UK Election: Tory Landslide All But Certain On 8 June

A SURPRISE General Election in Britain is certain to gift victory to Theresa May’s Conservative Party, and will as reliably hand Labour its worst loss since 1935; whilst strengthening May’s hand in negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU has been given as an ostensible pretext, this election is about poleaxing an opposition led by an irrelevant radical socialist and extending the Tories’ hold on office. On both counts, it will succeed convincingly.

It’s an unexpected post from me this morning, as I try to juggle other commitments and obligations with the desire to maintain a regular flow of comment through this column, but if anything could shake a spare hour free to publish something, my favourite political hobby-horse — electoral politics in the United Kingdom — is just the thing to do it.

By now many readers will know that over the past 36 hours, an extraordinary political heist has been engineered by British PM Theresa May; after nine months in office marked by incessant refusals to call an election, and guarantees that the House of Commons would run its full term until 2020, Mrs May has — against a backdrop of 20-point leads over Labour across most reputable opinion polls, and in the face of pleas from her MPs to capitalise on the apparently sunny electoral weather the Tories currently enjoy — called an election for 8 June after a seven-week campaign.

I have held off posting for an extra day pending the result of a vote in the House of Commons, which was needed to set aside the Fixed Terms Act insisted upon by the Liberal Democrats as part of their price for installing the Tories (then led by David Cameron) in office after the inconclusive election of 2010; that ballot was carried overnight in the Commons by a 522-13 margin, removing the only hurdle Mrs May faced in calling a snap election.

Remarkably, the opposition Labour Party — facing annihilation under the pointless leadership of widely disliked radical socialist Jeremy Corbyn — voted for the motion, and frankly, there is something abjectly pathetic about the sight of lemmings lining up to leap gleefully over a cliff. More on Corbyn and Labour shortly.

But first things first: for fellow junkies of British politics, the Telegraph is publishing some excellent rolling coverage that can be accessed here; a small selection of other content can be accessed here and here — we recommend The Spectator as the best boutique source of coverage during the campaign — whilst an excellent consolidated psephological resource I’ve grown well acquainted with over the years, operated by YouGov’s Anthony Wells, is a handy reference point and can be found here, but of course there is plenty of other good material in the market (or keep an eye on my Twitter feed to see who I’m following and what I’m reading from the UK @theredandblue).

I’ve struggled a bit to think of the last time an incumbent government looked as unassailably certain to smash its opponent into a thousand little pieces as Mrs May’s does.

Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in 1983 comes to mind, as does the re-election of Ronald Reagan in 1984; closer to home, it’s hard to ascribe the same upfront inevitability to John Howard’s 2001 and 2004 triumphs, for the Coalition spent much of 2001 looking like losing, and started the 2004 campaign trailing in the polls. State governments led by Labor in Queensland in 2001 and  Victoria in 2002, and by the Liberal Party in Western Australia in 2013, are perhaps nearer the mark.

But the Conservative Party begins this election campaign, on average, nearly 20 percentage points ahead of Labour once the various individual polls are examined and aggregated; in Britain’s first past the post election system, this lead — rounded to 43 to 26 — suggests a thumping Tory victory if replicated on 8 June, and it should be observed that 43 to 26 amounts to a better position than that recorded by Mrs Thatcher in 1983, which resulted in a 144-seat majority and almost 400 seats (397 in fact) in the 650-seat Commons.

Where the polls are concerned, the Tory position ranges from 38% in yesterday’s Opinium survey (which almost identically replicates the actual result of the 2015 election) to 46% from ICM and ComRes. The Opinium poll yesterday is the only survey tabulated in the past ten weeks by any of Britain’s five major polling houses to find Conservative support below 40%, and it will be a sobering fact for anyone looking for a Labour victory to know that at every election since (and including) 1992, opinion polls have consistently overstated eventual support for Labour whilst understating the Tory vote.

So far in 2017, just five of the 36 published opinion polls on Westminster voting intention have found support for the Conservative Party below 40%, and none have found the Tory vote at levels at or below the 37% that delivered a slim majority two years ago. By contrast, just four of those 36 surveys recorded Labour travelling better than the 29% it recorded in 2015, and of those, three found the improvement to be a solitary percentage point.

In other words, Labour is set for the belting of its life: worse than 1983, and worse than anything it suffered in the 1950s; I’m looking at the Tory win of 1935 (which saw Labour emerge with 154 seats in a 615-seat House of Commons) as the benchmark for expectations, although  the 1931 election, which was even better for the Conservatives (470 seats), looks a bit silly in terms of a precedent this time. I do, however, think the Tories stand an excellent chance of recording a 400+ seat haul on 8 June.

The pretext offered by Mrs May to justify the election — that a stronger and renewed mandate would in turn strengthen Britain’s hand at upcoming negotiations over the UK’s pending exit from the European Union — is easy enough to accept, but only on the surface; the truth (as her opponents noted yesterday) is that even with their present slender majority, the Conservatives have faced no parliamentary refusal to trigger the “Brexit process,” and that EU bureaucrats are likely to be just as hostile toward the British position irrespective of whether Mrs May holds office with a majority of 15 or 150.

The real reasons for this election are more base, and not particularly difficult to divine.

Cameron must have been unable to believe his luck two years ago, when the defeated Labour Party chose as its leader a radical socialist of the far Left whose 32-year parliamentary career had thitherto been entirely spent on the backbench; the Tories must have been even more disbelieving when the new opposition leader chose, as his shadow Chancellor (the equivalent of a shadow Treasurer in Australia) another arch-Leftist with decades of experience in the political wilderness, John McDonnell. Both men are, among other things, apologists for the IRA, with little discernible connection or relevance to mainstream British society or to the majority of the people living in it.

One abortive attempt to get rid of Corbyn last year by rebellious Labour MPs had the unintended consequence of strengthening his position; another attempt has been rumoured ever since. The temptation to lock Corbyn in place with an election date has clearly proven irresistible to Mrs May and her strategists, who — unlike their Coalition counterparts in Australia last year, where Bill Shorten was concerned — will now “do” Corbyn properly in such a fashion as to kill him off as a political force altogether.

Even on this point, Labour is proving to be the gift that keeps giving; faced with a slaughter, Corbyn has made it known he plans to remain leader after the looming massacre on 8 June. That event can only be exacerbated by what is already becoming a stream of Labour MPs, flatly opposed to Corbyn’s leadership and disgusted by the direction in which he has taken their party, who are refusing to stand again in their seats — and offering free, vicious and very public character assessments of their leader on the way out the door.

May, like Cameron before her, has been the beneficiary of an economy that has proven surprisingly robust; for much of the past five years the British economy has been the fastest growing in Europe, and at one point was the fastest growing of all OECD nations (including Australia). Predictions of a sharp downturn in the aftermath of last year’s successful referendum to leave the EU have consistently failed to eventuate, although with a growing number of economists forecasting a downturn in the next 18 months (which, to be fair, would affect the rest of Europe as well), going to the polls now rather than in three years’ time makes sense: especially when there are other factors, such as the EU negotiations, which can be used to provide the veneer of legitimacy for doing so.

With the Scottish Nationalist Party’s stranglehold on Scottish seats showing little sign of being broken (apart from an outside chance of Tories picking up an extra couple of seats north of the border), Labour’s scope to make gains at all is severely limited; in a region that traditionally provided a bedrock for British Labour, it currently polls just 10% in Scotland: a situation once unthinkable.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives’ grip on the country appears so unshakeable that I’ve seen credible modelling to suggest the Tories may be on track to win a string of seats in coal mining areas in northern Wales — an outcome, if it eventuates, that was once as unthinkable as Labour being wiped out of Scotland — and if they can take seats from Labour in the Midlands and major centres outside London (Birmingham, Manchester, even Sheffield), the Tories’ victory on 8 June will be a massive one indeed.

The one potential cloud on the horizon in terms of the scale of their win — some unforeseen, colossally destructive (albeit unlikely) campaign gaffe notwithstanding — lies in the dozens of seats the Conservatives won from the Liberal Democrats in 2015; many of these sit on razor-thin margins, and a lot of them were harvested from regions (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset) that long remained good for the Lib-Dems (and the Liberals before them) when the rest of the country abandoned them. Should the Lib-Dems win a solid number of these seats back, it will obviously dull the magnitude of the Tory triumph: not enough to stop it, but perhaps just enough to deny Mrs May the invincibility enjoyed by Mrs Thatcher after 1983.

With seven weeks to go, I will aim to include comment on the British election as we go: as well as keeping an eye on what’s happening here in Australia, and on that score, I should be back within the next day or so.

But if ever there was a case of the planets aligning perfectly for a jaunty field trip to face the voters, Britain’s Conservative Party enjoys exactly that: and whilst it’s never over until the votes are counted, a huge win for Mrs May and the Tories — mirrored by defeat and humiliation for Labour — are in no way in any doubt.

If anyone wants to take a shot at me for making such an unqualified and unilateral prediction, just hold off until 9 June. I’m sure, on that day, you might have second thoughts about doing so.

 

“All F*cked:” UK Labour Elects Socialist Wacko As Leader

CONSERVATIVE PARTY aspirations of a hegemonic period in office to rival the Thatcher-Major years received an immeasurable boost overnight, as British Labour elected its most radical leader since Michael Foot in the 1980s, if not since its formation in 1900; the ascension of socialist fruit cake Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader — even if dumped before an election — will damage Labour badly. For the Tories, hubris is now their greatest opponent.

It will be a relatively succinct comment from me today, knowing as I do that the bulk of this column’s readership does not share my great interest in British politics, but the final act of the general election there that played out overnight cannot be allowed to go unremarked upon.

British Labour — so often irrelevant before and since the thunderous public endorsements obtained by Tony Blair in 1997, 2001 and to a lesser extent 2005 — has completed the long march in its reversion to type overnight, electing far-Left nutcase Jeremy Corbyn as its replacement for beaten leader “Red” Ed Miliband.

In point of fact, if Miliband — with his spiteful, class-obsessed program of rent controls, heightened social spending in the teeth of the record national debt his party left behind in 2010, tax hikes and anti-foreign investment policies — could be characterised as “Red Ed,” the younger Miliband will quickly prove far more moderate than anything likely to be served up by Corbyn.

In a result that has stunned seasoned Westminster observers and ricocheted across the world, Corbyn won against three other candidates on the first ballot, scoring 59.5% of the vote under Labour’s arcane leadership balloting process that gives weight to MPs, British trade unions, and rank and file Labour members. That the party has the leader its constituent parts wanted is beyond question, but Labour will rue the fact of Corbyn’s election for many, many years to come.

The heir to…Foot? Last time Labour selected a leader from the far Left, it split the party and led to such a heavy defeat at the ensuing election in 1983 it took 15 years and three terms for the party to recover. (Picture: The Guardian)

In the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory, a sizeable portion of the Labour frontbench has resigned; the only reason I am not going to say how many of them have quit is because I can’t: at the time of publishing, 10 senior Labour shadow ministers have already jumped ship and the resignations show no sign of abating.

It seems Corbyn will now select a frontbench largely composed of otherwise irrelevant — and in some cases, downright dangerous — figures from the hard-Left socialist rump that has spent decades on the back benches of the House of Commons where they belong.

No party of extremists (or a party led by an extremist) has ever won election to office in the United Kingdom, and Corbyn Labour will prove no different — if, that is, the new leader makes it through a full five-year term to contest a general election at all.

And in an age when, more than ever, elections in western democratic countries are won from the sensible centre by moderately right-wing and left-wing parties, British Labour now faces the embarrassing prospect of being committed to policies discredited decades ago by a lunatic who has himself spent his entire 32-year political career on the backbench on account of the insidious and in some cases almost seditious nature of his policy views.

Corbyn’s policy agenda reads like some capitulation to a wish list from the Brezhnev- or Andropov-led USSR hellbent on the destruction of the West and the engineering of its exposure to takeover by a subjugating hostile power: it’s that bad.

He apparently wants Britain to withdraw from the EU — something I support (or at least, I support withdrawal from those aspects of the EU that relate to political and social union) — but that’s just the start of it.

He wants Britain to both exit NATO and abolish its Trident nuclear deterrent: relegating the UK completely to the status of a client state of the US at best, where matters of sovereignty and national defence are concerned, or abandoning it to the wolves altogether at a time of resurgent international tension and the renewed risk of global conflict with Russia at worst.

He is an IRA sympathiser and apologist for sectarian violence; he has denounced the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands and advocated “shared sovereignty” (whatever that is) over the Atlantic territory despite a clear majority of Britons and almost all of the Islanders wanting the Falklands to remain a British dependency.

He is opposed to the UK joining military action in Syria and Iraq to attempt to rid the Middle East of the scourge that is ISIS, tacitly endorsing this threat to regional and global peace in so doing, and risking the eventual scenario of a localised Armageddon in one of the world’s most notoriously dangerous hot spots should fanatical Islamic interests ever gain access to nuclear weapons.

He wants to ramp up taxes on individuals and businesses, and channel the proceeds into expanded welfare and social spending: destroying incentive and productivity and building dependency upon the state at a stroke.

He wants to dumb down Education into a one-size-fits-all “state service,” where uniformity transcends standards, setting Britain’s future course for decline as the country grows stupider and more ignorant at the behest of Corbyn’s crazed visions of socialist utopia.

All of this is just for starters in a mad, bad agenda to turn “modern” Britain into some socialist laboratory designed to achieve God alone knows what.

Already, some in the UK are talking of the end of the mainstream Left as Labour, under Corbyn, seems set to pursue an outdated and discredited Marxist agenda that if implemented would devastate British society or, indeed, the society of any other country stupid enough to attempt to emulate it.

And already, there is talk of attempts to overthrow Corbyn — next week, next year, within two years — that will merely guarantee, thankfully, the utter collapse of social democracy in the UK as a viable democratic alternative — for those who want it.

I would suggest the fact almost 60% of Labour’s voting blocs elected Corbyn outright means he isn’t going anywhere, irrespective of the mooted insurgencies against his leadership.

And that — less than 10% through its second term in office — makes the Conservative Party an almost certain bet to win a third when it next faces the British public in 2020.

SCARY…socialist fruit cake Jeremy Corbyn is the new leader of British Labour. (Picture: unilad.co.uk)

I provide two pieces of extra reading today for those interested; here and here.

There is, ironically enough, a big opportunity for the Liberal Democrats in all of this; the old Liberal Party having been displaced as the main non-Tory bloc by Labour as it emerged and then achieved critical mass in the 1920s and 1930s still provides the most feasible way for social democrats to abandon the moribund socialist platform Corbyn seems certain to inflict on Labour. Decimated as it was in May, Corbyn’s election offers the Lib-Dems its greatest opportunity to achieve critical mass in its own right in decades.

But it won’t take it, for the Lib-Dems — their ill-fated stint as coalition partners to David Cameron’s Conservatives aside — have been restored by a thumping decimation to the role they are happiest in: permanent opposition, whining, carping, and the freedom from responsibility that total unelectability confers upon them.

All of this points to a truth that is both an opportunity and a threat.

The prospect of at least another one to two terms in office now beckons for the Tories; even if Corbyn is somehow dislodged before he can fight an election, the internal bloodshed and chaos will mean the only plausible option for forming government in the UK will remain the Conservative Party.

For a party that remains on course to enact a leadership transition of its own before that election — to outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson, or perhaps to Home Secretary Theresa May or Chancellor George Osborne — the allure of successful back-to-back Prime Ministerships seems well within grasp.

But complacency and hubris comes at a cost; they are arguably the forces that undid Margaret Thatcher in 1990; and their effects have engineered the defeat of better governments than Cameron’s all over the world, and seen to it that even the most securely seated of administrations can be turfed out if voters are of a mood to punish arrogance: a good local example is what happened to Jeff Kennett in Victoria in 1999.

Still, today is Corbyn’s moment of triumph, for what it is worth, and the fallout is likely to quickly prove that a moment is all he will be spared as his party now proceeds to disintegrate around him.

The final word goes to a Labour staffer who, on resigning once Corbyn’s election was certain, remarked that “I’m fucked, you’re fucked, we’re all fucked.”

Quite.

For anyone in Westminster and for those who watch from near and from afar, interesting times ahead in British politics ahead are guaranteed.

UK: Narrow Tory Win A Victory For Common Sense And Right

DAVID CAMERON defied polls, pundits, and the predictions of many — including, to a slight degree, myself — to pull off a clear but narrow outright victory in Thursday’s British election; the result is a reward for five years of sound stewardship and represents the logical outcome of good governance but poses risks for the Tories: even so, the Left has been divided, the Liberal Democrats annihilated, and Tories must be favoured to win again in 2020.

I had intended to posit on the excellent outcome of Thursday’s election in the UK on Friday night, Melbourne time, but time — as readers know too well — has been in short supply of late; this is a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future, and with other issues backing up and more (like the budget) looming, we’ll talk briefly on this tonight and keep moving.

But as was the case recently in New Zealand, the stunning majority win by Britain’s Conservative Party has provided proof — were more required — that enough voters in enough seats are open to embracing a reasonably authentic conservative agenda of smaller government, lower taxes, incentives for families and business, strong national defences, and limited and far more tightly targeted welfare programs that serve as a genuine safety net and not as some divine right of entitlement: and, when coupled with economic growth (in Britain’s case, the fastest of any developed economy, including Australia’s) all of this adds up to a powerful case for election provided that case is adequately and competently made and prosecuted.

In this sense, the Tory win in the UK carries lessons for conservatives in the US, Canada, and especially here in Australia, as a hapless and trouble-prone Liberal government prepares to deliver a make-or-break second budget next week (to remedy the politically apocalyptic mess it made of its first) and which approaches the two-third waypoint of its first term with re-election far from a certainty.

I must confess that I thought a majority was beyond the reach of the Conservative Party; not just on account of the closeness of the polls, or the relatively low share of the vote they projected for the Tories, but because — on an orthodox reading of the British political landscape — the Conservatives simply didn’t seem able to establish the sort of simple plurality over Labour required to come in with half the seats.

I thought the Tories would win about 290 seats with a floor at the 280 mark, and with the possibility of a “surge” that might get them close at 310-315 seats, but not quite close enough.

But this was no orthodox election in the UK, as we’ll see shortly, and whilst I note the outraged blather emanating from the Greens, UKIP (and to a lesser extent Labour and the Liberal Democrats) over the Tories winning a majority on 37.1% of the votes cast, I also note there was no such outrage emanating from any of those quarters in 2005 when Labour under Tony Blair scored a 66-seat majority on 36% (and the Tories finishing that election on 32% — almost two points better than Labour managed this time — with 35 seats fewer than Labour won on Thursday).

So first things first: the outraged hypocrisy of the also-rans should be ignored; it is typical of the Greens especially that having won fewer than one vote in 25 cast they nonetheless now bang the table demanding seats in Parliament as a reward for the pathetic and unattractive platform offered to and rejected by the overwhelming majority of British electors.

The Tory Party has finished with 331 seats (+25 from 2010) to 232 for Labour (-26), 8 (-49) for the Lib-Dems, 56 (+50) for the Scottish Nationalist Party, and 23 “Others” (including one for the United Kingdom Independence Party): it adds up to a slim but serviceable majority of 12 for the Conservatives over all other parties, and in the circumstances is a triumph.

The simple truth of a first past the post electoral system is that whoever puts together the most votes in a given constituency wins that seat — which is how it should be — and in the UK, any change to that arrangement was emphatically rejected at a referendum just a few years ago. Britons voted decisively against an Australian-style preferential voting system, and that was absolutely the correct result, and here in Australia any attempt to move away from preferential voting and back toward the FPTP system the system was created with in the first place should be welcomed, encouraged, and implemented as quickly as it can be legislated.

But for all of that, Conservatives now face a further five years in office, barring defections, by-election losses or a split in the Tory Party bringing David Cameron’s government down; it is important to note however that whilst the result of the election was clear, it was by no means a landslide or otherwise a thumping win, and this reality should stay very much top of mind as the Tories go about the business of their second term in office.

To illustrate the point, I note the win on Thursday was weaker (in both seats won, the resulting majority, and the proportion of the vote secured) than all four election wins achieved by the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, including the surprise come-from-behind victory recorded by Major in April 1992.

Even so, Cameron is now able to get on with the business of implementing Conservative policies in full control of the House of Commons, and unencumbered by the retarding influence of the Lib-Dem partners whose party has now been comprehensively trounced and virtually wiped out.

There are a lot of lessons here for the Abbott government, which has laboured under the dead weight of poor advice and strategic and tactical ineptitude, to say nothing of the morally criminal antics of a bitterly hostile Senate; Australia’s Liberals might not be able to do anything about the state of the Senate without an election, but Cameron’s Tories have at least demonstrated there is a way to build sufficient public support to carry an electoral mandate when the opportunity eventuates.

In many respects, the Cameroon agenda is little different to that of the Liberal Party here: structural repair of a gaping budget deficit, starting work on repaying state sector debt that in Britain ballooned to £1.5tn under Labour; tightening and restricting welfare payments to the genuinely disadvantaged, and capping the amount of benefits paid per household; cutting taxes on personal and business incomes; providing incentives for enterprise, home ownership and working families; securing Britain’s defences through the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile deterrent; and so forth.

It’s an agenda that has seen Britain — unique among a sea of basket cases and stagnant neighbours in Europe — begin to boom; and it’s an agenda that has been astutely packaged, explained and sold by a slick and brutally effective Tory communications unit that makes anything Australia’s Liberals are currently capable of appear pedestrian at best by comparison.

Unlike the Liberal Party, the Conservatives have been merciless (some might say ruthless) in exposing the dangers of a return to office by their Labour opponents’ a telling example lies in the fact the shadow Chancellor (read: shadow Treasurer) Ed Balls was coerced into suggesting the British government did not spend enough money during its last period of government between 1997 and 2010; the Tories leapt on this gleefully in the final weeks of the election campaign — pointing at the horrific national debt pile and a budget deficit running at more than £100bn when they took office — and crucified Balls and Labour over such a ridiculous (and dangerous) official position.

Balls was one of the Labour MPs who lost his seat on Saturday. It is difficult to imagine the Liberals’ present line-up engineering such a viciously effective strike on the Shorten-led ALP.

Much credit must be given to Lynton Crosby — the Australian political strategist who emerged from the Liberal Party in the 1990s, who steered the Tory election effort — for despite Thursday’s triumph, the plain fact is that for much of its first term in office, Cameron’s government looked imperilled (to say the least) ahead of its next date with the British public at the ballot box.

It is Crosby who deserves full credit for getting the Tories focused, on message, and disciplined enough to stick to a plan, and anyone who doubts Crosby’s abilities ought to sit up and take notice.

I wrote in this column last week that if the Conservatives won — faced with bad polls (that proved wrong) and confronted by a difficult election — then Crosby would be entitled to be regarded as one of the best political strategists, anywhere, ever: and so it has come to pass. He deserves the kudos he is now rightly being given. And in the way such matters are managed in Britain, talk that his efforts merit a knighthood express a sentiment with which I have no objection whatsoever.

The one blot on an otherwise excellent result is Scotland, where 56 of 59 seats were won by the Scottish Nationalist Party; I tend to think that if Cameron proceeds to govern as a “One Nation” Conservative — a term carrying a rather different meaning than it does in Australia — then the SNP, when its MPs front up for re-election in five years’ time able to boast of achieving next to nothing, this aberration will begin to fade away as sharply as it has appeared now.

The SNP’s only real objectives were to block a Tory government at any cost, and to use the balance of power (if it secured it) to manipulate a Labour government into helping engineer the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

As a third generation descendant from two Scottish families I have no interest in, or time for, either the SNP or their “visions” of “independence:” having followed the referendum campaign last year and witnessed the blatant lies passed off by the SNP as a “case” for independence, I find it incomprehensible anyone would trust an SNP MP or candidate, much less believe anything they had to say.

The SNP might hate the Conservative Party — good for it — but it also hates the English, and when an outfit like the SNP that masquerades as a sober and responsible voice for its people advocates for outcomes that would plunge an independent Scotland into economic depression, it should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves: and Cameron, and his Tories, find a big opportunity to rebuild their party’s stocks in the North by exposing the SNP for what it is, and by delivering for all constituent countries in the Union as they have promised to do.

For as long as it continues to load, post-election, readers can glean an idea of the extent of the movement recorded on Thursday from the interactive graph and tables published with the UK edition of The Guardian online; the stark extent of the SNP’s domination in Scotland — taking 56 of the 59 seats there — is obvious, whilst readers will see that in the southern third of the UK, the Lib-Dems have been reduced to a single seat (Carshalton and Wallington on London’s southern outskirts) and in their traditional strongholds in Devon and Cornwall have been obliterated.

Labour has been reduced, effectively, to seats around traditional coal mining areas it has dominated since capturing them from the old Liberal Party in the early 1900s, plus mostly less well-to-do parts of London; it is difficult to see how the party can come back in any less than two additional terms, for this is the third consecutive election at which the Tories have strengthened their position in England, and Labour’s Scottish bedrock has been reduced to a single seat.

That task will become harder after 2018, when new boundaries cutting 50 MPs from the House of Commons and introducing equal-sized constituencies — slashing Scotland’s over-bloated representation relative to the other component countries in the UK — take effect.

But for all the Labor blather of “gerrymander” that was intermittently heard early in the last term of Parliament, I challenge anyone to justify why places like Scotland should be shown the kind of heavy weightage that now stands to be abolished: and in the ultimate irony, whilst the SNP probably would have swept Scotland irrespective of the boundaries that applied this time around, the redistributed boundaries that would have applied to this election (until they were deferred, at least in part on account of Labour opposition) would have made Labour’s path to a majority that little bit easier after the shellacking it copped this week.

For the Lib-Dems, it’s hard to conclude the party is anything other than all but over; reduced to just 8 seats (from 650), they have recorded the lowest haul of Lib-Dem seats in the 30-odd years since they were founded, and the lowest haul of seats in the name of the old Liberal Party in many decades.

I think there’s an opportunity there, if they want to take it: to seize the mantle of Britain’s pre-eminent social democratic party, developing mainstream policies of the Centre-Left with broad appeal to the British middle class, workers, intellectuals and minorities, and set about reversing the political execution inflicted on the old Liberal Party 100 years ago by the emergence of the Labour Party, the Liberals’ inability to respond or react, and the split in their party that occurred in the aftermath of the first world war.

The opportunity is there if they want to take it, and to build on the lessons from their recent stint sharing government to “mainstream-ise” their centrist-slightly leftist party.

But they won’t. The Lib-Dems will retreat to their preferred mode of eternal opposition and carping.

UKIP will probably wither on the vine if Cameron delivers both the renegotiation of relations with Europe he has promised and the so-called in-out referendum to follow it; should both Tory initiatives materialise, the primary purpose of UKIP will have ceased to exist: this election was UKIP’s one shot in the locker to transform a party of protest and wins in lesser forums into success where it actually matters — Westminster. It didn’t. Its leader failed to win a well-chosen Tory seat and it returned a single MP.

UKIP will blather about proportional representation, but all such an electoral system would do now is to reward losers whose support is drawn from the fringes only. Its time has gone.

As for the Greens, with their pathetic 3.6% of the vote, who gives a shit.

In the end, however, the British election has provided a win for common sense, good governance, a bustling, growing Britain, and for what is right.

I wish to personally extend my congratulations to the team at CCHQ on a job well done, as well as to all the footsoldiers for Conservatism whose ranks I do hope at some point to join, and acknowledge again the brilliant leadership of Lynton Crosby in achieving the desired result. We’ll come back to Lynton in a minute.

But if the Conservatives avoid divisive splits, continue to focus on the long-term objectives that have shaped the Coalition administration they headed for five years, and continue to notch up the kind of results in Britain that are increasingly the envy of the rest of the free world, there is no reason to think they cannot triumph again in five years’ time (or whenever an election might occur in the interim).

In a final word on Lynton Crosby, it is reassuring to note the Liberal Party has finally (and belatedly) re-engaged his firm, Crosby Textor, to advise in the lead-up to next year’s election, after a ridiculous period in the wilderness at the apparent behest of elements in and/or close to the Prime Minister’s Office.

One hopes it isn’t too late for it to make the required degree of difference to the Liberals’ prospects.

But if I were Bill Shorten or, more to the point, any of the number of faceless, brainless, cardboard cut-out henchmen populating the backroom of the ALP, the prospect of Lynton Crosby running my opponent’s election campaign would send a little thrill of terror down my spine.

Once and for all, Lynton Crosby has proven that even the most difficult of circumstances in seemingly irretrievable situations are not beyond his capabilities to turn around.

There are 232 excruciatingly sore backsides left on the British Labour benches that now comprehend all too well precisely the kind of carnage Crosby, the master strategist and tactician, is capable of inflicting on his enemies.

Australian Labor should be afraid. Happily, by the time the ALP comprehends that Crosby has stepped into the ring, it will probably be too late to run, or to hide.

UK: Election Anyone’s Guess, But Cameron Likeliest PM

VOTING IS UNDERWAY tonight (Melbourne time) in the closest, least predictable election in the United Kingdom since 1974; deadlocked polls and a near-certain hung Parliament belie the fact this election actually matters, with the future of the Union hanging on the result despite a recent failed referendum on Scottish independence. It is likely David Cameron will remain Prime Minister, but in what shape — and at what cost — remains to be seen.

I must apologise most profusely to those readers based in Australia who have been waiting for some kind of snapshot of what’s happening in the UK; rest assured that today’s General Election — like British politics generally, which is a passion — is one I have watched unfold intimately, over both the campaign period and the months that preceded it, and whilst I haven’t published on the topic at all I’m across the lay of the land: and frustrated and worried by it at that.

It has been one of those unfortunate coincidences that the campaign has coincided with a period of extreme activity as a “media type” away from this column, and as readers know, there has been a dearth of articles altogether instead of the five to six I try to publish as a weekly minimum, and even then too much time has been taken up on outrages like Belle Gibson and the obscene deification of the executed drug smuggling scum that was Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Yet in some respects, it wouldn’t have mattered a great deal whether we spoke about today’s British election this week, last month or even last year; the trends picked up in the country’s reputable opinion polls have been maddeningly consistent for almost a year: narrow Labour lead, narrow Conservative lead, tie. Repeat. Ad infinitum it seems. And after five weeks of “official” campaigning, Britons are going to the polls today in what in many respects presents as a dead heat.

I’m not going to post any links tonight — you will just have to trust me as I write off the cuff — for I would rather present a shorter digest quickly than take until midnight on a more detailed effort that most Australian readers won’t see before breakfast, when the polling stations close and the results begin to come in.

But in a “poll of polls” — an aggregated reading of the likes of YouGov, ICM, Opinium, Populus, Ipsos Mori, ComRes, and Lord Ashcroft’s independent research — it appears David Cameron’s Conservative Party is set to win 34-35% of the vote, and Labour — led by Ed Miliband — 33-34%; the final round of polls published over the past 48 hours all show either a tie between the two major parties or a slender Tory lead of 1-2%, and none suggest Labour is ahead.

But it isn’t quite so simple, with the separatist Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) apparently on track to win 50% of the vote in Scotland and with it, as many as all of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons under the UK’s first past the post electoral system, up from six of them five years ago; such a gain — at Labour’s almost exclusive expense, defending as that party is 40 seats there coming into today’s election — would rob Labour of any prospect of an outright win across Britain, and would force it into some kind of arrangement with the SNP to govern if it can win enough seats in England and Wales to get it mathematically close enough to assemble a majority coalition.

On the other hand, the main reason David Cameron isn’t cruising to a thumping victory today lies the shape of UKIP — the United Kingdom Independence Party — with its anti-immigration, anti-EU message that appeals to many Britons fed up with government by decree from the continent and resentful of the hundreds of thousands of Eastern European immigrants the UK has been obliged to accept as the EU has expanded eastwards in the past decade, and waves of newcomers enjoy an entitlement the British government has no control or veto over.

These immigrants arrive with entitlements to jobs and welfare at the expense of the British taxpayer, which is hardly conducive to them finding a rousing reception awaiting them.

But Cameron has been reluctant to fashion hardline policies around the EU, immigration, and the ancillary issues associated with them; his failure to do so five years ago is widely regarded as the reason the Tories did not win a majority at that time.

Now, with polls almost unanimously finding UKIP set to snare 12% of the vote across Britain today (at least two-thirds of which has been lifted directly from the Conservative base), it’s not difficult to see where Cameron’s “majority” has gone this time around.

Now, however, the miscalculation (and that is what it is) could cost the Conservative Party government altogether.

UKIP, in the past week, seems to have recognised the danger, albeit too late; the tepid Cameron stand of “renegotiating” Britain’s membership of the EU, followed by a so-called “in-out referendum” in 2017, is preferable to its adherents than the stolidly pro-Europe attitudes of Labour, the Lib-Dems, and the SNP for that matter: and recognising that its votes may help defeat Tory MPs in marginal constituencies, UKIP has been recommending “tactical voting” for the Conservatives in seats it stands no chance of winning itself. Whether this is enough to make any difference remains to be seen.

Complicating matters is the Liberal Democrats, who are defending 57 seats (from 2010) today, and who stand to lose roughly half of them to Labour and the Conservatives in fairly equal measure; the Lib-Dems complete five years in coalition with the Tories with their poll numbers running at about 10% — also virtually halved — and no obvious expression of their preferred post-election Coalition partner if the Parliament, once again, is hung.

Their leader, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, is at grave risk of losing his seat in Sheffield to Labour, just as senior Lib-Dem Treasury minister (and heir apparent to Clegg) Danny Alexander is exposed to the gathering SNP avalanche in Scotland. Tactical voting by Tory voters might save either, or both. Then again, it may not.

But if ever there was an opportunity for a last-minute circuit breaker for the Conservative Party to turn the election in its favour, it came on Monday, when Labour staged an election rally at which participants were segregated by gender in an apparent sop to the Muslim community; the incident rightly provoked a storm of fury on Twitter (and if anyone wants to know what I was doing on Monday night, it involved talking to a lot of angry Tories online on Twitter).

LABOUR’S DISGUSTING ELECTION STUNT…to curry favour with Muslims, the Tories’ failure to crucify the Opposition over such an appalling piece of token appeasement risks driving even more Conservative voters to UKIP. (Picture: The Express)

 

Yet how much — if any — effort to capitalise on such a disgusting and tokenistic appeasement of one minority community was made by the Conservatives is unclear.

And Labour has rightly attracted ridicule on account of the so-called “Milistone” it saw fit to place around its neck at the weekend, with leader “Red” Ed Miliband announcing a short list of vague, vacuous and populist pledges would be cast in stone and a monument erected in the gardens of 10 Downing Street “to remind (Miliband) of his pledge to the British people every time he looks out the window.”

It sounds like the sort of crap Bill Shorten would come up with, and should accordingly be dismissed with contempt.

I could run through dozens of variables, scenarios, and potential outcomes (and we’ll come to the outcomes in a second) but it’s safe to say that the one of the two issues that could win the Tories votes — Immigration and Europe — has not been adequately exploited, whilst the other — Britain’s booming, growing economy — appears to be carrying little weight with undecided voters.

And that, frankly, ought to terrify Conservative head office: as its social media boffins have been proclaiming as loudly and as widely as they can, Britain’s economy is growing faster and more strongly than that of any developed nation in the world — including Australia’s. Yet faced by basket cases and carnage to varying degrees across the Channel, this stunning achievement seems to be a political re-run of the country’s booming mid-late 1990s, which ushered in unprecedented prosperity across the board but failed to save Tory Prime Minister John Major from a smashing defeat at the hands of Blair Labour.

This election is likely to prove one thing, however: Australian political strategist and former Liberal Party director Lynton Crosby months ago assumed control of the Conservatives’ central office, and this campaign has been very much executed in strict accordance with his advice and directions; if Cameron and the Tories somehow prevail — especially in securing a surprise majority, or something close to it — the result will more or less immortalise Crosby as one of the best political strategists in the world, anywhere, ever.

Lose, however — especially if badly, and if the Tories fall steeply short of the 280 or so seats pundits concur they are likely to win — and the result, whilst sweeping Cameron from office, will also probably put one hell of a dent in Crosby’s reputation as a strategist: especially in tight and difficult elections where the result hangs in the balance.

I don’t think it will come to that, however.

Polls close in Britain at 7am, our time (10pm, GMT) and the results will start to follow shortly afterwards; in the 650-seat House of Commons — in which four Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland routinely and flatly refuse to take their seats, and a fifth electorate (occupied by the Speaker) is uncontested — 323 seats are required to secure an outright majority.

If the Tories (who will win seats from the Lib-Dems, particularly in south-west England, whilst losing seats to Labour) can contain these losses to about 20-25 seats, emerging with 280+ — and the Lib-Dems can both record 30-ish seats and opt to remain in Coalition with the Tories through a second term — then that, along with support from 8 or 9 Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland who would never put Labour into power, ought to be enough for Cameron to continue as Prime Minister in at least the short term.

I don’t rule out a surge for the Conservatives, as (especially) UKIP-inclined voters switch back to the Tories in the confines of the ballot box at the last minute: and similarly, the carnage the SNP seems certain to inflict on Labour in Scotland could see the Conservatives pick up three or four seats by virtual default, as their vote count simply proves adequate atop decimated Labour tallies that remain too high for the SNP to hurdle.

(The Scottish Tory scenario is a remote one, however).

Of course, Labour could be the recipient of a huge swing in England and Wales that puts government beyond reach of the Conservatives under any permutation, or even win a majority: I doubt this will happen, and if Labour loses, I would be surprised if Miliband survives as leader beyond the end of the year.

Assuming, of course, that 2015 — like 1974 and 1910 before it — doesn’t shape as a year in which a second general election quickly follows the first.

I think the likeliest outcome is a Cameron win off the back of a messy Coalition with the Lib-Dems, the DUP, and possibly someone (or two) from UKIP, and whilst I might be wrong, I think this far more probable than either a Tory majority or any kind of win featuring Labour.

Indeed, should Labour take office in any kind of accommodation with the SNP, it would likely see a second referendum on Scottish independence, perhaps as soon as late this year: and the belligerent, bellicose monster from Scotland that is no laughing matter runs the very real risk of engineering the break-up of the United Kingdom if fed on the real power that derives from Westminster.

And should Labour take office at all, it is more or less pledged to resume the same tax-and-spend approach that proved ruinous under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and left the UK with £1.5tn in public sector debt (about 80% of GDP) and a gaping structural budget deficit — both problems the Conservatives have only just been able to bring under control, and start to repair.

On any analysis, this election is far from meaningless.

But even if Cameron survives — as I expect him to — it isn’t likely to be in any kind of robust shape; another election and the fraught pursuit of an outright majority will prove exponentially trickier if thrust upon the Tory Party later this year, but such are the potential costs of a lacklustre election campaign that has failed to hit the right notes — when a landslide win, on any impartial measure, was always well within its grasp to achieve.

 

No Way: Scottish Vote A Win For Canny Good Sense

SCOTLAND opted resoundingly yesterday to continue its 307-year union with the rest of Britain, with the “no” vote prevailing in 28 of 32 local authority areas; the result was the only sensible outcome, and whilst the United Kingdom will remain united for the foreseeable future, grievances will continue to be nursed on either side of the border. The resignation of Scotland’s First Minister in the wake of the vote, whilst gracious, was inevitable.

In the end, some might say it came down to the head triumphing over the heart.

Yet such a platitude is too simplistic to be meaningful when it comes to evaluating the outcome of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence from the rest of the UK; many of those who voted “yes” — seeking to break the 307-year bond between Scotland and its neighbours — knew that every argument advanced by the other side was correct, but voted against them anyway; similarly, many who voted “no” desperately wanted to believe the case presented by the Nationalists, but baulked.

Either way, I never expected the referendum to succeed, although after the published polls in Britain swung firmly toward a “yes” outcome some weeks ago, the question became one of whether the margin of victory for “no” would be sufficient to prevent the Scottish Nationalists from having another go in 10 or 20 years’ time.

With 55.3% of the votes cast, the “no” side has achieved a solid, if unspectacular win, and in this sense the Nationalists will find it very difficult indeed to justify another attempt at engineering independence in the medium term. But the margin was hardly conclusive enough to prevent such a thing in the longer run.

In the sometimes blunt way we do things in this column, I have characterised this referendum previously as an attempt to give form to the cerebral hatred of the English of the First Minister, Alex Salmond; a shrewd operator if ever there was, his prosecution of the “yes” case has bewildered and enraged many observers, built as it was on fundamentally misleading positions over key aspects of what a post-separation Scotland might look like that was nonetheless accepted as fact by hundreds of thousands of his supporters.

Businesses based in Scotland warned that they would relocate to London, taking jobs and capital with them. Salmond’s response? They’re bluffing.

The Governor of the Bank of England warned that an independent Scotland would not be able to retain the British pound — not officially, at any rate — creating mammoth short-term costs on the Scottish government to establish a currency, reserves, and a mint. Salmond’s response? The BoE was wrong.

Brussels — headquarters to the European Union — warned that an independent Scotland could not be assured automatic membership of the EU, and that if granted membership, the delay could be considerable. Salmond’s idiot-simple response? The EU is wrong; Britain is an EU member and as a successor state, so too would Scotland be.

On and on it went, covering everything from the retention of the monarchy, to defaulting on Scotland’s share of any carve-up of British national debt, to rights over North Sea oilfields, and beyond.

Every time Salmond’s assurances and promises of no pain and no disadvantage to Scotland were slapped down, he still argued black was white.

In being prepared to say literally anything to convince his countrymen to abandon their bond with England, it’s little wonder so many bought into it, with turnout for the referendum a record 85%.

But the best interests of Scotland — and its people — were acted upon by the majority who, in the end, refused to support Salmond’s grab bag of empty and misleading promises.

One man likely to be extremely relieved today is the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who was staring stonily at the prospect of being forced to quit his post if the Union had been lost yesterday; happily, no such fate awaits him, at least not this week.

But attempting to break up a country like the UK is a high-stakes enterprise at the best of times, and someone was always going to lose.

It is fitting that in the aftermath of the votes being tallied, Salmond has chosen to fall on his sword; just as Cameron’s tenure may have proven untenable had the referendum succeeded, Salmond’s certainly is now, and whilst his statement of a need for fresh leadership in Scotland was gracious — even noble — he had no alternative in view of the “opportunity” he has squandered.

Consider this: Salmond — who has made a career of working to engineer Scotland’s rejection of union with England — was provided the wording he wanted for the referendum question; the timing he preferred for the vote to be held; extracted concessions from Westminster during the campaign in the form of additional powers of self-governance for Scotland, if it voted to stay in the UK, that he subsequently used to suggest his country was no better off inside the UK than outside it; and ran a shockingly misleading and dishonest campaign that could only be expected to add the gullible, the stupid and the contemptible to the core base of supporters he started with.

If Scottish Nationalists could not convince a majority of their countrymen to abandon the UK in the glow of such a favourable alignment of circumstances, when can they hope to do so ever again? It is impossible to say “never,” and foolhardy to do so on any question of electoral politics — in the UK, or anywhere else. But this is a point that suggests that in terms of any future attempt at breaking the Union from the Scottish side, the 44.7% “yes” scored yesterday might overstate the true level of underlying support for such an endeavour.

If there is one good thing that can come of all of this, it is the prospect of England achieving more or less the same degree of autonomy over matters solely pertaining to its own governance that the other constituent countries of the United Kingdom enjoy; the concessions extracted by Salmond have had the consequence of enraging many English MPs — especially in Cameron’s Conservative Party — and the pressure for an extensive overhaul of the constitutional arrangements of the UK will be irresistible in the days ahead.

Whilst this column was somewhere in the distant future at the time, I was resolutely opposed to the idea of “devolved government” for Scotland and Wales when the Blair government introduced it 15-odd years ago; one of the reasons for it was that yesterday’s referendum on breaking up the UK was always going to be one of its repercussions.

The “devolution max” concessions offered to Scotland now bring the further inevitability of more change in Britain; in the interests of perspective I will leave those aside for now, and revisit them at some later juncture when they become the issues of the day.

But I did want to say a few things at least about what happened yesterday; owing to the ongoing constraints on my time I have faced of late I feared I would be unable to do so, but here we are.

I really do believe — and I mean in my bones, not just to make the point — that had the Nationalists triumphed yesterday, the consequences for Scotland would have been cataclysmic: perhaps not now, but in five, ten, twenty years’ time, yesterday’s date would have lived on in infamy north of the border.

It wouldn’t have done much for the English, either, or the rest of the UK, its people, and its partners.

As someone who identifies as Scottish — by descent — I understand too well the tide of history, and the deeply seated forces that drive Nationalist fervour where it exists (and not least, from stories passed along through familial links).

But money, jobs, trade, decent living standards…these are things which Scotland derives from its union with the rest of Britain, not in spite of it; and whatever historical enmities might exist between the two sides, Scotland is better off comfortable inside the Union than facing an uncertain future — or worse — without it.

My own ancestral seat of Glasgow voted clearly (but not overwhelmingly) in favour of breaking away; I had heard many horror stories about Glasgow before I went there some years ago — what it was like in “the old days,” which is what I’m told it’s still like if you go to the right districts — and was stunned to find a vibrant, thriving town of which I was immediately proud. It’s surprisingly like Brisbane — before they started knocking the heritage buildings in Brisbane down, that is — which is probably not so much a surprise at all when it’s remembered that those who built Brisbane came disproportionately from Scotland some 200 years ago.

Anyway, I digress.

One way or the other — despite competing loyalties, split affiliations, and the contest between the heart and the head — Scottish voters got it very, very right yesterday.

The United Kingdom remains united, and Scotland, like Britain overall, will be a better, stronger place for it.

 

UK Reshuffle: When A Conservative PM Promotes Women

A MINISTERIAL RESHUFFLE in the British government has seen the promotion of capable, relatively young and politically upcoming female Tory MPs to Cabinet, and whilst the personnel changes are admirable, the reaction in some surprising quarters has been ridiculous. British Labour, like the Australian Left, has lampooned the Tories as unrepresentative. I shudder to think of the reaction to Tony Abbott undertaking a similar reshuffle here.

I think most readers know that their Anglophile columnist is more or less obsessed with British politics, although I restrain myself from posting on it too often; I’m painfully aware that the vast majority of my readers aren’t junkies for UK politics like I am, and that flogging this particular hobby horse too frequently isn’t going to offer material that is of interest to most.

Even so, a major development overnight (Melbourne time) has been undertaken in Britain’s coalition government, which is led by the Conservative Party, and I’m horrified by the reaction an obviously astute exercise in party and personnel management has already elicited in quarters that usually would — and should — be staunchly supportive.

And I hate to say it, those on the Left will be cock-a-hoop.

I’ll keep as much of the detail out of the article as I can today; as I’ve already alluded, I don’t expect the names and issues involved to be as familiar to most readers as they are to me (but for those who share the interest in British politics — here, here, here, here and here are a few articles and comment pieces on the changes that have occurred on a tumultuous day in Westminster).

In any case, a picture tells a thousand words, so let’s get right to the point.

Embedded image permalink

Under Britain’s electoral system, general elections for the House of Commons must be held “at least every five years;” nine months out from the next of these falling due, Prime Minister David Cameron has undertaken a major reshuffle: some ministers, such as Foreign secretary William Hague and veteran Tory MP Ken Clarke are retiring; some ministers have been sacked; and some fresh blood — including several well-regarded female Conservative MPs — have either been appointed for the first time, or elevated through Cameron’s ministry.

The Conservative Party, much like the Liberal Party, has in recent years begun to attract talented women in greater numbers to its ranks; now, in the runup to next year’s poll, Cameron has promoted several of them as he strengthens his ministry, tries to smoothen out the inevitable few rough spots for his government, and replaces those who will not form part of his government beyond the election.

Speaking specifically of those newly promoted female MPs, they have “done their time” learning the ropes at Westminster; the advancement each of them has been rewarded with is well-deserved.

Or is it?

Don’t get me wrong, I think (as I always have) that the best candidate for a preselection, a ministry or a leadership role should be appointed; I have observed in the past that politics disproportionately attracts men, and that simply appointing those women who enter the field for the sole reason they are female is tokenistic, tacky, and is an approach that hardly conspires to render quality outcomes of governance.

In this case, I don’t think anyone could seriously suggest that the female MPs whom Cameron has promoted are undeserving; some — like newly-minted Environment secretary Liz Truss — are seriously spoken of in Westminster as potential future party leaders; others (such as a favourite of mine, Essex MP Priti Patel) in many ways represent the modern face of the Tory Party in modern, vibrant Britain.

Yet the picture I have included with this article is from the influential conservative magazine The Spectator, which ordinarily could be expected to be supportive of the changes Cameron has announced; the fact it isn’t (and, indeed, the cover has been rushed out today in advance of next week’s issue) should send a shudder down the spine of anyone who takes women in government seriously, or acknowledges that — just as I could say of men — that the right women have an enormously valuable role to play in the corridors of power.

The Spectator isn’t the only Tory-friendly voice raising its apprehension over the inclusion of more women in Cameron’s government, either.

If this is what the Conservatives’ friends are saying, what need do they have for enemies?

I wanted to post about this, e’er briefly, because the day will surely come when our own Prime Minister reshuffles his ministry, and when he does, talented, newish female Liberal MPs who have accrued some parliamentary experience — such as Kelly O’Dwyer and Sarah Henderson — will be in the mix, along with others (like former WA Treasurer Christian Porter) who warrant ministries on merit but, like the talented backbench women, have had to wait their turn as well.

When that time arrives, what reaction will Abbott elicit for promoting them? Will Labor and the Greens pillory him on the basis the male/female ratio remains skewed toward the men, or will they give the credit that is due for promoting women who deserve to be promoted?

More to the point, will the government’s friends in the media voice their approval, or will they take the path The Spectator has apparently chosen to walk, demeaning some very well-credentialled appointments as “token women?” Will Abbott be accused of “soft misogyny,” as Cameron is? And will those female MPs be given a clear run at their jobs when they are appointed to them, or will they be hassled, harassed and tokenised further?

If there are ten vacancies and the ten best-qualified candidates consist of seven men and three women, for example, then seven men and three women should be appointed. I have no time for quotas or the like, and in matters of governance find the idea that anyone should be invested with responsibility on the basis of gender rather than competence to be repugnant.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is a classic case in point: it was great to see a woman could be Prime Minister. The problem is that it was her. There are plenty of women already in politics in Australia, on both sides of the divide, with the ability and potential to make admirable Prime Ministers if the opportunity ever presents itself to them. Gillard, to be brutal, was never such a candidate.

But this is the environment we now live in; criticising a female politician attracts a (mostly baseless) charge of misogyny, whilst advancing the career of female MPs through the ranks is dismissed as tokenism, even when the appointments are made on merit as they have been in Cameron’s case.

If vacancies Cameron filled in his reshuffle were allocated to women simply because they were female, I’d be absolutely slamming him right now. The rank stupidity of such a methodology is an insult to any thinking person’s intelligence.

But for Cameron to face the friendly fire he has raises the rather obvious question: is a conservative leader damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t when it comes to promoting women? I thought the revamped lineup Cameron announced was perfectly suited both to the ongoing business of government and to winning next year’s election but some, it seems, simply can’t be pleased.

I suspect Abbott would receive a similar reaction to a similar undertaking in his own ranks.

Perhaps any time a male, conservative leader promotes a woman, this type of thing will be the response. It doesn’t make it right, but the mentality fostered by the likes of Emily’s List and adopted by the ALP around quotas, female-only lists and other, similarly misguided enterprises — and the resentment they foment — plays a big part in causing the problem such cabals (wrongly) claim to redress.

 

(Coincidentally, the number of women promoted in David Cameron’s reshuffle overnight is, in fact, 10: readers can access an excellent piece profiling each of them in brief through this link).

Socialist Stalwart Tony Benn Dies In London, Aged 88

ONE OF THE GENTLEMAN of the Left has died this evening, Melbourne time; Tony Benn — a stalwart of the hard Left of Britain’s Labour Party, and a rank socialist to boot — has passed on after a short illness, aged 88. In life, he drew respect from across the political spectrum for the forthright nature of his views; he was an opponent with whom conservatives differed vehemently, but was nonetheless well liked. Above all, he was a character.

Whilst I detested his politics and despised most of his world view, I have always — always — liked Tony Benn enormously.

Whilst I’m not going to write at great length upon his death this evening, I nonetheless wanted to at least say a few words to mark the passing of one of the real characters (and true gentlemen) of politics; Benn was never going to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but he does deserve credit for the influence his ideas exerted on Labour policy in Britain and, indirectly, across the world.

An ardent advocate for the abolition of the monarchy and republicanism in Britain for decades, Benn — who inherited a peerage when his father died — will perhaps be most instantly remembered for his anti-establishment and republican gestures, such as engineering two by-elections in two years in his seat in Parliament to enable him to renounce the peerage (this drawn-out adventure was necessary to ensure the procedures followed were legal), and later in the early 1990s with his “Commonwealth of Britain” bill which aimed to abolish the monarchy and transform Britain into a federal republic.

Benn’s lasting contributions on policy, however, were ones that failed to generate sensational headlines; a minister in the governments of Harold Wilson (both times) and Jim Callaghan, the reforms and ideas Benn pursued in areas such as industry policy, industrial relations, welfare reform and relations with Europe have proven durable, and still underpin to a great degree the platform of the Labour Party today.

Indeed — to put this into a local perspective — some of his views were eerily similar to those pursued by the Gillard government, with the caveat that at least Benn had some class about him even if his ideas, necessarily, did not.

And he was a vigorous and enthusiastic opponent of Margaret Thatcher for decades, although it goes without saying that Margaret clearly prevailed in their “battle of ideas.”

I have always liked Benn — despite his socialism, which is odious no matter the cloak it wears — because he could be funny, witty, and was an intensely interesting figure to listen to.

He also was able to articulate why he held the views he did, rather than simply marking out a position and deploying spin and/or abuse in its defence: a lesson some of his antipodean contemporaries would do well to emulate.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the tributes pouring in from political opponents in the UK — my people — are heartfelt in their sincerity that on a personal level, he will be greatly missed.

A couple of articles from the coverage beginning to appear in the British press can be viewed here and here.

Not everyone who disagrees with you in politics is, viscerally, an enemy, even if their pursuit of ideas that you find repugnant is ruthless and relentless: in other words, as readers will have heard me say on numerous occasions, politicians are people too, and that human factor comes first when the battle over ideas is done.

Certainly Benn exemplifies this. For those not familiar with either Benn or his work, over six decades, I strongly recommend doing your homework.

Tony Benn was a class act. I wish him rest in peace.