Britain

Leaders of the world unite!

Last week, world leaders from across the globe attended the G20 Summit in Hamburg. But what exactly is ‘G20’ and why was the summit held? G20 stands for ‘Group of Twenty’ and is an international forum that bring together the world’s leading and emerging economies. The G20 accounts for 85% of the world’s GDP* (Gross Domestic Product) and 2/3 of its population.

GDP: the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.

The G20 meets to seek co-operation on  economic issues facing major and emerging economies. The Group of Twenty is comprised of 19 countries, including the European Union. The countries are:

  •  Australia
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • UK
  • USA
Image result for g20 2017

G20 Leaders at the 2017 summit in Hamburg, Germany

The Summit tends to meet once a year with this year’s event taking place in Hamburg, Germany. President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time last Friday, after which Putin claimed the US President accepts his denials of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. Now with all the accusations and mounting evidence of Trump’s link to Russia, do we really believe the Russian and US leaders met for THE first time during the G20 summit? Either way, they did seem to get on pretty well…

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also held a meeting with Trump, who has subsequently said he expects a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK to be completed “very, very quickly”. Contrary to what Trump may believe, trade deals take a considerable amount of time to negotiate, regardless of any special relationships with foreign nations. May clarified that discussions were not about details of an actual trade arrangement but were rather more an opportunity to signal that she is looking beyond the EU for future economic relationships.

By the end of the summit, it was more G19 than G20 after the world leaders recognised Trump’s decision, in a joint statement, for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.  The Paris climate change agreement, known at the ‘communique’ commits nearly 200 countries to taking measures to reduce global warming. Breaking with tradition, a separate paragraph on the US’s stance on the Paris climate agreement and fossil fuels was added. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said she “deplored” the decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, but said that all other nations agree Paris climate accord is “irreversible”.

 

Conservative re-launch?

Back in Britain, it’s been a year since Theresa May took on the premiership from David Cameron after the Brexit result last June and to commemorate the occasion, the Prime Minister has sought the opinions of other UK political parties on how to tackle issues such as Brexit, terrorism and social care.

 

In her speech above, she calls for her political opponents to “contribute, not just criticise”. Is Theresa May showing she cannot cope? Well the Labour Party seem to think so, saying it shows the Theresa May and her party have run out of ideas. The speech came amid rumours some Conservatives are plotting to oust May as party leader, although ministers loyal to the Prime Minister have dismissed the claims as “gossip”.
During Wednesday’s PMQs, Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary also picked up on May’s weakening power, showing Damian Green some sass and savagery as they both stood at the dispatch box whilst Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May welcomed the King and Queen of Spain during their state visit.

 

Brexit update

The UK government has published its central piece of Brexit legislation, the ‘Great’ Repeal Bill which will end supremacy of EU law in Britain. It will annul the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which currently gives EU law instant effect in the UK and prevent a legal “black hole” existing after Brexit. The aim for this legislation to is to convert all EU requirements into British law as soon as the UK exits the union.

However, Theresa May could face a constitutional crisis as the Scottish and Welsh governments have said they will not give their consent to the legislation. The bill is intended to “maximise continuity” on the day of the UK’s departure. It would see all existing EU laws converted into domestic law, allowing the government to decide which rules and regulations it wants to keep after Brexit. It is hoped this would give confidence to businesses, workers and consumers as any unexpected changes on the day of Brexit would be minimised. The bill contains a series of delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII clauses*‘ which means ministers will be able to make new laws without putting it to a vote in Parliament. Shock. Horror. Not only does this give ministers the potential to abolish some pretty important rights protected under EU law such as right to equal treatment and maximum working hours for workers, it arguably undermines democracy. There are limits as to when the Henry VIII clause can be applied – if a minister deems there is an urgent matter then no vote need take place – but as the two year Brexit window whizzes by, what wouldn’t count as urgent? Surely all political parties should be given a say, not least because they happen to represent a considerable number of people who partook in the EU referendum? And besides, who wants a one-party state?

Henry VIII clauses: enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation with or without further parliamentary scrutiny. Such provisions are known as Henry VIII clauses, so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by proclamation.

Hours after the bill was published, the Scottish and Welsh leaders, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, issued a joint statement dismissing the legislation as a “power grab” by Westminster that attacks “the founding principles of devolution” and said they would not consent to it without substantial redrafting. Should Holyrood and the Welsh assembly withhold their legislative consent, the government could press on with the bill in its current form but the move may threaten a constitutional crisis by undermining the authority of the devolved governments.

In a further challenge to the government, Labour has said its MPs will not vote in favour of the bill, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer setting out five concessions the government must make to win Labour support, including protection of workers’ rights and environmental standards.

 

Also in Parliament…

Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an investigation into intimidation and abuse suffered by parliamentary candidates during the General Election campaign. The announcement came as an unprecedented debate was held in the House of Commons on the issue, during which MPs provided first hand accounts of anti-Semitic attacks, racist abuse, slashed tyres and death threats. Ahead of the debate, Conservative and Labour  MPs traded blows over who is to blame for the increase in abuse, with Tory MP Simon Hart accusing pro-Corbyn group Momentum of giving “implicit consent” to attacks on Conservative candidates, while Labour said the Tories put “vitriolic personal attacks” at the heart of their campaign.

Of course, these attacks on members of Parliament date further back to just recent elections as pointed out by Diane Abbot MP.

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism called for new laws and tougher discipline by parties, with a report by the group finding women and ethnic minority candidates are particularly at risk.
The growth of new media has not helped and in a world where we are taught to be more tolerant, how much of this rings true? It’s no secret Britain is a diverse and multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country so why then do our representatives get so much hate and stick? Some have blamed Brexit for the surge in hate crimes but what about incidents prior to the referendum? The general idea of Britain is that it is (c)onservative in its beliefs and traditions, so is very patriotic, believes in a small state with minimal intervention, protection of private property and upholds law and order. But what does this have to do with the hate and abuse MPs receive? Well it may have to do with right wing extremists who are hostile to immigration, particularly with the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place across the globe. Add into the mix the lingering misogyny amongst these groups and you will see women, particularly ethnic minority women are more likely to face the full force of these abuse and racist attacks. The rise in social media over the years exemplifies the situation and only makes it easier for these anonymous trolls to spout such spite. The difficulty in tracking down these perpetrators is that very often they are anonymous and so cannot be easily reported but perhaps this is up to social mediums to use their resources to shut down accounts?

Labour MP Paula Sheriff highlights “It is not about a particular party or particular faction. It is about the degradation of political discourse online.”

Another thing to consider would be how the mainstream media (news channels, newspapers etc) reports such incidents rather than amplifying it as the Sun Newspaper has done very often.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will look at the nature of the problem of intimidation, considering the current protections and measures in place for parliamentary candidates, reporting back to the Prime Minister.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Labour MPs have begun their inquiry into diversity in the cultural sector in an aim to boost working class representation in the arts. The panel was chaired by Labour MP Gloria de Peiro who said there was a “definite glass ceiling when it comes to the acting profession” and cited research by the London School of Economics that showed only 10% of actors said they came from a working class background and from the Sutton Trust that showed 42% of Bafta winners went to fee-paying schools.

The panel was also made up of Deborah Williams, executive director, Creative Diversity Network; Lee Mason, a drama commissioner at Channel 4; John Cannon, a casting director at BBC Studios; Cassie Chadderton, head of UK Theatre; David Mercatali, the chair of Stage Directors UK Diversity Working party; and Labour MP Tracy Brabin. Williams, who created the diversity standard for the BFI and is now overseeing Project Diamond, the biggest project monitoring diversity across all areas of British broadcasting, said perceptions about the TV and theatre roles black actors “can and should play” needed changing.

 

Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris has been suspended from the party after she was recorded using racist language at a meeting of pro-Brexit MPs at central London’s East India Club. Morris, who has represented Newton Abbot in Devon since 2010, is under investigation over the comment, which she has described as “totally unintentional” and has “apologise[d] unreservedly”. Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “totally unacceptable” language. The suspension of Morris could put more pressure on May’s minority government, which is relying on the support of Democratic Unionist (DUP) MPs after losing a majority in the General Election. ?Such language should never be used, especially by a public figure elected to represent a wide range of people, regardless of their colour or creed, which begs the question as to whether suspension goes far enough. When Ken Livingstone made his comments about Hitler and Zionism, many called for his expulsion so surely Anne Marie Morris should also be given the same treatment and persecution…?

 

Plans for a statue of former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have been blocked by the government over fears it would be vandalised by left-wing activists. A planning application has been submitted to Westminster city council requesting permission for the erection of a 10ft statue depicting Thatcher in a “resolute posture looking towards parliament with a stern gaze”. However, formal objections have been lodged by the Royal Parks Agency and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport. They say that they have not received assurances that the project has the permission of Baroness Thatcher’s family. There are also concerns in Whitehall that it will be repeatedly targeted by protesters. The £300,000 work was commissioned by the Public Memorials Appeal shortly after the former Prime Minister’s death in 2013.

Should there be a statue of Britain’s first female Prime Minister in Parliament Square? Or is it right plans for the statue were blocked given the controversy during her premiership over policy such as poll tax and privatisation of core industries?

Reflection on the General Election

So since my last post, Britain (well 24% of the electorate) voted for a Conservative government, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband both resigned as party leaders and Nigel Farage didn’t win Thanet (Oh and he stepped down as leader too, but only for 3 days). With all that happened, many questions emerged like why did Labour lose the election? Why were the opinion polls so wrong? Many politicians and observers have given their opinions since the election results were announced but its fair to say, there are things which need to be investigated, particularly within the Labour Party. Did they lose their sense of direction? Is socialism dead?

It’s worth reading this commentary on Labour’s defeat.

To be fair, the campaigning Labour did throughout the course of the election was overwhelming, but as the results have shown, it didn’t extend beyond London. The party most importantly failed to defend their role in the 2008 financial crisis and allowed Cameron and crew to spit all over them. That is important because Labour is traditionally seen as economically incompetent. However, the message that Labour failed to deliver was that the financial crisis occurred on a global scale, and most probably would have happened if there had been a Conservative government in office at the time.

After the party’s defeat, many turned to Ed Miliband as the cause of the party’s failure, but that may have been a but too harsh. The thing is, everyone (including Labour party supporters and politicians) were quick to come up with the reasons why the party failed to win a majority, but if we all noticed these issues, why weren’t they addressed sooner rather than later? Whether it’s Miliband’s lack of persona or the awkward #Edstone, the party’s failure, it seems, lay at their inability to emulate their predecessor, Tony Blair. Now, i know many do not like to talk about Blair because he led us into the Iraq war and all, but you cannot question his leadership style. It was under Blair that the Conservatives had to go through three leaders (William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith & Michael Howard) before it found David Cameron who tried and succeeded in emulating Blair’s style, politically and charismatically. Let’s also not forget Blair’s ability to get Murdoch eating at the palm of his hand. But seriously, Blair is the only modern political leader in Britain who had been able to resonate with everyone, irrespective of social class. Miliband on the other hand created a campaign based on an ‘us vs them’ which could have worked, but there is the small issue of people wanting to appear better off than they actually are. In short, in order for Labour to be a successful opposition party, it now needs to learn how to emulate the Conservatives (not by being an upper class snobbish party) but by recognising why the electorate seem to stick to the devil they know, and how they would create change for everyone, not just the working man.

We’ve all voted. We know who’s in government, but what now? What does a Conservative government mean for all of us? Well, for starters we no longer have Nick Clegg and the liberals to halt the passing of legislature that would be detrimental to ordinary folk like the axing of the Human Rights Act which would be replaced by a British Bill of Rights according to the party’s manifesto. If this specific mandate were to become law, it would mean that citizens would no longer be able to go to the European Court of Human Rights to appeal a court decision made by the UK Supreme Courts, giving legal sovereignty to UK courts. The idea of the UK Supreme Court having the final word has also evoked fear of corruption between politicians and judges.

Other Conservative Party policies that are likely to go ahead include:

  • Referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU
  • More devolved powers to Scotland – ‘The Scotland Bill’
  • Reducing the annual benefits cap by £3,000 to £23,000 and removing housing benefit from under-21s on jobseeker’s allowance
  • Taking out of income tax anyone working 30 hours a week on minimum wage by linking the personal allowance to the national minimum wage
  • New education bill to “force coasting schools to accept new leadership”
  • A housing bill to extend the right to buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants
  • A bill to double free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year-olds.

One thing’s for sure, Labour and other anti-Tory individuals and groups have to become more united than ever over the next five years as more cuts and austerity measures are expected to be rolled out. It will also be interesting to see how the Labour leadership contest plays out. It is disappointing that Chuka Ummuna pulled out of the contest as i think he would of been a great candidate, but what Labour now needs is someone who can shake things up a bit like Tony Blair. The leader of the Labour Party needs to be able to know what direction the party is going in, defend its economic history and fight for the people – the working and middle classes. Does it need to be centrist? Possibly, considering the left stance Miliband had clearly didn’t resonate. In short, Labour needs to redefine its political position in terms of what and who it stands for. And fast.

Everything you need to know about the Scottish Referendum

It’s a topic that has been on the news for quite a while and i’ve had a request (thanks Emily) to try and explain what it’s all about. I do warn you, this is gonna be a long one, so here goes nothing…

How did it all begin? Well it started with Alex Salmond’s white paper (basically a big important document) which outlined his plans for an independent Scotland. What that means is that central government (that’s Westminster) will no longer have control over how Scotland as a country is run, hence why it’s being talked about on a daily basis. If Scotland does become independent, it’ll affect its economy, defence and of course, its politics. Salmond’s white paper has thus become the basis of the referendum debate – it’s particularly important for Salmond to persuade the Scots his programme for an independent Scotland is the best way forward.

So what is Alex Salmond proposing? Well his white paper is 670 pages and answers about 650 questions so i can’t quite cover everything here. I do have a life you know. But i can say that the biggest issue concerning the whole referendum is the economy, especially the currency. Here’s the deal: Salmond wants to stay in the currency union but critics have said this puts him in a very vulnerable position. This is because the Better Together campaign can easily argue that Westminster is under no obligation to allow Scotland to stay. Of course, that would be an extremely unlikely decision by Westminster, but they are using the uncertainty to suggest that voting ‘yes’ is a dangerous gamble. Now we can see what all the hoo-haa is about with Salmond and Darling. Talking of which here’s a brief video of their debate – Round One *ding ding*!

With the referendum to be held in the next few weeks, the stakes are pretty high which is why the Scottish parliament is continuously studying the detail of the Scottish government’s proposals for staging and running the referendum. This includes their decision to extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds for the first time in a major poll in the UK.  It is important to note that the Scottish government has previously allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in some health board elections and crofting commission elections. Looks like Salmond might just have the vote or at least the support of the young Scots.

Interestingly, Salmond originally wanted to ask the question “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country”, but this was seen by experts (presuming those helping with the independence campaign) as biased in favour of a yes vote.

Voting has been restricted to Scottish residents (well obviously, it is a vote about SCOTLAND) registered to vote in local council elections as well as the one-off extra list of 16 and 17 year old voters –  about 124,000 teenagers in that age group will be eligible to vote in the referendum. It seems like Salmond might have their vote, considering the UK government only allow over 18s to vote even though there has been the ‘Vote 16’ which has lobbied governments for many years to decrease the voting age.

Why does this concern the rest of Britain? It could mean the end of the United Kingdom as we know it, the union jack included. We England and Scotland have been a union since 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became King of England – that’s quite a long history, making the result of the referendum vital for the future of both nations. Now might be a good time to look at round two of the debate *ding ding*

Now let’s break the key arguments down…

A ‘No’ vote would mean the UK government would remain sovereign (in charge) of most of Scotland’s taxation, welfare and economy. The benefits of a status quo vote would mean the kingdom as a whole would be a successful economic and political union. It’ll also mean we can maintain our shared values and security and shared risk – economically speaking such as the current deficit. However, ‘Yes’ voters could argue Scotland’s needs would be ignored by central government and that their unique culture and traditions makes them secondary to England.

Depending how the vote goes, if it’s a close call, but still with an overall ‘No’ vote, Scotland could ask for more devolution powers. This means Scotland would have more control over their economy such as raising taxes, whilst Westminster takes care of defence, foreign affairs and pensions. More devolution could mean Scotland take more responsibility for the taxes it spends, and ensure their policies match their targets. A downfall of this is that giving Scotland more control of their taxation could undermine the unity. Why? With change comes reform, thus possibly affecting the structure of the UK parliament. But of course that would be the same with a ‘Yes’ vote. In fact even more so…

If Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on the 18th of September, they’ll be given total control over their taxes, laws and the North Sea oil (that’s how they’ll make most of their money to keep their economy moving). The only thing from the union they’ll keep is the good ol’ Queen ma’am. Wouldn’t this be good for the Scots? It could be yes, i mean if they vote independence, there shouldn’t be a reason why they couldn’t manage their own country. It’s not like England would say ‘Traitors! We don’t talk to people who decide to break a good long 700 year long friendship!’ I’d like to think we’re not bitter. I’m not anyway. But it is important to note that Scotland wouldn’t be granted independence straight away. It takes a lot of work behind the scenes. There’s also a chance that Scotland would face greater financial vulnerability, you know, losing the security of the UK. Let’s not forget the whole currency debate – they’ll need a foreign bank, possibly a new currency and that’ll mean England would be in competition with the Scots. Oh dear…

Whatever happens, the next two weeks will no doubt be leaving people on their tenterhooks – journalists, Scots and the English alike. I do know though that whatever the outcome, it’ll change the running and relationship between England and Scotland, hopefully for the better.

Here’s some useful links which are quite well detailed:

The Guardian – Scottish Independence: The Essential Guide

Politics UK – Everything you need to know about the Scottish Independence white paper in five minutes