UK Politics

In this election, Britain is neither left nor right, but a smörgåsbord of opinion

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The British electoral landscape is at its most volatile in years, Brexit dominates doorstep pleas, and the Tories just thought it would have been easier. Now, either Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May will set foot in Number 10 tomorrow. Today at the polls, where class becomes more and more irrelevant, voters must make an informed choice based on issues alone.  

This time, both main parties offer policies further away from the centre ground. Despite the mudslinging, the chaotic radio interviews and the backfired soundbites, issues matter most. No longer can we expect, as last year’s Brexit victory showed, working class voters to continually side with the socialists, after the populist hijacking of globalisation, portraying it as something impossible to balance with home affairs, rather than something bringing great opportunity and success. Similarly, no longer can we expect wealthier and more middle class voters to always side with the Conservatives. Class boundaries have become so hazy that we may even question the effectiveness of predicting outcomes based on wallets, and indeed the current working or middle-upper class dichotomy. This is the end of big party tribalism in UK politics. 

Today’s snap vote, originally designed to erode the foundations of the Labour party, has instead reshaped the British political landscape, bringing the resurrection of the left-wing that Theresa May only two months ago thought was dead. 

The past two months of campaigning have indicated that Britain is about to pass through an important political portal, however. At the end of this campaign, the Labour and Conservative parties will not be the same as they were several months ago. Party politics is no longer, as Clement Attlee, Tony Blair, and David Cameron seemed to believe, entirely about class. Instead, politics is now more about policy, and more particular factions. Whilst we can still describe parties as either left of right of the spectrum, voters cannot rely on leaders to speak for one entire branch of society; the entirety of the left or the right.

In this election, both main parties have tried to catch-all, looking to reel in all sorts of voters, regardless of class. With May’s focus on strength and stability, and Corbyn’s impetus on governing for the greater good instead of the top 1%, both campaigns have run with messages which partly forget class divisions. One of the most astonishing developments of the Brexit vote only last June was that it leapt across social class boundaries. 

As a result, Theresa May has attempted to prove that Brexit is a transformation which can benefit all – the disenchanted working class, and the wealthy who look to abandon the red tape of the European Union. Similarly, the Labour Party, with its campaign of compassion and a celebration of society, has tried to attract both voters on average incomes, and even the most high-end of champagne socialists.

Right-wing and left-wing parallels can still be drawn with the main parties’ respective social care policies and increases in corporation tax. But largely, Labour and the Tories are out there to grab everyone. Myriad columnists and political scientists have reported that the Conservative manifesto is – wait for it – surprisingly socialist in places, regulating the energy industry, and even talking about a kind of centre ground in its manifesto.

But are the main parties really that similar? In reality, however, Theresa May’s party remains adamant that an intensely right-wing Brexit will be a success. Similarly, Corbyn’s Labour party remains quintessentially 70s-style socialist in places. The two parties, however, as much as they have tried to appeal to all, still remain within their individual right-wing and left-wing camps. Crucially, the two parties don’t even represent the entirety of their right or left wing bases, instead arguably speaking only for smaller details of the bigger picture – Brexiteers for the Tories, and traditional socialists for Labour.

Perhaps, therefore, the Tory party represents only Brexiteers. If this be the case, surely much of the British population remains unaccounted for. Not even Theresa May herself voted for Brexit. As for Jeremy Corbyn, he may have achieved overwhelming success in the past month, but there still exists a fiery branch of more Blairite, New Labour-oriented MPs, who have received little limelight since Corbyn’s anti-Tory crusade gained real traction over a month ago. New Labour MPs in the next Parliament will surely be keen to flex their muscles.

Not everyone can be a winner. Perhaps this is just a fact of democracy. But as society breaks down into more specific groupings, with more fluid conceptions of class, perhaps the big, social class aggregate party is now dead, and can be rendered impractical. Trans-class issues have dominated this election. The Tories are quietly torn between Brexit and liberal internationalism. The Labour party have, until only very recently, found themselves sitting on the fence between Corbyn’s radical socialism and the Blairite third way. How can these parties now appeal to all, if they represent one distinct portion of their ideological wings, let alone their entire right-wing or left-wing sides? Perhaps there is a new gap in the political market. 

There are several possible solutions – firstly, that the catch-all, all-encompassing party becomes successful in pleasing all (a rather utopian idea, based on this campaign and the politics of previous years). Secondly, the UK political landscape could break down, heralding a wider range of political parties, each reflecting different pools of political opinion, welcoming a new proportional system of voting. Or, parties could learn to agree internally – something that the Tories have performed at better over Brexit. Hopefully, however, Corbyn sceptics will consider the success of the party leader of late, and run with his more socialist manifesto.

Chiefly, perhaps our political system is outdated, with a need for rejuvenation if it is to facilitate a wide-range of political opinions. I fear that, despite the successes of Jeremy Corbyn in this campaign, the numerous New Labour supporters in the PLP will rise up against him if Theresa May wins on Friday morning. Furthermore, if Theresa May pushes on with her Brexit agenda, perhaps centrism will resurgence, as Corbyn and May polarise the system. Perhaps a more centrist force like French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche will soon come to the fore.

Centrism needn’t be the answer, and could only confuse things more, aiming to match the weaker right-wingers with left-behind Blairites. The Labour party may find itself with relative post-election peace, allowing Corbyn to do his socialist job. If intra-party feuds spawn, however, a pluralist proportional system could be the answer.

Today, however, the message is clear. Voters must vote based on the issues. Prime Minister Theresa May has shown herself to be unaccountable in debates, and has proven that a vote for the Tories is a blank cheque for Brexit. The Conservative Party’s plans for Brexit will turn the nation into a bargain basement economy. The party’s record, which so many government ministers have suggested that voters examine, shows myriad cuts to public services, and an NHS on its knees. Food banks shouldn’t have to be the core of so many communities. May has revealed herself as a leader who isn’t afraid to overlook the disgraces of Donald Trump’s presidency, let big business take the controls, turn away from the massive benefits of free movement, or broker deals with dodgy dictators. What’s more, reducing the effects of climate change isn’t high on Theresa May’s creaky agenda.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has galvanised much of the British population, and re-engineered the left’s platform. Once the media abandoned him, the Labour leader was last year deemed all too quickly as someone who just wasn’t electable. Reducing the Tory party lead from over 25 points to five would show otherwise.

Corbyn’s Labour Party has shown that it stands up for progressive politics in Britain, and is a truly possible antidote to May’s damaging game plan. Under Corbyn, work may truly pay, and public services will be injected with new life. Labour’s insult-free campaign of compassion, morality and straight-talking socialism has worked wonders. Labour will defend important human rights, uphold Britain’s place as just one cog in a complex international civil society where individual nations cannot always supremely call the shots, and reduce hardship at home and abroad. The nurturing of human success will be placed at the heart of society.

Corbyn’s campaign has been revolutionary, and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the electorate and those who feel upset by the failings of New Labour. Even in opposition, Corbyn has finally given a platform to those left behind. His supporters will not easily fade into the background. However, his next mission is to keep the Blairites at bay, just as Theresa May must calm down the more internationalist, liberal conservatives if she wants to be successful. Class is growing less irrelevant in UK politics, and voters instead shop around on issues and manifestos. Both May and Corbyn now have the tricky task of healing the divides in their parties as they veer their respective right and left wings in specific directions. Failing to do so could mean great constitutional change for the UK, if the huge class-driven aggregate parties which have for so long defined the UK’s political landscape soon fail to speak for all.

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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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