Former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson said in the 1960s that ‘a week is a long time in politics.’ Judging by the political events in the UK in 2018, one may say that a single day is a long time in politics, let alone a week. 2018 delivered some of the strangest, most bizarre, comical and concerning political moments of recent history. Whether its the Prime Minister walking on stage to ‘Dancing Queen’, the SNP walking out of the House of Commons mid-session or the Government being held in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history, there’s rarely been a day go by recently without some form of revelation with politics, in a country that is divided over the issue of Brexit.
This article aims to give a brief outline of the current politics in the United Kingdom at the time of writing, the end of 2018. Who knows what is to come in 2019, but if 2018 has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected, and be prepared for the weird and the whacky world of UK politics.
The Conservatives, as the UK’s largest party in the last election, are currently the governing party in the UK. The Prime Minister is Theresa May, or at least at the time of writing. It has been a bumpy ride for the Conservatives since 2015. The Conservatives came to power in 2010 under David Cameron through a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, defeating the Labour Party. In 2015, the Conservatives won a majority in Parliament. In 2016, David Cameron delivered on his promise of holding an EU Referendum. The immediate results of this were an unexpected win for ‘Leave’ and the resignation of David Cameron – the rest, we’ll come to later in this article.
In 2016, Theresa May became Prime Minister by default after all others in the Conservative Party leadership election were either defeated or withdrew. In 2017, after repeatedly saying that she would not hold a General Election, Mrs May announced a snap General Election where she hoped to increase her majority to help with the Brexit negotiations. The snap election spectacularly backfired and resulted in the Conservatives losing their majority. The Labour Party made large gains under Jeremy Corbyn, but not enough to win the election.
In 2018, the Government has repeatedly been reported to be in turmoil, largely as a result of the Brexit negotiations. 2018 saw two Brexit Secretaries resign, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary resign over the Windrush Scandal (only to be appointed months later in a new role) and multiple other cabinet resignations. The cabinet has been split over Theresa May’s position on Brexit negotiations, and this seems to remain the case at the end of the year.
Faced with the arguably thankless task of negotiating Brexit, Theresa May has not had the best time as Prime Minister. In 2018, she faced a vote of confidence, which she won, though not by the most comfortable of margins. Theresa May has reiterated many phrases throughout her time as PM, including ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘It’s not about me’ and doing things for ‘the national interest’. Mrs May has faced criticism from all sides of the House of Commons, though many members of the public still admire her for her determination and for not giving up or resigning, as many PM’s would have done long before now. She has also managed to put the smile (or look of despair) on the face of the country as she has danced in the UK and abroad, with moves much like a robot…
The Labour Party is currently the official opposition in the UK. In 2018, an anti-semitism row engulfed the Labour Party, which helped build up a growing negative image of the opposition. While many are unhappy with the current Conservative government, many worry about the prospect of a Labour Government, particularly a Corbyn-led administration. However, the Labour Party could well form a government in 2019, depending on how Brexit pans out.
So the main item that has engulfed Parliament since 2016 is of course Brexit. Two years after the vote to leave the European Union and less than 100 days before our scheduled leave date, the UK’s future relationship with the EU remains largely unknown. Theresa May completed negotiations with Brussels for a Brexit Deal, which was signed off by the EU in late 2018. MPs in the UK were due to vote on the deal in December, though due to almost universal opposition to the deal (largely due to the Northern Ireland backstop), the vote has been delayed until January 2019.
If the Brexit deal is voted against, which currently looks the most likely option, who knows what will happen. By Article 50, we will ‘crash out’ of the EU with a no-deal – there have so far been reports of the Government stockpiling materials in case of a no-deal. Alternatively, the UK could have a People’s Vote, whereby there would be a referendum on the Brexit deal, or on whether to let Brexit happen at all – though Theresa May has repeatedly stated she is against this option.
Theresa May’s cabinet is split on what to do about Brexit, with many believing the negotiated deal is ‘dead’. The Labour Party is split on the issue too, with some other parties calling for Brexit to be stopped altogether.
And Away From Brexit…
Politics, while dominated by it in the UK right now, isn’t all about Brexit. 2018 saw a diplomatic row break out with Russia over the poisoning of former-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, for which the UK has blamed the Kremlin. Anti-terror police had to investigate multiple cases, including a car driven into people outside the Houses of Parliament. The NHS got some new funding after countless campaigns, though some argue it is still severely underfunded. 2018 was the UK’s joint hottest summer of record, causing even more problems for public transport, in particular, trains. And on the subject of public transport, the Government had to work with the police and the military to attempt to intercept a drone flying close to Gatwick airport, which ruined the Christmas travel plans of over 140,000 people. The investigation into the case remains ongoing at the time of writing.
So, 2018 was quite some year for British Politics, who knows what will happen in 2019, but if 2018 is anything to go by, it’s going to be a busy new year.