Tag Archives: theresa may

Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about British politics

800px-parliament_at_sunset

Over the weekend, I asked Facebook friends to send me their questions on what’s happening in aftermath of the UK election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Below are some of their questions and a few I added to clarify a few things. Hope this helps my American readers understand British politics a bit more:

  1. Does the Prime Minister always get to decide when to call special elections? Has this situation ever happened before?

Yes and no. Before 2010, the Prime Minister had almost sole discretion on when an election would be called. One had to be held at least every five years, but when that happened was largely down to the whims of the government of the day (led by the Prime Minister). As you may expect, this led to a lot of elections called when the government felt it was advantageous for it (such as when they’re leading in the polls) or not called unless absolutely necessary if the party in power was suffering the polls. This was the case in 1997, when the Conservatives lost power to Labour after 18 years in government.

The Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 was meant to change this. Brought in by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it was meant to ensure stability during the 2010-2015 Coalition Government (more on this later). It set out a fixed date for the next election, which was held in May 2015. The next subsequent election was not due until May 2020. However, there was a provision in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act which allowed for the dissolution of Parliament – necessary for the calling of another election – if there was a vote of no confidence in the government of the day  or if the Prime Minister requested dissolution.

Theresa May requested a dissolution of Parliament in April, setting the date for the next election as 8 June. As she was not the leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 (that was David Cameron, who resigned last year following the Brexit vote), some argued she was seeking a mandate of her own. She wanted to increase her majority to strengthen her hand when negotiating Brexit. It didn’t quite work out as well as she’d have liked though, as the Conservatives lost their majority. No one party has a majority of Members of Parliament now, which means Mrs May must seek coalition or a minority government.

  1. What does it mean to “form a government?”

    There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), so to have a majority a party must win at least 326 seats. There are two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – and only they have formed a government since 1922. In the simplest of times, forming a government just means the largest party appoints people to the cabinet (as the leader of the party would be Prime Minister) and puts forward its agenda in a Queen’s Speech (we’ll get to her role later). But these are not simple times.

    In 2010, like now, no one party had a majority of seats – a scenario known as a “hung parliament.” David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), sought coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who held 57 seats. The Lib Dems accepted, and a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ran things until 2015, when the Conservatives secured a majority of seats and governed on their own.

 Mrs May has squandered that majority, losing 13 seats and taking her party’s total to 318. The Lib Dems have ruled out another coalition – they suffered greatly for their role in the last one, losing 49 seats in 2015 – which means Mrs May needs to find another minor party to bolster her numbers. She looks set to do that with the Democratic Unionist Party out of Northern Ireland, which has 10 seats.

This is where it gets tricky, though, as the DUP really can’t join the government due to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, but that’s another story for another day. Right now it looks like the DUP will prop up Mrs May’s government but not join it, meaning she’ll form a minority government with the understanding that she can depend on the DUP to support her agenda in most cases.

  1. I read that Prime Minister May was going to propose something to the Queen. What is the monarchy’s involvement with the elected government (and vice versa)?

The role of the monarchy is entirely symbolic in practice yet vast in theory. Theoretically, the sovereign is an absolute monarch – all power is vested in the crown. However, the doctrine of crown-in-parliament means that whilst Her Majesty technically holds these powers, in practice and custom they are exercised by Parliament and the government (which consists of MPs – even the Prime Minister is an MP). This goes back hundreds of years in a system that has largely haphazardly developed. Britain has no written constitution, like the United States, so its democracy functions largely on customs and a body of separate laws collectively referred to as “the constitution.”

Because these powers are technically the Queen’s, she must invite someone to form a government in her name. She does this to whoever wins the most seats. Mrs May won the most seats (even if she didn’t secure a majority), so by custom she has the first shot to form a government. She went to see the Queen to be invited to form a government. If Mrs May can’t form a government (that is, get enough support to get through her agenda, laid out in a Queen’s Speech), then the second-place Labour Party could try to form a minority government and get enough votes to pass its Queen’s Speech. If no party can get their Queen’s Speech passed, another election will be held.

  1. What is a Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech is essentially the ruling party’s agenda. It is a set of proposed laws the new government hopes to pass. During the state opening of Parliament, the Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords both convene) and, from the House of Lords, delivers a speech written by the party seeking to form a government. She has no political input (though could have some stylistic critiques, since she’s the one who has to say the damn thing). Why does the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, give this speech? Because the powers are actually the Queen’s, even if they are exercised by the Prime Minister and Parliament, so she’s telling the Lords, the Commons, and the country what she is instructing her government to do – even though it’s the government telling the queen what to tell them to do.

The state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is surrounded by a lot of really complicated pomp and circumstance. C-SPAN typically airs it live, and I encourage you all to watch it, because it really is a sight to behold. We have nothing like it in the United States.

  1. Could the Queen step in and stop the nonsense or deny any requests?

No she could not. Okay, technically she could – all these powers are hers in theory – but if she did you can bet that parliament and the people would vote to abolish the monarchy. Her Majesty is actually quite committed to democracy and the constitution, so the thought of intervening in the business of parliament would appall her.

The best example of this happening is actually not in Britain, but in Australia, where Elizabeth II is also the Queen (represented by a Governor General, since she lives in London and not Canberra). In 1975 the Governor General dismissed the Australian Prime Minister because of political instability in the House of Representatives and Senate (think Commons and Lords in Britain). This was the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history, and Her Majesty refused to be drawn into it.

  1. What are the main belief systems of each party (and dot he ones with similar sounding names have similar beliefs/policies – ie is the UK Conservative Party similar to an American conservative)?

There are two main parties in the UK: the Conservatives (aka the Tories) and Labour. The Conservatives are capitalists, whilst Labour consists of varying shades of socialism (from democratic socialism akin to Bernie Sanders to some out-and-out Trotskyites). In the middle of this is the Liberal Democrats, which formed from the merger the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had broken off from the Labour Party. It is more of a centrist party.

Then you have several smaller parties. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), and the Green Party all have MPs and are all centre-left to varying degrees. If Labour were to form a minority government, they would rely on these three parties.

There are only two parties with seats from Northern Ireland: Sinn Fien and the before-mentioned DUP. Sinn Fien is a left wing Irish nationalist party, mostly identified with Catholics in Northern Ireland. The DUP is a far-right unionist party backed by Northern Irish protestants.

If you want to get into who analogous parties, the Conservatives are probably closer to moderate Democrats than they are Republicans. Labour is probably closer to Bernie Sanders or the US Green Party, though current leader Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of either of these parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably more like Barack Obama, though some Obama advisors have also advised the Conservative Party.

  1. Who believes in LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, racial equality?

    All of the main parties would tell you yes, they support a broadly socially progressive agenda. The Conservatives haven’t always been great on LGBT equality, initially opposing it and passing some of the most homophobic laws in modern British history. However, over the past decade – particularly under the leadership of David Cameron – they became much more progressive, supporting the Labour government’s bringing in civil partnerships in the mid-2000s and later introducing marriage equality under Cameron. However, the majority of Conservative backbenchers (that is, Members of Parliament not in government) voted against equal marriage, so whilst the Conservative-led coalition government introduced the bill, it passed only because of support from the other parties.

    Most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters favour the Labour Party, though there is growing support from BME voters for the Tories. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, was critical of racial profiling in policing, even as her own government was accused of Islamophobia through its anti-terror Prevent programme.

    The fact is that race doesn’t really play as large a role in UK politics as it does in the US, though many BME people think it should. This is down to the relatively recent influx of a significant number of BME people (from the mid-20th century to now) and the entrenched class system. British politics is getting more intersectional, but it has a long way to go.

    None of the main parties oppose abortion access, though Labour would be more likely to relax abortion law than the Tories. Labour has introduced all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, which the Tories haven’t, yet the Tories have produced both female Prime Ministers. On economic issues that effect women, such as childcare and pay equality, the Tories have faced a lot of criticism from feminist activists, but Labour has also been accused of having a sexist culture in its far-left reaches.

    Now let’s talk about the DUP – who register as important since Mrs May is looking to rely on them to govern. They are anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, refuse to meet or work on Sundays, believe in creationism and deny climate change. So it’s kind of like if the state of Alabama became a political party. There are lots of people, including the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (who is an out lesbian), expressing serious reservations about any deal – yet it looks to be the only way Mrs May can hang on.

  2. Does ideology split parties there?

As discussed, the Conservatives are capitalists and the Labour party are socialists. So ideology has a much starker impact on the parties in the UK than it does in the US, where both major parties are capitalist.

  1. This all seems really convoluted. Isn’t our system simpler?

Those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A minority of voters elected Donald Trump because of our Electoral College, which to British voters seems just as maddening as the parliamentary system seems to many Americans. And when you look at how gerrymandered many of our districts are, it becomes difficult to argue that the American system as it currently exists  is more democratic.

  1. What happens next?

Right now no one knows. Theresa May met with her backbenchers earlier today, and she’s still trying to finalise any deal with the DUP. It does look likely that Theresa May will form the next government and continue on with a minority government, but her position looks increasingly untenable. She may well be gone by Christmas, with another top Tory politician taking her place as Prime Minister.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and perhaps I’ll do another blog.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes the blog The Curious American. A contributing editor at The GayUK Magazine, Skylar writes about British and American politics and society for an array of publications, including the Independent and Huff Post UK. He is based in Chicago but makes frequent trips to London, where he hopes to relocate soon.

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Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2014

Top row - UKIP in LGBT, Theresa May, Ferguson Police Bottom row - Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Top row – LGBT in UKIP logo, Theresa May, Ferguson Police
Bottom row – Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Santa’s going to be coming down (but hopefully not in) a million billion chimneys tonight, and whereas last year I was expecting coal in my stocking, this year I’ve been a fucking saint. Seriously, thanks to the FDA’s reuqirements that gay men only be celibate for a year before they donate, I can now give blood. It’s been that kind of year.

Some have been equally as good this year. Some, though, have been very, very naughty. And with that, I give you my annual naughty and nice list!

naughty

3. LGBT in UKIP

Where the fuck do I even begin? Well, there’s their Aunt Mary MEP who is against equal marriage. Or the time UKIP Leader Nigel Farage referred to him as a “great big screaming poof” when using him as an example of how they’re not homophobic. Oh, and the branch chair who said gay adoption was tantamount to “child abuse.” And the list of homophobic UKIP comments just goes on and on.

That UKIP doesn’t like LGBT people is not news. But the fact that LGBT in UKIP, the LGBT pressure group within the party, exists, is. And the fact that they’ve continued to support the party despite its large opposition to LGBT equality and offensive rhetoric is deeply troublesome. To their credit, they stood up to UKIP HQ when Kerry Smith referred to LGBT people as “poofters,” though he was speaking specifically of LGBT in UKIP at the time, so that may have been more a personal than principled reaction.

UKIP stands a good chance of entering Westminster en masse at the General Election, and it’s entirely possible they could hold the balance of power in a potential hung parliament. That LGBT people are backing an anti-LGBT party which could determine the future of Britain is not only mystifying, it’s infuriating.

2. Theresa May

Theresa May hates me. As a gay foreigner, she’s made that abundantly clear in 2014. Only this month, a lesbian refugee from Uganda was nearly deported, despite fears for her life; she received a last minute reprieve, but the allegations that the Home Office ignored evidence and medical experts is concerning. When considered along the myriad of other cases involving LGBT asylum seekers, it’s evidence of a systemic problem within the Home Office. In October, the Guardian reported that “more than a tenth of Home Office interviews of gay and lesbian asylum seekers include ‘intrusive or or unsatisfactory’ questions about their sex lives.” This came in a report by Chief Inspector John Vine, who found some of the questions so graphic even I blushed.

This comes in a year where May has taken a hardline stance on migrants, refugees, and even students. Most recently, she has backed tightening restrictions on foreign students in the UK, requiring them to leave the country and apply for a work visa, as opposed to the four months foreign graduates currently have to find a job and switch from a student visa to a work visa. You can study at our universities, May is essentially saying, but you can’t contribute to our society.

The increasingly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants coming from the Home Office is concerning, and it seems unlikely to temper as we approach the General Election, which means it’s a shitty time to be a gay person, a foreigner, or a current or future international student. As someone who ticks all three boxes, this is some bullshit.

1. The American Police

Tanesha Anderson. John Crawford. Michelle Cusseaux. Tamir Rice. Yvette Smith. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

These are but a handful of the unarmed Black people to be killed by American police this year. We need to have a national conversation about institutional racism within the ranks of the American police forces, and we need to have it now. We need to talk openly about white privilege and white supremacy, and how Black bodies are inherently viewed as criminal through white eyes. We, as white America, need to look in the mirror and see the ugliness of our own racism.White supremacy and structural racism are problems as old as America itself. Older, even, when you consider the transatlantic slave trade began more than two centuries before slaveowning Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. These are not problems America has solved, because they’re the problems America was built upon. Racism is not just a founding principle of America, but the foundation of American society. It is handed down, generation to generation, an inherent trait in the American bloodstream. This country was stolen from the Native Americans and built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Yet white America denies it, denies it, denies it.

This year was no different, except we were forced to confront it. The institutional racism inherent in police forces—which are, in the end, agents of the state—was finally exposed. White America, and the police in particular, were quick to bury their heads in the sand as they continued blowing the heads off Black men and women. Instead of grappling with the realities of institutional racism (which, by the way, doesn’t mean all cops are racist), cops like New York City’s Patrick J Lynch, who heads that city’s police union, has been quick to cast blame—on Garner, on the mayor, on activists, basically on anyone but the police.

We have to attack institutional racism in this country, and police forces are as fine a place as any to start. Until we do, we will never truly get to an equal society.

Dishonourable mentions: The NFL, Russell Brand, Boris Johnson

nice

3. Michael Sam

Michael Sam shocked the world when, as an All-American football player who was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, he came out. Sam went on to make history, becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. Things didn’t go so well from there; Sam was cut from the Saint Louis Rams and, later, the Dallas Cowboys. His future in the NFL remains to be seen, and what role homophobia played in slashing his prospects, first in the draft and now in the league, is hotly debated.

All of this matters. But none of it matters as much as Michael Sam matters, simply for existing. By coming out in the macho, misogynistic world of the NFL, Michael Sam provided hope and inspiration to countless young gay boys throughout America, and even abroad, who were struggling to reconcile their masculinity and sexuality. He became a role model over night, and blazed a trail which future openly gay athletes will follow. He also opened up a conversation on institutional homophobia within sport, one of which gay, lesbian, and bisexual athletes will benefit from in the years to come.

2. Vicky Beeching

Like Michael Sam, Vicky Beeching blazed a trail for LGB people this year. Long a public ally of LGBT* people of faith, Beeching sent shockwaves throughout Christian media when she came out in August. In the subsequent weeks, she has shown herself a tireless and effective advocate against the institutional homophobia of the Church, as her Channel 4 debate with the homophobic preacher Scott Lively shows. She has also been pivotal in reframing the conversation about the role of LGBT* people in Christianity, all the while teaching a more inclusive interpretation of the scripture.

In a year where the religious right redoubled its efforts to combat equality, in which LGBT* Christians fought to reclaim our own narratives, Beeching’s brave stand, and her subsequent tenacity, have been invaluable. She has shown what it means to live faithfully as an openly gay person, and she has opened a dialogue between LGBT* Christians and our sisters and brothers in Christ who wrongly condemn us. She is interested not just in advancing the cause of LGBT* people, but building bridges and mending fences, tasks for which she is uniquely qualified. Her importance will only grow in 2015, and I look forward to it, as she continues to offer fellowship to both those margianalised by the Church, and those responsible for it.

1. Laverne Cox

The Transgender Tipping Point.” That’s how Time described it when Laverne Cox, the Emmy-nominated star of Orange is the New Black, made history as the first openly transgender person on that esteemed magazine’s cover. 2014 has been the year of Laverne, culminating most recently when she became the voice of reason—by which I mean, intersectional feminism—in a debate on racism on The View. Laverne has consistently raised the concerns of trans* people of colour to the mainstream in a way that few, if any, others have.

She is, in many ways, a transformative figure, as Time pointed out. But she also seems so remarkably down-to-earth, the woman next door who says hi every day, and maybe pops over for a glass of wine and a Scandal binge. Laverne’s politics are on point, but its her personality—her wit and her warmth—which has endeared her to the American public.

2014 was big for Laverne, and 2015 looks to be even bigger, with a starring role in the film Grandma. As her star continues to rise, I look forward to seeing more of her talent, and hearing more of her succinct, biting cultural analysis.

Honourable mentions: Anitia Sarkeesian, the Ferguson Protestors, Owen Jones

I think we can all agree it’s been a shit year. But through it all, you lot have stuck by my side. For that, I am entirely grateful. I want to take this opportunity to thank a few of you in particular: Sara, Kellee, Vanessa, Michelle, Kayla, Jenna, Elizabeth, Nick, Robyn, Peter, Lily Jayne, Alex, Nathan, Wes, Derrick, Parker, Michelle, Sarah, Kat, Bryan, Kevin, and as always, Mamaw and Papaw. I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. Your friendship and support has been most humbling.

Now Happy Christmas you lot!!!!!