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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europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

The future of Boris and his ambition is in May’s hands

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Flapping around in the midst of the EU referendum fallout, the Conservative Party is currently enduring what may only be the start of a lengthy spell of political turbulence. Prevailing volatility amongst raging factions of Remainers and Brexiteers has shown that the UK’s recent vote has failed to eradicate the tense mood which currently shrouds the Tory party. Stranded at the epicentre of the Brexit wreckage, the Tories have been left broken and despairing. June’s ballot has certainly not put an end to the Conservatives party’s epidemic of quarrelling, and future success for the party looks to be considerably far out of reach.

The European Union isn’t the only source of the UK government’s quandaries, though. In a vetting process originally set to take at least ten weeks, David Cameron’s successor has been rapidly selected in just three. Upon the surprising victory for Vote Leave, it were former Mayor of London Boris Johnson who was originally tipped to succeed the now disposed of Cameron.

After a rather uncharacteristically serious stint as co-frontman for the Vote Leave campaign alongside Michael Gove, a large proportion of the Tory party believed that it were Boris who had proven himself worthy of leadership. But Gove’s crafty moves to undermine Johnson in the party leadership contest were relatively successful. His cunning decision to run against Johnson – an act described by many as treachery – has certainly prevented Boris from mapping the Conservatives’ direction in the short term.

Last week, most thought that Boris Johnson was finished, and that he may never hold any more influential party position than that of a constituency MP. But the prominent blondie may well come back to widen the Tory party’s divide in months and years to come – especially during or following the incumbency of newly-appointed Theresa May.

Yesterday, it were instead she, the former Home Secretary, who triumphantly stood in front of Number 10, ready to colonise Westminster with her distinctly formidable demeanour and uncompromising approach to decision-making. Today, May pressed on with the hand-picking of her new political arsenal. Mrs May’s cabinet has seen many a surprising appointment, however, including – rather controversially – that of the  Boris Johnson who is now Britain’s foreign secretary.

One of the politicians deemed most responsible for the great rift which has sprung up in the middle of the Tory party now sits in one of the most important positions in politics. But seated underneath the watch of Theresa May means that Johnson will be, to an extent, constrained. Everyone knows that Boris is a careerist and has dreams of the Tory party leadership. Theresa May’s tactics remain to be seen, but, needless to say, Mrs May will be keen to dissociate herself from Johnson’s politics which could subvert her much-needed authority.

But it is Mrs May who has the upper hand now. It is she who has the power to decide the fate of Boris Johnson. Will he be a successful foreign secretary, bolster his standing within the party, continuing to stoke the still red hot coals of the Eurosceptics’ campfire? Or will the new Prime Minister user her iron fist to manoeuvre Johnson off her path, clamping down on his sizeable realm of support?

By promoting Boris Johnson, who will surely be one of her government’s most prolific ministers, Theresa May could possibly have made a fatal error. Despite only a marginal win for Vote Leave, Brexit generated not only wide support for cutting ties with the European Union, but also for Boris Johnson himself. Today’s cabinet announcements include six Brexiteers – six individuals who still advocate for the views of the Tories’ large Eurosceptic, more libertarian base.

Herein lies the problem. In the event that the popularity of Mrs May begins to wane, the grounds for Boris Johnson to become the backseat driver of this government could look strong. Providing Boris Johnson with such stature could come back to kick Mrs May, and could be detrimental to the stability of her brand new premiership.

On the other hand, allowing Boris Johnson to have a degree of political ammunition is a somewhat clever move. Undoubtedly, Boris’ careerism and ambition to work his way into the top seats of government still exists. Keeping the man who has the power to be most divisive in the cabinet forces a great deal of responsibility upon him.

His ability to largely manage the UK’s global affairs, and, needless to say, implement the Brexit for which he so desperately advocated, shows that sympathy is not one of Theresa May’s defining characteristics as a politician. If the operation of leaving the European Union backfires, it will not be Mrs May who takes the blame. And, of course, an ability to broker deals and negotiate with international neighbours is essential for truly great politicians.

Should Boris Johnson fail to become a hit with the rest of the world’s biggest economies, the future premiership hopeful’s reputation will be destroyed. Currently, his global record isn’t wholly clean, having made several offensive remarks in relation to other cultures, prompting worldwide hostility. Johnson was booed at a French press conference today, is reportedly hated in Brussels, and many Germans cannot believe Boris’ new status. Judging by Theresa May’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude to government, Boris Johnson and his future chances will be eaten alive by his fellow party members should he make detrimental diplomatic blunders.

Albeit considerably better organised, the Tory party is still precariously balanced upon the controversy of issues relating to the European Union, immigration, and the only very recently more earnest Boris Johnson. Prime Minister Theresa May has made the decision to feed Mr Johnson the power for which he eternally begs, but keeping Boris at bay is vital to the stability of her leadership. Gaffes, policy rejection, and rebellion could result in a challenge to her leadership just as messy as that carried out by Gove towards Johnson.

Theresa May has shown in the past that she is a formidable leader. She is one of few Home Secretaries to emerge from the position with their reputation unscathed enough to battle on in the cabinet. With the right foresight and meticulousness, Mrs May could indeed revive the Tory party to its former robustness. As the internal lining of the Conservative party fabric is now close to tearing, it is vital that stitches it back together, with Theresa May pushing her cabinet ministers and backbenchers into line with her tough approach – especially Boris Johnson.

UK politics has never before been so Machiavellian, based on opportunism, and required such precise tactics. If the nation’s new Prime Minister shows any signs of flinching, those on the other side of the Tory party will surely squirm their way out of their muzzles immediately, Boris Johnson clenching the reins. Theresa May had better have had her game plan drawn up weeks ago. The careerism and ambition of Boris Johnson has certainly not been halted, but the Prime Minister must fast minimise it. Clever manipulation by Mrs May of her internal opponents is what will veer them away from her new political stomping ground. Johnson is the Prime Minister’s biggest threat, but whether or not he will be a success or a failure is her call.

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europe, Scotland, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Sturgeon has total power over UK’s fate after Brexit

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When the major blow of Yes Scotland’s defeat set in during the aftermath of 2014’s Scottish independence referendum, many believed that the SNP would become a paralysed, lost cause from then on. Few would have thought that, under the sturdy leadership of the formidable Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party would regain its position in dominating Scottish decision-making. However, Britain’s surprising verdict on EU membership has proven that Sturgeon’s contingent isn’t just controlling Scottish politics.

Rated by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in Britain after Queen Elizabeth II, not to mention the 50th most influential in the entire world, Brexit is changing Nicola Sturgeon and her party’s fortune. Perhaps next year’s rankings will have Sturgeon placed higher. I certainly wouldn’t argue with it. But whilst Brexit is stripping the good fortune of many British politicians, such as that of the precariously placed Jeremy Corbyn, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her party has only gained a position of greater power.

Given that victory for the Leave campaign in last week’s EU referendum was largely down to English votes, protest by many passionate internationalists and keen Scottish nationalists has dominated headlines. Scotland’s intentions evidenced by last week’s vote – of more than 70% support for Remain in many areas north of the border – has clearly shown that policy should take a different direction here.

After arguing consistently that a Brexit is not in the interests of the people of Scotland, the Scottish First Minister’s gargantuan new task is to rescue Scotland from the effects of Vote Leave. But the flipside is that this gives the SNP an exceptional political advantage. Nicola Sturgeon is in total control of Scotland’s future within the EU, and that influence does not span across issues with regard only to Scotland. In the likely event that the SNP leader is unable to forge a deal granting European Union membership to Scottish citizens alone, it will be Nicola Sturgeon who is in charge of deciding whether or not the United Kingdom really is united, refuelling her independence crusade.

The volume of influence that the Scottish First Minister now brandishes places Scotland in a very strong position at the fiery EU negotiating table. The events of this week have shown that the First Minister will remain silent at her peril. The Brexit result which hoped to bring increased sovereignty for the entirety of the UK has in turn weakened ties between Westminster and its sibling Scottish parliament at Holyrood.

Since 2007, the SNP has been the major force in Scottish politics, standing as the party of traditional social democracy, and, of course, independence. However, Sturgeon’s position as a key player in international affairs has become stronger thanks to a victory for Vote Leave. The triumphs of Johnson, Gove and Farage in terms of the European Union have not translated into triumphs for the UK’s union. For a Brexit has all the more accentuated the deep political crevasses which set apart the different components of the UK.

It seems that David Cameron has made a fatal error by underestimating the challenges of keeping Britain in the European Union, not to mention the challenges of keeping Britain on side with his party’s government. A harsh split, further nursed by the Prime Minister’s Friday morning resignation, threatens the future of Conservative party politics. The Labour party is no safe haven either. Ravaged by a leader deemed unable to take it to its peak in a possibly imminent General Election, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership looks tenuous.

71669140_jpg_galleryNicola Sturgeon is no fool. Her party has seen numerous victories of late, and her ability as a skillful tactician is more obvious than ever before. The aforementioned failings highlighted by the shock of Brexit have only widened Sturgeon’s stage as an influential policymaker. In recent days, SNP support has surged, an effect similar to that achieved by the Party during the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. Inner party turmoil certainly doesn’t riddle the SNP. Sturgeon’s socially democratic force is one of the only ones avoiding a rift with its clear-cut policy, and this is one of its grandest assets.

The SNP is a decisive and strategic band, a tidal wave which now seems to dwarf the fragmented Labour and Conservative parties at Westminster. Sturgeon isn’t right-wing populism, Sturgeon isn’t scaremongering, and Sturgeon isn’t austerity. Faisal Islam of ITV remarked this morning that it is Nicola Sturgeon who has “the most thought out plan” for Brexit. In a likely snap general election, the First Minister is sure to pick up some of the votes of those who have become dismayed by the Tories’ and Labour’s endless internal strife. Her shrewdness and sharp-witted nature are her doubtless fortes which have been brought to light all thanks to Brexit. As long this adeptness does not fail, the SNP will call the shots in Scottish politics, and indeed in European relations, for many months and years to come.

With the failings of the UK Parliament parties in producing constructive political change, as well as a vote for Brexit which ignores Scottish votes, Sturgeon’s movement for independence may, too, build in strength and support. A reassessment of relations between the UK and EU has brought the question of national sovereignty back into the political arena. Aims of the Smith Commission evidently haven’t gone far enough, and in ways akin to the post-Brexit case, Scotland’s opinions are becoming drowned out. The contrast in opinions over the EU between England and Scotland serves to demonstrate exactly why Scotland is growing tired of the talking shop that is Westminster. Sturgeon has the ultimate upper hand over the future of the United Kingdom, and Sturgeon’s movements may well provoke a breakup.

More interestingly, the future of Scottish Labour looks grim. The European Union question may well change opinions of the Holyrood party whose support has plummeted over recent years. Yesterday it was widely reported that the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, will consider support for independence. But this is surely a political death of Sturgeon’s arguably inadvertent making. Dugdale’s extreme desperation for votes in tandem with growing support for the nationalist cause could mean that even the skeleton of Labour’s Scottish branch is no longer safe from a painful fracture. If her strategy is to support independence, Dugdale risks splitting her party between nationalists and unionists, only playing into Sturgeon’s hands.

The European Union debate has questioned not only UK sovereignty, but also the sovereignty of the separate nation states which make up the UK. Recent events have shown clearly that the politics of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are vastly different.

With Sturgeon ceasing the opportunity for using this as a vehicle for constitutional change within Scotland, it is easy to see that the Scottish First Minister’s actions over coming months will largely determine also the United Kingdom’s fate. Along with the most prominent of British and EU officials, it is the Nicola Sturgeon who will have one of the most influential seats at the Brexit negotiation table. Whilst both major political parties within Westminster are fast collapsing, diseased by pathogens of indecisiveness and disarray, it is Nicola Sturgeon’s party which remains dead set on its policy. The First Minister of Scotland only has Westminster to thank for her unprecedented leverage. After the breakthrough of devolution in 1999, along with an intense referendum discussion two years ago, few could have foreseen Scotland continuing to pose such a huge threat to the longevity of the UK.

Read more from Robert Guthrie

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economy, europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

The economy is the UK’s only care in global matters

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As the judgment day that is June 23rd fast approaches, the nature of Britain’s foreign policy and its international relations have never before been placed under greater scrutiny. The European Union referendum has meant intense discussion of UK parliamentary sovereignty, global spending, and the nation’s relationships with neighbouring states. But our nation’s ties with states located in Europe aren’t the only ones coming into question.

Past weeks have given ear to the dissonance regarding international affairs across the whole world – most specifically, in the USA. More often known as TTIP, the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between America and the EU is set to boost the global economy, but at a considerable price. Myriad MPs and activists have voiced concern in recent weeks, claiming that the new Atlantic agreement would put public service operations at risk of privatisation, reduce the UK’s financial regulatory powers, and that a robust, European, ethical framework would begin to break down.

What is driving the steady support for the introduction of TTIP is what has always driven the capitalist West – money. It is easy to see that TTIP is attractive from the outset, providing grand chances for the further stimulation of the US and EU economies. Experts have estimated that the agreement would mean a global financial boost of around $100m. The prospects of a stronger world economy are plausible, but cannot come at the expense of a great loss in parliamentary sovereignty to multinationals, and a loss of focus upon the global common good that the EU at least tries to instill. Numerous EU directives would become quickly overridden, and big businesses are sure to have a draconian power influence not only over parliament, but across all of society.

The truth is unravelling all too quickly. The rise in Euroscepticism, meaning an obvious rethink of Britain’s relationships with its neighbours, is showing that our global affairs are not based on camaraderie at all. Many of us do not identify as Europeans, and do not share the sense of community that helps to construct many states in the Eurozone. Innumerable pieces of legislation are born in and baptised by the EU, and it is clear that, for some, its collective direction has shaped our nation’s decision-making process a little too much. Political advantage and dialogue is not what Britain’s politicians seek from the likes of Merkel and Juncker anymore.

During the campaign leading up to 1973 – when Britain gained EU membership – one of the biggest cases in favour of the transition was the almost instantaneous economic advantage. Still, the economy lies at the heart of Britain’s colony in Europe. Neither peace nor teamwork are foremost here. Britain can’t have joined in order to work for the common good like many of those who signed up to the post-war European Community. The stubbornness of the British government over recent months, and from a large proportion of the British people, has made this blatantly obvious. Britain has gained all it wants to from the EU. Trading relationships for several decades have moved the nation back into the spotlight, and the nation’s politicians have maintained and increased the nature’s stature.

Perhaps the European Union has now politically exhausted the United Kingdom. Whilst it would secure increased sovereignty, if the UK votes to leave in just over three weeks’ time, it needs to ensure a back-up plan for its economy. Capitalist America is prime stomping ground, of course. Right-wingers are tired of the EU’s legislative infringement, a burden to a nation that seems to look primarily at its economic standpoint instead.

If Britain chooses to stay, a world of benefits is still available from all directions. But the tasks of interstate teamwork and the concessions that it commands are proving to be too much for vast numbers of national Eurosceptics. Britain and many of its people are willing to forego ethical standards set by the EU, and risk the security of vital public services – anything to ensure that the nation’s economic ballast does not take a hit.

The UK has always been a wily character when it comes to global affairs. Its position in the European Union was, from the start, one that was painstakingly scrutinised and adapted. Looking at the nation’s relationships abroad with a predominantly narrow, economic focus can explain not only the EU and TTIP quandaries, but also the controversial UK-led Saudi arms trade, and Britain’s closed door approach to the refugee crisis.

A devastating side effect of this highly capitalist, 100% economy focus is that any form of moral high ground is likely to disappear from Britain’s view of the political landscape. Neighbouring states and global organisations continue to allow Britain to meticulously negotiate its way into economic partnerships of all kind. In turn, buying into more agreements like TTIP and the EU, seeking only economic benefit, will only degrade the UK’s moral high ground when working on international matters.

Those who favour a Brexit on June 23rd choose to advocate for an odd but somewhat entertaining juxtaposition. The EU is said to be the world’s freest global marketplace. But whilst claiming that the economic case is the most important thing at stake during the EU debate, those backing Vote Leave are essentially supporting a major economic climb-down for the UK. TTIP may stimulate the economy to an extent, but it will take time to build up the success that the UK has had with Europe. Why leave what has been one of the UK’s most sturdy support bases for many decades?  For sure, a Brexit would mean returning to many controversial operations, create social, political and economic animosity all over the European continent, and significantly reduce Britain’s moral standards in both trade and manufacture.

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