“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 The two parties that initiated that agreement have been wiped out at Westminster, and have been replaced by two parties that would like to see it gone.
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.
The first of the big European elections of 2017 is here, and it’s promising to tell us…very little. The governing coalition of Mark Rutte’s Liberals and Lodewijk Asscher’s Labour are not going to be able to form government again, but at least one and possibly both may be part of a governing coalition. Welcome, then, to the most pure proportional electoral system in the world, where 0.67% of the vote will usually get you a seat in parliament.
In a few days from now, the Netherlands will be going to the polls, the first of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The Party for Freedom (PVV), led by the charismatic Geert Wilders, is fighting with the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) for first place in the election. If they do manage to win, will PVV form government and have Wilders as the new Dutch Prime Minister? Probably not.
In a month and a half from now, France will be going to polls, the second of three (possibly even four) national elections in major European nations this year. The National Front (FN), led by the charismatic Marine Le Pen, is fighting to have her elected as president, and she is leading the polls despite a strong challenge from the young Emmanuel Macron. If she does come first, will she be elected as President of France? Probably not.
Nationalist parties in Germany and Italy have the same problem, as did Austria’s Freedom Party in elections last year. What’s stopping them?