Society Plans and Latest Political News

Hello and welcome to the third news article for the PIR Society for 2019-20. In this article, I have provided an update of the latest news in the world of politics, and an initial insight into the programme planned by the committee for this coming year.

Society Plans:

For this coming academic year, the Society has a number of special events planned for members and non-members to enjoy from Fresher’s Week onwards. Beginning on the 4th of September, we will have our stand in the Society Fair on the sports field, where incoming and current students can visit to find out about the PIR Society and our programme for the year. Then on the 5th of September, we will have our Information Session beginning from 17.30, where students will be introduced to this year’s committee and be informed of the values of the society, what issues are of interest to us, the trips we have planned and much more. Following the Information Session, we will hold our Cheese and Wine Evening from 19.00 onwards at the Bobbin bar, where everyone attending can enjoy a variety of complimentary wine and cheese, and have a wonderful start to the academic term. In regards to the trips being planned by the society, there will be a European trip in early January next year, followed by an international trip in early April. The committee will make a decision in regards to the destination of each trip in the next few weeks. I will provide an update on the decisions of the committee in regards to the trips and other upcoming events as soon as they are made. I can also confirm that the charity the society will be sponsoring for this year will be Shelter, in which we will be supporting the campaign against homelessness and poor housing within the UK.

I hope this information has been helpful and interesting. The following is an update on the latest news in politics in the UK and around the world.

Latest Political Developments:

For those that were hoping for a period of political calm in the UK, the 2019 elections for the 73 British Members of the European Parliament will surely disappoint. The elections, which were not originally intended to take place due to the UK’s initial deadline to leave the European Union on the 29th of March, but were ultimately held on the 23rd of May due to the extension of the Article 50 process of the UK’s departure from the bloc, have completely upended the British political party system with humiliating defeats for the established Conservative and Labour parties to insurgent pro and anti-Brexit parties. The Brexit Party, which advocates the UK leaving the EU without a formal deal, emerged as the largest single party by a significant margin, winning nearly 31% of the vote and 29 seats, whilst the Liberal Democrats, who oppose Brexit and advocate a confirmatory referendum on whether voters support the negotiated deal between the UK and the EU or the UK remaining in the EU, came second with 19% of the vote and 16 seats. The remarkable success of these two parties is in stark contrast with the drubbing experienced by the governing Conservatives, who fell from 24% of the vote and 19 seats in 2014 to just 9% and four seats in their worst nationwide election result ever, and also in the case of Labour, whose attempts to reconcile the desires of both its pro-remain and pro-leave voters failed with the party falling from 25% of the vote and 20 seats to 15% and 10 seats. Other anti-Brexit parties such as the Green Party and the Scottish National Party also did well, whilst UKIP and Change UK both polled only 3% of the vote and failed to win any seats. The collapse of support for the Conservatives and Labour is particularly noteworthy, as it demonstrates that voters are increasingly voting in accordance with their views on Brexit rather than on traditional party loyalties, which in turn suggests that Brexit is accelerating the fragmentation of the two-party system that has dominated British politics since the end of the Second World War.

Coinciding with the European elections is the beginning of the contest to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and Prime Minister, after May announced her resignation as party leader on the 24th of May. In an emotional address outside No.10, Mrs May stated that she had tried her hardest to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU and to persuade Parliament to approve it, but had ultimately failed in her objective, and a new leader was required to implement Brexit. A total of 13 serving and former ministers have nominated themselves for the party leadership so far, including Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, James Cleverly, Rory Stewart and others. Boris Johnson is currently the favourite to win the leadership due to his popularity with Conservative grassroots over his charisma, strongly pro-Brexit position and his status as a figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign that successfully persuaded a majority of voters to vote in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. The latter point however is however a double-edged sword for Johnson, as he has been summoned to court to answer questions in regards to his frequent claim that membership of the EU costs the UK £350 million a week, a figure that has been widely discredited by statistical analysis but was nonetheless a decisive factor in persuading undecided voters to back leaving the EU in 2016 as Johnson and Vote Leave argued that this sum could be spent on the NHS instead. The court case, which is the result of a private prosecution case launched by campaigner Marcus Ball, is attempting to determine whether Johnson deliberately misled the electorate in regards to the economic cost of EU membership for the UK, which if proven would render him guilty of committing misconduct in public office, which can carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The court proceedings, currently being held as a preliminary hearing, will be forwarded to the Crown Court where a formal trial will begin. While it will be premature to speculate the verdict of the trial, the very fact that Boris Johnson is under investigation for allegations of such an offence poses a potentially existential risk to his leadership campaign and raises serious questions in regards to his suitability to be UK Prime Minister. The upcoming Conservative leadership contest is likely to be a remarkable one, and not for the right reasons.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump is once again facing calls to be impeached in the wake of the conclusion of the Mueller Report into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a press conference on Wednesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller provided a summary of his long investigation in stating that whilst the report had not definitively proven that the President had obstructed justice during the investigation, Trump could not be declared innocent of the offence either. Moreover, Mueller stated that the President could not be charged with an offence whilst in office even if the investigation had accused Trump of obstructing justice, and that it was not the responsibility of the report do so in any case. The comments made by Mueller has provoked a wide variety of claims from both sides of the political spectrum, with Trump stating that the investigation had cleared him of any offence, and some Republicans stating that the investigation has been motivated by opposition to Trump within the Democratic Party. A number of Democrats meanwhile have taken Mueller’s report and comments as sufficient grounds to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump to remove him from office so he can face justice for any crimes he may have committed both during the 2016 election and his term, as well as removing an administration they regard as detrimental to US interests domestically and internationally. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has cautioned fellow Democrats in regards to impeachment, noting how it is unlikely to succeed due to the Republican majority in the Senate, and advised that defeating Trump in next year’s presidential election would be the best method to remove him from office. Polling has indicated a mixed response of the American public towards the report findings, with a majority stating that they believed Trump had committed an offence, but also being opposed to impeachment proceedings. This demonstrates how the US public remains polarized on the Trump administration, and sets the scene for an extremely bitter presidential election next year, in which the conduct of the Trump administration may be a decisive factor in determining the outcome.

Turning to Indian politics, the governing BJP party is celebrating a historic landslide re-election victory, in which it has become the first party in over 30 years to win back to back majority governments. The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modhi, won over 37% of the national vote and 303 out of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, and the overall National Democratic Alliance bloc of parties, of which the BJP is the leading party, ultimately won a combined 45% of the vote and 353 seats, thus ensuring an even larger parliamentary majority compared to what it won in 2014. In contrast to the jubilant celebrations of the BJP, the opposition Indian National Congress, the party that has traditionally been the party of government in India, barely improved upon its disastrous 2014 election defeat, winning only 18% of the vote and 52 seats, which is less than the 55 seats it needed in order to become the official opposition party, thus leaving India without a formal party of opposition. The triumph for the BJP has been argued by a number of political scientists and journalists as representing a transformation of India from that of a secular state partially underpinned by socialist principles, which has been associated with the Congress Party having regularly formed the government since independence, to that of a state more supportive of free market economics and conservative social values in line with the Hindu nationalism of the BJP. Predominant issues during the election campaign included the state of the economy and recent tensions between India and Pakistan within the disputed region of Kashmir, which has even escalated into military skirmishes between the two nations. While India has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, the opposition attacked Modhi over the perceived failure to implement a number of his economic policies. He was able however to successfully present himself and his government as providing India with the necessary leadership against actors hostile to Indian interests. This demonstrates how economic issues, contrary to what has often been assumed, do not always prove to be decisive in determining the outcome of elections, and voters are increasingly likely to vote along nationalist and social lines.

And in terms of African politics, the most notable development was the coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA. This free trade area came into force on the 30th of May, after being signed by 44 out of the 55 nations that are members of the African Union, which in turn brokered the agreement, on the 21st of March last year, and has so far been ratified by 22 states, thereby meeting the minimum number of states for the agreement to come into force. In total, 52 out of 55 African Union states are now party to this agreement, thereby rendering AfCFTA as the largest free-trade area since the creation of the World Trade Organization. The agreement will initially require its members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, and is planned to eventually evolve from its current form as a free trade area to that of a single market, which will in turn be followed by the introduction of free movement of people and the creation of a single currency. This has striking resemblance to that of the European Union, and indicates that whilst some countries such as the UK and the United States have been affected by nationalist movements that are sceptical of globalization, African governments are increasingly regarding economic integration as invaluable for the long-term economic well-being of their nations. This is particularly in the case of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimating that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52% by 2022. Hurdles still remain in the path of the viability of the agreement however, as Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has yet to sign the agreement as President Muhammadu Buhari expressed concerns over the potential negative consequences for local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, whilst trade unions have also expressed concern over the agreement potentially encouraging greater migration within the continent. Nigeria is currently in a process of consultation in regards to potential membership of AfCFTA, with the government hoping to eventually join once outstanding concerns have been addressed. In spite of this, the enactment of the African Continental Free Trade Area demonstrates how globalization and integration between nations is an on-going process that is likely to continue, as most governments regard the benefits as greater compared to the potential disadvantages, despite the protests or concerns of individual countries.

That concludes this latest blog. If you have strong interest any of these subjects, and would like to offer your own analysis, myself and the entire committee would strongly welcome additional contributions to the blog, so we can all engage in an interesting and passionate debate.