THIS NEW YEAR’S DAY — as the over-indulgent nurse their hangovers and add a vow to never drink again to ubiquitous lists of resolutions, and as the rest of us enjoy a day of relative peace and quiet — we take a very brief look at six things, at home and abroad, that will underpin our conversations in 2015. Today’s article might be hit and miss and isn’t meant to be taken especially seriously. But these are events that may well come to pass.
I trust all readers enjoyed whatever they got up to last night to see in the New Year; in my own case it was to make a start on the final season of the excellent Danish political drama Borgen, which — despite the heroes of the piece being possessed of a politics well to the Left of anything I could ever stomach — is nonetheless very much worth the time to watch, and I think some of our own elected representatives could learn a thing or two from it about how to take the voting public along with them, and what not to do at all.
Today I single out six things that should, in the ordinary course of events, come to pass this year. As ever with politics, however, a week is long enough: in the space of a year literally anything can happen.
Even so, these — whilst perhaps obvious at first glance — will be interesting to watch, and whilst logic and common sense dictate that all six will occur, that old adage about politics means that we really won’t know for certain until or unless they happen.
Some of my comments today could apply to more than one of these anticipated events. Some could as easily apply to all of them.
The Abbott government will get its…self…together
This column has been both a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Tony Abbott (mirroring my personal support for Abbott stretching back 20 years) and a strident critic of his government ever since the woeful 2014 budget was delivered last May.
But having watched it spend its first 15 months in office ostensibly doing everything possible to expedite a swift return to opposition, Australians can expect their federal government to make a more concerted attempt to emerge at the top of the political heap this year.
The ministerial reshuffle announced last month by the Prime Minister — whilst hideously inadequate in scope and breadth when evaluated against personnel changes that should have been made but weren’t — should nonetheless provide, in conjunction with the removal of policy “barnacles” and some fresh blood in the government communications unit, at least a degree of clear air for the Coalition to make a second (and final) attempt to impose itself decisively on the current term of Parliament.
Labor is not ahead in the polls for nothing; and as questionable (and downright distasteful) as the strategies being pursued by the ALP and others ranged against the government might be, the simple fact is that unless some drastic changes emanate from the government this year, the odds on those insidious political strategies resulting in Bill Shorten as Prime Minister in a little over 18 months’ time will shorten — no pun intended — considerably.
The key is the Abbott government’s second budget in May; it provides a one-off opportunity to seize a second chance to fix the structural flaws in the country’s finances: without deliberately targeting Coalition voters in the name of “sharing the burden,” and without allowing the government’s opponents to emblazon the national political discourse with their cheap, dishonest, and reckless rhetoric.
It also provides the opportunity for Treasurer Joe Hockey — who I maintain should have been redeployed in the reshuffle, so deeply immersed is he in the stench of his own dreadful handiwork — to redeem himself; get it right this time, and Hockey may yet live to see the day he is feted as a “great Liberal Treasurer.” Get it wrong, and redeployment won’t be a politically tenable option: if Hockey makes an election-losing mess of a second consecutive budget, the only place for him in Parliament will be the backbench.
Expect to see more changes at the Prime Minister’s Office, which may or may not involve the departure of chief of staff Peta Credlin; the government might have botched its first year or so in office — disappointing and angering millions of its supporters — but there are enough firm hands and hard heads in Coalition ranks to recognise that the command-and-control edifice presided over by Credlin has not worked and will not work, and adjustments will be made.
Changes should include greater access to the Prime Minister by the backbench, a relaxation of the strictures that apply to what ministers can and cannot do or say, a reassessment of the government’s central veto regime on staff appointments, and a thorough reappraisal of its strategy and tactics politically and in the areas of communicating and selling its message.
On this final point, my door is open to Liberal supremos, who know very well where to find me; I mostly decline to use this column to telegraph my ideas on political strategy and communication — it is, after all, a discussion forum aimed at involving ordinary voters in a conversation, not some contemporary reworking of The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.
I have to date been totally excluded from any meaningful involvement in the process of running the current generation of Liberal governments across the country on account of the pursuit of a decades-old vendetta emanating from a couple of overly brash things I did as a 21-year-old (or, if not for that, then for reasons best known only to the Peta Credlins and the Tony Nutts of this world, and others like them).
The Liberal Party nationally has hardly fared well over the past year or so, and with the fall of the Napthine government in Victoria — likely to be followed in 2017 by WA, perhaps Queensland this year, federally in 2016 if nothing changes quickly, and with the keys to the SA Premier’s office maybe two more elections away — and if the terrible, long dark night of opposition is closing in anyway, a private conversation with me certainly can’t hurt.
Mike Baird Will Be Re-elected As Premier of New South Wales…
The greatest asset NSW Labor had, heading to the 2015 state election, was former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who — in leading what was popularly portrayed as a “do nothing” government that merely enjoyed a massive parliamentary majority — could easily have found himself in significant political difficulty this year, the thumping win in 2011 notwithstanding.
O’Farrell’s government was an object political lesson in the fact that simply “not being Labor” is not enough; that simply being a bit more stable and a bit more competent than the last guy does not automatically translate into political success or sound outcomes of governance.
As I said in January, the spectre of the 1991 state election was beginning to loom large over O’Farrell.
Yet just as his resignation — over the undeclared gift of a bottle of wine — ostensibly deprived the ALP of its greatest asset, Labor returned the favour last week by forcing its own embarrassment of a leader, John Robertson, to quit in the wake of revelations he signed a constituency letter some years ago on behalf of the Martin Place siege criminal Man Haron Monis.
With opinion polling in NSW suggesting the Coalition ahead 56-44 before Labor beds down a new leadership team, my feeling is that jettisoning Robertson won’t greatly alter that figure; there will be a corrective swing from the 65-35 result the Coalition achieved four years ago (no matter who leads the Liberals) and I tend to think that the 9% swing these numbers amount to is probably about where the votes will settle come election night in March.
Luke Foley — set to be elected unopposed as Labor leader next week — may or may not prove effective; he may or may not resonate with the NSW public, but as the endorsed candidate of the NSW ALP’s Sussex Street machine, I wouldn’t bet on it.
The issue of institutionalised corruption in NSW and its pursuit by ICAC has, as we now know, touched and smeared both the major parties; the difference in my view is that the Liberals have acted swiftly to excise the cancer of misconduct, jettisoning alleged and/or admitted miscreants in droves, whilst Labor doggedly persists with its culture of tribalism and maaate-ship: with even the likes of Eddie Obeid threatening lawsuits at anyone who dares question his “good” name.
Quite simply, Mike Baird is perhaps the most impressive state leader the Liberals boast anywhere in the country at present, and there are growing signs that voters really like him: this is one result that should be beyond doubt, and the loss of 10 to 15 seats to Labor should be seen as within acceptable parameters.
…Whilst In Queensland, Campbell Newman Won’t Be
One way or the other, there will be a new Premier of Queensland before Easter.
As an ex-Brisvegan (and as a native, I’m allowed to use the term “Brisvegas” 🙂 ) who maintains a very close eye on what goes on in the Sunshine State, I’m appalled by the way the LNP has operated since its landslide win — all but wiping out Labor in the process — three years ago.
I’m not going to rehash the acres of column space we’ve devoted to the science experiment that has been the LNP in office today; readers can access some of this material through the LNP tag in the tag cloud to the right of this article if they wish to do so.
But I will reiterate that there is a clear delusion and/or a denial of political reality if the LNP seriously believes Campbell Newman will win his seat of Ashgrove, and this alone dictates that Queenslanders will see a new face behind the Premier’s desk in the Executive Building.
This denial, and the attendant refusal to specify who might replace Newman if the LNP somehow manages to win this year’s state election, is seriously compromising the government’s wider re-election prospects.
The conditions exist in Queensland for the ALP to pull off a stunning political triumph after its 64-36 mauling in 2012 and the loss of 44 of its 51 seats in the unicameral 89 member Queensland Parliament; perhaps set to garner just one vote in three, and aided by the plethora of minor parties set to draw votes away from the LNP, Labor will bolster its audacious bid to use the optional preferential voting system with the mother of all scare campaigns about a “Premier Jeff Seeney” that the LNP apparently refuses to take seriously.
Common sense dictates a narrow LNP win with a new Premier sworn in — likely the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls — once the dust has settled.
Then again, this is Queensland we are talking about, and strange things happen in Queensland where elections are concerned. If the vote for Clive Palmer’s repulsive excuse for a party holds up — and if his preferences either exhaust or, worse for the LNP, are directed to Labor — then a return to Labor government under an untested but uninspiring leader in Annastacia Palaszczuk can not be discounted.
Vladimir Putin Will Get Nasty — Really Nasty — With The West
No, I’m not suggesting Russia will start a nuclear war, although anyone who seriously believes Putin hasn’t modernised Russia’s strategic forces to enable it to do precisely that if push ever came to shove is delusional.
But with Russia’s economy seriously impacted by the collapse in global oil prices — a situation unlikely to change this year, with the resulting oil glut likely to keep prices depressed for some time even if the OPEC cartel moves to cut supply — the potential still exists for the bullying junta in charge of the Kremlin to lash out.
In the face of its annexation of the Crimea and its mischief in Ukraine, Russia has suffered the triple whammy of falling oil prices, a savage market-imposed depreciation of the rouble, and punishing Western sanctions in retaliation over its activities on its western flank, including the shooting down of a civilian airliner.
Like any bully, actions and consequences do not constitute a causal relationship in the eyes of the Russian leader; and whilst the international community has sent the clear signal that invasions and annexations of territory will not be tolerated in the modern era, Putin has been equally clear that the consequences of his actions are equally intolerable to him.
A full Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be ruled out, and in the ensuing regional war, Western powers — particularly the USA — would be understandably reticent to involve themselves; the risks of doing so triggering a wider conflagration with Russia that could well spiral beyond control far outweigh the (justified) imperative to go to Ukraine’s aid.
Yet Putin’s political prestige — and his survival — rests on his ability to keep ordinary Russians convinced they are better off under his leadership than under any alternative; as he watches his country’s economy stagger under the weight of lost revenues, he will have to create some kind of sideshow to convince his people that he is standing up to Russia’s enemies.
Expect a lot more bellicose, confrontational rhetoric, backed up by an increase in patrols by nuclear-armed Russian bombers and perhaps minor military skirmishes between Western forces and Russian-backed insurgents.
What is likelier is some kind of enhanced economic and trade arrangement between the so-called BRICS nations, which may or may not take on an activist anti-Western trade agenda; as this would conceivably involve China, any such development would potentially affect Australia’s interests.
David Cameron Will Win The British General Election
Or at the very least, he should.
At face value, the prospects for Britain’s Conservative Party are as good, if not better, than they were five years ago when Cameron initially took power: the budget austerity measures taken by Cameron’s government appear to have worked, with the British economy having emerged from recession trimmed of fat and making a swift recovery.
In fact, Britain’s economy is booming, which is more than can be said for its European counterparts as the Eurozone slithers toward a so-called “triple dip” into the red.
The welfare reforms implemented by Iain Duncan Smith at the Department of Work and Pensions (the equivalent of Australia’s Department of Social Services, now headed by Scott Morrison) seem to have made great strides toward breaking the back of a welfare culture even more entrenched than Australia’s; and the British deficit — a legacy of 13 years of insipid Labour government that culminated in external debt reaching £1.5 trillion ($2.8 trillion), or about 60% of GDP — is shrinking, as the increase in economic activity combined with the savings of budget measures contribute to the government’s ability to better cover its outgoings.
The point is that Cameron’s government is reaping the benefits of his reforms having worked; here in Australia, of course, the Abbott government is staring an election defeat in the face for merely proposing the kind of tough medicine that has worked in the UK without being able to legislate it. But I digress.
Cameron has seen the political collapse of his Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats; and the win by the “no” side in the Scottish independence referendum last year now appears likely to have an unforeseen consequence — the loss of Labour’s stranglehold over Scottish electorates sending MPs to Westminster — and this, in turn, could enable the Tories to pick up a handful of seats in Scotland, in so-called four-way marginal seats, under the UK’s first past the post voting system.
But the biggest problem the Conservative Party faces — and which is blamed for its failure to secure an outright majority in 2010 — is immigration: EU expansion late last decade saw Britain obliged to accommodate the almost quarter-million Eastern Europeans who flooded into the UK with the entitlement to live and work; rightly or wrongly, the issue ranked as one of the most influential factors in how Britons voted in 2010, and the failure of the Conservatives to take a firm stand on the issue is likely to have cost it the percentage point or two that would have made the difference between an outright majority and the near miss the Tories actually scored.
In turn, this has breathed life into UKIP — the United Kingdom Independence Party — over the ensuing five years; and whilst the Conservatives nominally lead Labour in some polls, their support to date appears to be insufficient to cross the threshold of governing in their own right.
Readers of this column have heard me talk of “David Cameron Syndrome,” an affliction that also ails the Liberal Party in Australia: the aversion to taking a firm stand on issues, to be seen to offer all things to all people at election time, the disinclination to offend anyone, and the avoidance at any cost of promising anything that might create a contingent of disgruntled “losers.”
The old truism that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no-one is apt, and Tony Abbott has learnt that too with the fallout from his unnecessary and foolish “no cuts to this, no cuts to that” diatribe on election eve in 2013 regularly thrown back in his face by his critics.
Whether David Cameron prevails, or falls victim a second time to the eponymous ailment we have spoken of, remains to be seen.
But with Labour led by its most left-wing leader in almost 30 years and an obviously positive economic narrative for the Tories to weave, the probability of the Conservative Party winning a second term remains a solid prospect indeed.
Bush vs Clinton Is Really On
I’m not going to dwell long on this one, partly because the US presidential election remains almost two years away.
But the “race” for the presidency, as Americans call it, always begins to crank up once federal mid-term elections are done and dusted; so it is already proving this time.
The Republican Jeb Bush — often designated as the “competent” member of the Bush dynasty — has left few in doubt of his intention to stand for his party’s nomination for the Oval Office, and I don’t think any of the other candidates in the Republican field will get within shouting distance of him if his apparent candidacy becomes certain.
As for Hillary Clinton, it beggars belief that she would fail to stand: short of a medical issue so severe as to physically restrain her (and in the absence of any other truly national contenders on the Democratic side with the profile to out-manoeuvre both she and Bush) I think it inevitable that Clinton will not only stand, but have her name on the ballot next November.
This year should be fascinating from the perspective of the posturing the respective candidates engage in; I’d also be keeping an eye on Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who as the obvious proxies for the respective campaigns might well prove to be the focus of political news from the US as much as the candidates proper do.
And that’s it: like I said, nothing too serious today. I am acutely aware some will be nursing very sore heads. For once on a New Year’s Eve I had nothing stronger than Coca-Cola to drink last night, so I sympathise 🙂 .
Some of these things may come to pass; all or none of them might. But I think the odds on all of them happening are pretty good.
I hope readers have enjoyed a rather less formal banter in this article. The year begins proper tomorrow, and with it, we will return to our usual approach to the topical issues of the day in Australian politics.