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.

 

Canada Election: PM Harper Loses As Tories Trounced

CANADIAN VOTERS have today terminated a decade of conservative rule, handing government to the unproven son of former Liberal Prime Minster Justin Trudeau; the defeat — whilst expected — was more savage than polls had suggested, and sees Justin Trudeau follow in his father’s footsteps at a time Western democracy has trended toward centrist liberalism.

It’s a quick piece from me this evening as I am in Brisbane — en route to the airport to return home — and more to mark the event than to delve into any deep analysis.

Another conservative leader has fallen today (Australian time) with the defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in the general election in Canada; with results declared at about lunchtime our time, the Liberals — led by the son of former Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau — has won a clear majority in the House of Commons, with perhaps as many as 184 of the 338 seats up for grabs.

The defeated Conservatives fared badly, and worse than expected, winning a projected 99 seats with about 30% of the vote: a swing away from them of eight percentage points, with the consequent loss of almost half the seats they were defending.

The outcome is a stunning triumph for Trudeau Jr, whose party ran third at the previous election four years ago and was signposted by opinion polling just weeks ago to do so again; given he has never held ministerial office and comes from a tentative background as a supply teacher it would be unkind to suggest the new Prime Minister has surfed into office on his father’s name, but the conclusion is impossible not to draw.

I would share some comment from the mainstream press, replete with polling data, maps, and interactive figures, but can’t (and the fact I’m not should give potent notice of why I am about to replace my iPad with a Samsung tablet and banish the user-unfriendly, overrated Apple in favour of something that might actually be fit for the purpose it is bought for).

But I would like to note that one of the best of the present generation of world leaders has been lost; I will be the first to admit I have no idea what sort of government Harper ran on his own patch, but his voice in global affairs and in forums such as APEC and the G7 has added sage counsel and insight for many years, and this will be a loss to the rest of us as much as to those Canadians who voted to re-elect him.

The change comes at a time many Western countries are eschewing hard conservatism in favour of centrist, light liberal governance where the emphasis on personal freedom outweighs questions around the freedom and liberty of societies as wholes.

One would suggest Harper’s defeat at the hands of his own people reflects our own Tony Abbott’s demise at the hands of his own party; yet the centrist Trudeau will find much in common with Malcolm Turnbull, US President Barack Obama, Britain’s David Cameron, and Germany’s Angela Merkel — all (bar Obama) hailing from ostensibly conservative parties, but none of whom could be described as true Tories in the classic sense.

It can be funny how the world works and especially how the cycle turns in politics — locally as well as globally — but if there is to be any takeout from the Canadian result here, it probably augurs well for Malcolm Turnbull as he gears up to fight his first election as Prime Minister.

I will be back with something a little closer to home — and in a little more detail — in the next day or two.

“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.

 

Do Our Major Political Parties Face Death Or Freedom?

WITH DISENCHANTMENT IN POLITICS a virtual article of faith in Australia, predictions of the demise of the two-party system are frequent, cataclysmic, and perhaps premature. Even so, there is a penchant for “all things to all people” politics that has infected and infested mainstream parties in this country whose logical result is that nobody is satisfied — perpetuating the breach — and this problem, in difficult times, is not unique to Australia.

I’ve been reading one of the online conservative blogs from the UK that I follow this morning — Breitbart — and found an article that a) is a brilliant summation of a “fork in the road” Britain’s Conservative Party faces, and which b), after some thought, equally applies to our major parties here in Australia as it does to the Tories in Britain, the Conservatives in Canada and the GOP in the USA that it talks about, and probably the major political parties in most democratic countries with a stabilised party system: and especially where two main parties substantially fill that remit.

The article (which you can read here) is by Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group, a British think tank given to the objective of the advancement of political conservatism. I urge readers to peruse this; as has been the case in the past when I have shared material from the UK, it won’t be too difficult to get past any local jargon — you could almost substitute “Liberal Party” for the Conservative Party, “Palmer United Party” for UKIP, and beyond that the unfamiliar names won’t interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of the piece.

But for those who don’t follow such things, the Conservatives (or Tories) in the UK are faced with the proverbial fork in the road; on its right flank exists a minor party — the United Kingdom Independence Party — whose objectives, among other things, are to engineer Britain’s exit from the European Union, and to severely curtail both the quantum and the mix of immigrants to the UK.

The problem the Conservative Party appears to face is that both of these objectives seem to enjoy significant (if not outright majority) support within the British electorate; yet the government of Prime Minister David Cameron — admittedly, in Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a hotchpotch of centrist liberals and unreconstructed socialists — gives every appearance of trying to diminish, ignore and/or sidestep these matters in the name of doing “the right thing” by the UK.

But the real issue at the nub of the Harris-Quinney piece is its references to “the exhausted ideas of (Tony) Blair and (David) Cameron” set to be recycled yet again, and its allusions to the creep of social democracy into the words and deeds of a “conservative” government to the direct detriment of the advancement of the conservative principles Cameron was supposedly elected to enact.

Cameron might have fallen just shy of a majority in 2010 with the Coalition and its inevitable compromises as the cost, but apart from a crackdown on welfare payments (that were even further out of control than they are in Australia) and a program for fixing Britain’s own debt and deficits disaster, inherited from Labour — both of which were possible by the virtually unicameral nature* of the British Parliament — there isn’t a great deal Cameron’s government has done since it took office that could be unequivocally categorised as “conservative.”

I’m not going to dwell on the British background to today’s discussion here, although Harris-Quinney correctly notes that the phenomenon he describes in the UK is identical to those already seen in North America.

Yet where this links back to our own polity begins with the proposition I have repeated, with increasing regularity it seems, in this column: that any government (or party) that sets out to be all things to all people, and to please everyone, actually offends more people than it mollifies and ultimately pleases no-one.

Regular readers (who know that from time to time I am incapable of preventing my passion of British politics from invading this column) know that as staunchly supportive of the Tory Party as I am, I find David Cameron to be something of a disappointment; offering so much when he came to both the leadership of his party and subsequently to office, Cameron’s government seems almost apologetic for its conservative traditions and principles, trying instead to be some weird amalgam of dry economics fused with the worst aspects imaginable of Blairite social policy: and with the state the UK is in, even Labour should be finding some way to junk its Blairite social platform, let alone have it perpetuated by the so-called “nasty party.”

In happenstance, Britain’s voters seem to want a so-called “in-out” referendum: that is, a straight vote to either remain in the EU or to leave it altogether. Cameron’s “compromise” is to “renegotiate” Britain’s position in the EU and what I will loosely term its “membership package,” with an in-out referendum offered in 2017: if, and only if, the Conservative Party wins the General Election due next May.

Unsurprisingly, UKIP is recording the biggest spike in its support in years; for the first time last week, a Tory MP in a safe conservative seat jumped ship on the Conservatives and defected. It is perhaps one of those excruciating ironies that only a Conservative government can deliver the desired referendum at all — Labour refuses to do so, and UKIP will never win government — yet the leaching of support from the Tories to UKIP could be the factor that kills the prospect of a referendum altogether.

By way of background, I think that’s sufficient, although if anyone can’t see the parallels crying out to be drawn between this scenario and our own political situation, your comments are as welcome as always.

A similar process in Australia to the one Harris-Quinney outlines in regard to conservative parties in Britain and elsewhere has arguably been under way in Australia for decades; it has affected both the Liberal Party and the ALP alike, although until fairly recently it has tended to disproportionately impact the Labor side. I want to look briefly at both — and e’er briefly, provide a little more historical context — but the question of “death or freedom” seems as apt in this country as it does when posed for the Tories.

If we look at the ALP first, in many respects the Whitlam government was the point at which a slow disconnect in the Labor Party began to smoulder.

This traditional party of the worker, the unionist, and the underprivileged suddenly began to embrace sweeping new constituencies: the arts, the cultural elites, academia, and white-collar professionals that had traditionally been the preserve of the Liberal Party and its predecessors.

40 years later, it is debatable as to whether the ALP will or in fact can ever again muster 40% or more of the primary vote at an election: minor parties — firstly the Australian Democrats (ironically set up by a disaffected Liberal) and more recently the Communist Party Greens (er, sorry… 🙂   ) — have, broadly, come to account for about 10% of the electorate that once upon a time would have formed Labor’s Left faction.

This slow leakage of support from the ALP can be regarded as the inevitable schism between the party’s traditional constituency and the new ones Whitlam sought to open up to broaden Labor’s appeal; indeed, the slow march away from Labor has almost been a complete cycle, as many of the groups and lobbies attracted to Labor for the first time in the 1960s and 1970s have kept on marching…and marched on past the ALP into the waiting arms of the Greens.

(The Greens’ eschewing of a purely environmentally based agenda in favour of one largely built on the principles of hard socialism is, despite the contempt I freely express for it in this column, is another example of the same process).

In Labor’s case, I contend the process was papered over to some degree, as disaffection with the Fraser government and the election of Bob Hawke in 1983 delivered the ALP its most sustained era of political success. Yet even this respite was short-lived; Labor won elections in 1987 and (particularly) 1990 despite losing the primary vote, in 1990 quite decisively, and since 1990 has managed to pull 40% of the vote only three times in eight elections — and just 33.4% last year, a historical nadir.

On the Liberal side, conservative forces in Australia have been largely insulated from this kind of thing, with the notable exception of the madness of the Pauline Hanson/One Nation debacle after 1996; at that time the “Hanson factor” was directly responsible for the defeat of conservative administrations in Queensland and Western Australia, and was a factor in the defeat of the long-term CLP government in the Northern Territory as well.

And of course, the “Hanson factor” caused the federal Coalition to be narrowly re-elected with a minority of the primary vote in 1998.

Australia’s preferential voting system has shielded its major parties from confronting these phenomena; after all, the ALP finally returned to government — with a solid majority — in 2007, and Tony Abbott was elected in a canter last year.

But as popular support for the parties eats away, even preferences become less reliable as a vehicle upon which to arrive at victory, which is why Labor under Bill Shorten would be so unwise to let its current “winning” opinion poll leads (off a 34% primary vote) go to its collective head.

Now, of course, the Coalition is beginning to experience the same movement away from it as Labor has; after Hanson came something of a warning in the form of maverick Queensland MP (and ex-National) Bob Katter, who showed that 5-10% of the nominally Coalition vote was there to be seized by anyone who spoke the language of the disaffected anti-Labor voter.

Katter, of course, could never be described as a malignant political agent; his views might have been dated, and the policy ideas he championed thoroughly obsolete, harking back to a long-gone era of protected industries as they did.

But as the initial burst of support he harvested waned, the protest truck that rolled in to cart their votes away is directionless, malignant, wantonly destructive and unabashedly populist: the Palmer United Party, which is yet to make a single constructive contribution to politics in Australia after twelve months and four MPs in Canberra.

And how has this situation come to pass?

In Labor’s case, it was probably inevitable that some kind of realignment of the Left-of Centre vote would follow the Whitlam years.

The infusion of “new” constituencies into the ALP has also been accompanied by a collapse in the level of trade union representation in Australia, and that collapse has been compounded by the fact that in the main, the strongest unions left standing just happen to mostly be the white-collar ones representing civil servants, teachers, and healthcare professionals: so much for the traditional Labor “man on the tools.”

In most respects I really don’t care how much damage all of this inflicts on the ALP and for fairly obvious reasons I couldn’t care less if it never again holds office. But I do understand that a viable democratic system requires a viable alternative, and in this sense alone it is to be hoped the Labor Party gets its shit together. This column, however, quite reasonably has nothing to offer by way of suggestion where questions of it doing so are concerned.

But the Liberal Party — an entity which, despite the gap of a few years after I moved to Melbourne in 1998, I have been a member of for almost a quarter of a century — seems hopelessly compromised as the leaching of its support gathers pace. Of Australia’s major parties, it probably stands to be far harder hit by that process over the longer run.

I think I have been very objective about the performance of the Abbott government to date, and it is perhaps ironic that we’re talking about this now; one year on from its big election win, people like me are supposed to be celebrating.

But like David Cameron’s government, there is very little about Abbott’s that can be described as “conservative” (and we’ve talked about this too), although the distinction has to be drawn between what decently framed legislation has been mangled and/or rejected by the Senate, and what is simply an offence against the notion of conservative government and fidelity with the core constituency of the Liberal Party.

The ongoing failure to repeal the carbon tax and the blatant bribes of the Low Income Superannuation Contribution and the so-called Schoolkids’ Bonus, for example — both explicitly promised by Abbott before the election — is the fault of Clive Palmer and his malicious shenanigans.

On the other hand, the failure to even offer to try to abolish huge new spending programs in Education and disability support legislated by the Gillard government — in no small part to try to wreck the ability of a Liberal government to manage the budget — is a classic cock-up, and a win for political timidity and the desire not to offend those who would never vote Liberal anyway.

And some of the measures in the government’s budget should never have been included in it at all.

As I have said before, what the government’s actions, or attempted actions, have added up to, to date — with an eye on the obscenities of the NDIS and the palpably unaccountable Gonski spending on Education — is a “conservative” government that has contrived a budget which, if enacted, might indeed restore the country’s finances to a stable footing, but with the effect that taxes are raised simply to maintain unsustainable and unjustifiable high spending on items no conservative government should be legislating to facilitate.

And to see how many people are happy with it, the polls should indeed be heeded: the Labor lead the two-party measure shows up might indeed be a house built on sand, but the existential danger to the Abbott government (and the Liberal Party in the longer run) is no less real despite that fact.

It’s not a particularly fashionable view, and certainly not in Liberal Party inner circles, but I think the government’s standing (as measured by the polls) would be far more secure if it was trying to implement a low-tax, smaller government agenda and failing instead of persisting with the “all things to all people” approach that is so obviously pleasing no-one.

In other words — and despite anything the idiot leader of the Labor Party would have you believe — I think the Liberals are losing more support from their core base than they are from those as outraged as the cretin Shorten is about broken promises. After all, and whilst even government MPs remain strangely silent about this point, Tony Abbott was explicit before last year’s election that if things were worse than feared, the Liberals “might have to do some things that aren’t popular.”

So it has transpired; despite his honesty at the time, Abbott and his government have taken the hit.

And just in case anyone thinks I’m tearing into my own side unduly, the pandering to “new” constituencies that began with Whitlam has made similar considerations on the Labor side of the ledger old news: it, too, is too busy purporting to represent people it doesn’t to effectively represent those it arguably always has.

So what gives?

It may be, in the absence of any fundamental realignment of the parties with their bases, that Australian politics continues to fracture, factionalise (in the classic sense), and become much more disparate.

Certainly, the Left has adapted to this reality already.

Yet it remains to be seen how the Right either can or will, if the likes of Palmer continue to pull votes away from its core.

For one thing, Palmer’s party (despite Clive Palmer’s erroneous pronouncements to the contrary) have already proven to be an impediment to the Liberals’ ability to win elections, not an augmentation of it on preferences.

For another, the train wreck that constitutes the crossbench in the Senate — like the similar vehicular accident that existed in the house of Representatives between 2010 and 2013 — is a salutary illustration of the complete breakdown in effective governance that occurs in Australia when minor parties, Independents, and get-square wrecking balls like Palmer find their way into Houses of Parliament.

I’ll be interested to see what readers make of all of this, and if there is sufficient conversation around this subject I am happy to write a follow-up in a week or two to continue the discussion, but as I see it there are really only three possible outcomes.

The first is the one that (regrettably) isn’t going to happen: the restoration of first-past-the-post voting at Australian elections; this is the system that was set up in the first place, like most other democratic countries, and which was squandered by politicians (some of them, yes, were conservatives) in the name of getting an electoral advantage.

In every case, I contend that advantage has been overturned with the passage of time; at present the edge is unquestionably enjoyed by Labor, with its sky-high flows of Green preferences. But that, too, may pass — one way or another.

Even if there was the will to restore the electoral system to its unbroken state, such changes need to pass a Parliament where self-interest (and in many cases electoral oblivion) make any consideration of real principle utterly redundant.

So that leaves the major parties returning to what they traditionally stand for, with the challenges of assembling 50% of the vote after preferences by annexing floating voters to their core: a task, which raw voting numbers show, has gown increasingly difficult over the past 25 years.

Or the parties continuing to splinter — and the fallout from that landing God only knows where, and with what consequences for effective government.

What do people think? “Freedom” through a return to the traditional principles of the respective parties, or “Death” by the continuation of the present processes of a thousand sabre cuts?

All ideas and thoughts are welcomed, but if anyone wants to advocate proportional voting as any kind of solution at all, don’t be surprised if it’s me that slaps it down…

 

*No, I haven’t forgotten the House of Lords. But stripped of its power to scupper legislation a century ago, its purpose is as a true house of review, unlike the seething hotbed of undemocratic and unrepresentative malevolence that the Australian Senate — in its current form — constitutes.

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.

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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).