Credit: Reuters, via Mirror.

Weekly Roundup | Weeks 16–18 | 17th April — 5th May 2017

Battle commences

Introduction to the general election | Local election results | Hate speech in the media | Royal retirement | Environmental news

Welcome to Weekly Roundup, a summary of the most significant recent UK/global sociopolitical developments, environmental issues & other topics that affect your life. Read more about FuturePolitics here.

This week: • General election 2017 • Local election results • Hate speech in the media • Royal retirement • Environment


General election 2017

Our first Weekly Roundup is an exception: it covers almost three weeks, going back to when prime minister Theresa May called an early general election to be held on 8th June, a decision that was backed by an overwhelming majority of MPs the following day (522 for vs. 13 against). The announcement of this snap election inspired me to initiate a blog which seeks to inspire people to engage with democracy, and take positive action towards reforming it — an ambition which had been building for some time. That means that this post is longer than usually planned for this series, as it includes some context as to why the election is happening now.

Why is this election so important?

Many see the snap election as a cynical ploy to exploit the perceived weakness of the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn — as reported by the majority of the mainstream media — in order to secure an extra two years in government. If her gamble pays off, this would leave the government with an increased majority, enabling them to claim they have a mandate for a regressive, “hard” Brexit, which would be incredibly harmful to the future of the UK. It has also been suggested that she has used this as an opportunity to return to parliament 29 Conservative MPs that are currently under criminal investigation for electoral fraud, concerning under-reporting of expenditure during the 2015 general election campaign. It’s notable that May has called this election despite the introduction of fixed-term five-year parliaments by the previous Conservative–Lib Dem coalition — a Liberal Democrat- and Labour-backed policy, and despite her willingness to serve as an unelected prime minister for the last 10 months.

How do the major players fare?

Since the election was called, polls had consistently been showing that the gap between Labour and Conservatives was rapidly narrowing, from 25% (Lab) and 42% (Con) to 31% and 44%, respectively, between 17th and 28th April (YouGov voting intention polls), although this gap had widened again to 29% and 48% by 3rd May. Financial Times’ poll of polls is a handy time-weighted tracker of the top seven pollsters’ most recent results, which currently puts the figures at 29% and 46%, respectively. The Conservatives are expected to win the election by a sizeable margin.

Why is May so far ahead of Corbyn?

There are many reasons why the public has very negative preconceptions about Corbyn, perhaps the most major being the finding by a London School of Economics report that found that 75% of media coverage of Corbyn during the first two months of his leadership misrepresented his views — a trend that has continued since then. That’s a worrying figure, not in terms of partisanship (I myself am not a Labour voter), but in terms of democracy and freedom of the press. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg was found to have breached the corporation’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines earlier this year, but only after having already inflicted damage upon Corbyn’s reputation. One form of slander that Corbyn regular faces is the false claim that he is a terrorist sympathiser. He is also denounced for his rational opposition to nuclear weapons and his left-wing policies. Nevertheless, there are other reasons why Corbyn looks weak. He is modest, uninterested in rhetoric, lacks charisma — a vital trait in modern politics, which puts personalities before policies — and did not provide strong opposition to the government until shortly before his election campaign began. He has also been destabilised by in-fighting within the fractious Labour Party, a so-called “broad church” that is still finding its feet after two electoral defeats that followed the death of New Labour. Many on the right of the party have contributed to the party leader’s downfall by ridiculing him when he first ran for the leadership, only to worsen the situation by triggering a vote of no confidence. Both of these attempts to close out the left — the foundation of the Labour Party — have backfired, with Corbyn being reelected with over 60% of the vote. During this period, the party grew to become the largest political party within Europe, with over 600,000 members, many of whom joined to show support for Corbyn — although the way in which different parties record membership is questionable and requires standardisation. Corbyn’s weakness is further emphasised by May’s portrayal by the press of being a confident leader, reminiscent of Thatcher. There are, however, a couple of positive signs for Labour. Registration of young voters — a section of society that often does not vote — has risen significantly since May called for a general election, with 100,000 registrations within the first three days following the announcement, whilst 55% of students surveyed say they’re planning to back Labour.

How is the Labour campaign shaping up?

Since the election was announced, Corbyn has been out campaigning vigorously, attending Labour rallies across the country. This has led to a revitalisation of the ailing party. Simultaneously, Labour has announced solid policies that aim to help the country recover from seven years of harsh and unnecessary austerity policies, including taxing private schools to fund state school meals, raising the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020, limiting the pay ratio within companies to 20:1, banning exploitative zero-hour contracts and hiring an extra 10,000 police officers, to replace some of the 20,000 cut under the Conservative Party. Corbyn’s economic policies are consistently backed by a majority of leading economists and directly counter the austerity policies of the current government. Corbyn is a highly principled leader, and despite his weaknesses, he has made significant progress over the last few weeks. Labour is currently looking very strong compared to immediately before the election announcement.

Credit: Ed Miliband on Twitter.

How about the Conservative campaign?

Meanwhile, things have been going terribly for the prime minister. May has so far announced that she will avoid the televised pre-election debate and has been much less vocal on manifesto policies than her competitors. One positive policy that has been announced by the Conservatives is a cap on electricity prices — a policy for which Ed Milliband was ridiculed prior to the 2010 election, leading to the nickname “Red Ed”. May has made fewer public appearances on the campaign trail than Corbyn, even being accused of shipping in artificial audiences of loyal supporters, speaking to uninterested employees at her factory rallies, being booed out of Bristol by a group of protestors and even having local journalists shut in a room and prevented from filming her three-minute talk. The prime minister has been widely mocked on TV and social media for beyond-excessive use of meaningless rhetoric, including the phrase “strong and stable leadership”, amongst others, such as “national interest”, “strengthen my hand” and “future of the country”. This rhetoric is likely being deployed by campaign chief Lynton Crosby, who helped David Cameron win the 2015 election with such inspiring phrases as “long-term economic plan” and “tough/difficult decisions”. Furthermore, May has attracted condemnation from leading European Union figures as she embarks on the most crucial negotiations of the last several generations through a campaign of unnecessary and unproductive confrontation. Her accusation on Wednesday that the EU was trying to influence the general election outcome was a new low in her fledgling campaign.

What about the other parties?

We’ll keep you updated on the most important election news over the coming weeks, including a summary of what the smaller parties have to offer and discussion of whether tactical voting is justifiable.

You can find out more information about your vote, why it matters and how to use it at yourvotematters.co.uk.

Local election results

Yesterday also saw local elections in which 4,851 seats in 88 councils were contested. This included all 32 councils in Scotland (1,227 seats), all 22 councils in Wales (1,254 seats) and 34 out of 353 councils in England (2,370 seats).

Local elections aren’t the most exciting — people tend to engage much more with national issues than local ones. The turnout at local elections over the last five years has been appallingly low — between 31 and 36%.

In summary, Labour made significant losses (320 net), whilst the Conservatives made huge gains — 558 overall. Many of Labour’s losses came indirectly from the collapse of UKIP, who lost 114 of their seats 115 being contested. Most of these votes transferred to the Conservatives, as they are leading the Brexit process, as explained by last night’s Newsnight. Liberal Democrats also fared poorly, with a net loss of 37 seats, whilst the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens gained 31, 26 and 6 seats overall, respectively. More analysis in next week’s Weekly Roundup.

Party | Number of seats won | Net gain/loss

Conservative Party | 1,900 | +558
Labour Party | 1,151 | -320
Lib Dems | 441 | -37
SNP | 431 | +31
Plaid Cymru | 202 | +26
Green Party | 40| +6
UKIP | 1 | -114
Independent & Other Parties | 725 | -164


Hate speech in the media

Usually, when I read about hate speech coming from leading figures, I don’t feel inclined to promote the attention seeker from whose lips the words spewed by drawing further attention to them. But given that there have been a couple of particularly nasty instances this week, I feel it’s an important time to denounce this trend.

Fewer than three weeks after The Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie was suspended for referring to a mixed-race footballer as a “gorilla”, he joked this week with a New York Times journalist:

I think the fake news headline that would give this country the most joy would be ‘Jeremy Corbyn Knifed to Death by an Asylum Seeker.”

This not only brought into question his commitment to freedom of speech, it also conjured up memories of the murder of Jo Cox MP exactly one week before the EU referendum — an act of a far-right extremist, no doubt inspired by the hatred spread by publications such as MacKenzie’s former employer.

This was followed by a tweet this Tuesday by professional bigot Katie Hopkins, in which she referenced the equal rights movement “Black Lives Matter”:

“Dear black people. If your lives matter why do you stab and shoot each other so much.”

Yesterday, she also pondered:

“If Islam is so fantastic, why do Muslims always choose to come to Christian countries?”

I fully understand that these so-called “journalists” thrive on creating division, as it sells copies of their rags, but this has to be stopped. Incitement of racial (and other types of) hatred within the mainstream media is pandemic, with the worst offenders being the Daily Express, Daily Mail and The Sun. One way of preventing this division is by boycotting these publications and encouraging those around you to consider the damage they are doing. Another highly effective method is to call on businesses to Stop Funding Hate, by withdrawing their adverts from newspapers and online news sites that fuel bigotry.

“History has shown us time and again the dangers of demonising foreigners and minorities”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2015


Royal retirement

Whilst we’re on the topic of hate speech… Prince Philip announced his retirement from public duties yesterday. The Queen’s husband, renowned for his casual racism and misogyny, will give up his role as “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler”. The Duke of Edinburgh is famed for such mutterings as:

“It looks as if it was put in by an Indian”

Said whilst pointing at an old-fashioned fusebox in a factory near Edinburgh


Environment

Wired published an interesting report last week on the nuclear waste storage facility currently being built on an island called Olkiluoto in western Finland — only 125 km from where I live in Tampere. The facility is 420–450 metres underground and is designed to isolate spent nuclear fuel rods for the next 100,000 years — twenty times longer than the oldest human-built structures have been standing. Although the project seems to be the best solution for existing waste that’s currently sitting in insecure interim storage, it is incredibly risky for future generations. Despite the multiple protective layers surround the waste, corrosion over 100 millennia, combined with tectonic movement and the formation of a new ice sheet could lead to catastrophic leakage of vast quantities of radioactive waste.

At a time when renewable energy sources are already more affordable than fossil fuels, and are expected to become cheaper than nuclear within the next 8 years, now is the time to be investing in sustainable energy. Instead, the government has committed to investing in foreign-owned nuclear plants with technology that has suffered huge delays and inflated budgets, which will still create a huge waste problem for the next hundred millennia.

Meanwhile the government is facing a class action concerning air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide — a by-product of diesel fuel use — has been at illegal levels in almost 90% of urban areas since 2010, causing an estimated 23,500 deaths each year. The Conservatives vowed to make the coalition the “greenest government yet” in 2010 — their track record is shameful.

To end on a more positive note, Google rolled out Project Sunroof — a tool already available in the US, which helps consumers estimate whether their address receives enough sunlight to make solar roof panels financially feasible — in Germany yesterday. Meanwhile, Tesla announced that it plans to double the number of Superchargers global during 2017. There are many exciting green innovations in the pipeline — we need to collectively put pressure on our government to incentivise the adoption of environmentally friendly technologies.

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