Disunited Kingdom?

Alert readers may have spotted a flaw in my last post about the forthcoming UK General Election. I wrote that, in my next post, I would consider the environmental policies of the regional parties.   “But,” I hear you all shouting “responsibility for the environment has been devolved to the regional assemblies, so the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parties will not be campaigning on this issue in this election.”   Correct.   However, I have tried to show in my writings on the election, that policies on a wide range of other issues has knock-on effects on the environment, so we still need to consider the policies of these parties, particularly as the likely outcome is unlikely to be an outright majority.   One or more of the regional parties could well hold the balance of power and, in the process, influence environmental policy directly or indirectly.

The two big factors are the economy and Europe.   Any sort of pact between a minority Labour or Conservative government and a regional party, whether it is Labour and Scottish Nationalist Party or the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, would inevitably involve a deal that leads to more money being spent in Scotland or Northern Ireland.   And that, in turn, would put a further strain on the finances for other sectors of government, including the environment. Just as for the other parties (see “A plague on both their houses” and “The political landscape isn’t very green …”), the manifestos of the regional parties are not short of fine words on environmental protection, so perhaps the best we can hope for is slightly more expenditure in Scotland or Northern Ireland, albeit at the expense of England.

My biggest worry, however, is UK’s relationship with Europe (see “What has the European Union ever done for us?”) and, on this point, most of the major regional parties are firmly pro-Europe. The only exception is the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland who support the idea of a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union.   I do believe that several elements of the EU need significant reform and that those countries that have opted out of the Euro may need different terms of membership to those that are in the Eurozone. But I don’t think that a referendum on UK membership is a good idea.   If I thought a referendum would stimulate a sober debate on the pros and cons of our membership, I would have no qualms. The reality, I suspect, would be that Eurosceptic elements of the Conservatives would unite with UKIP and media barons to create a feeding frenzy of scare stories that could precipitate an anti-EU victory.

Please excuse this series of posts on the election.   I am a floating voter by inclination but my constituency (City of Durham) has an entrenched Labour majority and a sitting MP (Roberta Photo-Opportunity) who has shown herself to be a loyal and ambitious apparatchik unlikely to deviate from official party policy.   So I can read every manifesto, ruminate on the budgetary implications of every pronouncement and cast my vote without ever shaking the foundations of Westminster. I am to UK politics what a eunuch is to the survival of the human race. However, having lived in Nigeria at a time of military rule when democracy was just a dream, I know that we should not dismiss the privileges that we have lightly.   So I’m typing away here hoping that someone out there who reads my blog lives in a marginal constituency and has the chance to influence things in a bigger way than I can.  Though, as you may have noticed, I am not expecting a major improvement in the state of the UK’s environment, whoever gets elected on May 7th.