No deal Brexit is giving Britain a political nervous breakdown

It’s interesting to hear from the ex-head of the UK intelligence service, MI6, that Britain is going through a “political nervous breakdown“. People might be forgiven for thinking “me too” over this national psychiatric diagnosis, such has been the ongoing paralysis in government and Parliament as a result of the Brexit impasse. He went on to criticise the quality of political leadership by the leaders of the main political parties and point to how the country has been left bitterly divided, the damage the crisis is doing to Britain’s global reputation and the risk being taken with the British economy. Senior government officials get to observe political leaders at close quarters and Sawyers is not alone among past senior officials in questioning the quality of judgement being shown and having anxiety about the direction in which the country is being … Read more

Britain is experiencing deadlock politics

To the outsider, watching Prime Minister May struggle to make constructive proposals and secure agreement on its exit from the EU, it must seem as though the UK has suddenly gone mad. This is certainly what my neighbours here in South-West France think! That would however misunderstand the complexities that the UK – and all the other 27 members of the EU – are faced with. The current difficulties the UK faces in trying to extricate itself from the EU are due to a perfect storm of mutually contradictory political forces. One might almost call it deadlock politics. The impact of the 2016 Referendum and the 2017 General Election Others in the EU have been greatly frustrated by the lack of political vision coming from the UK side. “What do you want?” they keep asking. The answer must surely be … Read more

The strange death of the post-war British political order

When major change happens it can be hard to see what’s really happening. All is flux and uncertainty. In the British 2015 general election fundamental change is happening before our eyes and yet we can’t see what it is. We persist in thinking in terms of the old model of the political order when it has already gone and things have shifted beyond what we can conceive. It will take time for the new dispensation to make itself clear. What has happened is that the traditional post-war model of the nationwide two-party system elected by the “First Past the Post” (FPTP) electoral system in a unicameral, centralised state has finally hit the buffers and no longer works. Yet politicians and to an extent voters still think in those traditional terms when actually a fundamental re-alignment of the political order is … Read more

Are our MP’s too open to powerful vested interests?

Catching MPs with their hands in the till might be becoming a bit of a pastime for circulation-hungry newspaper editors, except that in exposing Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind for discussing consultancy work with a fictitious Chinese company in a sting operation, perhaps what’s really happened is that the Daily Telegraph have again drawn attention to something most MPs do to supplement their income. It has however become a sore point with the public at large: 60% of people disapprove, according to a YouGov poll. The issue also however raises the question of how MPs make a living, to the ways business and other interests gain access and influence, and indeed to how we as a democracy pay for representative government. On the face of it, the matter makes some headlines, and yet there are much deeper questions behind the … Read more

Is there excessive influence by the wealthy and powerful?

We’ve had a week of negative reports about tax avoidance by wealthy individuals through Swiss HSBC accounts and large donations to the Tories by City of London and Mayfair people, particularly the latter in hedge funds. It raises several issues for the student of politics. Setting aside the question of the rules governing taxation and how they are enforced, we can look here at the funding of political parties and of politics more generally, the links between special interests and political parties, and that fine line between legitimate influence and corrupt influence through money. Do the wealthy and powerful have too much influence? Arguments by left and right So, the left argue, you donate to the Tories who build the ground on which you can grow your wealth and you can avoid being taxed on it through creative accounting. Meanwhile … Read more

A UK political system in crisis

Today UK politics is confronted by the challenge of the breakdown of the two-party system and is struggling to come up with behaviours to deal with the new reality. A UK political system predicated on the First Past The Post electoral system and the long-term historical dominance by two main nationwide parties is arguably ill-equipped to respond to a multi-party situation, made more complex by a trend towards nationalist parties in some of the component “nations” of the UK. It was said that Britain “does not love coalitions”, and yet it might be said that that is exactly what she is going to have to do. A hung Parliament again As opinion polls are currently showing us, it is very unlikely that one party will be able to form a government after the May 2015 general election. As in 2010 … Read more

Political parties in the UK now operate on a narrow political base and are vulnerable to challenge

A very important underlying trend in UK, European and US politics has been the increasing isolation of a “political class” or elite from the mass of voters. It shows itself in a wide variety of features, but from the perspective of our main political parties it is a potentially dangerous trend in times of upheaval or change such as the current Great Recession, as it opens up the ground for challenges from populist and more extreme parties with widespread support. The risk this trend runs is of a mass political vacuum which others might fill. Mass-based parties Arguably the model of 20th Century democratic politics was the mass-based party, agreed on a set of ideological principles or enough to form a coalition of interests and beliefs. In the UK, we had a Conservative party that had emerged out of its … Read more

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