Tantrum Of The Entitled: Support-Free Senators Lash Out

AS SIGNS the Turnbull government will call a double dissolution election grow clearer, a co-ordinated revolt by self-interested crossbench Senators is looming; masquerading as “principle,” the argument of the crossbenchers has less to do with “small parties” than it does with the termination of their ability to be “elected” with next to no electoral support. Left or Right, there is a difference between “small parties” and an undemocratic rort.

The question is a rhetorical one, but it nonetheless goes to the heart of Senate reforms being developed by the Coalition: on what planet can any candidate with 3.8% of the primary vote be expected to win an election, let alone justify their position on the strength of such minuscule support?

Family First Senator Bob Day obviously believes Australia should be such a place, for not only was he elected with exactly that share of the Senate vote in South Australia in 2013, but he appears to be using it as a pretext to join an unedifying tantrum being thrown by the crossbench scourge that has infected the proportionally elected upper house, and which I believe merely underlines the case for its removal by abolishing the rort that makes its existence possible in the first place.

The Fairfax press yesterday published a piece that outlined a co-ordinated threat by virtually support-free crossbench Senators to run candidates in key marginal Coalition seats in the lower house to direct preferences to Labor if reforms to abolish Group Ticket Voting (GTV) and introduce Optional Preferential Voting (OPV) to the Senate are legislated, and aside from initially thinking people ought to grow up — for the tantrum being thrown by the disgruntled Senators is exactly that: a tantrum — the obvious response is that if these people weren’t drawing salaries at taxpayer expense of close to $200,000 per annum, they probably wouldn’t even care.

We spoke about this on Wednesday, noting that had the Hawke government not rigged the Senate in 1984 in the first place — partly for legitimate constitutional reasons connected to the need to increase the size of the lower house, but also expressly to try to fix it so a 1975-style situation could never again befall a Labor government — then Day and others sitting with him would probably never have been able to be “elected” at all.

It doesn’t matter to me that Day is mostly friendly to the government — ex-member of the Liberal Party as he is — or that Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm mostly makes a reasonable contribution: in the case of the latter, the 9.5% of the vote he scored was almost certainly the combined result of a) drawing the donkey vote position at the far left-hand side of the NSW Senate ballot paper, and b) getting away with registering a party name so similar to the Liberal Party (which was ascendant in NSW at the last election); the Liberal Democrats’ NSW vote was almost three times its best result in any other state, and that party polled just 363 votes (0.1%) in Victoria, 0.7% in Queensland, and didn’t even bother with the ACT or the NT.

It’s impossible to look on Leyonhjelm’s 9.5% in NSW, having regard to the lack of votes or even candidates in some states, and claim his election heralded the arrival of libertarianism as a mass movement in its own right. His tally was boosted, to say the least, by factors that had nothing to do with any appeal of his party.

In Day’s case, friendly to the Coalition or not, the idea 3.8% of the vote in a state boasting just 7.6% of Australia’s total electoral enrolment gives him the right to advocate for the retention of what can only be described as an abuse of democracy at the expense of any proper application of democratic principles — even proportional election systems, which I vehemently object to — is unfathomable.

At least Labor is honest enough to say it’s opposing Senate reform because it thinks it would cost it any chance of garnering a Senate majority without relying on Greens support, although as I pointed out on Wednesday Labor’s loss of 20% of its bedrock in recent years to the Greens is nobody’s fault but its own; in any case, Labor is wrong — and unless it finds a way to bolt most of the support that now underpins the Greens as a third force in Parliament back onto its own pile, it will never control the Senate outright: irrespective of whether the Coalition’s proposed changes are passed or not.

According to Fairfax, a ragtag assortment that includes Day, Leyonhjelm, and an alliance of (otherwise unspecified) minor parties has drawn up a hit list comprising 16 marginal Liberal seats across Australia in which even the “right-leaning micro parties” among them will direct preferences to the ALP “in retaliation” if the Coalition’s changes are passed by the Senate.

Leyonhjelm — blissfully oblivious to the fact that running dummy candidates all over the place is also tantamount to an attempt to rig an election — is quoted as saying the group will run “as many candidates as possible” in its quest to deliver the 16 seats to Labor and, presumably based on the numbers, the government’s majority with them.

And this comes against the hard socialists of the Greens and the left-wing (but sane) Independent Nick Xenophon apparently ready to support those changes in the interests of sound governance. It isn’t often that I agree with the Greens (if ever), but on  this issue they are absolutely correct.

For good measure, whoever runs the Family First Twitter feed has been interacting with me today after I retweeted the following table of figures showing how often the Senate crossbench has voted with the government between July 2014 and March last year…

FRIENDS OF THE LIBERALS…apparently, this shows why Family First deserves a seat in the Senate with 3.8% support among 7.6% of the Australian voting public. (Source: Family First)

…and when I retweeted that table with the caption that “these figures would be more meaningful if they included all of 2015…” Family First sent me a response that said “We agree Yale, and will post the updated stats on our website as soon as they are collated. Don’t expect any surprises.”

That “update” appears below: and despite my request for a source or some kind of reference, none was forthcoming.

WRONG CALL…How could the Coalition deal with the Greens, when “friends” like Family First and the Liberal Democrats may cop it in the neck? Principle and sycophancy are not the same thing. (Source: Family First)

On the assumption the second table is meant to be reflective of Senate voting between Senators elected in 2013 taking their places in July 2014 and the present, it delivers no surprises whatsoever (as Family First had promised, perhaps seeking to build my expectations as it was busy “collating” them).

But whilst it’s really gratifying that Day and Leyonhjelm can point to a friendly record toward the government — and whilst I actually think both of them have been reasonable performers as effectively independent voices in the Senate — this is beside the point.

Whichever way you cut it, the duo — and other, unnamed minor party forces — have seen fit to embark on a vindictive lower house preference strategy that whether they like it or not is explicitly contrived to seek the election of a Labor government, and of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister; and should that scenario — a nightmare proposition on current configurations that far transcends any partisan allegiance — then Day, Leyonhjelm and their mates would forever be held directly responsible for inflicting such a disastrous outcome on Australia.

A Shorten Labor government would make Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan seem veritable pillars of competence by comparison: it would be that bad.

Now let’s cut through the bullshit for a moment.

The Coalition’s Senate changes are not about who has shown loyalty to whom.

They are not about who, depending on your political ideas, is “good” or “bad.”

They are not about who is a good bloke, or who (in the case of Jacqui Lambie) is a fruit cake unfit to sit in any Parliament in Australia.

And they are not about the merits or otherwise of the respective platforms of any of the minor parties on the crossbench.

Very simply, the Coalition’s proposed reforms are about the preservation of democracy, not the trashing of it; and they are aimed at resuscitating the principle where the Senate is concerned that even at a proportional election, some reasonable stipend of direct (primary vote) support must first be achieved.

I have said many times in this column that I don’t think a candidate or Senate ticket with less than 5% of the primary vote should be eligible to be elected; the Coalition’s reforms don’t even go as far as to impose such a threshold. Yet if they did, they would be no different to proportional electoral systems in New Zealand, or Germany, or other major democracies who utilise proportional voting in their systems of governance. There would be nothing unreasonable and/or undemocratic about a qualifying threshold of 5% of the vote to enter the Senate. And only the most desperately self-obsessed (or in Labor’s case, desperate to wreck its way into government) would suggest otherwise.

To be honest, I would have no problem — all things being equal — were Day to be readmitted to the Liberal Party and given the winnable third spot on the party’s 2019 South Australian Senate ticket, or fifth or sixth this year if a double dissolution is called; I do in fact like Bob Day and have a lot of time for him, and with considerable overlap between our party’s platform and his own, I think he would make an excellent contribution as a conservative Liberal. This, of course, is scarcely the point.

But as a candidate for Family First?

If he can put together enough of the primary vote under the reformed Senate voting process — if the changes are passed — then I wish him good luck.

And to be sure, there are worse atrocities committed against the electoral system than Bob Day’s election with 3.8% of the vote in South Australia: Ricky Muir, with his 0.51% of the vote in Victoria, merely proves beyond contest the point I am making.

Day and Leyonhjelm might point to reasonably supportive voting records where the government is concerned, and say, “what have we done to deserve this?” whereas Lambie, fellow former Palmer stooge Glenn Lazarus, and even Nick Xenophon (who supports the reforms) might inspect their mostly ALP-inclined voting histories and conclude, incorrectly, that “this is aimed at us.” When considered in this manner, the Coalition is both damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

The Greens, who predictably vote with the Coalition in the Senate less than anyone, are almost co-sponsors of the changes.

It all comes back to what I have always said: there is no entitlement to a seat in Parliament just because you think you should have one; and rather than persisting with a dumbed-down Senate election system that lowers the bar to scoop up candidates with less and less (and in some cases, virtually no) public support, candidates from minor parties should get out and earn more votes, not simply demand what they think they should have.

The system that allows the current Senate crossbench to survive, thrive and — unless changed — allow others to sully that august chamber in future with negligible support is an undemocratic outrage and an obscenity.

For its occupants to embark on the petulant plan for reprisals Day and Leyonhjelm seem committed to embark upon is not principled, is unlikely to produce constructive outcomes, and invites — with complete justification — the criticism that all they care about is their continued ability to draw a cheque each month from the taxpayer, when (the peculiarities of Leyonhjelm’s own election aside) they have done nothing, including garnering sufficient votes, to merit or warrant the expense.

 

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.

 

Liberal Democrats Win Eastleigh By-Election; Tories Finish Third

ELECTORS in the Hampshire constituency of Eastleigh voted in a by-election overnight (AEDT); the Lib-Dem marginal has been retained by that party by 1,771 votes, after the resignation of disgraced MP Chris Huhne and amid a sex scandal. The result is a slap to British Prime Minister David Cameron.

This is a short post for those who (like me) are interested in developments abroad; Eastleigh certainly held particular significance, both as a Lib-Dem/Conservative marginal (of the type the Tories must win to obtain an outright majority at the next general election) and as a referendum on the electoral health of the Lib-Dems in their own right.

On turnout of 52.8%, the Lib-Dems have retained the seat, winning 13,342 votes to UKIP’s 11,571. The Conservative candidate finished third with 10,559 votes, and Labour — as expected in this seat — finishing a distant fourth.

The result will cheer the Lib-Dems and their leader Nick Clegg in particular, who have been perceived as too close to the Conservative Party by their supporters as a consequence of the governing coalition they share with the Tories.

All established polls in Britain show the Lib-Dems have dropped more than half the support they recorded at the election in 2010 — a result which, if replicated in 2015, would see that party all but wiped out from the House of Commons.

This result — coming off the resignation of a disgraced MP, and with a sexual harassment scandal enveloping key Lib-Dem figures during the campaign — provides the third-party a much-needed fillip.

For the Conservatives to finish third, however, in a seat like Eastleigh, will place enormous pressure on PM David Cameron and his leadership, as debate rages within the governing party over the direction it should pursue on a raft of issues including deficit reduction, immigration, and the position of the UK in relation to the European Union.

To be pushed into third place — even narrowly — by the anti-Brussels, Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party is an embarrassment to the Tories, pure and simple; proud of its tradition as defender of the Union and increasingly hostile toward the EU in its own right, the pressure on David Cameron to offer the British public a so-called “in-out” referendum in tandem with the general election due in early 2015 will become stifling.

This column has, previously, been an ardent supporter of David Cameron; increasingly, however, we believe he is not suited to lead the United Kingdom at a difficult time and — whilst resolutely supportive of the Conservative Party — believe the time may be approaching at which the merits of other candidates for leadership can and should be evaluated by that party’s MPs, its executive and its membership.

Britain can ill-afford a return to Labour at its next election, just as our own country cannot afford a continuation of the present Labor regime in office in Canberra.

Even so, the result in Eastleigh is a wake-up call to the Conservatives, and an ominous illustration of the difficulty the party must overcome if it is to stand any realistic chance of victory in Westminster under its present leadership arrangements.

Euro-Zonk: Why David Cameron And The UK Must Stand Firm

There’s a lot of chatter presently that Europe is headed into a “double-dip” recession that will take Britain with it. The Conservative-led government of David Cameron must stand firm; the alternative is a disaster of — well, frankly, of European proportions.

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a video clip here at The Red And The Blue to lead into an article; we have one tonight, however.

Watch this, especially from 1:30 in (it’s pivotal to the basis of my argument, the pivot of which will become clearer as we go), and then let’s talk about it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

If you’re British (as many people close to me are) — or if you’re a devotee of British politics (as I am) — then two worlds are about to collide; indeed, this “collision” has been brewing for decades.

And there’s no romanticism, in either the classic or contemporary sense, about it.

We all know Europe is in a complete mess right now; Greece and Italy and Ireland are all on the brink of collapse, and there are whiffs of decay about a number of the other so-called “Eurozone” countries as well — and not least that France and Germany might be starting to stagger, too.

If France and Germany are beginning to stagger, it isn’t much of a surprise; after all, those with money can only bail out those with none for so long.

But all of them — all of them — are up to their eyeballs in sovereign debt.

The Germans and the French because they’ve funded the bailout programs; and the rest of “Europe” because they were stupid enough to join the single currency project in the first place, which was cooked up by…yes, the Germans and the French.

I have opined previously that the Euro was the single greatest act of economic lunacy of the 20th century, and it was; after the rapid appreciation of member-state currencies to qualify for Euro membership, and the subsequent ceding of various fiscal policy levers to a central bureaucracy in Brussels, borrowing money has been the only way poorer European countries have been able to keep their economies afloat.

Now, that equation has reached critical mass.

The “borrowers” have bankrupted their countries; and the countries publicly listed in the “borrower and broke” column is set to be augmented in coming months with at least two and perhaps as many as six others who are faced with sovereign default.

And the “creditors” — namely, France and Germany — are staggering under the weight of a series of monetary bailouts to their “European partners” which, inevitably, has seen both countries borrow heavily abroad to fund their lavish commitments to their “European partners.”

Even so, the rights and wrongs of the goings-on in financial circles in Europe are of limited concern to me; yes, I would like to see all countries involved sort the quagmire out, and no, I don’t actually want to see Europe — collectively or on a country-by-country basis — slip back into recession.

But my primary concern, I have to say, is for Britain.

If anyone failed to click at the beginning of the article, now’s the time to watch this: especially from the 1:30 mark…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOgB3Smvro

When the Labour Party finally got its fangs into the UK — after 18 deserved years in the political wilderness — Britain was booming, thanks to the economic legacies of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, executed by Chancellors of the Exchequer Sir Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, and later, through the revolutionary economic stewardship of John Major’s last Chancellor, Ken Clarke.

The bit in the middle was Britain joining the ERM in 1992 under Chancellor Norman Lamont, then leaving in late 1992 as the alleged exchange-rate mechanism failed to protect Sterling from the effects of a falling US dollar.

This led to the Bank of England raising interest rates by five percentage points in one day, and in turn led to the UK’s involuntary departure from the ERM; Lamont’s second and last budget in 1993 featured massive hikes in taxation to fix the damage and to right the government’s finances.

Lamont was sacked seven weeks after delivering the 1993 budget; his successor, Ken Clarke, presided over the healthiest manifestation of the British economy in decades.

But there had been a warning: Europe, and in particular anything to do with monetary collaboration, was a disaster looking for a place to strike, which is likely the reason both Margaret Thatcher and her first Chancellor, the unabashedly Europhile Howe, steered so far clear if it.

In the early years of Tony Blair’s government, which was elected in a landslide in 1997, Britain continued to boom.

It is noteworthy that Blair was not elected on the back of any perception of Tory party incompetence on the economy.

Rather, he won as a result of the “It’s Time” factor, a general perception that Britons were comfortable, an anti-sleaze campaign by the Major government that blew up in its face when the peccadilloes of some of its less professional ministers came to light, and the ubiquitous sloganeering and rhetoric typical of Labour parties the world over.

For the first few years, it worked; but even then, public sector borrowing in Britain was rocketing; so-called “New Labour” was delivering spending on social programs it claimed delivered a social dividend whilst maintaining economic rigour.

Blair’s Chancellor, and eventual successor, Gordon Brown, threw buckets — no, shitloads — of money at anything that moved and that was deemed to be in need of spending.

And it was all borrowed money.

Together, Blair, Brown and the Labour cabinet actively flirted with dumping Sterling and joining the Euro; public outcry, and noisy opposition from the Conservative Party, tempered these activities, but they still went so far as to set up “Euro trading zones” in selected parts of Britain.

Cutting a long story short, having taken government in 1997 with a robust bull economy and negligible public debt, the Blair/Brown government was thrown from office in 2010 having amassed £1,300 billion in government borrowings — a complete indictment on any elected government anywhere in the world.

And what of that hubris-laden, headily rhetorical speech from Neil Kinnock? Britain dodged a bullet in 1992; and although it eventually took one five years later, Kinnock would have been worse than Blair.

Obsessed with socialism and the European project as Labour was in 1992, and beholden to such pledges as a 50p in the pound tax rate on anyone earning more than £50,000 per year, what eventually happened under Blair and Brown would have been far worse under Kinnock.

But Kinnock showed, if nothing else, what was to come; alas, very few people recognised the truth behind his words in the longer run.

The smug, glib, prematurely triumphant little display Kinnock put on a week out from the 1992 election masked something far more sinister, and far more menacing.

Today, the Conservative Party is again at the helm of government in Britain, hobbled as it is by the useless presence of the Liberal Democrats, who choose to abstain from  or to oppose anything painful that might actually help fix Britain, but who are always present for anything that might advance the political cause of their own contemptible specimen of a political organisation.

It is in this context that I make my point.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has implemented budget cuts of £81 billion over five years (AUD $125 billion) as part of an overall program to haul in the deficit in the British budget and to begin to repay the UK’s historically colossal owings to its international partners.

This public sector debt — incurred in peacetime — is unprecedented.

On one level, these cuts (and the attendant tax rises accompanying them, such as increasing VAT from 17.5% to 20%) are measures simply aimed at slowly undoing the unquestionable damage that 13 years of Labour mismanagement inflicted on those splendid islands.

On another level, however, it is also unquestionable that world economic circumstances are grim to say the least, and especially so where Europe and, by extension, the UK is concerned.

It’s come to pass in the last few weeks that Europe wants Britain to pay €31 billion (AUD $40 billion, or £26 billion) to bail out the Euro.

I’d say that it’s perfectly reasonable for Britain to take the view that having avoided the Euro and the ERM almost entirely, it should not be at all obliged to pay a penny to prop up and prolong what was always a colossal mistake.

More to the point, as things stand with the EU generally (and despite the deal Margaret Thatcher famously struck in 1980, generating much odium toward the UK for its daring to fight Brussels), Britain still pays the single largest annual contribution towards Europe of the lot of them.

And most of all, there isn’t much point in Cameron, Osborne and the Conservative Party stripping £15-£20 billion per year of profligate waste out of the UK economy, just to piss those savings back up against a post in bailing out countries too stupid to realise the Euro is and was a bad deal, and too stupid to know when to call the whole thing off.

My sense is the British public will reluctantly put up with Cameron and Osborne cutting out expenditures that ought never have been incurred, but that there would be a near-bloody insurrection at the prospect of the monies saved being sent across the Channel to fill the coffers of those too inept to see what Britain (with the exception of its last, loathsome Labour government) saw — that the Euro is just a ruse, and that France and Germany might have money, but they can’t rule the world with it.

Drachmas, Francs, Deutsche Marks, Lira…much more sensible; and with the wisdom of hindsight, better soil to grow a community from, as opposed to simply insisting everyone be the same.

Will Britain sink back into recession? I don’t know.

I don’t think so, but at the minimum, I certainly hope not.

But whether it does or not, Cameron and Osborne are fixing the British economy in the same way Thatcher and Howe were forced to do 30 years ago, having taken office in 1979 from another Labour government that had all but bankrupted Britain.

The Euro is a red herring that has been a distraction in Britain for too long.

The Liberal Democrats are likely to pay, literally, with their electoral life for trying to frustrate Cameron’s attempts to fix Britain.

And following Cameron’s recent veto of a treaty to bind European nations closer economically, the Tory Party’s vote in all reputable opinion polls has been rising in the past fortnight: not yet far enough to win an election outright, without the accursed Lib-Dems, but it’s getting close.

Call on a fresh election, and voters will zero in on Labour: it might be the place to park protest votes in the polls, but with its ineffectual leader, ineffective front bench, confused messages and shrinking membership, I’d wager a Conservative landslide if such an election were to be pulled on any time soon.

Cameron and his Conservatives must stay the course on economic reform. Double-dip or no, the benefits will materialise in the mid-term. Yes, the Tory Party will rightly reap an electoral dividend for them. But they were elected to fix Britain, and thus ought not be distracted by the pox of the Liberal Democrats and Labour to their left, or by the odious entity that is Europe and the Euro on its flank.