Great Britain, inventor of the railway and home country to Sir Isambard Brunel, is once again taking its time on a proposed high-speed rail network, known as HS2 that is meant to connect London with the north of England.
Currently, Britain has one such high-speed rail line, known unsurprisingly as High Speed 1, and it connects St Pancras International in London with the Channel tunnel. It was the first new mainline railway to be built in the United Kingdom for a century and, as an added bonus, it was finished on time, on budget and is surpassing its original forecasts for growth.
As Britain’s coalition government nears the end of its second year in power, energy policy seems to cast a shadow over it. From the news that Hitachi has brought the rights of E-on and RWE for £700 million to build the country a new generation of nuclear power plants to shale gas exploration and reports that the coalition is “at war” over wind farms after the Conservative energy minister John Hayes stated that he had “had enough of turbines peppered across the country.”
Several studies have recently shown that between the 2020s and the 2050s, depending on policy, the United Kingdom could solve its balance of trade deficit and become a new energy exporter, something not seen in nearly ten years. The Offshore Valuation suggests that using just a third of Britain’s wave, wind and tidal resources could unlock the electricity equivalent of one billion barrels of oil per year, matching North Sea oil and gas production, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.1 billion tonnes and create up to 145,000 new jobs.
The political talk in the United Kingdom for many months now has had the specter of British relations with Europe haunting it.
It has either been the topic of argument and debate or just been watching quietly and waiting to pounce.
This week, a significant step in the debate was taken. A private member’s bill tabled by Douglas Carswell, the Conservative lawmaker for Clacton, Essex, would, if passed, have repealed the 1972 act that made Britain a member of the European Economic Community.
Add this to the fact that last year, 81 members of Parliament rebelled against party policy to vote in favor of a referendum on European Union membership; the fact that the United Kingdom Independence Party is polling 1 percent higher than the Liberal Democrats; the fact that on the e-petitions website, when searching “EU referendum leave” as keywords, it brings up thousands of petitions; and William Hague’s ominous warning in Berlin last week that Britons’ disillusionment with the European Union is “the deepest it has ever been” and one can see that maybe the comments about British attitudes to Europe hardening are right. Read more “Possible British Europe Exit Divides Country, Europe”
In the aftermath of what can be said to have been a resounding success for the city of London, hosting the Olympic Games for a third time, there has been rampant speculation that Mayor Boris Johnson may seek the Conservative Party leadership and, with it, the premiership.
Johnson’s rise in the party coincides with the resurgence of the Tory right. Boris is liked by this segment of the party for his stance on cutting the top income tax rate to 40 percent, his support for state grammar schools and his repeated calls that Britain ought to seriously rethinking its relationship with the European Union. Read more “London Mayor Rises as Rival to Britain’s Cameron”
Since the announcement that a referendum on the future of Scotland will be held at some point in 2014 — also the centenary of the beginning of World War I, a ploy to remind the nation of what a United Kingdom can achieve? — there has been much discussion about whether the region’s secession would leave the Conservative Party with a permanent majority in Parliament.
Scottish independence seems a win-win for Conservatives. If a majority of Scots votes against secession, the union is saved. If Scots vote in favor, the Tories win a huge advantage over Labour. While Ed Miliband’s party would be stripped of 41 seats in Parliament, David Cameron’s would lose just one. Read more “Independent Scotland Would Give Conservatives Majority”
The economic proposals which the British government announced in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday have been largely overshadowed by talk of reforming the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament.
The coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats intends to trim down the size of the Lords to three hundred. Of these, 80 percent would be elected according to a proportional voting system.
Although there was crossparty support for House of Lords reform in the 2010 general election campaign, it appears that this may no longer be the case. Some see it as the straw that could break the camel’s back for the coalition.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was mocked in Parliament by Conservatives, backbenchers of his own party and Labour members as he delivered a speech on the proposed reforms. Labour and Liberal Democratic parliamentarians believe that Clegg should have stuck to his guns and demanded a wholly elected second chamber instead of compromising with the Conservatives.
At a recent meeting of the Conservative 1922 Committee, many normally loyal backbenchers also voiced their disagreement with the proposals. Gavin Barwell, a Conservative member for Croydon Central in south London, said that a backbench revolt “will be off the scale” and it will make last year’s revolt over the European Union “look like a tea party.”
Both Baroness Warsi, Conservative Party co-chair, and Phillip Hammond, the defense secretary, have added to the tension in recent days with the baroness arguing that the Lords “should not be the government focus” and Hammond saying, “the reforms should not be a central issue.”
These quotes can add more tension to the coalition and will have been received badly by Liberal Democrats as the reform of the House of Lords is their only remaining “flagship policy” since the referendum on the alternative vote in May 2011 failed to deliver a majority for electoral reform.
So could these remarks, the fact that Labour is planning to oppose the bill in the Commons and the fact that the Lords are planning to oppose it, mean that not only the reforms will not pass but in the process could lead to the beginning of the end for the coalition?
Looking back to history, the Liberals in 1911 only managed to take away the Lords’ power to veto legislation. In 1917, they recommended reforms were never enacted after the Lords rejected them multiple times and finally, Tony Blair and New Labour in their election manifesto for 1997 stated that they intended to reform the Lords to an elected second chamber however by 1999, they had not even manged to remove all the hereditary peers.
With even more opposition than Labour faced brewing, not to mention the fact that many senior legislators see the lords as a way to supplement their pension, it is doubtful that the reforms will be passed by the end of this parliament. Britain could end up waiting another hundred years before the composition and powers of the House of Lords is reformed in a meaningful way.
Could 2012 be the year that the United Kingdom Independence Party breaks into the British political system as more than a Euroskeptic platform? The scenario looks more likely after last week’s local elections. Nigel Farage’s party averaged 13 percent of the vote.
In the last month, according to a YouGov poll, UKIP was the third most popular party in the United Kingdom. They have doubled their support since last year and surpassed the Liberal Democrats, currently in government with the Conservatives, by 1 percentage point. Read more “UK Independence Party Appeals to Right-Wing Voters”