2015 was a great and monumental year for British politics. My top ten biggest stories for the year are as follows:
- The Conservatives winning a majority at the general election. Lynton Crosby did a fantastic job at properly framing the stakes for the British people- that Ed Miliband-led Labour was weak and could be pushed around by the SNP, and that the Lib Dems are pointless. In 2015, Conservatives were freed from the annoyance of their coalition partners the Lib Dems and are once again the natural party of majority government. Now the question becomes, will they take advantage of this?
- Labour’s implosion. Ed Miliband was never a good leader. Ed Balls was cartoonish and his loss to Andrea Jenkyns was just ever so sweet. But what followed after, of career backbencher far-left Jeremy Corbyn becoming party leader was truly stunning. New Labour is officially dead, the un-electable Labour of Michael Foot and Tony Benn is back- symbolised by new IRA-supporting shadow Chancellor John McDonnell quoting Mao in his response to the Autumn Statement. Speaking of a Benn, Hillary Benn’s speech in favour of the Syria intervention from the dispatch box, with Jeremy Corbyn sitting behind him on the front bench pouting, perfectly summed up the shambolic Labour party.
- SNP’s sweep of Scotland. The collapse of Labour was nowhere more apparent than in their former heartland of Scotland. Despite losing the referendum, the SNP came roaring back and won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. Scottish Labour, the Lib Dems, and Conservatives all only have one seat a piece. This is shocking and sad for the union. In Westminster, the SNP has been mischievous and underhanded- an example being their reversing of their long-held policy of not voting on English only matters and blocking loosening of fox hunting rules. At the moment, Nicola Sturgeon’s party seems all but assured to win the Scottish election in 2016.
- The Lib Democrats’ collapse. The Lib Dems started the year with 57 MPs and as coalition partners to the Conservatives in government. Now, they have 8 MPs, tied with the Democratic Unionists for fourth largest party at Westminster. The Conservatives completely wiped them out in their former heartland of Cornwall. For the moment, the fate of the Lib Dems looks bleak- however they do possibly have hope of attracting disaffected moderate Labour members.
- The UKIP bubble burst. UKIP dominated the European election in 2014. They got two Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, to defect. But the realities of the first-past-the-post electoral system buried UKIP at the 2015 general election. Though UKIP won 4 million votes (12.7% of the total) they only won one seat. Their leader, Nigel Farage, lost in his handpicked constituency in South Thanet; and then he broke his promise to resign after losing the seat by returning as party leader 3 days after the election. UKIP was also humiliated by Labour in the Oldham by-election. Being that the Conservatives won the election and passed the EU referendum through parliament one has to ask: what is the point of UKIP?
- The Rise of Euroscepticism ahead of the EU referendum. The Conservative party fulfilled their promise and passed a EU referendum. Now, Cameron is engaged in his “renegotiation” to get a “better deal” for Britain and we should know this deal by February. It is suspected, though not guaranteed, that Cameron will try to spin that whatever tepid concessions he gets from the eurocrats into a reason to vote in favour of remaining in the EU. From many polling indications (admittedly the pollsters had their roughest year since at least 1992) the “Leave” side is now tied or slightly ahead of the “Remain” side; possibly due to the refugee crisis. Though there are a lot of obstacles that may derail the Leave campaign (notably the stupid rivalry between the UKIP backed Leave.EU and the cross-party Vote Leave campaigns), there is a lot of cause for hope. For one, the Leave side already got what they wanted in terms of the framing of the referendum. Purdah was kept, the question will be “Leave or Remain” rather than “In or Out”, and 16 and 17 year olds will not have the vote in the referendum. Further, the majority of Conservative MPs, party members and many of the Tory big beasts are likely to back the Leave Campaign. Prominent Conservatives thought to be leaning Leave include but are not limited to: Theresa May, Home Secretary, Boris Johnson Mayor of London, Iain Duncan Smith Work & Pensions Secretary, Sajid Javid Business Secretary, Priti Patel, employment minister, Theresa Villers, Northern Ireland secretary, Zac Goldsmith 2016 Conservative London mayoral candidate, Michael Gove, justice secretary and Chris Grayling leader of the House of Commons. Leaving the EU is a very distinct possibility.
- The House of Lords defying the constitutional settlement. In probably the most baffling event of 2015, the Labour and Lib Dem peers blocked the tax credit cuts passed three times by the House of Commons. This defied a constitutional settlement of Lords not intervening in financial matters going back not only to 1911, but to the 1600s. Lords reform is coming because this situation of a rebellious Lords is not sustainable.
- George Osborne’s Machiavellianism. Following the looning of Labour in electing Corbyn, George Osborne has been eager to move into the centre-ground to steal Labour voters. In this process he ditched the tax credits cuts passed by Commons that the Lords vetoed and launched additional spending to occupy the centre ground. He has also acted to undermine Boris Johnson to secure himself as the future leader of the party. I wrote in November that this action is ethically wrong for the Conservative party and the legacy of the government- as it appears his drive to balance the budget and to have the country live within its means is being abandoned. (Though he claims because of growth they will still balance the books).
- Defence is once again being taken seriously. Even before the Paris attacks, the Conservative government made the right decision to commit to the NATO spending requirement of 2% of GDP. The UK should be proud of this because she is one of only four countries in NATO to meet this target and she has the third biggest defence budget in the world. After the Paris attacks, the House of Commons made the right decision to bomb Daesh in Syria, in addition to operation already being undertaken in Iraq.
- Conservatives will likely be in government for the foreseeable future. Coming into 2015, many Conservative commentators, such as Tim Montgomerie, hounded David Cameron for not producing a majority in 2010 and being unlikely to win a majority in 2015. Coming into 2016, with Labour gone off the deep end and the minor parties vanquished, Conservatives appear to be in a very strong position to win in 2020 and beyond. I support the Conservatives, and as I wrote for Conservatives for Liberty this year, they have done a lot of wonderful things in government. But the Conservatives must not be complacent or try to be too cute and/or clever in political maneuverings with this new found power. They must push for the Low Tax, Low Welfare, and High Wage society they espouse.
Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. Looking forward to an exciting 2016!