Austerity – who should pay for the financial crisis?

My previous post talked about the 2008 financial crisis and the long shadow it casts over politics and society still a decade later.

In the UK, the financial crisis was followed by a decade of austerity. These policies included significant cuts to public services, underfunding the NHS, tertiary fees being raised to the highest level of any country in Europe and wages being held down throughout the British economy. Earlier this year it was reported that policies of austerity had resulted in 130,000 preventable deaths in the UK.

The policies of austerity were introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government of 2010 to 2015. It is worth remembering at this time that the opposition Labour Party led by Ed Miliband also accepted the Tory Lib Dem framework of austerity. Prior the Labour Party membership electing Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015, many in the parliamentary Labour Party were prepared to support or at least abstain on the Tories Welfare bill which cut welfare payments.

The Political establishment after the financial crisis poured billions into bailing out banks like NatWest and Lloyds. Then spent the next decade cutting public spending. Comedian Alexei Sayle says austerity “was sold to the country on the basis that the global crash occurred because there were too many libraries in Wolverhampton.”  

After a financial crisis unpleasant and difficult decisions needed to be made. And these decisions were unlikely to be popular. Austerity was a political choice, as was bailing out the banks and allowing their executives to continue to pay themselves bonuses by ordinary people suffered. Many economists and academics have criticised austerity saying that it failed to result in an economic recovery. In the UK, austerity widened the already significant gulf between rich and poor. For the generation reaching adulthood after 2008, they now leave school facing precarious low paid work, crippling student debt and very low prospects of ever owning a home.

So what were the alternatives to austerity? In the 1930s President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the new deal, where the US government borrowed and invested in big public works schemes to stimulate the economy. By creating jobs that paid decent wages, more people were paying tax and were spending in the economy. A number of other countries followed a similar model after the 1930s depression. The response in the UK as well as much of Europe and North America of implementing austerity policies has resulted in greater poverty, crime and social problems. In the UK, while the overall economy may have recovered from the 2008 crash, many parts of the country remain badly deprived and in need of help. In Canary Wharf the bankers maybe doing ok now, but in Jaywick and Blackpool the recession never ended.

Map showing deprivation across England

After the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015, the Labour Party moved to a position of opposing austerity. In the 2017 general election the Labour Party, though not making it into government, had its biggest increase in vote in the party’s history. Austerity is not popular, and the British public have had enough.

In September Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid declared the end of austerity. A convenient thing to announce just before a general election. However the damage has been done. The Conservative Party pledge to increase police numbers by 20,000 belies the fact that police number have been cut by 21,000 since this government came to power. Also after a decade of under resourcing the police the UK has seen a significant rise in knife and other violent crime. The cost of these cuts to the police budget has been enormous, and increasing numbers now is needed but won’t repair the damage.

Even if the policies of austerity are now over, with increases to public spending being promised by all major parties in this election, the last decade of cuts has taken a huge toll. The policies of austerity have resulted in cuts to services, increased poverty and a massive growth in the divide in the gap between rich and poor.

Austerity was never inevitable. It was a political choice. A choice of whether those who caused the crisis should pay, or whether ordinary people should be made to suffer and pay for the mistakes of banks and financial institutions.

The 2008 global recession casts a long shadow

During the 2019 UK general election there will be new issues and developments on a daily basis. But there is a major issue this election isn’t new, but remains highly relevant. The 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent policies of austerity the followed it continue to heavily impact on peoples lives.

To really understand what happened in this crash, I recommend watching The Big ShortThis film manages to strike the difficult balance of explaining how the banks and big business caused a major financial crisis in the first decade of this century, whilst still being entertaining.

The short term thinking of banks and major corporations caused a massive economic crisis. Governments world wide were forced to bail out banks and financial institutions that were considered too big to fail. Having been bailed out, senior executives and boards of directors used the money to pay themselves massive bonus whilst forcing many to sell their homes, and forced people who hadn’t caused the crisis to pay for it.

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The 2008 financial crisis casts a long shadow over UK politics and society. 

One thing that struck me moving to the UK in 2017, was how much harder the crisis hit here compared with New Zealand. Both in terms of the initial crisis, and the austerity policies that followed, the global financial crisis has cast a long shadow over the UK and Europe.

This will be the fourth UK general election since the crisis hit. In terms of politics the crisis has eroded public confidence both in politics, financial institutions and the ruling establishment in London. Many believe that the financial crisis and austerity in no small measure influenced the 2016 Brexit referendum result. In terms of politics, the landscape has been far less stable in the UK since 2008. Two of the last three elections produced minority or coalition governments (something that the First Past the Post Electoral system is suppose to avoid).

The Conservative Government took power in 2010 under David Cameron. This party has blamed the previous Labour administration for what happened to the UK economy after the crisis, blaming their high public spending. Former bank of England Governor Mervyn King refutes this, saying that political parties across the spectrum thought the markets were doing well prior to the crash. The reality is the 2008 financial crisis was the result of decades of free market policies that failed to regulate or apply appropriate scrutiny to markets. A decade on, there is little evidence in the UK or elsewhere that adequate safe guards have been put in place to ensure this will not happen again.

As the parties release their manifestos next week, a key feature will be how each party plan to manage the economy. After a decade of austerity the country is now looking for change. But along with various spending promises, the public will be demanding to know what their politicians are prepared to do to prevent there every being another financial crisis like the one in 2008. A decade after the crash, this question remains answered. Until it is, public trust and confidence and politics will remain very low.

Compassionless Conservatives?

The Conservative Party in the last week have had two serious PR blunders. One was Jacob Ress Mogg’s careless and hurtful comments about the victims of the Grenfell tower fire. The second was Prime Minsters Johnson’s comments that flooding in the north of England did not constitute a national emergency. Why are the UK Conservatives showing such lack of compassion and empathy?

The comment by Boris Johnson was made to the media on over the weekend. It came after reports that a women had been killed and that hundreds of residents had evacuated their homes in Fishlake due to flooding. The Prime Minister said the floods did not constitute a national emergency. If you take this comment literally, Boris is correct in that the flooding is a localised rather than a nation wide event. However it is still a national emergency, where state resources will be required to help people living in the area.

As mentioned in this blog before, Boris Johnson is no fool. However what we see here is a lack of compassion and empathy in his comments. When you are the Prime Minster, you are judged by your response to events like natural disasters. When commenting on events like this, you pick your words very carefully. Specifically you try to be comforting and show sympathy and willingness to help. Boris Johnson has failed to do so with the Fishlake floods.

Emergency services rescue residents in Fishlake, South Yorkshire, after the village was flooded
Above: Emergency Services rescue residents in Fishlake, South Yorkshire, after the village was flooded

No doubt the Conservatives strategists were alarmed by this blunder. The Conservative election strategy is to try and pick up Brexit voting marginal constituencies in the north of England, many of whom have traditionally have voted Labour. The assumption that as Brexit voters they’ll be more attracted to the Conservative Party is a big assumption. Many who voted Brexit did so due to a feeling of being neglected, both by Brussels and Westminster. In the north, the policies of austerity and the loss of jobs have hit the region hard. Advisors have no doubt explained to Boris, that these comments could well cost the Conservatives crucial votes in key marginal constituency races. The opposition have also been quick to call Johnson out on this, saying that if the floods had happened in the south of England he’d have been more likely to call a national emergency.

In response to all this, the Prime Minster has called an emergency COBRA meeting to respond to these floods. This is the right thing to do, but it looks now like he is reacting to criticism and is clearly on the back foot.

The other big blunder made by a Conservative Party MP this week were the comments made by Jacob Rees- Mogg. A key ally of Johnson, Rees-Mogg is a strong supporter of Brexit and was chair of the European Research Group (ERG). Rees-Mogg became leader of the House of Commons after Johnson became Prime Minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was criticised and parodied for laying sprawled on the front bench of the Commons
Jacob Rees-Mogg lying down during a Brexit debate in Parliament recently. 

In an interview on LBC last week, Rees-Mogg made the comment that victims in the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire “lacked common sense” for listening to emergency services and staying in their apartments.

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72 people were killed in the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.

Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise for these comments. Families of Grenfell victims and their supporters including British rap artist Stormzy have hit out at Rees-Mogg and called for him to resign. Conservative Party Chair James Cleverly said the comments had caused a “huge amount of hurt and distress.” No doubt party advisors will be trying to keep Rees-Mogg out of the media for the remainder of the campaign if possible.

Grenfell Tower is in the Constituency of Kensington. Days before the fire in the 2017 the Labour Party un-expectantly won Kensington from the Conservatives by just 20 votes in that years general election. Kensington is a key marginal that the Tories will be trying to win back. For residents in the area, memories of the horrific fire are all too vivid. Even today the tower still stands on the horizon with the green heart covering the burnt building. For residents of Kensington, the comments by Rees-Mogg will do nothing to convince them that the Conservative Party want to help those affected by the Grenfell fire.

Both Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are from privileged backgrounds having both studied at Eton and Oxford. I am not of the view that people from privileged backgrounds or with a high net worth are not capable compassion for those less disadvantaged, as plenty are. But having self awareness, and understanding your own privilege is crucial. The comments by both Johnson and Rees-Mogg show a stunning lack of empathy, awareness and political judgement. UK voters will view these comments with dismay.

As an end note on Grenfell:

The Lib Dem candidate for Kensington has been making dishonest statements. Specifically, that Kensington Labour MP Emma Dent Coad was responsible for the decision to put the combustable cladding on Grenfell Tower. Emma was part of the Labour minority on the Kensington Council and had no involvement with the decision to install this cladding. My previous blog post discusses the Liberal Democrat’s seeming inability to be factual so far in this election.

The Conservative Party leadership have failed to show compassion in this election, and the Liberal Democrats seem to struggle with honesty. No wonder the British public are very angry with politics at this time.

 

 

 

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have seen an increase to their polling since Jo Swinson became the party leader in July 2019. The Lib Dems may have already overplayed their hand, and risk alienating voters. Firstly their changed position on Brexit, which essentially is to ignore the 2016 referendum result will alienate many even on the remain side. The second has been the cynical and misleading messages encouraging voters to “tactically vote” for their party.

Who are the Liberal Democrats?

The Liberal Democrats were Founded in 1981. They were a Coalition of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party was the direct descendant of the 18th-century Whigs and prior to the creation of the Labour Party were the main rival to the Conservatives in the House of Commons. The Social Democratic Party were a slightly less pathetic version of Change UK formed by breakaway Labour MPs in the early 1980s. These two parties formally merged in 1988.

The Lib Dems have at times made a positive contribution. When Tony Blair’s New Labour Government were pushing to invade Iraq in 2003, the Lib Dems were strong opponents of this. As someone who was active in opposing the Iraqi invasion, this certainly earned them some respect in my eyes.

In 2010 the Lib Dems held the balance of power after the General Election. Naively before the election, then party leader Nick Clegg gave away his leverage by saying the Lib Dems would likely go with whichever party got the most votes. Given at this point the Conservatives were only polling a few points ahead of Labour this was a clumsy move. Probably as a result of this blunder, the Lib Dems went from polling around 30% (neck and neck with Labour and Conservatives) to getting just 22% of the vote on election night.

For the next 5 years the Lib Dems were in coalition with the Conservatives. These were the years where austerity cuts hit hard. Funding to local government services were slashed, NHS funding was frozen, Student tuition fees sky-rocked, police numbers were cut and the mantra of doing more with less became common in Whitehall.

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In 2015 election the Lib Dems were punished. In 2017 the Lib Dems vote increased, however due to the First Past the Post electoral system they did not increase their number of seats in the Commons.

But now its 2019. UK politics is a mess. The Lib Dems have a new leader and this could be their year. Except its already gone to their heads, and they are making poor decisions.

My previous post outlined the parties Brexit positions. The Lib Dems have since 2016 been advocating for a second referendum. Now that most opposition parties in parliament, including Labour, have adopted this as their policy the Lib Dems want to go further. They now are saying if they win a majority in parliament they will withdraw Article 50 and just stop Brexit in its tracks. Plenty of people don’t like the Brexit result. and there are plenty who’d like to see and end to Brexit and the chaos it is creating. But its a big call to say you are going to ignore a democratic decision by the people. And an arrogant one. Even many of the most ardent Remainers will find this position to be a bridge too far. The Lib Dems could be saying, we campaigned for a second referendum from the outset, and now other opposition parties are copying us. Instead, the Lib Dems are trying to differentiate themselves, a position that could badly backfire on them.

Recently, the Labour opposition moved an amendment in Parliament seeking to prevent the Privatisation of the NHS in any post Brexit trade deals with the US. The Lib Dems decided it best to abstain on this motion, rather than being seen to support a Labour Party amendment. Yes as a party you want to show you are different to Labour and aren’t aligned to Jeremy Corbyn. But what signal does abstaining on an issue like this send? Especially after supporting 5 years of austerity cuts last time you were in government.

The Lib Dems are essentially a party that is economically on the centre right and socially progressive. They maybe aren’t too fussed if the NHS gets privatised as this is consistent with liberalism and their track record in power. The issue is that the Lib Dems present themselves as moderate economic centrists. Their history has been to back austerity and free market economics. In effect they are the pro Europe Tories. Conservative Party supporters who are pro the  EU may find they have a natural home in the Lib Dems, in much the same way as Blairite politicians from Labour such as Chuka Umunna have. But winning these people over will only win the party so much support. They want more.

The Lib Dems have formed a pro Remain Electoral pact with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. The Lib Dems will likely be the main winners in such a pact. More concerning is the way the Lib Dems are trying to encourage voters to be tactical. Under a First Past the Post electoral system vote spitting is a challenge, and there are times when it is wise to be strategic. But this does not excuse dishonestly and deceit.

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The above images shows a leaflet distributed my the Lib Dems in York Outer claiming there is a two horse race between their party and the Conservatives. The aim is to encourage Labour voters to tactically vote Lib Dem. Below this are the 2017 voting figures, showing in fact the two horse race is between Labour and Conservative with the Lib Dems coming a distant 3rd place. Similar leaflets have been put out by the Lib Dems in Labour held constituencies where they falsely claim that they and not the Conservatives are the main challenger.

The Lib Dems represent a section of the British voting public. On the issue of Brexit they have consistently pushed the remain cause, and there will be voters who support them for this. But integrity is important in politics. Trust in politics is already low. Being deliberately misleading, anti democratic and arrogant will not impress voters. The Lib Dems might really want to rethink how they are now approaching the upcoming election.

 

 

Brexit – The Parties positions

There is considerable confusion in the UK election about what each party’s position is on Brexit. Given this, I thought I’d sum up the policy of each party below:

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Background:

The Conservatives under David Cameron called a referendum asking voters if they wished to remain in the European Union or not. Expecting voters to vote yes, no work was done by the Cameron administration of preparing for a leave vote. Leave won, Cameron resigned the next day.

Theresa May took over, claimed that Brexit means Brexit and promised to deliver it. She called an early election in 2017, expecting to increase her majority and instead lost it. Since June 2017 the Conservatives have relied on the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party for numbers in Parliament. May negotiated with Europe a withdrawal agreement – negotiations were tense. She eventually brought back the deal to Parliament, and it was defeated 3 times. A number of pro Brexit tory MPs including Boris Johnson voted against her. Eventually she tried to negotiate a compromise position with Labour on the withdrawal agreement to take back to the EU. The two parties couldn’t agree. In May 2019 EU elections were held, and Britain had to participate as it hadn’t yet left the EU. The Conservatives got 9% in that election. A few days later Theresa May resigned.

July 2019, Boris Johnson is elected leader of the Conservative Party and becomes Prime Minister. Boris initially sat on the fence, but eventually decided to campaign for Brexit thinking it would improve his chances of becoming leader. In 2016 his leadership ambitions were thwarted by Michael Gove, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. But succeeded 3 years later.

Boris as PM clearly shifts the Conservatives to be a Party of Brexit. Remain or moderate Conservative MPs are demoted from the cabinet. Later he kicks out MPs who vote for a bill in Parliament making no deal illegal. 21 Tory MPs lose the Conservative whip include former Chancellors of the Exchequer Kennith Clarke and Philip Hammond. Despite predictions from many including myself, Boris has brought back a deal. He even managed to get it to a second reading in parliament. However close examination shows that this deal is very similar to the one May brought back a year ago, which Boris crossed the floor to oppose. The main difference is that the Irish Backstop would be in in the Irish Sea, not between Northern Ireland and the Republic. For the Democratic Unionist Party, this is the worst possible outcome as it potentially places a soft border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Thus in bringing back this deal, The Conservative alliance with the DUP is destroyed. So a general election is needed.

Election Policy: The Conservatives’ policy is to leave the EU with this proposed deal before the 31st of January 2020. They don’t want a second referendum. They are wanting this General Election to be a mandate for pushing through the deal.

 

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Background:

Like the Conservatives, Labour members and supporters were completely split on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Labour supported holding the 2016 referendum and had a position of campaigning to remain. But MPs were split, and leader Jeremy Corbyn had prior to becoming leader been a Euro-sceptic. Many saw the EU’s support of austerity and free market policies as inconsistent with a progressive left wing policy platform.

Since remain lost in 2016 there have been a number of Labour MPs on the remain side who argued very loudly for a peoples vote, and in some cases for article 50 to be withdrawn (the latter being a minority view, mostly held by MPs from the Blairite faction of the party). There have also been a number or Brexit Labour MPs, 19 of whom voted with Johnson on his latest Brexit withdrawl bill.

In 2017 Labour like the Conservative Party had a policy of respecting the referendum result. Further their policy was to support negotiating a deal with the EU, but one which protected workers rights and jobs.

Since September 2019, Labour’s position has now been to support a second referendum. The party policy is to hold a referendum where voters have a choice of whatever new withdrawl bill they negotiate or to remain in the EU. It is also highly likely that a deal negotiated would be similar to the relationship Norway has with the EU, where its not an EU member but is within the customs union. The fear of many in Labour, even former Euro-skeptics is that a no deal Brexit would force the UK to enter a trade deal with the US. Such a deal would risk privatisation of the NHS.

Outgoing deputy leader Tom Watson and others have been vocally outspoken against the way Corbyn has led the party through the Brexit debate. This was particularly so back when Labour and Conservatives were in talks to try and reach agreement on with a withdrawl bill back in May 2019. Labour’s position on Brexit is now fairly clear, but they will need to explain it clearly during the election given earlier confusion.

Election Policy:

Negotiate a new deal with the EU. Then hold a second referendum giving voters the choice of this deal or remaining in the EU. Most Labour MPs will campaign on this position, though a few may just go off and do their own thing.

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Background:

The Liberal Democrats are a remain party. You could be forgiven for thinking they are a party that has been consistent throughout the Brexit debate (they haven’t). The Liberal Democrats have described Brexit as a national act of self harm.

Almost immediately after the 2016 referendum the Lib Dems had been campaigning for a second referendum. The argument is that people didn’t understand what they were voting on the first time, so they hope a second referendum would put the matter to bed. Now that Labour, along with the SNP, The Greens and Plaid Cymru have joined calls for a second referendum, this is no longer the Lib Dems policy. The Liberal Democrats are saying if they win a majority in the House of Commons, they will repeal Article 50 and put a halt to Brexit. In effect their position is to ignore the referendum result. As already mentioned on this blog and as the Lib Dems are well aware, the First Past the Post electoral system means a party can win a majority in the commons without winning the majority of votes. Hypothetically the Lib Dems could get 35% in the December election, and if the votes fall in the right way in the right constituencies they could get a majority in the Commons. Would a government elected on 35%, or even 45% have the moral right to ignore a referendum result where 52% of the population voted to leave the EU?

The Lib Dems plan is to win the votes of the 15 million Brits who voted remain. Their electoral alliance with The Greens and Plaid Cymru is designed so not to split this remain vote and help give the Lib Dems the numbers to stop Brexit in its tracks. Will the 15 million who voted remain be swayed by this? Or will this ignore the referendum and stop Brexit position be viewed as arrogant and anti democratic, even by many remain voters?

Election Policy

Withdraw Article 50 and stop Brexit. Bollocks to Brexit and presumably the people who voted for it.

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Background

In 2014 Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in a referendum. Many of those who voted in Scotland to stay in the UK were concerned that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to join the EU.

In 2016 Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. In recent years the Scottish National Party have done very well both in Holyrood and Westminster elections.

The SNP position is that Scotland should become a separate country from the rest of the UK. And this independent Scotland would join the EU. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, an independent Scotland would more likely be allowed to join (it would be political advantageous for the EU and its member states).

The SNP are strongly anti Brexit.

Election Policy: 

Second Brexit referendum. Second Scottish independence referendum.

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Background

I’ve already given the background to Nigel Farage in an earlier post. The Brexit Party was created to fight in the 2019 EU elections. It got more votes than any other party in that election, but not an overall majority.

Pretty self explanatory, the Brexit Party want Brexit done. They don’t support the current deal proposed by the Conservative Party. They believe it gives the EU too much say.

Election Policy

Leave the EU. Don’t bother doing a deal just leave. Trump will look after us. And let’s not talk about the NHS.

Image result for The DUPBackground:

Northern Ireland’s politics will be the topic of a future post. But needless to say there is a lot a stake for the region with Brexit. The DUP are the largest of the Unionist (pro Northern Ireland staying part of the UK) Parties. They are very socially conservative, very set in their ways and compromise is not a word in their vocabulary. The ideal people for Theresa May form an electoral pack with after the 2017 election.

Northern Ireland voted to Remain. The DUP have actively pushed for leave. They opposed May’s deal as they didn’t like the Northern Ireland backstop. They now oppose the deal brought back by Boris Johnson, which from their perspective is even worse.

The DUP are still the largest party in Northern Ireland, though Sinn Fein (main republican party supporting a united Ireland) are not far behind now. The DUP lost ground in the EU elections, and there are signs that even within the unionist community the DUP are losing support.

Under the Good Friday peace agreement there is suppose to be power sharing in NI between both unionist and republican parties. This broke down in 2017, and the DUP have been happy propping up a government in Westminster instead. Many fear what may happen in Northern Ireland if this isn’t resolved in a mature way.

Election Policy

Support Brexit. Want no special status for Northern Ireland. How you do this and not breach the Good Friday agreement, no one knows

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Background

Sinn Fein don’t take their seats in Parliament as they refuse to swear allegiance to The Queen. However they have announced that in this years elections they will be doing election deals with NI parties who support remain, and won’t stand in 3 constituencies. This will also screw over the DUP, something which will have much appeal to Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein support staying in the EU, not least because the Irish Republic is a member state.

Election Policy

Remain in the EU. United Ireland.

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Background

Plaid Cymru are the Welsh Nationalists. Nowhere near as big a movement as the Scottish Nationalists, but they do have seats at Westminster.

Wales voted to leave the EU in 2016, though the votes were much closer than in England. Plaid Cymru support remain, and have formed an electoral pact with The Lib Dems and the Greens. It is unclear what, if any, impact this will have on the election outcome.

Election Policy

Hold a second referendum, campaign for remain.

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Background

The Greens got their first MP elected to the House of Commons in 2010. Generally seen as a rival party on the left to Labour. In 2017 many Green voters supported Labour, and probably helped Labour win a few of the marginals they did.

Much of the youth vote that Labour won in 2017 has at other times found a natural home with the Green Party. The Greens picked up a number of votes in the 2019 EU election.

The Greens have also joined the pact with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru. Many of their supporters will probably consider voting Labour as they did in 2017. Memories of the Lib Dems in office with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015 would make many Green Party supporters wary of this electoral pact.

Election Policy

Hold a second referendum, campaign for remain.

Farage – a thorn in the side of the Conservative Party.

It’s generally accepted that if you are a leader of a democratic country, that you don’t interfere or openly express views about domestic matters in another democracy. You certainly don’t openly try and influence the election in another country or comment on specific candidates.

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Well that was till last Thursday, when Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage interviewed US President Donald Trump on his LBC radio show. I am no fan of Donald Trumps politics, but as stated previously on this blog he is no fool. However, I think he may have misjudged the likely impact that his comments would have on the UK election.

Firstly, Trump agreed with Farage that the Brexit deal that Boris has brought back from Europe was no good, both men believing the ties between the EU and the UK would remain too strong. Further Trump said that any UK & US trade deal would be compromised by the EU withdraw agreement. In saying this, Trump has put the Conservative Party on the back foot in the election. The Conservatives go into this election needing to win public support for this latest withdrawal deal. To do otherwise would make Boris Johnson’s administration look weak and ineffective. That Trump has now publicly trashed the withdraw bill is a major spanner in the works. The Conservatives wouldn’t have expected such a blunt attack from the US President during the campaign.

Secondly, Trump suggests an electoral alliance between Farage and Boris Johnson. The basis of such an alliance would be supporting a no deal Brexit. As mentioned already in my last blog post under First Past the Post there is a risk of vote splitting if two Parties with a politics run against each other. But like the US, in UK politics electoral alliances and deals between parties are rare. Further, with doing a deal with the Brexit Party would be a bridge too far for many Conservative Party supporters. Farage was the former leader of UKIP, a strongly anti immigration and furiously anti Europe party. While the Brexit Party message is somewhat more toned down that that of UKIP, it still is considerably more rabid than that of the Conservatives. The Conservatives have rightly distanced themselves from such a pact, realising that entering into one could cost them more votes than it could potentially gain.

The Third thing Trump did that shows a total lack of self awareness, was his attacks on Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The political fortunes of Corbyn have waxed and waned over his four years as leader, and he is certainly a polarising figure. To be openly attacked by Donald Trump will do Corbyn absolutely no harm at all. Some of the largest protests held in London in the two years I’ve lived here have been during Trumps two state visits to the UK. This year thousands descended on Westminster to protest his visit, something Trump seemed to be in denial about. Many voters will a) be unhappy that Trump is trying to interfere in the UK’s domestic politics, and b) may be more likely to vote for Corbyn after Trumps attack.

So what about Mr Farage then? Nigel likes to be a maverick. For years now he has caused trouble and been a spoiler for UK establishment politicians across the spectrum. He was clearly buoyed by the Brexit Party winning the most votes in the May 2019 EU elections. He has managed for years to get considerable airtime in the British media, including a regularly LBC radio show. That he can get an exclusive interview with the US President is clearly a coup for him.

Yesterday Nigel announced that he would not be running in a constituency, instead running a national campaign to support candidates throughout the UK. Some commentators are saying he is running scared as he knows he couldn’t win a constituency. Farage has run and lost in many constituency races before (in 2010 he lost to a candidate dressed as a Dolphin). In reality Nigel has realised he has a much stronger platform campaigning nationally and allowing 600+ other candidates to do the work in constituencies.

There is criticism that the Brexit Party could split the Conservative vote and help remain parties. True. Equally there is risk for the Brexit party in being seen as close to the Conservatives. The Brexit Party are the only no deal party standing in this election. Farage no doubt calculates that as the campaign goes on, many will realise Boris’s deal is basically the same one Theresa May brought back late last year with changes to the Irish backstop. Inevitably more hardline Brexiters will oppose this, and Nigel doesn’t want his party to be tied to that. Further, the Tories have been in power for a decade and are blamed for many of the problems faced in British society today. By being tied to the Conservatives, Nigel risks being caught up in any backlash against the Tories. For Nigel to do a deal he wants it on his (and Trumps) terms or not at all.

And if remain parties win the election? If Labour gets into power there will be another referendum on whatever deal that party does – another opportunity for Farage to beat his Brexit drum, loudly. If the Lib Dems come to power they won’t even hold a referendum, saying they wish to revoke article 50 (the section in the EU treaty that allows member states to withdraw), thus giving Farage an even bigger platform about parliament ignoring the referendum result. And if the Conservatives are in opposition, they  may find themselves then having to do a deal with Farage to get back into power next election.

Nigel Farage is a tenacious and cunning operator. He is also a bottom feeder and a shit who plays on peoples fears and prejudices. To beat the politics of Trump and Farage, we need a positive alternative. Hope can triumph over fear, and love over hate. In the 2019 UK election, people are looking for positive change and for things to get better.

 

UK General Election 2019

On Thursday 12 December the UK will be going to the polls. The UK is supposed to have general elections every 5 years, December’s poll will be the UK’s 3rd general election in four and a half years.

It is risky to make predictions about what will happen in elections, and in the current climate particularly so. The UK is deeply divided on the issue of Brexit, but also on austerity and on the continued membership of Scotland and Northern Ireland of the United Kingdom. 

The polls suggest that the Conservative Party are ahead. Before the 2017 general election they put the Conservatives 20 points ahead of Labour, on election night the Conservatives lost their majority and Labour made significant electoral gains. On the eve of the Brexit referendum polls were showing remain would win, the polls were wrong. Even if we look at the 2015 and 2010 UK elections, the polls weren’t that reliable in picking the results. 

Globally we have seen trends of campaigns making a big difference. The 2017 NZ election saw Labour win an upset victory over the conservative National Government where Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister. In 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberal party went from 3rd place in the polls at the start of the year to government a few months later, though in the recent election saw a sudden and significant decline in support for the Liberals in Canada. 

The 2019 election will be the first December election held in the UK for over 100 years. Generally it’s agreed its best not to hold elections in the middle of winter, the impact of this is as yet unknown. Also a general election after 2 years of Brexit paralysis will be an opportunity for an increasingly frustrated and angry public to punish those they deem responsible. 

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Map showing the 2017 election results. How will this change in 2019?

Of course one of the major factors in this election, like all elections to the House of Commons is the electoral system. Nearly a year ago I posted about electoral reform, and outlined why I don’t support the First Past the Post electoral system. Specifically First Past the Post often produces results that don’t reflect public opinion. For example in 2017 the Conservatives nationally won 42.4% of the vote, and have been supported in government by the Democratic Unionist Party who got 0.9% of the vote nationally and 36% of the vote in Northern Ireland. The full results can be seen here. So for the last 29 months the UK has been government by parties that over 56% voters didn’t support. The Make Votes Matter campaign are building support for Proportional Representation in the UK so that the nationally vote actually matter.

Despite the broken electoral system, and general cynicism about UK politics, it is important that all allegeable voters turn out to vote. If you live in the UK, you have till 26 November to enrol to vote in the coming General election. You can register to vote here.

I will be doing regular posts during the election, focussing on key issues and developments.