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Category: History

Squabbling and secession: more signs of a broken federation

Squabbling and secession: more signs of a broken federation

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?

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Creative taxation: the sign of a failing federation

Creative taxation: the sign of a failing federation

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.

So, what’s actually going on?

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The Northern Ireland question

The Northern Ireland question

“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.

Photo: Irish News

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Will this man save the European Union?

Will this man save the European Union?

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.

Image: The New Yorker

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A contender emerges for the WAELOAT

A contender emerges for the WAELOAT

The final results are in for the Western Australian state election, an election in which conventional political wisdom was meant to return in full. Instead, it decided that it quite enjoyed being on holiday and just kind of phoned it in, delivering Labor not just a win – like it was supposed to – but one of the most crushing victories in Australian electoral history.

Photo: Philip Gostelow

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court and a history lesson

Venezuela’s Supreme Court and a history lesson

Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and incumbent president Nicolás Maduro Photo: Getty Images

Venezuela has been in a downward spiral since the death of socialist icon Hugo Chavez in 2013. During his presidency, Chavez was a whirlwind of activity, using the price of oil to fund socialist initiatives in his oil-rich but poor nation, nationalising whole industries in the process. His death came at just the wrong time, as in 2014 the price of oil plummeted, and the country plunged into crisis, with food and medicine shortages. Chavez may have been able to troubleshoot the country out of the crisis, but his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, is a much more stoic, stable character than his charismatic ‘father’ – and therefore not the kind of person to fix an economic and political crisis such as this. Maduro has instead spent his presidency attempting to retain his hold on power while the nation’s economic and social situation continues to fall, strengthening his own position as president wherever he can while the people he is meant to be serving struggle to have food on the table and stay healthy.

The latest manoeuvre in this depressing story comes from the Supreme Court, which decided to revoke the legislative power of Congress (which now has an opposition majority) and take it for themselves, making themselves a legislative and judicial body. Because the Court is full of Maduro appointees that belong to the ruling Socialist Party, this would mean that Maduro, the head of the executive, has control of all three arms of government. Maduro reversed the Court’s decision a day later, but the scale of the backlash suggests that people find something distinctly wrong with the mingling of the judicial branch of government mingling with the legislative branch of government.

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Thatcherites and Blairites – peas in a pod?

Thatcherites and Blairites – peas in a pod?

Photo: Kieran Doherty/Reuters

A newly published study of Britons has concluded that people who grew up under the government of Tony Blair have similar political attitudes to those who grew up under Margaret Thatcher. Before we get into the study itself, try reading the article from the University of Sheffield that accompanied it, and see if you can understand what they’re trying to say.

How did you go?

If you understood precisely what they said, then you are either a liar or have a better command of political language than I do, for I could not make heads nor tails of what they were claiming.

The article begins by saying “Young people in Britain are more right-wing and authoritarian in their political views than previous generations”, which seems simple enough. This is followed by Thatcher being a “moral crusader” who “embedded conservative authoritarian values” which went unchallenged by the Blair government, resulting in “younger generations becoming increasingly economically and social liberal.”

Que?

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2016: The year that defines the next century

2016: The year that defines the next century

Last time, we looked at the possible reasons why the experts got 2016 wrong. It is now worth looking at what place 2016 may end up having in world history.

One of the few people to correctly predict that Donald Trump would win the election was Allan Lichtman, a professor at The American University. He uses his own methodology for predicting elections, built in the style of earthquake prediction. The reason, he says, was that the language we use for significant political events is mostly geophysical in nature: tremors, earthquakes, landslides, eruptions, and the like. I even used this language in my last post. Lichtman believed he could turn this into a system that would predict the winner a presidential election based on how stable the political climate leading up to the election was. Lichtman is yet to get an election wrong since creating this system.

If we were to take a similar approach to world history, 2016 could be considered a significant political-geological event. According to another university professor, it could well be the year of this century’s ‘Great Event’. Nicholas Boyle, a Cambridge historian, wrote in 2010 that world events were all pointing to an earth-shattering moment happening within the next decade. As proof of his thesis, Boyle pointed to similar ‘Great Events’ occurring in the second decade of each of the past five centuries.

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Who will win the US presidential election?

Who will win the US presidential election?

This was originally posted on Medium on the 8th of November, 2016.

divided flag

How many words can be written about the 2016 United States presidential election that have not already been said? America’s penchant for long political campaigns often feels at least a little bit ridiculous, but conventional political wisdom has been totally thrown out the window over the past eighteen months. Within that time, billionaire businessman Donald Trump has gone from being ridiculed and joked about for running any kind of political campaign, to being within reach of being the next president of the United States. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has gone from being The Chosen One to looking seriously vulnerable. What we have now is a contest that is repeatedly being labelled ‘too close to call’, which is normally an annoying phrase that feeds the media narrative of a horse-race that doesn’t end up reflecting reality, but in this election may actually be true.

Such an election is worthy of a in-depth preview, and that is what I shall strive to give you here.

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