UK. The coalition government between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats continued its tough austerity policy. Several large demonstrations were held to protest the cut-off policy, including gathering between a quarter and a half million people in London on March 26. Plans to reduce pension conditions for public sector employees also aroused protests. Warnings came, even from several leading economists, that the government made too large savings too quickly, which in the long run could counteract its purpose. According to Countryaah official site, economic growth for the year was expected to remain around 1%. At the same time, unemployment rose, especially among young people. Of the approximately 2.62 million Britons, or 8.3%, who were unemployed in September, just over one million were aged between 15 and 24.
On May 5, a referendum was held on a new system for election to the lower house. It was the Liberal Democrats who pushed the issue and the party would have preferred to have a completely proportional system but had to agree on a compromise, called Alternative Vote (AV), which would give candidates from smaller parties more opportunities than before to win in a constituency. Within the Conservative Party there was a strong opposition to AV. Parts of Labor also opposed a change, but party leader Ed Miliband was too. However, just over two-thirds of voters voted against the proposal. It was just one of several hardships for the Liberal Democrats, which the voters punished for the promises of failure that the party was deemed to have made through the cooperation with the Conservatives. The party also did poorly in the elections to the regional parliaments in Scotland and Wales and in the English municipal elections on May 5. In Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) gained its own majority in the Holyrood Parliament and SNP leader Alex Salmond could remain as head of government. In Wales, Labor again became the largest party. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin again won the most votes. In the English municipal elections Labor was the most successful, but the opposition party, under Ed Miliband, seemed to have a hard time winning new voters despite the dissatisfaction with the government. The success of the SNP in Scotland once again raised the question of Scottish independence and Prime Minister Salmond said he intended to hold a referendum on this, or any extended self-government, before the end of the term of office. However, opinion polls indicated that most Scots did not want their own state. However, the Scottish Parliament seemed to be gaining some new powers, including in the economy, but these were not far enough, according to Salmond. The regional parliament in Wales would be given increased power, including greater opportunities to enact laws, for example. health and the environment, which was approved in a referendum in March.
On April 29, Prince William married Kate Middleton during a grand pomp and parade at Westminster Abbey in London. The couple now received the titles Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. William also received the titles Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus. The bride was wearing a dress from the British fashion house Alexander McQueen, designed by Sarah Burton.
The tabloid press’s heavy-handed surveillance of people during the year attracted criticism, especially after revelations that the Sunday newspaper News of the World, owned by a subsidiary of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation group, hacked into several people’s private cell phones. Among those believed to have been intercepted were relatives of the victims of the London bombing in 2005 and of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, murder victims and a number of politicians, actors and other celebrities. The newspaper was also accused of paying police officers for leaking information from ongoing criminal investigations. Initially, the newspaper claimed that only a few journalists had been involved, but gradually it seemed as if the working method was much more widespread than that. The scandal also affected Prime Minister David Cameron, when his communications manager Andy Coulson was News of the World’s editor in 2003-2007. Coulson was forced to leave as early as January, but denied that he would have known about the telephone interceptions. The scandal gave new impetus to a debate about leading politicians’ contacts with newspapers from Murdoch’s group, even during Labor’s time in power. In July, both Rupert Murdoch and his son James, as well as Rebekah Brooks, head of the group’s UK branch News International, were asked by a parliamentary committee in the lower house. In July, the Murdoch Group decided to shut down News of the World. The press on the Murdoch Group made it refrain from buying the majority share in the satellite channel BSkyB. The Prime Minister appointed a public inquiry which, in the first stage, would acquire a picture of how the contacts between the press, politicians and the police look and how the media’s own ethical rules work. Legal proceedings were also initiated against several of those involved, and London Police Chief Sir Paul Stephenson resigned. Later, there were suspicions that private detectives on behalf of News International on 2005-2007 also hacked into British ministers’ e-mail accounts, including Northern Ireland Minister Peter Hains.
In early August, violent rioting broke out in Tottenham, north London, after police shot dead a local gang leader, Mark Duggan, in connection with an arrest. Police initially claimed that Duggan was killed during a firefight, but a later investigation showed he had not used his weapon. The unrest spread from Tottenham to more areas in London and other English major cities (including Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham). Many buildings were vandalized and set on fire and a large number of shops were looted. The riots claimed five lives and hundreds of people were injured. Most of the participants in the rattles were young boys and men from worn areas with high unemployment. Prime Minister Cameron canceled his summer vacation in Italy and returned to London where he gave the police extra powers to end the riots.
At least 3,000 people were arrested until the end of August and nearly 2,000 were prosecuted in special on-court courts. Of the 315 who had been sentenced to mid-September, many were considered to have received significantly higher punishments than was usual for similar crimes, according to an analysis by The Guardian magazine. Common to most people was that they came from socially vulnerable environments. The government’s own figures now showed that 13% of those arrested were members of a gang.
The British government, along with France, was driving efforts to establish an international military operation in Libya to protect the civilian population. Since the UN Security Council had given the go-ahead in mid-March, French and British forces attacked Libyan government forces. At the end of July, Britain recognized the National Transitional Council rebels as Libya’s legal government. When Muammar al-Khadaffi’s regime was finally defeated in the fall, it meant a foreign policy success for Cameron. An investigation, led by former Judge William Gauge, criticized the British Army in the early fall for treating a group of Iraqi prisoners of war in Basra in 2003. One of them, Baha Mousa, a civilian Iraqi, died after being subjected to systematic abuse.
A first step towards a new succession order for the British monarchy was taken in October, when countries within the Commonwealth voted for the oldest child, regardless of gender, to inherit the crown.
The increasingly acute crisis in the EU euro zone also affected the UK, even though it was outside the currency union. This gave new impetus to EU skeptical forces within the Conservative Party, which put forward a motion that a referendum should be held if Britain should remain in the EU. The lower house rejected the motion in October, but it was seen as a loss of prestige for Cameron that as many as 88 Conservative members opposed his prime minister and voted for a referendum. It was also clear that the economy continued to deteriorate, among other things, exports had fallen in the wake of the euro crisis (about half of Britain’s exports usually go to euro countries). By late autumn, over 2.6 million Britons were unemployed, which was the highest figure since 1994.
At the EU crisis meeting in December, Cameron opposed a proposal to amend the Lisbon Treaty by introducing stricter budgetary rules for all EU countries and allowing sanctions against those who violate these rules, as all other member states agreed.
In the fall, Britain, along with the United States, raised its tone against Iran because of fears that the country was acquiring nuclear weapons. The British government initially decided to break the financial contacts with Iran, but after Iranian students stormed the British embassy in Tehran, the embassy was closed and Iranian diplomats were expelled from the UK. However, diplomatic relations were not completely broken.