LONDON: With the U.K. general election taking place this Thursday, Anadolu Agency takes a look at the leaders of the main parties.
Boris Johnson: Boris Johnson, 55, is the leader of the ruling center-right Conservative Party and prime minister. He has long been one of Britain’s most-high-profile politicians. He is the former editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine and a former columnist for the center-right Telegraph newspaper. In the latter position, he garnered controversy for allegedly racist comments about Muslims and foreigners, an issue which he was challenged on during the current election campaign.
Between 2001 and 2008, he was a Conservative MP for Henley, a safe seat. Between 2008 and 2016, he was the mayor of London, a position which elevated his political profile. This was due both to his charisma and self-deprecating manner as well as his gaffes, including being suspended on a zip line holding two union jack flags during the 2012 London Olympic Games. Johnson touts his record on reduced crime, increased housing and better transport while critics accuse him of carrying out vanity projects with no overall impact on living standards in the capital city. Since 2015, he has been MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and between 2016 and 2018 was the U.K.’s foreign minister. In 2016, he was a leading figure in the pro-Brexit campaign. He was photographed standing next to a bus emblazoned with the claim that Britain pays the European Union £350 million a week, and said if Leave won, the money could be diverted to the National Health Service (NHS), a claim critics say was unsubstantiated. He won the Conservative leadership race and became prime minister in 2019.
Jeremy Corbyn: Jeremy Corbyn, 70, is the leader of the opposition center-left Labour Party. A firebrand socialist, his landslide victory in the 2015 Labour leadership election was a surprise to everyone, including his own supporters. A long-time backbench MP, he spent three decades criticizing both the Conservatives and his own party for not being progressive enough. His anti-austerity credentials helped him win over young people, but some of his other stances have generated controversy.
Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983. He is pro-nuclear disarmament, supported the miner’s strike in the 1980s, opposed apartheid, supported animal rights, advocated for gay rights and opposed the Iraq War. He has also shared platforms with Irish republicans as well as Hamas and Hezbollah in the context of supporting the Palestinian cause. These positions have garnered great controversy in the U.K., with critics accusing him of siding with terrorists. His positions became even more controversial amid a long-running anti-Semitism scandal in the Labour party, with Corbyn being accused of not doing enough to oppose it.
Jo Swinson: Jo Swinson, 39, is the first female leader of the centrist Liberal Democrat party. She was born in Scotland and made her first run for parliament at the age of just 21. She lost and tried again in 2003 for a seat in the devolved Scottish parliament. She lost again. But in 2005, it proved to be third time lucky when she won her current seat of East Dunbartonshire. At 25, she was the youngest member of parliament. During the 2010-15 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, she became a minister for employment relations and consumer affairs and later on women and equalities minister. She lost her seat in 2015 but regained it two years later, rising to become party leader in 2018.
She won the Liberal Democrat leadership election as a new face, but she and the party are still associated by some with the coalition government’s austerity policies.
Nicola Sturgeon: Nicola Sturgeon, 49, is the leader of the left-wing Scottish National Party (SNP). She joined the party when she was 16 and entered the Scottish parliament when she was 29. Following an SNP victory in the 2007 Scottish parliamentary election, she became deputy first minister and health secretary under her predecessor, Alex Salmond. She led her party’s historic 2011 campaign when the SNP won a majority in the Scottish parliament and then led the Yes campaign in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which the SNP lost 55% to 45%.
Following the loss, Salmond stepped down and Sturgeon became SNP leader and Scottish first minister. Despite losing the referendum, she became a political superstar, and SNP membership soared. In 2015, the SNP won a landslide in Scottish seats in the U.K.-wide elections, winning 56 out of 59 seats. The party was pro-Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum. She has insisted that permission from London to carry out a second independence referendum is a red line for the SNP’s support of a Labour-led pro-Remain coalition in Westminster. Sturgeon is widely regarded as one of the U.K.’s most effective politicians and performs well in election debates, as does her party in regional and national elections.
Nigel Farage: Nigel Farage, 55, is Britain’s most high-profile Eurosceptic, former MEP, former UKIP leader and current Brexit Party leader. A former city banker, Farage has cultivated a man-of-the-people image, often pictured drinking in pubs with a cigarette in hand. He is an ardent critic of open-door immigration and increasing European integration.
He left the Conservative Party in 1992 over its pro-European policies and helped found the UK Independence Party (UKIP) the following year. He was elected UKIP leader in 2006. He has unsuccessfully run for the British parliament twice but succeeded in entering the European parliament, which he used as a platform for his Euroscepticism. In 2010, he famously blasted then European Council president Herman van Rompuy as having “the charisma of a damp rag” and the “appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” Despite being shunned by other pro-Leave politicians during the 2016 Brexit referendum, he played a high-profile, if controversial role, focusing especially on immigration. He founded the Brexit Party in 2019 to ensure the referendum result is implemented. Voters in the U.K. are due to head to the polls on Dec. 12. (AA)