The winter of 1978-79 is remembered in Britain as the Winter of Discontent. There were mass strikes and inflation spiraled out of control. The situation led to the election of Margaret Thatcher that spring and the rise of neoliberal policies.
Could the summer and autumn of this year one day be remembered in a similar way?
We spoke a lot last night about the parallels between this election and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom in June. Anybody who was watching that night and remembers the “Newcastle vote” as they watched the close races in states like Florida and Michigan may have had an inkling about what the night foretold.
Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, has got the diplomatic niceties out of the way by congratulating Donald Trump on his victory. One can be sure that the possibility of an Anglo-American trade deal post-Brexit that Trump so wishes will smooth over any misgivings the British government might have about the American president-elect. Read more “British Hope for Trade Deal But Worry About “America First””
Italians may have a unique perspective on the presidential election in the United States. You might say they know what a Donald Trump presidency would be like. They had Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi is and was a successful businessman who used that as the foundation for his political career, leveraging his status as an outsider to win support.
When he first ran for office in the 1990s, Berlusconi was greeted with a fair amount of ridicule and derision. But he launched his conservative party, Forza Italia, when the country was in the middle of its biggest postwar political shakeup, which gave him an opening.
Much has been written in recent days about what the vote to leave the European Union has managed to bring upon the United Kingdom: a rudderless government, a Labour Party in crisis and threats of Scottish independence.
What about the everyday? Obviously the world did not implode on Thursday and life is going on, people commuting to and from work. Yet there is a palpable sense of loss, uncertainty, perhaps even shock — especially among the young.
The outcome of Thursday’s referendum, in which Britain voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the European Union, has thrown not just the country into confusion but the opposition Labour Party as well.
Hours after the results became clear there were calls for Jeremy Corbyn to face a vote of no-confidence.
Soon after, Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, was sacked after telling Corbyn he had lost confidence in his ability to lead the party.
As things stand, another 23 shadow cabinet members and high-ranking officials have resigned, including Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary; Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary; Ian Murray, the shadow secretary for Scotland; Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary; and Charles Falconer, former lord chancellor and shadow justice secretary. Read more “Labour Center Revolts Amid Rumors of Split”
Local elections in the United Kingdom on Thursday provided the biggest litmus test of the parties’ popularity since the 2015 general election.
The results were mixed.
After so many surveys called the last election wrong, pollsters and pundits were more cautious this time around. But two assumptions were nevertheless made: that the English council elections would follow the pattern of punishing the national governing party and that the Scottish National Party would keep its majority north of the border, possibly even wipe out Labour.
Earlier this week, the East Coast rail franchise that links London to Inverness via key cities such as Doncaster, York, Edinburgh and Glasgow was handed back to the private sector. Given the past performance of companies operating the franchise, the handover has not been without controversy.
The first operator, GNER, owned by Sea Containers, paid £1.3 billion to run the franchise for ten years. This was a third higher than rivals FirstGroup, Virgin Rail and a joint venture between Denmark’s DSB Railways and freight operator EWS had offered. It also worked out at significantly more than the £22 million they had been paying in previous years. A year later, the government took away the franchise when GNER faced financial difficulties, including the bankruptcy of its parent company.
Then in 2007, National Express won the contract. They outbid rivals Arriva, First and Virgin Rail and promised to pay a £1.4 billion premium to the Department for Transport over seven years.
But just two years later, National Express announced it was pursuing talks with the government for possible financial assistance in operating the franchise. Little came of the talks and National Express said it would default on the franchise before the end of 2009. Read more “East Coast Rail’s Problematic Return to Market”
In the past, revolt and unrest in Britain were typically sparked by the cost of bread and corn. Today, it is the price of housing.
This month, the average price of a home in London reached £500,000. The average housing price in the whole country is now ten times the average wage. The increase is due more to limits in supply than to a steep rise in demand.
If Britain wants to defuse this time bomb that is anemic to the idea of a “property-owning democracy,” a concerted national effort has to begin immediately. To make up for the housing shortfall, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 homes need to be built every year for at least the next decade.
Those who say that this can’t be done should look to the achievements of Harold Macmillan. Despite the constraints of rationing and postwar austerity, 300,000 homes were build every year while he was housing minister between 1951 and 1954.
How was this done? Well, there was a concerted effort by the national government. Most famously, “new towns” were created, such as Hemel Hempstead and Stevenage, both close to London.
At this year’s Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, there was a whole raft of events all centered on how to try to end the housing crisis. It was generally acknowledged that new garden cities and ecotowns only represent the start of what has to be done. There needs to be more construction on urban brownfield land and the idea of apartment living should be rehabilitated.
Part of the problem lies in the notion that all development is bad development. This is simply not true. It’s only that developments that blend in well with their surroundings tend to go unreported.
The more serious problem is lack of space. In the last eighty years, the average space of a home has shrunk from 153 square meters in the 1920s to 96.8 square meters today. Houses in Britain are now 80 percent smaller on average than those in Germany and 53 percent smaller than those in Denmark. Little wonder that only one in four buyers would choose a home that was built in the last ten years. Simply ramping up production of the sort of homes that are currently being built would appear to be a mistake.
In a country where the phrase “An Englishman’s home is his castle” still holds more than a grain of truth, this is an issue that can not be left to partisan politics or even to the markets, as that is what has brought us to this point. Until there is a significant chance in policy, the dream of owning a property will remain just that for many young Britons — a dream.
The Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham that ended on Wednesday was, in many ways, remarkably similar to Labour’s conference in Manchester a week earlier. Both British party leaders — the Conservative prime minister David Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband — did less to attract the “floating voter” in their speeches and more to shore up and consolidate their traditional party bases.
Hence in Cameron’s speech, there was talk of tax cuts and tougher rhetoric on immigration. While the other week in Manchester, there was talk of “saving” the National Health Service and state intervention in markets that are seen as broken, such as energy and the railways.
The reason for this is that the United Kingdom Independence Party, currently polling at 14 percent, is being taken seriously. The two major parties seem to believe that they can win a majority if their core voters stay with them, no matter which way the “floating voters” go.
Today marks the start of the British Conservative Party’s final conference before the general election in May.
The affair was meant to be a large one this year, with several new policy announcements concerning, among other things, the growing housing crisis for “generation rent” and how the Conservatives will try to counter the “purple peril” that the United Kingdom Independence Party has come to represent.
However, in the final day of the UKIP party conference earlier this week, the Conservatives were once again reduced to turmoil as their second lawmaker in under a month defected to the Euroskeptics.
The party is still reeling from the shock defection of Douglas Carswell, representative for Clacton on Sea. He forced a by-election by resiging his seat, instead of simply transferring to the other party, and, as such, is widely expected to become UKIP’s first member of the House of Commons.
Carswell was joined yesterday by Mark Reckless, representative for Rochester and Strood, who announced upon his defection that part of the problem was with the Conservative Party high command. This second defection has brought renewed unease to the party about who might be next to leave.
All of these has left the Conservative Party Conference a much tenser place than the leadership would have liked. In the coming days, as they make policy announcements and debate various issues, looming most on Conservatives’ minds will not be the coming general election but who of their party members will head over to Nigel Farage next.
David Downing reports from the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, England.