The General Election
When I wrote an article on the 2017 general election, I had no idea that just two short years later I'd be back writing for another general election, the third general election in less than 5 years.
It's something we associate with other European countries where hung parliaments are common. Politics in the UK is supposed to be stable, almost boring. Well, the past few years have turned the UK's traditional, liberal, centrist political stability on its head.
During the years of New Labour I remember thinking how similar the Tories and Labour were - there was very little difference in policy and it was like choose option (a) or choose option (a) - with little real actual choice. I can't say that anymore. Both main parties have been hijacked by extremists. Labour is now further left than at any point in my time on this planet, while the Tories are flirting dangerously with the far-right. While we have a choice now - it doesn't seem like an appealing one.
As with my last article, this isn't about telling you who to vote for, but a call to go out and vote. After all, an engaged Sikh electorate means we can pressure politicians to hold our vote to account and ensure issues affecting our community have ears in the corridors of Whitehall.
For f*k sake, How are we still talking about this?
When I wrote about the EU Referendum in 2016, I had no idea Brexit would cause two prime ministers to resign, and take us back to the ballot box again and again. It's gone far, far beyond embarrassing - it's a sh*tshow!
Since my article on the 2017 election, Theresa May tried and failed to strike a deal with the EU that was supported by Parliament. Her failure led to Boris Johnson coming to power, renegotiating a deal, and failing to get that through as well. Right now, we have an old-fashioned Mexican stand-off, and a shake-up is needed to break the deadlock.
Conservatives: Four years ago, the remain-backing Tory government held a referendum on the EU in a bid to stop haemorrhaging votes to UKIP. It was a calculated move that massively backfired. The remain-supporting Prime Minister, David Cameron, was replaced by another remain-supporting Prime Minister, Theresa May. In a bid to strengthen her hand in negotiations with EU she took a calculated risk and held an election in 2017 to increase her majority. And guess what? It massively backfired. You'd think they would have learned.
She was then replaced by the remain-supporting Boris Johnson - well a remainer until 2016, when he realised that backing leave might be good for his career. Right now the Tory position is clear. You either back Boris' deal, or we leave with no deal. Boris' deal means leaving the customs union, settling our financial obligations, ending freedom of movement and working toward a free trade deal by December 2020. What it doesn't satisfactorily answer is the question of Northern Ireland's future relationship with the EU and the UK.
Labour: Any other party would be heading into this election confident of victory. But not Labour. If you think the Tories are a shambles, Labour don't seem to be doing much better. It took almost four years for Labour to communicate a clear policy on their position on Brexit. In the event of a Labour victory, they will attempt to re-negotiate a deal with the EU, one which will keep the UK in the customs union. Following this, they will hold a second referendum where voters will have a choice between the new deal, and remaining in the EU. During the second referendum, Jeremy Corbyn will take a neutral position, campaigning neither for remaining or leaving.
Others: The Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party both have pretty clear positions. The Lib Dems will revoke article 50 and keep the UK in the EU without another vote. The Brexit Party, meanwhile, will take the UK out of the EU, deal or no deal. If you think either position seems undemocratic, it's because it is. Other parties including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens are backing staying in the EU, while the DUP would like to leave - but with a different deal to Boris' - one that keeps Northern Ireland more closely aligned with the UK.
There's no doubt that GDP is slowing and many indicators show that we are heading toward a recession. But the economy doesn't seem to be at the forefront of voters minds at the moment. Which is probably good for both main parties, because their economic policies seem like they were written as an afterthought.
Conservatives: There's nothing too big or glamorous in the Tory manifesto when it comes to economy - which points to more of the same. Their key message is that Brexit will deliver the opportunity for the UK to grow our economy independent of EU influence, allowing us to strike deals on our own. However, as early negotiations with Japan and the US have shown, negotiating as a small island is unlikely to get us deals as good as negotiating as a larger trade block. And on that point, many will point out that under this approach, we have removed the UK star from the EU flag, and put it on the US flag. Nevertheless, there are promises to increase spending on research and development, as well as £3.6 billion to improve the economies of local towns.
Labour: On the other side of the spectrum is the insane Labour vision for the economy - some call it socialism on steroids. Labour have promised to nationalise rail, water, energy and postal services, bringing them back into public ownership. They've also promised to slowly increase corporation tax to 26%, bringing it in line with other developed economies. In terms of individuals, they've promise to raise taxes for the top 5% of earners, which means more taxes for anyone lucky enough to earn of £80,000. Oh, and free broadband for everyone by 2030.
Others: Pretty much all other parties have pledged to end austerity, but the biggest changes are probably those proposed by the Brexit Party. They promise to abolish inheritance tax (because millionaire's need to keep it in the family), scrap HS2 (because f*k everyone outside of London) and refuse to pay the EU divorce bill.
I was going to say security has also played a backseat in this election; but right on schedule London was hit by a terrorist attack. it seems like you can set your watch to a terrorist attack around election time. There was an attack before the 2016 EU Referendum, another before the 2017 general election, and now one before this year's general election. A more sceptical individual might create conspiracy theories.
Conservative: Nothing to add to what I said in my article two years ago in terms of foreign policy because it seems like nothing has changed. Closer alignment to the United States might result in more wars, particularly with Iran, something that Boris has floated a few times over the years. Domestically the Tories have pledged to add 20,000 new police on the streets. This doesn't even cover the 21,000 cut by the same party during their 9 years in power.
Labour: Again, on foreign affairs, I don't have much extra to say from my last article. It's likely Corbyn would be less interventionist, but there are question marks over whether he has the mettle to lead in a world where Russia and China are increasingly assertive and the threat of right-wing and Islamist terrorism continues.
Others: The Lib Dems would legalise cannabis which I'm still amazed hasn't happened. I can't imagine anyone would vote for the Green Party if security concerns were top of their list, and their manifesto this time around does nothing to dispel that.
Coming from a single parent household and raised in a council house, this is an issue I feel strongly about. Getting into university for the less privileged is a challenge in itself, but according to a recent BBC programme, even when you get into the world of work the brightest talent from the poorest backgrounds are still left behind.
Income inequality has increased since its narrowest spread in the 1970s, and believe me, when I see the absolute mediocrity that rises to high positions based on their background and not on what they have to offer, it's obvious that social mobility is not improving in the UK, and most statistics back this up.
Conservatives: This has never been a Conservative strong suit, and there's no indication that this will change anytime soon. If you're born into a wealthy family, congratulations, and enjoy the good life.
Labour: New Labour policies in the 2000's helped increase the gap between the richest and the poorest, and their support for expansion of the EU depressed wages for the lowest skilled workers, which was one of the reasons the UK experienced a backlash against the EU. Labour aren't angels. Corbyn is taking a tougher approach to tackling income inequality, including increasing taxes for the top 5% earners, as well as increasing corporation tax for large companies. However, an economy that experiences strong growth has a better chance of taking care of the most vulnerable, and it isn't clear whether Labour can deliver on this.
Others: The Lib Dems have always been "Tory-lite' when it comes to social mobility, and the Brexit Party are the Conservatives on steroids. The Green Party are usually the most radical in this space, but this year's manifesto has a much larger focus on the next category.
Two years ago, nobody was really talking about this, and as I mentioned in my article, it was a problem that had the potential to snowball into something more serious.
Well in 2019, it hasn't just snowballed, it's been an avalanche. From the extinction rebellions, to Greta Thunberg's world tour, climate change is now front and centre - and rightfully so. Larger forest fires in the United States, Australia and Brazil have added to the issue of warmer sea levels, retreating Arctic sea ice, and the desertification of large areas in Central Asia and Africa. Many scientists believe we are at the precipice of disaster, the point of no return - and this might be the last chance to turn things around.
Conservatives: They're aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050 by pledging almost £10 billion to making schools, homes and hospitals more energy efficient. They're aiming to plant 30 million trees every year until 2024, but controversially they are going to continue with fracking until there is significant evidence that points to environmental harm.
Labour: This is where Labour have gone into overdrive, somehow managing to become as green as the Green Party. Corbyn is aiming for net-zero emissions by 2030, which, while 20 years quicker than the Tories, brings question marks over how realistic it is. They want to phase out all petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and are looking to put a windfall tax on oil firms. Labour are aiming to plant 100 million trees a year.
Others: The Lib Dems probably come off the most sensible here, taking a middle ground - net-zero emissions by 2045, 60 million trees a year and a ban on non-recyclable single use plastic. This is usually the Green Party's strong suit, but Labour have taken a steal by matching most of the Green Party's aims in this space.
Health and education
The NHS is back near the top of the agenda after being relegated into the background in 2017 thanks to increases in waiting times, a shortfall of doctors and nurses, and the spectre of perhaps the greatest institution in this nation's history being sold off to US 'Big Pharma'.
Conservatives: They've struggled with the NHS. 9 years of cuts and austerity have pushed the NHS to breaking point, and now it's becoming apparent that the NHS will be a part of any future trade deal with the US. Boris famously pledged to divert EU costs to the NHS and says that after Brexit, the NHS will get nearly £21 billion by 2024. The Tories have also promised more doctors and nurses, but said the same thing in 2017, and 2015 and failed to deliver.
Labour: The Labour Party have said they will provide £26 billion of funding for the NHS by 2024, and ensure all prescriptions and dental charges revert to being free. But, when you think that they also want to nationalise at least 4 different sectors, and invest in green energy, it makes you wonder where they are planning to get all this money from?! Nevertheless, the NHS is a product of the Labour Party and it is something the party holds dear to their hearts so it's unlikely any of it would be up for sale in any future trade negotiations.
Others: The Lib Dems are also pledging an extra £26 billion by 2024, and they aim to achieve this by increasing income tax by 1p. They've also made a stand around mental health, ensuring there is ring-fenced funding and that mental health is put on an equal footing with physical health. For the Green Party, see Labour - and for the Brexit Party see Conservatives.
I didn't have this section last time around, but felt it was important to add this in 2019 - just to show you how tough the decision is.
When Jeremy Corbyn came into power, he felt like a breath of fresh air - someone genuinely different. A passionate anti-war campaigner he was definitely a man of principle, and when the media decided to gang-up on him it made me realise the establishment was genuinely scared. But then some cracks began to show. Perhaps the biggest scandal is the rise of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. Even if Corbyn himself isn't anti-semitic, there is no doubt his leadership has enabled anti-semitic elements to foster in the party and that's a big problem for anyone who hates racism. He also seems to be loathed by much of the working-class that he has spent his whole life fighting for. In fact, most Corbyn supporters are now middle-class hipsters.
Boris Johnson. What can I say about this man. Like Corbyn, when he became London Mayor all those years ago, he seemed like a breath of fresh air too. He was so different from the soulless politicians before him, and his buffoonery was something funny. I'm not sure how many people are laughing now. If the Labour Party has issues with anti-semitism, the Conservative Party seems to be a cesspool of Islamophobia, and Boris has fed the flames of this by targeting Muslim women and black men. He has been fired from journalism and political office before for lying, and yet has managed to make his way to the top job. And his team aren't much better. In any other job, Priti Patel might be in jail for her offences, yet she is a part of the cabinet. Johnson is the anti-Corbyn - having spent all of his life fighting for the wealthy, most of his supporters are now working-class Brits.
And finally, the rest. Jo Swinson spent 5 years voting for austerity, including; voting against increasing income tax for those earning over £150,000, against a tax on banker's bonuses, against an increase in welfare spending, voting for selling off state-owned forests and voting for the bedroom tax. Her record is not as progressive as the marketing spin around her claims to be - and revoking article 50 unilaterally seems undemocratic, whichever way you voted in the EU referendum. Then there's Nigel Farage. He really, really, really looks like the Grinch, Seriously, Google it.
#FreeJaggi and the Sikh vote
So, who should Sikhs vote for? It's up to you, but go out and vote. As you can see, each party has its strengths and weaknesses, and you should vote for the party that best represents yours, your family, and what you think are the panth's best interests. And no leader can tell you what that is, no matter how many politicians your Gurdwara invites.
Corbyn visited the Central Khalsa Gurdwara in Shepherd's Bush, and Boris visited the Gurdwara in Southall - and you know it's election time when these visits happen. I have no idea whether the leaders I've mentioned above will support the Kaum's objectives once they're in power - but I will say a word on Boris. It was under Boris' spell as Foreign Minister that Jaggi Johal was kidnapped by the Indian government and, as with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Boris has failed to secure both of their releases, both as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister. With Jaggi's case, it's even tougher to see a resolution given the importance the UK ties to trade with India - but it's certainly a case that ranks as one of the most important for Sikhs in the UK.
But voting is more than just one case. By becoming engaged as a demographic, we can become vote winners and then hold leaders to their promises, enacting broader change. This is particularly important as we head toward a future where issues with the kirpaan, airport security and recognition of the '84 Sikh Genocide become more important.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.