UK Politics

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

may%20corbyn.png

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.

Advertisements
Standard
europe, Scotland, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Brexit isn’t progressive, but Sturgeon’s plan could be

nicola_broqsu

The events of the United Kingdom’s political scene over the past seven days have shown that change in politics takes place at a rapid pace. Since a vote last Thursday to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron has tendered his resignation, Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn has been left reeling after damning Cabinet resignations and a vote of no confidence, myriad international markets have become volatile, and many British citizens are now profoundly divided – both politically and socially.

For those voters who are startled by violent change, or simply prefer the status quo, then at least some of the Remain campaign’s predictions seem to have translated into reality. They don’t make for comfortable listening, though. Needless to say, supporters of a vote to remain as a member of the EU claimed that economic hardship, extremism, and constitutional crises would disease our societal construct in the light of a Brexit.

As if the murder of an MP and the demonisation of many ethnic minorities were not demoralising enough, recent days have already shown that the fear-centric Vote Leave campaign is infilitrating British communities fast. Many police forces this week have already reported a huge rise in racially motivated crimes, an albeit small minority of Brexiteers rejecting the EU on the grounds of abhorrent xenophobia.

A vast degree of economic calamity has arrived, too, causing pandemonium among CEOs, financial boffins and top bankers. The UK has lost its first class credit rating, the housing market is showing signs of slowing, market trading figures and the value of the pound have plummeted, and some of the globe’s biggest corporations are questioning the security of their futures within Britain.

More fascinatingly, but still worrying enough, is that Britain has pushed itself into an abyss of constitutional uncertainty. After a clear divide between English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters last Thursday, the 300-year-old union is showing its age. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s political arsenal has more artillery than ever, the infamous SNP leader currently one of the world’s most influential leaders with the potential to drastically alter the international affairs agenda.

Wednesday saw Sturgeon meet with numerous EU officials including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Parliamentary President Martin Schulz. Scotland’s voice drowned out by the largely English-driven Brexit cacophony, the First Minister is keen to spread her crucial message – that her nation’s interests are being overriden.

It is now that Nicola Sturgeon has the freedom to forge new politics for Scotland. With Sturgeon holding an unprecedented global stature for a Scottish leader, the quandaries of Scotland’s interests and position are back up for discussion. In just several years’ time, citizens may bear witness to a fiery independence referendum campaign once again. Yesterday evening, JP Morgan predicted that , by the UK’s 2019 exit from the EU, Scotland will vote again on independence and use a separate currency.

Sturgeon has, for all of her life, been a stringent advocate and guardian of Scottish interests. Over the momentarily slippery issues in relation to the EU, she shows no signs of doing anything differently. The SNP’s 2016 manifesto clearly outlined that the party still saw independence as achievable in the not-too-distant future. For Sturgeon, the elongated EU debate has provided the chance for reignition of the independence flame, and for the creation of a progressive Scottish state.

The intentions of Vote Leave’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove may seem like an unlikely match with those of the truly internationalist Nicola Sturgeon’s. But the aforementioned politics do have more in common than you may think at first. Both sides intend to leave some form of political, social, cultural, and economic union. For the right-wing Brexit duo of Johnson and Gove, the European Union is their foe, and for the socially democratic Sturgeon, the arguably outdated United Kingdom is her achilles heel.

Undeniably, the two sides differ majorly. In a huge contrast, the Brexit soon to be fully imposed on UK citizens is in no ways progressive, support for which predominantly – but not totally – thanks to those of the right. Sturgeon’s possible exit is nothing of this type, however. The plan supported by the SNP and by an increasing number of Scots is for a truly progressive relationship with the European Union – an ethos set to extend to issues of home affairs, too.

Sturgeon only has the Brexit crisis to thank for this sudden boost in success. Glancing over the recent prognosis of the ailing United Kingdom, the iconic leader must be feeling a tad of schadenfreude. Many voters are now having the revelation which Alex Salmond’s independence campaign fell short of wholly inspiring two years ago. The 2014 referendum bid frightened many away from a Yes vote with the worries that independence would isolate the Scottish nation, and render the views of the people dead in future decision-making.

A high degree of political isolation is what many supporters of a Brexit have indeed voted for of late, and its consequences are provingt that a Scottish exit from the UK would be something vastly different. Unfortunately, Brexiteers have voted for a UK nation that will have attributes of deeper social injustice at its fore. It seems that the chances of a more left-wing Brexit have been shattered with the paralysis of the Labour party.

It is Sturgeon’s plan, though, that could eradicate the poisonous epidemic of xenophobia and paranoia currently sweeping Britain. The exit which Britain has made from the European Union is exactly what Sturgeon’s plan for Scottish independence wouldn’t be. Johnson and Gove’s Brexit blueprint has highlighted that Scotland’s exit from the UK could spur positive change, and that the policies for which they advocated during the EU campaign were not progressive.

As a growingly successful – and truly European – leader, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon now has the power to transform Scotland, making the nation a key voice within an ever louder European chorus. Despite being the outcome the First Minister wanted least, a vote to leave the European Union last week has provided the grounds for an argument detailing a more progressive Scotland. Brexit has pushed the topic of Scottish sovereignty back into the political arena, and her case has generated a great deal of support.Prime Minister David Cameron, whose days are numbered, even praised Sturgeon’s EU efforts on Wednesday.

Nicola Sturgeon’s diplomatic campaign this week did not just have the ideas of Scottish independence at heart, but also ideas of a solidarity, social justice, and co-operation. Her position as the antithesis of Boris Johnson has been a real plus. What could have been Sturgeon’s greatest nightmare has turned into a huge political advantage. Many who are dismayed by the new, somewhat backward Brexit may flock to Sturgeon’s side in the hope that an independent Scotland would be a game-changer. Presenting herself as face of an alternative to the individualist and neoliberal case for Brexit has shown that Scotland is a uniquely different entity, and that the SNP are one force of true advocates for togetherness and political, social, and economic growth.

Standard
europe, Scotland, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Sturgeon has total power over UK’s fate after Brexit

nicola-sturgeon

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

Standard
europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

The EU referendum has highlighted not only the European Union’s faults

_88318053_88318051

The pollsters had, for several days, proclaimed an easy win for Remain, and even UKIP’s Nigel Farage, known for his strong-willed politics, suspended his Brexit celebrations yesterday at 10pm. As much of the UK population downed tools last night, Prime Minister David Cameron and his team believed that a victory for the Remain camp was in the bag, and that their futures were secure.

But after a passionate yet emotive speech from David Cameron this morning, it is clear that a defeat for the Europhiles was in fact the reality, and that it would cause an almighty stir. Conceding Remain’s defeat after a tumultuous EU referendum campaign, it was his nemesis Boris Johnson’s turn to breathe the sigh of relief. Hailing a win for his Vote Leave campaign wasn’t the only feature of his unusually civilised speech, however.

Shortly after Cameron’s unexpected news, Johnson paid tribute to “one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age”, Cameron soon to set out on a departure of his own. After watching our politicians spearhead a somewhat childish referendum campaign, featuring many old playground tactics, we must question the credibility of our leaders and their Establishment.

Today’s marginally winning, but evidently considerable, support for an end to the UK’s relationship with the European Union tells us many things. Leaving the EU will have a monumental impact on our nation’s operation, and may well tear the threads which tie the United Kingdom together – now with all the more fragility – apart.

Whilst the wealth of support for the campaign to leave the EU has shown that the continental community is problematic, it also provides us with alarming truths of our own society. The European Establishment is obviously at fault, but in the same way, that of the United Kingdom is, too. Citizens throughout England, Wales, and parts of Northern Ireland, primarily, are evidently finding the current political regime tiresome.

It is nothing short of devastating that so many have been compelled to reject a co-operative European administration which keeps its member states in line, and that a huge proportion of our nation’s trade and investment opportunities have become suddenly fractured. In addition, the air of common culture that only the European Union was able to promote and diversify has become smoggy. Our borders will soon be barred, and our ability to co-operate easily on the largest of international issues has been shattered.

The overwhelming gains made by Johnson, Gove and Farage have shown that the entire political Establishment has failed many a British citizen, and that the status quo is not working. Such numerous working class Leave votes throughout the Midlands, the North of England and Wales were surely fuelled by the failings of past years’ budgets to revolutionise living and working standards for the most deprived. As London and Scotland voted overwhelmingly for a seat at the European table, it is clear to see the divide between these culturally diverse epicentres and communities which feel hard done by with current government.

With blatant lies and scaremongering, the campaign agenda of Vote Leave in many cases revolved around playing to the fears of the electorate. A debate which featured not a conversation on the nature of free movement, but instead xenophobia, failed to focus on the positives of a vote to leave the European Union. A campaign which has revolved around the demonisation of minorities, and the confusion of many voters who have become caught up in a bog of sly statistics has generated fear and instability throughout endless scores of communities.

Doesn’t this form of campaign strategy in itself paint a vivid picture of our decaying Establishment? Our nation’s political integrity has hit a very low point. Whilst the EU referendum has now been won, no one can dismiss the tricky tactics deployed by those advocating for a vote to leave Europe. The degrading tone of many of our politicians over the past ten weeks has shown that the UK must fast restore its social respect. For the obsession with blame and fear that has dominated the EU debate has only boosted the tense culture which flows throughout many British communities.

Let us not forget one of the most important aspects of this year’s referendum. Hasty to combat the imminent threat that UKIP posed to British politics, and keen to restore Tory party unity, it was Prime Minister David Cameron who dug his own grave by risking the referendum.

Cameron is responsible for a campaign of scaremongering himself, but his intent on using a matter of great public interest in order to heal the Tory party has come back to kick him. Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes of the Establishment this time was its focus on careerism, and its desperation for political advantage, adamant that the discussion would effortlessly stamp out UKIP. Many would argue that Boris Johnson secretly hoped that a win for Vote Leave would help to cement his future as a Prime Ministerial candidate. Instead, the Tory party has cost itself valuable allies and its credibility. The Prime Minister’s running away from Downing Street today speaks loud enough volumes. His ‘master plan’ to redeem the Conservative party of populist threat has markedly backfired.

Scotland’s mammoth 62-38 vote in favour of staying within the European Union has shown the intense social divide between our two nations all the more. The UK Establishment has been unable to smoothen out the arduous terrain of the new political landscape, already reshaped by pro-Scottish independence sentiment. Of course, the Scottish remain vote was nothing at all of a protest, unlike the possible intentions of those across England and Wales. But the robust links of Scotland with the EU have shown Scotland’s distinct mindset, and has only made Westminster’s relationship with Holyrood more prickly.

Surely after such a game-changing campaign and result, the Establishment will not be able to rest comfortably for many nights to come. Today’s vote result was undoubtedly a loud SOS from many who feel largely discontented with the European Union’s present operation. But the surprise victory of Vote Leave has served to pose new challenges for the British Establishment. Its fear-centric campaign has shown that the UK must find a new source of political integrity, and today’s unforeseen victory has highlighted that many feel failed by politics within the EU, and the UK.

The Establishment in itself has wrecked Britain, and has killed its own chances of success. But it didn’t have to be this way. Populism is the fault of governments around the world. Euroscepticism and right-wing populism has the failings of our global Establishments right at the heart of its rapid spread.

It is now only the Establishment which must restore public confidence and diminish its own detriment. It is only the Establishment which can start to once again champion the hardworking people of British society, and support the deprived. And it is only the Establishment which can pop the dreams of future right-wing populists such as Donald Trump by treading the moral high ground.

If the EU referendum has proven anything, it has proven that our leaders have made a great mistake in trying to combine political advantage with serious questions of the position of Britain in the world. The British Establishment’s fearful campaign tactics have displayed the lack of political dignity that surrounds our nation’s decision-making process. Surely our leaders wish to avoid further calamity. But to do so, they must first restore themselves and their own structures.

Standard
europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Politics isn’t about what you favour, but instead about what you don’t

03bf8c_83de2a62299d4aaf986e60bd256842bd

It has been a long time since I have heard predominantly good things being spoken of a politician, the current political landscape, or their policies. Perhaps some of the moments which last sparked jubilation in the political sphere were when Barack Obama was elected as the first black US President, when Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was last seen conversing naturally with a group of – actually interested – schoolchildren, or when German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood in front of Syrian refugees with open arms.

But it seems that right now, political contentment is at a low. The tone of debate around the world has degraded in recent months, and many of our politicians and their policies seem to revolve around counteracting some form of societal evil. Every day we are instructed that immigrants, nuclear power stations, or even Donald Trump will be the reason for the world’s end. Energised by multiple failings from both above and below, a wide range of voters, activists, and ordinaries have come to believe that politics is not working, a pessimistic and tiresome mindset which is fuelling politics of bitterness.

This advent has helped to kick-start fiery anti-establishment groups, seeing a rise in politics which focuses on resenting specific parts of society, creating a dangerous political culture. This engagement with ‘blame; policy is rapidly increasing, and is having a somewhat devastating side-effect. Whilst many citizens are, of course, uniting in opposition against what they deem to be most threatening to themselves and society, many are detrimentally turning hurtfully against certain social groups, in some cases minimising minorities and bolstering fear.

A handful of recent events serve to prove this. Only last week, the shooting of British MP Jo Cox showed that a sad minority believes in an act as shameful as killing an elected official. In recent days, Italy’s main anti-establishment party has made huge gains, Italy not the only country to see such a rise. Worldwide, the refugee crisis – the biggest movement of people since The Second World War – has provoked mixed sentiment, including a large pool of anti-immigrant protesters, and in many areas, even xenophobic and racist feelings. And a couple of months ago, the Panama Papers revelations exposed large-scale wrongdoing across global governments, fuelling anti-establishment feeling all the more.

It is no wonder that citizens across the world are bored with such endless, fruitless rhetoric. Fear and hatred are fast coming to define politics as citizens see no other remedy to their ailing governments and communities. Wrongdoing within government, a selfish hostility to an influx of immigrants, and resentment towards our MPs are each playing a part in tearing up society. Politics now revolves around marginalisation – not celebration of the good qualities which enhance our nation.

So, who is at fault for the culture of torment and blame which is reconstructing our political culture? Many would argue that society itself is causing the problem. The rise in barbaric terrorist acts shows that much of the gusto for wreaking havoc comes from the people. But it does indeed look like the Establishment has a monumental part to play. In many cases, electorates around the world have turned dead set on voting for manifestos which show pent up discontent with their current rulers. Recent corruption in relation to financial wrongdoing and offshore accounts, the polarisation of our political parties – fostering such intense left and right wings – and the rise of such casually outspoken leaders such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are each contributing to a new politics stubbornness. In the same way as many of our politicians, scores of voters now flippantly find anyone to blame for the worst of societal calamities. The success of anti-immigration ideals and anti-establishment policy emphasises that such an ethos is becoming increasingly – and somewhat worryingly – commonplace.

Hatred and blame are becoming international epidemics, diseasing our politics. On the social media stage, and even on our streets, jibes aimed at specific minorities are growing worryingly normal. The demonisation of a select few is creating an all too casual class of resentment amongst both voters and our leaders – incumbent and prospective. When, indeed, will an air of acceptance, teamwork and common good return to the fore of society’s mind? Without definite steps towards a strong emphasis on co-operation and interdependence, Britain will grow alien to the world in the same way that many deem outsiders as alien to Britain.

If anything, at least our democracy is functioning properly. A healthy democracy must have channels for opposition, but the scale of dissent is becoming too huge. As governments struggle to deal with new political, social and economic challenges, a blaring national forum is playing out. Our principles of free speech and the ability to challenge are evidently strongly in place. But out nation’s obsession with opposition, and the willingness of albeit very few to marginalise set individuals may soon have the adverse effect. The sudden influx of political discontent and the deeply rooted challenges that many pose to the status quo could see the destruction of our democracy.

Perhaps I am, in some ways, no better than the few who continue to rage, exaggerating the pessimism which seems to surround Britain’s politics. Whilst opposition is a fundamentally good thing for politics, the movements in which a select few citizens are involved are turning the act of standing up to certain policies into a license for hatred and resentment. If our politicians and citizens are adamant to blame an failing establishment and lax leaders, perhaps it is indeed our representatives who are wrong, and it is those who continue to fuel such a dirty discussion. Maybe when Britain starts to re-energise its public services, a blame on migrants will diminish, and our discussion will become cleaner. Maybe when our government proves to be truly in touch and right on the level of the people, anti-establishment and its needless addiction to blame will fade away. And maybe when leaders who believe in the acceptance of racial slurs and scaremongering step down from the podium, society will start to rebuild its bridges.

Standard
society, UK Politics

The Westminster system is halting UK political progress

Parliament_at_Sunset

It doesn’t take the most keen of political junkies to tell that British party politics is reaching a frustrating stalemate. The Labour party, since the growth in support for – and election of – Jeremy Corbyn, has become the arena bearing witness to fierce internal strife over its position on many issues. But the current debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union has smashed the complacency of many Conservatives who believed they were safe from the epidemic of divide. A huge rift has developed between staunch supporters of David Cameron and other hard-line Eurosceptics. If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party last year marked a significant turning point in Labour policy. Torn between the Blairite ‘third way’ and Corbyn’s by-the-book socialism, vast numbers of MPs are struggling to find much common ground. The Tories have proven to struggle with similar issues of their own, with a camp strongly in favour of ideas from further right, and war over the quandaries in relation to immigration and EU status.

This is worrying for a democracy like Great Britain. If parties fail to wholeheartedly unite and allow such instability to thrive, the future of British government looks bleak. The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour. There is simply no way that Britain can be forced to mould itself into such an uncomfortable structure which takes only a few indecisive policy options into account. Without change, governments will become ineffective, oppositions feeble, and the electorate switched off.

This issues lie with the Establishment and its pace alongside a fast-changing society.  Our main political parties of Labour and the Conservatives were once formed with the target of aggregating their respective working and middle class citizens. But nowadays, our political society cannot operate in this way. Social class is now far less important for voters than it was during the war-time and post-war periods.

Thus, the factors of gender, political personality, age, location, and simply the precise issues themselves have gained in astounding importance over the past decade. The attempts of many ‘catch-all’ parties in Britain, and further around the world, to gain the support of the average voter may be somewhat genius abroad, but is seemingly not practical in the UK. The diversity of our nation’s society today means that each person is looking for something different from politicians, and our leaders are failing to inspire each and every one of them. The Westminster parties in Britain are struggling to adapt to the new challenges of the 21st century, and aren’t succeeding in raking in the trust of all sorts. The British political system is stuck in the past in its old social class boundaries, and needs new rules.

So how can Westminster become the dynamic environment for engaging political debate that it once was? The people and the society are in place, but the institutions aren’t keeping up with the electorate’s transformation. The fact that both of the largest parties must deal with somewhat eternal internal splits, and juggle two very different pools of policy, must hint that the political framework of the UK needs to be taken a part and put back together again.

PR is the answer. Many reports have shown that if proportional representation had been used in recent elections, the share of seats in parliament would be markedly different. In 2015, the SNP in Scotland would have seen substantially less seats, UKIP would have achieved a whopping increase, and the Liberal Democrats would gain a position as fourth party in parliament with a 7% share. The key advantage with PR, is that it is a modern system designed for a modern society, which takes the growth in issue voting into account. The most important thing is, however, that PR would nurture Conservative and Labour party splits which are much needed for any form of progress. PR would not mean instant death to one of the parties’ internal camps, but would build a separate party stage allowing them to truly proclaim their message, instead of begrudgingly succumbing to their inner opposition.

Perhaps the Tories and Labour would be reluctant to split currently, eager to cling onto their inevitably greater share of power through the First Past the Post system. But in the next ten years, unless both sides unite, the crevasse will grow deeper and a parting looks inevitable. Separate parties with pacts on their similarities, giving a degree of leeway for their differences would revolutionise the Westminster system and make the party system considerably more workable.

We need a change. Through a complete overhaul of the Westminster institution via voting system, politics would become fairer and more true. Certainly, large sections of Britain would become more politically engaged, waving goodbye to the blockaded politics we have witnessed for too many months. Many societies worldwide have made the change, including Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, Scotland. It is time for Westminster to follow suit. If the London Establishment continues to trudge on in Westminster – the abyss of torment and interparty battles – Britain’s democracy will become decayed and society will grow bored of the nation’s dysfunctional decision-making.

Standard
society, UK Politics

Sadiq Khan’s victory shows that Londoners are not naïve

sadiqzacdebate

In his inauguration speech at Southwark Cathedral this morning, Sadiq Khan revelled in the possibilities of a London for all. The son of a Muslim bus driver who grew up on a London council estate has proven that Europe’s largest city is now an epicentre of inclusive and progressive politics. The ten week campaign for the London mayoralty between Khan and his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith has certainly shown that Londoners are not naïve. Instead, the realpolitik Khan has triumphed. Running a campaign which categorically marginalised those of ethnic minorities, the trajectory of Goldsmith’s popularity continued to plummet throughout the campaign. Khan’s unarguable success has punctuated the huge failings of the racially motivated Tory campaign, and has laid the foundations for a city of increased unity.

Branding Khan as a supporter of Islamic extremism and consistently scaremongering the city is what fundamentally caused Goldsmith’s campaign irreparable damage. The Conservative campaign within London this year was unforgiveable, and taught a hard-hitting lesson to those who seek to abandon political pragmatism. A racial crevasse in London would serve to diminish chances of prosperity and unity across London, instead of nurturing the accepting and just culture upon which the city prides itself.

One of the most incomprehensible failings of the Goldsmith campaign is that the Tories never sought to please all Londoners, with marginalising policy. Instead of adopting an ideologically driven, resolute campaign, Khan’s strength was his ability to focus on the real issues concerning the majority. His motto ‘a mayor for all Londoners’ only accentuates this. It seems that through such blatant flaws over the party’s isolating campaign, the Conservatives were always doomed. Their game of unfairness and backward politics meant that a Labour victory was effortless. David Cameron’s willingness to endorse such a divisive standpoint during Prime Minister’s Questions is nothing short of mindless. Cameron’s ease in remarking that Britain would “pay the price” for the election of Khan, whilst the Conservatives insist on supporting a “big society” is scandalous. Marginalising the chances of Conservative gains with even the most successful and high-earning minority ethnic citizens is a foolish move. And the fact that the Conservative party failed to realise its shortcomings with regard to such racially divisive politics is ludicrous. It is further atrocious that many Conservatives themselves refused to condemn Goldsmith’s brutality en masse.

The fact that Khan capitalised on the failings of Goldsmith is not the only reason for his landmark win. As a true Londoner, many believe that Khan will not only seek political advantage through the mayoralty. Freezing Transport for London fares, keeping rents low, and raising the profile of environmental sustainability are issues important to one and all. One of his greatest assets is his status not as a star or a personality, but as a genuinely ‘normal bloke.’ Khan understands the real issues affecting Londoners. His ability to take everyone into account and defy the divisive politics of Goldsmith has led to an unquestionable victory.

In a political world where populist politics from the right of the spectrum is becoming the norm and achieving great support, Sadiq Khan’s natural, left wing win must be refreshing for many. It is a resonant statement that loud-mouthed politics such as those of Trump or Farage have not succeeded within London. Perhaps this is due to Goldsmith’s persona, never really presenting himself as someone who is casually outspoken like many right-wing populists. Or perhaps such divisive politics have failed within a city as multi-cultural as London purely because of its cultural smorgasbord. It is clear, though, that the Tory campaign has taken its focus on defying extremism too far this time. Khan’s politics of optimism have clearly trounced those of hatred. We must be always heavy-handed on dealing with extremism, but presenting such an controversial campaign in a patchwork city like London has fallen monumentally flat.

Standard
society, UK Politics

Nationalist and unionist feelings prevented Labour wins in Scotland

web-scots-debate-sturgeon-getty

Would you call yourself a unionist or nationalist? Did you side with Salmond or Darling in the independence referendum? Yesterday, did you give a vote to the nationalist SNP or the unionist Tories? The pivotal 2014 referendum over Scottish independence heated discussions of political identity. Few previous events had seen Scots passionately side with a political campaign so decisively. This morning’s Scottish Election results have shown that nationalist and unionist sentiment spurred by the referendum has little chances of waning in months – and inevitably years – to come. The extensive and somewhat surprising gains of Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives have proven that capitalising on the fears of independence and the growth in pro-union feeling will bring in easy seats. Similarly, whilst Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has lost a few of its hotspots, it is clear that the heartfelt politics of many who yearn for increased decentralisation are still alive. Enhanced commitment to political identities is transforming Scottish politics and is becoming crucial in deciding the futures of our political parties.

The most profound change within the Holyrood establishment revealed this morning has to be the demise of Scottish Labour. The party, once dominating Scottish politics, has entered into a stark and likely prolonged decline. With left-wing feeling traditionally widespread across Scotland, and Scottish Labour gaining the most seats in Holyrood in 1999 and 2003, many hardcore supporters of the party would be most surprised at last night’s results. Labour prepared itself yesterday for a kick thanks to eternal issues surrounding anti-Semitism arguments, divides between Corbyn supporters and old Blairites, and the SNP’s storm in the polls. But one of the main weaknesses of the Scottish Labour party which has come to light in the wake of Ruth Davidson’s largely unforeseen triumph yesterday is that the Scottish Labour party does not have a strong political identity. Having likeable and well set out policies is undeniably paramount. But the other main parties within the Scottish parliament are taking a more decisive line over identity and nationality, as well as asserting their authority as issue-based movements.

Scottish politics has seen a well-established two party dominance emerge at Holyrood in recent years – something the AMS voting system was, in fact, designed to prevent. The rise of the SNP has seen a marked transformation from the consensus politics which prevailed in the earlier years of the Scottish parliament. The SNP has succeeded in dominating devolved decision making since its time in government from 2007, a political monopoly fostered by unquestionable leftist history throughout Scotland.

Last night’s election results in Scotland, however, further accentuated the SNP’s already strong nationalist identity. The rise of the Tories also, rebranding themselves in 2014 with heavy emphasis on the unionist element of their politics, marks a real change in direction for Scottish politics. The fundamental questions of identity, which surrounded the independence referendum two years ago, are evidently still hot on the minds of much of the electorate.

A survey carried out by What Scotland Thinks in March 2015 put Scottish nationalist sentiment amongst Scots at 62%, and British feeling on 31%. Whilst this may not exactly correlate with yesterday’s election results, the almost two-fold increase in the SNP’s gains from 2011 looks as if it may go hand-in-hand with the party’s victory this morning.

When the new Scottish parliament sits for the first time in a few days’ time, not only austerity, tax, and public services will place Sturgeon and Davidson at loggerheads. The new Conservative opposition and old timer SNP government will sit in their nationalist and unionist blocs. Whilst many believe that Labour’s demise is due to indecisiveness and leadership disputes south of the border, perhaps its lack of nationalist standpoint is really its Achilles heel.

The referendum is now over, although the SNP continue to angle for another which would take place in just a few years. It seems that the legacy of hyped patriotism and focus on national identity has largely changed the 2016 election’s course. The SNP and Conservatives are the parties for nationalists and unionists, respectively. Of course, a large majority are still issue voters. But Labour’s inability to decisively condemn or endorse another independence referendum may well have contributed to Kezia Dugdale’s fate. Those adamant about protecting the union could safely vote for a strong opposition led by Davidson, keen to protect relations with Westminster, in the same way that hardcore nationalists just know that Sturgeon’s team would never wholly backtrack on independence.

The Labour party is the odd one out when it comes to a focus national identity. The Labour party’s instability rests on its short-lived leaders, racial controversy, and a turf war between the grassroots members and the party’s elected MPs. In Scotland, however, the referendum has not at all diluted impassioned nationalist and unionist sentiment, which will, judging by yesterday’s election, continue to influence our nation’s politics. Stuck in between the fervent debate, Labour has fallen hard, failing to take a form of loyalist standpoint. It seems that the divisive referendum and its focus on identity has created clear-cut sides. The conundrum surrounding the still contentious ‘Yes or No?’ question is still alive. Whilst independence does not look imminent, there is still growing support both for and against such constitutional change. The possibilities for such a transformation are boosting identity-based politics, as well as gains for both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives as decisive nationalist and unionist movements.

Standard
human rights, society, UK Politics

Young people are being forgotten during UK election campaigns

6454544-3x2-940x627

Over the days leading up to today’s Scottish General Election, I asked many of my fellow students whether or not they would be voting. Many responded enthusiastically, enfranchised for the first time – disregarding the Scottish referendum – as 16, 17, or 18 year-olds. But a large proportion of the answers I received were gravely worrying. Many told me that they didn’t feel educated enough, that they simply had forgotten to change to their new constituency, or that they hadn’t had time to register for a postal vote. The Electoral Commission’s social media drive and overhead billboards have failed to entice voter registration amongst citizens young and old. It seems that our system of electoral registration is failing to inspire many in society – especially students, as well as those who travel regularly.  A boost in electoral bureaucracy, spearheaded by the Tories thanks to recent reform, is making our electoral system more deceptive, and is resulting in the creation of a relaxed political culture. The principles of our nation’s democracy are under threat.

There must surely be something wrong about a society which does encourage people to vote, but makes it increasingly difficult to. Several months ago, Tory legislation removed the ability for collective voter registration, and thus made it less easy to become enfranchised. Due to these new government moves, households and organisations such as universities can no longer place large numbers of individuals on the electoral register at once. To top this, electoral participation is alarmingly low. Around a third of voters – and regularly more – failed to turn up to their local polling station last May.

The fact that such large numbers of people choose not to exercise their right to vote, or are missing – either deliberately or accidentally – from the electoral register is a serious threat to the United Kingdom’s political society. How can governments be held to account? Why should David Cameron and his party be allowed to create such a political monopoly, making it easier for the older and more geographically anchored individual to vote? It is abominable that the government is willing to sit back whilst its agencies fail to make registration an effortless exercise.

As many as 800,000 previously eligible citizens were deleted from the register several months ago. It was further revealed that the electoral register has shrunk by 1.6 million since 2012. In no way have the Tories’ electoral register changes been beneficial to the UK’s democracy. Instead of being a source of inspiration and empowerment, the Electoral Commission has become growingly bureaucratic.

The worst part of the government’s changes is the disrespect for some of the most influential groups of society. Students, many of whom will have to register to vote for the first time, are being failed. Moving between multiple addresses, the government has not provided an effortless registration process for young people. Without the participation of young adults, results of past elections would be markedly different. Voting amongst those aged between 18 and 24 saw a 20% decrease between 1990 and 2010. Perhaps the government is willfully ignoring the youth vote, knowing that their increased enfranchisement would diminish chances for Tory victories. Either way, such blatant disrespect for mass enfranchisement is a crime against democracy.

Besides the Tories’ tactical registration reform, there are other reasons why the youth vote, in particular, is becoming increasingly smothered by those above. Party efforts for encouraging student voting seems very weak. At my student flat in Glasgow during this election campaign, I received a puny supply of direct electoral information. The provision of three leaflets from the Scottish Green Party was very acceptable. However, besides this delivery, as well as one mailshot from UKIP and another from Solidarity, I received nothing else. The fact that a number of the main parties in Scotland – the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems – were not interested in attracting the student vote through direct canvassing shows that more must be done to sell the pros of enfranchisement to young people. Don’t get me wrong – a large number of young adults are very politically engaged. But those who lack in political knowledge and experience are being forgotten. Surely it is the duty of our governments to promote the excitement and empowerment which comes with electoral participation.

There are several quick and effective fixes to the seemingly increasing threat to our democracy and the UK’s political culture. It is clear that the Tories’ new enfranchisement regulations are having a seriously negative impact on participation, and excluding vast populations from political engagement. Along with increased direct support from individual parties, a perhaps if universities, colleges and other institutions – as well as households – had power to enfranchise people en masse returned, our nation’s democratic foundations would be stronger than ever. On top, huge registration campaigns must become the norm. An inspiring Electoral Commission should be built up, ready to promote the benefits of participation to all. In addition, the lack of direct canvassing towards young people is shameful. An increase must be seen.

It is therefore clear that the political parties of the UK are in danger of becoming complacent. Party leaders do not seem to want to talk to young people as much as they perhaps once did. It seems that the 1920s struggles for suffrage have not ended, and will not end soon. Next year’s Scottish local elections will inevitably receive markedly less attention than this May’s general election. A new era of democratic encouragement must come into being. The Tories’ recent electoral reforms are damaging the chances for strengthened British democracy. Elections should not be made difficult to take part in. For if this is the case, Britain is simply not a democracy. Only tomorrow will we find out how exactly Britain’s young people have exercised their votes in one of the several elections taking place today. Call me a cynic, but I fear that the figures for youth turnout will not be as high as they could be. Of course, those who are politically engaged will certainly be rampant supporters of their chosen party. But without stark rejection of the government’s new registration obstacle course, we will be quietly submitting to the removal of our greatest democratic rights.

Standard