UK Politics

Is this election the end of the catch-all party?

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As the climax of this general election approaches, it is clear that Westminster is the epicentre of the Eurosceptic earthquake which has caused seismic shifts in the British political landscape.

One year on, the aftershocks of last year’s Brexit referendum can still be felt. Whilst the political x-axis has long been the right-left barometer, the y-axis which may well control British politics for years to come is now based on whether voters be internationalists or nationalists. The ideological foundations of the UK’s parties continue to quiver with the mounting gravity of the Brexit question, and the populist pendulum has swung from the right towards the left. Fractures within the Labour and Conservative parties, too, over the nature of the UK’s unilateralist turn, have made the nation’s key political structures increasingly brittle.

When Theresa May declared her intentions to seek a mandate in April, she must have thought that victory would slip easily into her hands, with Jeremy Corbyn only just clinging onto the political scene amidst internal Labour party strife and backlash from the electorate over recent months.

But now it is obvious that the gap has narrowed. Either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May will set foot in Number 10 tomorrow, navigating the treacherous ridge of the British political peak which has a sheer drop at either side.

Today’s snap vote, which many believed would erode the foundations of the Labour Party for several years to come, has instead had the opposite effect. A victory for Theresa May still seems the most likely result, but this election has brought to light new corners of political opinion within the two biggest parties, fragmenting the once clear-cut right and left wings. Can the leaders of the UK’s two biggest parties really speak for the entirety of each of their movements?

The Labour Party isn’t, and hasn’t been since Blair’s 1997 landslide, categorised simply by one strong shade of scarlet. Neither can the Conservative Party be characterised by one tone of light blue. The Labour tapestry now includes a multiplicity of pinks, crimsons and Burnt Siennas, and a look through the Tory lens reveals a kaleidoscope of turquoise, aquamarine, royal blue and teal. The left is split between Jeremy Corbyn’s more traditional socialism, Tony Blair’s third way, and a great deal of pro-Brexit lefties. The right, in turn, exists as a patchwork of more centrist free-market liberals, pro-Europeans, and May-supporting Brexit stoic.

Over the campaign, both main parties have tried to pick up as big a portion of the electorate as possible, reelinh in voters regardless of class and background, having realised that party affiliation isn’t as simple as it once was some decades ago. With May’s focus on strength and stability, and Corbyn’s impetus on governing for the greater good, both campaigns have sought to operate beyond class divisions, out to capture the human sentiments of holding either national or European identity, and playing to the hopes and ambitions of the general public for the future of their British nation.

In this election, Theresa May has attempted to prove that Brexit is a transformation which can benefit all – the disenchanted working class, and those who look to abandon the red tape of the European Union. Similarly, the Labour Party, with its campaign based around ideas of an all-encompassing society, with a more internationalist approach, has tried to attract both voters on average incomes, and even the most high-end of champagne socialists. But the reality is, however, that leaders now have to piece together smaller, more specific factions of opinion within one diverse party construct. Support is no longer simply a question of where you work, how much money you earn, and what food you put on the table.

Arguably, as parties have sought to capture all voters, within a society which has become more culturally, socially and economically diverse, the parties themselves have had to fit into new moulds and broaden their appeal. It is now increasingly hard for governments to please everyone and for parties to appeal to all. Perhaps, therefore, large parties which once had simply formulated political motives which spoke to the masses can no longer speak to all types of individuals found within a more varied society.

Many would, of course, argue that it is impossible to please all and that this is just a fact of the democratic and, more specifically, majoritarian, system. In this election, both parties’ manifestos have aimed to appeal to all, but in reality, the leaders and their governmental gameplans only represent one part of the party’s multifaceted opinion base.

The Labour and Conservative parties arguably have chosen to run with just one form of their respective left and right opinion this election, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s traditional socialism, mixed with a streak of revolutionary populism, and Theresa May’ anti-EU strategy which champions ideas of UK national feeling and emphasises a need for uncompromised national sovereignty. Corbyn does not come across well to the Blairites, politicians who are sure to flex their muscles in the next parliament. Similarly, May, who was, until the departure of David Cameron, a remainer, fails to win over more centrist and European Tories.

But perhaps the UK revolves around a majoritarian system which, in fact, does not work for the majority. With two large parties aiming to please all at campaign level, whilst truly only being able to adopt one type of left-wing and right-wing thought within a party which contains many more specific pools of opinion, surely not all can feel satisfied with politics.

If this be the case, surely much of the British population remains perplexed. How, therefore, can big parties manage to speak for all? Perhaps the big social class-driven aggregate party structure is now dead, and can be rendered impractical. Arguably, the two big parties have attempted to please all in campaigns but this is ineffective for many, as they adopt just one small portion of their own left and right wing party’s thought.

There are several possible solutions. The first is that the catch-all, all-encompassing party becomes successful in pleasing all. This has, however, proven to be a rather utopian idea, based on this campaign and the politics of previous years.

Another option is that the UK political landscape would break down, heralding a wider range of political parties which each reflect more specific divisions of political opinion, welcoming a new proportional system of voting.

Furthermore, if Theresa May pushes on with her Brexit agenda, and the Labour Party continues to run with its staunchly traditionalist, left-of-centre socialism, British politics could become increasingly polarised, generating a gap in the market for a new centrist movement. Perhaps a more balanced force like French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche will soon come to the fore.

No matter who wins this election, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn now have the tricky task of healing the divides within their large parties, as they veer towards more specific directions. If the parties fail to unite their supporters, great constitutional change for the UK could be next on the to-do list. Perhaps the clear-cut, class-driven party structures which have for so long defined the UK’s political landscape are breaking down, no longer able to speak for all.

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Environment, UK Politics, World Politics

Solidarity will ensure that Britain wards off climate change

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Next week, scores of international leaders will descend upon New York, finally ratifying 2015’s ambitious climate change agreement. Rising temperatures, health-degrading pollution and a fast diminishing stock of fossil fuels are just some of the issues which lie shrouded in the tormenting black clouds of climate change. Last year’s treaty, penned in Paris, saw myriad states commit to a collective effort aimed at reducing carbon emissions worldwide. It is thus evident that for many governments, environmental instability is a serious problem which faces their populations. It does seem, however, that for the British government, – among others – dealing with the consequences of modern practices is far too low down on the agenda.

In past months, an alarming plethora of environmental calamities has emerged. Extraction of fossil fuels and thick pollution in cities may not seem like such disasters at the moment. However, according to many a scientist, the effects will span much longer timescales than many would ever have believed. Only last week, NASA announced that the way the earth spins is taking an unprecedented turn for the worse – sorry – as a result of rapidly melting ice caps. Furthermore, it has been recently forecast that as much as $2.5tn of material assets which are essential to humanity could become destroyed due to rapid climate change. To top that, new surveys have today pinpointed numerous low-lying landscapes which may cease to exist as our oceans continue to swell. This really is no time to be joking. Climate change is fast taking its toll, populations around the world are placed at greater risk, and our race is becoming severely threatened.

It seems that protection from the possible havoc of climate change should be a government responsibility. The United Kingdom has been particularly sluggish in its efforts, and whilst long-term prosperity is key to national success, future generations will profoundly suffer unless the necessity of sustaining our existence is brought to the fore. Without long-term co-operation internationally, as well as the force that comes with EU membership, Britain seems in danger of becoming increasingly oblivious to growing environmental issues.

Casting an eye over Chancellor George Osborne’s latest budget, it is clear that the government’s gusto for tackling climate change is feeble. Whilst the Conservative administration continues its rhetoric, proclaiming that the imminent climate apocalypse is one of the greatest issues facing the nation, strong preventative measures are simply non-existent. In the 2016 budget alone, funding for tackling climate change was minute. Increases in dealing with flood prevention did materialise, but only very moderate investment has been given to renewable energy. Instead, nuclear energy, despite many experts warning that the source is not viable for the long-term, received a boost. Incentives for solar energy installations have been drastically cut, too. Cameron must be blustering. Environmental sustainability is not as high a national priority as it should be, a huge mistake which may inevitably entangle future generations.

This month’s ultimate submission to the Paris agreement will one again reiterate that solidarity is paramount. Surely this will push our officials to choose sustainable options throughout each of our societies, and get our governments working for the common good. What is already a great matter of concern for surrounding nations must now become that of Britain, too. A vote to remain in the European Union ensures that our foreign partners can check upon our sometimes slacking government. Total membership within our vibrant global society and with its collective organisations enables reinforcement of our joint missions.

Brexit will damage our environmental focus. Britain will simply become too relaxed with a vote to leave on 23 June. Perhaps with next week’s full endorsement of the Paris agreement will shed a stronger light on the growing challenges facing our planet. The UK too easily surrenders in the fight to keep our societies safe from the inevitable perils of nature. It’s time that we passionately stood side-by-side with our international companions. Only then can we truly minimise the very real threat which could make our days increasingly gloomy in years to come.

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Environment, UK Politics

Climate change is coming, and the UK should be ready to face it

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Amid a season of peace to all, it is clear that even the most comforting and soothing attributes of the winter season are not currently extended to all British people. Storm Frank has taken its toll on the nation, wrecking communities and causing disparities which contrast with the usual warmth felt by many in this festive period. Those in Southern Scotland and Northern England have been forced to evacuate and close small businesses, Welsh residents have seen losses of power, and the Northern Irish impact has threatened roads and rail services. Dumfries alone has seen riverbanks burst, and as much as 120mm of rainfall in one day. The impact of climate change is undeniably becoming more apparent, and this age of natural disaster must provoke changes in the way we relieve our populations and prevent the next environmental catastrophes.

Several years ago, there were obvious opportunities to learn from previous flood disasters in Britain. 2007 saw approximately £6 billion worth of Southern English property destroyed, atrocities which provoked Sir William Pitt’s study of British flood responses. Pitt’s report emphasised the naïve outlook British governments had on dealing with mass water damage, highlighting the need for investment in new interception techniques and a detailed flood action plan. But recent developments simply lack physical and political strength, and many Pitt Report recommendations have been ignored.

The question which remains afloat in the flooding aftermath is over ways in which Britain can better respond to similar episodes in the future. Whilst numerous changes have been made, this month’s catastrophe has proven that Britain remains incapable. Cabinet sub-committees with flood responsibility have been set up and legislation in both Westminster and Holyrood has been passed to reduce flood risks.

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In Dumfries and Galloway, one of Britain’s most affected regions, Council Chief Gavin Stevenson emphasised the extent of the far and wide flood damage. Dumfries and Galloway Council’s CEO went further to explain that whilst financial aid can help flooded-out settlements, strong links and uncompromised cohesion between communities is key. Social researcher Kim Chang found that during flood disparity within Northern England in 2009 strong links between one another in communities were common in harmed areas. Seamless connections between civilians, emergency services, charities, churches, the NHS and our governments must exist for a smooth transmission of aid during environmental crises, and

In order to keep Britain buoyant in the future, both in mindset and in terms of flood resistance, it is clear also that more provision must be made for communities at risk. The Conservative government’s crippling cuts over recent years have already proven to be detrimental to many public institutions, and the UK’s flood preventions have suffered no less. The Guardian reported in December that the amount of money put towards flood resistance had decreased by 10% between 2010-2011 and 2014. In addition, criticism of the Scottish Government, with the power to regulate over flood control, has been voiced. A report by the Institution of Civil Engineers allocated a ‘C’ grade to the SNP government for flood policy. In the Westminster parliament, Chancellor George Osborne has already promised £400m for flood defence in England alone, but many experts doubt that English and Scottish allocations will suffice.

The World Resources Institute indicated in a recent study that the flood risk not just nationwide but worldwide could have increased almost three-fold by 2030. Governments are sure to be alarmed by these revelations, and solid prevention plans and increased spending seem absolutely necessary. Further to this, the Institute also revealed that whilst current flood costs amount to around £65 billion, governments of 2030 could expect a bill of as much as £340 billion. The only way leaders will survive this new environmental age is by rigorous planning and investing in safeguarding communities. Watching as preventable disasters threaten livelihoods in a supposed developed nation cannot become a convention.

In an international context, and as the Pitt Report stresses, the Tories’ cumulative £400m to be spent on English natural disasters is markedly less than neighbouring states’ provision on a grander scale. 2002 brought devastating flooding across Europe, resulting in fatalities and chaos in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic amongst other states. The central German region of Saxony became one of the worst hit areas, prompting a governmental rethink in flood prevention. As a result, waterways were reconstructed and revamped, plans for every eventuality were outlined, and a substantial €1.3 billion was allocated, aimed at solving this ever-prominent social problem. Saxony’s neighbours have in fact blamed the region itself, with more advanced prevention systems, for increased environmental damage, showing that an increase in spending and planning is having a positive impact.

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After countless cases of devastation caused by recent flooding, it is time that our governments on both local and national levels focus on spending and cohesion to better deal with natural disasters. As the global temperature rises alongside sea levels, climate change is becoming an inexorable issue. Atrocities at home and abroad show that our leaders’ policy direction must change. Ensuring the safety of populations and communities can only come with more investment in flood defences and research. As experts predict flooding in more developing nations such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Cambodia with lower GDP, cooperation throughout civilisation worldwide is paramount.

With an enormous environmental strategy to develop, the need for which reinstated by flooded out Britain, we cannot wilfully watch our communities crumble. Fresh funding is urgently needed, along with unified citizens and services. Until both governments across the nation invest in new methods of protection and react to alarming research, the mood in hard-hit communities will continue to dampen. No longer can we watch citizens suffer as easy targets for the tribulations of changing climates. Storm Frank, with its seemingly harmless and cosy name, has appeared starkly different underneath its clouds.

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