Shouting ‘gun control’ across the Atlantic isn’t going to save a single life

“What the fuck is wrong with America?” It’s the stock refrain that echoes across the rest of the developed world after another mass shooting blights an otherwise civilized, progressive and responsible state.

“Gun control,” comes the shout from Europe’s ancient capitals. Kill the Second Amendment; excise the law that routinely leaves bodies heaped in schools and churches across the bloodied republic.

It’s an easy answer and wholly unsatisfactory. Democratic America is what it chooses to be, but the issue is so aged, politicised and now polarised that banning guns is not only impossible, it would likely do little to stop the type of bloodshed witnessed last week in Roseburg.

Here’s what is known:

The US boasts a high murder rate — one of the highest in the developed world. Guns are likely the main cause of this higher rate, being the prime weapon in around 65 percent of all US murders.

An American is five times more likely to be murdered than a British person, and 40 times more likely to be murdered with a gun. However, overall crime rates in the US are falling, with the rate of gun deaths halved since the early Nineties.

Nobody knows how many guns there are in private hands. A 2007 Small Arms Survey suggested around 270million but it’s likely much higher.

The reason there is no national firearms database is because the government has not been allowed to create one. The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, argues that the government knowing who owns a gun is an infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms. Not only can Washington not stop citizens buying a gun, it doesn’t have the right to know who owns one.

Why is there no gun control?

The disproportionate power for the NRA, which plays on an old and ingrained distrust of the government, has turned Second Amendment absolutism into a test of identity. You cannot be a true Republican, a true conservative, a true constitutionalist, or a true American and countenance gun control, so they argue. Backed by the gun manufacturers, the NRA has money to bully politicians, funding those who display Second Amendment fidelity, while financing the opponents of politicians that pose a threat.

And there is plenty of money to go around. In the past seven years, the share price of most major gun manufacturers has increased; Sturm Ruger’s share price has gone up 700 percent since 2009.

The upsurge in sales is tied to the election of Barack Obama; gun enthusiasts, anxious that the commander-in-chief would enact gun control, responded by stockpiling weapons.

However, the gun lobby didn’t cause this anxiety. The election of the country’s first African-American president churned up a raft of ugly sentiment — racial, religious and social — allied to a shifting national demographic that led many citizens to feel America was changing and not for the better. The gun lobby feed off this anxiety while stoking the flames.

Despite the increase in sales, crime rates have still fallen. Yet the US retains a deserved reputation for gun violence. This is because although the overall trend is downward, the numbers of mass shootings, the type that capture national and international attention such as Oregon, are rising.

Would gun control work in the United States?

It is unlikely that implementing controls, such as background checks for buyers, would stop the type of mass shooting that increasingly plagues the national body.

Neither would banning guns, at least in the short term. There are an estimated 300 million weapons in circulation in the US; restricting access to guns, as enforced in the UK and Australia, would not hinder a determined buyer. The time for that has long passed.

And despite a succession of mass shootings (11 during Obama’s tenure alone), there remains little public appetite for gun prohibition. A 2011 poll showed that only 26 percent of US citizens want to ban handguns.

What onlookers can fail to appreciate is the depth of feeling towards concepts of liberty and individual freedom that burns in the national consciousness. Even if it were proven that gun controls would prevent mass shootings, some Americans would still resist.

The loathing for government restrictions is so deeply entrenched that there is almost no price for which many Americans would hand over their firearms. And for Second Amendment absolutists, the NRA included, liberty is so sacrosanct that they would be willing to endure any atrocity to retain the right — even if that means scraping 10 children off the wall every six months.

It’s a Faustian pact, but it’s also a choice. If there were a genuine demand for legal restrictions, candidates would emerge in regional and national elections campaigning on that plank — “vote for me, I’ll ban the guns.” Citizens would vote for those candidates en masse and the country would change. That they do not is down to crony capitalism and the influence of the NRA, but it’s also because Americans choose not to.

Here’s the real question: does a lack of gun control make mass shootings inevitable? This is where fact gives way to conjecture and politics. The NRA skillfully diverts attention away from guns after every massacre, framing the problem as a mental health issue.

But it’s a far broader cultural problem. So what is it about American culture that drives young men to take an automatic weapon to a school, church or cinema and start shooting?

Guns are part of the problem, but guns alone don’t turn sane people into mass murderers. Then again, there is something perverse and fetishistic in the way guns are revered in the US that is individual the country.

Opponents of the Second Amendment point to the success of banning weapons in the UK and Australia after the Dunblane and Port Arthur massacres. Would those countries have suffered further atrocities had guns not been banned? Possibly, but with the multitude of guns in circulation in the US (unlike in the UK and Australia) comparisons are problematic. The best you could say for a blanket ban is that it may eventually cause a cultural shift away from firearms, but probably not for generations.

It’s an ‘American’ problem.

Guns have become a tribal issue in a country increasingly separated by two opposing identities. Speaking about this article to an otherwise dispassionate and rational ally in the Midwest triggered a visceral response in which gun control was instantaneously dismissed. Likewise, speaking to colleagues in New York sparks an opposing but equally primal reaction.

This plays out on a national level with massacres met by entrenchment on both sides — those who believe guns make individuals safer and those who believe they make the country as a whole more dangerous. The makeup of these opposing groups falls along political, ethnic, social and geographic lines, as revealed by Pew polling.

Speaking after the shooting last Thursday, Obama scolded the nation for becoming “numb” to the problem. He is right; it has become “routine.” But the detachment is not because Americans don’t care… it’s because they don’t know what to do. Half the country advocates measures that wouldn’t stop mass shootings while the other half refuses to acknowledge the gun’s role in creating a destructive culture. And that, to answer the original question, is what is wrong with America.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Across Britain and the U.S., centrism is out; anti-establishment populism is in

The politics of Britain and the United States are being warped. Centrism is out, anti-establishment populism is in.

The rise of Donald Trump as frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is mirrored by the blossoming support for Bernie Sanders, an old school democratic socialist who has gained traction on the left as the Democratic Party’s alternative to Hillary Clinton.

In Britain, Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage failed to win a parliamentary seat at May’s general election, however Ukip, the right wing party he leads, trawled more than 4 million votes, up from 900,000 in 2010.

More recently, Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-war socialist, has emerged as favorite to be the next leader of the British Labour Party, garnering robust support from new and existing party members much to the frustration of his centrist rivals.

Yet the move away from conventional politics doesn’t represent a shift by the electorate towards political extremism, rather a growing frustration at the ruling political class. Trump’s June comments calling Mexican’s “rapists” and “murderers”may have split the ears of the groundlings, yet his appeal goes far beyond base nativism.

Trump praised the governments of China and Mexico for being “much smarter” than his own country’s “stupid” leaders. The tycoon’s shtick is to blame the weak establishment — Republicans and Democrats — for not standing up for blue-collar citizens in the face of conniving foreigners.

“Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger by the way, and we as a country are getting weaker,” he said, offering an easy solution — an outsider to stand up for Americans rather than politicians that pander to their own self-interest.

Trump’s cause is aided by his wealth. As he points out, he doesn’t kowtow to donorsunlike his rivals. Yet despite his money, Trump has succeeded in making many Americans feels as though he’d fight for them, not for the corporate interests establishment politicians currently serve.

The property tycoon isn’t the only anti-establishment candidate running for the Republican Party nomination. Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Texas Senator Ted Cruz peddle a similar line, excoriating Washington and the leaders of their own party as much as the Democrats. Combined they boast almost 40 percent of current Republican polling.

In the UK, Corbyn’s rise to frontrunner of the Labour Party leadership race comes on the back of his strident opposition to the status quo.

He opposes the welfare cuts imposed by David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party (reforms the Labour establishment has failed to resist) and favors tax increases on the wealthy. He even wants to renationalize the UK railway system and end Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

Corbyn stands in contrast to the previous leader Ed Miliband, whose half-hearted leftism failed to convince the voters in May, and even more starkly to Tony Blair, who led the party to three successive election victories by deliberately moving the Labour edifice to the center ground.

In the U.S., Sanders has specifically called for an end to “establishment politics,” while highlighting the threat of income inequality and the anti-Democratic influence of corporations.

He wants to increase the minimum wage, provide “tuition free” university courses, increased vacation holiday days, boost mandatory sick pay and offer childcare for working mothers.

That agenda appeals to frustrated Democratic Party supporters who were promised “hope and change” by a supposedly leftist Obama, who instead delivered eight years of centrism, albeit within an administration that pushed through equal marriage and healthcare reform.

In the UK, the popularity of Farage and Corbyn represents a similar rejection of conventionalism, both attracting support from citizens who feel that neither Labour nor the Conservative Party represents them. Members of parliament have become a political class, the only goal of which is to stay in office. They no longer serve their constituents or represent them.

Likewise in the U.S., voters see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as what Mark Leonard called “appendages of the state,” with senators and representatives reduced to the role of corporate oligarchs.

As Trump said recently, people are tired of “incompetent politicians.” The political class may scoff, but it’s Trump leading the polls and Corbyn set to be the next leader of the British Opposition.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

American election debates are even more contentious than their British counterparts

NEW YORK — The advent of American-style TV debates as part of the British electoral landscape proved hugely popular during the 2010 and 2015 general election campaigns. Yet for broadcasters, organising an event that can have such a decisive impact on the result (the 2010 success of the Liberal Democrats started with a strong debate performance by Nick Clegg) is a difficult exercise, balancing fairness to the candidates while providing a service to the electorate — all while creating a watchable spectacle.

Witness David Cameron’s machinations before the 2015 election in which the prime minister laboured to participate in the fewest debates with the most possible candidates. As the incumbent, he had the most to lose by either making a mistake or inadvertently bestowing statesmanlike parity on his rivals. The opposite ran true for the non-incumbents, whose natural inclination was to target the prime minister in the hope of gaining an imprimatur of legitimacy.

If dragging Cameron into a studio to face his adversaries was a testing task for the British broadcasters, that obstacle seems trite compared to the brouhaha engulfing the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 presidential election, scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio on August 6th.

The debate is being produced by a partnership of Fox News, Facebook and the Republican Party with the broadcaster deciding the best format would be to limit the number of candidates to 10. A second debate organised by CNN with the same format is scheduled for September. Unfortunately, there are currently 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, the largest presidential primary field in the history of the Party. So who makes the cut?

Fox News and CNN plan to use an average from five major national polls ahead of the debates. Unfortunately, polls are often wrong, particularly with some candidates polling similarly low numbers. Also, early polls tend to favour candidates with better name recognition. As such, the 10 candidates on stage in Ohio may not be the best 10 candidates in the Republican field.

Some are guaranteed a place on stage due to their consistent high polling. Businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will, short of a meltdown in the next two weeks, be at the debate.

Ted Cruz, who has suffered most from the Kraken-like emergence of Trump, is still likely safe. Trump’s nativist siren song has enchanted the party’s populist wing, a role formerly occupied by the Texas senator. Yet Cruz is polling high enough to not miss out. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, however, are in peril should a rival candidate surge.

Even if those 10 are the final selection, some heavyweight candidates will miss out, including former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 primary race, winning 11 states. Ohio Governor John Kasich (whose state hosts the debate) would also sit on the bench, alongside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former New York Governor George Pataki.

Critics, including Santorum, have complained about the “arbitrary” nature of the 10-person cut off, which could have far-reaching consequences for the nomination and even the Presidency. Those candidates who do make the cut will benefit from huge national exposure not only to prospective donors but also to voters in states the elect the Republican nominee early. Exclusion from the first two debates will, in effect, smother candidacies in their crib.

This has pushed some candidates to spend precious campaign dollars trying to secure enough support just to appear at the debate. Other aspirants – Graham and Perry – have turned on frontrunner Trump, hoping to build their profile by attacking the playground bully. Some have used the media to call for a rethink of the format, including Jindal, who argued in the Wall Street Journal that “all 16 candidates” should debate. Or as Graham brusquely reflected on the selection criteria, “It sucks.

The Republican National Committee hatched a plan to limit the 2016 primary race to just nine televised events hoping of avoid the exhaustive 2012 schedule in which candidates bloodied each other over 22 debates. The longer debate schedule gave Democrats time to organise, while leaving little more than a Romney Husk by the time he emerged the eventual Republican nominee.

As RNC Chairman Reince Priebus reflected after the 2012 defeat, “While we were playing footsie debating each other 22 times, they [the Democrats] were spending $100 million on technology.”

The move to limit the debates was designed to help Republican candidates with the aim of recapturing the presidency. However, by handing control of the debate mechanics to the broadcasters who, for production reasons have limited the number of participants, the RNC may well have distorted the democratic process, while inadvertently intensifying the internecine bloodshed.

Having reality TV star Trump and conservative author Carson on the stage makes for great TV. Yet having them ahead of senators and governors dilutes the Republican field. Also, unlike the British debates in April, which boasted three female participants, American voters will not be given a chance to hear the only woman in the Republican race, former Hewlett Packard Chief Executive Fiorina. As one of the lesser-known and lesser-funded candidates, a good debate performance could help the impressive Texan break out into the mainstream, while giving the field at least a whiff of diversity. That is unlikely to happen.

Yet despite the criticism, Fox News and CNN have shown no inclination to adjust the format. As Fox News Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente told Bloomberg earlier this month: “National polls are the traditional, time-tested yardstick by which presidential hopefuls have long been measured and remain the fairest, most objective and most straight-forward metric for gauging the viability of these candidates.”

And why should they adjust the format? They are in the ratings business not the democracy business and will do whatever creates the most compelling TV. The problem rests with the RNC, which has done nothing to force a compromise. As Curt Anderson, a consultant to Jindal’s campaign, recently noted: “The Republican Party should be looking forward instead of backward — and seeking every opportunity to feature its roster of excellent candidates, rather than trying to find ways to constrict the field.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Nicola Sturgeon on cybernats, Farage and the SNP in Westminster

Nicola Sturgeon on cybernats, Farage and the SNP in Westminster

NEW YORK — It was during the TV election debates in April that the new face of the post-referendum Scottish National Party was first unveiled to the British public. Following a poll-winning performance during the seven-way leaders debate on ITVNicola Sturgeon appeared on a five-person panel for the sequel, flanked by Labour’sEd Miliband, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party and Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood.

Broadcast live on the BBC, the vignette concluded with the SNP leader beseeching Miliband to ally against the common enemy in Downing Street, a proposal the now-former Labour chief rebuffed. Earlier, Scotland’s first minister had instigated a testy exchange with Farage on immigration. Sturgeon emerged from both unscathed. What’s more, she exited the broadcast looking like the only opposition leader able to articulate a credible anti-establishment position.

“I didn’t go into the debate intending to engage with Farage,” Sturgeon tells HuffPost, sitting in a meeting room on the top floor of Morgan Stanley’s headquarters overlooking Times Square in New York. Instead she resolved to draw her blade only if he was “offensive.” He was and she did, capping a bad night for the Ukip boss who was earlier booed for attacking the audience.

“I think Farage was exposed in those debates,” she reflects. “Once he’d blamed the foreigners, there was pretty much nothing else. I think people saw him for what he was.”

In the days following the debate, Sturgeon’s inbox was deluged by emails from English voters asking her to stand candidates south of the border, a flood she ascribes to a “deep disillusionment about the lack of choice on offer.”

Decrying the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems as “different shades of the same thing,” the 44-year-old says the appetite for an alternative “is just as strong” in the rest of the UK as it is in Scotland. “But my goodness, there’s a market for a really social democratic party in England,” she suggests.

Yet a month later David Cameron returned to Downing Street, his tenure at Number 10 freshly unshackled from coalition. “They [the voters] opted for the devil they knew,” says Sturgeon. Her post election analysis is simple: Miliband failed to “do the deal with voters in England” and was therefore not a “viable alternative.”

The former solicitor quickly rebukes any notion that the SNP aided the Tories by splitting the opposition vote. “Labour could have won every seat in Scotland and they still wouldn’t have won the election because the failed to beat the Tories in England,” she says. “It’s not for me to answer why Labour failed in England, but that’s the question they’ve got to answer.”

Sturgeon admits the debates were “nerve-wracking” with “a lot riding on it for all of us.” Emblematic of the relief was the now-famed hug between Sturgeon and her fellow panellists, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, as David Dimbleby closed the show.

Yet the SNP chief suggests it was more than just respite, calling it a “vivid illustration” of how women approach politics. “Three men wouldn’t have done that, even if they felt the same,” she says, recalling the positive reaction she received “to see women represented” and how it had “changed the tone.”

The day before our interview, Sturgeon was similarly anxious ahead of an appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Despite being broadcast on Comedy Central, the show has become the sole proponent of oppositional political debate in the US, much to the shame of mainstream news outlets. As such it has a huge following nationally and around the world. Invitations to appear are not to be snubbed.

“I got through it,” she laughs, describing the show’s outgoing host as “charming and very well informed.” Her appearance was the centrepiece of a four-day tour of the US to promote business, tourism and study. Within the segment, the first minister was asked about the tribal nature of British politics and whether Blighty was becoming polarised, similar to the US.

She reflects further on this during our sit down, saying “it feels like it has” but attributes that to social media, that has given “people who want to be aggressive and abusive… ways of being heard.”

“The referendum, by its nature, had a ‘yes’ camp and a ‘no’ camp, which can make people feel as though they’re divided, but overwhelmingly the experience of the referendum on both sides was positive,” she says.

sturgeon the daily show

The SNP leader appears on Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’, part of her four-day tour of the United States

Last Sunday Alastair Campbell appeared on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr” show, the former political aide decrying the so-called cybernats (a catchall term for abusive nationalists) following some rough treatment of the late Charles Kennedy during the election campaign.

Yet Sturgeon insists the invective doesn’t solely emanate from her corner of the Union, with people “on both sides” engaging in online abuse. “I could shown you the abuse that gets hurled at me on Twitter,” she says, nodding to her phone. Still, the first minister remains a fan of the micro-blogging site, which “democratises public debate” even if the tone is “impossible to control.”

“Party leaders do have a responsibility to speak out,” she says, “and I do that more than any other party leader. Even people who are professing to be on my side, I’ll call them out.”

The cybernats emerged during the bruising referendum campaign, culminating last September in a narrow defeat for the nationalists. Scotland was to remain in the Union and the groundswell of SNP support would quickly dissipate. Except, it didn’t. The momentum increased, propelling Sturgeon’s party to a landslide victory at the general election, securing 56 of the 59 Scottish seats.

Parliament started a new session and Westminster welcomed a raft of fledgling MPs from the north, some indifferent or unaware of the traditions of the House of Commons. Headlines followed in which nationalists were accused of not following protocol and being disruptive.

“We are not deliberately going around Westminster trying to annoy people,” says Sturgeon. “We’ve got people in our group that are new to politics. They don’t know what the hundred-year traditions are. Clapping is commonplace in the Scottish parliament. Who knew it’s forbidden in the House of Commons?”

Still, she remains bullish, insisting the SNP is doing “what it should be doing — asserting its position as the third biggest party in the House of Commons.” Her MPs are not there to “be disruptive or destructive,” but are there “to get things done.”

Despite general election success, Sturgeon still regards the referendum as a “devastating defeat” though she notes it quickly became clear that “something had changed in Scotland” and the country would not go “back to the way we were before the referendum.” Having tasted “what it was like to be in charge of the destiny of our own country” that appetite would not be sated.

Yet victory in May created fresh problems for the party, whose ultimate ambition remains to leave the Union. How quickly can they call for a second vote on independence? Waiting has a generational benefit (young people are more likely to vote ‘yes’ so better to be patient) however delay risks diminishing the enthusiastic support that has propelled the nationalists to lofty heights. Sturgeon cuts a middle road, describing the “deep pragmatism” of the people who want independence.

“We know we can’t rush it,” she says. “We didn’t persuade the majority [at the referendum], and there’s no shortcut. You can’t just keep asking the question over and over again until you get the answer you want. You have to build a case through patient endeavour.” In the meantime, Sturgeon is determined to “get on with running the country,” including pushing for more devolution from Westminster, even more than was promised by the post-referendum Smith Report.

Smith was a response by the Westminster parties to the referendum result,” she says. “They need to come up with a response to the general election result. To say it’s business as usual and carry on with ‘Smith’ won’t satisfy people.”

Sturgeon is unmoved by the argument that further devolution could undercut her quest for independence, machinations she dismisses as “Machiavellian.” She is more open to idea that an EU referendum could lead to a second independence vote, though admits her preference would be not to hold an EU vote at all. “I hope the UK votes to stay in,” she says. “If that doesn’t happen we’ll have to see. But it’s one scenario that could increase demand for a second referendum because Scotland is not going to look kindly on being taken out of the EU.”

We return to Labour and the question of whether the SNP needs a robust opposition party in Scotland if only for accountability. “I think it’s healthy in any democracy to have a strong opposition but as first minister I can’t create one,” she says. “Also, I’m still a politician. I’m not going to wish for the quick recovery of my main political opponent, not when I’ve got an election in 11 months time.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Healthy bodies for a sick world…

“Physical culture is in the air just now,” reflected P. G. Wodehouse in an article forVanity Fair published a year before the “gentleman’s gentleman” entered the literary canon.

The essay described how the “average man” of post-Edwardian England “now postpones his onslaught on the boiled egg for a matter of fifteen minutes,” time devoted to a “series of bendings and stretchings which in the course of time are guaranteed to turn him into a demi-god.”

A century later and physical culture once again pervades. Earlier this week, a colleague in London penned an article highlighting the growth in female sports as symbolic of a wider trend towards health and fitness in the U.K.

The U.S. is similarly bending and stretching under the spell, with traditional gyms augmented by boutique fitness centers and juice shops in the country’s great metropolises.

My colleague cited figures on the mushrooming market for women’s sporting clothes to emphasize the refocus towards personal wellbeing, while noting the community aspect of modern fitness fueled by the carbs of “celebrity and media.”

She is certainly right on the community aspect, with a strong argument that gatherings around fitness have superseded the church and synagogue — brick victims of secularism’s powerful strides. As such, health could simply be the latest expression of the human need to experience transcendental emotion beyond the individual.

The fitness center is, after all, the modern incarnation of a religious cult, one that leans back beyond Wodehouse, even beyond the “muscular Christianity” of the Victorians and into antiquity with the Romans and ancient Greeks using exercise as a preparation for war.

Yet the current flowering may have more immediate psychological drivers too. Wodehouse wrote about the push towards “physical culture” in 1914, a year bandaged by the tumult of war wrought on both citizenry and soldiery.

Likewise, the 2008 financial crash (and its economic and political aftermath) blanketed the hitherto comfortable West in doubt, insecurity and a profound sense of unease.

Whereas Europe and America’s portly middle classes once relied on a career delivering sufficient recompense to raise a family, buy a house, enjoy vacations, and save for a comfortable retirement, the 2008 meltdown broke the illusion.

Banks crumbled, interest rates plummeted, employment fell and wages stagnated. Meanwhile, restrictions on lending created a generation for whom homeownership — the most basic emblem of long-term security — was denied.

Meanwhile, the rise of the Islamic State abroad was paralleled by anti-immigrant sentiment at home, the rats of the far-right resurfacing from the pipes and sewers to once again spread the bacilli of intolerance and hate.

For a generation, the system’s upheaval highlighted a lack of control in the world, a psychological blow that led many to turn inwards, attempting to regain control via dominance over their own bodies.

In a society unrestrained and a future unknown, perhaps exercise regimes, healthy eating and mindfulness offered a return to the illusion or at least a way to cope with the stress therein.

Writing the year the Great War was unleashed, Wodehouse scoffed at how “the advertisement pages of the magazines are congested with portraits of stern-looking, semi-nude individuals with bulging muscles and fifty-inch chests.”

The author lived to be 93, having practiced his own daily exercise regime for more than 50 years. Were he alive today, he may well have noted the plates of healthy food, yoga poses and shirtless pull-ups similarly congesting Instagram.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Don’t understand the UK election? Here’s the simple answer…

Britain is f*cked.

Gone are the days when power was exchanged between the main political behemoths — Labour and the Conservatives. Recent years have heralded the emergence of several smaller parties with divergent and competing ideologies, each flourishing by tapping into the electorate’s increasingly visceral scorn at the political status quo.

Britain’s “first past the post” voting system (the same used to elect to Congress) was designed to create majority governments — yet for the second election running it will yield no winning margin. That’s because neither the Labour Party nor the Conservatives will get within a piss-length of the post (let alone be the first to cross it) such has been the hemorrhage of voters to the political fringe.

Without sufficient members of parliament (MPs) to form a majority, the two main parties are fated to court potential partners, such as Nigel Farage’s fiercely Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (Ukip), Nicola Sturgeon’s pro-secessionist Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), and the Liberal Democrats, cohorts in the last coalition, led by Nick Clegg (who are likely to be decimated by voters, thus limiting their influence). The Greens, alongside the nationalist party of Wales (Plaid Cymru) and the unionist DUP of Northern Ireland, complete the undercard.

Backroom negotiations start on May 8; it’s a hand of high-stakes poker with each party gambling on how much of their own agenda they can compromise in exchange for power. The Tories and Ukip form a potential center-right alliance, Labour and the SNP a prospective center-left counterbalance. No combination therein is likely to produce a stable government, with Clegg this week predicting another general election before Christmas.

This is simply democracy working, you’re no doubt squealing at the screen. Yes — a coalition government can (in theory) mean a broader range of interests is represented in Westminster. However, the core vision of Ukip is to take Britain out of the European Union, while the SNP is determined to beak up the United Kingdom.

Current Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU by 2017. The increasing popularity of Ukip, to whom the Tories have been leaking members and MPs, allied to a general suspicion towards Britain’s European partners makes an exit all the more likely, an economically ruinous outcome for both the U.K and the continent.

On the economy, the U.K.’s budget deficit is stuck at 5 percent of GDP and though the last coalition (the Tories and the Lib Dems) cut unemployment, this came at the expense of living standards, with declining wages and soaring house prices disproportionately affecting Britain’s young.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to tackle the deficit with smaller, less painful strides, allied to tax increases for the wealthy, including a levy on houses priced at more than £2 million. All very progressive, but to enact these reforms he’ll need the support of the SNP, who look set to become Britain’s third largest party.

Although the nationalists are unlikely to push for an independence vote in the next parliament (last year’s vote was defeated 55 percent-45 percent) their increasing power makes a second referendum and Scotland’s eventual dismemberment somewhat inevitable — again, with huge economic implications for the U.K. and beyond.

So here’s Sophie’s choice for Britain: leave the EU or end the UK. Think upon that the next time you’re getting charged up about Hillary’s donors or Ted’s hosts.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.