London Elects a New Mayor: 2016

For those who don’t know, the City of London was a city built on many rivers and waterways. In point of fact over 21 rivers and tributaries flow in and around what is now the main metropolis of the United Kingdom. They have colourful names like:  The Crane, The Darent, The Mutton Brook, the Pool River, The Ching, The Moselle, The Quaggy, The Silk Stream, The Westbourne, The Wallbrook, The Fleet and The River Thames.

Where most of these rivers have passed into obscurity over the centuries, the River Thames has become London’s river, providing a vital industrial and economic centre while proving to be the original arbiter of London’s success as a capital over the last 2000 years.

As the city has evolved into today’s vibrant capital, the role of the Thames has diminished with the cities status as a financial centre ever increasingly important in determining its success. A prosperous city of London means a prosperous country as a whole.

In that prosperity, the political and economic need has arisen to have a Mayor, who is in tune with the people and businesses of the UK’s biggest city. The office of mayor has become as integral to the long-term future of the city as the River Thames once was before.  The Mayor is now an international figure, lobbying for the interests of London abroad and likewise safeguarding the interests of London in dealings with the government of Westminster. He and his colleagues in the London assembly play a vital role in local government in the city, administering transport, the police and overarching authority on the greater London councils.

Two men have fulfilled this obligation since the office was set up in 2000; Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Now the time has come again to elect a new Mayor and in a few days 5.5 million Londoners will cast their votes.

There are 12 candidates currently seeking your vote from many different political parties, campaigning on a variety of diverse political issues and platforms from Women’s rights to the legalization of Cannabis and we are now in the final flurries of the election.  While many make convincing arguments on the rightness of their policies in comparison to their opponents, who realistically has the chance of winning?

While it may be somewhat romantic to think of a great underdog candidate becoming the next Mayor, it is highly unlikely that this will occur. What is more likely is a straight fight between the Labour Candidate Sadiq Khan and the Conservative Candidate Zac Goldsmith. As the two leading candidates they command both the biggest election budget and the biggest media coverage.

The coverage given to the candidates is ultimately the battleground on which this election has been fought and it has become a decidedly underhanded and dirty campaign.

Sadiq Khan has repeatedly been accused of having extremist sympathies by both Zac Goldsmith and those media outlets aligned to the Conservative party. As Mr Khan’s opinion polls have continued to rise, these attacks have become accusations of racism and Anti-Semitism. The racism opinions and media spin that have dogged Mr Khan’s campaign have spread to engulf the entire Labour party in anti-Semitism overtures. Other individuals within the labour party, chiefly the former mayor Ken Livingstone and the MP Naz Shah, have been forced to resign or have been suspended as the racism witch hunt continues. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the labour party has attempted to mitigate the reputational damage by calling for an internal review of the parties’ codes and standards with regards to both racism and Anti-Semitism.

Despite the witch hunt engulfing his party and the allegations surrounding his own views, Sadiq Khan has managed to maintain his popularity amongst the voters of London. Mr Khan, being a practicing Muslim and the son of a London Bus driver embodies the very spirit of the new multi-cultural London. Indeed the doggedness of the slur campaign against him may have made him more popular than he otherwise would have been, encouraging a strong sympathy vote from the electorate. Although he and his wife Saadiya enjoy a more upper class status than the average voter in so much that she is a high-profile lawyer and he the Shadow Minister for London they can easily be perceived as being of the people (coming from humble beginnings and working their way up).

Zac Goldsmith, however cannot make this same claim. As the son of the billionaire financier and businessman Sir James Goldsmith, he has enjoyed a wealthy and upper class upbringing along with his two siblings, Benjamin and Jemima. Indeed his political career has to some degree mirrored this wealth and access to opportunities as he was placed at the top of the Conservative A-list in 2006 and subsequently won election to the safe seat of Richmond Park. Safe within what could be described as a very affluent Conservative area, he successfully increased his majority in the 2015 general election.

In announcing his standing for Mayor in September 2015, it could be suggested that he has overreached himself too soon and that a more seasoned political operator would prove more successful in this contest. A candidate with a more proven track record might have been more appealing to the electorate as a whole, but since none could be found the party has been forced to utilise a largely unproven politician.

And so, this assertion has proven to be accurate as Mr Goldsmith has led a campaign that has not captured the public imagination. It would take a special candidate to unlock what has traditionally been Labour’s city, Boris achieved it with sheer force of personality but Zac Goldsmith seemingly does not possess this magnetism.

Both candidates have run on very different platforms, Mr Goldsmith on one hand choosing to favour green policies designed to improve London’s environmental status and Mr Khan on the other seeking to improve the lives of everyday Londoners by a variety of transport, financial and housing concessions.

A London minus a Conservative Mayor would potentially be a significant impediment to the government who have enjoyed four years of relatively unscathed dealings with their man Boris Johnson. It is a period that could potentially come to an end if Mr Khan wins on Thursday and the Conservative party establishment have recognised this late in the campaign as Mr Goldsmith has floundered.

It is this realisation that has triggered the Conservative PR and spin machine to play the only card at their disposal: the Race card and the signal for muck raking of all sorts has commenced. Stories have been leaked, members past histories and affiliations have been examined meticulously and as a result we have been subjected to a very divisive final few weeks of the campaign.

Goldsmith, claiming that he is not the originator of these smears has been keen to benefit from them using his public appearances to appeal to those minority groups which may have been slighted by the allegations made. It is a risky strategy which doesn’t seem to be getting him the votes required to make this a closer contest and in point of fact this strategy could be considered to be backfiring on him. In any event is it a case of too much, too little, too late?

The temptation is not to mention the other candidates entirely but as open minded observers we would be unwise not to consider them.  None of them has greatly distinguished themselves, with the possible exception of Sian Berry, whose party political broadcast was frankly hilarious to watch. While there is no realistic chance of a winner from one of these parties, their chances of having members elected to the London assembly are significantly higher.

So now here we sit twenty-four hours away from Election Day, with a field of candidates that could be called the bottom of the barrel and no stand out winner. Mr Khan seems the most likely to triumph, according to most of the opinion polls and commentators, but I would suggest that we may see a slightly closer contest than is being suggested by the media.

In any event Londoners are faced with the choice and by Friday morning our capital city will have a new Mayor. A new man or woman will occupy the highest office in London local government, they will face new challenges both internal and external, they may ultimately prove to be ineffectual or they may rise to become the new arbiter of London’s success in the same way as the River Thames was the original.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

1st July 2016- Brave New World or Apocalypse Now?

It is the 1st July 2016, the political maneuvering,  celebrity endorsements, speech making and campaigning are over and the fate of the UK in the European Union has been settled.  Amidst the mass of column inches, the “we were right” statements and hurried speculation about the future, what changes can the voters of this country expect, regardless of the result?

The days in the lead up to the referendum will be so frenzied that many of the UK’s voters and political commentators will be saturated and likely sick of the process that many will shut down completely in the post referendum haze.

The EU referendum is the most profound political change to affect the UK in the last quarter century, that much is undeniable but will the common voter care after the vote has been decided?

The popular perception is that a vote to remain in the EU means that nothing will change, that the status quo will continue and things will remain as they are.  This will in all likelihood not be the case, as fallout from the vote sets in. Regardless of the result, changes will occur, many will be subtle but many more will be shattering to the existing political, social and economical structures that exist in this country at present.

The first casualties will undoubtedly be the “Brexiteers” .i.e. those MP’s who elected to join the Brexit campaign since its inception. Cabinet ministers should remain largely unaffected, with the exception of Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary who will probably end up being reshuffled out of the cabinet after the referendum result.  In some senses, he will get off lightly as rebels like Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith who so publicly opposed the Prime Minister in the campaign will face pressure to resign their seats in favour of Cameronites.

The strongest proponent of the remain campaign, the Prime Minister will enjoy an upsurge in popularity amongst the voters and will look to solidify his power base as he moves forward into the final years of his term.

In staying out of the referendum spotlight, the Labour party has ensured that it will remain largely unaffected by either a remain or exit result. In a classic case of political opportunism, Jeremy Corbyn has been keen for the party to remain unified in its desire to remain in the EU. They can afford to let the Conservative party carry all of the debating and infighting, then claim that they are above such petty conflict.

Emboldened by the vote of confidence, the Prime Minister can use the good feeling to hold renewed discussions with the other leaders of the European Union about the UK’s place within it. However in winning the referendum vote, the Prime Minister must check his ego at the door and will most likely claim that he has been given a strong mandate for reforming the EU by the voters.  Whether the leaders of the EU will be keen to have these sorts of discussions with him are anyone’s guess.

Economic uncertainty is almost a given in the aftermath of the EU referendum, as many investors will look to second guess the financial markets both before and after the vote has been cast.  Such a period of uncertainty could be highly detrimental to the UK economy, given its fragile status.  We will not see a panic in the same vein of the 2008-9 financial crash but can expect a drop in the value of investments at all levels of the financial services market.

Foreign investors could on the other hand be keen to put their money into the economy, taking advantage of a foreseeable period of economic uncertainty to make a fast buck.  Legislation may need to be enacted by the UK government to forestall this sort of fire sale in the UK.

An EU keen to reform its financial instruments may look to lessen current financial constraints as a sort of placation of the UK after a positive referendum result. Then again, the EU could look to punish the UK for its attempts to leave “the EU club”.

The area which will be the least affected, at least in the immediate aftermath of the vote would be the UK’s current sociological landscape. Economic migration and immigration will continue in the way that it always has, but the UK will be subject to larger sociological strain as both membership of the EU expands and the tide of immigration continues.  Remaining in the EU will not change the day to day sociological structures; people will still pay tax, attend hospitals and pay benefits.

Current commitments to EU legislation will continue, with the possibility of increased legislation in the weeks and months following the vote.

And now to the other side of the coin, what would happen if the vote endorsed the Brexit?

Would the vote to leave signal the swift exit of the Prime Minister? There is always a possibility that this will happen. Losing such a high profile vote would harm his credibility as both a world leader and leader of the Conservative party. Since Cameron has already said that this term will be his last as Prime Minister, the best option for the victorious Brexiters would be to keep him in power and consolidate their powerbase to take over once the term is over. Choosing this course would give the illusion of a strong and unified party to the general public and could fend off a renewed assault from the Labour party.

While the Prime Minister could remain a paper tiger for the rest of his premiership, other prominent remain politicians would fall into the sights of the Brexiters, chief among them being George Osborne.  Consolidation of power base and its eventual use could easily force the Chancellor out of his position and stop him from making any succession overtures when Cameron’s term ends.

The bombshell of a British exit from the European Union would ripple through Europe. Borders which remained open under the old way would be closed, legislation which affected Britain and British interests would become null and void and many Euro politicians would be out of a job.

The status of those individuals from the EU who live and work in this country as part of the free movement of workers and individuals would need to be quantified. Would they now be effectively deported? Or would a general amnesty on those already here and working here be agreed?

Radical changes to the current working visa system would not in all likelihood occur, but significantly more checks would be conducted with greater emphasis on excluding those individuals who were not here to work, or key workers. An Australian style points system would be favorable in this instance.  Asylum seekers and those fleeing war (like those in Syria) would still be welcome in this country, but benefit tourists would find it far harder to enter the UK.

The question of whether the UK would still allow the resettlement of Syrian migrants leads us to a larger question: Would the international status of the UK change if it were independent from the EU?

The simple answer is No. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and enjoys a prominent political and economic status within the international community. Changes made would be only evolutionary as the UK embraces its new status as independent from the EU.

Media speculation makes wild claims that the cost of holidays and travel within the EU would increase dramatically as a result of Brexit, but many of the countries of the EU rely on the income of British tourists so it is not in their final interests for these costs to increase.

As stated previously either referendum result would most likely cause a dip in the financial markets. The idea that many prominent financial institutions would up sticks; move to the continent in the event of a Brexit is pure media speculation and is ultimately not cost effective.  Large multi-nationals have a vested interest in trading in UK financial markets and have been aware of the referendum for some time now; it is naive to think that they haven’t made financial plans to remain in this market. Firms cannot afford to ignore the UK because as mentioned it’s the fifth largest economy in the world.

Signing up to the Single Market formed the basis of the last referendum on the EU and it is this battleground where the UK must make its presence felt.  Trade deficits and agreements need to be maintained and the UK will need to renegotiate entry into the Single market as an independent nation rather than a member of the EU. Other countries within Europe but independent of the EU have such agreements but they are far smaller economies but the UK would be a different kettle of fish. An agreement is vital and must be reached quickly, whether this comes at a cost of further concessions is a problem for the politicians to solve.

So, this brings us back to our initial question: Will the 1st July 2016 inaugurate the start of a brave new world or an apocalypse now?

Speculation can be made that either event will occur because we are in uncharted territory.  Will either result be in the best interests of the UK? We can say with some degree of surety that it will: Britain is a unique country in the world with a proud history and a place at the top tables of the world as a world leader.  This tradition will continue because the people of this nation will make it so.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Resignation of Iain Duncan Smith: A second Conservative civil war?

The year is 1990, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is in retreat around the globe, Apartheid is crumbling in South Africa and the Gulf war begins. In the UK a dominant Margaret Thatcher survives a leadership challenge from inside the Conservative Party by a huge margin.  Despite the poll tax riots and low approval ratings Thatcher remains confident in her leadership of the country and her party.

Beneath the surface however, it is a Conservative party filled with deep unrest, be it from grassroots party members through to cabinet colleagues.  Senior members were unhappy with her support for the poll tax and had big differences of opinion on the UK’s place in the European community.

One such figure was Geoffrey Howe the Deputy Prime Minister, who was the last surviving member of the 1979 cabinet.  Howe was unhappy with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to agree a timetable for the UK to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.  On the 1st November 1990, Mr Howe resigned from the Conservative party and his position as Deputy Prime Minister.

This one event triggered a cataclysm of acrimonious resignations, party in fighting and a leadership challenge that would result in Mrs Thatcher would be ousted from the Conservative party.  Bringing to an end an 11 year tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Flash forward to early 2016: A dominant Conservative party has won a huge majority at the General Election sweeping aside all opposition.  David Cameron negotiates a new agreement with the EU which he deems to be the best deal for Britain and calls for a referendum in which the British People will confirm that belief.  His chancellor George Osborne delivers an early budget including a reform of pension tax relief and ending in a number of cuts to disability benefits.

Like the Thatcher government, the Conservative party of 2016 is deeply divided over Europe and Britain’s place in it, there is also concern that the policy of austerity is failing to address overriding economic issues. Factional lines have been drawn within the party and where there was once unity there is now discord and open opposition.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Minister, resigns in disgust at the watering down of proposed disability cuts and the compromises made.  His assertion being that the withdrawals and compromises are obviously an attempt to appease middle to high income voters who traditionally vote conservative and to keep them on side ahead of the EU referendum.

It is an assertion that is backed by many colleagues within the party, but rejected by even more.  Impartial observers cannot hearken back to the Thatcher government and wonder, will history repeat itself? Will the Conservative party implode as it did before?

The old saying “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has never been more right. David Cameron, aware of the damage one resignation can do and the tenuous nature of the situation has been keen to smooth things over with those individuals who question both the budget and the Conservative parties’ role in Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation.

Whether the Conservative party slides into civil war and leadership contests will be determined by what David Cameron and his colleagues do next. Civil War in the party benefits nobody. The only winners from such a dangerous course may well be the Labour party, still licking its wounds from its worst election performance for a decade.

If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I’d be praying for more of the same resignations and infighting from the Conservatives. Only that could get me into power.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.