Author Archives: ianjamesparsley

Complications of British versus American English

The distinction between British English (assumed to be the BBC/Cambridge standard) and American English (based on the variety often referred to as “General American”) is widely misunderstood, even by native speakers. What can we do to understand it better?

History

American English is essentially a mix of the various dialects spoken upon the arrival of the English language in North America, which then moved west. As they moved west, they tended towards further convergence. There is, thus, very little geographical variation on the West Coast, whereas in the east there is a clear distinction between, for example, New England, New York, the Washington area and the South.

For a variety of reasons, there is a tendency to overplay the relevance to American English of accents from Scotland and Ireland, and to underplay to importance of dialects from England (notably the West Country). Nor is there any case for suggesting any particular dialect is more or less conservative than any other, on either side of the Atlantic.

Register

In formal usage, with some minor spelling differences, American and British English are almost identical. In a Presidential Debate, for example, no British viewer will have any difficulty at all with linguistic comprehension.

At the other end of the scale, colloquial speech exhibits significant differences. However, this is true within North America and the British Isles as much as between them.

Americanisms

When people in the UK talk of American English, they generally talk in terms of “Americanisms”, i.e. words or phrases apparently borrowed into British English from American English.

In fact, the complaints often concern things which are not Americanisms at all, but general developments in English.

Briticisms

“Briticisms” or “Britishisms” are also found in contemporary American English, particularly on the east coast. They include:

  • “go missing” (in the sense of deliberately disappear: General American “disappear”);
  • “brilliant” (to mean essentially “Ok, let’s do that”: General American “Ok”, “Right”);
  • “dog’s breakfast”, General American “mess, complete failure” [actually first cited in County Antrim in 1892];
  • “liaise”, General American “work with”; and
  • “scuppered”, General American “ruined”.

President Obama also caused a furore in the UK in early 2016 when he said the UK would “go to the back of the queue” (General American: “line”?), but in fact the term is not unknown in the United States and indeed Obama himself had used it several times before.

Idiom

In fact, vocabulary is rarely a clear-cut difference. For example, Americans “mail” a letter using the “United States Postal Service”, whereas the British “post” a letter using the “Royal Mail”. In many instances, apparently different words are simply a matter of priority usage – for example, whereas Americans are more likely to use “automobile”, both Brits and Americans use “auto(mobile)” and “(motor) car” (there will be just slight differences as to when: Americans will speak of the “auto industry” rather than “car industry” but even Brits have an “Automobile Association”; where Americans have an “auto show”, Brits will in fact refer to a “motor show”).

The main differences in fact come in the idiom in use in relatively informal speech (geographical dialect differences are always most marked in colloquial usage). A few marked differences (but again there are few absolute rules) appear to be:

  • Americans use more formal language in signage: “Restrooms”, “Beverages” etc. (UK “Toilets”, “Drinks”);
  • Americans may prefer to refer to self, notably in instructions “At this time we are going to need you to fasten your seat belts” (UK “At this time you should fasten your seat belts);
  • With certain verbs, Americans use the main verb where Brits prefer a modal: “Do you hear what I hear?” versus “Can you hear what I hear?”
  • “Tags” in American are different – for example, “You were here yesterday, right?” versus more typical British “You were here yesterday, weren’t you?”

There are also some interesting more global challenges. Should Americans refer to legislatures abroad generally as “parliaments”, even though they may be called something different locally and Americans themselves do not have parliaments?

Needless to say, many American idioms have made it across the Atlantic with little awareness of their true meaning in Britain. In British English:

  • things can “sell like hotcakes” even though there are no “hotcakes” (the nearest equivalent is perhaps “pancake”, although exactly what that is depends on where you are in the British Isles);
  • a number can be a “ballpark figure” even though there are no “ballparks” (only “grounds” and “stadiums”), and someone can “step up to the plate” with the wrong type of “plate” being envisaged (not “envisioned”, by the way…);
  • something can be “heard on the grapevine” even though this refers to a method of communication specific to the American Civil War (when the Union side used wires in trees to pass on messages which looked like “grapevines”);
  • questions are “million dollar” questions, not million pound, with the specific exception of a 2000s game show!

Grammar

There are also subtle but marked grammatical differences.

American English treats collective nouns as singular, whereas in recent decades British has come to prefer plural: “The committee has/have decided”. British still uses singular where no group connotation is implied: “The committee consists of nine members”.

American English simplifies conditional clauses: “If they appeared at the same location, we would surely have seen them?” versus British “If they had appeared at the same location, we would surely have seen them?”

Americans are also more willing to maintain the full “would have” as the conditional from “have” in the conditional clause itself, whereas British prefers “had” in conditional clauses reserving “would have” only for main clauses (although in colloquial speech it often ends up confused, with “had have”): “If I would have seen it, I would have acted” versus “If I had seen it, I would have acted”.

Conversely, American is stricter about the use of the present subjunctive: “It is essential these matters be attended to” versus “It is essential these matters are attended to”.

American also prefers the preterite for immediate past action, where British uses the perfect: “What did you just do?” versus “What have you just done?”

American often also refers back to a whole noun phrase: “I knew if I missed that putt, I was out of the golf tournament” versus “I knew if I missed that putt, I was out of the tournament”.

There are some verb forms which differ too, at least in general. American has irregularised “dive-dove-dived” by partial analogy with “drive-drove-driven” (British retains “dive-dived-dived”). Conversely American has fully regularised “dream-dreamed-dreamed”, “learn-learned-learned” and similar where British allows “dreamt” and “learnt”. (With that latter, there is a subtle difference in meaning too – Americans often use “learn” where Brits use “find out”).

Parallels

An interesting question is how significant is the distinction between American versus British English versus other New World versus Old World varieties? Of course, the answer to this is subjective. In order, I would suggest the distinctions are as follows:

  • Brazilian versus European Portuguese (most distinct): there are marked differences in basic pronunciation and fundamental aspects of grammar, as well as some spelling and vocabulary;
  • Quebec versus European French: there are marked differences in certain areas of pronunciation as well as vocabulary (but less so in grammar and scarcely at all in spelling);
  • Latin American versus Peninsular Spanish: this is much harder to judge as there are significant variations within Latin American Spanish (indeed, the very notion that there is such a thing as “Latin American Spanish” is dubious) – notably, the Spanish of the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile and Uruguay) has a markedly different intonation and significant grammatical differences versus that of central Spain, but those are perhaps the extremes;
  • American versus British English: despite spelling differences and some noteworthy variations in vocabulary, in fact American and British English may be the closest – but it is subjective!

In some ways German German versus Austrian German also exhibit as many spelling, vocabulary and grammatical differences as British versus American English, for various historical reasons.

Sectarianism – we do these things because they are hard, not because they are easy…

Colum Eastwood, Leader of the SDLP, said at the start of his tenure that a “United Ireland” is “still the best idea we have“.

This was a peculiar comment. Northern Ireland is, as a matter of fact, divided along sectarian lines – choices in education, leisure and of course politics are defined by these. Yet those who believe that a “United Ireland” is “the best idea we have” are found almost exclusively on one side of that fault line, among those of broadly Catholic community (and religious and educational) background.

The fact remains, despite many efforts, that 85% of voters choose a party specifically associated with one or other side (by definition, “sectarian”); 90% are educated in schools whose pupils are 90%+ from one side or another (“sectarian”); entire communities in sport and music also grow up more often than not on one side (“sectarian”).

One area where there has been a major breakthrough since the start of the Troubles is the workplace. These too were often typically of one side or the other. It is within living memory that large company workplaces were bedecked in flags, stating clearly which “side” they belonged to. Into this century a specific Catholic unemployment rate was announced every month. Both would now be unthinkable.

The solution to the workplace issue was in effect to enforce pro-activity to tackle sectarian exclusion. Large employers who are found to be recruiting exclusively or almost exclusively from one side were and are asked to explain what they are doing to address this and to ensure that opportunities are open to as wide a range of people of all different backgrounds (from all sides) as possible. We have all seen the adverts – “X community is underrepresented so applications are particularly welcome” – although that is only one aspect. Sometimes much more specific action was seen to be required, most obviously with the police, whose 93% Protestant background workforce was evened up by 50/50 recruitment. This was of course strongly supported by Nationalists, which brings us back to the SDLP.

The SDLP was founded as an avowedly anti-sectarian party predominantly to unite workers and other promoters of civil rights. Yet its modern face is astonishingly one-sided. It is surely the case that the party’s elected representatives, officers and so on now come almost exclusively (more than 93%) from one side. Whatever their intentions, it is thus inevitable that the party will do things (canvass outside mass) or say things (“the north”) which also appeal exclusively to one side or alienate another side. They might even make a comment about “the best idea we have” without even the slightest notion that it is really only that to people who grow up with the national identity of one side, and absolutely not to the other.

This brings us to what really should be an unbelievably obvious point. People who grow up in Northern Ireland into a family with a broadly Irish identity (who will still, sadly, in 85%+ of cases attend a church, go to a school and vote for a party based on that) will tend towards the nationalist “best idea we have” side because that is what they grew up with. Those who grew up in a family with a broadly British identity, on the other hand, will attend a different church, go to a different school, and vote for a different party while tending towards strong support for maintaining the UK (thus for the unionist side) because that is what they grew up with. Selecting Nationalist or Unionist is the same as selecting Irish or British, or for that matter French, Australian or Thai – you are born into it and it is what you grow up with.

Thus the very notion of what is the “best idea we have” depends not on objective analysis or rational thought, but on preferences we were born into and experienced during our cultural upbringing. We are almost all, therefore, born into a side – in other words, born sectarian.

Then get this: pointing out that we live in a sectarian society with sides is not in itself an act of sectarianism; indeed, it is in fact the first act in tackling sectarianism. Ignoring it and pretending it is not there is only likely to make matters worse, as it gives us no basis even for recognising our different upbringings and the likely misunderstandings they will cause. We have to recognise it, honestly and openly, before we can overcome it.

For what it is worth, that is the fundamental difference between the SDLP and Alliance in 2017. The SDLP wants to pretend we can get rid of sectarianism by ignoring it as if it does not exist, and thus continues to retreat on to one side of the fence. The Alliance Party tries instead to recognise the problem and be proactive in addressing it – necessarily through compromise.

Actually recognising the problem and calling it out is not, of course, the generally popular option – after all, who wants to admit they have a problem? It is much more tempting just to pretend it is not there. But if we are to take Northern Ireland and, for that matter, all of Ireland forward, we are going to have to do some of this tough stuff.

It can be done – after all, the guy who said “We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard” was elected! Let us hope a few more prepared to go the hard route are elected on 8 June.

British Left-Liberalism has to learn fast

Guest Post, Reaction:

Theresa May has not said much during this election campaign that I agree with. She hasn’t really said very much at all. However, one thing she did say was fundamentally true: work is the best route out of poverty.

The middle-class left jumped on this with the usual comeback that most people who are “in poverty” (actually, “whose income is below 60% of the UK median”) are in work. Ha! Take that Theresa! You’re wrong!

No she is not wrong, and what is more people who actually experience poverty (be that low income or social exclusion) know it better than any. After all, certain so-called “lefties” can literally afford to treat politics as a game to make themselves feel good about their own advanced education and comparatively high income; people who experience poverty day and daily cannot. It matters to them that those governing the country show some knowledge of their plight and of their ambitions – including ambitions to gain self respect (not least through work) and to have their identity and that of their community respected (not least if this identity is “English”).

Instead of understanding those ambitions, too many self-identifying as “Left” (but themselves not experiencing poverty of any form) appear to sneer at them. Their suggestion that work is not the best route out of poverty is heard by those who actually experience it as a suggestion that they should not have any aspirations; they should, so it seems, exist merely as clients of the welfare state and not as people with ambitions and identities of their own. Add this to the implicit (and occasionally even explicit) suggestion that displays of identity (such as the display of England flags) are to be frowned upon or even linked to racism, and all you have created is an even more marginalised group – and one which will most certainly not turn to the Left for answers.

This brings us neatly to two myths. Firstly, there is the notion that the Conservatives do not understand anywhere outside the M25 – yet London is the only region in England and Wales where the Conservatives are polling below 40% (noting that no party has scored that in England and Wales as a whole since 2001). Secondly, there is the notion that the Conservatives only exist for the elite or the rich – yet in fact the Conservative polling score is identical among all classes (as is Labour’s).

I think a Conservative landslide, read as a mandate to pursue Brexit and continue public spending squeezes come what may under the leadership of an inadequate Prime Minister who has no original ideas beyond a sound byte, would be a disaster for British democracy. Yet the Left – all talk, no listen – is about to let that happen.

Brexit will deprive agri-food sector of exports

There is very little we can be sure of about Brexit. A Free Trade arrangement of some sort accompanied by a deal on free movement would mean that it made very little practical difference for many of us; a straight-out departure falling out of and with the EU would be considerably more problematic.

However, for the agri-food sector and farmers in general, it is hard to see how the situation can be salvaged. The reason for this is CAP (and CFP); this is designed precisely as a protectionist policy for European agriculture and fishing. There is no precedent for any country outside the EU to have free access to the Single Market for agriculture precisely because of the purpose of EU policy – protectionism.

It is being suggested that, given the balance of agricultural trade, perhaps the UK could be the first exception and receive free access to the Single Market in this area. Leaving aside that the whole point of leaving the EU, according to the likely next UK Government, is doing trade deals (which would surely include agriculture), this is politically unrealistic. EU protectionism will see UK produce discriminated against within the remaining EU, and that will be that. This means, regardless of subsidies, UK farmers will simply have no one to export to (at least without tariffs being applied).

Why did no one tell them that before the referendum? They did. Leave-voting farmers will have brought this upon themselves.

Legal aid should not delay democracy

From News Letter a week ago.

The ongoing appeals of a self-acclaimed ‘conservationist’ against the construction of the much needed A6 expressway make a mockery of democracy; and we need to be clear about who is paying for this farce.

Proposals to link the end of the M22 and Randalstown and Castledawson Roundabout with a high quality dual carriageway have existed for half a century. Detailed work progressed to the stage, already fully a decade ago, where the route for the link had been agreed and work was ready to proceed once funding was available. Both an Ulster Unionist and, subsequently, a Sinn Fein Minister gave the go ahead for the new road to proceed and allocated appropriate funding to enable this to happen with the full consent of a DUP Finance Minister and all other major parties commanding the support of over 90% of the electorate. Tens of thousands of people in Mid Ulster and the North West stood to benefit from the new road, making their journey to the Greater Belfast area more comfortable, faster, and most of all safer.

As is absolutely their right in a democracy, a small minority opted to oppose the road. They challenged it, albeit curiously late, by mounting a democratic campaign to try to get politicians to change their mind. When that failed, they moved to try to demonstrate that the route had not been correctly selected by officials. They failed even to crowd-source enough money to pay the legal fees, yet somehow the legal challenge went ahead – and it too failed. It is therefore essential, in any democracy with the Rule of Law with both political opinion and legal judgment in favour, that the road proceed without delay and the benefits of it be accrued quickly.

It is entirely unacceptable that a minority of one person should be able to continue to challenge the road legally at great expense just because he does not like it. Democracy fundamentally requires us as good citizens to accept political decisions and legal determinations even when we dislike them.

We need now to be told clearly who is paying for these endless and spurious legal challenges (if they were anything other than spurious there would by now have been a clear legal reason for the appeal); and to learn the lesson that such selfishness is intolerable in a democratic society.

Corbyn has no ideas and no plan to tackle poverty

Yes, Prime Minister, the BBC sitcom, gave us many memorable lines but the one I am most frequently inclined to recall is Sir Humphrey’s “Things don’t just happen because Prime Ministers are keen on them! Chamberlain was keen on peace!

Jeremy Corbyn is often defended on the basis, essentially, that he is “keen” on helping poor people.

It should be noted that even this is dubious. In fact, much of his career has been spent focusing on ideological struggles, often (although not always of course) in faraway lands and often involving the endorsement of some pretty shady characters intent on causing rather than resolving suffering.

Let us, for the sake of argument, give him the benefit of the doubt. If Jeremy Corbyn is keen on helping poor people, presumably he has a well thought out and practical plan to do so?

Well, no.

In fact, his highlight plan is to remove University tuition fees. Yet those tuition fees would have to be paid from somewhere, presumably from general taxation. This means the majority who do not go to University would end up subsidising the minority who do. Is Mr Corbyn not supposed to be helping “the many” versus “the few”? How on Earth does this policy accomplish that? In fact, it does the precise opposite. (It is popular with the Guardian-reading middle class, of course, and may indeed be responsible for a slight improvement in his polling numbers – but that was not supposed to be the point.)

Another one is free hospital parking. This is certainly theoretically more progressive, but in fact it is impractical. How does one then ensure that people using hospital car parks are there for the purposes of visiting the hospital? How does one manage (and/or enforce) the necessary turnover in parking spaces so that everyone who needs to can visit? And indeed, where is the money thus taken from the Health Service to cover the loss of revenue (and, presumably, cost of enforcement) returned from?

Then we get, of course, to the retirement age. Holding it where it is would only mean those earning would have to be squeezed still further. So much for helping the “squeezed middle”!

And so it goes on. There is in fact no coherent basic analysis underlying any of these policies of what it is that drives poverty, nor indeed even a specific definition of it. Does it mean inequality exclusively, or social exclusion, or something else? What in fact are the issues around education, health or even housing and transport which force people into poverty and then keep them there? In fact, we get nothing beyond vague and obvious notions that it is bad; but we are left with no ideas and no coherent plan to overcome it, just a set of populist policies that no one could disagree with if only money were no object.

Even really quite good policies, such as a focus on early intervention in schools, are thus overshadowed. This is because fundamentally the left everywhere in the Western World has no new ideas at all beyond some vague (and, as the generations go on, undeliverable) promises about spending more money.

Again, on the left as on the alt-right, we are faced with a populist intellectual laziness. This is not something we can afford.

 

SNP at sea on EU

It seems odd to say this of a party set to win the second most seats ever in Scotland at a General Election, but the SNP’s self-assurance is not what it was. One reason for this is the issue of EU membership where, in common with many Remainers, the SNP is now finding itself struggling to clarify its exact position.

62% of Scots voted Remain but, for all that, turnout was considerably lower than it was in England. In fact, as a total share of the electorate, the Remain vote in Scotland was not much higher than in England. As a result, the underlying idea presented by Remainers (and, often, the media) that Scotland would go for independence immediately in order to remain in the EU was always laughable. After all, judging by referendum turnout, Scots were disproportionately uninterested in the whole issue of Europe.

Widely missed also have been the polls and surveys showing that support for remaining in the EU bore almost no relation whatsoever to support for independence. In other words, how someone voted in the 2014 independence referendum tells us very little about how that same person voted in the 2016 EU referendum. More simply: supporters of Scottish independence are not particularly keener to remain in the EU than opponents of it.

Hence Nicola Sturgeon’s unusual lack of assurance during this campaign. She cannot simply say that an independent Scotland will re-enter the EU. Less than a third of Scotland’s voters chose independence and then “Remain”; and, in any case, Scotland does almost four times as much trade with the rest of the UK than it does with the rest of the EU. As we saw last June, referendums are not decided solely on economic interest, but that combination of public opinion and economic interest does mean that a simple swap of UK for EU would be deeply unpopular. The SNP knows it.

In some ways, the SNP’s uncertainty reflects that of many Remainers. It is by no means clear even across the UK that there really is a “48%”. The Conservatives’ gamble that internationalist centre-right Remainers would stay with them while Leavers join them seems set to pay off (not least in Scotland); there is no parallel the other way around.

Therein lies a massive challenge.

Scotland the place to watch on 8 June

One of the prime cases for Scottish independence is simply that Scotland is different from the rest of the UK. This case is, of course, debatable, but one area where it is clearly different is local government.

Scotland, like Northern Ireland, now uses the Single Transferable Vote system (mistakenly referred to sometimes as “Proportional Representation”; it is not that). The inevitable outcome is that it is extremely rare for any Council to have an overall majority (indeed none on the Scottish mainland or in Northern Ireland has), thus rendering the BBC’s front results page redundant.

IMG_9868

The above figures are perhaps the interesting ones. These indicate the first preference vote by party. Even at that, we should note that in much of rural Scotland Independents predominate.

Those figures give the SNP 32%; this is interesting because it is the same figure as last time (in 2012). Much has happened since yet, interestingly, the SNP first preference share remains stable.

The big swing happened of course among the “Unionist” parties. Labour was neck and neck with the SNP in 2012, and yet crashed to just 20% this year. The Conservatives benefitted from this in the main, rising to a quarter of the vote, a figure unthinkable even two years ago.

Notable also was the lack of clear direction for the “Unionist Remain” vote in Scotland, where those who voted Leave seem to be swinging behind Ruth Davidson’s party (despite the fact she herself was one of the most eloquent Remain activists).

The ongoing split in the “Unionist” vote is good news for the SNP, who are so far ahead in many of its Westminster seats that at least 45 or so are surely utterly safe. Elsewhere, however, tactical voting will be important and the Scottish Conservatives will almost certainly gain some seats and finish second in Scotland.

The scale of this turnaround, and whether it can then be maintained, will be interesting to watch.

Beware false news – and false analysis

BBC Talkback host William Crawley is very keen to make the distinction between ‘false news’ on one hand, and outright misinformation on the other. There should perhaps be a third category – ‘false analysis’.

This category would belong to the type of ‘analysis’ presented by politicians or pundits (sadly, quite often the latter in fact) which is in fact nothing of the sort. What it is, in fact, is a regurgitation of an already pre-determined viewpoint by trying to fit some selective ‘facts’ to a pre-existing opinion and then presenting it as ‘analysis’. The media (and indeed, the citizenry at large) need to be careful about this.

One example occurred last week when it was suggested that the Northern Ireland Health Service would be as bad as the Republic of Ireland’s within ten years because of ‘Tory austerity’. There is so much wrong with that ‘analysis’ that it is hard to know where to begin – some of it is highly questionable and some of it is simple error (all of it designed to fit pre-existing bias).

Let us start with the simple errors, of which incredibly there are three categories in that simple statement alone. Firstly, since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, we have not experienced ‘austerity’ with regard to Health spending (‘austerity’ is defined as a closing of the gap between revenue raised and public spending, and that has not happened with regards to spending on Health or, in most cases, at all). Secondly, again since 2010, Health spending in Northern Ireland has risen significantly more slowly than in England despite every rise in England being passed on to the Northern Ireland Executive in equivalent per-head terms – this is because the Northern Ireland Executive has elected not to spend all of the additional spending meant for Health on Health (indeed on some occasions it has allocated none of the uplift at all to Health); so any comparative decline in Health spending is entirely the fault of the Northern Ireland Executive led by the DUP and Sinn Fein throughout that period. Thirdly, the Northern Ireland Health Service’s problems do not derive fundamentally from a lack of spending – it has been noted constantly that just leaving things as they are would see Northern Ireland’s entire devolved budget spent on Health within a couple of decades; in other words, the issue is not the failure to allocate money to keep the current system running, but rather the failure to reform the current system in line with multiple expert reviews. So three errors – there has not been ‘austerity’ as defined (particularly not with regard to Health); the comparative reduction in spending versus the rest of the UK is the fault of the DUP and Sinn Fein not the ‘Tories’; and in any case the fundamental issue is the need for reform, not spending.

On top of that is the assumption made that Northern Ireland’s Health Service is superior to the Republic’s. This is, at least, arguable, but it is by no means certain. Life expectancy in the Republic has drawn level with Northern Ireland in recent years, which would at least suggest that its service is not notably poorer. The Republic’s system of having the better off pay for Health services while covering the poorest is arguably considerably more progressive than Northern Ireland’s; indeed, it could be argued that Northern Ireland is heading this way in any case because, as waiting lists become so long, the better off are choosing to pay to go private anyway. The notion that the Northern Ireland service is superior is perhaps defensible on the evidence, but that evidence should at least be tested and it must be recognised that there is also a counter-argument.

There is just one of many cases where what is passed off as ‘analysis’ is in fact not just ‘opinion’, but opinion based on fiction. As the old maxim goes, you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts; free speech is one thing, but if the media are presenting something as ‘analysis’ they must ensure it is soundly reasoned for fair and rational debate to take place. Otherwise they are just building on the ‘fake news’ problem.

Do not overstate value of Macron’s win

I was very pleased Emmanuel Macron was elected President of the French Republic. I would have happily voted for him in both rounds – as a well rounded, liberal internationalist.

Nevertheless, we should not understate how close France came to another political disaster.

In the first round, anything could have happened. A populist from the Far Left (look to Venezuela for how that works out) and a Thatcherite came within a whisker of being Le Pen’s rival in the final round rather than Macron.

In the second round, faced with an obviously competent centrist candidate, a far right nationalist (someone worse than Farage, who has never been directly elected to anything) received over a third of votes cast.

We may express relief that the outcome in France was what it was. But the narrowness of the new President’s passage in the first round and the shock of 11 million people choosing Le Pen (a lot more than 15 years ago) should not be ignored.

Democracy and civilisation remain under attack from populists and extremists. Be in no doubt about that.