The New Levellers

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Let down, battered and bruised. That seems to be the general feeling amongst swathes of the younger British population when you question the current political climate. One built on fallacies, point scoring and a lack of cooperation. More generally, many people seem to feel alienated and excluded by British politics.

To a large degree, these feelings have been exacerbated, catalysed and felt more deeply in the run up to, and result of, the EU referendum. For many this was a protest vote, many they didn’t vote because they felt a disconnect of mistruths and a lack of belief in the politicians.

Whether you were an “innie” or an “outie” this campain demonstrated the deeper lying issues that run through British politics, particularly for the younger generation – a lack of care, a lack of voice and a lack of representation.

The New Levellers seeks to put an end to all this and offer a voice. A voice of hope, of reason and most importantly of cooperation.

At The New Levellers we believe in solutions, not problems. We want to see an engaged youth which will lead the next generation of this country. The two founders of this project, Nick Treloar and Sam Edgar are recent graduates in politics and international relations from Lancaster university and both 21 years old.

We don’t claim to know everything about politics and have the magic cure, far from it. Neither do we claim to be the next leaders of the country. What we want and we believe in is a fresh start and a renewed voice of passion, strength and togetherness, particularly for the younger generation.

Aims and Projects

This project aims to incentivise and encourage participation. We want as many people as possible to engage with us, write to us or for us, to contact us with their ideas and solutions and together we can come together and begin to change the current landscape.

We also want to harness the potential that is already there. It is no secret that there are thousands of politically active people online, who post and share their thoughts regularly. What we need to do is translate this into articles and action.

In the long run, with enough support we hope to influence government policy and put our voice back on the map. As such, we want to engage will all parties, groups, institutions, no matter the beliefs.

The first stage in our process is to ask as many of you as possible to fill out our questionnaire so that we can begin to build a consensus on feeling. The next step will to be to put the findings into action, developing research and building a voice for the issues that we collectively see as under represented and often neglected.

We hope to see as many faces as possible and are excited for the next generation to come through.

Get involved

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Questionnaire

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What to expect from UK politics in 2016

Flickr/Chris Chabot

It was Harold Wilson who said “a week is a long time in politics”, and especially after the extraordinary events of 2015, including the result of the UK General Election, and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party, any predictions this early into the New Year would appear counter-intuitive.

Nevertheless, this article will provide general observations and analysis of the major forthcoming headline issues and events in 2016 for both the Conservatives and the Labour Party, as well as the potential consequences in the current political climate.

The EU Referendum

In 2016 the political landscape in the UK will almost certainly be dominated by the EU Referendum, which could take place between June and September, following the Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership.

However, whilst David Cameron has secured general concessions from EU leaders, including greater competition and a British opt out from further political integration, the restriction of benefits to EU migrants for 4 years has proved problematic.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande have emphasised their commitment to “the core principles of European integration”, including “the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination between European citizens”.

The actual impact of restricting benefits to EU migrants is unclear, as according to research undertaken by British Future, an independent think tank, “there is little to suggest this would be transformative” on EU migration, particularly when EU migrants come to work in the UK primarily for “jobs and better wages… not state benefits”.

Nevertheless, whilst such a policy might be purely symbolic, the Prime Minister’s failure to secure this specific concession could have repercussions. Indeed, an ICM survey for the Vote Leave campaign, which showed support for a Brexit at 41%, and 42% in favour of remaining in the EU, found support for Brexit would rise if no reforms to freedom of movement rules were secured (45% to 40%).

This risks exposing deep rifts in the Conservative Party, as demonstrated by Bernard Jenkin MP who described the renegotiation as “a sham process”, and Steve Baker MP, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain, who labelled any concession on EU migrant benefits as “a compromise too far”. These sentiments could easily increase amongst Conservative ranks, especially since the Prime Minister granted Cabinet colleagues the right to campaign for Brexit.

Consequently, the result of the EU Referendum is not beyond doubt, (far from it) which makes the next few weeks of David Cameron’s renegotiation all the more critical, for the Conservative Party and the future of the UK.

Labour’s Year of Discontent?

In 2016 the Labour Party potentially faces further rifts, particularly if the party fails to secure respectable results in the May Elections, which include Local Council, Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament Elections and the London Mayoral Election.

Certainly, after a week in which Jeremy Corbyn’s first Shadow Cabinet reshuffle lasted nearly 4 days and 3 Shadow Ministers resigned in protest, the possibility of a leadership challenge following the May Elections increases all the more.

In fact, a source close to Jeremy Corbyn recently revealed it could perhaps be the “beginning of the end” for the Labour leader if the party failed to secure 35% of the vote in these electoral contests.

However, given the Labour leader secured an overwhelming mandate (59.5%) from the party membership only in September, any challenge by Labour MPs must be with a single candidate who can appeal to a broader range of membership and the general public.

Still, the possibility of any leadership challenge is highly dependent upon the results in May and Jeremy Corbyn may still survive unscathed, especially if Labour secures a decisive win in the London Mayoral Election.

In the latest YouGov poll Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayoral candidate, has a lead of 10% over the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith (55% to 45%) which, if maintained up until May, could further secure Jeremy Corbyn’s position.

However, even if Sadiq Khan secures the London Mayoralty, if results from across England, Wales and Scotland fail to reach comparable heights it could reinforce the view that Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is limited beyond London.

If anything, what the May Election results will definitely mean for Jeremy Corbyn is the debate surrounding his electability will no longer be a matter of party opinion, but a matter of electoral evidence.

An Economic Slowdown?

As 2016 begins, the long term stability of the UK’s economy is increasingly uncertain. Recently George Osborne outlined what he described as “a dangerous cocktail of new threats”, including the slow growth in China, the recessions in Brazil and Russia and a substantial fall in oil prices against the backdrop of turbulence in the Middle East.

In his speech to business leaders in Wales the Chancellor stated, “the biggest risk is that people think that it’s job done”, an admission which was surprisingly lacking when George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement in November.

In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor utilised an expected £27 billion windfall (according to OBR figures) to soften the impact of spending cuts across Whitehall, and withdraw from £4.4 billion worth of cuts to working tax credits – this led George Osborne to proclaim there was “a light at the end of the tunnel”.

However, the UK economy still faces a period of increasing uncertainty, particularly as a consequence of the UK’s economic growth primarily being consumer-led, as oppose to export and investment-led.

According to the most recent Bank of England figures, UK consumers borrowed an additional £1.5 billion in November, the biggest monthly increase in unsecured borrowing since before the 2008 financial crash.

Consequently, any interest rate rise would have financial consequences, particularly for mortgage holders, as was recently highlighted by the BBC Economics Editor Kamal Ahmed who reported “concerns in the Treasury”, due to the fact that a significant proportion of mortgage holders have yet to experience an interest rate rise.

However, even if interest rates remain static there is the risk that with “money so cheap, people could be encouraged to overextend themselves because they’re feeling ‘the economy is back on track”.

Nevertheless, from a political perspective, George Osborne’s message of avoiding complacency could be viewed as a clear attempt to re-emphasise key differences in the Conservatives’ and Labour’s economic approach. This further reinforces the Conservatives’ rhetoric of the dangers of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message.

However, whilst this message might cut through to the electorate, if the UK economy begins to show signs of a slowdown George Osborne personally risks degrading his own economic credibility – which could have further implications in any leadership bid for the Conservative Party.

To try and predict the outcomes of the EU Referendum and the May Elections would certainly be counterintuitive, while the long term future of the UK economy is subject to far wider global factors. Nevertheless, even as the New Year begins, these particular headline issues mean UK politics in 2016 could be as just as unpredictable as 2015.

 

An EU Referendum Would Provide Britain With a Political ‘Spring Clean’

Why we should humour UKIP with an in-out Referendum 

Party stances on immigration, and in particular those pertaining to our membership of the European Union, have dominated the run up to the election. Evidenced in the time given to the issue in ITV’s Seven-Way Leaders Debate and the furor surrounding a certain mug (no, not Farage – the Labour one). The British public has never previously been offered the chance to choose whether they want to be members of the EU, but remedying this via an in-out referendum should enable a fairer, more engaged and more representative democracy.

Our voting system is pretty dire. Every 5 years, we are forced to vote in tribes (localised and gerrymandered) and our choices are reduced to manifestos of bundled decisions. To highlight the absurdity of this situation, recently I’ve started to fill out those quizzes which quite handily pigeonhole you into a certain party. Yet my strongly-held belief that the House of Lords should remain an unelected House of experts apparently means my views on democracy bear closest resemblance to UKIP or the BNP, and thus that I am 12.5% horrible human being.

People are incredibly varied creatures and yet in politics the only way to express our views forces us to subscribe to others. This is part of the reason why the current party of protest and outrage, UKIP, is doing so well. It acts as an avenue to demonstrate disillusionment with the political process, which stems from a lack of specific expression. Voting on every issue is not possible given the complexities of governing societies and the nuances of the solutions, but a simple in-out referendum giving the people the power to decide should be devolved. The British people have never previously been able to express their views on the matter and in the democracy that we claim to be they rather deserve to.

The professed nature of UKIP is as a protest party, at least initially, against our membership of the EU. Its popularity seems to have increased since then, based on the personal appeal (however unfathomable that may seem) of Farage, and its professed anti-establishment “un-PC” image. The ITV debate demonstrated exactly how facile Farage’s position is, reducing every issue to immigration. There are far more significant concerns in this country, but UKIP is causing a drift in the political spectrum and its incidental role as a protest vehicle, has had the unfortunate corollary of driving the main political parties to out. Stating we must pay in for 4 years before you are able to take out, as the Tories are now suggesting, is a pretty shit social contract. But there is no conceivable future for UKIP post failed referendum, eliminating this drag to the right and immediately weakening Tory euro-scepticism. There are far more pressing, more interesting and relevant issues to be discussed and as Natalie Bennett argued in the debate on Thursday, these problems are caused by government policy failures  rather than immigration.

The main issue with a referendum is that most parties are afraid of the disastrous situation that would occur if we were to exit Europe. But we’re in another disastrous situation. We rarely get the chance to directly vote on any issues that directly impact us. This, combined with the petty factionalism of party politics and how MPs seem to act more as parliamentarians, rather than actual representatives of the people (see the fascinating but rather petulant attempt to oust John Bercow on the last day of parliament), leads to a culture of political disengagement. Where the number of people who actually exercise their right to vote is ever decreasing, voter was at 65.1% in the 2010 election, this compares rather negatively to a very recent 84.5% turnout.

There were certain ameliorating factors during the Scottish referendum for example, but the opportunity to make an important decision on the future of the nation had a massively galvanizing effect on political engagement. Whilst the duration of this effect remains to be seen, just imagine what it could do to truly enfranchise people in this country. Once politics is brought to the people, there is much more reason for them to be involved. Given the united desire of the real parties, of our institutions and our corporations to keep the United Kingdom in the EU, there is no real way that this referendum can be lost, and I contest that the process would be incredibly worthwhile. The referendum would act like a spring clean for the UK, clearing up some nasty unwanted clutter along the sidelines of our political spectrum, whilst reinvigorating our nation.

By Abhishek Senapati

[Image Credit Giampaolo Squarcina]