In the U.K. we have our General Election on 7th May 2015 and whilst I don’t generally blog on politics I thought I’d make an exception given how this election seems to be even more important than usual. I could have titled this post ‘Who to vote for when many of the political parties have good ideas but none seem to have the total solution‘ but ‘suck‘ is catchier and is shorter for twitter.
For the benefit of overseas readers this election promises to be different and more complex than usual due to the fact that no party has a major lead over any of the others. Should the right wing Conservative Party win, then we are promised a referendum on leaving the European Union which would have implications for everyone in the country and for many outside it. There are also the added complications of nationalist parties that stand to benefit from the current apathy with politicians. The government is currently made up of a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, a coalition itself is almost unheard of in British politics due to the system in place here.
The Conservatives were elected on a programme of austerity cuts as the country was seemingly facing severe economic problems and there was a sense of a need for change following 13 years of Labour rule. The Conservatives have been as good as their word and gone about reducing spending and getting the country on a track for the future though not by as much as they initially promised. However as so often is the case with them, many of their policies were implemented too strictly or enthusiastically for those at the bottom of society causing much poverty and social unrest despite the fact that most people agree in principle with the need to live within our economic means.
The junior political party in the government is the Liberal Democrats who have entered government for the first meaningful way since the 1970’s if not really since the early 1900’s. Their leader Nick Clegg gained huge public support during the previous election campaign for his policies which included steadfastly promising not to increase tuition fees for students at University. Within a matter of months after the last election the Lib Dems had reneged on possibly the single most publicised policy of any party for a generation and with that lost almost all their political support and possibly deservedly so. He did so in part to get through some of their liberal policies including free school meals, tax benefits for the poor and a vote on the slightly unfair voting system, one which he lost due to the inherent unfairness of the system itself! So we’ve had a government where each party has moderated the excesses of the other with neither entirely satisfying their core supporters.
Normally as this stage of the political cycle the main Opposition party would possibly be favourites to win the General Election due to the tough economic climate we’ve endured however this time it is different as the Labour Leader Ed Miliband though no doubt a perfectly nice guy comes across as singularly inept and incompetent. I remember the day he became leader by beating his much more formidable brother and thinking “Oh God, what have they done?!?” as it seemed clear to me even then that he would turn out to be exactly the sort of person that he has done. Whilst many of his policies are popular when you get to hear of them, he spends most of his time condemning the policies of the government rather than proclaiming his own. He also has basic problems with his image, speaking and eating in public.
Another party to throw into the mix is UKIP or the United Kingdom Independence Party that could be thought of as being similar as the Tea Party is in the USA. Their core vote is disaffected right-wing conservatives and the white-van man. Their primary objective is to have Britain leave the European Union. This is based on the concept that what the country signed up to over 40 years ago is nothing like the institution we are now in or lumbered with as their supporters would say. An economic agreement which has mutated into a political quasi-state that interferes in business which it needn’t do. This is the general and quite widely acknowledged problem with the EU but what is particularly provocative is that of immigration. As there is freedom of movement and workers it has the tendency that those from the poorest countries are attracted to the richest or most socially caring and as a double edged sword, the UK seems to be pretty much top of the pile in Europe.
The argument goes that the country is already over populated, the culture of the nation is changing and those at the bottom of society are finding themselves undercut by Polish builders and apparently suffering from a crimewave by East European gypsies. The problem is made worse by the previous Labour government actively encouraging people to emigrate here possibly in an attempt to change the demographics forever and the current Conservative led government promising to reduce the figures but not being able to due to European law… and lets not get into the fact that most immigrants are from outside Europe anyway but that’s another issue. Many surveys indicate that the majority of the population do think the country is too full already, even amongst those who have immigrated here.
The European Union ostensibly doesn’t want the U.K. to leave as it is a huge net contributor, the second biggest economy, largest military and generally much more free-market and less socialist than the other nations but in order for the rules to change it would require a new treaty and it seems few in Europe want to do that. Let’s not mention that most immigration is from Africa and Asia, not Europe.
Finally there is the resurgence of the SNP or Scottish Nationalist Party whose party convincingly lost the Scottish Referendum but has succeeded in getting people involved in politics. Many in Scotland as in England are disillusioned with the main parties in London and as with the referendum itself, it is easier to be loud when wanting change but the silent majority who are more or less happy with things are less vocal. Just as Nick Clegg was ruined by his u-turn on tuition fees, the SNP primarily based their ideas for economic well-being on the price of North Sea Oil being at an unrealistic high-level. In fact if they had won the referendum, Scotland would be facing bankruptcy before it got started with oil incomes only one fifth of the promised level stated by the SNP. On that issue alone the party deserves contempt and if it were an English National Party that alone would stop me ever voting for them.
The SNP also refuse to rule out holding another Referendum despite it being very decisive and rating only 19 out of 23 on the important issues according to a current survey conducted in Scotland.
However, be that as it may, due to the unpopularity of the Conservatives, the loss of support of the Lib Dems and the low opinion of the Labour Leader Ed Miliband it does mean that the SNP may be involved in a coalition with Labour who recently scuppered plans for English regional devolution to match that promised to Scotland on the grounds it would affect their own popularity. Whilst the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is a very good speaker and popular across much of Scotland and the U.K., many of her policies don’t make good economic sense and as for her idea to scrap nuclear submarines, well we only have to look at Ukraine to see how it all turned out for them.
There is a perception that the Labour Leader Ed Miliband is so desperate for power that he would go into power with the SNP despite that party being pledged to break the country apart whilst the Conservatives are tarred with being too friendly with big business and their rich friends. The Lib-Dems are struggling to make an impact after their U-turn nearly 5 years ago. There is also a problem generally that the majority of senior politicians are from a social and economic elite. The Prime Minister, Chancellor and many ministers all went to private schools and many are from the aristocracy, the lack of working class ministers is probably the biggest since the 1930’s whereas even Ed Miliband whose party is supposed to support the poor lives in a £2.5 million home and has never had a proper job outside of politics. His experience of the world is no doubt very different from those he wants to vote for him.
Meanwhile UKIP are seen as voicing the concerns of many and their leader Nigel Farage takes a very deliberate working class stance but he too is extremely rich and his party is thought by many to be xenophobic. With all that going on, no wonder voters don’t know what to make of things or what specific policies are. It isn’t helped by the fact that no party leader likes speaking to the public (except for UKIP). Only a few years ago, their would be daily press conferences and public walkabouts but these days there are no daily press conferences, political leaders avoid the public and the media alike. Former Labour Leader Gordon Brown may have got in trouble 5 years ago for calling a citizen a “bigot” but at least he was meeting people and we knew what he was thinking!
None of the major parties (except UKIP) have committed to a Defence Budget of 2% because they don’t see it as a vote winner. Surely the first responsibility of a government is to protect its people and after both main parties have already savaged the military budget it is time to protect it especially at a time of increasing terrorism around the world and problems with Russia. It’s not beyond the imagination that a war might be on the cards with someone. None of the major parties have any imminent ideas of how to deal with pollution, something that causes premature deaths of thousands in the London area. Five years ago all political parties were clamouring with ways to offer much better state support for elderly so that wives/husbands/children didn’t have to sell family homes to fund nursing care, this has entirely disappeared from the agenda. Lots of things that do change all the time, really don’t have to. There is no need to change policies and laws relating to the NHS or education every time there is a new government! There can be 3,000-4,000 new laws introduced every year, totally crazy!
1. The Conservatives really have to understand that they have a perception problem. Most people agree with the cutbacks but some ministers seem to be very enthusiastic about it and it obviously is affecting those least able to cope with the cuts the most. They also don’t seem very keen on tackling tax abuses and their rich friends. As the commonly held sentiment goes, it was the millionaires who caused the financial crash, not the unemployed , disabled or old people living on benefit. Less dilly-dallying on Europe would be a good thing too. Its okay to want to stay in Europe or not stay in Europe, people just want to know one way or the other. 3. 2. Though I have voted for them many times in the past, I don’t think I can ever vote for Labour whilst Ed Miliband is in charge. I just don’t think he is any good and a long time before he stopped the world from tackling Syria I was wanting the opposite. He doesn’t seem to be able to agree a party line with his more capable though perhaps less likeable second-inline and though he berates the current government for its tough stand on budgets, agrees that something has to be done but doesn’t say how. That’s really bad for an opposition party after 5 years. Labour should also come out and declare whether they will work with the SNP or not after the election. The historian David Starkey has labelled Ed Miliband as a man of low talent but high ambition which is the very worst combination. In the last few days Labour have started releasing some policy details but like many others, I still find the party suffering under poor leadership. 3. Liberal Democrats, I’m not sure much can be done with them after their U-turn. It is a shame as they have put in place some really good policies and their local councillors are renowned for their hard work. In fact Nick Clegg came over quite well in the recent debates as he always does but even today when you absolutely promise you will do something and then do the opposite, well its no wonder lots of people won’t vote for them this time around. Maybe by getting stuck in and meeting people, its noticeable that the only party leader who relishes meeting people is that of UKIP who incidentally seem to have gone above them in the polls. Many of their policies sound good if you can get to hear about them and it’s very possible they will once again be king-makers to the Conservatives or Labour if the bigger parties stay away from the more toxic UKIP and SNP parties. They also deserve credit for creating a government for the good of the country rather than putting their party first back in 2010. As they put it, they will add heart to a Conservative government and a brain to a Labour one.
4. UKIP unfortunately for them though most people have a total apathy towards Europe and in an ideal world would like it changed, to most people it just isn’t that important compared to all the other problems and supporting UKIP is still the quickest way to be thought of as being racist. I’m the first to say the EU needs changing, it interferes a lot and seems to cost us more than what we make from it thought it does make us a lot in lots of different ways. Even European nations know it needs reforming and the economic problems are well known with the Euro and some countries are known for trying to dominate proceedings. I do think there is something fundamentally different between the governments and cultures between the UK and one or two other states in the EU even if it is due to being an island or a difference in religion. As an example of how the EU makes life hard for me, in the U.K. there is a small business type called a Sole Trader and being one makes life easier for individuals like myself who run their own business in terms or taxes and other matters. It took me just 2 minutes to create my business, no red tape, no government applications whereas in other nations it can take weeks or months of procedures. In January this year the EU implemented new policies making Sole Traders pay VAT (a complex type of Sales Tax) which in effect means I either have to hire a tax accountant, put up my prices or absorb extra costs. In the UK I don’t need to do it, no one required or asked me to do it and according to EU law I don’t have to either, however the bloated bureaucracy there means I am burdened with it even though I can’t officially pass it on to customers and so they have created a financial problem from out of nowhere and only made it harder for me to make a profit. Things like that indicate why there needs to be reform but that’s not the same as voting for UKIP but they are still likely win about 10-15% of the vote though the political system means they will likely only win a handful of the 650 seats. The UK is also different in terms of tolerance, fair-play and standing up to the underdog and though UKIP is not very extreme at all compared to other European nationalist parties, there very existence goes against some very British values.
5. Green Party – In their own words from their website… Imagine a political system that puts the public first. Imagine an economy that gives everyone their fair share. Imagine a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs. Imagine a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come. That’s the world we want to create and we believe we have the means to do it.
By ensuring that everyone has access to a secure job that pays at least the Living Wage we will build an economy that works for the common good, not just the privileged few. By restoring public services to public hands we will ensure they are run in the interests of the people that use them. By investing in renewable energy and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we will build a stable and sustainable society that protects our planet from climate change. By building more social rented homes and bringing abandoned buildings back into use we will ensure that everyone has a secure and affordable place to live. Vote for Green Party of England & Wales and you can help us build a society that works for the Common Good.
Whilst I used to like much of what the Green Party stood for I would never vote for them as their closely related Green Party of Scotland supported breaking up the country in last years referendum. Additionally I find some of their policies quite crazy and am thoroughly unimpressed by their leader Natalie Bennett who is much less capable than her forebear and only Green MP, Caroline Lucas.
I’m not going to be around on May 7th and have already decided who to vote for by using a postal vote but I think there are some big questions that we deserve answers to from all of the various political parties. The country is more divided than ever with the big hard fought gains of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair for the Conservatives and Labour respectively being largely reduced to their hard-core areas.
It’s also been said that when there is a lot of apathy in the public it isn’t just a sign of not liking their political figures but of being broadly satisfied with things as they are. It’s easy to be popular if a country is poor or there has been a war or revolution but if things are generally muddling through then it’s hard for people to get excited whether it is the public or politicians themselves. I always think political parties should state their own policies and let the people decide rather than bashing each other. This is something that the great recent leaders of the past such as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair did.
Currently the Conservatives do this a little but not enough, Labour don’t seem to do it at all, the LibDems may do so but it never makes the news and UKIP does so a lot but what they say isn’t always popular. I won’t say who I am voting for but having been made redundant twice in the last 5 years but then gone on to create my own business it is fair to say I have reason to vote for each of the parties and indeed none of them but I think it is very important to vote even if few parties or individuals have a grand vision for the future.