Welcome to part two of this series about the Collins Dictionary Words of the year 2015. In this episode you’ll hear me discuss these words with Amber and Paul. I’ll also explain and clarify a lot of the things you’ll hear in our conversation. You can listen to the episode, download and also read vocabulary notes below.
[DOWNLOAD] ***This episode contains some rude language and explicit content.***
Recently I had Amber and Paul over to the flat and we talked about this list of new words that Collins are introducing into their online dictionary this year. These are all new words we’ve been using a lot this year. Collins have judged them to be worthy of recording in the dictionary. They all relate to new trends in our culture over the last year.
In this series I’m playing you chunks of the conversation with Amber and Paul, and then pausing that and clarifying some of the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation that you heard.
So, you’re getting to hear some natural conversation, but also you’re getting some intensive language teaching too. Hopefully this is the best of both worlds for you as a listener.
Now, without any further ado, let’s carry on. Let me now play you the next conversation chunk. Here it is – this is word 10 in the list of 10 words. Here we go…
Word 10 – “transgender”
transgender (adjective): of or relating to a person whose gender identity does not fully correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth
He was held up as a great example of an American athlete. (to be held up as something)
He identified as female. (to identify as – this is the expression used to say that someone feels like they have a particular identity, particularly in relation to ethnicity, gender etc – e.g. the case of Rachel Dolezal, who worked as a civil rights leader in Washington. She was criticised in the media (shamed) for lying about her ethnicity – she basically tried to pass herself off as black while campaigning for equal rights issues – but she was actually white. Even her parents were in the media saying “yeah, she’s caucasian”. Pretty weird thing to do, and lots of people got angry saying “you can’t just say you’re black and pretend to be a victim of discrimination, when you’re blatantly white!” When criticised for this, she just said “I identify as black” – not “I am black”. This was also a trending story this year. www.buzzfeed.com/claudiakoerner/a-civil-rights-leader-has-disguised-herself-as-black-for-yea#.tiM247b0q
Transvestism / Transvestite (a transvestite is different to a transgender person. Transgender = a man who identifies as a woman even though physically he’s a man – or the other way around, and a transvestite is a person who enjoys dressing as a member of the opposite sex, for whatever reason – usually this is a man who likes dressing as a woman. For some reason this is far more shocking than a woman dressing in male clothes, which nobody seems bothered about)
3 positions (basically): 1. It’s a good thing 2. It’s a bad thing 3. I don’t really care either way.
She’s old school (Germaine Greer). She’s an old school feminist. (old fashioned)
Her position about what feminism should be and how we should address it was important but it has changed and I think she’s not changed with it.
(I talk over Paul quite a lot when he’s talking about same-sex marriage – sorry Paul)
To misgender someone (not some sort of transgender competition, it’s a verb which means ‘to wrongly gender someone’)
Mx (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms and now Mx)
Word 9 – “to swipe” (there’s some rude language and rude content here)
swipe (verb): to move a finger across a touchscreen on a mobile phone in order to approve (swipe right) or dismiss (swipe left) an image
Swipe was already a word, but this is the specific use of ’swipe right or swipe left’ to mean “accept or reject someone on a dating app”.
“Tinder” (“TINder??” pronunciation with surprise and disdain)
to sign up
The unwritten rule
To make a match
I will “do” anything (“do” here means “have sex with”)
Don’t go there.
You’re going there.
He’s dipping his toe in.
He’s taken pictures of his phallus. (other words for a penis. Medical/clinical words: penis, phallus. Informal but not rude: willy. Suggestive but not swear words: tadger, member, private part(s). Rude words: prick, cock, dick.)
Word 8 – “shaming”
shaming (noun): attempting to embarrass a person or group by drawing attention to their perceived offence, especially on social media
To be publicly shamed
She was trying to be funny by awkwardly implying that it’s very unfair.
There is this massive problem in Africa, and it’s less of a problem in Europe.
If you put that on Twitter the chances are people are going to misunderstand and they’re going to have a knee-jerk reaction, and they will respond in a very angry way.
An Über driver got beaten up by an executive of Taco Bell.
He was completely wasted and completely off his face.
He was slurring his words (remember that one?)
There’s something un-just about it.
You’re making a judgement call on the way someone looks, or what someone does.
You know there was that whole thing about slut shaming.
Book recommendation: Jon Ronson “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”www.audibletrial.com/teacherluke
His voice is a bit off-putting at the beginning but he really draws you into the story.
End of Part 2
In this series of three new episodes Amber, Paul and I talk about a list of the 10 Words of the Year which have been added to the Collins English Dictionary. We’re going to explain the words and discuss the issues behind them and I’ll also explain and clarify a lot of the language you’re going to hear in our conversation.
Transcript to the Introduction and some notes for language analysis
Hello everyone – welcome to another episode of LEP. I hope you’re doing well… etc.
This introduction is being recorded on 18 November, on a Wednesday, but the rest of this episode and the other 2 episodes in this series were recorded a couple of weeks ago.
This episode is all about the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year 2015.
let me break it down.
First of all, Collins are a publisher of dictionaries, and so it’s their job to monitor the usage of words in order to decide which words should be added to the dictionary every year. They do this by noticing new words and seeing how often they have been used in the last 12 months. They then pick some of the more commonly used new words and add them to the dictionary. These are their ‘words of the year’.
How do they monitor the words? They have a special database of word usage called a Corpus. This is a quote from the Collins website:
“This evidence is based on our 4.5-billion-word database of language called the Collins Corpus. The words in the Corpus are taken from a huge range of sources of spoken and written English, including newspapers, radio and other types of media, from all over the world.”Link here.
The ‘words of the year’ list is an interesting way to identify trends in language, but it’s also quite revealing about modern British life because these are the things we’ve been talking and reading about.
Some people complain that these words aren’t serious enough, and that adding them to the dictionary is an example of the decline of language in some way. I think it’s fine to add these words into the dictionary because they just reflect changes in culture and in the end with new words needed to explain new concepts. Also, we need a record of the words people are using – especially if you’re a learner of English. You want to be able to learn the real English that people actually use, don’t you? Then you’ll want the dictionary to include the words that people really use. It’s not Collins intention to decide if people should or shouldn’t use these words, rather to see which words are being used a lot just so that they can be added to the dictionary to reflect the language as a living thing.
As ever I’m curious to know what you think about these new words. What do you think of Collins’ list? How is the dictionary managed in your country?
In this episode, Amber, Paul and I are going to go through all the words in this list, explain what they mean and discuss the issues that relate to them. This episode is also going to be a kind of review of the trending issues of the year.
As usual our discussion is pretty fast and busy, which is normal when friends discuss things.
To help you to understand everything and to give you a chance to maximise your learning from this episode I’ve decided to break up the discussion into chunks.
What’s a chunk? It’s just a substantial piece, a part, a lump. Like, a chunk of meat, tear off a chunk of bread from a loaf, a chunk of rock, you can also talk about chunks of language – like fixed expressions or phrases. In this case, we’re talking about chunks of a conversation.
What I’m going to do is play you each chunk of the discussion and then explain some of the language you heard. That way you’ll understand and learn much more.
I really think this is the best way to do it because you’re getting the best of both worlds – you can listen to our natural and spontaneous conversation, and then I’ll break it down to help you understand everything and learn even more from our conversations.
This episode contains just one conversation chunk, and it’s just the pre-chat we had before we even talked about any of the words of the year! In fact, I started recording and said hello to Amber and Paul, asked them how they were, and we started chatting about different stuff like the weather and the November 5th and we talked before dealing with the words of the year. However, this pre-chat is so full of language content that it has taken up the whole of this first episode.
It’s a bit ridiculous – you won’t actually hear us discussing the words of the year in part one! So, before we listen to the pre-chat, let me just list the words of the year for you now, even though you won’t hear us discussing them until part 2 of this series. I like to make things complicated.
OK, so the Collins Words of the Year are (in reverse order – and all these words will be explained and discussed in this series of 3 episodes – you might not understand them now but you will by the end of the series I promise)
transgender, manspreading, contactless, swipe (left or right), ghosting, clean eating, Corbynomics, shaming, dadbod and binge-watch.
I will only say those words once. You will hear them again, and hear explanations, later in this series, but for now, let’s listen to the pre-chat I had with Amber and Paul
This includes stuff about climate change, November 5th, and some other things. So, let’s finally start listening to the conversation shall we? (I do go on a bit don’t I?) Listen to the pre-chat
Language Analysis: Pre-Chat (The bits in brackets are notes for my comments)
Conspiracy theories (Paul talks about climate change as if it’s a conspiracy theory)
It’s a hot topic.
Is it a conspiracy theory? (upward intonation for surprise, doubt)
Some people say that climate change isn’t a thing.
some people deny climate change.
(climate change deniers / to deny climate change)
We are exacerbating the environmental trend.
We’ll be dead before anything bad happens.
We might not be (elision).
Would it be bad if we were still alive in 100 years? (pron – weak sounds)
There are already too many people (pron)
China – they’re getting rid of the one baby ban (a ban on having more than one baby)
Old people who are in retreat (he means in retirement)
China should open it’s arms to Syria (an interesting political idea – but I didn’t want to talk about it because it’s a sensitive topic and I didn’t want to go down a rabbit hole – get sidetracked).
It’s unusually warm, which is kind of nice in a way because we don’t have to wear big coats and everything. (pron, but also using a relative clause to refer to a while clause).
There was a plot to blow up the houses of Parliament.
1605 (how to say years – normally divide it in two, except: when it’s 05 06 etc, 1900 1800 etc, 2000-present = “two thousand and…”)
Passives – Guy Fawkes and his gang were caught in the act of trying to blow up Parliament. He was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.
And we’ve never forgot. (Nursery rhyme. “Forgot” isn’t it “forgotten”. Amber is referring to the old rhyme. Forgot here is poetic licence – it should be “forgotten” but that’s ok because of the poem and it’s old)
Words of Nathalie Portman there (Paul is referring to the film V for Vendetta which takes place in the future and has a character similar to Guy Fawkes. You hear the rhyme in the film. Obviously the quote is not from Nathalie Portman. In fact it’s an old rhyme from English folklore – we don’t know who wrote it) www.potw.org/archive/potw405.html
Amber talked about the Lewes fireworks. www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com
They make effigies and burn them. It’s very pagan.
Didn’t life change after that? (downward intonation – it’s a rhetorical negative question – it means – “life changed a lot after that, didn’t it”. “Didn’t she do well?” “Didn’t we have a good time?”)
(Obviously, 9/11 changed more than just the bottles of water not being allowed on planes and it was a very tragic event)
(Everyone laughed – not because 9/11 was funny, but because I was stuck in a serious topic suddenly and it was difficult for me to somehow get from this serious topic to the main topic – The Collins New Words of the Year.)
“How do I transition this to the actual theme of the podcast?”
“How do I get away from this potentially sensitive subject, which obviously is very serious, you know I don’t mean to make fun of THAT” (Features of spoken English – unfinished sentence, relative clauses, connected speech – all of it, and sentence stress)
2018 is when the next physical dictionary will be brought out. Some of these words may end up in that dictionary too. (phrasal verbs)
It depends if the words stand the test of time. (expression)
Article link: www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/05/binge-watch-2015-word-of-the-year-collins
End of the pre-chat.
End of Part 1: We haven’t even started talking about the words of the year yet!
In the last two episodes I went into quite a lot of detail about the context and predictions for the general election in the UK which took place just over a week ago. The results came in on the morning of Friday 8 May and a week later we now have a new government which is already getting itself ready to run the country over the next 5 years, implementing various plans, policies and legislation. Listen to this podcast episode for the full details and read the transcript below in order to follow almost all the words and phrases I use in this episode.
The results were pretty surprising in the end, which was a surprise in itself. Despite the fact that we knew the result would be unpredictable, nobody expected a surprise and for that reason the surprise that we got was pretty surprising. It shouldn’t have been a surprise of course, because we all knew that we didn’t know what was going to happen, and because of that, any result would have been surprising. So, what was the surprise? The Conservatives won an outright majority. There was no hung parliament, no coalition, no negotiations and no deal making. Just 5 more years of a David Cameron led Conservative government without the influence of the Liberal Democrats. Just the Tories running the whole show.
Let’s have a look at what happened, and what we can expect over the next 5 years. Of course my comments here are predictions and speculations and I don’t guarantee that it’s all going to happen as I describe it. As ever, we can’t be completely certain about what the future will bring. So, again, you can expect some more surprises. So, be ready to be surprised, if that is possible. Is that possible? Surely if you’re ready for a surprise, it won’t be a surprise. But according to last Friday’s result, that is possible, because we were all ready for an unpredictable result, and then when the actual result wasn’t predicted, we were all surprised by it. Anyway, enough of all this nonsense about surprises.
Is that confusing? Probably. Don’t worry, I’ll make it a bit clearer in a moment.
What were the predictions?
Although we knew it would be difficult to predict, most people were sure that neither of the two big parties (Con & Lab) would gain enough seats to form a majority government (326) and so we’d have another hung parliament like last time.
So, we expected there to be a period of negotiation in which firstly the Conservatives attempted to make a deal with either the Lib Dems if they won enough seats, or possibly UKIP if they won enough seats. I expected that it would be too difficult for the Tories to do this, they wouldn’t be able to make a coalition deal with anyone and then it would be up to Labour to try and make a coalition with either the Lib Dems (difficult to imagine) or the SNP (also difficult to imagine). In fact, most of the outcomes were difficult to imagine for various reasons – most of them being that the parties had ruled out almost all kinds of coalition deal with each other. So, we expected lots of political manoeuvring during the negotiation period, and then some kind of complex and unsatisfying partnership between parties that didn’t really see eye to eye on everything.
A lot of people expected Ed Miliband to be the next PM as it looked more likely that he’d be able to make a deal with one or more of the other parties.
In the end, despite the fact that we all knew the results would be unpredictable, the outcome was generally surprising for everyone. The Tories won an outright majority, with a win of 331 seats – a small majority.
What were the numbers?
Conservatives won 331 seats (up by 24 seats)
Labour won 232 (down by 26 seats)
Liberal Democrats 8 (down by a huge 47)
SNP 56 (up by a massive 50 seats)
UKIP 1 (up by 1)
Plaid Cymru 3 (no change)
Green 1 (no change)
18 seats went to other parties.
What happened to the leaders & parties? Conservatives
It probably felt like an amazingly huge victory in comparison to what everyone expected – a hung parliament.
Apparently Cameron was surprised by the result. It must have been exciting for him, but I expect the honeymoon period is wearing off now as he faces a number of challenges as PM.
It will certainly be easier for the Tories without the influence of the Lib Dems, but Cameron faces division within his party, particularly over the EU (some Tories are keen to leave, others not), a powerful SNP who will not only block some of his plans but may also demand a Scottish referendum. He will also have to push forward with more unpopular austerity measures.
He made a speech highlighting the importance of unity. He said he plans to be a ‘one nation PM’ – meaning he hopes to appeal to everyone in the UK. He’s pushing that line because he wants to reach out to all the people who didn’t vote for him, and also he must work hard to make sure the whole of the UK doesn’t break up – mainly as a result of Scotland campaigning for more independence.
It’s quite interesting to note that London Mayor Boris Johnson is now an MP. He was a candidate in a London constituency called Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and he won it. So he’s in the House of Commons now too. That’s interesting because we know he’s ambitious and probably has his eyes on the PM position. It was probably a calculated move by the Tory high command. In the event of a possible negotiation with UKIP the Tories would have needed another option for leadership – someone who is quite Eurosceptic and popular with the electorate and Boris fits the bill quite nicely. But since the Tories won an outright majority, Boris has to keep quiet for the time being. Cameron’s leadership is not in question at this moment. However, he has promised that at the end of this term (5 years) he will stand down. Then I expect it will be time for another leadership race for the Tory party and Boris could be in pole position.
By the way, on Saturday there was already some civil unrest with protests in central London against further spending cuts by the government. People lined up near Whitehall to demonstrate, and a few people were arrested. Plenty of people are unhappy with the Conservatives and their plans to make even bigger cuts to public spending. In fact, Iain Duncan Smith has already stated plans to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget. Welfare – that’s state run programmes to provide money and services to people who need it, like sick people, the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled, single mothers and so on. £12 billion cut from welfare programme.
Labour lost loads of seats in Scotland. Their hopes of forming a government were dashed.
Ed Miliband resigned/quit/stepped down.
The party also lost a lot of other key MPs including the shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Yes that really is his name.
The party is now leaderless and is ‘licking its wounds’. The next thing for Labour to do is to find a new leader and a new direction. Essentially it’s a question of ‘go left’ or ‘aim for the centre’. Either they pursue a more traditional left wing line, in order to compete with the SNP or Green parties, or they become more populist and centrist, aiming for a similar tactic as Tony Blair in 1997, when he chose the ‘third way’, which basically means adopting some aspects of the left (the socially minded side) and borrowing some from the right (the private sector led, free market economy). It’s going to be difficult for Labour to choose their approach, and their choice of leader is vital.
Why did Labour lose?
It seems that there is a rule in UK elections – no party has ever won when the leader is less popular than his/her rivals and when people don’t fully trust the economic plan. These seem to be the crucial things – a convincing leader with a convincing economic plan. In the end, Ed was not convincing enough, and neither was the Labour plan. Perhaps the Conservative rhetoric worked – “5 years ago we were in a mess because of Labour. They borrowed too much, taxed too much, spent too much and got the country into loads of debt. Then the tories took over and we’ve been following a strict long term plan, and it’s working. Let us finish the job, and don’t let Labour mess it all up again.” In the end that worked out very well for them.
Liberal Democrats lost loads of seats. It was a terrible night for them. Most of their seats went to the Tories, but also some in Scotland.
Their leader Nick Clegg quit/resigned/stepped down.
They’re now leaderless too, out of government, and suddenly much less influential in government than before.
They also lost a lot of key members.
Why did the Lib Dems lose so many seats?
Essentially, the Tories devoured them. The Lib Dems took the blame for a lot of the failings of the previous government. They didn’t stand out. Their whole message was just “you need us in any arrangement” and it wasn’t really clear what they would do other than prop up another party, and moderate them. This was a compromised position and I suppose voters aren’t fully convinced by that kind of vague rhetoric.
The SNP won a landslide victory in Scotland, even more than predicted.
They now are in a position to have a big influence on policy, legislation and the way the whole country is run.
For the Scottish, this is generally a good thing. It means more power for Scotland.
For some non-Scottish people, it’s a worrying prospect, for a few reasons.
For the Tories, they’ll have a tough time convincing the SNP to vote in favour of austerity measures. Also, the Scots may demand their influence to demand more public spending in Scotland and other things, including a possible new referendum for Scottish independence. They said they wouldn’t push for that, but there are suggestions that in fact they will. Having such a large presence in the House of Commons means that they’ll be in a much better position to get an independence referendum if they want it. With all the support they seem to have in Scotland, perhaps the result will be YES next time, and Scotland will leave the union. Goodbye the UK. United Kingdom – well, just the Kingdom (not so united) or the Divided Kingdom, or Queendom in fact, because we’ve got a Queen of course.
What’s the Queen been doing?
I expect she’s just been observing, reading the papers, watching the TV, drinking cups of tea, smoking (rumours are that she’s a smoker, but I don’t believe it), getting advice from experts at the Palace. Then, she met David Cameron last week, and since he got the mandate from the people (Well, some of the people) she invited him to form a government, which gives him the authority to run the country.
What about UKIP?
They got one seat. Not that much really. Nigel Farage lost his seat. He wasn’t elected in his constituency. It must have been either a kick in the stomach, or a relief (he’s been campaigning hard). He promptly resigned as leader of the party, suggesting he’d take the summer off before deciding if he’d apply again. The party refused his resignation. So, that’s it – he’s still the leader, even though he’s not an MP.
Why did the leaders resign?
Some people – students, listeners, seem surprised that the leaders of losing parties resigned. That’s normal in the UK. The idea is that the leaders take responsibility for the defeat, and it allows the party to then bounce back, find a new leader and move on. It’s quite common. Also, this time it’s particularly relevant because Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg failed to inspire the electorate. Their popularity is now damaged beyond repair really. It would be hard for them to come back from such a clear defeat, much of it due to them as individuals. They have to go in order to let the parties have a decent chance of succeeding next time. Ultimately, the parties are bigger than their leaders.
(OK, I didn’t have time for this, but here is a list of some words and terms that you heard in the last episodes – do you know them all?)
the political spectrum
The House of Commons
a landslide victory
a hung parliament
a coalition government
the welfare state
allow businesses to flourish
private sector / public sector
This podcast contains everything you should know about the general election which is happening across the UK this Thursday 7 May 2015. This could be a long episode, but I’m so determined to cover the whole story that I don’t mind how long it takes. I feel it’s worth spending some time to cover this topic in enough detail to make it genuinely interesting and informative. I’m not there in the UK at the moment, so I’m not able to take part in the discussions, or watch all the coverage on the TV, but I care about this a lot and I’ve just got to get this stuff off my chest – which means, I’ve got a lot of things inside that I want to tell you about. This is an important election (like any election) and it’s interesting because we genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen, and the consequences of the different outcomes could be quite drastic. Voting is on May 7, but I’ve already voted – I did it by post (yes, that’s possible in the UK). No, I’m not going to tell you who I voted for – I’ll let you try and work that out if you want.
[DOWNLOAD] [PART 2]
I was on TV last week talking about this election last week. I wish I had been as prepared then as I am now! It was a live TV debate on France24. They invited me on at the last minute because they needed a guest who was British and was able to talk about the election. I knew a few things about it because I’ve been covering this topic in my classes this year, and last year and so I agreed to go on the show. Also, I think they were interested in having a comedian on the show, and so they ended up with Luke from Luke’s English Podcast in the studio! 2 hours later I was on live television, and yes I did manage to plug Luke’s English Podcast, as well as suggest to President Francois Hollande that he take English lessons with me. So, Francois – if you’re listening, the offer is still open! I did okay in the TV debate, although I was a little unprepared. Now, after having dealt with this subject in class a few times this week already I feel like I am even more prepared, and actually have a good grasp of the situation, good enough to be able to explain it to you, here, in this podcast, clearly and simply.
That is my challenge in this episode – to get across the complex facts and issues relating to this election in an understandable and engaging way. Your challenge is to just try to follow it step by step! The end result should be that you’re more well-informed about this significant moment in British life, and I’m sure you’re going to pick up plenty of language in the process.
You’ll be glad to know that you can read a lot of what I’m saying here on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. If you want to follow this, read these words, repeat it yourself, check some of vocabulary in a dictionary or whatever studying method you have, you can do it. Not every word is transcribed as I might improvise and go off script from time to time, but the main content is certainly there for you to read. :)
This subject is relevant to you
You might not think this subject is particularly relevant to you, but I’d like to try and persuade you that it is.
The UK remains one of the world’s most important countries. What happens here is in the interests of the whole world.
If you’re in a European country it is particularly relevant, because what happens in this election could dictate the UK’s relationship with the EU, including steps towards our exit from the union.
This election is fascinating because we really don’t know what’s going to happen. Usually, it’s pretty obvious. Not this time.
It could result in big changes to the UK’s constitution, including the our exit from Europe, Scotland’s exit from the UK, a fairly significant social and economic change of direction for the country, and changes to the way our government operates within Parliament. Is this the end of an age in UK politics? Maybe.
So, I think it is relevant to anyone interested in significant events beyond their borders – and I imagine that if you’re a listener to this podcast, you have some curiosity or relationship with the UK, which could make you want to know more about this big moment.
This is the number 1 story in the UK at the moment. There’s a huge buzz about it in the newspapers, on TV, all over the internet. It’s the big story – much bigger than the birth of the second royal baby, which happened on Saturday, and named yesterday (Charlotte Elizabeth Diana). So, in this episode I’ll explain the main details and nuances of this story, specifically for you as a non-native speaker, so you can understand it’s significance.
And as if that wasn’t enough you’ll get plenty of vocabulary, the opportunity to hear the leaders of 7 political parties in the UK. That’s 7 different voices from 7 different key figures in this election, including 1 Scottish accent and 1 Welsh accent. At the end of this episode, you’ll be far more informed about British politics than you were at the beginning, and we all know that knowledge is power. You may be able to impress people with your ability to chat about UK politics. Honestly, I’m often surprised at how little people understand politics, including fellow Brits. I think everyone benefits when we engage in politics. I’m certainly not cynical about this subject, and I definitely do not find it boring. Cynicism about politics is dangerous, because if we don’t care about politics, and ignore the subject – it doesn’t go away, it just gets dominated by people who do care about it – and often that means people with extreme, fringe ideas. So, let’s engage in politics because it’s not only fascinating, but vitally important.
So, are you convinced? I hope so.
The election is on Thursday, just a couple of days away. So, by the time you listen to this, the voting will probably have finished and there will probably be a new government in power. Many of you may be listening to this ages after the event. I still think it’s relevant, even some time after the election, because it’ll give you insight into not only the background story of what happened in May 2015 and the context of what’s going on in the UK at the moment, but it should also help to explain events that are happening in the future.
Context – the last 5 years
Traditionally, the UK has been dominated by two political parties – Conservatives (right) and Labour (left).
Now we’re seeing a much more diverse set of parties who not only represent different positions on the political spectrum, but also different regions in the UK. This is a story of not just right and left, but of England and Scotland, and also Wales & Northern Ireland of course. It could be the end of the two-party system, and the centralisation of Westminster.
Let’s just have a reminder of some basics of politics in the UK
The whole of the UK is divided into constituencies – these are political areas of the country. Each constituency votes for an MP to represent them in The House of Commons, which is in Parliament, which is in Westminster, which is in London, which is in England, which is in Britain, which is in the UK.
Each constituency has a seat in the House of Commons. There are 650 seats for 650 constituencies. So each seat is occupied by an MP who represents his/her constituency, including the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet (ministers of different ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, etc) members of the opposition etc.
Those MPs represent different parties of course. That includes the main ones – Conservatives (302), Labour (256), Liberal Democrats (56) and also other ones with smaller numbers of seats, particularly parties that represent specific interests of other nations in the UK, such as the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein from N.Ireland, the SNP from Scotland and Plaid Cymru from Wales.
Those MPs vote on laws that affect the whole of the UK. After the laws have been passed, and given Royal Assent by The Queen (she basically stamps them “Yes, fine” next! I don’t think she actually does it herself), they are applied in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But, thanks to a process of decentralisation of government power called ‘devolution’, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own parliaments which have a certain amount of independent power. They can adapt some of the laws from Westminster, and can write some new laws which apply only to those regions. This is particularly true in Scotland. England doesn’t have a devolved parliament like the other countries. We take laws from Westminster, unchanged. This arrangement has been relatively problem free for England, because the number of MPs from the other 3 countries in Westminster has been quite low, so it’s no big deal. But, if the SNP get lots of votes this year, it means the number of SNP MPs could rise by 40-50 seats, and that means that suddenly a lot of English laws are being voted on by Scottish nationalists. That’s making some English MPs freak out a bit. Do you understand that? Don’t worry if it’s a bit complex. It might make more sense later.
Basically, this is going to be a big year from the Scottish National Party and they’ll probably have a much bigger presence in Parliament than ever before, and that’s going to make a big difference to the way that government is run in the UK. The Scots will have much more influence.
What happened in the last election?
To form a majority government, one party needs to get at least 326 seats in Commons. For example, in 1997 Tony Blair’s Labour Party won 418 seats – that’s a big victory. They assembled a majority government that enjoyed a lot of support from the public (at the beginning). Labour won the next election too, but in the end, Blair lost the public’s support, mainly because he chose to get involved in the Iraq war in 2003 against public opinion. People decided that, with George Bush, he’d lied about his intentions for going to war in the middle east. He said it was about weapons of mass destruction, and it became clear that it was more about imperialism and a struggle for oil. Blair stepped down eventually, and was replaced by another Labour MP called Gordon Brown (an imposing Scottish guy who specialised in economics, was a bit more socialist in nature than Blair, had one eye and was unable to fake a smile on live TV) after a damaging power struggle within the party. Basically, Brown and Blair set up New Labour together in the 90s. They had an agreement that Blair would be the leader, and Brown the finance minister, and that after something like 8 years, Blair would step aside and let Brown have a go at leadership. I think Blair didn’t want to give up the leadership (if we can learn one thing from this episode, it’s that power is massively seductive, and when power is within reach people will be willing to change even their most important principles in order to get it). So there was an internal struggle within the party, and Brown won and became PM, but it left the Labour party divided. Blair is now generally disliked. Brown was also pretty unpopular. He didn’t have the charisma or charm of Blair, and he was PM at the time of the economic crash. A lot of people blame him and Labour for that. This is around 2008, 2009. In 2010 it was time for another election.
There was a lot of voter apathy, and there still is. This is the feeling among voters that voting is a waste of time and effort, because all the candidates are basically the same, they all lie, they don’t keep their promises, they’re corrupt and just seek power and don’t really have our interests at heart. That meant that we had a fairly low voter turnout at the election, and also the nation wasn’t particularly passionate about one candidate in particular. The three main candidates were David Cameron of the Conservatives, Gordon Brown of Labour and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. None of them did particularly well, and neither Conservatives or Labour got the magic 326 seats to form a majority government. So, the negotiations began. What negotiations? The negotiations to form a coalition government. This is when several parties get together and form a joint government. Usually a smaller party will join a bigger one if they can agree on certain policy ideas and an agenda for government. This involves the usual things you would expect from a negotiation – conditions, concessions, trading powers and so on.
It was the Tories (Conservatives) and Liberal Democrats who made a deal, and formed the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition which has been in government for the last 5 years. They came into power when the UK was suffering a large budget deficit (the country just didn’t have enough money to pay for everything) as a result of the financial crisis. The Conservative solution to this was to introduce sweeping austerity measures – that means spending cuts. This is one of the key policies of The Conservatives, and part of their ideology. Stop spending money on social services. That means cutting welfare payments or cutting benefit given to people in society who need help, or anything that the state pays for. The logic there is that the state can save money by spending less on its people.
At the same time, they wanted to reduce taxes for the rich, and allow businesses to flourish (to be successful), especially the financial sector (the banks, particularly in London). Don’t tax corporations, banks or businesses too much – let them thrive. If businesses are successful, if there is wealth at the top end of society, that will benefit everyone because the money will come trickling down from top to bottom like a magical waterfall, it will lead to job creation, more people will have spending power and everything will be wonderful. This was the Tory plan. Cut public spending, promote the private sector. The Liberal Democrats, in joining the Conservatives, moved to the right (because Conservatives are a bit right-wing, and the Lib Dems were in the centre, to the left of the Tories). So the Lib Dems moved away from the left in order to get into government. Nick Clegg justified this by promising to protect certain key things – like tuition fees for example (that’s the price you have to pay to go to university in the UK). He promised to make sure the tories didn’t raise tuition fees. But he failed his promise and the government did raise tuition fees. In fact, generally, the coalition has been bad for Nick Clegg because he’s had to compromise lots of his principles, and he keeps having to apologise for it.
So, the Conservative-Liberal coalition went ahead with large spending cuts. Lots of people in the UK protested against the cuts, saying it was unfair and that the conservatives only cared about the rich, and didn’t care about ordinary working people, and they had a point. Anyway, ‘austerity’ has been the big word of this government. Spending cuts. For many people, particularly those in working class or poor communities, this was pretty bad news because suddenly they had fewer services, longer hospital waiting times and so on. So, austerity, austerity, austerity. The tories say “we have a long-term plan for the economy – it’s tough, but it’s necessary”.
Maybe they’re right, because according to lots of analysts, the UK’s economy has had more growth than most other countries in Europe. Maybe it’s been working – but it’s unclear if this growth is due to spending cuts, or if it would have happened anyway. Maybe there are macroeconomic factors which are beyond the control of the tories, which mean that the UK’s economy would grow out of recession quickly anyway, and that if they cared more about communities, then people would generally be happier and quality of life better.
Ultimately, it’s a question of values. We’ll come to that later.
This is long isn’t it! But I hope you’re keeping up!!!
So, the most recent government is David Cameron PM, Nick Clegg deputy PM – conservatives and Lib Dems together, with austerity measures their main economic policy.
The Scottish National Party
Then of course last year we had the high profile Scottish independence referendum. As part of a deal agreed by David Cameron some time before, the Scottish were given the choice to be in or out of the UK. I did a podcast about this before, which was very well received by my listeners. There were two camps – the “Yes Scotland” campaign (for independence) and the “Better Together” campaign (against independence). In the end, 55% of people voted “no” for independence. Scotland stayed in the union. Part of the reason people voted “no” was because it was still a pretty good option for them as all the MPs from England (Lab, Lib and Con) all promised to give Scotland more devolved powers as long as they stayed in the union. “We’ll give you more power – but please don’t leave us!” So, the campaign was such a great advert for Scottish political interests in the UK that the SNP have since attracted loads and loads of support in Scotland. All that campaigning for Scottish rights has been wonderfully helpful for Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of SNP. Now, the SNP are probably going to win a landslide victory in Scotland, stealing a lot of seats from Labour. 40-50 extra Scottish MPs are probably going to arrive in Westminster. How’s that going to affect UK politics?
So, tories are in government, pushing spending cuts and being accused of just looking after their rich friends in the banking industry (who appear to have got away with losing/stealing all our money). Lib Dems have been supporting them, but trying to stop them going to far.
SNP have been getting loads of support in Scotland.
What about Labour?
After losing out in the last election they changed their leader. There was a race for leadership, and it ended up being between two brothers. Ed Miliband and David Miliband. In the end, Ed won, but he had to stab his brother in the back to do it (not literally). Basically, he got ruthless and undermined his brother’s campaign, making friends with key Labour supporters, and pushing a more traditional left wing agenda. So, Ed Miliband became the new Labour leader. The thing is, he’s not particularly impressive. His party is more popular than him really. He’s a bit awkward, makes some clumsy mistakes like forgetting important details in speeches, or stumbling over his words sometimes. He also looks a bit odd, like a character from a Wallace and Gromitt cartoon, and he has a nasal sounding voice. Also, he comes from a fairly wealthy background, despite being quite left wing. All those things work against him, but nevertheless he and his party have consistently challenged David Cameron’s government over their position on social and economic issues. He’s emerged as a candidate who actually cares about ordinary people, and who has the guts to take tough decisions and lead the country. So, although he’s not quite as popular as the Labour Party itself, Miliband could be our next PM. It all depends on small details in the voting on Thursday, and whether the tories can make a coalition deal with other parties or not.
Oh, I forgot something important – UKIP and Nigel Farage.
We’ve seen from history that whenever times are tough and there’s a financial crisis, people get scared and insecure, and they look for a scapegoat to blame for all their problems. That scapegoat is often foreign people, immigrants and their damaging effect on a country. UKIP stands for the United Kingdom Independence Party, and they have, in my opinion, some slightly dangerous, reductive and simplistic solutions to the UK’s financial and social problems.
Essentially, for UKIP, all of our problems are caused by our open door policy on immigration. The government doesn’t have enough money – immigration, we’re spending too much on welfare for immigrants. You can’t get an appointment to see a doctor? Immigration. You can’t find a job? Immigration. There’s too much traffic on the road? Immigration. You’ve got a bit of a headache? Immigration. You keep losing socks in the washing machine? Immigration.
Oh and the other problem is the European Union. According to Nigel Farage, the UK needs to leave Europe. If we do that we can choose our own laws, close the open door to immigrants, and save billions of pounds a year.
Farage has quite a high number of very vocal and loyal supporters. Sometimes they’re accused of racism. Sometimes UKIP members and supporters are racist, and then Farage has to make a statement saying “I’m disappointed in this person, they don’t represent the views of UKIP etc”. I’m sure it’s a familiar story to you – I’m sure there are similar parties in your countries that tell us that the source of all our problems is the dirty, criminal, lazy, disease infected influence of ‘other people’ from across our borders. In my opinion it’s small minded, it’s distorted by prejudice, it’s backwards looking (in the mind of Nigel Farage, Britain was at it’s best when fighting against foreign invaders) and it’s dangerous.
Farage wants the UK to have an early referendum on the EU.
There are arguments for leaving the EU – like that it would save us money, and we could be free to choose other trading partners, but I wonder if there’s real truth in them. If we did leave the EU, surely we would lose billions from all the lost business, the companies that would close or pull out of the country, the trade deals we would lose with our biggest market, the bad faith that would develop between the UK and other European nations, etc etc.
But, lots of people seem to agree with him and there’s a chance that if UKIP get enough support in enough places, that they could gain enough seats to be in a position to form a coalition government with the Conservaties, and that is bound to involve one key condition – a referendum on the EU. So, watch this space – Britain’s exit from the EU (or Brexit) is more likely than you might think. Would the conservatives offer an early referendum on EU membership if it guaranteed them power? Yes, I think they would.
There are also other parties, with less influence, but who could be important in any coalition deals. This includes the left-wing Green Party, Plaid Cymru (representing Welsh interests, also quite left wing) and parties from Northern Ireland such as the Ulster Unionists (would support the conservatives).