The 2015 general election portends an era of ‘dangerous’ women having undue influence on British politics come May the 8th, if the print and social media are to be believed. Nicola Sturgeon – variously depicted as Miley Cyrus’ ‘wrecking ball’, Putinesque, the woman ‘holding all the aces’ and the ‘most dangerous woman of all’ will be pulling Ed Miliband’s strings. The women’s hug at the end of the Opposition leader’s debate epitomises an apparently ‘red sisterhood’ that will leave the Labour leader defenceless in the face of their collective seductive powers. To make matters worse, Ed’s ‘girly laugh’ (as Guido Fawkes put it) renders him insufficiently manly for the Premiership. All of this might be discounted as election banter, colourful to be sure, but nonetheless underpinned by legitimate concerns about post-election governing arrangements. Be that as it may. Such depictions also re-present Westminster politics as male, opposing and privileging the ‘male-politician-norm’ with the ‘female-politician-pretender’.
The next election to the European Parliament, the eighth contest since direct voting began in 1979, will take place over 22-25 May. This will be an important event in the history of the European Union. Many national elections in the past few years have witnessed governments ousted because of their handling of the economy and their support for austerity policies (namely in Greece and Cyprus, but also in France and Italy). However, this is the first time that citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions in a ballot on the handling of the Eurozone debt crisis at the European as opposed to the national level.
Moreover, for the first time in its history, more than 400 million European citizens will have a chance to decide not only on the composition of the European Parliament, but also about who might become the chief of the European executive, the President of the European Commission. Even if the Commission’s role is said to be weaker than it was in the past, the incoming President will nonetheless play a key role in deciding the future direction of political and economic integration in the EU. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in late 2009, the European Council composed of the Heads of State and Government of the 28 member states now proposes a President of the Commission to the European Parliament, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. For many this represents the first opportunity for a truly pan-European election.
Once trade unionists are asked to contract in to Labour, the current means of electing the party leader has to be abolished.
Labour’s special conference meets in early March to discuss a series of reforms to the party’s structure, including the relationship with its affiliated trade unions. It has become clear recently that the proposals will include the end of the electoral college by which the party leader is elected. To understand why its abolition is the inescapable result of the reform process, we need to look at the measures mapped out by Labour leader Ed Miliband last summer and assess how the electoral college has developed over the last couple of decades.
From the very start of this review, Ed Miliband has emphasised the importance of individual trade unionists ‘contracting in’ to the political levy and to affiliated membership of the party. Since 1946 most trade unionists who have affiliated to Labour have been signed up automatically. If they objected to this decision, taken on their behalf, they needed specifically to opt out of the arrangement. Miliband’s argument was straightforward: this procedure might have made sense in the 1940s and 1950s when a large proportion of the workforce was organised in trade unions and when political identities were frequently defined by corporate memberships. Now, however, more emphasis should be placed on individual choice than on group affiliations en bloc. Moreover, such affiliated membership undermined, Miliband hinted, Labour’s development of an actively engaged party membership.
George Ferguson is Bristol’s directly elected mayor (DEM). The most controversial policy he has introduced so far is the introduction of parking restrictions radiating out from Bristol city centre. In a bid to cut traffic and boost public transport use, he is using the powers available to him to address an issue that was amongst the most high profile in the election campaign: transport. This policy has echoes of Ken Livingstone’s introduction of the congestion charge in London. In much the same way as Ferguson, Livingstone was cautioned against introducing what was then seen as a foolhardy and unpopular policy.