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.
My general policy with posts on this site is that I do not engage with day-to-day, ground level political discussion, which is often wild, misplaced and quickly forgotten. Do you remember what was dominating political headlines in your country a month ago? Two months ago? Six? I doubt it.
Occasionally, though, a situation will call for some comment, if only to set in place a guiding principle for you to bear in mind whenever similar stories come up over the next however-many years. One such occasion is happening right now, and it has to do with the foreign policy direction of the Trump presidency.
Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian governmental air base was, for the most part, strongly supported by traditional instruments of power, while being disliked by his base. Naturally, the question both of these groups have been asking since is ‘Is Trump going to become another ‘policeman of the world?’, which seems like a reasonable question on the surface, but is actually just the kind of wild, misplaced and quickly forgotten discussion that benefits no-one and achieves nothing, because on its own, it lacks any supporting statement. It has no thesis to work towards. There is no attempt in asking the question to view the actions of the US administration within a political framework.
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.
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?
An article has appeared on the ABC website on the topic of social media and ‘toxic politics’. Within are interviews with two New South Wales state politicians, both lamenting the way social media has shaped the direction of politics.
The article is quite solid, pointing to the dearth of able-minded people willing to enter politics on account of the genuinely poisonous environment that it has become, and quite accurately makes the case that society is increasingly tribal. But one quote stood out to me, because it is a demonstration of the inability of those in power to grasp political (or, at least, ideological) reality.
Catherine Cusack, an MLC for the North Coast region, is quoted as saying that she “fear[s] that we have a shrinking middle in politics, and that extremes either on the left or the right are very active in these forums…so when I read these comments not only in social media, but also online in newspapers and on Facebook, I have to [remind myself] this isn’t what the world is like, this isn’t what most families are like, but it is having a profound effect on political discourse.”