Friday 9 June 2017

The British political system, part 4, the issues

What are the factors that British people consider when casting their vote? I'll try to list the main ones, although I suspect that the largest factor is "The party I always vote for".

The biggest issues are probably the economy, and the NHS.

High up on the list, is the NHS, our National Health Service. This was set up in 1948, funded out of taxation, and pretty much free at the point of service. There are a few things that you make a small payment for, such a prescriptions at £8.60 per item. I get mine free, as I'm over 60.

But the staff are underpaid (the nurses pay rises were capped at 1% for the last several years), the service is (I'm told) underfunded and the NHS (I'm told) is on the verge of breakdown.

My personal experience of the NHS doesn't bear this out; my recent episode of The Dreaded Lurgi (see this blog, from early May 2017) was promptly treated by my local GP and when I was suspected of a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) was promptly and carefully treated in my local hospital (I didn't have  DVT, it was probably just a muscle strain). But a sample of one isn't significant. And funding for the NHS is a major political issue.

One problem here, is that there is no upper limit to the demand for healthcare, and without any price deterrent, the only way to limit demand is via rationing, which is the reason for "waiting lists". Also, the UK population is aging, as a result of ... better healthcare. We love our NHS, and feel sad that our American friends have nothing like that.

On the Economy. The cuts (according to Labour). Or the austerity (according to the Tories).  Both are fake. What has actually happened, is that the growth in government spending has not been as great as some people would like. Austerity means "difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure." and cuts mean "reductions".

Immigration is an issue, and may be one of the reasons we voted for Brexit. But Germans, French and Poles coming to this country have a lot in common with the British culture, whereas immigrants from non-EU countries such as Pakistan are a lot more different.

Another important issue, is policing. In the last several years, police numbers have dropped by 20,000, a fall of 14%. In the last few months, we've seen three terrorist incidents, and this has made people wonder if reducing police numbers was a good idea.

Another issue is education. There's the pay of teachers, there's classroom sizes and the question of university fees and student loans.

Social services is somewhat linked to the NHS issue, because if someone can't be moved to a care home, they might continue to occupy a hospital bed.

Transport - we're planning a hugely expensive new high speed rail line, while customers of existing services feel short-changed.

Tax - how much should we pay, and where should the burden lie? Are some big international companies getting away with paying less tax than we would like? Could the rich pay more to support those less well off? And we should close tax loopholes (except that every government tries to do that, and manages to leave a great many, and open new ones. Tax is *complicated*. And we shouldn't blame the companies that operate withn the rules, if the rules aren't what they should be, only the politicians are to blame.

On the environment - until recently, the government was pushing diesel as being less polluting than petrol; now they've reversed course. A year ago, I switched from petrol to diesel. Thanks, UKGOV. And does the move from coal to wood chips really represent an improvement? There's just as much carbon dioxide emitted. Wind power is very strong here, but you can't actually rely on the wind to blow, and we don't have much electricity storage.

Brexit. The referendum said "Do Brexit", but apart from that, it didn't say anything. Should we leave the EU but remain part of the single market with free movement of people? Or not? We talk about "hard" and "soft" Brexit, without actually knowing exactly what these mean, and Theresa May's "Brexit means Brexit" doesn't really help at all.
We have no idea what's happening, and no-one is going to tell us until it's all decided. And even then there will be lots of porkies about what's agreed.

Defence. Our army, navy and air force are shrinking; perhaps we're not expecting to go to war any time soon, so maybe that's not such a bad idea. We still have our nuclear deterrent, although Corbyn has said that he wouldn't be the first to use it (quite right too). But when asked whether he'd use it as a retaliation, he's ducked and dodged the questions. Which, in my opinion, is OK, because as long as you leave the possibility open, it's still a deterrent. It's a tactic I've used myself; not actually saying that I'd do something, but also not ruling it out.

And here are some non-issues, that maybe you thought were issues.

Terrorism. Is actually very minor in the UK, expecially when compared to how bad it was during the 1970s, which is within living memory.

Roads. Yes, there could be fewer potholes, but they're in pretty good condition.

Burkas. Some people want them banned, the great majority think that people should wear whatever they want, except in particular circumstances (for example, you can't go into a petrol station wearing a full face helmet).

Unemployment. Doesn't seem to be an issue.

Clean air, water. Hardly any complaints here.

Foreign policy. We get a bit annoyed when a foreign leader tweets insults to the Mayor of London right after a terrorist attack, but that's mostly your problem, not ours. We live on an island, and know it. The main foreign policy is to do with Brexit, and no-one knows what our policy is. Probably including our politicians.

No go areas. I've heard that some people think that there are lawless areas in the UK. Some people will always think what they want to think, in defiance of reality. There aren't any no go areas.

Guns. We don't have them, and don't want them, because we can see what happens when guns are freely available, the USA provides an excellent Dreadful Example. Even our police are not routinely armed. We do have some armed police, we call them "firearms officers" and they have particular training.

Religion. Any politician who tries to play the god card causes prolonged and high-volume hilarity. We don't do god here. Less than 2% of the population are churchgoers (and falling). We celebrate Christmas with trees, shopping and overeating, and we celebrate Easter with chocolate and bunnies. I find it hard to understand the situation (and hypocrisy) about religion in the US.

Climate change. We've heard of it, and we're doing our bit, but in the UK what we have mostly is weather, and lots of it. And if you don't like the weather, just wait an hour.

Racism. Yes, there's still a bit, but hardly any. The leader of the BNP Nick Griffin went on radio "Question Time", a serious political talk show, in 2009. There was much discussion about whether such an extremist should be given a platform, but he was. And he made such a complete arse of himself that his party suffered an abrupt decline and he was chucked out as leader. The Labour party has stuck its head up in the racism area, mostly via antisemitism, but it's not a common problem.

Misogyny. Theresa May is the second female PM, the SNP has a female leader, women are pretty much accepted as people here.  Although many women say ther's still a way to go.

Abortion. Not an issue.

Freedom. Not an issue. We're free, have been since time immemorial (Magna Carta was in 1215) and find it amusing that Americans think that they invented liberty at a time when they had slavery (which we abolished in 1833).


  1. "hypocracy" should be hypocrisy.

    I think you meant 20,000:

    "police numbers have dropped by 20,00,"

    Police not routinely armed? They carry pepper spray canisters, which the Home Office define as Section 5 firearms, the same section as machine guns, and totally forbidden for citizens to possess. You cannot get a firearms licence for these, or teargas (mace) sprays or shock devices. The minimum sentence for possession is 5 years, the same as a pistol or assault rifle. The continued claim that most police are unarmed is trying to have it both ways.

  2. Also:
    "And he made such a complese arse of himself"

    There is an open bracket without a close bracket in the tax section.

  3. Corrections made.

    The police refer to their pepper armament as "condiment". They also carry an extending rod, which you can use to hit people with.

    OK, they're armed. But they don't routinely carry firearms.