What Are Rights, How Well Are They Protected in the UK, and How Will Brexit Affect This Protection?

This question can be broken down into three key components, which will make it easier to answer. One, ‘What Are Rights?’ Two, ‘How Are Rights Protected in the UK?’ and Three ‘How Will Brexit Affect This Protection?’

It seems that ‘What are rights?’ should be a simple answer, but what we see as societal rights and what the law sees as our rights are something that can be quite different.
In terms of the law, our rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998 (or simply, the HRA) which came into force in 2000. The key aim of this was to integrate the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law, which in turn makes it possible for breaches of the ECHR to be dealt with in the UK courts as if it was an issue of UK law. This would be instead of having to visit the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This can be quite commonly confused with the European Court of Justice which is a body of the EU. The ECtHR is maintained by the Council of Europe, which again is separate from the EU and so when Brexit goes through, there aren’t any expected changes to this aspect of UK Courts – although Theresa May has stated she is unhappy with the HRA.

Now the basis of UK Human Rights is established it’s worth looking at who protects these. You could jump the gun and say ‘The Police do that’ – but they aren’t there to protect our rights, but instead to enforce the law (which in turn protects many of our rights indirectly.) The UK Courts system is made up of a range of institutes and at the top of all civil cases is the Supreme Court alongside all criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Supreme Court bases its findings on interpretations of UK law, the enforcement of the HRA, the dealings of conflicts between EU and UK law, and legal precedents. A key requirement for a case arriving at the supreme court is that it should be of key public interest and so this limits the court’s caseload. For most instances a lower court can deal with most issues, it is usually only very specific cases that require the supreme court.
How well rights are protected really comes down to the law enforcement bodies for criminal cases, and for civil cases how easy it is to access the court systems. In general, there are many checks and balances for what is fair and to be applied to someone. One key principle is the Rule of Law which all courts adhere to: No one is to be punished without a fair trial, no is above the law and should be subjected to the same justice, and constitutional issues are resolved from judges’ decisions rather than statute.

The imminent Brexit process will have some effect on the rights of citizens in the UK. Unless Theresa May, or any successor, withdraws the HRA, the ECHR is here to stay as it belongs to another institute than the EU. Because of the removal of the European Court of Justice, they will no longer have jurisdiction and so the Supreme Court will become the highest court, which will enhance the status and authority of the judges. A proportion of the current caseload to the Supreme Court is relating to EU law and as this will no longer have jurisdiction, or precedence due to the withdrawal from the Treaty of Rome, these issues won’t be discussed – although for some time they may still need to deal with conflicts because all EU law becomes UK statute under secondary legislation.

 

Who was the most successful post-war prime minister?

If I were to be cynical, which would come as no surprise, I could say Tony Blair was the most successful war criminal; or Margaret Thatcher was the most successful at selling local authority housing. But, I feel it would be nice to write dichotomously compared to the rest of blog, and say who was the most successful at making the most happy, and uncontroversially doing the best for the country.

I looked at a few surveys surrounding this issue – they’re all from a little while ago, so some of them don’t include Cameron, and all don’t include May. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Prime_Ministers_of_the_United_Kingdom] But three names are always near the top, two of which previously mentioned. Thatcher, Blair & Attlee. No prime minister has made everyone happy, but I think our two earliest prime ministers, Churchill & Attlee stick out to me. The main problem being, Churchill’s first and second ministry were the ones he made the greatest effect – which gives me one left: Clement Attlee.

It is claimed in the 2010 University of Leeds survey, ‘Clement Attlee is highly rated for his post-war leadership and social reforms.’ I even posed the question to an ex-politics A-level friend, and she said ‘Definitely Attlee – social welfare and that [sic].’

Attlee was born into a middle-class family in Putney – Then Surrey, now London. In 1906 he volunteered to help at a working-class boys club in Stepney. Up to this point, his political persuasion was rather conservative, however, he was shocked by poverty in the slums. His view was that private charity would never sufficiently stop this and only direct action and ‘income redistribution’ provided by the state would have any large scale useful response. He was still willing to serve in the First World War, even though he was originally rejected due to his old age of 31. Labour won the 1945 General Election with the theme of ‘Let Us Face the Future’ purporting to rebuild Britain after the Second World War.

Attlee’s government was committed to rebuilding society after the war, and utilising public ownership to abolish the extreme ends of wealth and poverty. This was in vast contrast to the Conservative ideology. He was not too focused on economic policy and allowed the cabinet to handle the issues.

Attlee’s Government formed the NHS, in a fight against the disapproval of the medical establishment. They formed a public funded healthcare system, that was free of charge for all at the point of use – meaning when you need it you don’t pay, rather through taxation. In 1946 National Insurance was introduced. Workers paid a flat rate and in return, they gained a pension, sickness pay, unemployment benefit and funeral fees. Other benefits were introduced and became exempt from tax in 1949. Attlee fundamentally introduced systems that protect us at our lowest points either through health or economically, and both of these systems ring through today.

Housing was also a big deal and instructed county councils to prepare development plans. Councils had to provide emergency and temporary accommodation to those who were found homeless through no fault of their own. Local authorities were empowered to provide people suffering from poor health to subsidised rents. He also introduced many large house-building programmes. Many were left homeless after the war, and this process allowed housing to be affordable in a time of economic instability.

Nationalisation was perhaps his middle name. The bank of England, civil aviation, coal mining, the railways, road haulage , the canals were nationalised by 1947, in 1948 electricity and gas, and then by 1951 the steel industry. At this point, 20% of the British economy was under public ownership. It didn’t increase a greater say for workers, but increased wages, reduced working hours and significant changes to Health & Safety requirements. There weren’t smiles all round during this, as they appeared to be communist views, and with the Cold War brewing, some didn’t appreciate the move.

Attlee made education easier to access, increased the school leaving age and grew the economy by 3% each year. He was focused on forming the United Nations and decolonisation. He also feared the Cold War and worked towards his views of post-war Europe.

He was defeated in 1951, after him and his cabinet started to run out of new ideas, and people wanted something fresh. He received peerage in 1955 and spoke in 1962 against the UK’s application to join the EEC (common market)

Clement Attlee had a difficult job to do: Sweep up post-war Britain. He made some revolutionary changes, some of which are discussed every day in modern politics. The introduction of the NHS, national insurance and a proper welfare system means he cared for everyone, not just those who could fund his government. I think his upbringing and involvement in the war aided this, and it was fairly new to politics at the time, which lead to some disapproval. But in general, I think he did a good job at the impossible task; and has a lasting impact.

 

Winners & Losers of the Autumn 2017 Budget

The Times went to Hammond’s own seat of Runnymede & Weybridge, to ask the people of the high street how they felt about the budget. I summed it up to: It’s ok, but nothing spectacular. Reading this reminded me of iPhone 8 launch: Loads of rumours into the run-up. The liveblogs surrounding the announcements. The presentation is over and everyone feeling a little annoyed as all the rumours were right, and nothing major was new.

Who won?

No one really wins, more who loses the least – but that’s being pessimistic. I suppose, most people’s lives will improve, even if only by a small amount in a minor part of their life.

Millennial

According to the Conservatives giving 1/3 off rail fares for 26-30-year-olds will bridge the gap between their income and whats needed – although I’m sure it’ll be appreciated by some. Students who are on plan 2 of student finance (Post-2012 reform) will have to earn £25,000 before they start to pay back their loan. It appears that the government realise they’ll only get a small proportion of the loans back, so this change only reduces income a small amount for the government, but will be appreciated by many students.

First-Time Buyers

Stamp duty is open to much controversy, and this change seems to be fronting the budget as it’s one of the most major changes. There are changes for first-time buyers: Houses that are valued under £300,000 will not have any stamp duty applied to them, which represents 80% of first-time buyers and houses worth between £300,000 and £500,000 have their stamp duty cut by £5,000. They also plan to expand the highly controversial help-to-buy scheme.

Drinkers

The duty on alcohol hasn’t been touched – I hear a cheer from the commons. The only change is on White Cider, which I can’t imagine there are many people who will refuse to drink white cider due to the change. The chancellor gave in to pressure from the Scotch Whiskey Association to scrap the planned 3.9% duty increase on whiskey.

Maths A-Levels

Finally! Change to the education budget – well, not really. The only change is an increase of £600 per student who studies maths A-level. The government is alarmed at the lacking of young mathematicians, and they hope this will encourage schools to make maths look more attractive – but it comes down to students will-to-do maths, and giving the school money won’t make a pupil suddenly want to change life plans.

Brexiteers

A wholesome £3bn was added to the budget for leaving the EU, which will impress 52% of the voters and dismay the rest. This is in addition to the already existing £700m in the pot – which leads to us asking, who’s losing out to fund this.

Losers

Universal Credit Claimants

A win and a loss: The loss being universal credit hasn’t been scrapped, which hasn’t impressed too many people. The win, from January claimants, will be able to apply for an interest-free payment advance and to receive this within 5 days.

Diesel Drivers

Although the fuel duty on both unleaded and diesel hasn’t been moved, the taxation isn’t too pretty. From April, diesel vehicles who don’t meet the latest clean air standards will have their tax band increased by one. This looks like an attempt to strangle diesel drivers into giving up their cars and move to cleaner cars – either from government peer pressure (unlikely) or from the inability to afford them (likely). (Although that’s an oversimplification, some diesel cars give out much less CO2 than petrol cars – but it’s not the time to debate that.)

Smokers

From the evening of budget day, duty rates increased 2% above inflation and hand-rolling tobacco a further 1% – this is planned to continue until the end of this parliament session.

Education

For education, he mentioned maths and computing and then let everyone else down, including core funding. This didn’t settle well with many unions and teachers alike.

The Growth Forecast

It isn’t always greener on the other side.

2017: 1.5%, down from 2% in Spring

2018: 1.4%, down from 1.6%

2019: 1.3%, down from 1.7%

2020: 1.3%, down from 1.9%

2021: 1.6%, down from 2.0%

At least if you drew it, it would be a fairly decent curve.

Empty House Owners

The council tax for empty houses can now be doubled – an attempt to prevent empty houses. But I feel if you can afford another empty house, then you could probably afford that little bit extra council tax.

I missed a lot out – but I feel this is the important parts of a very important document. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/autumn-budget-2017-25-things-you-need-to-know

 

Should the UK adopt a codified constitution?

One of the most hotly contested matters in UK politics is whether the UK should move to have a codified constitution. From pressure groups on one side of the argument and other people asking what purpose it would serve, and some more extreme campaigning to keep a codified constitution out of the public eye.

The United Kingdom’s so-called ‘constitution’ is a combination of many documents, and what is perceived as common law – a law that isn’t statute, but is generally accepted as practice due to the length of time the ruling has been followed. This wouldn’t be allowed to happen in a constitution, as common law’s interpretation is as up to the individual enforcing it, as much as it is to the next person. Constitutions detail out what should happen when there is no law to cover specific situations, such as judges being accountable for the actions. The many documents that make the ‘constitution’ date back to 1215, and a few other documents detailing the power of parliament, and removing power from the monarch. This, unfortunately, doesn’t tell the government how things should be done, and as such has led to very important governmental documents being left to be written in statute law – such as the fixed-term parliament act of 2011 – or just being ‘general practice or policy.’ Most constitutional changes in foreign countries require a 2/3 majority, but as there is no constitution, very large changes can be made by the largest party with a simple 50% majority vote.

A constitution would also install safeguarding into this country. This means the government would be told what they can and can’t-do, and it would be written down in black & white and therefore not up to be debated like common law is. It would also require a mass agreement to change any of the rules. Having a lack of this safeguarding means there is a higher potential of a large party agreeing. For example, if the conservatives wanted to pass through a change to constitution in the current situation, they would only need their MPs and the DUP MPs, to agree and then the law would be written to statute law – with some limitations such as monarch approval and the house of lords, but both of these powers are limited either by general practice or statue law in Parliament Reform acts. In a constitution, it would be more than likely to require the 2/3 majority to change any constitutional document.

Power to the people is a phrase thrown around a lot with constitutions, but in some cases that is quite literally what happens. One example of this is freedom of speech. In the UK we have laws to protect our freedom of speech, but they’re not inclusive and can cause problems when comparing what is freedom of speech, and what is just offensive. The US has the First Amendment, which gives them freedom of speech and is always referred to when a court is looking at a case of potential hate crime. This also makes it easy for Americans to know what they can and can’t say. It also gives them reassurance that this freedom can’t be easily taken away from them because of the lengthy requirements to change the US’ constitution.

Although, an uncodified constitution like the UK’s is quite an attractive option considering how fluid or adaptable the constitution can be particularly in effect to the modern era. Although the lack of change in constitutions can be useful especially when protecting from extremist views, or even those trying to work against the people of a country – this can have the opposite effect. For example, the US’ constitution really doesn’t have answers for modern issues such as same-sex marriage, and the constitution was up for discussion in 2015 when the Supreme Court passed legislation, based on states banning the marriage is unconstitutional. Although, this was vastly debated. When it came to the UK’s decision on same-sex marriage, there was no constitution to refer to, or to check whether its in-line with expectations – It was purely down to normal debate, and usual procedure in voting for the motion. Entrenchment is another reason for lack of fluidity. Entrenchment means due to the nature of that part of the constitution its either very difficult or near impossible to change it, meaning its relevance can vary because it can’t be updated. Therefore the uncodified nature of the UK’s constitution was more appropriate when discussing modern issues.

Many people see parliamentary sovereignty as key to how the UK runs. This principle says parliament can make, remove or change any law it wishes as long as the rule of majority is followed. This is unlikely to happen in a constitution because of the high chance of a bill of rights to be introduced, which then limits parliament. This is because the constitution would be seen as a part of higher law. Therefore, the constitution would undermine one of the key principles in which the UK is run, and which is the backbone to how the Westminster model works. People would then have less trust in parliament because they would be unable to change law that is affecting citizens – and in some circumstances, this could leave the citizens in more danger than they were before.

There is a good chance that the constitution would mean the accountability of lawmakers and parliament would be lost. In the UK, supreme authority is vested in the elected house of parliament and there for change happens due to democratic pressure. Currently, MPs are kept accountable by the public, especially if no law already exists. This can happen in many forms, mainly in elections, but also by contacting their representative. In most constitutions, it is up to judges in courts to police the constitution and to keep the government responsible for what they do. Some see this as undemocratic because the judges are rarely elected, and are paid for what they do. The constitution is also up to interpretation of the judge, and their own personal bias may change. They also don’t show a range of socioeconomic profiles, and as such don’t represent a large range of views.

 

General Election 2017: What was that?

It was just after the May 2015, and 13-year-old went to his friends ‘We can all vote in the next general election’ – Oh, how I was wrong.

How did it happen?

Theresa May became prime minister in July 2016, and her position was as usual hotly debated because there wasn’t another general election to put her in her position. 1 She called the snap election on April 19th, after it being ratified by the House of Commons with a vote of 522-13. (They needed a 2/3 majority – or a supermajority) It is believed she called this to one, affirm her place as prime minister, particularly after the ‘undemocratic’ election of position. But secondly, because she planned to deliver the ‘Brexit letter’ a few days after the polling day. When she called the election, opinion polls swung in her favour – but this all changes as the election campaign continues.

What happened?

It all happened very quickly. The opinion pollers went outside, the voting computers were fired up, and everyone got sick off ‘This is a party election broadcast from’ after every episode of Eastenders. The expected TV debates looked like they were off to a rocky start when some party leaders refused to appear with some other leaders in articular, and some refusing to appear at all with others.

Polling day soon arrived, and the media were in a bit of a frenzy. For the first time, ITV, BBC, and Sky News, would be working together to publish the same exit poll – an indication to what analysts think the result may be, based upon survey data taken throughout the day. This is how they looked (followed by the actual result):

  • CON 314 (318)
  • LAB 266 (262)
  • SNP 34 (35)
  • LD 14 (12)
  • PC 3 (4)
  • GRN 1 (1)
  • UKIP 0 (0)
  • OTH 18 (18)
  • DUP N/A (10 incl. in OTH)

With a sharp intake of breath, the whole of the UK exclaimed: ‘Coalition’

Analysis

The question really is, who won? For a majority of parties it was the same old result as just 2 years ago. If you’re quick to the mark you’ll say the tories won because they were the biggest party and the government (with the help of the DUP) – but Labour gained 30 seats. That is massive for just 2 years. What caused it? The answer has never been more unclear. It seems with all the promises to students and young professionals, it made the Labour Party extremely attractive. But were the tories the biggest loser? After all SNP lost 21 seats and a majority of them going to labour. But tories lost the government, the biggest prize of all. They’ve now had to go into coalition with a party not many people had heard of, and now many people fear. Will this term last 5 years? I doubt it – but it’ll be a nice surprise not having to go through all those party election broadcasts.

  1. http://politics.aidanbeaumont.com/archives/2017/08/31 ↩︎
 

Theresa May: An Undemocratic Leadership?

I don’t know where I was when David Cameron stepped down as prime minister, simply because it came as no surprise after his brexit campaign and reaction.

Theresa May has an interesting past, but one that won’t particularly differ from many other tory politicians: Somewhat privileged and made to be in power. (Although this is a conversation for another day.)

Before Politics

On October 1st 1956, in Eastbourne, May was born to Zaidee Mary & Hubert Braiser and she was their only child. May was educated primarily in state schools, after a very short experience in an independent catholic school. At the age of 13, she won a place at a Grammar school. She went on to read geography at The University of Oxford.

Her first career was in the Bank of England, and later as a financial consultant for the ‘Association for Payment Clearing Services’ 1

Getting into Parliament

From 1986 to 1994 she served as a councillor for Durnsford ward. She stood, unsuccessfully, for the safe labour seat of North West Durham in 1992. She stood in the 1994 Barking by-election, coming third with a mere 1,976 votes. (10.4%) A new seat, Maidenhead, was created ahead of the 1997 general election, where she won with double the votes than that of the second place. (24,344 votes, 49.8%)

Before Leadership

She became a member of the opposition cabinet straight away, as ‘Shadow Spokesman for Schools, Disabled People and Women.’ In 1999 she was appointed ‘Shadow Education and Employment Secretary.’ Iain Duncan Smith kept her in the cabinet after the 2001 election, as he moved her to the Transport portfolio. She became the first female chairman of the tories in 2002, and between 2004 and 2010 she went through a multitude of different shadow cabinet roles.

May 12th 2010, 6 days after the general election she was appointed Home Secretary2. During her six years in the role she had a heavy focus on surveillance, with particular prevalence on the highly controversial ‘Snooper’s Charter3.’ She also had focus on interior terrorism, including the banning of Zakir Naik 4, and the Cumbria Shootings 5.

How did she get into power?

This is where a majority of her controversy starts. After the Brexit vote in June 2016, David Cameron didn’t feel he could lead the country in the right direction especially after his long campaign about staying in the EU. As the way it goes, the Conservative party needed to choose a new leader, and they would then most likely become the next prime minister. (If the queen chooses them, and she basically has to.) The leaders race went a little like this6:

She began her campaign almost as soon as Cameron resigned, with her catchphrase becoming ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Conservative MPs voted in a ballot to determine the 2 candidates who would be put forward to Conservative party members who would make the final decision. Fox was eliminated in round 1, with Crabb withdrawing later in the day. Gove lost in the second round and Leadsom withdrew before the party member’s vote, leaving only candidate. She became party leader July 11th, and then prime minister on July 13th.

This is why people question wether she undemocratically runs the country. Many people will vote in a general election because of the party leader, and since that has changed, should the ruling party really get to choose the next leader? The only people who chose her were members of the Conservative party at the time. Many called for a general election, especially after the such a prominent part of British history: the Brexit vote7. But this is allowed to happen because that’s quite literally what is supposed to happen, which draws back to wether it really is a basic flaw in the way the British constitution works, but again: a debate for another time.

Sources:

A majority of information came from the below wikipedia articles, and some minor details from news articles.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Payments_Administration ↩︎
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Office_under_Theresa_May ↩︎
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigatory_Powers_Bill ↩︎
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakir_Naik ↩︎
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumbria_shootings ↩︎
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Party_(UK)_leadership_election,_2016 ↩︎
  7. For more information about the history of referendums, see here: COMING SOON ↩︎
 

What a Hung Parliament Really Means (Pt. 1)

When I was going to sleep on June 8th, I knew the next day was going to be pretty bad news. The poll predictions have been fairly reliable over the last few years, and it would require a large error margin to prevent the expected.

A hung parliament

Whenever I think of a hung parliament, I always think back to the first election I payed any sort of useful attention to in 2010. During the First Ministry of Cameron & Clegg, Clegg was seemingly a tool to show conservatives will to work with other parties, while still ignoring most of what the Liberal Democrats. Although, by the end of the coalition the Lib Dems really were losing support after voting in favour of raising tuition fees, which is contradictory to their manifesto. <see video below>

Although the comical factor still rings through, I don’t feel this is the main reason the Lib Dems didn’t get much of their manifesto pushed through.

But the point to pay attention to, was that coalitions don’t really work. It was quite an act watching the Tories working with the Lib Dems. Both parties didn’t really get much done because of the countless disagreements, and the tories looming majority, more on this at another time. It could be argued, that because of Cameron’s ‘bullying’ techniques, he was able to push more through. As such the Lib Dems just had to agree, in fear of the coalition falling apart which would be bad news for their falling public opinion and vote share.

Secondly, coalitions always remind me of a very key topic in many GCSE History specifications: Weimar Germany. In summary the weimar constitution used proportional representation. This meant the % of votes dictated the % of seats in the ‘Reichstag’. This means to get a majority number of seats you needed at least 1 in 2 people to vote for you. As you’d expected, this almost never happens, so coalitions are the only answer.

If you look at the pattern of elections, and how close they are to each other, you could probably guess these coalitions rarely held together.

Because of the coalitions decisions were rarely made and most decisions were watered down. This resulted in the Nazi Party rioting in the reichstag, and so forcing Hitler into power.

 

 

I don’t think anyone believes that coalitions are 100% positive and many people far from it, but I think we need to make the most of it, otherwise it will be a 5 year struggle.