Introduction to British Political Parties

Following on from my introduction to the Norwegian political parties, a presentation of the main British political parties seems in order.

Labour:

Labour were founded on ideals of equal distributions and opportunities for all. The problem is that no one seems quite sure how to interpret those ideals anymore. Following Labour’s disastrous election result in May they have rather self-indulgently torn themselves apart. Some think Labour lost because it was too left-wing, some because it was too right-wing, and some question the relevance of the left-right dichotomy in the first place.

New Labour, Old Labour, New Old Labour, New New Labour. All eager to push their agenda and policies forward in this era of openness. It makes it hard to be sure what the Labour policies are in this blaze of ideas.

Greens:

Similar to Labour it’s hard to pin down the Greens’ policies. But unlike Labour that’s not because there are too many being spouted around. Erm… I suppose they want to be green… Yes, that sounds about right. Though, saying that, the one council they control has one of the worst recycling rates in the UK, so who knows, really?

Liberal Democrats:

The commentariat love to use the phrase that the Lib Dems were “reduced to a rump” at the last election. I’m not quite sure what that term means; I presume it refers to the fact that the Lib Dems can now get their parliamentary work done in a largish taxi on their way to parliament. Alternatively, they could raise their green profile and start commuting in on four tandems.

More seriously, the Lib Dems might have a golden opportunity to build support for themselves in the centre ground, while the Tories cut public services to the bone and Labour go for an existentialist scream in the wilderness.

Scottish National Party:

The self-styled progressives in the SNP performed an impressive rout in Scotland in May, winning 56 out of 59 seats. Even more impressive seeing as it’s hard to think of any actually progressive policies the SNP have implemented while controlling the Scottish Parliament. Though they have given a few sticky-plaster policies to the middle-classes, their record for helping the poorest in society and redistributing wealth is poor.

Conservatives:

Things should be looking pretty for the Conservatives ahead of this week’s conference in Manchester. They have done something no party in the history of modern British politics has achieved; improved their share of the vote to go from a coalition government to a majority government.

However, PM Cameron faces many challenges. Chief among them being to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU, and then persuading the British people that he’s obtained fabulous concessions. In addition, his comment that he would not fight another election means that the party conference resembles an audition for next Conservative leader.

UKIP:

UKIP seems to be trying desperately to implode. A year or so ago, things were looking pretty for UKIP, with two well-publicised defections from the Conservatives and high hopes for the May 2015 election. However, despite picking up nearly 13% of the vote, they are left with only one MP. This one MP can only scratch his head at how the rest of the party promptly descended into chaos. He is an alarmingly articulated and well-spoken person, making interesting points on PR and the need for a fair EU referendum. Whether the move from backbench obscurity to high-profile irrelevance was worth it, only he can decide.

Advertisements

Norwegian Local Elections

Turning our gaze to Norwegian political affairs again, I realise I have been a little slow off the mark. The local elections were a month ago, but in sloth-like vain, I have yet to write up my report on it. Here goes.

(For an introduction to the parties, press here)

Socialists (SV) 4.1%: The worst thing about this election result, is that this is a good election result for the Socialists. With opinion-polling as low as 2.5%, there was a worry about utter meltdown in the lefty academics’ ranks. However, good news for the Socialists in that they got over 4% (an important symbolic number in Norwegian politics). They have been around 4% for the last three elections, and they will be pleased not to go backwards.

Labour (AP) 33.0%: A very good performance for the Labour Party. Not only are they by far the largest party, they also increase on their result from four years ago. It was a big test for their suave, French-diplomat resembling leader, as this was his first election and he had been branded as a poor debater in the election campaign. But winning Tromsø, Bergen and (by the looks of it) Oslo, as well as increasing their majority in Trondheim makes this a big success story for Labour.

Farmers (SP) 8.5%: Farmers have had a very good result. They’ve outdone themselves for recent times. (They used to be a force to be reckoned with, but that was back in agrarian days) Doing well mainly because they have marked themselves in opposition to many of the government reforms which shut down small hospitals in the provinces, centralise the police forces and merge municipalities. Impressive performance, but do keep in mind that the Farmers always do better in the local elections. It’s easier to vote for a farmer to go to village hall, than to vote for one to go to the big city of Oslo.

Greens (MDG) 4.2%: Lower than I anticipated that their vote would be, but the Greens were always going to do much better than last local elections (0.9%), and they have to be declared the big winners of the election. The Greens have done especially well in the big cities. 8.1% in Oslo, but not so well in the smaller towns and villages. In Oslo they are the kingmakers and it looks like they will elect to support Labour, as they seem to be doing almost everywhere else, which lends the lie to them being a block-neutral party.

Christians (Krf) 5.4%: The Christians go back 0.1%, so not much to write home about. But they will be disappointed as they thought their support for Syrian refugees and Sunday closing would be good issues to fight on. It seems however, that they are too closely tied to the right-wing government (Conservatives and Populists). The suave, handsome leader of the Labour party is looking increasingly attractive seen from Christian eyes.

Liberals (V) 5.5%: Liberals go down 0.7%, and have a relatively weak election. Like the Socialists they are being nibbled away at by the Greens.

Conservatives (H) 23.2%: This is a very bad election result for the Conservatives. They were expecting the personal popularity of PM Solberg to see them through, but they fall 4.8% from the last local election, and more important than the percentages they lose control of the major cities. One of the Conservatives’ main boasts was that over half of Norwegians have a Conservative as mayor. After Oslo and Bergen switched sides this isn’t even close to being true anymore. Now, even the Farmers have more mayors than the Conservatives (though mainly in places where about three men and a dog live).

Populists (FrP) 9.5%: I really didn’t expect the populists to fall below 10%. I thought that their hard-line rhetoric on refugees and immigration would push them just over 10%. As it is this is an important symbolic defeat of their record in government. Left with almost no mayors, several heavyweight populists have renewed calls to debate whether they should still be a part of the government. As an aside, Solberg (Conservative PM)’s husband told reporters at a boozy late night hustings that the Populists ought to withdraw from the government as they were being eaten away. Ms Solberg responded: “It’s a good job I’m the strategist in our family”. But Mr Solberg is right…. watch this space…

Some reflections on the Labour Party conference

After an exhilarating and exhausting Labour Party conference the philososloth is now safely back in the tree. Having taken a little time to chew over the political cud, your sloth (who was) on the ground would like to share some observations about my experiences from the conference.

  1. Brighton is lovely

Not only were there deck chairs set out in a most considerate way, but something about the chilled out, veggie, bean-eating air of Brighton felt like a natural habitat for the philososloth. Full marks.

  1. Corbyn is here to stay

Despite subversive mutterings from the so-called right of the party, it doesn’t look like Jeremy Corbyn is going anywhere anytime soon. Not only did Corbyn win the leadership contest by a whopping margin, the conference, which is an ideal chance for the party tear itself apart in public, has gone by relatively smoothly. Corbyn’s speech, though poorly structured and rambling, set out the values the Labour Party will follow under his leadership. Predictably left-wing and state-centred, but many solid ideas there about housing, human rights and a focus on green policies.

In his charming way he was even considerate to those who want to kick him out by saying that the Labour party has a clear aim of doing well in Wales, Scotland, London and Bristol next year. That gives him until at least next year. Maybe it’s time for Labour’s gap year. They can do crazy things and find themselves for the next year or so. (One of the very few benefits of having a five year fixed parliament: You won’t have to get serious until around year three)

  1. The philososloth caught a whiff of hope

It’s only a few months since Labour’s massive election loss, and the philososloth had expected the atmosphere at conference to resemble that of a particularly dismal funeral (albeit a rather well attended one). But there is genuine hope that Corbyn is what he says he is. A new way of doing politics. In fact, one aged lady who your sloth on the ground got talking to slapped me on the thigh and said with great gusto: “I’m so delighted that we lost in May! It’s so refreshing!” This sentiment was repeated over and over again. The idea that we (whoever we are) have finally taken our party back. Whether the “we” are a substantial enough grouping to make the party worth holding onto, remains to be seen.

  1. The latte-sippers were on the outside

In the midst of this heady optimism and joyous self-congratulation at ousting main-stream politicians some were nevertheless looking hangdog. It was easy to spot them. They were dressed in suits, holding lattes and looking at the scampering, scruffy crew with expressions of singular gloom. These types now rue their PPE from a snazzy red-brick university, all those hours spent in the debating society and getting that internship at a think tank. What’s the point of all this prepping, if this is the new way of the world? How depressing!

  1. Immigration is back on the agenda

After the pathetic mewling of the Labour Party over the last few years, it’s refreshing to finally have a leader so uncompromisingly and unapologetically extolling the virtues of immigration. There is an urgent need for a major politician who is not afraid to say it as it is; that immigration is good for the UK. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is also well-placed to address the fact that to many people it doesn’t feel as if immigration is good for the UK. Labour should start setting out that message early, and offer policies to ensure that the genuine benefits of immigration are distributed across the UK. (In this sloth’s humble opinion).

In short it is a fascinating time in British politics and I was delighted to be there for my first conference. Further reflections and ruminations will follow.