A Fashionista's Guide to Politics II: Demystifying the Myth, the Votes, Referendum & The Show - By Tamara Cincik and Rafaella de Freitas
Last week, Fashion Roundtable began our series, demystifying the at times, bewildering world of politics with A Fashionista’s Guide To Politics. Politics determines not just the big stuff: whether a country is or isn’t inside the EU, goes to war, or has the death sentence as part of its penal code. It also determines the things we take for granted: whether you have to pay for school lunches, or child’s nursery school, when you can collect your pension (and whether they will even exist when you reach pension age. Whether you can go to university for free, or pay tuition fees, whether there will be social housing built and in what numbers, or people who live in council houses will have to pay a weekly tax on a spare bedroom, whether there will be free parking outside your home or you have to pay for a parking permit, whether transport costs will go up or freeze, whether some drugs will be used by the NHS and others won’t. Whether single use plastic will be banned, or gay marriage legalised. There isn’t a single issue which doesn’t get raised by campaigners and activists, by lobbyists and policy makers, which doesn’t get debated and then decided upon across local and national government. If there is something you feel strongly about, there is a real chance that others do too. Fashion Roundtable believe strongly that by breaking down the echo chambers of fashion and politics, our hopes and dreams, as well as concerns and worries, will be heard by those whose votes decide so much of our lives.
Voting in Parliament
The ‘Decision-making in Parliament’ section of our ‘A Fashionista’s Guide to British Politics’ will give you more information on the process by which a proposal becomes an Act of Parliament. All Bills that are being currently addressed in Parliament can be seen here.
Bills are proposals to introduce a new law or amend existing ones. For a proposal to be formalised as a Bill, it has to be debated in the Cabinet Committee and presented to the Legislation Committee.
A Public Bill changes the law as it applied to the general population and is the most common form of Bill introduced in Parliament, and are put forward by government ministers. An example of a Government Bill that is currently before Parliament is the Ivory Bill 2017-19, which aims to prohibit dealing in ivory; it is scheduled for the Report stage in the House of Lords on the 24th of October.
Private Members’ Bills have the same function of Public Bills, but instead are proposed by MPs and Lords who are not government ministers. These rarely become law, but affect legislation by bringing the issue to debate. An example is the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, sponsored by Baroness Young of Hornsey and introduced in the House of Lords in the 12th of July, with the second reading yet to be scheduled. The aim of the Bill is to make further provision for transparency in supply chains in respect of slavery and human trafficking.
Private Bills are proposals to alter the law in regards to specific individuals, groups or organisations. These are usually promoted by entities such as private companies or local authorities, whose interests are in conflict with the general law. The formal stages for a Private Bill are similar to the ones for a Public Bill, but Private Bills are publicised in writing to all interested parties. Groups that will be affected by the issuing of a Private Bill can petition government against said Bill and present their objections to committees of MPs and Lords. The University of London Bill [HL] 2016-17 to 2017-19 went through its second reading in the beginning of September, and addresses the matter of making a new provision for the making of statues for the University of London. It has its petitioning period between the 4th-14th of May, but no petitions were submitted.
Hybrid Bills draw from Public and Private Bills – they concern matters of national importance that have emphasised effects on specific groups or individuals. This category is determined by the Public Bill Offices. To be effected, both Houses debate the Bill, and it goes through a longer Parliamentary process that Public Bills, and similar to Private Bills, opponents are also able to submit petitions against it. The only Hybrid Bill that is currently before Parliament 2017-19 is the High Speed Rail (West Midlands – Crewe) Bill 2017-19: there were 188 petitions from individuals and organisations against the Bill, which prompted a response from the High Speed Rail (West – Midlands – Crewe) Bill Select Committee, and the next stage will be the committee stage.
Whips and The Whip
A Whip is a Member of Parliament or a member of the House of Lords, appointed by each party in Parliament to organise the Party’s contribution to Parliamentary business. Together with the Leader of the House of Commons, Whips also play a key role in arranging the Parliamentary agenda. They are very powerful in the parliamentary system, as their work determines how many MPs are in the chamber to vote. As the UK is currently not led by one controlling political party, but a hung parliament with a very small difference in numbers voting on both sides, each vote becomes all the more crucial, meaning the Whip’s duty to ensure that their party’s MPs vote according to the decided party line, is all the more crucial.
Every week, Whips send out a circular, known as ‘The Whip’ to their MPs or Lords detailing upcoming Parliament business. Divisions are particularly important and are ranked in order of significance by the number of times they are underlined. Divisions are a method of voting in Parliament, in which the Speaker asks Members whether they agree or do not agree with the matter being debated. Because a division is the way in which Members register their votes, they are a particularly important event.
In 2012, the House divided in debating whether to give a second reading to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012-13 that aimed to tackle electoral fraud by requiring votes to register individually rather than as households. The house divided as 223 Ayes and 283 Nays; therefore the Bill did not have a second reading.
Three-line Whips are underlined three times and are usually in reference to major events, such as the second reading of a significant Bill. Defying a three-line Whip is serious in party political terms and can result in the whip being expelled from their party and having to sit as an independent MP such as Frank Field MP has done recently, or having to resign their position as a Minister or Shadow Minister, for example Greg Hands who resigned as Trade Minister because he did not agree with the Conservative Party’s Three Line Whip on the vote for Heathrow expansion.
Whips are instrumental in assuring that MPs and members of the Lords vote in line with Party expectations, and are particularly important when parties hold small majorities, due to their function of convincing other MPs to vote in alignment to the needs of their party. Party expectations are determined by the party’s agenda and manifesto, and are revealed to MPs by the Whips.
With that in mind, a free vote (or an unwhipped vote), occurs when MPs and Lords are not pressured to vote in a certain way by party leaders. These are traditionally reserved for ethical issues regarding conscience rather than political agenda. Examples of such Bills are: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill 2007-08, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013-14 and the Serious Crime Bill 2014-15.
Select Committees check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs and the results of these inquiries are public and many require a response from the government. They are either “sessional” (near-permanent), or “ad-hoc”, in which they are given a timeframe for completing their work. Select Committees formed by members of the Commons are responsible for overseeing the work of government departments and agencies, whereas committees formed by members of the Lords investigate specialist subjects, taking advantage of the Lords' expertise and the greater amount of time.
Defending your interests in Parliament
The role of an MP
As well as duties towards their Party and Parliament, a central role of the MP is to serve as the representative of their constituency. In being elected, the MP takes responsibility for defending the interests and being the voice of their constituents in Parliament, as well as serving as a figurehead in the local area.
MPs can be contacted by mail or email. For further information on how to located and contact your MP please click here.
All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)
APPGs are informal cross-party groups formed by both members of the Commons and of the Lords, used to discuss a specific subject of interest. These are usually a-political and relatively informal, and are also open to non-governmental organisations such as charities and campaign groups, which will usually serve as the secretariat for the group. APPGs are an effective way of bringing together different members of parliaments with similar interests.
Fashion Roundtable acts as the secretariat for the APPG for Textiles and Fashion, Chaired by Dr Lisa Cameron MP, defending the interests of the £32bn Fashion and Textile industry. We have arranged events inside the Houses of Parliament on Trade with China, Commonwealth Fashion and are constantly meeting Whitehall Departments and Parliamentarians, to discuss all kinds of policy, from sustainable initiatives, to the state of our retail high street, from Brexit, to international and local trade. Our upcoming parliamentary events are on IP and sustainable fashion. Currently we are the only APPG working on the fashion industry’s behalf in the UK parliamentary system.
Public (or paper) petitions
A public petition is a petition to the House of Commons and can only be presented by an MP. Petitions are presented by a formal or informal presentation. A formal presentation requires the MP to present the petition in the Commons, announcing who the petitioners are, the number of signatures and the request of the petition; the title of the petition is then read out by the Clerk as the MP walks down the Table and puts the document in the petitions bag. An informal presentation is limited to the MP putting the petition inside the petitions bag, anytime when the Commons is meeting.
After being submitted, all petitions are recorded in the Votes and Proceedings, and directed to the relevant Government department. A response is expected within two months of the petition being submitted. An example is the petition presented by Sandy Martin MP on the financial losses of public sector workers.
E-petitions enable members of the public to petition the House of Commons and press for action from the government. A new e-petitions system was set up in July 2015, it is overseen by the Petitions Committee and is jointly owned by the House of Commons and the government. For an e-petition to be published on the website, it has to be supported by at least six people and abide by the terms and conditions of the system. Once published, an e-petition remains online for 6 months, and the Petitions Committee is entitled to decide on further steps.
If a petition gets more than 10,000 signatures the government will respond, and if it gets more than 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in Parliament. The ‘Keep Childcare Vouchers open beyond April 2018 petition reached 119,588 signatures and was debated in Parliament in Jan 2018, whose response was “The Government is investing more in childcare than ever before. Tax free childcare is one part of that childcare support and is fairer and better targeted than vouchers”. ‘Reverse the changes to allow Textiles & Technology to be stand alone GCSEs’ is currently open and requires 2,587 signatures to be considered in Parliament, it can be accessed here. A list of open petitions can be accessed here.
Voting in Elections
Voting can be done:
By post, or
To be eligible to vote in a General Election, you must:
be registered to vote
be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)
not be legally excluded from voting
Please make sure you register to vote.
The General Election directly determines the members of the House of Commons and indirectly determines the Prime Minister. Elections occur every five years and are traditionally held on Thursdays, but can also be called by the government at any time during their mandate, as was the case with Theresa May in 2017 or can be forced when a government loses their majority of lawmakers in the Commons.
The Parliament is dissolved 25 working days before the General Election in a royal proclamation; the next one is scheduled for the 5th of May 2022, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The date for the meeting of the new Parliament is given when the Parliament is dissolved.
There are 650 constituencies in the UK, and each constituency elects one representative.
General Elections use the First Past the Post system: individuals vote once for a candidate in their constituency, and the candidate with the most votes is elected a Member of Parliament (MP) representing that constituency.
A by-election is held if a seat becomes vacant in the House of Commons between two General Elections. This may happen as a result of an MP having resigned or died. It can also happen when an MP becomes bankrupt, is charged for a serious criminal offence or due to mental illness. The process for initiating a by-election is known as ‘moving the Writ’.
Moving the Writ
The procedure to commence a by-election traditionally begins with the Chief Whip of the political party whose seat became vacant. The Chief Whip puts forward a motion in the Commons requiring the Speaker to issue a Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make a new writ for the electing of a MP:
The motion is voted on in the Commons – if it is approved, it becomes an Order for the Speaker. The Speaker then issues his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown, who then issues a writ. The new writ is then sent to the relevant Returning Officer, who is responsible for conducting an election in the constituency for which the seat became vacant.
Local governments are responsible for local functions such as social care, housing and schools, and licensing, business support and pest control.
To be eligible to vote in Local Government elections, you must:
be registered to vote
be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’) (16 or over in Scotland)
be a British, Irish, Commonwealth or EU citizen
be registered at an address in the area you want to vote in
not be legally excluded from voting
Note that gov.uk explains that “here will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens living in the UK until 2021. You and your family can apply for ‘settled status’ to continue living in the UK after June 2021. The scheme will open fully by March 2019.” Furthermore, if you live in more than two local authority areas, you are able to register to vote in both areas.
Local governments have elections at least every four years, these can occur in one of three ways:
Elect all councillors every four years,
Elect half of the local councillors every 2 years, or
Elect 1/3 of councillors every 3 years, and have no election in the fourth year.
In England and Wales, local Councillors are elected using the First Past the Post system. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councillors are elected using the Single Transferable Vote system, where candidates are ranked in order of preference.
Not all local governments have a Local Mayor; you can check if your local council has a Mayor by entering your postcode here. Local Mayors are elected using the supplementary voting system: if no candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice votes, all except the top 2 candidates are eliminated; If your first choice candidate is eliminated, and your second choice is for one of the top 2, then your second choice is counted.
Mayor of London and London Assembly
To be eligible to vote for the Mayor of London and for the London Assembly in a General Election, you must:
be registered to vote
be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
be a British, Commonwealth or EU citizen
be resident at an address in Greater London
not be legally excluded from voting
Elections for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly happen simultaneously, every 4 years. The Mayor of London is elected using the supplementary voting system and the London Assembly is elected using the additional member voting system: individuals vote once for a constituency representative and once for a London-wide representative. The vote is simultaneous.
There are 14 constituency representatives and 11 London-wide representatives.
For information on the Scottish Parliament please click here.
For information on the Northern Ireland Assembly please click here.
For information on the National Assembly for Wales please click here.
Voting in Referendums
A referendum is a method of referring a question to the entire electorate; referendums can be of local or national scale.
Referendums involve a vote on one singe issue, where individuals are required to make a decision between one of two options. They are introduced in Parliament, but under the Local Government Act 1972 can also be called by small groups of voters only in parish councils.
Contrary to general elections, nation-wide referendums are counted for the whole of the UK rather than to constituencies, and referendums may have additional requirements for eligibility to vote. Another difference is that Parliament is allowed to take a stance on referendums.
Referendums can also be pre-legislative or post-legislative – if it is held before or after the legislation in question is passed. In the UK, a referendum is not legally (or constitutionally) binding due to Parliamentary sovereignty, however it is argued that it is politically binding due to its democratic value.
An example of a referendum is the infamous 2016 EU Referendum, which posed the question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
N.B. Referendums are not legally binding.
Public consultations are issued by government departments. Their aim is to collect feedback on policy and legislation proposals, to better inform decisions. These are open to the general public and to Members of Parliament and are not legally binding.
They are published as Green Papers, and a list of open consultations can be accessed here. Currently, the Government is running a public consultation to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004, enquiring on ways that would make the current recognition process less intrusive, bureaucratic and less costly. If you would like to respond to the consultation, you can do so here.
After being launched, a consultation lasts at least 12 weeks. Further guidelines regarding consultations are outlined in the Code of Practice on Consultation, issued in July 2012.