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.
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 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 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.
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?
For all the battering that received political wisdom got in 2016, it still has its uses.
The lead-up to the Western Australian state election has felt a bit like going back in time, all the way back to a decade ago. Then, as now, state politics are less important than they used to be, with the federal government vacuuming up revenue and powers from the states, leaving them on the edge of irrelevance. But one effect of this is that federal politics has come to an almost complete standstill, with the sheer numbers of important issues piling up, and the capacity of any government to make changes in any of them decreasing. This, however, has freed up state politics to continue being about ‘the issues’ (mostly), even though the importance of those issues is not as great as it used to be.
The Australian government has been in a state of paralysis for some time, across both major parties, because any real movement one way or the other on the vast array of ‘big issues’ it can now legislate on is likely to be met with absolute fury and, therefore, a loss at the next election, which always seems just around the corner – particularly in the modern, worldwide political environment, which is happy to throw the established order of things out the window. At state level, though, ‘big issues’ are no longer at play. The kind of things that are driving people to vote against the liberal order in national elections are not able to do the same as state level, because the states aren’t really able to do much about it. Conventional wisdom is therefore thrown a lifeline at this election which, I must admit, makes it a bit less interesting, but without the dull elections we wouldn’t be able to tell when a truly extraordinary election is taking place.
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. …