Politics, Autism & Brexit – how to vote in the European Elections

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Are you sick of hearing about Brexit?  Think it’s not worth voting because all the politicians are as bad as each other? Fed up with leaflets through your door that slag off the other parties but don’t say what they plan to do themselves? I know the feeling.

However I do think voting is one of the most important things we can do.  I studied Politics (including European politics) at university and worked for a government housing agency for 7 years.  So I know a bit about politics and want to share some tips on why you should vote, how to vote for the right person for you and what politics has to do with autism.

It is a long post but I have tried to add titles and break it up so you can skip to the bits that you are interested in if you don’t have time to read it all. If you just want to know what the UK political parties stand for skip to the bottom.

Why you should vote

& why politics matters to me?

For me personally I had little interest in politics when I was young.  I planned to study English at University. However when my A level results came through they were the opposite way round to my predicted grades, so I couldn’t get onto my planned English course.  I decided to stick with the University I had chosen and was offered a place studying Politics with Sociology which I took.

Studying politics taught me so much.  One thing I still don’t understand now is why politics is not a core subject at school. It certainly has far more influence over our lives than many of the subjects that are taught.

In a recent post I look at how our society and culture has influenced understanding of autism. The culture of a society is influenced by our government so making the choice of who runs our government matters.  It will impact every area of your life from how much money you earn to your human rights.

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Why do we need to vote

Voting is how we express our political opinion.  Voting is our opportunity to say we are happy with the current government or that we would prefer a different party.  Each political party has a different political opinion or agenda.  Not voting says you don’t mind how much tax you pay, what healthcare you can access, if that healthcare is free or not, what education your children access and so on. 

The problem most people have is knowing which party is best for them, more on that in a minute.

Election turnout

General election turnout in the UK was 84% of the population in 1950. In 2015 it was down to 66% after a low in 2001 of 59%. In European elections turnout is typically very low between 24-38%.  Local elections are usually lower too but this varies for many reasons (location, timing) between 20-50%. 

If only half of those who didn’t vote in the last European elections voted we may have a totally different result.  Not voting has an impact, at least if you vote you are saying I prefer a right, left or central leaning political party. 

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Voting determines who runs our society

It is no surprise that rich men got the best deal in the 1800s because no one else had the right to vote. Prior to 1832 only the elite male homeowners were able to vote. A series of reforms extended the vote but still with restrictions. In 1918 property restrictions for men were lifted and all men over 21 were able to vote. So the majority of young soldiers in the First World War did not have a vote and therefore had no influence over the government that sent them to war. 

Votes were given to 40% of women over 30 limited by property restrictions.  University graduates and property owners could have more than one vote. It wasn’t until 1928 when equal voting rights were given to those over 21 with no property restrictions.  In 1948 votes were restricted to one per person and in 1969 extended to those over 18.

In every case these reforms were fought for by suffragettes, trade unions or riots.  Many people died to access the vote and be able to influence how our society works and it’s an insult to every one of those people when we don’t vote.  Don’t forget you can register (in advance) for a postal vote. 

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Research & find out facts – what is important to you

The real key to voting is knowing who to vote for. Unfortunately everyone has their own opinion, it is very difficult to access independent information without any bias.  I have my own political opinions and that will impact what I write. Even the top news providers will have some bias in their political reporting. Many media outlets will actively be encouraging you to vote one way or the other, in some cases by lying or bending the truth. 

The one thing I have learnt whilst working for a government agency was that you can use statistics to say anything.  If you have an agenda it is easy to prove why you are right, it is equally as easy for your opponent to prove why you are wrong.  This means you need to try and access factual information and look at what is relevant to you.  Try to ignore large inflammatory statements in the press or pub where people say how immigration is either making or breaking our country. 

Think about what impacts you.  For our household education is important, my husband is a teacher and my kids are starting school.  I have an autistic child so I want to know which party will be supporting the access to services my son needs and which one will be cutting them.  Think about what is important for your and you family be it health care, tax or anything else that will impact you.

Then look at what the candidates say about those issues. When you see party members canvassing in the street or at your door ask what they will do in relation to the issues that matter to you. 

When you are looking up information make sure you consider the source of the information. Is it someone’s opinion, are they an expert, do you trust them to know the right answer? I will be more inclined to believe a Doctor on what the rash on my son’s tummy is than what my mum thinks it is.

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Accessing accurate political information

They work for you is a very useful website, you can search using your postcode and find out who your Member of Parliament (MP) is. 

You can see how MPs have voted, you can look up topics to see if they have been discussed in parliament.  If candidates have been MPs or are existing MPs looking at their voting record is a good way to see if their views align with your own.

The site also links to contact details so that you can write to your MP.  If there is a topic that is important to you write to your MP and tell them about it. Their job is to represent the views of their constituents so communicating with them is important.   

There is so much information provided by parliament that you can easily access.  If you want to learn more about the parliament and how it works see the parliament website.

You can watch what is happening in parliament live or later, you can also use the search facility at the Parliament Live website to watch specific MPs or find topics that are relevant to you.  

Hanzard is the official report of all parliamentary debates, it includes what is said in parliament, decisions taken and how members voted.  I love Hanzard but used it for a long time in my previous job.  It is the place to go if you want to look at detailed information about what has been said or done in parliament.  If you see a snippet or quote in the media from a parliamentary debate, you can look it up and read exactly what was said and see the context of the debate.  Daily debates are usually up on Hanzard the next day.

European parliament – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/portal/en

Official EU website = https://europa.eu/european-union/index_en

https://hansard.parliament.uk/

To find out what a candidate stands for see if they have a website or any information they are sharing themselves.  See if they have social media, lots of politicians use Twitter and some accounts will give you an idea of their views. 

Most political candidates align themselves with a party, the majority will then vote as directed by their party when it comes to making decisions in parliament.  So it is important to understand the views of the party the candidate belongs to.  Try to look at the websites of parties you are considering voting for.  Most parties should have a manifesto that tells you what they stand for.  At the bottom of this post you will find links to the main political parties websites. 

European Elections 23rd May 2019

Next Thursday 23rd May UK citizens can vote to determine who will be our Members of European Parliament (MEPs).  Anyone over 18 who is registered to vote is eligible.

If you have not registered you can do so here and you will be able to vote in future elections.

For the European elections the UK is divided into 12 electoral regions –

  • London
  • South East
  • South West
  • Eastern
  • East Midlands
  • West Midlands
  • Yorkshire and Humber
  • North East
  • North West
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland

The UK will elect 73 MEPs who will represent us at the European Parliament.

In the European elections the voting system in England, Scotland and Wales is proportional representation. Northern Ireland will use the Single Transferable Vote system

Once an MEP is elected they usually join bigger political groups within the EU Parliament.

Politics, Autism and Brexit

Brexit & EU Elections

In 2016 the UK held a referendum on whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union.  The result was 52% leave and 48% remain. Voter turnout was 72%. The UK was expected to leave by 29th March but a deal has still not been reached and so the UK is legally obliged to take part in the EU elections as we remain a member of the EU.

There is significant controversy around this referendum.  Some argue that the vote was against the existing UK government others point out some key messages from the Leave campaign were incorrect and influenced the vote.  Leave.EU was fined £70,000 for breaking electoral law during the referendum.  Either way it is clearly a very controversial subject, leaving the EU will have significant impact on the country and its future so you can see why people feel strongly one way or the other.

As the UK are still EU members they need to have representatives in the European Parliament, that is what you are actually voting for.  However the main topic that will influence these elections in the UK is Brexit.  Many will use the elections to indicate their support for leaving or remaining in the EU, it remains to be seen if the results will have any impact on if how or when Brexit happens. 

I would encourage you to vote to indicate your feelings regarding Brexit but do so in a way that you are confident that candidate will be representing all your views in Europe also.  If Brexit is delayed or does not happen the MEPs will be making important decisions about how Europe works.

Politics, Autism & Brexit

A very Brief History of the EU

The EU was set up following the Second World War with the aim to bring peace and prosperity to Europe.  In 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) began to unite European countries politically and economically. The six founding members were:

  • Belgium
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • Netherlands

They worked together and agreed joint control over food production to ensure everyone had enough to eat and stopped charging custom duties when trading with each other. It was in 1973 that the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (EEC) along with Denmark and Ireland.  The EU then began work on Environmental protection laws and its regional policy (transferring money and creating jobs and infrastructure in more deprived areas).

From 1979 all citizens could elect members of the European Parliament.  In 1981 Greece joins followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. The Single European Act creates the ‘Single Market’ by providing the basis for free trade across EU borders.

In 2012 the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

Politics, Autism & Brexit

What does the EU actually do?

The EU provides a political and economic union of the 28 members.

Members are able to have free movement to work and travel amongst member states.  Ministers from member states make up the European Council which works with the EU Parliament to pass laws.  The European Commission drafts EU laws and enforces EU rules.

Some Key areas that the EU works on:

  • Environmental protection laws. EU environmental law is considered by many to be the most extensive of any international organisation. Targets include cutting energy use, reducing air pollution, waste reduction and introducing policy to mitigate climate change.  The EU Parliament voted to ban single use plastics by 2021
  • Single Common Market & Customs Union: this is what allows us to travel and work anywhere in the EU.  It also allows free trade and movement of goods without the need for border checks. 
  • Borders and Security: providing a secure union, working together on serious crime, terrorism and securing external borders.
  • Economy, Finance and the Euro: An economic and monetary union to provide growth and prosperity across Europe.  The UK opted out of the official EU currency the Euro.
  • The EU Regional Development Fund: the fund transfers money from richer regions (not countries) to more deprived areas and creates jobs and infrastructure. As an example, Cornwall has received significant investment and work is ongoing to improve transport and infrastructure there using this funding.
  • Human Rights policy in the EU is to protect fundamental human rights for EU citizens and also promote human rights worldwide. It also protects citizens from discrimination.

There is much more and if you want to learn more about what the EU does you can find out from their website.

Who are the candidates for the UK EU elections ?

Link to list of  candidates for MEP elections.

Autism and disabilities in the European Union

I plan to do a little more work on autism in UK politics in the future but for now let’s focus on the EU. There are many areas of EU policy and law that impact autistic and disabled people, here are some things to consider.

Shared Human rights EU values are set out in the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights. Rules to prevent discrimination based on disability. Whilst the UK has often been at the forefront of human rights it was as a result of the European Court of Justice Judgement that discrimination against employees due to their carer status or relationship to a disabled person became unlawful in England, Scotland and Wales.  If the UK leaves the European Union it would remove the UK’s recourse to the European Court of Justice.

The EU provides access to justice on equal terms, with cooperation and mutual trust and recognition of judicial decisions across member states.  This is particularly important in civil cases for example areas like child custody and child maintenance. The EU has also set out common rights for victims of crime.

European health insurance card helps to access health care if ill when abroad in a member state. Also through European reference networks patients with rare or complex diseases can benefit from the best expertise across Europe without leaving their home country. It is not clear how medication supplies will be impacted if the UK leaves the EU but this is an area of concern.

The EU has set out at a European level the imperative that education systems in Europe provide for the successful inclusion of all learners.

It is fair to say that we do not know what impact leaving the EU would have on disability. 

You may want to read this post from the Additional Needs Blog Father on Disability and EU which looks at rights, travel and funding.

UK Political Parties and links to their websites

Below are the main UK parties that you can vote for in the election on May 23rd. Which parties you can vote for will depend on your location.  For example you will only get Scottish National Party MEPs standing for Scottish regions.  I have linked to the parties’ website and manifesto where applicable. I have also briefly included where they stand on Brexit and if they have any specific policy or aim in relation to autism.

Politics, Autism and Brexit

The Brexit Party

  • A new Eurosceptic party set up in 2019, it supports leaving the EU with no formal agreement in place.
  • Manifesto – A manifesto is not being published until after the EU elections.
  • Websitehttps://thebrexitparty.org/
  • Autism? Policies are unclear but it has been stated that they are the same as UKIP and the difference between UKIP and the Brexit party is personnel

Change UK

  • A new breakaway group of existing Labour and Conservative MPs who have formed an independent group.  They are unhappy with Brexit, they say there is ‘no Brexit deal’ possible which is better for the UK than remaining in the EU.
  • Manifesto https://voteforchange.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Change-UK-Charter-for-Remain.pdf
  • Websitehttps://voteforchange.uk/
  • Autism? The new party has stated the importance of improving health and educational life chances, protecting the public, safeguarding the vulnerable, ensuring dignity at every stage of life and placing individuals at the heart of decision-making. They have also highlighted the importance of access to medicine impacted by Brexit.

The Conservative Party

The Labour Party

  • The centre left party is the current opposition party in parliament. Labour accepts the referendum result but rejects the current Brexit deal on offer arguing it is bad for the economy and workers rights. The party will support leaving the EU but wants the UK to remain in a permanent customs union and be closely aligned with the single market rules.  They are campaigning for austerity to stop.
  • Manifesto https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/transforming-britain-and-europe/
  • Websitehttps://labour.org.uk/
  • Autism? The next Labour government will sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law. Labour will tackle discrimination, remove barriers and ensure social security delivers dignity and empowerment, not isolation and stigma.  Autism covers a wide range of conditions that reflect neurological differences among people.  We will work with employers, trade unions and public services to improve awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and in society. To make sure that autistic people are able to access the whole of their community and to put an end to social isolation, Labour will set the ambition to make our country autism friendly.

Liberal Democrats

Green Party

UK Independence Party (UKIP)

  • Right wing Eurosceptic party that want to leave the EU
  • Manifesto https://www.ukip.org/pdf/EUManifesto2019-3.pdf
  • Websitehttps://www.ukip.org/
  • Autism? UKIP is committed to maintaining a strong and robust supportive safety net for those in genuine need, but which will not be a soft-touch on welfare. UKIP is committed to protecting the rights of disabled people and we support their inclusion in the workplace whenever that is possible.  UKIP will repeal the Equality Act 2010 which gives special rights and privileges to certain groups with ‘protected characteristics’ and revert to pre-existing equality laws

Scottish National Party (SNP)

  • The Social democratic Scottish party supports remaining in the EU, it has proposed a compromise Norway-style option of the UK staying in the EU’s single market, but it has been unable to win a majority for that in the Commons. It now supports another referendum which, it says, should include the option of Remain.
  • Manifesto https://www.snp.org/campaigns/eu-election-2019/
  • Website https://www.snp.org/
  • Autism? We want all children and young people to get the most out of the learning opportunities available to them, which means ensuring every young person is given an equal chance to fulfil their potential. We’re committed to halving the employment gap between disabled people and the rest of the working age population. We have established the Scottish Independent Living Fund, which provides support for over 2,600 disabled people across the country. We are also protecting the Disabled Students Allowance from Tory cuts, and recognising British Sign Language as a language.

Plaid Cymru

Democratic Unionists Party (DUP)

  • The Unionist party in Northern Ireland wants Brexit delivered but oppose the backstop plan for the Irish border in current plans.
  • Manifesto http://www.mydup.com/publications/view/2019-european-election-manifesto
  • Websitehttp://www.mydup.com/
  • Autism? Working alongside our commitment to increased investment in childcare, we will continue to work with family support mechanisms to develop an effective 0-3 strategy. We recognise the benefits of meaningful and timely early intervention and diagnosis. We will work to build upon the commitments of the SEND Act 2016 to ensure better and more timely co-ordination between education and health professionals, effective pupil tracking at school transfer and more specific training for classroom assistants and SENCOs.

Sinn Fein

  • Left wing Irish Republican Party active in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. wants the whole island of Ireland to remain in the EU, and for Northern Ireland to be given special status.
  • Manifesto https://www.sinnfein.ie/files/2019/A4_2019manifesto6C.pdf
  • Websitehttps://www.sinnfein.ie/
  • Autism? The provision of supports and services to persons with Autism is currently not fit for purpose.  The party has called for a comprehensive Autism Empowerment Strategy.

My thoughts on the European Union

I don’t support a political party but I do take the time to look at all the candidates and where the parties stand before I make my choice when voting in any election.  Making an informed choice is the most important thing to me and that is what drove me to write this post. 

I wanted show people where to access information and why it is important to vote.  I also wanted to point out a bit about autism and politics although I will look into this in more depth at a later date.  I strongly believe in democracy and everyone’s right to vote for the party that is right for them. 

Politics, autism & brexit

However I do want to share my final thoughts and personal feelings on Brexit – so stop reading here if you don’t want to know.

The fact that the European Union was founded on the ideal of providing peace and prosperity across Europe is enough for me to be a big supporter.  Yes there are many areas that the EU could improve, it is another bureaucratic hurdle that can slow down many things.  However it is also a huge protection to its citizens in many ways.  I have spent time over my 3 years at university studying the EU, I have worked with EU programmes such as ERDF whilst in my previous job.  All that experience has led me to believe that any faults the EU has the positives outweigh them.

We live in a global world, we need to cooperate across borders, why would we not?  I fear we are often blaming the EU for problems that actually come from our own government. I really feel that the UK should remain in the EU, yes it needs some reforms but we can do that with the EU not without it. 

I will leave you with a couple of quotes from a speech by David Lammy (Labour MP for Tottenham) and a link to the full speech.  This speech sums up a lot of my feelings around Brexit:

‘The European Union was once just a remarkable dream – a hope that our countries which fought and murdered each other on an industrial scale twice in once century could come together, a refusal to return to extreme nationalism and a determination to prevent more bloody conflicts in which tens of millions are killed.  The audacious idea of European integration was motivated by fear, but it was made possible by shared ideals – democracy, human rights, equality and freedom – and a refusal to submit to the tyranny of fascism ever again.’

David Lammy

‘What does it say about the United Kingdom when the UN sends rapporteurs to warn us of increased racism in our country? What does it say about Britain when our politicians play on the fear of migrants, races and religions to win votes? What did it say when Nigel Farage stood in front of a Nazi-inspired poster of refugees with the caption, “breaking point”?’

David Lammy

To read the full text follow this link and see 11.43pm on 4th December 2018.

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