheless here are my thoughts on fixing the Handmaid’s Tale season two.

Firstly, I love the Canada stuff. Of all the expansion from the book to the television world I found this the most interesting, more so than much of the rest of Gilead’s workings which really we could have guessed about from the book narrative. It is in Canada however that I think season two makes a big misstep.

Episode nine sees the Commander and Serena on their diplomatic mission to Canada. This episode was originally intended to end with the rape of Serena. This was cut because it was felt to be gratuitous. Using rape as a plot point can be extremely problematic and I’m not saying that Serena needed to be sexually assaulted.

But by cutting this event – which could have been replaced with something thematically similar – the story arcs of season two seem thrown out of whack. Serena needed to realise at this point that her position within this patriarchal and theocratic society does not truly protect her. Her role in furthering a society based on gendered violence does not protect her from that violence. This lesson is later served by the amputation of her finger, but this seems to come in the wrong place within her story arc leaving her motivations muddled.

It’s basically a rule of film/television that the story punishes rapists. Murderers may get away with murder but as audiences we are trained to expect rapists are killed by the storytelling gods. The systematic rape inherent in the handmaid system is an exception to this rule because it takes place within the accepted rules of the setting. The later rape (episode 10) attempting to induce June’s labour does not escape this rule because it violates not only the audience’s external standards but the internal standards of Gilead. As an audience we are now expecting the Commander’s imminent death and this not being delivered at the culmination of the series leaves us with a sense of injustice. Not a sense of dramatic injustice internal to the story, but of external or meta injustice at the TV show.

The scenes at the house in episodes 10 and 11 then seem muddled and unsatisfactory. Nick being shot but not killed feels like the writers messing around with us and it is hard to sympathise with Serena.

So what should have happened?

In Canada Serena should have suffered in some way that starts her redemption arc. Secondly the scenes at the remote house in episodes 10 and 11 should have been the season finale. Nick’s shooting should have played out as it was but ended with his death protecting June and completing his arc. While June hides in the house and goes into labour the Commander and Serena’s argument over her attempts to influence the politics of Gilead should take place and he should put her in her place. They then arrive at the house ready to pull out June as the Commander threatens to send her to the colonies both women face a bleak future and a struggle between the Commander and June ensues. When it looks bleakest Serena intervenes at the last moment killing the Commander.

June begs Serena to come with and make her escape, but Serena can’t do this she intends to throw herself on the mercy of Gilead’s justice system. June then takes the car – the Commander’s vehicle which will not be stopped at most checkpoints – and her new born baby leaving for Canada. Serena kisses goodbye the child she knew she could have had had she been willing to continue in her role as Commander’s loyal wife.

In the final scene Serena is in a drap prison cell, the system she helped build has failed to grant her any mercy and dejected she awaits exportation to the colonies or death. However, at the last minute an official comes in. They inform Serena that she is pregnant. Her impossible wish has come true in a cruelly ironic way.

This sets up a season three where both Serena and June are ready to start new arcs. Serena becomes the titular handmaid while June escapes the Canada to tell her Handmaid’s Tale. We could follow June as she attempts to sell her story and bring attention to the situation Gilead. We could see her being gaslighted and her story rubbished. The need for closer economic relationships with Gilead and resentment against so many US refugees could turn the Canadian population against the Americans. She could be in television interviews with apologist talking heads and be accused of being just a mouthpiece for anti-Gilead reactionaries. There could even be a rising brotherhood of Jacob style political party in Canada. While this movement rose in America, June was too occupied with their own concerns and insulative by privilege to notice it. Now she is – like her mother – on the forefront of challenging it, but dismissed by many as an hysterical woman.

Influencing privilege

I’ve been thinking recently about how uncomfortable it can feel to have your privilege challenged and why this could be a problem, about how we can stop privilege calling being seen (and sometimes used) as an attack. I was thinking back to three incidents where my privilege was challenged, how uncomfortable I felt at the time, and how grateful I now am for these learning opportunities.

Around the end of 2013/the start of 2014 I took part in a 5 day course with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation called Influencing Change. It really improved a lot of my campaigning skills and strategic thinking. It improved my confidence which was instrumental in getting my new job. It had some problems, there was a small element of sneering elitism, but four years later there are three incidents that really stood out.

An instinctive reaction against calling out privilege is the ‘concern for the innocent bystander’ who is unfairly accused. We should not be unsympathetic to this, but we should also weigh this possible unintended consequence against the unintended consequences of the status quo.

So back to their Influencing Change course, at the time I was a lot more socially awkward and a bit less socially conscious. I was late to arrive and went to sit in what appeared to be the only available seat. I had not noticed this was leading to two large tables, each of which would be entirely male/female. Just as I was sitting the course leader came over, and asked several of us to move places, explaining they didn’t want us making boys’ and girls’ tables, or only working with people like ourselves.

There being only one seat available made any conscious/unconscious ‘fault’ on my part impossible. Yet here I was feeling put on the spot, feeling criticised and having attention drawn to me just because of my gender and something beyond my control.

I now realise that I wasn’t being attacked, that even if I was, it wasn’t a big deal. Because diversity is good for groups’ learning and working together. Because unconscious bias can lead us to self-segregate and form cliques. Because avoiding that is worth a tiny bit of discomfort, and since then it has been something I am more conscious of.

The second example (I think it happened towards the end of the course) had the clearest impact on me. One of the sessions was on lobbying local government and we had a speaker talking about the London Mayor’s office. At this time there had been only two mayors, both male, and the speaker was using the male gender to describe the generic office. “The idea was that he…” “If you go to the Mayor and convince him…” “… having one man in charge of…” etc.

It’s partly a quirk of the English language that we use ‘he’ as the generic pronoun. But it constantly reinforces the idea of maleness as the default and female as ‘other’. Apparently the Oxford English Dictionary uses ‘he’ for all examples involving doctors.

So half way through another trainee puts her hand up and asked the speaker if he could refrain from this.

At the time I felt a sense of annoyance at the interruption, an empathic embarrassment for the speaker. I also felt annoyed that throughout the rest of his speech I noticed this too, as if having this pointed out was unfairly forcing me to keep thinking about something silly.

But as the talk went on I noticed every time, and after the speech I noticed this every time and every time I notice it, I fell that small discomfort. When I’ve gone to the doctor and my wife asks me “what did he say”. I’ve jokingly pulled her up on it, and being conscience of this small thing has raised my conscience over other ways my language can reinforce gendered ideas.

The third incident related to the toilet. Obviously. The sessions were quite long, and usually accompanied by a few cups of tea, meaning they were normally followed by a small exodus to queue for the toilets in the short break. We would typically use the unisex or disabled toilet depending on which came available first.

Midway through either the second or third day a fellow trainee, who was in a wheelchair, asked the course leader to make an announcement about this and the difficulty it was causing her.

Again this made me feel uncomfortable and my discomfort blended with annoyance. After all was I not equally desperate for the toilet, why should I be ‘attacked’ for doing something perfectly ‘normal’? I would always let a disabled person go first in the queue if they asked or if I saw them. I would always give up a priority seat on the bus or train someone less able to stand if they asked or if I saw them.

This incident made me uncomfortably aware that such an attitude puts the burden on the disabled person to have to ask. Of course I know I would never react violently if a disabled person asked me to move my bag from wheelchair area when they get on the bus. But sadly they don’t know that, they don’t know that they won’t be attacked on any occasion they ask for some basic consideration. So the burden should be on me to take that consideration in advance, even if it causes me the occasional annoyance or discomfort.

I have issues with confidence and social anxiety. Being uncomfortable with being uncomfortable has held me back from learning to be better at a lot of things, and learning to be more socially conscientious and considerate of privilege is no different. But if I want to get better, then a little discomfort is a price worth paying.

MPs’ 14th of May debate on faith schools (abridged version)

 

On Monday afternoon,
the Education Secretary
answered questions on his response to the ‘Schools That Work
For Everyone’ consultation. Here’s a reimagining of how it could have gone.
Angela Rayner: Hi
Damian will you make a statement on (snigger) the “schools that work for”
(snigger) “schools that work for everyone “consultation?
Damiam Hinds: Why do people keep making fun out of that name? Anyway the highlights are more money etc. Also I’m doing a
U-turn on the 50% cap
on faith based admissions, but I’ll still be
lathering praise on faith schools.
Angela Rayner: I
don’t like grammar schools. I also just realised that if I’m going to keep tweeting
about #EducationNotSegregation
I should probably mention faith schools. If you’re sure you’re giving up on the
cap how much money are you putting into these new voluntary aided (VA) faith schools, how many
will there be and where?
Damiam Hinds: I’ll answer your questions on Grammar schools, say
that we want more partnerships with independent schools and then shrug my
shoulders about the faith schools – I don’t know what’s going to happen.
….
Edward Leigh: I’m super upset that you dropped plans to scrap the
50% cap, the Catholic Education Service who are pretty
much
the only people who supported this are also upset. The cap is “totally
ineffective” – if you ignore
the evidence
that it is at least marginally effective – and “Catholic
schools are the most diverse, the most inclusive” – as long as we ignore all
their problems with religious and social economic selection, don’t mention any
of that homophobic
teaching
and are super careful about what comparisons we
use
. Plus you
used to be my buddy on this
, you were all for letting Catholic schools
practice 100% discrimination in admissions. What is it about becoming Education
Secretary
and having to look at this policy in more detail that keeps
making people support the cap? If new Catholic faith schools are to be VA
schools, they’ll have to put up a little money, and those pesky local
authorities may prefer inclusive schools instead and we can’t ride roughshod over them like with academies. “This is a disgraceful
announcement.”
Damiam Hinds: I love faith schools. Schools that are able to
practice indirect social economic selection get slightly – and I mean
very very slightly
– above
average results. I know the Catholic Education Service had the biggest
temper tantrum when they couldn’t open 100% discriminatory academies, but come
on I’d look pretty
silly
introducing more segregated schools when I’m also promoting the
integration strategy.
Desmond Swayne: “What argument persuaded the Secretary of State to
drop the manifesto commitment on the cap for free schools?”
Damiam Hinds: I was a bit tired of no one agreeing with me. My two predecessors told me it was silly,
majorities of every major religion and belief group were against it, everyone
from Ofsted to Ted Cantle, and our own integration tsar, pretty much everyone was
against it. And the No More Faith Schools campaign had these great
bright placards
you can download from their website. So I came up with a
convoluted plan to open more VA schools.
Crispin Blunt: Thanks for keeping the cap. It would have been
really awkward talking about “the importance of integration and community
cohesion” if we didn’t. But hang on a minute, if religious groups can chip in
about 1% of the long term budget and then practice 100% discrimination in
admissions – not to mention employment and confessional RE – how’s that going
to “ensure integration and community cohesion”.
Damian Hinds: If the Catholic Education Service can fund
my intern
they can fund a VA school. Voluntary Aided schools have been
around longer than we’ve been alive mate. I’m sure if allowing faith groups to
run, discriminate and proselytize in publicly funded schools wasn’t great
for community cohesion, someone
would have mentioned it
.
Andrew Jones: I’ve got lots of faith schools in my neck of the
woods and they are great. Also, if we ignore the religious discrimination and families
who are given no option other than a
faith school, they’re great for
choice
.
Damian Hinds: Yeah if we ignore those inconvenient facts then we can say faith schools promote choice. I
mean choice is the most important thing, that’s why we have race based and
political party based schools as well… right? Also if we ignore the fact that only 5%
of parents choose their school based on it grounding pupils in a faith
tradition, and that the vast majority just want a good local school, we can keep
spreading the myth that faith schools are good for choice.
Michelle Donelan: Are you still considering changing the cap is
there any room for moving it up or down a bit?
Damian Hinds: “We keep all policies under review”. But seriously I
doubt I could get away with a U-turn on my U-turn, faith groups will just have
to open VA schools if they want to keep out the infidels. Also we ask academies
to pinkie swear they will be inclusive even if they are organised around a
specific religion.
This
is a satirical article – obviously the MPs didn’t actually ask/answer the
questions this way. This article is not affiliated with endorsed or approved by
any organisation. However if you want an education system free from religious
control, you might want to follow the #NoMoreFaithSchools campaign.

 

Has ‘Project Corbyn’ proved its critics wrong?

Note (1 September 2019): This opinion piece was written in the aftermath of the 2017 general election. Since then I have completely given up hope in the Corbyn project, though I continue to find much in it (and indeed the Labour Party) which I admire. In 2017 (as I did imediately after his election) I believed that social democrats should give Mr Corbyn a chance and that he could make a positive contribution to progressive politics.

The Labour Party’s 2017 (June) election results were far ahead of what Jeremy Corbyn’s critics expected. As an unashamed Ed- Milibandite I don’t begrudge the Corbynistas their moment to sing ‘I told you so’. Despite its successes project Corbyn still has some major challenges, but I’m hopeful. I look at my nine substantive criticisms of Project Corbyn and the extent to which they have been proven wrong.

Unelectable?

This is the criticism that Project Corbyn can most clearly claim to have dispelled. A lot of people – myself included – have had to eat a lot of humble pie. The Labour Party is still a huge way from being the largest party in England or the UK. But the idea of Corbyn being Prime Minister can’t be dismissed by his critics. He’s shown he can increase the Labour vote and crucially not just in safe seats. That Project Corbyn had the luck to face such an incompetent Conservative campaign takes away only a little of their credit.

In my defence, I would argue that Corbyn’s disastrous effect on by-elections made the unelectable case very strongly. Critics will say that he became more prime ministerial as the campaign went on, but his supporters can reasonably say they were right all along and that he would be seen as more prime ministerial as the campaign gave him more opportunity to get his message out.

No positive vision?

The campaign didn’t so much prove this criticism wrong, as it met this criticism, addressed it, passed its test and moved beyond it. Beyond generic anti-austerity and anti-New Labourism, Jeremy Corbyn utterly failed to set out a meaningful vision for most of his leadership. Saying you’d like things to be ‘different’ or better isn’t a vision.

The manifesto was undoubtable a turning point. The decision to leak it early was accidental or strategic brilliance. It made the debate about policies and showed in real terms what a Labour led government would look like. Such a left-wing manifesto would not have been possible without Project Corbyn. But crucially it was a manifesto that the entire Labour Party could support. It was ideological yes, but also practical and progressive.

No realistic media strategy?

If he gets credit for nothing else our democracy has been strengthened by Corbyn’s survival of an almost unprecedented right -wing press onslaught. No one could seriously argue that Corbyn was treated fairly and for many natural critics of Corbyn this rankled their sense of fairness.

Nevertheless, a large part of Corbyn’s base continues to believe that The Canary is the only media outlet not in a vast conspiracy to attack Corbyn, and that any insufficiently positive coverage is just further evidence of this. This lack of touch with reality sustained the base when the (obviously biased) polls were against then. But creating an alternative media bubble isn’t a media strategy.

During the campaign, Corbyn managed to cut through the media bias to reach people. But he also stopped wasting time complaining about the media and got on with it. If the Labour Party can continue to build a compelling narrative, they can cut through the noise.

Can’t bring the Labour party together?

I do think that Jeremy Corbyn was willing to work with others, but Project Corbyn failed to bring the party together for three reasons. (1) the early exodus of centrist insiders who were angry and slightly petulant at Corbyn’s first election, (2) the new party base’s extreme hostility to anyone in the PLP they could shout ‘Blairite’ at and (3) Corbyn’s inexperienced at best, incompetent at worst, party management.

Corbyn’s party management has improved, his manifesto gave the party something to rally behind and his electoral performance strengthened his position. From this position of strength, he should work again to bring talented politicians from the centre of the party back into leadership positions.

Corbyn’s critics and supporters can both realistically argue that the election campaign forced their opponents in the Labour Party to come together, stop the internal bickering and focus on fighting the Tories. The last thing we need now is to return to these battles.

Can’t bring a progressive alliance together?

In some ways Project Corbyn have addressed this criticism not by proving it wrong, but by proving it didn’t matter. The “No deals. No coalition” message sounded insane to Corbyn’s critics who thought that he was heading to a huge defeat and would put off moderate voters who could stomach a Labour government if it was moderated by other parties. We thought it as part of the ideological purity and rejection of compromise.

But through strategy or luck it looks to have been the right message, particularly in Scotland where they headed off a realignment that would have seen Scotland become a two-party SNP/Tory system.

I’m willing to say that I was wrong and that the “No deals. No coalition” message was the right one for before the election. Although I do think that national message should have been moderated by more local practicality. However, the claim still being put forward by the Corbyn team that they can now govern alone without deals is simply ludicrous and anti-democratic. More it makes them look weak, as if they think they’ve reached their ceiling.

The Conservatives still have a sizable majority in England and even if Labour were to win a plurality of votes in England they may not overcome this. Labour’s most likely route to power remains as the leaders of a coalition government.

Pushing moderate Labour voters to the Lib Dems?

In reality Corbyn had always supporter Brexit, but the position of Project Corbyn is and remains unclear. I argued that by failing to fight for the single market, or for a second ‘known terms’ referendum, Labour was leaving remain voters with nowhere to go. Did the election show that Labour’s non-position was best for a divided country, or was the Labour Party lucky that the election was never really about Brexit?

Only time will tell. Labour have some great people who could lead on their Brexit position. But Corbyn needs to let them.

Living in Islington North I ended up voting for Jeremy Corbyn. I expect that a lot of Labour voters like me had spent time saying they were going to vote Lib-Dem but in the end, would always have gritted their teeth and voted Labour. Project Corbyn gambled that the first past the post electoral system would discourage a Labour to Lib-Dem flight, and they won.

For Lib-Dems hoping to capitalise on Brexit, the election came both too early and too late. Too late in that anger over Corbyn’s sabotaging of the Remain campaign and denial over the decision had had time to settle. Too early in the sense that the difficulties of Brexit and the Article 50 negotiations have not started to really bite.

The next election – which seems certain to be in the next 3-24 months- may see a further Lib-Dem recovery. The ‘Progressive Alliance’ will also likely be more developed.

Problematic links to nasty elements to the alt-left

No one could have predicted that the right-wing press’s constant dredging up of Corbyn’s past support for Irish Republican terrorism, apologism for anti-Semitism and Islamist extremism, his shilling for authoritarians and his narrow minded anti-interventionism, would turn out to have so little traction. Such views remain deeply problematic, but don’t seem to have worried voters.

So how can they be addressed? A new leader that can continue the Corbyn project, building on the progressive policies, while distancing themselves from (ideally never having been associated with) these elements would help.

Project Corbyn is a political movement with its own gravity. That gravity has pulled in all sorts of people interested in politics, including all sorts of both wonderful and nasty people. But winning also generates gravity, it is to be hoped that the influence of such people would be drowned out by a renewed progressive party. If the Labour Party can focus on domestic politics, and return to a broad-church approach, such views can return to being marginalised in the party.

Rightly or wrongly, the Conservative Party’s new close association with the DUP – with their own paramilitary and violently sectarian links – further blunts any attack on Corbyn’s association with Republican terrorism.

The selectorate is not the electorate

A party’s selectorate is always more ideological than the country. But the extent to which the massively expanded Labour Party under Corbyn seemed out of touch with the country was extremely worrying. Limited success doesn’t invalidate this criticism. But there is hope, more moderate Labour supporters may come back to the fold which would stop the party being dominated only by the Corbynistas. The selectorate doesn’t need to look like the country we have, but it needs to look like a country we can or would wish to imagine.

The democratic attempts to remove Corbyn, coupled with his poor outreach during the first half/three quarters of his leadership, led to the impression that he was only interested in talking to his friends. But Project Corbyn can argue that preaching to the choir is an important part of building a church.

Project Corbyn – like the Miliband Project before him – always believed that the country was more progressive than conventional political wisdom held. The Corbyn team will try to argue that they’ve achieved a realignment.

I would point to the start of this realignment as pre-dating Project Corbyn. Its roots are in the 2015 election where Ed Miliband’s Labour Party basically won every policy argument. I would also be wary of overestimating the realignment. The election campaign showed the country were willing to listen to Corbyn’s ideas, but the result showed they weren’t ready to embrace them.

Rubbishing New Labour’s legacy just feeds the right-wing’s narrative?

This is criticism remains largely unaddressed, though Corbyn did manage to say a few positive things about the most transformative progressive government of any Western country in the last fifty years. The anti-New Labour tirades may work for some of the base, but if Labour want to govern they might want to remind the country that they are actually pretty good at it.

So, what next?

I continue to believe that Labour need to develop a progressive post-Corbyn – or at the very least a Corbyn Mark III – direction, to build on the positives of Project Corbyn Mark I & II. That Corbyn has done so much better than expected shows that his allies should expect to have a huge say in that direction. The fact that Labour are still so far from power shows that his critics must still have theirs.

On criticisms of ‘identity politics’

I see a lot of people attacking ‘identity politics’. I see it from the anti-SJW crowd because let’s face it they just don’t like feminism or anti-racism, or maybe they think these ideas are ok, but they are a distraction from ‘real’ politics. I see it from members of persecuted minorities who feel that mainstreamed leftist identity politics has let them down or essentialised them.

I see good faith people going along with really bad faith attacks on ‘identity politics’ because they have some problem with some aspect of identity politics. And I see people reacting to good faith criticism of ‘identity politics’ as if it’s an attack on every liberation movement since the sixties.

I’m not drawing any false comparisons. I’m not saying that there aren’t people whose attack on ‘identity politics’ doesn’t boil down to heteronormative white privilege. Progressive identity politics is an essential tool in addressing historic injustices and discrimination, and criticising bad identity politics is an essential function of progressive identity politics.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a fuck ton of bad identity politics out there that needs to be criticised. When criticising bad feminism, I don’t want to jump on board with or give cover to anti-feminism. When criticising bad anti-racism, I don’t want to jump on board with or give cover to racists. When criticising problematic aspects of leftist and regressive leftists, identity politics, I don’t want to jump on board with or give cover to regressive. People you think agree with you aren’t always your friends, and people you think disagree with you aren’t always your enemies.

Racism and antiracism, sexism and feminism, Islamism and anti-Muslim bigotry, football hooliganism and solidarity marches all are forms of identity politics. “I support a pluralistic society where peoples of all creeds are treated equally” or “England for the English” are both statements of identity politics. “Tax the rich” and “tax the poor” are both statements of economic politics, but they aren’t equal.

There are good identity politics and bad identity politics. There are good economic politics and bad economic politics. Left and the right have their identity politics just as the left and the right have their economic politics. Identity and economic politics at their shades of progressivism and progressivism. In pursuing our economic or identity politics we can sometimes lose track of individuals and the people that don’t fit our models, however perfect or flawed. In following any economic or identity based politics we can set down the wrong path with good intentions. Even the most progressive economic or identity politics can get their priorities wrong.

Caricatures of Marxists or neoliberals can be as reductionist – by trying to explain all human politics in terms of economics – as the caricature of an SJW or their alt-right equivalent’s attempts to reduce politics to only the narrow lenses of identity. When any politics relies on a simplistic theory of (others’) mind it is problematic.

Now I’m not against labels or shorthand. As a practical consideration, they are essential to political discussion. Even if they cause all sorts of problems and misunderstandings. Language isn’t perfect. But the next time you see someone criticising ‘identity politics’, try and ask them what they mean. What specific identity politics claims or ideas do you have a problem with?

When you see someone advocating cutting public spending and raising VAT, you should criticise these ideas. It would make no sense to challenge these ideas by attacking ‘economic politics’. Similarly, if you see someone taking a bad identity political position, it’s this position that should be attacked.

A final note on the idea of identity politics being a distraction from ‘real’ politics. On the one hand you’re right. Take trans rights, the total number of people affected by this isn’t huge, far more people are affected by other political issues. But for the people affected by them, this is their lives or their friends’ lives on the line.

Here’s the thing. The people distracting from ‘real’ politics aren’t the people supporting trans rights, it’s the people opposing trans rights. If we just all agreed not to be shitty to trans-folk this ‘distraction’ would go away tomorrow.

If your point is that you personally want to focus on other political issues, that’s also fine. If someone is trying to make the world a better place I don’t mind where they focus their energies. I consider myself a trans ally but that doesn’t figure into or affect my party politics. If the Conservative Party were to wholesale adopt progressive trans-friendly politics I still wouldn’t vote for them, and I still wouldn’t expect left wing trans-folk and allies to.

Starting to get worried about Trump

With just over five weeks to go to the American Presidential Election there’s only one thing we can say for certain. Whoever wins, by the weekend of 12 November we’ll be able to read thousands of articles, tweets and posts from political commentators with the same theme. Whoever wins, it will turn out that:

  • Of course ___ was always going to win
  • In hindsight it was obvious
  • ___  lost because they were too ____
  • This just further proofs what I’ve been saying about _____

By far the most likely thing to happen is that Hillary will win. The final electoral map will look much like 08 and 2012. The Electoral College will smooth over any problems with low enthusiasm for Hillary and within a few months the possibility of a Trump Presidency would seem like a strange and scary dream. Political commentators will begin to talk about the possibility of a permanent Democratic Presidency if the Republican Party doesn’t begin serious modernising reforms and come back to the centre ground.

Perhaps this will happen. Though I think it more likely that in 2020 a Trump 2.0 candidate will emerge as part of an Alt-Right backlash. A Republican candidate who can take Trump’s populist authoritarianism and his white nationalist identity politics, and combine them with an actual control of the party machine and a more competent media presentation would be genuinely terrifying.

Because they seem so current it is hard to look back at Obama’s 08 and 2012 electoral victories and realise just how easy they were. At the time many people were gripped with the drama of the race. The media narrative is always “too close to call” because that’s frankly more interesting – and may even be a good thing if it encourages citizens to think their vote matters. However (once securing the Democratic nomination) there was never any time in the 08 or 2012 campaign where Obama was in any significant risk of losing.

Because of this I think many people are missing the true and terrifying significance of the this election actually being close. This will I believe leed to a lot of complacency if Hillary wins. The Clinton New Democrats could quickly find themselves in a similar position to New Labour following their limp 2005 election victory.

For the first time since 1988 someone is running for president clearly identifying as the successor to a popular president. They have an extremely favourable electoral system, an extremely effective party organisation, are undeniably manifestly qualified and respected on the world stage. Add to this, they have the good fortune to be running against the most unqualified, dangerously incompetent candidate ever to be nominated by a major party. At this point Hillary should be on course for a clean sweep of every swing state and should be looking to turn red states pink or even blue. Even if she wins, her failure to do this in the most favourable electoral position imaginable is terrifying.

This is pretty much the scenario I have predicted since the early days of the campaign (since the ‘moderate’ Republicans started dropping out and before even the Tea Party Republicans started dropping like flies as Trump steamrolled towards the nomination), while I’ve never written off the possibility of a Trump win, it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve begun to really feel worried about it.

While the analogy is weak in some ways, since the early days of the campaign I’ve often compared Trump to Regan. Consider the parallels. This is someone the mainstream media were initially very dismissive of, a celebrity widely viewed as an old crank, viewed as unqualified or too extreme. His simplistic view of politics and economics and a black and white view of foreign policy were articulated in dumb down brash rhetoric. Democrats celebrated the possibility of him winning the nomination in the arrogant belief this would give their candidate an easy victory, his politics and his racism were viewed as backwards and out of step with modern America which was seen as being on a liberal swing.

And yet Reagan was able to form and ride a wave of backlash populism to 2 thumping electoral wins. He was able to exploit division within the Democratic party and in his ‘law and order’ policies and authoritarianism he was able to ensure that while white middle class americans declined as a proportion of the population, they maintained their dominance of the electorate.

Regan failed to do this in 1976, but succeeded in 1980. Trump failed in his presidential bid in 2012, could he succeed with the Regan formula in 2016 – or a Trump 2.0 in 2020?

Obama won by building a very heterogeneous coalition that seems to add up to a clear majority. But we saw in both mid term elections how weak this coalition was against the far smaller but more homogenous Republican electoral coalition. To try and wrangle her large diverse electoral coalition Hilary is constantly pulled in different directions and can’t satisfy everyone. Whereas Trump has the luxury of being able to just focus on and appeal to a narrow group. Identity politics values purity over competence which isn’t great for professional politicians.

This is important because this election has become about identity politics. This is ground where Hillary faces a lot of weaknesses. The ‘Bernie or Bust’ crowd doubt (for good reason) her liberal purity and detest her record of compromises. She’s not loved, but because of identity politics leading to people increasingly living in media and social bubbles, too many of her voters may not be taking the possibility of a Trump victory seriously.

If you are living in a Liberal state and all your friends and all your social media is telling you that Trump can’t possibly win then you may not be motivated to go out and vote for a candidate they’re not massively excited about.

Meanwhile identity politics benefits Trump. Because Trump’s core supporter have made Trumpism part of their identity, they view any attacks on his incompetence as an attack on them (an idea which is only re-enforced by a lot of people on the Left’s black and white thinking, opening calling Trump voters stupid and lumping them all in with the most extreme) which only strengthen their resolve.

Hillary also faces a risk that Carter didn’t in third party candidates. In Colorado and New Hampshire, for example it is very easy to imagine ‘Bernie or Bust’ or Democratic leaning voters thinking they are safe and can have the cost free indulgence of voting for Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party.

Civil society not the law should punish bad and demand better politics

There’s currently a petition on the Government’s petition site with around 68.5k signatures to “Make it illegal for any UK political figure to knowingly lie or mislead”. I think this is a well intentioned but simplistic and profoundly anti-political idea. A few days before this petition was launched a close friend feeling upset and powerless at the state of politics asked for my opinion on starting a similar petition and my thoughts on that are adapted below.

Debates over media and political misrepresentation often distract from politics and undermine the idea of active citizenship by framing the citizen as a passive recipient of biased narratives that they need to be saved from (either by the “right side”, some political elite or institution), rather than as an active citizen who has a duty to acquire the political literacy to interpret and inform those narratives. It is this sort of active citizenship which we should seek to inoculate. Organisations such as the Citizenship Foundation, the Media Trust, the Dialouge and others do a fantastic job of this.

The EU referendum and its aftermath have exposed (on both sides in different ways) a disastrous lack of political literacy alongside a disastrous (although not entirely undeserved) collapse in trust in almost every institution of our representative democracy, from Parliament and parties to technocrats and the media..

The simplistic anti-politics of petitions are a symptom of and factor in this decline. They replace meaningful political action with the short term buzz of virtue signalling. For many people signing a petition (and more importantly sharing it on Twitter), voting leave or voting for Trump or Corbyn, UKIP or Greens, is a way to play at politics, a way to signal your identity or dissatisfaction rather than a serious act of responsible citizenship.

Most people hold the implicit biased assumption that misrepresention is only something done by bad people/the other side. As soon as you start focusing on actual examples (which we’d definitely have to do to make it ilegal) it begins to break down over what constitutes misrepresentation. We tend to grant extremely charitable interpretations of our own side’s claims so that they do not appear to us to be misrepresentative.

We view and interpret all politics through political narratives. For example most Remain voters place a very hight weight on the fact that lots of misinformed people voted to leave the EU for very stupid reasons. But they don’t place as much emphasis on the fact that some number of Remain voters must have voted to remain because of stupid reasons. Meanwhile a Leave voter must know that many Leave voters were misinformed and voted for racist or other stupid reasons but will assign a correspondingly low emphasis on this fact when they consider the world.

A big part of the support for this petition and other like it seems to be related to the Leave campaign’s  infamously stupid £350m a week claim. Remain voters overemphasise the importance of the claim, because to them it seems such an obviously stupid lie/misrepresentation and examples of illinformed Leave voters who say they were influenced by this claim fits nicely into such a narrative. But was this claim really that important? I voted to stay in the EU and would probably have done so even if this claim was true. It wouldn’t have swayed my vote because I would have interpreted it through the prism of my own values.

How would we enforce a legal ban on political figures (who by way would that cover?) misleading? How should they be punished? Should elections be overturned, political commentators thrown in jail? If 10% of voters are 15% influenced by a claim that is 82% false should we adjust the final vote pro-rata? We know that voters are usually deeply unhappy when they feel their democratic right to make decisions based on their (mis)interpretations is usurped. But even worse would be if citizens grew to passively accept such userption.

The petition claims that that outlawing lies and misrepresentation would “hand power back to the people it (democracy) governs”. But implementing such a law would have to hand power to some court or elite institution. We desperately need to rebuild trust and accountability in our current political institutions,.accountability to us not some new mega institution. Just look at the way left and right wing idealouges currently attack the BBC and this very petition attacks “the elites” to imagine how that institution would be treated.

Politically “bad” behaviour like demagoguery, lies or misrepresentation should be punished by a politically literate and engaged citizenry and civil society – not the law. Attempts to legislate for good behaviour in politics are rarely effective and potentially critically undermine the very idea of democracy and democratic discourse. E.g. from my blog on “undue spiritual influence”.

“Secularists may find religious involvement in politics problematic, but there are great difficulties in framing and enforcing a law to prevent abuse or “undue” influence without discrepancy. In the long-term, the only approach that will work is from a civil society that rejects sectarianism and which simply disregards those who try to use the spiritual to secure temporal, political power: in other words, a secular culture, rather than over reliance on law.”

Simiarly, political rules against misrepresentation (like proposed rules to make parties stick to their manifesto commitments or politically illiterate voters who punish politicians for compromising promises regardless of the context) wouldn’t have the desire effect. If we banned politicians from making representatives statements they would simply water down their statements even further to the point that while not misrepresentative they are meaningless – further entrenching soundbite politics and undermining political literacy.

During the referendum campaign Gove was ridiculed for saying that voters should ignore the experts. In fact from the referendum to the legal system to education, Goveism could be summed up as that experts have failed, that details, facts and political orthodoxy paralyses our ability to act on big simple ideas. Goveism embraces a vision of creative destruction, where the experts are cast down and ignored, compromises and consensuses are smashed. Goveism doesn’t care about the facts of this political reality because it is interested in building a new one. Corbynism isn’t interested in the political reality that he’s unelectable, because they dream of a new political reality.

The leave campaign failed badly by amusing that people would just passively line up to listen to expert opinion. It failed because it used experts to defend the status quo, rather on drawing on experts to present a positive possible alternative.

There is also the question of whether banning misrepresentation really would prevent the rise of demagogues or extremists such as Trump (as my friend hoped when originally proposing such a petition). What is often called “misrepresentation” can be just a different group placing more emphasis or value or interpretations on facts. In this case what people are really saying is that they want a political opponent to share their view on which facts should have more or less importance and share their view on how they should be interpreted – which wouldn’t be a fair expectation.

Politics is not a mathematical equation of facts and figures. It is an ongoing conversation of values. Political literacy involves not only the ability to judge facts, but the understanding of how people interpret these facts though their values and beliefs. A great deal of arrogance exists in the assumption that the “other” only disagree with you because the facts have been misrepresented to them (and presumably they, unlike you are not smart enough to see through this misrepresentation) rather than acknowledging that they may hold different values, and (like you) interpret the facts through the prism of these values.

To prevent the rise of extremists and to restore both trust and hope in mainstream politics we need to build resilience. Resilience in strong systems of human rights that enjoy popular legitimacy but cannot be swept aside by the vagerencies of popularism. Resilience in our economy and society so that we do not end up with large groups of disenfranchised angry voters. Resilience in our culture so we can continue to welcome immigrants and evolve without loosing a shared sense of national identity. Resilience in our political institutions so they can regain trust and effectiveness. Resilience in political participation so people continue to see it as their duty to be engaged citizens.

Star Trek ideas for fun

We were putting together folders for the AGM chatting about ideas and new Star Trek series. These were some of the ideas we came up with. At the time we were discussing the Islamic State’s continued expansion in the Middle East and potential Western intervention. I had also been listening to a series of podcasts concerning the Mongol conquests of settled civilisations. We both felt the idealisation of the Federation (representing the West) presented in earlier television series felt out of place in today’s world and that Star Trek should explore underlying weaknesses and imperfections.

Afterwards I recorded them my notebook for some relaxing afternoon writing. I used to enjoy coming up with story ideas all the time without having the creative writing skills to realise them. It can be a good practice to start with these simple summaries creating many for fun and to explore your imagination. Anyway here are some of my ideas. Maybe I’ll or someone else will use them for some future fan fiction project.

  1. The Federation turns imperialist. The recent Borg attacks and the Dominion War including the Breen’s attack on Earth have exposed the Federation’s lack of strategic death. Starfleet has become a massively expanded battle fleet. The ongoing breakup of the Romulan Empire creates new threats and opportunities. The Federation Council begins a policy of encouraging migration from the core worlds to the sparsely populated frontier and lays claim to all planets within their borders. This includes those pre-warp civilisations – with whom the Federation promise not to interfere and plan to exclude any outside influences. The species of the core worlds look set to continue their dominance (Humans, Andorians etc). The Federation’s social and economic policy shift towards expansion, internal and external conflicts grow and the newly reorganised Starfleet faces an uncertain future.
  2. Romulan Civil War strains the prime directive. The events of Nemesis have started an horrific civil war within the Empire. The peaceful Federation is war weary and its leadership increasingly facing inwards. The Romulan Empire is dealing with mass migration and militant opponents and proponents of reunification. Terrorist attacks strike across the Empire as its subject people rebel against the weakened central authority. The military’s attempts to reassert control are bloody. Along the neutral zone border Federation governors grow nervous, Romulan warbirds routinely intercept convoys they accuse of smuggling weapons and refugees. The decision of whether or not to intervene is difficult. Some star systems declare independence and request Federation recognition and support. The Starfleet Admiralty is divided over whether they have the moral duty or capacity. The Romulan Empire view such independence movements as terrorists and indeed in some areas second-class non-Romulan subjects of the Empire are imposing revenge oriented nationalist regimes. The Klingon Empire close their borders and mindful of their own populations are poised to back the crumbling Romulan central government at any cost, potentially driving a rift between the Klingon Empire and Federation. The Federation Senate has long been a talking shop subservient to the permanent bureaucracy, it is now divided between the interventionist and anti-interventionist factions which agree that the Federation’s own democratic systems are in need of reform. The quadrant’s empires are deeply suspicious of such democratic tendencies. Will the Federation risk war and the abandonment of the prime directive to impose democracy and other noble policy aims or will it stand by and witness genocide on its own borders.
  3. Alternative origin of the Borg. During the Dominion War the Federation were looking for allies. One such species was the Borg a one system civilisation who have only recently discovered warp drive. They were denied entry into the Federation due to their authoritarianism and the Federation’s attitude to genetic and cybernetic augmentation. The Federation saw little risk in encouraging the Borg to attack outlying Dominion territories. However now the war is over and the Borg have assimilated the territories and technologies they are a growing threat. Although their technological starting base is low by the standards of Alpha Quadrant, they are assimilating new technology at an alarming rate and have an almost religious conviction of their own perfection.
  4. Reemergence. The Federation was lazy, the luxurious and easy life of its post-scarcity, economy didn’t prepare its citizens for the hard realities of the Dominion War. 15 years later the Prean, a migratory species of organic spaceships, cross through Federation space. Despite their technological and military superiority Starfleet is slow and inefficient in responding to the threat. Earth is devastated and only the use of antimatter nova bombs divert the Prean threat. Federation space is further reduced by opportunistic expansion of other Alpha Quadrant powers and local independence movements sometimes spanning multiple systems. The Prean threat continues to reduce interstellar commerce and communication. Once a final resort the use of antimatter nova bombs gradually begin to replace traditional fleet actions. In one case a Starfleet crew refuse their orders to deploy nova bombs – raising the possibility that crews may be replaced with automated ships. Five decades after the devastation of Earth, the Restoration movement on the new Federation capital planet of Aadora seeks to resurrect the infrastructure, ships and ideals of Starfleet.
  5. The Alpha quadrant is on the verge of peace. It is an age of plenty and unprecedented interstellar cultural and economic integration. Following the events of Endgame the Borg threat has been removed and the Dominion War alliance seems to have united the Quadrant’s three major powers, opening up new avenues of trade and cultural exchange. For the Federation’s new build warships have been scrapped and a further 30% are being refitted for scientific duties. The Klingon and Roman empires have agreed to mothball 50% of their own fleets in orbit around designated planets. In return for reconstruction aid the Cardassian Empire transferred significant numbers of numbers of merchant ships and military assets to Bajor. On Romulas Delta (the planet of the Roman Empire’s second solar system) the Federation have established their first embassy. the size of a small city is an economic, cultural, scientific and diplomatic mission. The head of security is newly transferred to the diplomatic service having been a fighter ace during Dominion War. She just wants to see out the last five years of her enlistment and retire to a frontier world. However a catastrophic event changes the face of the galaxy. A massive Omega Particle chain reaction devastates subspace making warp navigation and travel all but impossible throughout the Alpha quadrant. We see the consequences of this. Hope’s position is extremely tenuous and its diplomatic status in doubt as the authorities’ suspect and blame the Federation. Bajor become a major interstellar power as they have sublight access to the wormwhole and thus to unaffected space where warp travel is still possible.. While Star Trek has a positive message that any problem solved through technology, this sometimes manifests in treating technology as magic whose rules can be suspended when convenient to the plot – beaming through the shields anyone? So would be good to see some firm technological boundaries put in place. Perhaps small ships can still still navigate through low warp speeds at great risk – this could open whole new storytelling possibilities, new ways of trading, new ways of waging war, all of which will affect the role of Starfleet and the domestic societies we see. One potential story arc could be of a Federation trade convoy on a routine route when forced out of warp with no knowledge of what’s going on how would they react? At what point will they realise a trip intended to take perhaps a week may now be a multi-generational journey. Perhaps one of the shipowners is a retired Starfleet captain, at what point did they break their secrecy over the Omega Particle? What sort of society would we see begin to form? How would people used to post-scarcity economics fare in a closed system? Would their­ Federation ideals help or hinder their survival?

“I have no problem with women as long as they stay in the kitchen”

For the satire impaired I should point out that this isn’t a blog doesn’t form part of the barefoot, pregnant and chained to the stove manifesto. I’d momentarily considered calling it “Angry black men, feminazis, loud gays and aggressive atheists” but a) that was a bit long and b) could leave me falling victim to Poe’s Law. I also considered “Of course I support equality… but not too much”.
Members of privileged groups (and non-members who have internalised privileged ideas) who, actively or passively, maintain that privilege are often accommodatable with members of marginalised groups as long as they play the marginalised role they are expected to and do not challenge the privilege.
Recently after a particularly infuriating Twitter discussion with a supposedly liberal and tolerant Christian I decided that this was a form of argument I just could no longer put up with. I’d had this blog idea for quite a while but I wanted something to just say “I’m leaving this conversation. It’s obvious that your privilege blindness is inhibiting your reasoning and I have neither the energy or inclination to try and talk you around it.” My idea was that I’d have this as a stock image and to go too when I just couldn’t be bothered. I put it together so quickly it had a weird typo in it.
The gray text is what the people objecting to the privilege being challenged really mean.
Whether I’m standing up for feminism, secularism, anti-racism, LGBT equality or atheism this is the number one opposition I experience in one form or another. It’s an attempt to make oneself seem reasonable by reinforcing the idea of their privileged position being the natural/correct position and to marginalise their opposition.
Of course, an individual feminist/secularist/anti-racist/LGBT-ally may indeed be obnoxious or aggressive, but that’s not really what this objection is about. To some people (and I’m not just talking about frothy mouthed caricatures) the very idea that someone exists who challenges their view of what is natural/correct is deeply disturbing or offensive.
On a related note readers may be interested in a paper published in the the Journal of Psychology last year on “the Myth of the Angry Atheist”. It comprised of 7 studies which showed that (1) Americans view atheists as stereotypically angry and angrier than other minorities and (2) that there was no evidence that this stereotype was accurate.
We should resist allowing erroneous accusations of anger to be used to marginalise groups or social justice movements. However it’s also important to defend anger as a legitimate and in some cased constructive response to injustice. My feminism, secularism, anti-racism, support for LGBT equality and atheism are not driven by anger. But I am angry when I see the harm done by sexism, by racism, by homophobia and by religious belief and more people should be.

 

An atheist does not always a secularist make

Despite atheism and secularism often being conflated there’s no reason a religious person can’t be a secularist. However there seems to be the assumption that being an atheist automatically makes one a secularist. But is this always true? Just as being non-male does not automatically make one a feminist, it seems that many atheists can be non-secular and even anti-secular

Atheism is defined as the lack of belief in gods.

Secularism in the sense that I use if is the rejection of religious privilege or the imposition of religious authority in the public sphere

Secularism like feminism (the rejection of gender privilege) is a subset of egalitarianism. Side note: this is why men’s rights activists sound particularly stupid when they say “I’m not a feminist, I’m an egalitarian.”

I could write a whole blog on why secularism and atheism are conflated but for now I want to briefly address three main reasons. Anti-atheist prejudice in the United States has led to many non-religious organisations calling themselves secular in an attempt to seem less threatening and associate themselves with a very American value. Anti-atheist prejudice can also explain why some religious people want to link secularism to a word they perceive as a pejorative, while in the Islamic world secularism is often conflated with atheism/apostasy.

Often members of a privileged group find it hard to imagine anyone else in the privileged group rejecting that privilege voluntarily. I find something similar whenever I comment on feminist issues online. Because my screenames have always been gender neutral, anti-feminist men tend to assume I’m female and respond with (in)appropriately gendered insults.

Finally many secular atheists tend to assume that other secularists are atheists as well. At a recent secular conference the assumption of a shared atheistic worldview from many of the speakers and audience members was particularly problematic given that a large theme of the conference was the stories of secularists of all backgrounds. Around the world religious individuals rejecting the imposition of religious authorities in their lives are some of the bravest secularists.

Atheist may not generally suffer the worst from the effects of religious privilege but they don’t generally benefit from its effects either. By comparison many members of religious minorities may suffer deeply from the effects of religious privilege but also experience some positives – at least for their own elites. As atheists would find their very existence at risk under almost any theocratic regime, most atheists have a practical reason to support at least some degree of secularism.

An earlier draft of this blog looked at some of the ways in which atheists may be anti-religious in a non-secular way. I decided to cut a lot of this as it is in any case an overly hyped problem and could distract by endorsing some of the ridiculous strawman secularists some religious leaders use to justify their own privilege.

Of course it is possible to be anti-religious and a secularist; just as it would be entirely consistent with feminism to wish either to a) end the social construct of gender as a means of ending gender privilege and promoting equality or wish to b) end gender privilege and inequality while preserving some form of gender as a social construct. It may be a secondary effect of secular policies (e.g. equality laws or good quality education) that certain religious views decline (e.g. homophobia or creationism). But if the intended purpose of a policy was to promote atheism then it would be hard to justify in a secular way.

I’ve cut out a longer exploration of this issue (although hope to explore it in a later blog on Humanism) to move on to a more interesting (and real) problem and one that is on the surface harder to explain. Why do many atheist seem to actively support at least some form of religious privilege. In trying to understand why this is we can draw on other examples which look at why members of an outgroup or marginalised group may support the privileges of an ingroup or privileged group.

First the most obvious is that atheists are not an automatically visible outgroup. We can confidently say there are atheists in the congregations, laity and priesthood of every single religion. Someone can be an atheist but still present themselves as a member of an ingroup in order to draw on the privileges of the ingroup. This is not always a deceitful tactic, as when a politician or priest feigns religious belief in order to have more influence and in so doing actively promotes religious privilege. In many places and times atheists have had to feign religious belief in order to enjoy the religious privilege of not being murdered or ostracised as an apostate and in so doing they passively support religious privilege. Of course there are many positions in between, just as a homosexual may conceal their sexuality in order to avoid discrimination an atheist could conceal their atheism to better fit in. Given that challenging religious privilege (secularism) is so conflated with atheism, many atheist passively or actively support religious privilege in order to avoid being labeled as part of the outgroup.

Secondly many atheist may simply not see religious privilege as that big of a problem for them. They could be very privileged in other ways (Bill Gates can probably insulate himself from the effects of religious privilege reasonably well) or they could be very marginalised in other ways that they are focused on dealing with more immediate forms of privilege, or someone may not realise how one form of privilege that is harming them is related to religious privilege.

Thirdly atheists may earn favour with (or appear less threatening to) religious people by supporting religious privilege. Turn on Fox News and you can find a person of color telling the audience how the black community is at least partly to blame for America’s race problems. Open the Daily Mail and you can find female writers railing against feminism. Openly atheist politicians in the UK go out of their way to praise the work of religious organisations and to support faith schools. E.g. the Deputy Prime Minister and theist Nick Clegg sends his children to a state funded highly socially selective faith school. Exercising this religious privilege is seen as acceptable whereas exercising his economic privilege by sending them to a private school would not be seen as acceptable.

This brings up a fourth reason. Different forms of privilege can act as a proxy for each other or be intertwined (intersectionality). Recently I spoke to a member of staff at a Church of England primary school. They wished to make their school less religiously selective. However parents at the school (at least some of whom had to have been atheist) were vehemently opposed. The reason? A less religiously discriminatory admissions criteria would make it easy for children from the newly constructed council estate to attend. The overwhelming evidence is that religiously selective schools in the UK are socially selective, they take (proportional to how many they would take in an equal admissions system) less poor children, less children who speak English as a second language, less children with complex needs.

Many middle class atheists support faith schools because by supporting this form of religious privilege they support their privilege of being able to get their children into a better more middle class school than their poorer neighbors.

There is another darker form of religious privilege acting as a proxy and that is in the identity politics of the British far-right. In these politics Christian is a proxy for White and many on the far right support Christian religious privilege as a way to support white privilege or anti-Muslim bigotry. For example Tommy Robinson the former leader of the EDL has said in interviews that he is not personally religious but he supports ‘Christian Nation’ identity politics. Atheists who support religious privilege by arguing against marriage equality would be another tiny example.