By Rabbi Menahem LESTER, United Synagogue.
Britain goes to the polls for the next general election in less than two years. UK council elections were held recently and next year there will be elections for the European Parliament.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems lost seats in the council elections, while Labour regained some. But this was overshadowed by UKIP, which achieved 23 percent of the overall vote.
There are various reasons why UKIP is still being discounted, despite its impressive showing: It was a protest vote; we’re in between elections; come the serious business at the general election people vote for their traditional party; UKIP, like the Greens, are a flash in the pan… and so on. While all this is true to an extent, there is more at play. First, the Mother of Parliaments is fast becoming redundant.
The latest Queen’s speech contained only 20 bills, but 10 percent of the regular quota once expected. The reason is obvious: most of Britain’s laws are formulated in Brussels and simply rubber-stamped by Parliament or civil servants (that’s another problem: the civil service has its own agenda, which often diverges from the government’s policy). A raft of problems Britain faces have been introduced via the EU or its sister organisations.
These include over-regulation – which hampers business and reduces productivity; uncontrolled immigration, especially of unskilled labour, when there are already strains on services such as health and housing; rising unemployment, particularly among the young; the failure to expel criminals and other undesirables, whose human rights trump the welfare and security of the wider populace and benefits paid automatically to newcomers who have made no contribution to earn them.
However, many of the current problems suffered in Britain are self-inflicted: the woeful standard of education is one being tackled by Michael Gove, but with opposition from teaching unions. The benefits minefield was identified by the Tories, but I doubt their resolve or ability to fix it.
Despite widespread publicity proposing swinging cuts to public services and quangos, in practice just a few leaves have been trimmed when whole branches need lopping; ring-fencing of some departmental budgets on political grounds rather than economic, especially at a time of austerity. Britain is not paying its way and the public debt has reached £1.4trillion and rising, requiring more than seven percent of GDP to finance, while the recession is barely kept at bay.
The armed forces are being pruned yet again and the morale of servicemen is low, at a time when resurgent Islam presents a widespread threat. All in all, there are many issues that the current government has failed to address. A major factor in future elections is credibility.
All mainstream parties have undertaken to hold a referendum on continued membership of the EU. All have reneged on that undertaking. The “Common Market” has morphed into “Political Union”; politicians of all shades have colluded in this process, in which voters were misled and are powerless to challenge them. Cameron has seriously alienated his grassroots support and, for that matter, Labour and the Lib Dems have been complicit in taking the voter for granted. The introduction of gay marriage was unnecessary and divisive – especially as the Tories committed to tax incentives for married couples – which they proceeded to forget.
ConLabLib want to remain in the EU but hope to renegotiate the most problematic issues; our EU rulers are not going to wear this and they know it. I feel real changes are coming and there are going to be shocks to the system. UKIP successes in the local elections provide them with the local knowledge and support needed for the general election, which is what they lacked at Eastleigh. UKIP has a programme that addresses many of the current problems and a charismatic leader who talks sense; it needs the mandate to execute them. After the European elections, it is quite possible they’ll get it.
• Rabbi Menahem Lester is a United Synagogue rabbi based in London and Israel