Bernie Sanders, Prince Charles and Charlotte Church may have little in common, but we recently discovered that they agree on at least one thing.
All three have recently stated that climate change has played a big part in causing the ongoing civil war in Syria, and if we want to end violence in the long-run, we should get more serious about tackling climate change.
What are Prime Minister’s Questions and why is everyone bobbing up and down?
PMQs are held every Wednesday for half an hour. It is the opportunity for MPs to put questions to the Prime Minister and to hold the government to account over their actions. MPs use PMQs to ask questions about national issues and often use it as an opportunity to mention issues affecting their constituency.
MPs wishing to ask a question must enter it into a ballot system.
Entries are selected at random and put at random onto the Order Paper which the Speaker of the House calls out. The question is asked; the Prime Minister gives an answer.
Tradition dictates that PMQs starts with a question about the Prime Minister’s engagements. This is called Question Number One.
The Prime Minister will usually reply;
“This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.”
The first MP to ask a question will ask “Question Number One” then follow that with their own query.
This question is usually followed by the leader of the opposition. The opposition leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party) is allowed six questions in total. The opposition leader is the only person allowed to come back with further questions.
Those not selected for the Order Paper can attempt to “catch the eye” of the speaker to ask an extra question. This is achieved by standing and sitting immediately before the Prime Minister makes his answer. This is known as “bobbing”. There was us thinking they’d just had an electric shock.
The format of Prime Minister’s Questions has changed over the years. In 1881 a time-limit for questions was set. Then in 1961 PMQs were made permanent as two 15 minute slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister he changed the format again to the 30 minute slot on a Wednesday which we have today.
Prime Minister’ Questions has been criticised as being childish. MPs from both sides cheer their leaders and bray at the opposing side. The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition usually trade thinly veiled insults.
The speaker of the House John Bercow has called PMQs “embarrassing”. The “histrionics and cacophony of noise” meant several MPs had said they would not attend Prime Minister’s Questions.
In the past the behaviour was much more civilised. In a speech to the House John Bercow notes that “while exchanges could be lively, contemporary accounts do not record them being remotely raucous.” Former speaker Selwyn Lloyd blamed the rise in bad behaviour personal animosity between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to change Prime Minister’s questions. He wants it to be less “theatrical” and for a real debate to take place.
Party Conference is like the Glastonbury of politics. The leader’s speech is the headline act – an opportunity to send out a message about the parties values and aims to voters, but also to party members.
We explored what goes on behind the scenes, and why this 2015 conference season is so important:
2015 was a good year for the Green Party… up until the general election.
The “Green Surge” saw 13,000 people join the party in just one week. Leader Natalie Bennett scored points by being included in the TV party leader’s debate. The Greens were going mainstream and things seemed to be going so well.
At the general election 3.8% of the public voted for them, their highest share of the vote ever. However, due to our electoral system they only have ONE MP, Caroline Lucas.
If we switched to a system called Proportional Representation the Greens would have 24 MPs rather than one. So it’s no surprise that Natalie Bennett’s conference speech called for change.
She also criticised the government for not doing enough to fight climate change. The Greens just wanna be friends and will campaign to stay within the European Union.
They also got practical, collecting donations for the refugees in Calais, France. Perhaps less talk, more action is the way forwards?
Little mention was made of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Many predict he will move the Labour party to the left of politics… with some similar values to the Green Party. If this happens, will there be much point in the left-wing Green Party?
Caroline Lucas MP seems to be up for joining forces with other parties on certain issues saying “we are stronger when we work together’.
Are the Greens irrelevant? Or will the Green surge continue? You decide.
The UK Independence Party is having a bit of a rough time.
Despite picking up 12.6% of the public vote in the general election, our electoral system means they only have ONE MP. Mega awkward.
This disappointing general election result led to their leader Nigel Farage resigning… only to return a few weeks later.
With the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union approaching this should be UKIP’s moment. After all, this is why the party was created.
But it seems squabbles within UKIP might spoil things.
Leader Nigel Farage and UKIP’s single MP Douglas Carswell disagree on a major decision. They support different campaigns linked to the European Union referendum, due to happen before the end of 2017.
Farage used Conference to announce his backing for anti-EU group Leave.eu and thinks it should be the official campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Carswell used to be a Conservative MP, but defected to UKIP. He supports Business For Britain, which hasn’t yet committed to backing an EU exit. Farage has accused Carswell of having “residual loyalty” to his old Tory party. Even more awkward.
Will frenemies Farage and Carswell put aside their differences before the referendum?
AKA the one we’ve all been waiting for.
The Conservative Party are back in government – and for the first time since 1992 have enough parliamentary seats to form a majority. No longer held back by the Liberal Democrats they are free to do as they please… for the next five years at least.
David Cameron’s announcement that he will stand down before 2020 means everyone is wondering who will be next in line for the PM crown. Could it be George Osborne? Or perhaps Boris Johnson or Teresa May?
For now David Cameron looked secure, as he and the Tory big wigs outlined the Tory agenda for the next five years.
Cameron promised to build 200,000 new homes to tackle the housing crisis, to renew Britain’s Trident Nuclear system. He also outlined a more compassionate approach to the prison system, which Michael Gove had introduced the day before.
“We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this.
When prisoners are in jail, we have their full attention for months at a time – so let’s treat their problems, educate them, put them to work.”
The infamous Trade Unions Bill, which will make it harder for trade unions to strike, also got a mention at Conference.
Perhaps buoyed by his recent election success Cameron slammed Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Miaow.
“My friends – we cannot let that man inflict his security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising, Britain-hating ideology on the country we love.”
Home Secretary Teresa May announced tough new laws on immigration.
“While we must fulfil our moral duty to help people in desperate need, we must also have an immigration system that allows us to control who comes to our country.
Because when immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.”
However, things aren’t all plain sailing. A number of divisions appear in the Tory party. The Conservatives are divided over whether the UK should leave the European Union. The referendum on whether to stay in or get out will take place…at some point…before 2017.
The Conservative conference took place behind a riot fence. Outside the conference venue 60,000 people gathered for an anti-austerity march.
Chief Supt John O'Hare said: "Today around 60,000 people took part in a demonstration and I would like to thank them for their cooperation."
— G M Police (@gmpolice) October 4, 2015
Tory delegates were told in an email not to wear their Conservative passes outside of the secure compound.
Which was a little OTT as most of the protesters took part peacefully. Yet, some of some people focused on some negative behaviour, like spitting and egging. We’re not showing that… as, you know, the majority of the protesters took part in good faith. If you don’t believe us, believe the police;
Ch Supt O'Hare said: "The overwhelming majority of people have exercised their democratic right to protest with dignity and good grace."
— G M Police (@gmpolice) October 4, 2015
Will the Conservatives deliver on their promises? Or are their days in power numbered?
SNP, 15th-17th October 2015
Plaid Cymru, 23rd October-10th November 2015
The UK government promised to lower immigration levels to the tens of thousands. They are nowhere near meeting this target; do they really want immigration to drop?
By Bobbie Mills
Immigration is up there with the NHS and the economy as the issue which most worries Britain’s electorate. When politicians start on their immigration spiel, what we hear are numbers, numbers, numbers.
One number in particular keeps coming up: Net migration figures. This is the total number of people coming in to the country minus the total number of people going out.
If 100 people come in and 99 go out, net migration is 1.
If 1 person comes in and 0 go out, net migration is 1.
This figure includes people coming or going for more than a year for reasons of: work, study, joining family and seeking asylum. This means we are counting a very mixed bag of people –including students, children who arrive as dependents, senior managers transferring to their company’s London branch, and asylum seekers who cannot work while they await a decision on their refugee status.
The most recent statistics show net migration in the UK to be at 330,000.
This figure is enormously greater than Cameron’s pledged reduction of net migration to the tens of thousands. The Conservative government have since renewed their commitment to reducing net migration to these levels, but literally no one believes this is possible. Fail!
Why is the government failing so monumentally at meeting this target? Why do we want so badly to reduce immigration in the first place? Is it really such a good idea?
There is one simple answer to these questions: Not everyone wants to reduce immigration – INCLUDING THE GOVERNMENT.
Yes. We’ll say it again – the UK Conservative government, and pretty much any rich democratic state, does NOT want to reduce immigration by anywhere near the amount it says it does.
Cameron’s government could not be clearer in what it says about immigration: the current rate is too much and must be reduced. We know, however, that there is often a difference between what politicians say and what they mean.
Behind the scenes, the government is being pulled in two different directions on the subject of immigration.
This is because there is a great demand for immigration (both high-skilled and low-skilled) from the business sector. Rich economies like the UK rely on immigration to function properly. This not only goes for the National Health Service but also for processing plants, hotel cleaning, public transport and food processing, the list goes on.
The government has great interest both in keeping the economy moving and keeping the business sector happy. Therefore, it has great interest in allowing immigration at a reasonable level.
Why does the business sector favour higher levels of immigration? Business leaders tend to favour the free movement of highly-skilled workers because this allows them to take their pick from a wider pool of talented people. No surprises there.
Business leaders also tend to favour the freer movement of low-skilled workers because these people are more likely to take the jobs that British nationals simply do not want to do.
There are certain jobs that most Brits will not do because the education and aspirations that come with living in a rich economy mean they tend to want well-paid and fulfilling jobs which are seen as better than manual jobs. Even if we don’t want jobs from the top of the pile, we still have an idea of acceptable working hours, acceptable pay, and an idea of our rights.
Migrants, like everyone else, also have education and aspirations for decent jobs and a decent life – and this is why they decide to leave their country where they see few opportunities to come to work in a rich economy. Those who come to Britain, rather than another country, do so because they speak English (which all politicians agree they should do) or because they already have friends or family living there.
Not only are migrants more likely to take jobs that Brits do not want; migrants are also much more easily exploited than British nationals. This is because their visas are conditional on them remaining with a particular employer. If they quit their job because, say, their wages are being withheld, they automatically become illegal immigrants. Therefore, even if there were plenty of British nationals who wanted to do the hard and poorly-paid work typically done by migrants – like picking vegetables and cleaning toilets – employers would still prefer to employ migrants because they are cannot quit. They are a captive and exploited workforce, unlikely to complain.
This is the harsh reality of why the business sector prefers higher levels of immigration. Because the government needs to keep the economy growing and to keep business happy, it has great interest in allowing immigration at a reasonable level. This is why the government does not want to reduce immigration as much as it says it does, and why in many ways it does not want to meet its net migration target.
On top of this, there are reasons why the UK government cannot meet its target. All liberal democratic governments (who are committed to freedom, equality and human rights) are under a number of obligations under international law to guarantee human rights.
The UK is bound by the UN Convention on Refugees which requires it to provide shelter to people fleeing war and persecution.
The UK has passed the Human Rights Act, which brings its law into line with the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8 of which guarantees the right to a family life.
This means that the government cannot really control the number of people who settle in Britain as refugees or through family reunification. Neither can it control the number of people arriving, settling or leaving from within the European Union, owing to the terms of its membership of the EU.
Let’s combine the business stuff with the human rights stuff. There are big reasons why the government cannot meet its target on reducing net migration – because this would be going against a whole bunch of human rights conventions. Then there are equally important reasons why the government does not want to meet its target. Not only would this displease powerful business leaders, it would also be a very bad move for the British economy, which relies on migrants workers both highly- and low- skilled.
Again, there is a simple answer to this: the government wants your vote, and it thinks that what you want are fewer immigrants in the country. So long as the government believes that the electorate is opposed to immigration, it will do all it can to at least appear to be reducing immigration by any means possible, regardless of how many it actually wants to let in.
This is where the targets come in – nothing sends a strong message of a government’s intentions like a solid target for reducing immigration.
Everything this article has explained so far is what fancy-pants people call the ‘liberal constraint theory’. Governments tend to have good reason to want to keep immigration at a good level, but because public opinion tends to be anti-immigration, they have to keep up a tough-on-immigration rhetoric to win votes. Any government who wants to win votes, keep the business sector happy, and uphold international obligations finds itself in this tricky situation. So that goes for basically any liberal democratic government ever, it’s not just a UK thing, it’s not even a left- or right-wing thing.
There’s a loose end to this theory. Does public opinion always tend to be anti-immigration?
It’s not even that clear what the British public actually think about immigration – and we seem to be obsessed with talking about it!
The British Social Attitudes Survey found in 2011 that 77% of the public wish to see immigration reduced, whilst research from think tank British Future found in 2014 that the majority of the public have much more pragmatic and nuanced views, and do not necessarily wish to see it reduced. Is our government pandering to an anti-immigrant public opinion that doesn’t exist?
To be fair – the arguments surrounding the immigration debate are pretty hard to stay on top of. Every argument has a counter-argument, and it’s hard to get our thoughts straight.
Scenes of Reason have put together a graphic that shows why the immigration debate cannot be won.
Politicians know that immigration is ultimately what our economy needs to keep ticking over.
Conversely, every politician feels the need to take seriously people’s legitimate worries about how their towns are changing and how their local services are faring. That makes a lot of sense: people do have genuine worries and problems. Whether these problems are genuinely caused by immigration is an important and complex part of the debate.
What should politicians make of the fact that a lot of people see immigration as a problem not so much for their local area but for Britain as a whole? This trend was found by an Ipsos Mori study:
What should we make of the fact that a lot of the anti-immigration feeling in Britain comes from places which have next to no immigrants living in them? This is the case in Clacton-on-Sea where UKIP member Douglas Carswell won his seat. According to the last census, less than 1 in 20 residents of Clacton were born abroad.
What makes people anti-immigrant?
Local level tactics. It has been proposed that rather than shouting at the government for or against the crisis, members of the public need to contact their local MP and work up rather than down. How immigration affects your town should be more of a concern than how immigration affects the entire of the UK. Whatever you think about these issues, you can contact your MP using the WriteToThem service. Now you’re decoded, there might not be an excuse.
Immigration in the UK explained: The UK government does not want to reduce immigration as much as it says it does because it knows how important immigration is for the UK economy. However, all political parties maintain tough rhetoric on reducing immigration because this is what they believe the UK electorate want to hear. Is this what you want to hear?
How do we form our views on migration? Do we care how immigration impacts the economy? Is it more about how it affects our local area? How can we know what kind of impact immigration is really having? If we have no direct experience with UK immigration, where do our views come from? Are these fears about immigration coming from the press?
Bobbie has just finished an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. She writes on politics, the media and migration and lives in North London @MsBobbieMills
Queen Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest serving monarch. Earlier this year a report was released detailing how much the Royal Family costs. Are they really good value for money or should we get rid? Scenes of Reason broke down the debate so you can get the info.
In the UK: At present we have a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is now the UK’s longest serving royal. Well done, Liz!
Though the Queen is meant to stay out of politics and remain impartial, as head of state she has several duties. These include overseeing the opening of parliament and signing acts of parliament. Important stuff.
The Queen and the Royal Family also look after visiting royals and officials, and make visits to other countries. This strengthens diplomatic and economic bonds between the UK and other countries. Getting chummy; so we get their money.
The official royal website also describes the role of head of nation as “providing a focus for national identity”. Whatever the hell that means.
The Queen gets money from the government each year to pay for the running of her official duties.
This is done through the Sovereign Grant. In 1760, the Crown Estate (lands owned by the Royal Family) was handed over to the state. These lands owned by the state include farms, mines and public land. In return the Royal Family receives a payment each year to live on.
Currently: Each year the Queen gets the equivalent of 15% of the Crown Estate’s profits. Last year profits were £252.6 million, so the Sovereign Grant given to the Royal Family was = £37.9 million. Cor Blimey.
Sovereign Grant Act 2011 Sections 1(1) & 1(6) – Royal Finances paid by Treasury from funds voted by Parliament. pic.twitter.com/Cc9IlDz8MV
— Andy Wightman MSP (@andywightman) June 24, 2015
Earlier this year newspapers reported that Scotland will be reducing the amount of money given to the Queen.
Myth: With some of the Crown Estate being handed over to the Scottish government, the Scots will be keeping the profit money for themselves and won’t give any to the Queen.
This is untrue. As seen above, and reported on Buzzfeed the money comes directly from the treasury. Not actually from the profits of the estate. Sorry newspapers, you got it wrong.
Only 43 countries in the world are ruled by a monarchy.
Anti-Monarchy groups like Republic want to get rid of Queenie and the Royal Family. If this happened, the UK would likely become a Republic. The people and their elected representatives would nominate the head of state rather than a monarch.
“We call for an elected head of state to perform an important constitutional and ceremonial role. This is like the way it’s done in Ireland. This would give us an effective and independent head of state who can play a real role in national life.” – Republic
The Prime Minister is one alternative. Another option, favoured by Republic, is an elected head of state independent from the government. So, someone who is chosen by the people to represent the country, but not govern it. In theory, anyone should be able to put themselves forward for the position, just like MPs.
The Royal Family isn’t that expensive when you think about it. According to Buckingham Palace the Royal Family costs each person 56p a year. Bargain!
The Royal Family is good news for:
Tourism. Money brought in by tourism each year by the Royal Family is estimated at £500 million a year.
Charity. Around 3000 charities have a royal as their patron, boosting their profile and giving credibility to the cause.
Making connections. The Royal Family attend 2,000 official events each year in the UK and abroad.
Supporters of the Royal Family also say that we should sympathise with the Royals. They don’t get a choice in what they do and are expected to behave and live in a certain way. Life is so unfair.
And last time we got rid of the monarchy, in the English Civil War, it was only 11 years before we re-instated a King.
£500 million may sound good but according to the i100 Bees actually bring in more money than the Royal Family. That’s gotta sting.
You can’t sack the Royal Family. Having an elected head of state would hold them to account. If you do something you shouldn’t – you’re out!
Having a republic works for Ireland. Enough said.
As well as the day-to-day costs, we’re also going to have to fork out for a £150 million redecoration of Buckingham Palace. Lots of people are suggesting the Palace should be opened to the public, which would pay for the work.
And lastly, we really can’t call ourselves a democracy, when the head of state isn’t elected. Is it fair that a Royal is paid for by us, just because of who they are?