A Fashionista's Guide to British Politics - by Tamara Cincik and Rafaella de Freitas

A Fashionista's Guide to British Politics - by Tamara Cincik and Rafaella de Freitas

At first glance, politics and fashion are polar opposites, and political affairs may seem irrelevant to someone in the fashion industry, especially in the creative aspect of the sector. A designer or stylist might think they are removed from politics: except as Brexit shows, our previous freedom of movement for goods (textiles) and services (work in Europe) is a part of the on-going Brexit negotiations. Game of Thrones has been discussed in the Chamber (what you see on TV for PM’s Question Time where MPs vote) multiple times more than fashion. Until we set up Fashion Roundtable and revitalised the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Textiles and Fashion, it was dormant; meaning across the first year of Brexit discussions and the previous Brexit campaigning, fashion did not have an apolitical entry point into Westminster to engage with MPs and Peers from all of the UK’s Parliamentary political parties (that’s what All Party means: literally all of the political parties are involved, it’s a great way to generate cross party support and understanding). Now, we do and have already organised several events to support and showcase our British fashion industry and international opportunities, with speakers including Huishan Zhang, JD.com, VIP, Alibaba, CII, Common Objective, Plexus Cotton and Ozwald Boateng OBE.

Since launching we have met with Whitehall officials to discuss Brexit, retail on the high streets, rates, sustainability and international as well as local business trade. We have also aligned ourselves with other APPGs, for an event in Parliament with 10 other APPGs to lobby on the consequences of STEM education, with the sharp decline in art and design in our secondary schools.

Tamara Cincik our CEO has compared the front bench to the front row: both take talent, time and drive to achieve. Fashion Roundtable are apolitical: we are not aligned to any political party or point of view. We are not on one side or the other of any debate. Our motivation is to listen, engage and create opportunities for you, your business and our fashion industry to access and be understood. Fashion is the largest component of the creative industries: a sector which is outstripping others in growth at an amazing rate and which until now has lacked a coherent voice with those whose votes steer our lives, unlike others.

If you would like to get involved with our work, please email admin@fashionroundtable.co.uk or please take on of our surveys to feed information into a future paper, as we did with our Brexit Report: our survey, your voices. If there is something you feel strongly about please email your constituency MP; they have a duty to support the concerns of their voters and are often in campaign mode, wanting to ensure they listening to those who ultimately serve. If a policy doesn’t sit well with you: be that STEM education, tuition fees or housing, you can email the Whitehall department which deals with these issues yourself and you will receive a reply and guidance. The more that politicians know what you think, the more likely they are to vote according to what they feel their constituents want, which in turn shapes their own political party’s policy. We see this time and again and it is important if you feel unheard, to know you too have a voice.

Politics isn’t removed from our daily lives, however daunting Westminster and the gothic architecture might look, it controls issues that deeply impact business, health, education and lifestyle, even railways and school lunches are decided in policy made by MPs and Lords. Their votes decide the running of our lives. That’s why engaging with politicians is vital: as the political system also captures the sentiments and ideas of the population. If they don’t know what we think, they cannot make decisions or vote on policies with our story in their minds.

In the UK especially, the political tradition is deeply embedded in the country’s history and sense of identity, choosing to ignore politics avoids a fundamental feature of the British society and culture. Politics matters for the fashion industry not only because of the limitations and opportunities it provides in terms of business, but also for its role in setting cultural trends and societal sentiments.

This is our politics guide for fashionistas: to understanding how decisions are made and influenced, from the local to global scale. The connections between the local and global authorities are interwoven, and it is necessary to understand how decisions made on a local scale resonate in nationwide matters.

At our event last week panel members said they felt removed from politics, that it seems detached and otherworldly. What fashion relies on is spectacle and pomp. In the UK with Black Rod wearing an outfit in a very monochrome Chanel colour palette, the history and tradition of Parliament is embodied by dress. Its ceremonies and etiquette are not that far in reality from the spectacle of fashion. Everything is daunting if it is the other, and not our norm. In times of heightened security, when access takes queuing and checks, this as well adds to the sense of removal from our daily lives, to even just get in the buildings. But what we at Fashion Roundtable know is that by engaging with politics, the opportunities to reshape opinion is massive and in uncertain times, such as Brexit and the UK’s retail landscape, to engage is to create potential. For you and your business.

The United Kingdom

In the UK, the government is led and run by the Prime Minister (PM). Decision-making and law passing occurs in Parliament, and Government Departments are responsible for implementing such decisions.

The Legislature, also known as Parliament,

is comprised of three branches: the Monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The Cabinet is headed by the Prime Minister and comprised of the most senior members of government, who meet every Tuesday whilst Parliament is in session to discuss the most pressing matters in government policy.

The Lower Chamber of Parliament is the House of Commons, characterised by green benches and responsible for initiating and approving legislation.

The House of Commons is comprised of 650 directly elected Members of Parliament (MPs), representing their geographical constituencies; the winning candidate is the one with most votes in their constituencies.

Elections occur every five years and also determine the Prime Minister, who is not directly elected. Elections can also be called by the government at any time during their mandate or can be forced when a government lose their majority of lawmakers in the Commons.  

 A government is formed when a political party holds a majority of seats in the Commons: the leader of the winning party is asked by the Her Majesty to form a government, and the leader of the second largest party becomes “The Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition”.

If the winning party is not able to have a majority of seats in Parliament, the leader will either form a coalition (as was the case in 2010), or it will result in a ‘hung parliament’, in which case another election will follow in an attempt to secure a majority.

The House of Lords is characterised by its red benches, and members are nominated by Her Majesty, and are usually members for life. Their role is to vote on legislation sent by the Commons and send it back for review.

Decision-making in Parliament

  1. Ministers are responsible for presenting proposals, although they are usually drafted in consultation either with other ministers, experts or the civic public via Green Papers

  2. The proposal is then debated in the Cabinet Committee

  3. The proposal is presented to the Legislation Committee, where it is drafted into a Bill. Bills are announced by Her Majesty at the Queen’s Speech when Parliament is called into session

    Parliamentary Stage

  4. Bills are presented in Parliament to the House of Commons in the 1st reading, and then 2nd readings. After a bill is approved by the Commons, it is sent to the Lords.

  5. Bills presented and approved by to the House of Lords can be sent to the next stage (Committee stage) after the 1st reading

  6. Committee stage: a committee is formed to further debate the Bill, usually comprised of 20 MPs and open to all members of the House of Lords. In the committee stage, the Bill is subject to scrutiny and amendments can be added to the initial proposal

  7. Report stage: the amended Bill is presented to the Commons

  8. 3rd Reading: MPs debate and are vote on the Bill

  9. If the Bill is approved after the 3rd reading, it will be sent to the House of Lords and can be further amended

  10. If any changes are implemented by the Lords, the Bill returns to the Commons for another reading

  11. The final process of decision-making is the agreement upon the Bill by in the Commons and the Lords

  12. To be formalised, a Bill receives Royal Assent and is passed as law.

Government bodies are responsible for the execution of laws and procedures that keep the country running.

The UK is divided in Councils, granted significant independence in managing their responsibilities. The Local Government Association represents all the councils in London and Wales  - the LGA describe itself as a voluntary lobbying organisation that exists to promote better government. Local governments consist of one or two tiers of authority.

The Greater London Authority is a democratically elected strategic authority responsible for the administration of London, consolidated through the work of its four main functional bodies: Transport for London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. It is comprised by the Mayor, who acts as the executive figure, and the Assembly, which has the responsibility of scrutinising the Mayor’s decision and have the power to veto the Mayor’s budget plans with a two-thirds majority. The Mayor and the Assembly are known as City Hall. Within City Hall the Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries is fashion’s first point of contact.

In London, the 32 Boroughs run the day-to-day services, from maintaining homes, providing food and drinks licenses to waste collection. Each Borough is separated into wards, which is represented by three elected councillors every four years. Councils choose between two political structures: 1) A leader and cabinet executive, or 2) A directly elected mayor and cabinet or executive, with the first being the most popular format.

Government Departments, or Whitehall Departments are responsible for deciding and implementing policy; these can be ministerial or non-ministerial. Non-ministerial departments are headed by civil servants and provide regulation and inspection to ministerial departments.

The Home Office works with 30 agencies and public bodies to keep the country and its citizens secure playing a fundamental role in security and economic prosperity. Another example is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which works with 10 agencies and public bodies to ensure UK’s interests are protected abroad.

The Department for International Trade, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, BEIS, MHCLG and the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs are the most relevant for the fashion industry in the UK.

Executive Agencies perform the executive functions of the Government. Despite being are overseen by Departments, Executive Agencies enjoy constitutional and legal separation from ministers.

Non-Departmental Public Bodies are either: executive, providing a particular public service, advisory, advising ministers on certain policy aspects, tribunal, operating in the legal arena and resolving disputes in specialised areas, Independent monitoring boards, which is responsible for the administration of prisoners. 

The European Union

The EU aims to promote peace, and to offer freedom, security and justice without internal borders. It’s operations and agenda are determined by internal councils. Obviously with the Brexit negotiations, the EU has been in the news daily over the past few years. Here is a breakdown of what they do.

Decision-making in the EU

The European Council sets the EU’s political direction but has no power to pass laws.

The European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission are the three main institutions involved in EU legislation. These represent: the EU citizens, the governments of the individual member countries and the interests of the Union, respectively. The European Parliament is elected directly by EU citizens, and the Council of the European Union is led by member states on a rotating basis.

New laws and regulations are proposed by the European Commission and are adopted by the Parliament and Council to be enacted by member countries.

 The regulation of the EU is checked by the Courts of Justice EU, which upholds the rule of European Law and the Court of Auditors, responsible for the finance of EU’s activities.

In addition to these, the EU has a number of specialised institutions and interinstitutional bodies responsible for the functioning of the European Union.

 The EU is also responsible for funding projects, such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020.

The Erasmus+ programme is the manifestation of the EU’s support to education, training, youth and sport. Opportunities are aimed both at individuals and organisations, made possible by a budget of €14.7 billion for 2014-2020 to ensure participants are able to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad. It also offers €1.68 billion for activities with partner countries.

Horizon 2020 is a Research and Innovation programme, which benefits from a €80 billion of funding between 2014-2020. It is the financial backing of the Innovation Union, which aims to make Europe a leading figure in the scientific field, removes barriers and obstacles to innovation and to revolutionise the dynamic between public and private sector. The programme is open to everyone and its structure ensures projects are able to develop quickly and efficiently, thus achieving results much faster than they otherwise would. 

The United Nations

The UN provide a forum for member countries to express their views, as well as occupying itself with confronting current challenges faced by the global community, such as climate change, sustainable development, disarmament and security and humanitarian and health emergencies. Its responsibilities are outlined in its Charter, established in 1945.

Arguably the most well known of the UN policies, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out fundamental human rights to be universally protected, serving the interest of all peoples and nations. Articles 23 and 24 have been instrumental in shaping labour laws worldwide.

Decision-making in the UN

The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ in the UN. The General Assembly meets yearly in September, and all member countries are represented. Discussions are in the form of debate, and decisions relating to peace and security, admitting new members and budget require a two-thirds majority, and all other decisions require a simple majority. The GA President, who is elected in September serves a one-year term, to lead discussions.

This year, the GA’s 73rd session is presided by Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, of Ecuador. The Secretary General, Mr. António Guterres, set three key meetings: the launch of Youth2030 and the Generation Unlimited initiatives, focusing on helping young people to secure quality education and jobs, with the aim of undermining youth radicalisation. Investment in Sustainable Development Goals and a call for a change in the way that businesses are run is also in the agenda. Finally, the need to strengthen the UN’s peacekeeping capabilities was also determined to be a priority.

The Security Council is responsible for peace keeping and matter of security. It is comprised of 15 members – 5 permanent and 10 temporary – each having the right to one vote, and all member countries are obliged to comply with the Council’s decisions. Although the aim of the Council is to resolve disputes peacefully, it can recommend sanctions or authorise the use of force.

The Economic and Social Council oversees environmental, social and economic issues, in addition to internationally agreed development goals. It is the main platform for encouraging sustainable development, and has 54 members appointed by the General Assembly, serving three-year terms.

The Trusteeship Council was initially created to oversee the 11 territories allocated to the seven founding members in 1945, but is now devoid of the obligation to meet annually. The Council will meet only by request of its President or by the majority request of the GM or Security Council members.

International Court of Justice is the judicial body of the UN. As well as resolving legal disputes submitted by States in accordance to International Law, the International Court of Justice also advises authorised UN organs and specialised agencies on legal matters.

The Secretariat is the operational organ of the UN, responsible for performing the UN’s day-to-day operations as mandated by the General Assembly and other principle organs. The Secretary-General is the leading administrative figure – recommended by the Security Council and appointed by General Assembly.

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