The General Election
On 18 April 2017, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May announced that she would be calling an election on 8 June 2017. This follows a General Election in 2015, just two years earlier.
The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 had removed the power of the Prime Minister to call an election at the drop of a hat, or when conditions were favourable to the governing party. Under the Act, elections would be held every five years unless the House of Commons voted by two thirds to the contrary. With the spectre of Brexit hanging over the country and the opposition party in disarray, Theresa May decided this would be the perfect opportunity to strengthen her position both domestically and in terms of negotiating the withdrawal from the EU.
Unfortunately for her, as the campaign season kicked off, she began to show signs of weakness, no matter how many times she said she was "strong and stable", whilst the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn somehow got his sh*t together and began closing the gap in polls. Now, for all intents and purposes, the question isn't whether the Conservatives will win, but by how much they will win, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go out and vote.
I'm not telling you who to vote for, you should do the research and make an informed decision. However, for the Sikh community to prosper, we need to become more politically engaged and therefore I will say; go out and vote.
What's at stake?
First and foremost, this is one of the most important General Elections in recent times, and definitely the most important of my generation. With EU withdrawal negotiations coming up, the new Government will not only shape the UK for the next five years, but will be shaping the country for at least a generation. Furthermore, issues around the economy, security, privacy, social mobility and the environment are all high on the agenda.
So where do the parties stand?
The EU Referendum in June 2016 caught most commentators off guard, especially those in the London bubble. The UK voted 52/48 to leave the EU after 40 years within the Union. The fallout so far has been muted as the government rushes to set out its negotiating position. Strangely enough, although both major parties campaigned to remain in the EU, and both leaders campaigned for remain, they are now both firmly accepting of the leave vote. What makes things a little more strange is the fact that the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn was once anti-EU, whilst Theresa May was pro-EU.
Conservatives: In an effort to win UKIP voters, the Conservatives are pushing for a hard Brexit. The Conservatives were the ones who, in an attempt to stem the loss of voters to UKIP took the gamble of calling for a referendum. The number one issue on the agenda for them is immigration, and any concession on that would be ultimately unpalatable for their supporters and those they are attempting to win from UKIP. Theresa May has repeatedly stated that "no deal, is better than a bad deal". The Tories will find themselves under pressure to gain passporting rights for financial services firm, many of which are donors to the party.
Labour: The Tories may have put the nail in the Brexit coffin, but it was Labour that turned the tide of the country against Europe. In 2004, the UK were one of only 3 countries that failed to put a limit on the number of immigrants it would take from the newly expanded EU. The thought of the then ruling party was that this would provide the UK with cheap labour. This not only depressed wages for native workers, but also added to the growing income inequality. It's the same reason that Germany took in close to one million immigrants. Sure, it may be partly altruistic, but with an ageing population, one million young immigrants is the exactly the injection Germany needed to support their older population and low fertility rate that was a ticking time bomb for Europe's largest economy. The large, and more importantly, quick change in demographics is something that the UK has struggled to adapt to.
The Labour Party's big agenda items are access to the single market and protecting the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in the EU.
Others: The Liberal Democrats and the Greens have both promised a second referendum and are the most pro-EU parties. UKIP, meanwhile, are the direct antithesis and would look to completely stop immigration over a five year period, implementing a 'one-in, one-out' system.
The Financial Crisis changed the economic outlook of pretty much every large economy on Earth. Traditional Keynesian economics proposes spending your way out of a recession and thats the route that the then governing Labour Party took to mixed results. The 2o1o General Elections saw a change at the top with the Conservatives coming into power. They took a drastically different route, one of austerity.
Now whether it was successful depends on where you live and what you earn. As the rich have bounced back to pre-crisis levels of wealth, the poorer sections of society have seen their incomes and living standards decimated. Income growth in the UK has been the one of the slowest in Europe, only Greece has seen slower wage growth than the UK.
The economy taken as a whole hasn't faired too badly, at times growing quicker than other G7 countries, although Brexit has added uncertainty to the point where its difficult to ascertain whether the growth is due to increased productivity and growth or a weaker pound.
Conservatives: The Tories have pointed to growth in the national economy as proof of their success and therefore propose a similar course of action - continued austerity and slowly reducing the national deficit which has reached record levels under the current government, Their policies as a whole actually reflect traditional Panjabi values; debt is bad and not spending beyond your means is good.
Labour: Due to the sheer misfortune of being in power during the global financial crisis, the Labour Party has seen trust in their economic policies erode. In all fairness, their economic policies during their time in power were questionable. Keynesian economics in addition to arguing for spending out of a recession also proposes saving during a boom, something the Labour Party failed to do. The Party also spent a lot of money on questionable foreign policy decisions (such as the War in Iraq) and selling the nations gold when gold prices were very low. Their policies as a whole reflect Sikh values: sarbat da bhalla, or the benefit of all, by increasing funding for those most vulnerable.
Others: Almost all other parties propose ending austerity and resuming spending on public services including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The UKIP position however, is more closely aligned with the Tories.
Until March 2017, the rise in the number of terrorist attacks in Europe had largely passed the UK by. That all changed on 22 March 2017 when Khalid Masood drove his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. That attack was quickly followed by a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and then another vehicle and knife based attack in the London Bridge area.
Arguably, the current rise in terrorist attacks stem from the disastrous war in Iraq in 2003. The war toppled a tyrant, but left a power vacuum that was filled by extremists, most recently Daaesh. Not only was the war expensive in terms of lives lost and cost to the economy, but it was also based on a lie of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. That was at best a mistake by New Labour, and at worst a downright lie. The Conservative Party are also complicit. A questionable intervention in Libya has been one of the largest sources of increased extremism in Europe. The Libyan territory has been used by criminal gangs to smuggle people from the Middle East and Africa into Europe, its also the corridor used by ISIS fighters to move into Europe.
Let's be honest though. It's not all Western foreign policy. Religious, ethnic, tribal issues and the rise of petrol-Islam has been a large cause of these issues although the Sykes-Picot agreement in the shadow of the Second World War was also a large contributing factor. But then again, everywhere colonists drew random lines on a map usually ended in bloodshed (Panjab, Ireland, Middle East, Africa). There is no doubt an element of fringe Wahhabism, state sponsored or otherwise that needs to be tackled by both normal Sunni Muslims, and the international community.
Conservatives: The aim of the Tories is to fight this rise in terrorism by "taking a tough approach to extremism". I'll be honest, I have no idea what this means. More bombs in Syria and Iraq? After cutting police numbers, and ruling out investing in the police force, the Tories seem to be a bit stumped on this one other than going into peoples mobile phones and reading messages.
Labour: They are usually in line with the Tories, only Jeremy Corbyn doesn't seem to have read the script. If we think of terrorism as a tree, the attackers are the branches, the root of the tree is ISIS and its watered by States that fund extreme Wahhabist ideology; States such as Saudi Arabia. In an ordinary environment, both Labour and the Conservatives cut the branches of the tree whilst ignoring the source of the tree's life. Corbyn has vowed to stop selling arms to the Saudi's and aims to cut the funding at the source. Without water, the tree should wither and die.
Others: The Liberal Democrats have promised to set aside a substantial amount of money for community policing, the breakdown of which was widely seen as a drying up of intelligence that facilitated the Manchester attacks. UKIP meanwhile have promised to close to mosques that preach 'radical Islam' and ban radical preachers from entering the country.
The UK has one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world and one of the highest levels of income inequality. This is largely a byproduct of the way the country has been governed. Large corporations and high net worth individuals park their money oversea's or find other methods of avoiding tax payments. In the UK, CEO's make more in a week than the average worker makes in a year. The Conservative Party and the Labour party have been complicit in this gross inequality. We now have levels of difference larger than the Victorian age.
Conservatives: The Tories argue that a stronger economy will raise living standards for all, however there is no doubt that austerity and the cut in public spending has hit the poorest the hardest. The Tories also believe in the concept of trickle down economics, the theory that wealth created at the highest level finds its way down society, a theory that has been found wanting. The Tories have also failed to close corporate tax loopholes, worried that large multinational organisations will leave the country. Whilst this may have some element of truth, sunk costs mean the vast majority won't. Furthermore, those that do will see their vacuum filled by British innovators. These two arguments are just a couple of the ways the rich have somehow convinced the masses that their hoarding of wealth is important.
Labour: They propose to raise corporation tax (whilst still keeping it lower than rival economies such as China, Germany and the US). They also propose raising taxes for the rich (those that earn over GBP 85000 a year) as well as putting a surcharge on corporations who give out disproportionate pay to CEO's. In terms of education, the Labour Party has pledged to scrap tuition fees in order to make education accessible to all, however, the cost of this alone is over 11n GBP. In terms of housing, the party has promised to increase the pace of house building to rectify a supply shortage. The Labour Party aren't exactly angels though, note the aggressive expansion of the EU to provide cheap labour for large UK companies.
Others: The Liberal Democrats and Green Party have both promised to improve social mobility through various methods, the Lib Dems promising a rent to own system to improve housing affordability and the reintroduction of maintenance grants.
Other than the Green Party, none of the other parties seem to be focusing on the environment to a significant extent. Theresa May failed to publicly reprimand Donald Trump for withdrawing from the Paris agreement, the Lib Dems and Labour don't go far enough in their manifesto's to really make a strong pro-environment case.
The fact is, climate change is snowballing into a very real problem. Investing in renewable energy is not only a smart ethical decision to make, but economically, most new jobs in the energy sector will be created in renewables, not fossil fuels. The apathy of the west has allowed China to become the global leader in renewable energy and this is an issue that needs to be faced with more conviction in the UK.
The Sikh vote
The one thing I want to stress: go out and vote! It really doesn't matter who you vote for as long as you vote in an informed manner. Why is the Sikh vote so important? Because a community that is politically engaged can be in a position to affect change.
The Jewish community, similar in size to the Sikhs has tremendous clout because they are educated and engaged. Their lobbying power means they can have a disproportionate impact on world affairs. I've got to say, I respect their astute mentality and its something that we as a community can learn from.
By becoming politically engaged, politicians will look to win our votes by giving us concessions. These could be domestic issues such as the wearing of the Kirpaan, or it could be more global issues such as recognising the 1984 Sikh Genocide. But in order to have this influence, we have to go out and vote.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.