“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.

 

Looking At 2015: Six Things That Will Happen This Year

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.

 

No Way: Scottish Vote A Win For Canny Good Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress.

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

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

 

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.

MH17 Disaster: Putin’s Statement And A UN Resolution

FACED WITH IMMUTABLE international outrage over the wanton murder of 298 civilians in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Russian President Vladimir Putin has conceded ground, and seemingly backed down; noises emanating from Moscow are one thing, as appealing and mollifying as they seem. Action, however, is another. Putin has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. The West may not provide another.

 

UPDATED: At 5.21am Melbourne time — just 20 minutes after posting this article — news has come through that the United Nations has voted in favour of the Australian resolution before it, as discussed below.

 

It’s a relatively short post from me this morning, and one as much as to share some resources as to provide analysis and comment; working through the night as I have been of late I had expected we might have news of the outcome of the draft resolution being debated at the United Nations in the small hours, Melbourne time, that is being driven and sponsored by Prime Minister Tony Abbott; at time of publication, we don’t, although in one sense, it doesn’t make any difference to the points I make on the subject here.

If the Australian resolution at the UN is passed, then Putin has to back some fine-sounding rhetoric over the past 24 hours with some action.

If it isn’t passed — because Russia vetoes it, or on the (remote) chance its Chinese cohorts take it upon themselves to do so by proxy — then the situation between Russia and the West is going to chill to Antarctic levels, and become extremely dangerous indeed.

Some hours ago, Putin — through the English language portal of his official Kremlin website — released a statement, declaring that “military operations” in disputed areas of Ukraine should cease immediately, and that “peaceful and diplomatic means alone” should be used to move the conflict in Ukraine “from the military phase…to the negotiating phase.”

I think people are entitled to feel ever so slightly cynical about this statement; with typical arrogance Putin uses it to position himself — and Russia — beyond reproach, using language reminiscent of John Howard’s refrain that the things that unite us are far stronger than those that divide us.

He pledges, calmly, to behave responsibly and to do everything in his power to ensure international experts are finally allowed to commence a full investigation of the area in which the remnants of MH17 are now scattered (degraded as it is by looters and militia, who have effectively had several days’ head start on any official attempt to rein them in). He urges restraint.

It all sounds quite encouraging, as does the fact that Putin has also indicated Russia is prepared to vote for Abbott’s resolution — which basically calls for untrammelled international access to the crash site, and assistance from Moscow and regional authorities — at the UN Security Council. There have been squabbles over semantics, and a suggestion at one point that Russia was in effect prepared to vote for a resolution provided it didn’t apportion blame to Russia in any way, but it’s the outcome of the vote and Russia’s subsequent conduct that matter.

I did say I would keep it brief, and for now, I will. We can always talk about this again later in the day or tomorrow if circumstances warrant it.

But another day marked by anger, grief, and frustration in so many parts of the world has continued to galvanise and harden opinion against Russia; it is clear that any attempt to squib whatever commitments that country now makes will be regarded very dimly, and the real tensions between Russia and the West may be stayed for now, but they have by no means dissipated.

Notwithstanding Putin’s posturing to evade blame being sheeted home to his country, the USA has ramped up its rhetoric against Russia, piling on pressure over what it presents as the “overwhelming evidence of Russian complicity” in the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 and the 298 souls who were consequently slaughtered.

British Prime Minister warned Putin that “the world is watching,” making it clear that whatever it now does in the face of resolute and growing international fury over the atrocity will be viewed as “a defining moment for Russia.”

And our own Prime Minister, Tony Abbott — whose leadership during this distasteful time has been unimpeachable — has echoed my own opinion of Putin’s lofty rhetoric, making it clear that whilst Putin has “said all the right things,” Russia will be judged on its actions rather than its words.

Abbott said that any veto of the Australian-sponsored resolution at the United Nations would be viewed “very, very badly.”

Across the world — and including in the corridors of power in many Western democratic countries — it seems many have either awoken to the real threat to European and world security Putin’s Russia poses, or have dropped the pretence and the facade that it poses nothing of the kind.

Too much has transpired for too long to ignore the fact that Russia has been readying its military and building networks of allies, associates and clandestine agents that directly and indirectly threaten the welfare of those around it, and which pose grave strategic challenges to Russia’s traditional adversaries in Europe and the US.

What it happening in Ukraine is a microcosm of the trouble that could be unleashed if Russia’s antics are escalated rather than curtailed. And as horrific as the MH17 tragedy was and is, it is nothing compared to the destruction and loss of life a broader conflict pitting the West against Russia would inevitably unleash.

I might be wrong, and the imminent vote at the United Nations will clarify that, but my sense is that the West will provide Putin with one opportunity and one only to call off his dogs in Eastern Ukraine, allow an independent international investigation into the MH17 disaster to run its course, and to co-operate fully with those inquiries, including taking whatever remedial action is reasonably demanded against the state-backed rebels who it still seems are the likely culprits of this outrage.

In short, Putin will get his chance to make good on his words. If he reneges, it is doubtful that he will be given another.