My Column – An Englishman in the Dark: Musings on the Next President of the United States

I’ll hold my hands up and admit it. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton. Barring a massive shift in opinion, she’s going to be the Democrats’ nomination for the next U.S. President. But as much as I find her unconvincing, I’m not going to write about the Democrat race because we already know the result. Sorry Bernie Sanders, but unless Hillary falls under a bus, you’re not getting it.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but right now I think I’d like to see Marco Rubio as the next President of the United States. His recent comments about respecting Britain’s right to take our own decisions are certainly welcome. What a sharp contrast between Obama (who tells us what we should do) and Rubio (who says we’re friends and allies whatever our relationship with Europe)! Obama may be the President, but Rubio is the statesman. I already had a favourable opinion of Rubio anyway, but more of that later.

This Republican race is much more engaging than last time; in 2012 Mitt Romney just oozed everything that voters dislike. He was the best of a bad bunch, got the nomination by default, and just oozed slick, career politician with little in the way of principle. I’m told by someone who met him that he is actually much more approachable in real life. After giving up his Presidential ambitions, he seems to have relaxed. I respect Mitt Romney the person far more than I like Mitt Romney the politician. The Mitt Romney who stepped into a boxing ring with Evander Holyfield for charity in ‘the quake on the lake’ is a different man to the one we all saw on our TV screens losing to Barack Obama.

Scratch below the surface, beneath the candidates like Trump who have name recognition, and this year’s crop of Republican candidates is much better than last time’s. With better candidates come tougher decisions. I don’t think that the two candidates currently leading in the polls will stay the course. In fact, I’d rule out the three best-known names straight away if I had a vote.

Donald Trump is a marmite politician. (For any American readers who don’t understand the British cultural relationship with marmite, it’s a savoury, dark brown food paste. It’s often said that you ‘love it or hate it’ – very few people have a neutral opinion of marmite. I hate it.) He may be a successful businessman, but his kneejerk reaction to Ebola showed a certain degree of nastiness to me. He may appeal to a certain section of the American people, but I can’t see him winning a Presidential election. By saying shocking things he managed to stand out from the crowd, and take a lead in a very large field. That doesn’t qualify you to be President though, and I suspect his support will slip away when it comes to actual voting. As candidates drop out, support is unlikely to transfer to Trump. My negative view of Trump started with his comments on Ebola, arrogance about his wealth (“the beauty of me is I’m very rich”) and continued with his repeated nasty comments about women. In the light of his recent ‘no Muslim immigration’ remarks, people on Twitter seemed to assume that these comments had sparked my dislike of Trump. No, my dislike of him has built up over a period of time.

Ben Carson advocates a range of policies that don’t seem to be fully thought through. In 2013 he described the new healthcare system as ‘the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery’, for example. It’s a legitimate political position to oppose Obama’s changes, but the language which Carson uses is not really what you expect of a future President.

Jeb Bush may be the establishment choice, but his campaign lacks traction. He’s not performed well in the debates, and his attack on Rubio fell flat. I’m not sure that America needs another Bush; I’m not a massive fan of political dynasties whether they be Bushes or Clintons.

I have a lot of respect for Chris Christie. He’s a Republican governor of a Democratic state, which shows he must have done something right. He’s frank, direct, robust and forceful when expressing his views. If he disagrees with you, he’ll tell you straight. You know where you stand with Chris Christie. He has shown himself willing to work together with Democrats, an important Presidential skill. One minor hiccup aside, he’s done a good job. I have a hard time believing that he could win the nomination though.

Rand Paul is a candidate who believes in something. I like that. He’s a strong opponent of state interference in citizens’ lives and a believer in a smaller state, giving people freedoms back. There’s much to like about Rand Paul, who appeals to a broader spectrum than Ron Paul did. Still, it’s very difficult to see a way that he could win in the complex electoral system and in this year’s crowded field he’s not the only non-establishment candidate so it’s harder for him to generate the same traction that his father did..

Carly Fiorina has impressed me too. She’s positive, articulate and comes across very well on television. In one way I’d quite like a woman President, but that’s actually beside the point. It’s more important to choose the best person for any job, irrespective of gender or ethnicity. That’s why I oppose Labour’s segregating ‘all-women shortlists’ in the UK; ‘positive discrimination’ is still discrimination. I actually wanted America to have its first black President in 2008 – but Obama wouldn’t have been my choice. I had hoped that Condoleeza Rice might stand, and I’m convinced she would have done a far better job than Obama has.

Somehow, Ted Cruz has almost completely passed me by although he’s picking up decent support in polls now. He’s probably the most ‘Tea Party’ candidate still in the race. I had barely noticed that the old guards from the Christian right of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum had thrown their hats into the ring again. I vaguely recognised Bobby Jindal as being the governor of Louisiana, but he’s withdrawn from the race now. I don’t really understand the appeal of Kasich, and can’t believe that anyone as moderate as Pataki has a chance of getting the Republican nomination. Like I said, it’s a crowded field.

So why am I leaning towards Marco Rubio? He’s relatively young, reasonable, credible and speaks a language that people understand. In the UK, David Cameron famously couldn’t even remember which football team he supports. But in the USA, Rubio is a genuine (American) football fan. Supporting the Miami Dolphins isn’t exactly a short-cut to glittering victories and Superbowl success (I should know, I have a Dolphins fan working in my office who doesn’t always turn up on Monday mornings in a good mood), but Rubio cares about his team with a passion. It shows he has a human side when he actually cares about the game – and speaks intelligently about it, showing a deep understanding – rather than just turning up to photoshoots. It shows that he understands ordinary, hard-working American people.

The real reason I’ve warmed to Rubio though is his approach to politics. He’s taught undergraduate courses in politics to help develop the next generation, and students praise his ability to be non-partisan. I wish more people had that ability. It’s refreshing, a bit more what politics should be. We all get sucked into a certain negativity sometimes; that is the nature of standing for election. But he’s run his campaign for the nomination in a positive way, not really attacking the other candidates. He could have reacted badly, and many candidates would, when Jeb Bush attacked him in debate. Instead he showed Jeb Bush up by refusing to do so.

He reaches out to people beyond a partisan support base; he’s probably worked together with Democrats more than most of the candidates (photos of Chris Christie hugging Obama notwithstanding). He’s even been prepared to give interviews in Spanish – so that people who get their news in Spanish can hear his points directly rather than through a translator. That said, it’s important for Spanish speakers in America to learn English (just as I try to learn French because I work a lot in Brussels and Strasbourg). But not everyone has completed that process, and it’s good that Rubio reaches out to them.

The Republicans have a choice, similar to the problem the British Labour Party had when choosing a leader. Would Labour choose someone who could build the popular base of support required to win a General Election? By electing Corbyn they answered that question with an emphatic ‘No’. If the Republicans are serious about wanting to get back into the White House, it looks like Rubio might well be their best shot.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

My Column – What’s Wrong With Us?

In the wake of the Leytonstone tube stabbings, I find myself increasingly annoyed by the reaction to this appalling tragedy. I’m annoyed with the internet (not all of it). I’m annoyed with the political Left (not everyone). And I’m annoyed with the Right (again, not everyone).

I’m annoyed at the internet because of the hashtag #youaintnomuslimbruv. A crazed attacker starts violently stabbing innocent people at a tube station. A hero bravely steps up, risking his life to prevent further bloodshed and save lives. Meanwhile, bystanders film the whole thing on their mobile phones. Realising that the attacker claimed to be acting in the name of Islam, one bystander was heard shouting the words ‘you ain’t no Muslim bruv’.

Imagine that you were from another planet, looking down upon us here on planet earth. You see the internet erupt in a frenzy, but praising who? Praising the man who risked his life to save others? No. Repeating the words ‘you ain’t no Muslim bruv’ over and over. We’ve spectacularly failed to honour the person we should be honouring, and isn’t this just the kind of social media response we see every day in our Twitter and Facebook feeds? A hashtag is used to convey a particular message. Sometimes laudable, sometimes not. Then the internet fawns over it, swooning and patting itself on the back for spreading this message. Whether the message is right or wrong, very often the reaction doesn’t reflect the reality of life. You might expect a Prime Minister to be Prime Ministerial, but instead Cameron jumped upon the bandwagon opportunity and quoted the hashtag.

I’m annoyed at the Left because, no matter what, little is said or done by them to challenge those who close their eyes and ears to what is happening all around them. They are so desperate to challenge racism – real or imaginary, genuine or ethereal – that they fail to comprehend the bigger picture. I don’t care what we call the terror group that is currently butchering innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria. Whether it’s ISIS or ISIL, Islamic State or Daesh, we could call it Fred (apologies to anyone named Fred) for all I care. To paraphrase Shakespeare, what’s in a name? A dung heap by any other name would smell as foul. We’ll get to my beef with the Right in a minute, but first the Left have to accept that there is a problem.

That terrorist organisation controls a massive land mass. It is sending activists into many countries across the world (and isn’t it about time that we started to recognise the terror attacks in non-Western countries every bit as much as we recognise those in Paris?) to bomb, injure, maim and kill innocent people. It is killing people for holding different religious beliefs. It is killing people for being gay. It is killing people for the most trivial of reasons. Memo to the Left: this is important. Isn’t mass murder something even more worthy of our consideration than the mere possibility that someone might say something which could – if you look at it in a negative light for long enough – be considered racist? Shouldn’t you rather concentrate your efforts on the root cause of this problem; the ideology of ISIS and the spread of the extremist interpretation of Islam? Extremist ideologies are being propagated in mosques in many countries across the world. It might sound great to say that they are ‘not Muslim’ but seriously, does anyone think they care whether non-Muslims consider them to be Muslim or not? Those pushing this ‘not Muslim’ idea are stuck in a Western-centric bubble, assuming that this bland comment will have an impact. It will not.

The Right don’t help much either. Essentially, they give the Left an excuse to do everything I’ve just mentioned – to focus their efforts away from the real issue. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people on social media fail to grasp the basic fact that Muslims aren’t all the same. Christians aren’t all the same either. There are C of E, Catholics, Pentecostals and Evangelicals. There’s AOG and Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. All believe different things. A fundamentalist evangelical Christian is likely to believe things that are much different to a Quaker. But I don’t use the term in a disparaging way; a fundamentalist Bible-believing Christian will REALLY love their neighbour as they love themselves.

I won’t go into detail of the Qur’an here, but there exists a possibility for a fundamentalist interpretation which leads to extremist ideology (essentially, that later verses override earlier ones, that warlike verses are seen as permanent rather than time-specific, and a certain reading of the Hadith). Many elements of the Right fail to consider that this extremist interpretation is not the only one.

To me, being Right-wing should be about understanding and respecting other people’s cultures. If you expect those who come to the UK to adapt to our culture, language and lifestyle, then you should pay people in other countries precisely the same respect. That’s why I try to learn the language whilst out in France and Belgium, for example.

If you don’t bother to take a moment to understand that different Muslims believe different things, it leads to intolerance. Perhaps spending a few minutes, every now and again, to talk to Muslims about what they believe might lead to being better informed. And just maybe, it would deprive the Left of their ability to spectacularly miss the point. There are Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. There are the Ahmadiyya. Within the main Sunni beliefs there are various different schools of thought [jurisprudence]. There’s complex interactions, for example, with Sufi beliefs which can be part of either Sunni or Shia. Even the strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, from which ISIS comes, doesn’t automatically lead to ISIS. However, there are legitimate concerns over the kind of influence exerted by Saudi Arabia in spreading Wahhabism. In Saudi Arabia (however appalling their human rights record), the monarchy acts as a counterweight to the religious doctrines. But once certain doctrines are exported to a country without an Islamic monarchy, various views spread. Those in the West who, maliciously or through ignorance, seek to blame all Muslims do nothing to help the situation.

What’s wrong with us? Let’s get a grip, stop appeasing terrorists, stop missing the point and misleading, stop blaming all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority and actually develop a plan to deal with the ISIS threat to our way of life.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website. You can view it here.

Tusk has called Cameron’s bluff – Cameron must now campaign to leave 

North East MEP Jonathan Arnott is pressing for David Cameron to campaign to leave the EU after failing to achieve even minor treaty changes he demanded.

“I am here to fight the corner for the people of this region and I hope Cameron has the back bone to do the same,” said Mr Arnott, UKIP Euro-MP.

The Prime Minister has been told that EU leaders cannot agree on his demand to ban EU migrants from claiming benefits for four years.

In a letter to the European Council, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said Mr Cameron had raised “difficult” issues in his demands to reform the UK’s deal with the European Union.

Mr Arnott said, “President Tusk has called Cameron’s bluff.

“We have been told we will get no substantial change on welfare benefits for EU migrants. It is up to Cameron to now follow through on his threat to campaign to leave the EU as he has not received even the minor changes that that he asked for.

“Given the refusal of those in Brussels to countenance meaningful changes in Britain’s relationship with the EU, the only honourable avenue left to David Cameron is to now campaign to leave. He put out that signal recently to EU leaders and must now follow through on his word.

“In this so-called renegotiation, Cameron asked for no meaningful changes, and that is exactly what he received. Britain deserves better than this,” said Mr Arnott.