Britain’s descent into futile debate

It is a dread of conference-goers everywhere to see an audience member grasp the microphone during the interactive section, only to announce their contribution “is more a comment than a question” before rambling at a tangent for five painful minutes.

The Battle of Ideas, a political ideas conference held in the Barbican arts centre in central London at the start of November, is rare in tolerating such behaviour, which would be swatted away by stricter organisers. But in allowing for this the event crudely tracks the descent of British public discourse, where the quantity of debate is imperilling the quality.

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Voting tactically on unconscionable policies

It is seemingly a time of stark lines in British politics. Talk of division is rampant, fed by the obvious leave-remain binary, as well as the divides between factions touting distinct resolutions to Brexit. There is a great deal of zero-sum thinking, and an absence of loser’s consent.

The general election should be more conflicted. But that has not stopped the Jewish Chronicle, and those of the same mind, discouraging people from voting Labour over the singular issue of antisemitism, for which the party is under investigation by the equalities commission.

I’ve no wish to litigate the allegations either way here, but let’s assume they are true. Does it mean that voting Labour is unethical, purely due to one policy?

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Why you shouldn’t unfriend your political foes

For all that political rhetoric lauds communities bound by shared values, people generally live in communities built on place, education, employment and recreation. To these things values are secondary, and political conflict takes place over our apolitical relationships, including friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and anyone else we bump into.

This fact contributes to the savagery and tragedy of civil wars. Friends and families frequently find themselves on opposite sides of a struggle, particularly brothers in opposing armies. The American Civil War has thrown up enough examples to merit its own Wikipedia page, “Brother against brother”, but instances abound in all fraternal fights.

Western countries are not in a state of civil war, though the cleavages in our societies could suggest otherwise. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the American president Donald Trump was elected found that 16% of respondents had stopped talking to a friend or family member because of the election, with 13% ending relationships entirely.

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