Now is the Time to Empower Local Government

2016 has seen a paradigm shift in our political system. The Brexit vote will lead to significant areas of legislative control being returned to the Westminster Parliament; while the proposed boundary changes will see the number of MPs in the Commons reduced by 50, to 600. With these two events in particular in mind, is it time to implement a new democratic deal for the UK, with a further devolution of powers to local governments across Britain and Northern Ireland?

One of the main problems suffered by local politics – and the reason why its elections have consistently low turnout – is that councils are restricted by a lack of control over policy areas which affect their residents. That lack of real, significant influence over a breadth of local policy issues means that voters have a tendency to dismiss the importance of local politics – not without cause, as local government often lacks the capability to deal with their specific issues – and thus engagement with it decreases.

With a plethora of policy areas set to return to Westminster, it is time to have a shake-up of the distribution of power in the UK. Devolution as it exists is patchy and unequal – areas like Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a handful of English cities have been granted significant autonomy and legislative control (and accordingly these areas have seen higher engagement and increased turnout) – while other parts of the country have been left behind and continue to have weak local governments without the capacity to really shape their respective regions.

Local authorities and local councillors are best placed to deal with a whole range of local issues, because they generally have an in-depth knowledge of their area and what it requires. Increasing their legislative powers and introducing new areas of control into their remits will enable both effective local government and more effective policy-making across the country. Bringing power down to a more local level will also grant residents real influence over decision-making, as the people with control over policy will be members of the their community, whom they can contact more easily and efficiently.

Effective utilisation of local government legislators will also enable the UK to continue to improve representation, both inside and outside of the Westminster Parliament. If we are to see a commitment to reduce the number of MPs within Westminster, then empowering local councillors could be a good way to ensure continued representation. An ideal democratic model sees powers wielded as close to the people whom are governed by those powers as is humanly possible – with the changing political landscape in the UK at the moment, now could be an ideal time to return the decisions that affect Southampton, for example, to Southampton.

There are certainly reforms that need to be made to local government infrastructure, but the impetus to make those reforms will be driven by the provision of further powers. By taking advantage of the unique opportunity that 2016 provides us, we can create a system of government where local politics matters again. Empowering local politics is about empowering local people, and ensuring that they have a choice about how their area is governed – let’s empower local people, by having the decisions that affect their local area, made in their local area.

Labour Mourn for a Time When a Bacon Sandwich was Their Biggest Problem

Season two of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ has seen more spin than one of Keith Vaz’s washing machines. After months of infighting and rigorous campaigning, Labour have exactly the same leader as they did at the start of all of this – with the Corbynites holding off the Corbyn-lites to secure Mr Corbyn’s re-election. Owen ‘I never wanted to be Labour leader’ Smith was nominated by moderate Labour MPs, because the only thing he has in common with Corbyn is his electability. An ardent socialist who is passionate and popular with the Labour membership, Jeremy Corbyn is indeed the exact opposite of Mr Smith.

Despite his victory, it has been a woeful few months for the newly re-elected Labour leader, who in a recent YouGov poll about the public’s desired Prime Minister finished narrowly behind a Mr Don’t Know – who is either the leader of the Liberal Democrats, or the person Corbyn’s team claim books all the seats on Virgin trains. The ‘traingate’ incident marked Labour’s lowest point for some time – with the second season of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ succeeding where Ed Miliband failed: making Ed Miliband look electable.

When MPs pushed Corbyn onto the ballot in season one, they did so because they thought he would widen the debate and that he was so unelectable that no one would think he could be a viable party leader – over a year later it appears they were right on both counts. In the intervening period, Corbyn has been busy fulfilling his manifesto goal of returning things to the 80s – including the Prime Minister’s approval rating.

Indeed traingate could well be considered a foreshadowing of the 2020 General Election – Corbynites desperately stumbling around, unable to find a seat – but it also highlighted some of the major problems with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. While his supporters cried that it wasn’t a publicity stunt, and his campaign team ran around using just about every excuse they could think of, it became clear with traingate that Mr Corbyn’s new politics is not actually that different to old politics.

The question really has to be, at what point do Momentum draw the line between ‘principled politician’ and ‘career politician’?

Corbyn is heralded and held aloft by his supporters as an untouchably principled politician offering a different kind of politics. In politics since he was 24, in Parliament since 34, and involved in practically every plot to overthrow a Labour leader since Michael Foot resigned – it is unclear what exactly Corbyn has to do to be labelled as a careerist. Pragmatically u-turning on his principles at the referendum to save his leadership? Still managed to avoid being labelled a careerist; whereas Boris Johnson had only to waver slightly before coming down on one side or the other and was barracked with abuse for ‘playing politics’.

And then performing a painfully obvious publicity stunt to promote his policy of renationalising the railways in order to preserve his leadership. Rather than labelling him as a careerist, Corbynites leapt to his defence – one has to wonder whether they would have been so kind if it had been Owen Smith sat on the floor of that train?

The last year has been a fascinating one for those observing Jeremy Corbyn, as he has pivoted from principled to pragmatic and from a new kind of politics to one increasing like the old variety. At least when Ed Miliband did a publicity stunt, everyone acknowledged it as such – mainly because building a giant stone tablet is pretty hard to disguise – but when Corbyn walks past empty seats to make a publicity video, Corbynites move to dismiss any suggestion it might be a stunt.

In pushing his policies on his Parliamentary Party, Mr Corbyn has demonstrated a leadership style more authoritarian than any of the leaders under whom he served. He has managed to create a situation where the Shadow Cabinet is pretty much empty (although on the evidence of traingate, Corbyn’s campaign team would probably describe their meetings as ‘ram-packed’), and the members are people whose careers we had assumed were finished – even the Shadow Foreign Secretary is a politician sacked from the front bench in 2014 with her career in tatters after a ‘drippingly patronising’ tweet. While Labour’s moderates may now crawl back to Corbyn with the realisation that he isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, the Party is hardly a picture of unity.

It is a new kind of politics, one supposes, because traditional politics is at least competent. A normal person who wants to sit next to their wife on a busy train to Newcastle would take advantage of the ability to reserve two seats on that train – particularly when that person has an entire campaign team to coordinate their travel arrangements. Likewise, most traditional politicians would be able to launch an online policy with some online coverage.

Jeremy Corbyn faced a lot of criticism over traingate, but it is really his own fault. Publicity stunts are part-and-parcel of modern politics – that is not the problem. The problem comes when you tell people you don’t do publicity stunts, and then do a publicity stunt. Corbyn, it turns out, is not the unswervingly honest and principled politician that his supporters thought, he is as much a careerist as Smith and all the others his backers lament.

The re-elected Labour leader has emerged victorious from a campaign in which significant numbers of his supporters were deemed to have differing values to the Labour Party. What this campaign has shown is that Corbyn has a lot of work to do to drag Labour into the mythical promised land of Downing Street. This year’s edition of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ was good viewing for those in other parties – and like every good celebrity TV show it featured a previous winner and a z-lister you’d never heard of before the competition.

Remember when Labour’s biggest problem was that their leader was a geek who couldn’t eat a bacon sandwich? That must seem like a golden time to Labour’s moderates now.

How 2016 Could be Gary Johnson’s Year

His failure to reach the first Presidential debate – polling at an average of around 10% nationally – would seem to have put to rest any chance of Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson, occupying the White House for the next four years. Certainly the chances of the Libertarian ticket reaching the 270 Electoral College votes required to win the election outright are essentially nil, which leaves a few avenues open for Johnson – which may not be as unlikely as they would seem.

Preventing either candidate from reaching 270 seems plausible. If we take state-by-state data from recent polling then Clinton takes a narrow victory overall – but adding in data from recent state-wide polling in Florida which has put Trump ahead of Clinton changes the picture significantly. Based on that data, Clinton would be on 270 and Trump on 268 – meaning that Johnson would only have to win one state (his home state of New Mexico – with its 5 EC votes, and where he recently polled 25% – would suffice) to prevent Clinton or Trump winning outright.

Johnson has been polling well among independents and young voters, with veterans also polling strongly for the Libertarian ticket. He has also, more crucially, reached 25% in New Mexico (5 EC), 23% in Utah (6), and 19% in Alaska (3), Idaho (4), and South Dakota (3). If he can convert his obvious advantages into a ground campaign (and for a party without nationwide campaigning experience, that will be a significant challenge) with the capacity to win over enough voters to have an impact on the election, then the Libertarian nominee might still be in with a shot of the White House come November 8th.

If, continuing the hypothetical model, Johnson were able to win New Mexico, then the period between election day and the convening of the 2016 Electoral College may well be an important one. With Clinton on 265, Trump on 268 and Johnson on 5, the three candidates would require faithless electors to break with their parties to become President. A Trump victory through faithless electors seems unlikely – particularly given the polarising and incendiary nature of the GOP nominee – and likewise the prospect of at least 5 GOP electors switching to Clinton seems equally unlikely. Johnson winning the White House through faithless electors is, to all intents and purposes, impossible because of the sheer volume of votes required.

In that case then – having discounted the prospect of a tie-break being broken by faithless electors – under the US Constitution if a candidate fails to get the 270 votes required then the Presidential Election goes to a vote of the House of Representatives and the Vice Presidential Election goes to the Senate. The Presidential Election is the interesting one for the Libertarians, as Bill Weld is unlikely to beat either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence into the final two for the VP Election.

When the election goes to the House, the Representatives votes in state blocks (with states discounted in the case of a tie) and a minimum of 26 states must back a candidate for them to be elected President, with the three candidates with the highest Electoral College votes being on the ballot paper. While the GOP would be expected to win such a ballot, it would take just a few Never Trump-ers to leave the House in deadlock for a few rounds. In such a situation, a candidate like Johnson might appeal to Democrats and Republicans as a consolidation candidate – when presented with the choice of an experienced, non-partisan (or essentially non-partisan) candidate over the divisive Trump or Clinton, Johnson may be able to secure the support of enough states to win the House, and the Presidency.

The House route represents the best chance Johnson has at the Presidency – as a compromise candidate to balance off the polarising influences of Clinton and Trump. Experienced, competent, honest and refreshing, Gary Johnson needs and will get more exposure to the American public this campaign. He has been backed by a very significant number of media publications – and, Aleppo incident aside, has generally been received very well by the general public. Polling at 10% as a third party with little exposure is no mean feat – if he can get onto the stage for the final two debates and get a solid ground team together, then he may at the very least achieve his main aim: breaking the two party system. Any President elected by the House – Libertarian nominee or otherwise – will fundamentally undermine the Electoral College system and that will give the Libertarian’s a real chance to influence future elections.

Whatever happens, 2016 could be Gary Johnson’s year.

Brexit Means Letting Theresa May get on With it

The impact of uncertainty on an economy has never been more apparent than in the case of the Brexit vote. Nothing has changed since the vote – the UK remains in the European Union, Article 50 has not been activated, and no deal for departure has been agreed – and yet the markets have already been through turbulence. That turbulence is not because of Brexit – it is because of the uncertainty that has been allowed to permeate the markets.

When you have six months of being told that the markets will crash and there will be a recession after a Brexit, then the likelihood is that, in the event of a vote for Brexit, you will assume the markets will crash, and accordingly sell stocks and shares and stockpile resources rather than investing – you would also be much less likely to pile investment and consumer spending into the economy. As a result of that withdrawal of investment, the markets will decline and GDP will be lower than expected – thus compounding the impression that Brexit will lead to market decline and recession, and resulting in a downwards spiral of investment and growth.

That downwards spiral is why stability and certainty are so important. We have seen the markets become significantly less volatile following the conclusion of the Conservative leadership election on July 11th, with the election of Theresa May providing stability and giving confidence to investors and businesses. May’s election in particular was important, with her record in government meaning that she has the experience needed to guide Britain to Brexit, as opposed to the much less experienced Andrea Leadsom.

Equally important to achieving a successful Brexit will be May’s quick dismissal of any suggestion of a snap election. Accusations that the Conservatives do not have a mandate to implement Brexit are unfounded – the manifesto to which the British people gave a mandate in 2015 include a commitment to hold a referendum and ‘honour the result’, meaning that the Conservative Party were explicitly given a mandate to implement either the deal to Remain in the EU or the necessary legislation according to a vote to Leave.

A snap election is not only unnecessary, but would also have the effect of causing political instability at a time when Parliamentarians should be working together to achieve the best deal for Britain in Europe. There might have been a political advantage to calling an election when the Labour Party are in disarray, but Mrs May deserves great credit for not giving in to the temptation to prioritise political advantage over achieving the most stable Brexit possible.

The delay to the activation of Article 50 has caused great consternation amongst many staunch Leave voters, but the logic behind such a delay is sound. If Theresa May can build good relations with the international actors who will be crucial to discussions about post-Brexit Britain, then the government can ensure that there is a clear, concise and coherent plan in place for Brexit negotiations and a clear end goal, before discussions start with the activation of Article 50. Having such a plan in place means that negotiations can be focussed on achieving the best deal for Britain and ensure that no important areas get overlooked – it also means the process from official declaration of our intention to exit to departure from the EU will likely be a lot quicker. Such stability and long term benefits are worth the costs of a short term delay in the activation of Article 50.

Another idea that has been floated – most notably by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron – is to have a second referendum on the terms of any deal on Brexit. While this works conceptually and certainly seems like an idea that provides real power for the people to decide on the terms of Brexit, it is an idea which is inherently flawed in its execution. If, which is not what is being proposed, there were a referendum on the goals of the negotiation, then that might be an idea with a sound basis, unfortunately however, the idea of a second referendum once terms have been agreed is not one with any sound footing at all.

First off, the timeframe such a referendum would require would be prohibitive to constructive negotiations. If we have a referendum at the end of the two year negotiation period, then we will have had to present a deal to the British public around four months before such a referendum, meaning that we lose four months from an already tight window to negotiate a new deal.

Alas that is not the largest problem with Mr Farron’s proposal, the problem more comes from a logical paradox within his assertions. In essence, in order for a deal to have been negotiated on which to hold a second referendum we will have had to trigger Article 50 and thus have begun the inevitable process of departing from the EU. In that circumstance, were Mr Farron’s referendum to return a result of ‘Remain in the European Union’, we would have to reapply for membership of the EU via Article 49 – during which time our Article 50 negotiation window will presumably expire and we will leave the EU without a deal, which would cause further uncertainty and instability.

If we vote to Remain through Article 49, will Farron then demand a referendum on the terms of re-entry? The argument could go on and on. As no such referendum on ‘accept deal or remain on current terms’ is possible, why is Farron continuing to promote uncertainty by pushing for such a referendum?

Stability means that Brexit works, if we all come together and fight for the Brexit deal that works for all of us and provides as much stability as possible, then Theresa May will be right: ‘Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make it work’.

Campus Conservatives Must be Empowered

There is a stigma attached to being a Tory, particularly as a young person, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed by the Party now more than ever. While people vote for our Party, and people agree with our policies, they are afraid to admit it. Even long-time supporters and voters find themselves hesitating before answering the question, ‘Which Party do you support?’. More must be done to combat the stigma.

Students are not as left-wing as people think, it is more that the most vocally political students tend to be the left-wing ones. This perception of students as exclusively left-wing is alarming because of the effect it has on breeding shy conservatism. The impression that all students are left-wing means that young Conservatives have a fear that speaking out and defending right-wing positions will lead to them being ostracised socially and thus get into the habit of hiding their true political beliefs – compounding the stereotype that all students are left-wing.

Staying silent and embracing shy conservatism is certainly the easiest route to take, especially where popularity is concerned, but this is, fundamentally, the problem, and it is a problem that cannot be solved by continuing the well-trodden path outlined above. Accordingly, generations of Conservatives will graduate from university – the time at which they are most able to refine their ideas – accustomed to being cautionary when discussing their politics, and unwilling and unable to defend and campaign for the Conservative Party.

This is a problem that must be addressed at universities urgently, so as to prevent more generations of shy Conservatives.

Conservative Societies (or their equivalents) at University tend to both reinforce and highlight the problem. The only members of such Societies tending to be the active campaigners, and the only activity on offer being active campaigning. This can be alienating in itself, particularly to the shy Tories. Conservative Future and its many branches and affiliates (including university societies) should be doing so much more to engage with our student members on a personal level, however the various recent scandals that led to the demise of that organisation’s national executive mean that it will have to be a grassroots effort in individual societies. Rather than just offering young people campaigning, campaigning and more campaigning, individual university societies and youth groups need to tailor an experience which leaves students with good experiences of the Party, and a route into the more active stuff.

Most students in university societies love campaigning, but then they tend to love elections, and politics. Other, shier, Conservatives are not as keen – particularly at university – and it is these Conservatives that we should be doing more to appeal to. We need more socials, more events, more opportunities for a CV. We need to show aspiring politicians that there is a route into politics. We need to show aspiring campaigners that every individual can make a difference. But most importantly, we need to show the members and supporters of the future that the Party can offer them so much.

If more people are going to stand up and support the Party, then we need to take advantage of the unique opportunity we are presented with. The main opposition parties have never been in a worse position – if we can give more people a reason to stand up and support us, and if we can show them that they are not alone in being a Conservative-backing young person, then we will be able to prevent another generation falling to predominantly shy Conservatism.

The Death of a Despot May Lead to Instability in Central Asia

The death of brutal dictator Islam Karimov was announced on Friday, bringing his 27 year rule of Uzbekistan to an end. The handling of the Uzbek President’s death has been reminiscent of the regime changes of the Soviet Union – a week of speculation followed his admission to hospital last Sunday, with suspicions that his death was kept quiet to allow backroom plotters time to plan his succession. With Karimov failing to specify whom he wished to succeed him, the risk of Uzbekistan’s government descending into infighting is very real – particularly in a country which has never experienced regime change before.

While there is a constitutional requirement for elections to replace the President, Uzbekistan was not renowned for adhering to its constitution during Karimov’s premiership, and there seems to be little reason to assume that a democratic transition into a post-Karimov era is likely. Realistically then, the best that can be hoped for for the people of Uzbekistan and the region in general is a stable transition. However, the lack of a clear and legitimate successor may tempt important government actors from the previous regime to attempt to seize the leadership – Rustam Inoyatov, the country’s powerful intelligence chief, might be tempted by the opportunity, or perhaps thrust one of his key allies into the Presidency. The risk of civil war then, in a country previously considered one of the most stable in Central Asia, is increased significantly by Karimov’s death.

One of the problems with regime changes in long-standing dictatorships – particularly ones which have only ever had one leader – is that the state institutions set up to govern the nation may not be strong enough to survive without the force of personality of the original dictator. Weak state institutions can lead to the sort of widespread instability seen in Iraq in recent years – where poor command structures have led to corruption and the failure of the police and military to deal with smaller threats, which have combined to aid the rise of Daesh.

The country’s new regime will be expected to continue Karimov’s strong secularism, which many in the West credit with expelling the dangers of Islamic terrorism from Uzbekistan, and again the success of this policy will depend on the strength of both the new leader and the underlying state institutions implemented since independence.

The situation surrounding the Uzbek leadership is further complicated by the country’s unique position in Asia. With the largest population of any of the five former republics of the Soviet Union and sitting on the border with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has been an important ally for both the United States and Russia, particularly in the fight against organisations like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – although relations with the US are not as close as they once were. The presence of a senior Russian delegation at the funeral of Karimov suggests that Moscow view this opportunity as a chance for closer relations with Tashkent, but there are parallels between Uzbekistan and Ukraine that cannot be ignored – and accordingly this regime change could result in further instability in Uzbekistan, and in Central Asia as a whole.

Uzbekistan’s Crimea is a region called Karakalpakstan. There is a constitutional allowance for a referendum on secession for Karakalpakstan, but as yet no referendum has been held, in spite of the separatist ambitions of many actors in the region. Parallels between the region and Crimea are easy to draw – and the question of Karakalpakstan will be one that may have to be answered by the new government fairly early on in its tenure. Independence for the region, perhaps backed by Russia if the new regime weakens ties with Putin, would cause serious instability in Central Asia and would be a major blow to Uzbekistan, in particular because the north-western region contains many important resources.

While the West and many in Uzbekistan will be glad of regime change, the chances of a democratic election are low, and regime change is likely to bring about instability in one of Central Asia’s most stable nations, and that could be bad for both Uzbekistan and the entirety of Central Asia in the long term.