The UK’s Political Zeitgeist in 2015

Some belated post-election thoughts…

By Philip Powell, 4 June 2015

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Congratulations to Prime Minster David Cameron and the Conservative Party for their election victory. Despite all the talk of a hung parliament and coalition government, the UK has gone back to the good old days of single party rule. In a democratic country, the people decide – and the people decided to continue with the status quo and more reforms.

The Labour Party must commit to playing a constructive role in opposition and do everything in its power over the next five years to win back the support of the country instead of blaming the Scots for voting for the SNP. Ed Miliband tried to take on big business interests and Rupert Murdoch and failed, but there is no shame in trying to do the right thing. The next Labour leader has a tough job on his/her hands…

The Liberal Democrats were punished in this election, and in my opinion, it has to do primarily with Nick Clegg breaking his promise on education and tuition fees. Nick thought it was better to be in power than to safeguard your party’s integrity, but sometimes that kind of a gamble does not pay off, even in politics. I am pained by the fact that so many good Lib Dem MPs have lost their seats.

What is happening between Scotland (borderlands) and Westminster (metropolitan) is both confusing and fascinating. There is an intense power struggle going on between the centre and the periphery, and no one really knows how this is going to play out over the next two decades. And no amount of Cameron PR charm, political cajoling and English bullying is going to deal with the hidden cultural faultlines in this relationship. One aspect of the cultural faultline is the feeling amongst the Scots that in the United Kingdom they are second class compared the English, and that the interests of London and the southeast of England dominate the rest of the country.

UKIP and the Greens paid the biggest price in this election because of our first-past-the-post electoral system. Surely the way forward is more electoral reform through legislation but unfortunately, because the two bigger parties have an unfair advantage as things stand, nothing much can be expected in terms of real change in the electoral system. Despite the fact that we did have an Alternative Vote (AV) in 2011 and the majority voted ‘no’, the public debate was driven by ignorance and fear-mongering. Political Scientist Professor Iain McLean described the campaign before the AV referendum as a ‘bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate’.

On the EU referendum promised by the Conservative government, I am not sure what would be best for the country. While I wholeheartedly believe in the right of choice for the people, I do think a nationwide referendum is not always a smart idea and can be a big waste of time and money. On the other hand maybe the EU referendum will once and for all deal with the feeling that we were cheated into joining a political union, which is what the EU is increasingly becoming.

Here is the other side of the argument. So if some people believe that the British monarchy should cease to exist or that the UK should not be a part of NATO or the UN, then does that mean the people should be given a referendum on these matters? Some things should be decided by parliament: we are, after all, an indirect democracy. My own view is that the UK must remain a full member of the EU and be a catalyst for reforms. We must shape Europe’s future from within, otherwise the EU will turn into a bi-polar power struggle between the Germans and the French. The EU needs British leadership and British values, and a third power centre. Many Brits are simply ignorant of the vast contribution and investment the UK has made in shaping and building the EU. Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, a British lawyer and MP, was one of the key members of the committee that drafted the European Convention on Human Rights.

Let me conclude. No one can really predict what will happen over the next five years in the UK. Life will get better for some, and possibly more difficult for the not-so-well-off in our society. There will be a need for more food banks, while at the same time more jobs will be created by the private-sector. The economy will grow, even if this means more people will be on part-time and zero-hours contracts – not always a bad thing. And government borrowing will also increase, because despite the cuts this will be inevitable. The Scotland issue and the Europe issue will remain a thorn in the side of this government and many backbench MPs will make life difficult for Cameron. These things are intrinsic to the nature politics, nothing new here…

The church must continue to play both a collaborative role, working with government to serve the common good, but also play a constructive-critical role in holding up a mirror to this government over the next five years and commit to the costly task of speaking difficult truths to those in our society with power. Of course, not just the church or Christians, but individuals and organisations across the wide spectrum of civil-society will play this role. Britain does have a thriving civil society.

My main worry looking ahead is that the Cameron government will overplay its hand in the face of a weak opposition in parliament, serving the interests of the few and the well-off, while leaving the country more divided and socially fragmented. This risks being the direction of travel over the next five years.

As a Christian, I believe, casting a vote is of one the least important things I can do. Political engagement includes many other things, including praying for our leaders, in particular for David Cameron, which I will continue to do, remaining alert and informed about what is happening, and being a mouthpiece for the interests and needs of those on the margins of our society. If our politicians and the financial elite would like us, middle-class creatures, to lose our soul to rampant debt-driven consumerism and ignore those in our society who remain invisible and forgotten, then my task is to give voice and visibility to hidden and broken narratives in our world.

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Category: Blogs

June, 2015

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