The UK General Election 2017


What is it?

The UK had a General Election on Thursday 8th June 2017. This is when we elect a representative, in our constituency area, for Parliament. It is supposed to happen once every 5 years but we have had three elections in 7 years now (2010, 2015 and 2017). The Prime Minister Theresa May called the Election when she was significantly ahead in the polls from her nearest rival, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Theresa May called the Election purely on political grounds for her party. She expected and wanted to win an increased majority to give her a mandate in the upcoming Brexit negotiations as the UK leaves the European Union(‘EU’). She also did not have a personal mandate as she became leader of the Conservative party after David Cameron resigned following the UK Referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. As she was now leader she automatically became Prime Minister (‘PM’) but had not been elected by the UK electorate. 

What happened?

What actually happened was that Labour gained 30 seats and the Conservatives lost 13 seats. She made the campaign about “strong and stable” leadership. As a consequence this is a huge failure for her; the gamble did not pay off. 

Minority Government 

Theresa May now has to form a government with the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (‘DUP’). This is hardly strong and stable – more like a weak and wobbly coalition. We shall see how the coalition pans out and what concessions have been made to the DUP to elicit their support.

The key moment will be the vote on the Queen’s speech. If Theresa May fails to get that passed in parliament then Jeremy Corbyn will be asked by the Queen to form a minority government. It could result in another general election before the year is out so that one party can take control.

It’s not a new thing though, the Scottish National Party ran a minority government in Scotland about 10 years ago and John Major survived without a majority in the dying days of his administration in the mid-1990s. Harold Wilson and James Callaghan governed with minorities for most of the 1970s (and probably the most memorable Labour administrations that everyone remembers for all the wrong reasons).

The Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, have 10 MPs and if they vote with the Conservatives, the government will be able to get its business through Parliament. The easiest way for the government to ensure regular DUP support in Parliament would be to agree a “confidence and supply” arrangement. The DUP would promise to back the government in votes of no confidence and budget (supply) issues. In return, the government would support or fund some of the DUP’s policies. 

Facts and figures

Women 

There are now 208 women in the Commons, up from 191 in 2015. This takes female representation in the Commons to a new high of 32% of MPs. There are significant variations between parties:  Labour 45% of their MPs are women and 21% for the Conservatives. 

Lost deposits

To stand as a candidate in the General Election, you have to submit an application to your local returning officer with a £500 deposit.When a party gets less than 5% of the vote in a constituency, it loses the £500 deposit each candidate needs to put down to stand. 

The Prime Minister’s constiuency always attracts a large number of candidates due to the guaranteed publicity on election night. The media always report live the outcome of the PM’s constituency as well as the leader of the opposition (as well as numerous other key or important, newsworthy constituencies). Now the majority of those standing in the PM’s constituency only got a few votes each, meaning that they lost their deposits. They included the Green Party, UKIP, Animal Welfare Party, Lord Buckethead (yes, really), the Monster Raving Looney Party (‘Howling Laud Hope’), Christian Peoples Alliance, the Just Political Party and three brave Independents. Lord Buckethead has now developed a following on social media as a consequence of his appearance in the election.

The Lib Dems lost deposits in 375 seats(£187,500), UKIP lost 337 deposits (£168,500). The Green Party lost the most deposits with 455; That’s a whopping £227,500 down the drain.

Other facts

Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s share of the vote more than any other leader since Clement Attlee (who had a 10.4% swing in 1945). Nine Conservative ministers lost their seats including Ben Gummer who co-authored the Conservative manifesto. Rosie Duffield won Canterbury defeating former defence minister Sir Julian Brazier and taking the constituency Labour for the first time since its inception in 1918. The Conservatives secured 13 seats in Scotland, making it their best performance since 1983. Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister in the coalitions government, lost his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour. A final punishment for his reversal on tuition fees and joining the Tories in coalition. 

The electorate was 46,843,896 and the turnout was 68.7% meaning that nearly a third of the electorate did not vote. There were 3,303 candidates contesting a total of 650 seats. This is down from the 3,971 candidates who stood in the 2015 General Election which in turn was 162 lower than the all-time high of 4,133 in 2010. 

The DUP

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the largest unionist political party in Northern Irelandand is far right on the political spectrum. It was founded by the late Rev Ian Paisley in 1971 (at the height of the troubles), breaking away from the Ulster Unionist Party (the ruling party in the country since its formation in 1922). Unionism in Ireland is a political ideology that favours the continuation of some form of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. Since the partition of Ireland, unionism in Ireland has focused on maintaining and preserving the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. 

The Rev Ian Paisley led the party for 38 years. The current leader is Arlene Foster. It is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. 

What next?

Theresa May will be forming her cabinet and changes will be necessary as she lost some ministers in the election. Jeremy Corbyn too will be forming a shadow cabinet. Then there is the Queen’s speech and the subsequent parliamentary vote, which will be the first test of the new coalition government. Theresa May is going to have to compromise on policy and legislation and carefully select that which she really want to get through Parliament as upsetting a few back benchers will mean a defeat. Watch out for MPs hanging aimlessly around parliament late at night waiting for a vote, as every vote really does count. It has been known in the past for MPs to be wheeled in from hospital to vote on crucial matters. 

Whatever happens it will certainly be interesting. Perhaps another General Election before the end of the year, who knows!

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Siem Reap and Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Zahra at Angkor Wat in monsoon

The Kingdom of Cambodia (Kampuchea)

Cambodia illicits lots of differing images for different people. Those who can recall the Khmer Rouge and the ‘Killing Fields’ (20,000 mass graves) will have dark memories of the millions who died (25% of the population) at the hands of Pol Pot between 1975-1979 in the Cambodian Genocide. Younger people will have fabulous images of the temples at Angkor Wat (a world heritage site), Hinduism and Buddhism. Current day Cambodia has a population of over 15 million and is a “unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy”. This means the monarch is chosen by the Royal Throne Council as head of state. The current head of government is Hun Sen who is the longest serving non royal leader in south east Asia having ruled Cambodia for over 25 years. It remains a country with plenty of issues to resolve but this does not detract from the tourists who flock there daily to see the largest religious monument in the world at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.

The Cyclo D’Angkor Hotel

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is in the northwest of Cambodia and is the tourist gateway to Angkor Wat.  We flew into Siem Reap airport which was bright, clean and virtually empty. The visa on arrival process was extremely efficient ($96 for the 3 of us). We were met by the hotel’s driver after we had collected our luggage and quickly proceeded to the Cyclo D’Angkor boutique hotel. The hotel was small and lovely. The staff were extremely helpful and very knowledgable, suggesting the best routes and tours for the time we had available in order that we could see the maximum amount of temples possible without being exhausted. We booked a 2 day tour with a car and driver. A good decision considering the heat – the ac in the car was welcome relief. We commenced our 2 day temple tour the following morning.

Our guide told us that The name “Siem Reap” can be translated to mean “Defeat of Siam” (siem in Khmer), and is commonly taken as a reference to an incident in the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer kingdoms. According to oral tradition, King Ang Chan (1516–1566) had named the town “Siem Reap”, meaning “the defeat of Siam”, after he repulsed an army sent to invade Cambodia by the Thai King Maha Chakkraphat in 1549. (The tour guide was good!).

Siem Reap Town

Siem Reap’s recent history is coloured by the horror of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. There are land mine victims everywhere. Since Pol Pot’s death in 1998 the tourist industry has revived the city and province. Siem Reap now serves as a gateway town to the world heritage site of Angkor Wat. It is a vibrant town with modern hotels and restaurants and yet still managing to preserve culture and traditions. 

Tourism is clearly an important aspect of the economy of Siem Reap. Most tourists in Siem Reap come to visit the Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, (about 6 km north of the city), and other Angkor ruins. There are many shopping opportunities around the Psar Chas area, and there are also a number of western-styled pubs and bars catering to tourists.

Pub Street in Siem Reap, tourist central!

The Old Market or Psah Chas is located between Pub Street and the Siem Reap River and sells a mixture of souvenirs for tourist and a variety of food produce. The Made in Cambodia Market is a night market where all the products sold are made in Cambodia. The market hosts daily and nightly shows. Other markets in Siem Reap include the Angkor Night Market, Phsar Kandal (The Central Market) which mainly caters to tourists, and Phsar Leu (The Upper Market) which is the biggest market of Siem Reap used by the locals.

Siem Reap

What is a UNESCO World Heritage site?

A World Heritage Site is a place (such as a building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, or mountain) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as being of special cultural or physical significance. Angkor Wat was designated a UNESCO site in 1992.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its sculptural decorations.

Angkor, in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. It extends over approximately 400 km2, including forests, and consists of scores of temples and other structures (basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals and communication routes). Temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm are great examples of Khmer architecture.  These temples have been used in many films such as Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Angkor is a huge site of cultural, religious and symbolic values, as well as containing architectural, archaeological and artistic significance. The park and many villages are inhabited by locals, some of whom have ancestors dating back to the Angkor period; they grow rice. 

Monks at Angkor Wat

Banteay Srei 

Banteay Srei is a 10th-century temple located about 30 km northeast of Siem Reap. This is the first temple we visited on our two day tour and being apart from the rest of the temple complex was relatively quiet first thing in the morning. It is notable for its rose pink sandstone and fine intricate decorative carvings.

Temple Photos

This would be an incredibly long blog if I went into detail about all the temples we visited whilst we were in Angkor Wat, so instead here are some of the photos of our time there. (The photos including me were taken by our tour guide.)

Monsoon!

More Fallout from the U.K.’s Vote to leave the E.U.

The Official Opposition Implodes

It is difficult to under estimate the staggering events in UK politics at the moment. On Sunday, a day we thought would be a day of rest, ended up being a day when a lot of the the official opposition cabinet resigned after one of them was sacked in the early hours of the morning. The pace of the resignations was staggering. It was difficult to keep up. Monday was no better with another 3 resignations from the shadow cabinet by 8am BST. They continued throughout the day, making 23 in total. Statements were made by each of the those resigning and all of them questioned the leadership of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. His leadership is now in jeopardy and a leadership contest is now likely within the Official Opposition as well as within the Conservative Party. It is staggering that MPs, who are elected to govern this country, are abandoning their posts like rats leaving a sinking ship.

Scottish Independence

The statement by the SNP in the House of Commons today made it clear that Scotland voted to remain in Europe and have no intention of being dragged out of Europe along with the rest of the U.K., even if that does mean separating from the rest of the U.K. By gaining Independence. They are determined to stay within Europe, with or without the rest of the U.K. To be honest, I don’t blame them.

Another General Election?

The Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 introduced fixed terms for parliaments for the first time in the UK. The next one is not due until 2020. However with the massive change in events recently it is likely that a General Election will be held in the Autumn. However, today in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister stated clearly that the calling of a General Election would be for the new Prime Minister. That delays the decision to convene a General Election. It is not going to be made until the Autumn as well, when the Conservative Party should have elected a new leader, who will then automatically become the new Prime Minister. Then there needs to be a two thirds majority to overturn the legislation I.e. Support from all sides of the House of Commons. That support is likely in light of events.

Article 50

Article 50 is the means by which the UK can leave the EU. This needs to be ‘triggered’ by the UK to enable the 2 year negotiation process to begin. The Prime Minister has stated that it will be for any new Prime Minister to make the decision regarding timing of that ‘trigger’. In the meantime a new department is being set up in Whitehall purely to deal with the issue of Britain to leave the EU. This will be staffed by civil servants from across all departments. The detail was missing on the exact details but that will emerge over time no doubt. The Prime Minister confirmed that there would not be another or second referendum in any event. That will disappoint the millions of people who have signed a petition requesting a second referendum on different terms.

What next?

Well, who knows? 

“A week is a long time in politics”

Harold Wilson 1964

With the current pace of change in UK politics a day is a long time. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. Stop the world – I want to get off!