It’s been a year since the election of Donald Trump, and the Democrats are only now returning from the hidey-hole they’ve been in for the past few months, but only partially. This is not merely because they are minorities in both the House of Representative and the Senate and are without the presidency. Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Keith Ellison, all those that have led the charge against Donald Trump from the moment he won, are being drowned out by media speculation about FBI investigations, mass shootings, sports protests, and celebrity scandals. A much vaunted change of strategy from the Democrats in July introducing an economic ‘Better Deal’ has gone absolutely nowhere, and was always a little suspicious, because the leadership of the Democratic Party is still yet to give any real indication that they properly understand why they lost the 2016 election.
Since examining South Australia’s ‘bank tax’, there have been three more occasions where states have gone on the attack against the state of the federation, each more attention-grabbing than the next. The first salvo came from the WA Liberals, with their leader Mike Nahan stating that the party was considering legal action against the federal government over the way GST has been distributed. This unusual suggestion caused a slight ripple, but seems in hindsight more like a portent of something bigger to come. Secondly came the Victorian government, who flat-out demanded an extra $420 million to account for population growth on the back of arguing that Western Australia had actually been a net beneficiary of federal grants since federation. Finally, the WA Liberals returned with a bigger, though watered-down, warning, passing a motion to examine the feasibility of seceding from the commonwealth.
Other than attempting to give us the truly awful non-word ‘WAxit’, what is the logic behind these actions, and what is the Australian government planning to do about it?
This week found Jay Weatherill, the Premier of South Australia, once again attacking Australian banks, this time on the back of the Commonwealth Bank recording a nearly $10 billion profit, while being accused in the same week of money laundering. Weatherill’s aggression towards the banking sector comes during his government’s campaign to get a new bank levy through the state parliament, just as the federal government did earlier in the year. Unlike the federal levy, which had near unanimous political support, this state levy is being opposed by the state opposition and Nick Xenophon’s party, while the banks are in a far greater state of discontent than they were when the federal levy was introduced.
Fixed-term elections are all the rage these days. With most Australian states having introduced fixed terms within the last decade, the concept has now made its way to federal level, with Bill Shorten putting it forward as part of the ALP’s platform for the next election. This proposal has received support from both sides of the chamber and from the media, and you should know what that means by now.
“This is not peace. It’s an armistice of twenty years.”
Those were the words of Ferdinand Foch is response to the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, and twenty years later, France and Germany were once again at war. After the results of the British general election this year, they words may not be relevant only to historians. With the Conservatives failing to win a majority in the British general election, instead having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party to form a majority in the House of Commons, the question of Northern Ireland will soon bubble up again. The idea that the country/region/area called Northern Ireland is now at relative peace is predicated on the continuing existence of and adherence to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The problem? The two parties that initiated that agreement have been wiped out at Westminster, and have been replaced by two parties that would like to see it gone.
It’s been commonplace in recent weeks to say that the Conservative Party called a snap election because of their position in the polls, and they were trying to take advantage of Labour weakness. This is an easy tale to tell, and is particularly popular among Jeremy Corbyn’s true believers, for whom it adds to the image of the Conservative Party as ruthless, heartless, and so on.
The thing is, it doesn’t actually make much sense.
It was known in advance that this year would see three, possibly four major European elections. It was not expected that the upcoming British general election would be among them. After all, they went to the polls two years ago and delivered a majority Conservative government, and then again last year to decide whether or not to leave the European Union, the result of which forced the Conservatives to change their leader and cabinet. Theresa May, playing the role of ‘last man standing’, promised upon her election to the leadership by Conservative MPs that she would not go to the polls again. Overandover, she promised that she would not have another election, because Britain needed stability.
Then, in April, she called a snap poll, set for early June. Officially, it’s also for stability. Given that directly contradicts her stated reason for not going to an election, it seems more likely that it has to do with the investigation into Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 election, which may well have necessitated multiple by-elections. Losing those by-elections would have made a slim majority even slimmer, and make her government even more susceptible to backbenchers crossing the floor. So, here we are. (As an aside, it also seems likely the Conservatives really, really wanted to wait until the new electoral boundaries were put in the place next year before having an election, which reduces the Commons by 50 seats. Most of the seats being taken away are in Labour areas.)
The other day, Bill Shorten was on the television giving his budget reply speech in the Australian Parliament. It was on in the background, far too uninteresting to pay attention to, until something happened. I heard what sounded distinctly like clapping, about halfway through.
At first, I thought I was hearing things – perhaps it had started raining? – but, just in case, I turned towards the TV and watched, until I saw the hands of MPs move in a motion that looked just like clapping. This didn’t take very long, as Labor MPs and the gallery that was presumably filled with ALP staffers were eager to put their hands together as often as possible. As I saw this, my instinctive response was that I was seeing something terrible take place. My second response was one of wonder that a simple courtesy often used to indicate agreement should provoke such a negative reaction in me. I went back and checked the treasurer’s speech, and found clapping there too, but only after the speech. This is true of both speeches in previous years as well, though only very recently.
There has, as far as I can tell, never been applause during a budget reply speech, which makes it rather seem like the ALP decided that they needed a helpful audience to make Shorten’s speech seem strong, and the Speaker let it happen.
So, what was it about seeing this practice that raised my hackles?
The victory of the liberal, establishment-backed Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election was predictable and straightforward, as with the Dutch election that preceded it. The snap British election seems very likely to have a similar result, and the German election too. It looks rather like a return to the status quo. After their shocking 2016, the media have been over-cautious in predicting political events in 2017. Come year’s end, though, the theme of a return to the status quo will be widespread, and we will be told 2016 was simply an aberration. Reality will not be so simple, and what happens in Europe in the years to come may well depend on the new French president.
To put it another way: Emmanuel Macron has five years to prove he is the saviour of the European Union.