The party leaders, minus Cameron. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/AFP
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Who are the party leaders?

Where is Natalie Bennett from? How old is David Cameron? What was Nigel Farage's job? We give you the lowdown on the party leaders.

Ed Miliband

Age: 45

Birthplace: London

Education: Haverstock Comprehensive in Chalk Farm; the University of Oxford (PPE); the London School of Economics

The son of immigrant parents, Ed Miliband began his career as a researcher on the Channel 4 program A Week in Politics. He started working for the Labour Party in 1993 and worked for Gordon Brown. He was elected at MP for Doncaster North in May 2005 with over 50 per cent of the vote. He has been leader of the Labour Party since September 2010.

Nicola Sturgeon

Age: 44

Birthplace: Irvine, Ayrshire

Education: Greenwood Academy; the University of Glasgow (Bachelor of Law, Diploma in Legal Practice)

Nicola Sturgeon joined the Scottish National Party in 1986, where she worked as a Youth Affairs Vice Convener and Publicity Vice Convener. She originally ran in the 1992 general election, when she was the youngest candidate in Scotland, but failed to win the seat.

In 1997, she defied a Labour national landslide to win the Glasgow Govan seat for the SNP. Although she failed to win the seat in the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999, following partial devolution, she was placed first in the SNP regional list and became a MSP.

Sturgeon has served in the Shadow Cabinets of both Alex Salmond and John Swinney, and has been the Shadow Minister of Children and Education, Health and Community Care, and Justice.

She became Deputy First Minister of the SNP in 2007 and party leader in September 2014.

 

David Cameron

Age: 48

Birthplace: London

Education: Eton College; the University of Oxford (PPE)

After leaving Eton in 1984, David Cameron took up a post as a researcher for his godfather Tim Rathbone before working in Hong King as a “ship jumper”. He then entered the University of Oxford, where he was – controversially – a member of the elite Bullingdon Club.

After graduating, Cameron worked for the Conservative Research Department, going on to brief John Major for Prime Minister’s Questions. He then served as Special Adviser to the Chancellor and later the Home secretary.

After various attempts, Cameron won a seat in Witney, Oxfordshire in 2010. His leadership of the Conservative Party was announced in December 2005.

 

Nigel Farage

Age: 51

Birthplace: Downe, Kent

Education: Dulwich College

The son of a stockbroker, Nigel Farage was educated at Dulwich College in south London before entering the City as a broker on the London Metal Exchange.

Farage had been involved in the Conservative Party since school, but left in 1992 after then Prime Minister John Major’s government signed a treaty on the European Union. He was a founding member of UKIP the following year.

Farage was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 and then again in 2004, 2009 and 2014. He was elected leader of UKIP in September 2006.

Some of his comments about immigrant groups in the UK, such as Muslims and Romanians, have proved controversial.

 

Natalie Bennett

Age: 46

Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

Education: MLC School, Burwood, New South Wales; University of Sydney (Bachelor of Agricultural Science); University of New England (BA Arts); University of Leicester (MA Mass Communication)

Natalie Bennett was born in Sydney, and started work as a journalist in New South Wales. She left Australia in 1995, living for four years in Thailand before moving to Britain in 1999. She has worked for the Independent, the Times and has been editor of The Guardian Weekly.

She joined the Green Party in 2006, working as an internal communications co-ordinator. She also founded the Green Party women’s group, and was a trustee of the Fawcett Society 2010-14.

Bennett replaced Caroline Lucas as leader of the Green Party in September 2012. Now a British Citizen, she would be eligible to hold the post of Prime Minister.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.