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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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!

What now? The U.K. Referendum Result

I woke early (5:30am) on Thursday 23rd June 2016 in Bangalore, India. 5000 miles away in the UK it was 1am. Polling stations would not open for several hours. Today was the day the UK was going to take a historic vote as to whether to ‘Remain’ within the European Union or ‘Leave’ it. I was nowhere near home and I was worried. So was my German friend who had WhatsApp me in the night with a message “I hope you vote Remain”. Like him, we have only viewed the campaign through the eyes of the foreign media, all of whom are bewildered as to why the UK would want to leave the EU. We have also seen snippets of the campaign through the eyes of BBC World News, more so in the last week in the run up to the vote. It has been interesting watching the different approach the BBC has taken. They have definitely given a lot more airtime to the ‘Leave’ campaign than any other news outlet in an attempt to be balanced in their approach.

When BBC Breaking News sent an alert to my phone that the Polling Stations had opened our 9 year old daughter burst into tears. “I don’t want the UK to leave the EU” she sobbed, “and I don’t want to have to leave the UK to be in the EU”. It shocked me that she had such a strength of feeling, had been paying attention to what was happening, understood the significance and had an opinion on it. She also bemoaned the fact that she didn’t have a vote as a child yet other adults were deciding on her future. The frustration of her position was upsetting her.

What was it all about?

A referendum was held on Thursday 23 June to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union.The European Union – known as the EU – is an economic and political group of 28 European countries. It started after World War Two for economic cooperation – as countries which trade together are less likely to go to war with each other. It has grown to become a single market allowing free movement of people and goods. It has its own currency, the Euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries but not the UK which has retained the pound.  The EU has its own parliament and sets rules in a wide range of areas including on the environment, transport, consumer rights etc.

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister(‘PM’), took the decision to hold a referendum following pressure from his own party, The Conservatives, who are divided on whether Britain should remain members of the EU. The rising support for the far right UK Independence Party (‘UKIP’) also put pressure on the PM to hold a referendum as far right Conservatives were starting to defect to UKIP. It was a political decision by the PM to ensure he could maintain control of his own party in Government. It was not a will or request of the general electorate and population. This Referendum was thrust upon them and forced many to make a decision about something they know, or knew, little about.  It has divided the Nation and further divided the Conservative Party. It has been disastrous for politics as the arguments became poisonous and nasty.

Voting and the result

The registered electorate were able to vote at designated polling stations across the UK from 7am until 10pm on Thursday 23rd June 2016. Counting started when the polls closed. Ballot boxes were taken to 382 local centres around the UK (representing 380 local government areas in England, Scotland and Wales, plus one each for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar) and the results collated at 11 regional centres in the UK and Gibraltar. The regional centres declared the total vote for each side. The chief counting officer announced the overall result at Manchester Town Hall (in the north of England). It was clear from quite early on that the Vote Leave campaign had won. As more votes came in, their lead strengthened. 

Leave 17,410,742          52%

Remain 16,141,241       48%

Turnout 72.2%

Rejected ballots 26,033

England and Wales voted to Leave the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU.

It was in shock. I was in mourning. It is so very sad that we have chosen to leave the EU. The ramifications are enormous and I don’t think clearly understood at all.

What now for the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government?

The Government is going to find it much harder to get any laws passed and doing the business of government as the divisions in the Tory party are huge. Now a lot of the party have not got what they wanted it is going to be frosty for quite some time. They only have a majority of only 12 so any contentious legislation is going to be hard to get through a vote in the House of Commons and get passed.

The prime Minister has resigned. There will be a leadership contest within the Tory party and a new leader elected within 3 months David Cameron’s leadership has been lacking during the campaign and the whole Referendum was his decision. It has divided his own party as well as the Nation. The country will get a new Prime Minister and one they didn’t vote for. The Conservatives notoriously did this with Margaret Thatcher replacing her with John Major in 1990, denying the electorate the choice. (So much for for being the oldest Democracy in the world!)

It is also likely that there will be another General Election before the end of the fixed term parliament. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the First Past The Post system that Britain uses in General Election delivers unrepresentative results. That may cause even more unrest. The voting system needs to change so that all votes count and all voices are heard. Proportional Representation is needed now more than ever before. People need to be represented and their voices heard.

Could MPs block an EU exit?

MPs could block an EU exit as the decision is not legally binding as there is no mechanism for it to be so. It will be politically disasterous though for MPs to go against the will of the people. Parliament will have to pass laws that will enable Britain to exit the EU including repealing the European Communities Act 1972.

The withdrawal agreement would also have to be ratified by Parliament – the House of Lords and/or the Commons could vote against ratification. If the Commons resolves against ratification, the treaty can still be ratified if the Government lays a statement explaining why the treaty should nonetheless be ratified and the House of Commons does not resolve against ratification a second time within 21 days (this process can be repeated ad infinitum).

In practice, Conservative MPs who voted to remain in the EU would be whipped to vote with the government. Any who defied the whip would have to face the wrath of voters at the next general election.

One scenario that could see the referendum result overturned, is if MPs forced a general election and a party campaigned on a promise to keep Britain in the EU, got elected and then claimed that the election mandate topped the referendum one. Two thirds of MPs would have to vote for a general election to be held before the next scheduled one in 2020.

Scotland and an Independence Referendum 

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has made a statement that a “material and significant change” has taken place . This triggers a promise to hold an Independence Referendum as the Scots seek to remain within the EU and not be dragged out along with England. There is a long road ahead with Scotland as they negotiate their terms with the EU and prepare for yet another referendum. 

Northern Ireland

There are significant issues  for Northern Ireland who also voted to remain within the Eu. Sinn Fein will likely call for a united Ireland to keep Northern Ireland within the EU. In any event Northern Ireland will have the only land border between the UK and the EU which will need to be defended. In a country with a peace agreement the added pressure is unwelcome.

June 24th

The pace of change and events throughout ‘Black’ Friday 24th June have been breathtaking. There have been so many events which on their own would be huge news stories but they pale into insignificance compared to the historic decision for the UK to leave the EU. We have been members for 43 years. The impact is global as well as for the rest of the EU. The world is in shock and will have to recover. What the future looks like is anyone’s guess. 

One thing is certain, the economic impact will be fast and hard. Emotion rather than economics drove this decision though so one has to assume that the leave voters think the economic consequences are worth it. I genuinely don’t understand it. I don’t recognise my own country anymore. I want to be part of the EU and not out on our own. I am sure the 16 million other people who voted remain feel the same way too. That has huge consequences for the British people – a significant proportion of people do not want to leave – how are politicians going to placate and reassure people?

What next?

Who knows? It’s anyone’s guess. It’s a brave new world out there and we’ll have to rise to the challenge. We are British after all – it’s what we’re good at.

Tiananmen Square Protests and Massacre 1989 – 27 years ago today

I was in the middle of studying for my Politics and Government degree at the time. I was at the end of my first year at City of London Polytechnic (it’s now London Guildhall University) and my second year was going to consist of studying the political systems of France, Russia, USA and China.  Then this happened. I watched the events unfold with a combination of disbelief and horror. These were students, like myself, protesting peacefully but were eventually massacred at the hands of the army on the instructions of the Governement.

Background to the protests

In April 1989 the former Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, died. He was a liberal reformer who lost power to hardliners (notably Deng Xiaoping) regarding political and economic reforms. He had voiced concerns about inflation, limited career prospects and corruption in the party elite. 

Students marched to Tiananmen Square to mourn his death. They asked for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the restoration of workers’ control over industry. (It’s incredible isn’t it – things we consider basic rights in the West).  They were led by a group of students one of whom was called Wu’erkaixi from Beijing Normal University.

At the height of the protests there were about 1 million people in Tiananmen Square, most of them students from Beijing. The protests led to demonstrations in 400 cities in China by mid May. There was wide support for the protesters, especially from the city residents.

There was a state visit by the Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev in mid May and journalistic reporting restrictions were loosened during his state visit. As a consequence the world’s media were able to report on the protests and the Chinese state media broadcast footage sympathetic to the protesters.

What was the reponse?

The Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, and other party elders resolved to use force and imposed martial law on 20th May 1989. 300,000 troops were mobilised in Beijing. The People’s Liberation Army’s entry into the city was blocked at the suburbs by protesters initially but they returned later.

The tide had turned on the peaceful protests. The protestors were forcibly suppressed and on the night of 3rd June and the morning of 4th June troops with assault rifles (using expanding bullets to create larger wounds)  and tanks killed unarmed civilians. Deaths have been estimated between 241-3000 as China actively suppress discussion and research no one has been able to verify the death toll.

The aftermath

The government carried out mass arrests and many workers were summarily tried and executed. Students received lighter sentences of 7 years due to being well connected and from wealthier backgrounds. Some students and university staff were permanently stigmatised and never worked again.

Some student leaders including Wu’erkaixi escaped to Taiwan, the USA (Wang Dan), UK and France (Chai Ling) under Operation Yellowbird organised from the British Territory of Hong Kong (at that time).

The Chinese government continues to suppress any public discussion of the protests and books, films etc have been confiscated and destroyed. Children born in the late 1980s in China have no knowledge other than the government one that military force was necessary to quell a political riot. To this day the censorship continues and justice for those that died has never been given.