Brace yourselves: The election is coming.
Britons will head to the voting booths on May 7, 2015, in one of the most hotly-contested elections in recent history. After a long decade of political blunders and ever-growing indistinction between the two main parties—the right-wing Conservative and left-leaning Labour party—the British public have become increasingly uneasy with the present government, who achieved a pitiful 32-percent approval rating in a recent YouGov poll. To catch you up: The current Cameron ministry is a coalition between the Conservative (“Tory”) and Liberal Democrat parties, formed in 2010 after the election resulted in a hung parliament, with no party emerging with an overall majority in the House of Commons. While the successes and failures of this government are, of course, up for debate, it is undeniable that the British public as a whole are becoming increasingly polarized over the current political climate.
There are myriad topics that have been passed around politicians for years like a proverbial hot potato—immigration, Britain’s connection to the E.U., fracking, the benefits system—and, as the next general election approaches, people want to know that the next government will lay down a decisive stance. It is not unfair to claim that Britain is looking for a fresh start; it wants a directional government that can shake off the stagnant reputation that the coalition government has ultimately become known for.
With this in mind, it might seem like an ideal time for small, “independent” parties to rise to the fore. While election time in the U.K. traditionally meant voting for one of two parties, there are now six serious contenders in the game. Most notably, the Green Party and UKIP (the U.K. Independence Party) have seen an exponential rise in popularity over the past year or so. One far right (UKIP), and one far left (the Greens), the only thing that these two small, rising parties have in common is their niche central policy, fleshed out with crudely-constructed manifestos. Whilst the public wants an alternative from a government that has been lambasted for continually falling between two stools, in reality, anyone who decides to cast a “protest” vote in the next election sadly faces a choice between the lesser of six evils.
Recently, after the so-called “Green Surge“, Natalie Bennett led her Green Party to a new beginning. No-one can dismiss the newfangled buzz that surrounds the Greens, which, frankly, was but an idle dream for the party four years ago. However, their surge in popularity has ultimately been the result of buzzwords and tapping into the impressionable, “revolution”-hungry minds of students and working class families who have been left to flounder at the bottom of the social dung heap for years. Essentially, those who have been led into the Green Party hype are left-wingers, tired of Ed Miliband’s buffoonery and seeking an even more severely “red” approach to government.
Britain is, of course, a nation whose attitude towards social welfare tends to be more sympathetic than the U.S. But the Greens are bent on taking the relatively socialist society that exists and engorging it to something unrecognizable. Bennett’s Green Party proposes that a Green Britain will pursue nuclear disarmament, based on a moral standpoint rather than a balanced consideration of nuclear deterrence. A Green Britain would introduce a “Citizen’s Income” at a cost of £270 billion. A Green Britain would make animal testing for medical purposes illegal, jeopardizing Britain’s strong medical research base. In essence, the Green Party vision is barely shy of an entire restructuring of the U.K.’s core values and laws. Radical while this may be, is it realistic? Absolutely not. The amount of time and money it would take to create this vision, and the amount of resistance that would undoubtedly occur, is a far greater risk than Natalie Bennett would like to admit.
UKIP—headed by the now-infamous Nigel Farage—is another party that has seen an exponential rise in popularity in recent years. Championing patriotism and national pride, they claim that, “We believe there is so much to be proud about Britain” [sic] and believe in “self-reliance and personal freedom from state interference” … so far, so good, right? Sounds like America! The problem is, the single issue that UKIP members, candidates and supporters are truly focused on is immigration; at best, they believe in stricter immigration control, and at worst discussion of the subject divulges into dressed-up racist slandering. UKIP also passionately believes that Britain must leave the E.U. With two incredibly pertinent topics as their core values, it’s no wonder that they have seen such a dramatic increase in popularity.
But, on the flip side, such a radical central belief—and a veritable army of loutish, right-wing followers—means that UKIP has become ultimately synonymous with racial and cultural intolerance, and with good reason. Indeed, the party’s own general secretary, Matthew Richardson, recently commented that, “There are hundreds of thousands of bigots in the United Kingdom and they too deserve representation”. Passing the comment off as “lighthearted banter” is an appallingly crude excuse, that entirely undermines the party’s attempt to shake off their ignorant, ultranationalist image. This is just one plucked from a series of examples; though the party have been known to reprimand candidates who make such statements, the sheer volume of racist and homophobic vitriol that emerges from the mouths of UKIP representatives is ultimately telling of the party’s xenophobic heart. It’s worth noting that while Tim Aker, UKIP’s MEP, is making statements about the “quality” of people permitted to enter into the UK, Aker turns a blind eye to the “quality” of the folk who champion UKIP ideals: by no means can all UKIP supporters be tarred with the same brush, but all too often they are thuggish, close-minded, and racist.
Furthermore, UKIP’s all-or-nothing approach to its policies often makes reasoned and nuanced discussion of complex topics virtually impossible. The benefits and challenges of the E.U. and migration issues are thorny at best, demanding intricate, sensitive discussion, so Nigel Farage and his cronies’ cut-and-dry approach becomes grating and whiffs of immaturity. UKIP’s “strategy” is, and has always been, a reductionist approach that remains steadfastly black-and-white. People are attracted to this approach, without considering that a leader who is unwilling to enter reasoned debate on its core beliefs—let alone compromise—is, perhaps, an unsavory character to take control of the country they live in.
Both parties clash head-on on essentially every issue. UKIP believe in a low-tax, cut-to-the-bone state, where people who need help can get lost; the Greens, on the other hand, are proponents of inflating the public’s reliance on the state. The U.K.’s relationship with the E.U. is another hot topic: UKIP want out, claiming that a close link to the Union erodes national sovereignty, while the Green Party is much more committed to keeping Britain in the E.U. Of course, the Green Party was founded on the belief that Britain must focus on climate change and shift to renewable energy sources, while UKIP explicitly state that they will “abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change and scrap green subsidies.” The Greens are in favor of a strong emphasis on participation in (and growth of) the arts, while UKIP intends to abolish the Department for Culture Media and Sport. UKIP will, however, give greater social benefit to those who have served in the military, while the Green Party plan to curb the military to the bare minimum required for national defense. Name an issue, any issue, and it’s almost certain that the two fledgling parties will have an entirely opposing stance on it.
It’s clear that both parties are at either end of an extreme, with Conservative and Labour policies falling relatively in the middle of each, thus gaining popularity out of the public’s desire to move away from the stagnant status quo. But if the British public comes to ultimately view the next general election as a chance to make a “protest vote” en masse, then what is the likelihood of their gaining enough seats in Parliament to form a government? Of course it is unlikely that any of Britain’s small parties will earn an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons; it’s much more plausible, however, that one of these parties may end up forming a coalition with the Conservatives or Labour (as shown in the surprising results of this YouGov survey). And while the possibility of a UKIP or Green coalition government might blow some fresh air into Westminster, the principle of voting for a party whose overall political agenda is singular and half-baked seems, quite frankly, questionable.
The UK needs a solution that is capable of standing out, inspiring change, and still maintaining a thorough examination of the issues that face the British public … and presenting informed, viable solutions for these problems. The Green Party and UKIP, however “fresh” and “radical” they might present themselves, are ultimately young, single-issue parties who have not the tenure in politics to present polished, cohesive plans for their government that would truly benefit Great Britain. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Queen in a council house anytime soon, it’s certainly alarming that parties with such shallow understanding of reality are serious contenders. Furthermore, it is simply shambolic that the public seem willing to back them, based solely on a primal emotion rather than a balanced view on the party that is realistically best suited to govern. It is a sad state of affairs, indeed, when the desire for change is so very potent, but the candidates to make that change happen are such a motley crew. Monster Raving Loony Party 2k15, anyone?
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