Coalition Bargaining Heats Up as Election Approaches
Election campaigns are in full swing in the run-up to the General Election on May 7th. Recent polls show that the governing Conservative Party and its main competitor the Labour Party are locked in a neck-and-neck race for the hearts and minds of voters. However, the two leading parties are yet far from achieving an absolute majority of seats. What`s more: both competitors face the task of succeeding in a multi-party election battle of which the outcome seems to be highly uncertain, making a coalition government likely. All parties are now on the look-out for potential partners.
Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major emphasised that a much talked of coalition of the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party under Nicola Sturgeon would strengthen the SNP's ability to push through nationalist issues at the expense of the rest of the UK: “We would all pay for the SNP's ransom in our daily lives—through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt”. Despite rumours of pre-election bargaining between the two parties, Miliband has outwardly dismisses the option.
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair (Labour) has put his weight behind Miliband and praised his “real leadership”, warning the electorate that a Conservative Party victory and a promised nationwide EU referendum would mean a real threat to UK membership of the bloc: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy”, said Blair.
Although UKIP leader Nigel Farage has stated that he is willing to work with the Conservatives to prevent a Labour-SNP coalition, David Cameron has ruled this option out. Against this political background, speculation is on the rise that the Liberal Democrats may be this election's king-makers. The Lib Dem's leader Nick Clegg declared: “We will cut less than the Conservatives. We will borrow less than Labour. We have provided a heart to a government of Conservatives just as we would provide a brain to a government of the Labour party.”
Thousands of British Soldiers At Risk in Malaria Drug Scandal
A scandal rippled through the corridors of Whitehall this month as the British Army were forced to reveal that hundreds of soldiers required medical treatment after being prescribed the highly controversial anti-malarial drug Lariam. The drug, also known by its generic name Mefloquine
, was developed by the United States military during the Vietnam War and was widely prescribed to the general public in the decades after its discovery. Lariam gradually fell out of favour, though, as the large side effect profile of the drug became apparent and as safer, better tolerated drugs became available. In a significant minority of individuals, Lariam can induce psychiatric disorders including frank hallucinations, mania and schizophrenia and the drug has been linked to a spate of suicides and episodes of self-harm among service men and women on both sides of the Atlantic.
The American military finally dropped the drug in 2013 following an inquest which concluded that a Special Forces operative responsible for the massacre of 14, unarmed, Afghan civilians was suffering from Lariam-related psychiatric effects. Despite similar moves by the Canadian, German and Danish militaries who have since adopted newer, more expensive, anti-malarial drugs the British Ministry of Defence continues to use Lariam with almost 2,000 soldiers receiving prescriptions last year alone.
A Ministry spokesman stressed that the drug was prescribed only “after an individual risk assessment” but families of side-effect stricken soldiers have reacted furiously to the Ministry’s refusal to ban the drug and have threatened legal action.
The scandal, emerging in the heated run-up to one of the most closely contested General Elections in a generation, has predictably polarised the political arena. While the incumbent Conservative Party continues to back the Ministry of Defence on the use of Lariam, the main opposition party – Labour – have seized on the issue, calling the scandal “beyond belief” and promising to conduct an “immediate review” into the drug should they be brought to power after May 7th.