The UK general election is set for May 2015, and many are saying it will be the most interesting general election in U.K history. Not only are the usual parties (Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats) contesting and defending seats, but the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Scottish National Party have also caused a degree of caution amongst the establishment.
It is hard to tell who will come out on top, after all, Harold Wilson (former Labour prime-minister) once decreed that “a week is a long time in politics”, so who will take the keys to No.10 Downing Street is anyone’s guess.
However, what effect would a victory for the Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats have for the freedom of movement cause, and would a coalition government (as we have seen over the last 5 years) alter the state of progression with the movement? Would the U.K government advocate policy reform with respect to citizens of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, or would this issue be placed on the back-burner for issues that have plagued British politics for so long, such as illegal immigration, taxation, the NHS, Europe and ongoing troubles in the middle-east?
The answer, as with every answer in politics, is a simple “no-one knows”, but one can speculate a possible (if not, likely) outcome to each party gaining, or losing, support this coming May.
Firstly, we come to the Liberal Democrats, and all but party supporters would be keen to place their bets on the party performing significantly worse than the elections of 2010. With “Clegg mania” flying the yellow flag high in the previous election, it is likely that a complete turn-around is expected for the party after Nick Clegg’s broken promises regarding tuition fees and the “betrayal of liberal roots” by siding with the Conservatives. At the time of this article, the Liberals stand with a mere public voting intention of 8 points, leaving them in 4th place.
But is this good of bad for the freedom of movement debate within the “old” Commonwealth countries? Again, it is hard to say. The Liberals themselves have always been somewhat easy going when it comes to U.K immigration, but have made it very well known that their allegiance lies with the European Union. They may be interested in expanding their relaxed immigration approach to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but for the time being, it is doubtful that such speculation would even matter given the current statistics and voting intentions of the general public…
…unless of course, we consider the possibility of the Labour party not quite achieving an overall majority in the May elections and relying upon Liberal support to secure their position in government. Labour (since the Tony Blair/Jack Straw/Gordon Brown era) have certainly been a party of relaxed immigration, with many statistics concluding that the overall population of the U.K increased by 3 million in the first decade of the 21st century (a time of tremendous support and loyalty to the Labour movement, leading to their subsequent re-elections in 2001 and 2005). But would a Labour majority be beneficial for Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders wishing to eventually live and work in the U.K?
As it stands, Labour are neck and neck in the polls with the Conservative party, meaning that they would not have enough support on the benches to secure a majority in the Westminster style parliamentary system. Of course, they could potentially side with the Liberals to gain a larger faction (creating the notorious “Lib-Lab pact” as seen in previous years), which would mean 2 parties forming an alliance who just so happen to be lenient in terms of immigration controls. In theory, this could be great news for the Commonwealth freedom of movement cause, but again, both parties are very pro-European Union, so both may choose to combine their efforts in promoting the E.U agenda as opposed to the Commonwealth agenda. It therefore wouldn’t be surprising to see the two left-wing parties forge a unity and place all their eggs in the European basket, especially with the current economic situations in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, and the desire to resolve these situations as quickly as possible for the future of British (and European) economic stability.
So what about the Consevatives? Would a party who is pro-Commonwealth advocate for relative policy reform with respect to visas and immigration?
It would certainly be an opportune time for negotiations to begin if the Conservatives were to achieve a majority in government (be it by themselves or siding with another party as a consequence of the “hung parliament” result). In this situation, all 4 countries involved with our campaign would have Conservative premiers (David Cameron, Stephen Harper, Tony Abbott and John Key), which would make for somewhat easier negotiations given that each country will hold the same conservative ethos and shared support for the Commonwealth. With all 4 leaders on the same political page (so to speak), negotiations and agreements for free movement may be far more fluent and progressive, hence leading to a quicker turn-around for policy reform and the creation of Commonwealth mobility zones.
It is also worth mentioning that the Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on the U.K’s membership of the European Union if they win in May 2015, thanks largely to traditional anti-EU public sentiment and pressure from the United Kingdom Independence Party. If a referendum were to occur, the likely outcome would be a swift exit from the European Union and an end to Britain’s long lasting membership since 1973. Consequentially, the U.K may look to alternative forms of labour movement, trade and capital accessibility, which would certainly be available through advancing the freedom of movement agenda between Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If the European Union agenda were to collapse, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for a pro-Commonwealth party (ie: the Conservatives) to create new relations with fellow Commonwealth nations, especially with nations who speak the same language, share similar cultural aspects and are governed by the same Head of State.
However, lets not forget that a Conservative controlled parliament may be a stretch too far at this time, considering the predicted outcome from the polls. There may be salvation with the growing popularity of UKIP, as both parties combined would effectively form a right-wing union (in the same way Labour and the Liberal Democrats would form a left wing union), but uniting with UKIP for a majority government may also be wishful thinking, as the party itself is still finding its roots with the general public and desperate to convince voters it is not a one-trick pony (solely focused on exiting the E.U). As successful as UKIP have been over the past 2 years, it seems a feat too far for them to secure enough support in the election from the general public to hold the balance of power within the walls of Westminster.
However, the Conservatives do have an Ace up their sleeve, which is something that the other main parties have yet to find, and he is the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Since September 2014, Boris has been selected to stand as the member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the upcoming general election, and not only has he been tipped for election success, but many Conservatives have advocated for him to replace David Cameron as Conservative leader. This could actually be the most crucial aspect of the 2015 general election for the freedom of movement campaign (even more so than which party will attain an overal majority) as Boris has made no secret of his support for a Bi-Lateral mobility zone between the U.K and Australia (read about it here).
If Boris were to eventually become Conservative leader (which is very likely indeed due to his intellect, charisma, comical nature and popularity with the public), there is no doubt that a freedom of movement initiative could soon be on the Conservative agenda. With an EU referendum also guarenteed if the Conservatives achieve election success (and a likely exit from the E.U consequentially), Boris would more than likely advocate for a new mobility program for the U.K and Australia, with a likely extension to Canada and New Zealand soon after.
The Commonwealth freedom of movement issue remains an ambiguous topic in terms of political parties and their support for it, but the best possible outcome for promoting the cause would be for Boris to hold the reigns of leadership. Once this has occured, the possibilities for advancing the free movement issue are endless.
Of course, this article is entire speculation and purely based on “what if” scenarios. After all, the factors mentioned leave a vast chasm of possibilities, each of which lead to further “what if” scenarios and possibilities (just to make things exceptionally complicated). The considerations of who is elected, who will side with who in the event of a hung parliament, the European Union, domestic and international problems, and even the potential election of pro-free movement politicians leaves all outcomes open to the imagination (in other words, nothing is set in stone following this election).
The only thing we can be remotely certain of is that this election will be a very interesting one to watch, and once the results are finalised on May 8th, 2015, we will be campaigning harder than ever before to ensure that free movement between the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is a policy for consideration amongst all U.K political parties.
[Image Attributions]: Reuters/UK Parliament via Reuters TV & BigHospitality.co.uk