What Happened When A Left & A Right-Wing Woman Emailed Each Other For A Week

Dominique Samuels (left); Natalie Gil (right)
Brexit, Trump and the spread of populism across Europe have made many of us reconsider the political diversity of our social groups, both online and off. We often hear, particularly as 'millennials', about the dangers of living in 'filter bubbles' or 'echo chambers' in which we're exposed purely to like-minded people, through a combination of online algorithms and our squeamishness regarding views different from our own.
While the impact of these echo chambers may have been overstated, according to various studies, I admit I shield myself from Trump's Twitter account and inflammatory content produced by the Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Mail. I know I should be more receptive to engaging with alternative narratives, if only to challenge my own confirmation bias.
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So I reached out to Dominique Samuels, the spokeswoman for Turning Point UK (TPUK) and asked her if she would take part in a weeklong email back and forth with me. Would discussing politics with a card-carrying member of the political right expand my outlook? And what effect would the conversation have on our strongly held opinions?
As well as being a figurehead of the UK's newest political student movement, 20-year-old Samuels, from Manchester, is a politics and international relations student at the University of York. TPUK is an offshoot of Turning Point USA, a controversial pro-Trump pressure group targeted at millennials, which espouses the virtues of capitalism, free speech and limited government. (In the US it's also become associated with racism and the far right, and has been accused of encouraging the harassment of professors on US campuses and interfering in student government elections.) Its UK launch in February triggered a wave of parody accounts and outrage, while the health and social care charity Turning Point wasn't best pleased, to say the least.
Samuels was 17 when she first identified as right-wing, she says, and while she wasn't old enough to vote in the EU referendum, she supported the Leave campaign and "feel[s] even more passionate about it now". This makes her statistically unusual, according to research last year suggesting that young women are the most left-wing demographic.
With only days to go until 'Brexit day' (29th March) and a no-deal scenario still on the table, Leavers and Remainers are still no closer to understanding one another.
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For me – a "self-confessed lefty liberal" – I wanted to know what Dominique made of the situation, about TPUK's stance on hot-topic issues, and what can be done to heal political divisions going forward. Click through to read our (at times heated) email exchange...

6 March 2019, 3:45 PM

Hi Dominique,

I'm struggling to remember a period during my lifetime when politics felt as divided as it does now – between young and old, rich and poor, left and right, those with a higher education and those without, between north and south, I could go on – and Brexit seems to have only exacerbated matters. Research I've seen, such as a report by Hope Not Hate last year (based on six years of polling, answers from 43,000 people and data analysis), supports this. People's worries are many: Young women fear the risk of violence on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; they worry about what might happen to their earnings and rights at work; as well as what it means for the NHS and abortion access. A YouGov/Hope Not Hate poll last July found that, two years after the EU referendum, 71% of Remainers felt pessimistic for the future compared with 35% of Leavers. Something's gravely wrong with the state of the UK right now – and Brexit is just around the corner (if it goes ahead on time, that is).
What's your take on this? Do you also sense these divisions? Or are you happy with the way Brexit is going and the form it's taking? I'm keen to hear your view.
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Best wishes,
Natalie

6 March 2019, 5:27 PM

Hi Natalie,

I also sense these divisions where Brexit is concerned. From a Brexiteer's perspective, I feel as though these divisions have been exacerbated particularly by our political class, specifically when it comes to questioning the motivations of those that voted to leave the European Union. Leavers are often described as racist, bigoted and not informed enough to know what they were voting for; the list goes on. But at the end of the day, 17.4 million people made a decision on 23rd June 2016.
Dominique Samuels
Our politicians, particularly the likes of Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna, have done nothing but voice contempt for the biggest and one of the most important democratic outcomes this country has seen for some time. Anna Soubry's own constituency voted to leave the European Union, yet she seems more concerned with overturning that outcome and throwing it back in the faces of those millions of people that voted, including her own constituents. But this isn't just reserved to those outside of government. The government itself has done little to alleviate the fears of Remainers and Leavers alike and I feel as though this whole process has been treated as a problem that needs to be managed, rather than an opportunity the UK can capitalise on.
We hear little about how our products from the EU are 20% more expensive for consumers, or the fact that the World Trade Organization confirmed the UK will have continued access to a procurement market worth £1.3 trillion, or the fact that only around 7% of businesses actually rely on such close alignment with the EU, many of them big businesses that rely on EU protectionism to keep competition outside of the EU. This in itself is creating heavy divisions in our society, particularly among those that believed in democracy and that politicians actually listen to the people. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that this really isn't the case.
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Young women are completely entitled to be worried about the issues surrounding Northern Ireland and access to abortion, but we must also remember and perhaps consider for a second that the Northern Irish issue is being used as negotiating leverage against the UK. Neither Northern Ireland nor the EU wants a hard border with Ireland, and in fact, other means of retaining a smooth passage of goods across the border were being looked at positively in the political declaration outlining our next steps with the EU.
I, of course, do not want a hard border with Northern Ireland, but stopping that from happening does not automatically require the UK to be locked into a permanent customs union. To me, that is just absurd, yet something our government seems to be charging towards, despite the fact that it would restrict our economic and trading freedom and make us continued subject to EU rules and regulations. This isn't what people voted for. I would prefer no deal, using Article 24 of the World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which would facilitate smooth passage of goods without being locked in a customs union. But unfortunately, there is no majority in parliament for no deal, and this is not something I believe our government is going to look towards, as seen with [Theresa May] allowing MPs to vote down no deal and vote for extending Article 50 if her deal does not pass.
If Brexit is delayed, those divisions will only be entrenched further, especially if there is a second referendum, which again, is something some of our politicians seem to be charging towards. It really is disappointing.
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Dominique

8 March 2019, 6:16 PM

Hi Dominique,

I hear everything you're saying about the potential (but by no means inevitable) positive economic impact of Brexit on the free market. But I suppose it comes down to priorities and whether you think it's worth risking people's fundamental human rights in exchange for greater trade freedom.
Your group, Turning Point UK, advocates 'personal responsibility', along with the likes of free markets, free speech and limited government. You also claim to be fighting against 'identity politics', socialism and collectivism, all of which many young people identify with in 2019 – as the boom in support for figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders over the last few years highlights. (This might also partly explain the parody social media accounts that exploded in the wake of the group’s launch.)
I’m wondering two things: First, why do you think so many young people are offended by Turning Point having sprung up in the UK? Secondly, I’m keen to hear your thoughts about 'personal responsibility' as it pertains to women, people of colour and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Do you believe that the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, or the UK’s social mobility crisis, for instance, are the fault of women, ethnic minorities and the working class? And what about violence against women and people of colour – is that their fault? There are so many similar points I could bring up here, but I’ll hand you back the mic, as it were.
I look forward to hearing more,
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Natalie

10 March 2019, 1:12 PM

Natalie,

I think young people on the left are so 'offended' by Turning Point because it challenges their skewed ideas. You quite frankly cannot run a country on emotion more than you do logic and facts, which is something that is absent from leftist political discourse in the modern age. As such, we are going to be called Nazis, alt-right, and fascist, despite the fact that we are none of the above, because labels are the only tool the left can use to try and silence those that challenge their ideas. These silly accounts are just a reflection of desperation, and the setting up of them is actually coordinated, from what I’ve read about it, by people who largely aren’t 'young' and quite clearly have nothing better to do with their time. On a positive note, we have received a large amount of support from young people like myself, of all colours and backgrounds, because that is what our movement aims to do, and we’ve only just begun, so I am very excited.
Firstly, I reject the term 'people of colour'. It’s a patronising, French spin on 'coloured' and assumes white is the default and anybody else is 'other' ('coloured person' in French is literally 'personne de couleur' and we've taken that and now say 'person of colour' as if that makes it any different, when it isn't). Not only that, but it’s factually inaccurate. Being 'of colour' does not automatically mean you are part of a minority group, so the sooner that term is dispelled, the better.
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By personal responsibility, I mean the power of the individual to know what is best for their life more than the government does. That does not mean those at a disadvantage do not deserve a safety net – my mum has severe narcolepsy and cataplexy, which means she relies on the highest rate of disability benefits to live a normal life – it simply means we should not look to our government to solve all of our problems, which is a pretty common-sense concept, in my opinion.
The gender and minority pay gaps are not as straightforward as they initially appear, and they suggest that gender and ethnicity is the main determinant of success in 2019 when that quite simply is not the case. For example, The Guardian (surprise, surprise) published an article about white doctors being paid more than black doctors. That seems pretty terrible, right? That our health system is purposefully discriminatory towards black doctors? Well, when looking closely into this, this is because black doctors are more likely to be younger, with less experience, which means therefore they are paid less. This is a generational issue reminiscent of the structural barriers faced by black people in Britain, but this is not a direct cause of active discrimination itself. In reality, in 2019, working-class white boys are at a greater disadvantage in education than women or ethnic minorities, women are more likely to be in higher education than men and ethnic minorities are the group most likely to go to university. British Indians in our country now earn, if not the same, a higher income per week than white people in our country. All of these examples demonstrate that when we empower the individual, the individual pulls through and becomes successful. My being black and a woman isn’t in spite of my success in Britain.
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Linking personal responsibility to violence against women and minorities is a misunderstanding of the term. Of course violence against women and minorities is not their fault, which is why it is illegal. In fact, legal barriers to discrimination and gender-based violence are ever present in 2019 and protect people like me from discrimination. If we want to look statistically, however, women make up more of the population than men. Despite that, men are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be the victim and perpetrator of crime, more likely to be homeless and have a higher mortality rate than women. These facts demonstrate that in our generation, both genders and all ethnicities are successful and less successful in different areas.

Dominique

11 March 2019, 12:53 PM

Hi Dominique,

As a passionate Remainer, I agree it can be reckless for anyone to be motivated disproportionately by emotions over logic in politics. I also understand why it must be frustrating for you to be tarred as a Nazi, fascist, or as a member of the alt-right, if you don't identify as such. I'm interested to hear what you make of Turning Point USA's associations with xenophobia and the hard-right, though – does this public image of the organisation bother you at all? How would you describe Turning Point's position within the political right in the UK?
It's also insightful to hear your criticism of the term 'people of colour'. As a white woman, I hadn't considered this. I, like many others, use it in the absence of (as far as I can see) a better alternative in a country where the vast majority of people are white, but I can see why some believe it's too simplistic and why some black women, for example, argue it minimises their blackness. What's your preferred term?
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On your point about personal responsibility; in my experience, I'm not sure anyone expects the government to 'solve all [their] problems'. That's a lazy argument that those on the right have deployed throughout history to justify cutbacks to basic social security provisions and promote the virtues of small, 'nimble' government – not to mention as a way to justify life-ruining austerity policies. (It has worrying echoes of the old 'culture of poverty' argument made in the late 1950s, in which social theorists argued that people in poverty perpetuated their own disadvantage across generations with their own fecklessness and lack of 'hard work', paying little attention to the structural and economic factors trapping them.)
Natalie Gil
Like most feminists, I imagine, I also completely dispute that it's simply a case of men and women being 'successful and less successful in different areas' in the UK. While gender equality isn't just a women's issue (your point about male suicide, mortality and homelessness is really important), we're still living in a patriarchal society where women are disproportionately penalised: for daring to continue the human race while holding down a job; women are more likely to be murdered by men than vice versa; and men still hold the UK's most influential positions. (Women make up just a third of MPs and hold only a quarter of FTSE 350 board positions. I could go on. We'll just have to agree to disagree on this.)
I'd like to end on a productive note. With Brexit just over two weeks away, in theory (!) and no sign of the country's generational divide healing any time soon, what do you think the solution is for uniting the UK and regaining a sense of optimism – particularly among the young people who feel so ignored by the political class? Big question, but how can we move forward and improve everyone's lives in a post-Brexit world?
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Thanks Dominique and I look forward to reading your response.

Natalie

11 March 2019, 5:52 PM

Hey,

The public image of Turning Point USA is largely a positive one. It has over 300 chapters on college campuses across the US, and a presence on over 1,300, making it an extremely successful youth movement which is what we’re excited about emulating here. Look, on issues such as xenophobia and the 'hard-right', I take these terms with a pinch of salt; much too often, believing that a country should have strong border control, for example, is tarred with these simplistic terms aimed at silencing debate.
I prefer the term 'black/mixed race' to 'person of colour'. I am okay with the use of the terms 'ethnic minority/BAME' as they are more accurate. It is often said, I’m not sure where this rule has sprouted from, that referring to someone as what they are, which in your case would be a white woman, is deemed offensive. I remember referring to one of my classmates as a black girl to my French teacher in college and she seemed shocked that I had used it. Why would anyone be offended by being referred to as what they are if it wasn’t intended to insult, but rather to illustrate factual reality? It baffles me.
From my personal experience, I’ve found expecting the government to be able to solve all of our problems is sadly the case, when in a lot of scenarios, actually empowering the individual is the solution to most of our problems rather than expecting the government to do it for us. That can manifest itself in many ways. For example, where welfare is concerned, I believe everybody is entitled to a safety net. However, I would put more focus on the government empowering charities and religious groups to carry out the fantastic work that they do, as it is often targeted, varied, and way more effective than any bureaucratic government programme. Sadly, our current government doesn’t quite seem to understand this.
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While I am happy about the government’s recent efforts to fully end austerity, things like taxes being at a 50-year high, corporation tax being so high, while putting too much focus onto silly projects like HS2 instead of using that money to give the north better rail services, really do frustrate me.
I think Brexit will always be a contentious topic, but the best thing for the government to do is get us out of the EU, deal or no deal. The deal put forward is laughable, so therefore the only sensible thing to do is leave the European Union on WTO terms and begin focussing massively on the domestic agenda, using the opportunities leaving the EU provides by focussing on housing, on investment, on the proposed CANZUK project. Whether or not you voted to leave the EU, the people want to see the government acting on what was promised. The sooner it’s done and not delayed, the better!

Dominique

12 March 2019, 10:49 AM

Hi Dominique,

Thanks for this. It's been really eye-opening talking to you over the last week. While I still disagree with you on most of the issues we've covered – Brexit, the persistence of the oppression of women, and the responsibility of government in providing a social safety net – I'll certainly be reevaluating the way I use the term 'person of colour' without thinking about its connotations.
Tell me, how has our discussion been for you? We've disagreed a fair amount but I've found it an enriching discussion. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about these issues.
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All the best,
Natalie

12 March 2019, 10:59 AM

Natalie,

On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. If I can change somebody’s mind or perhaps make them more open to different ideas, even the slightest amount, I’m happy, so I’m really glad you see my point of view on the 'POC' topic. Although we disagree on stuff, I think discussion is crucial, so I’m glad we’ve done this.

It was lovely talking with you,
Dominique x

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