Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, and Brexit, Oh, My: Our Return to the United Kingdom

Photo Credit: @caitlynmrichter
In two and a half weeks, I will for the second time in two years take a group of Montana State students across the pond to learn about British politics, history, culture, and cuisine. As I finalize all the little details such as putting down deposits for meals, adding or deleting an activity, and making sure everyone knows where we'll meet at Heathrow, I'm struck by how much has changed since June 2015:

1. David Cameron had won a surprise election victory that no one anticipated, gaining a slim conservative majority when we all thought there would be yet another coalition (likely Labour-led) government. Today, Cameron is off making speeches while his former Home Secretary, Teresa May, is the Prime Minister.

2. Scotland had only eight months prior rejected a bid for independence. Now First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (not Alexander Salmond) is talking about a second referendum.

3. Britain voted to leave the European Union, but Nigel Farage is no longer UKIP's party leader (and the party itself is in disarray).

4. Last time, we arrived immediately AFTER a general election and had the opportunity to see the Queen's Speech debate. This time, Parliament will be dissolved and we will be in the middle of the third election campaign that Britain has seen in two years. We won't get to see Parliament in session. We will, however, have the opportunity to do some campaigning in a marginal seat in North London.

5. Ed Miliband is on the back benches. Labour has put a hard-left rebel in charge (at least he won't muck up a bacon sandwich, as he's a vegetarian). George Osborne is leaving Parliament. Labour has had two leadership contests and is likely to lose handily to the Tories in June, leading to yet another change of party leadership this autumn.

6. The Tories--the TORIES--are the official opposition party in Scotland and are likely to make gains in the general election at the expense of SNP. Labour, once the dominant party in Scotland, is fading into irrelevance.

7. The Liberal Democrats, with 57 seats in 2010, finally joined a government. And what did they get for their troubles? A loss of 49 seats in 2015--and Nick Clegg resigning as leader. And yet, hope springs eternal as Brexit has handed them a life-line in pro-Remain areas.

8. Northern Ireland had an assembly election with Sinn Fein coming within one seat of the DUP. The elections were held in March, and still no government has been formed. The vote to leave the European Union raises a host of questions regarding the status of the Good Friday Agreement as well as the prospect of a closed border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

9. In class, we've talked about how hard it is to hold an early election after the passage of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act (oops) and how in many respects the British style of electioneering has become more presidential with the adoption of party leader debates--that is, until Theresa May refused to participate in any this go around. Frankly, I think this is a mistake--I can't envision debates actually helping Corbyn. Then again, when your party is up 26 points, why give them any chance at all to make up that ground?

The first trip was an experience of a lifetime, filled with adventure and learning. The second trip? There's even more to learn now that I know a bit better what questions I need to ask. I can't wait to share my passion for travel with another group of fine MSU students.

Thankfully, there will still be ONE thing that's constant
. And that's Professor John Curtice on the BBC election night decision desk!

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