What a year 2019 has been for UK politics. Amidst all the turbulence, it has been difficult to detect any degree of clarity, even amongst those with the levers of power. This article intends to highlight some of this year’s most prominent themes and processes that have dominated political discourse over the past twelve months.
2019 saw concerns about environmentalism develop to an unprecedented degree. Extinction Rebellion in particular has ensured that the political elite can no longer ignore the Climate Crisis. XR’s controversial two-week protest in London in October resulted in significant disruption and gained substantial news coverage. However, like the September Climate Summit in New York, no radical political action ensued. Meanwhile, celebrities – including Prince Harry, and more surprisingly Lewis Hamilton and petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson – have declared their support for the green campaign. The above figures, however, have all come under criticism due to the hypocrisy inherent in their lives evident in their preference for privet jets and motorcars. Harry has even been branded the ‘Carbon Footprince’ by various press sources, including The Week, The Times, and The Sun.
The newfound centrality of the Climate Crisis to British political discourse, however, was reflected in the December general election. Climate was deemed important enough by the media to warrant a debate of its own, which two party leaders chose, unforgivably, not to attend. In doing so, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and the notorious Nigel Farage blatantly demonstrated their lack of respect for the debate’s subject matter. The men were replaced by Channel 4 with ice sculptures, which poignantly melted as arguments unfolded amongst the present politicians. When it came to voting, however, the extent to which the British electorate view the Climate Crisis as a pressing issue was shown to be limited. This was tragically reflected in the majority gained in the election by the party advocating the latest target year (2050) of all the main parties for Britain to achieve the status of net zero emissions.
The fall of May and rise of Boris
Whether Theresa May deserved sympathy was a topic of contention in the early stages of 2019. She came up against obstacle after obstacle in desperate efforts to come to a Brexit deal with the EU, against her Remainer instincts. The considerable opposition she faced from within her own party was undoubtedly a significant factor in triggering her resignation as Conservative leader in March. May was brought to tears as she delivered her speech outside Downing Street. This exhibition of emotion contradicted her reputation as an unfeeling being, as well as her self-fashioning as Britain’s second Iron Lady. A fast-paced battle for party leadership immediately ensued, resulting in Boris as Prime Minister, and the biggest Cabinet cull in around 60 years. Runner-up, Jeremy Hunt, was essentially sacked from the party – an action accompanied by the resignation of many Tory Boris critics, including Philip Hammond and Rory Stewart. Boris’ rise is arguably evidence of Britain following the global trend of populist leadership. Unlike others, however, Boris’ actions continue to be manipulated by the “maverick” Dominic Cummings, working maliciously behind the scenes.
Politics v. Law
It is highly likely that it is only since August that most of us learnt the true meaning and implications inherent in the phrase ‘to prorogue’. This year’s Reith Lectures were delivered by Lord Johnathon Sumption in May, tackling the theme of the rise of the law at the expense of politics. Even as a former justice of the UK’s Supreme Court, Sumption could hardly have predicted how apt and relevant his lecture series would be in the months successive of their release. The Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the early Autumn came under significant public and legal scrutiny. After careful consideration, Lady Hale – Present of the Supreme Court at the time – announced on 24th September, famously wearing a sinister spider broach, that Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament, especially at the height of Brexit tensions, was unlawful. Subsequently, Parliament proceeded as usual, with the Prime Minister not being clearly subjected to any punishment – excluding the inevitable press criticism, of course – for his illegal actions. Surely, if they cannot resolve their own arguments, politicians should be disciplined appropriately by the law courts they turn to to sort out their mess for them.
Redrawing the political map
No review of this year’s politics would be complete without at least a brief – and it will be brief, fear not – look at the general election. A main point that can be deduced from the election is that right and left political camps have become increasingly polarised. There is, unfortunately, no solid centrist figure or party with noteworthy influence, especially as Jo Swinson managed to alienate the centrist vote by unequivocallyadvocating to revoke Article 50. Winning a landslide majority, Boris Johnson has lived up to his reputation for doing what everyone thinks impossible. The campaigning period witnessed many defections, mainly to Lib Dem benefit, but alas, to no avail. Nichola Sturgeon’s SNP was the only other victor come December 13th. Even the reliability and hegemony of the BBC has come under threat, as they face unprecedented accusations of political bias from across the spectrum.
Moving forward into 2020
Clarity and direction. These are characteristics that will finally resurface in UK politics in 2020 after three years of indecision since the fateful Referendum. This is, arguably, what 13.9 million people voted for in December, as Labour tragically only offered further uncertainty and inaction. Time will only tell whether, as The Guardian asks, the 2020s will be defined by “pollution, populism, and presidentials”.