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January 19th 2016 print

James Allan

The Anglosphere and Elections

For better or worse, other nations enjoy the option of ousting or installing conservative leaders. No such luck in Australia, however, where the result of our sooner-or-later election is pre-ordained. Regardless of the winner's party, we'll have a leftist in The Lodge

tweedlesMidway through last year the political situation in the developed English-speaking world looked pretty good to those of us right-leaning voters who put a big value on small government, free-speech, Hobbesian strong national defence and national sovereignty.  There were conservative governments in Canada, New Zealand, the UK and here in Australia. Canada had Stephen Harper in office, who had been Prime Minister a decade, despite being hated by the public broadcaster, the bien pensants in the universities and all the usual inner-city types gathered at their favourite fair-trade coffee shops.

New Zealand had a long-serving John Key in office.  True, when it comes to national defence the Kiwis can and do free-ride on the coat-tails of Australia and the US, spending next to nothing while making meaningless (indeed harmful) gestures about no nuclear US navy ships being allowed to visit. Prime Minister Key isn’t exactly my cup of tea when it comes to his enthusiasm for criminalising parents who spank their children, or his views on the highly proportional German-style voting system there, or indeed on the need to change the Kiwi flag.  (Mr. Key favours all three of those, I dislike them all.)  Yet by New Zealand standards he is far more right-leaning than the alternative.

In the United Kingdom in the middle of last year you had a Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron who looked decidedly vulnerable.  An election loomed and his prospects looked less than sterling.  (We all now know that Mr. Cameron went on to lead the Tories to a surprising majority government win.)  Mr. Cameron had by midyear taken to trying to reposition himself to the right, as he had discovered he actually needed the votes of regular party members who were bleeding off to the United Kingdom Independence Party.  Heck, Mr. Cameron had even promised a referendum on staying in the Europe Union should he win the next election – admittedly not the most likely possibility at the time the promise was made.

Here in Australia, Mr. Abbott was the prime minister.  On national sovereignty and foreign affairs he was excellent.  On government spending he at least made the right noises, the incompetence of making the case for it and then implementing it notwithstanding.  You knew he was a man of the right.  You knew he was despised by the ABC, which is almost always a sign of being on the correct side of any argument (not unlike finding yourself on the opposite side of an issue to the Greens).  He was a good way down in the polls but the betting market had him still as a strong favourite to win, and he certainly commanded strong support among Liberal Party members.

Of course, in the most important Anglosphere country of them all, the United States, there was a Democrat as President.  Mr. Obama was (and is) probably the most left-leaning President in US history, and certainly in recent times.  If you doubt me just go and compare the policies of fellow Democrat President Bill Clinton (free trade, welfare reform, surpluses) to those of Obama. The Republicans had by the middle of last year captured both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  But it’s fair to say that the Republican leadership in both those Houses of the legislature was hardly putting Mr. Obama on the spot by forcing him to veto bill after bill.  But at least they could block any left-leaning legislative agenda the president might otherwise have in mind – forcing him to try achieving his goals by the back door of executive orders (which can be easily undone when a Republican next wins the White House).

That was midway through last year.  Three conservative prime ministers and a distinctly non-conservative president. Today, things have grown worse for small-government Hobbesians.  After a bit more than a decade in power Mr. Harper was badly beaten by the left-of-centre Liberal Party in Canada led by Justin Trudeau (the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau).  Justin has to be the least accomplished leader in the Western democratic world, and certainly in the Anglosphere.  By that I mean the credentials and life experiences he brought with him before taking office were decidedly thin.  No university degree, though he started a couple of different ones.  No experience of business success or, indeed, of running anything.

True, Trudeau Jr had been a snowboard instructor, a summer camp counsellor and a substitute drama teacher, but I doubt his CV would have won him even an interview for a bog-standard middle-management job, save for his famous last name and inherited wealth.  Oh, and did I mention that he’s a young, good-looking guy with a good-looking wife and good-looking kids?  True, Justin’s view are so unbelievably politically correct he could pretty much count on the automatic support of the usual vendors of suspect opinions. For example, he objected to the word “barbaric” in a citizenship study guide describing unsavoury Muslim practices, such as honour killings, and he further explained that the Boston Marathon bombing “happened because of someone who feels completely excluded … completely at war with innocence” (whatever that means). He makes Malcolm Turnbull look like Winston Churchill by comparison.  But that’s what Canadian voters wanted, someone other than Harper.  And that’s assuredly what they got.

In New Zealand not much has changed since the middle of last year, but here in Australia politics has clearly moved to the left.  Mr. Abbott is gone and Mr. Turnbull is in.  Today we have probably the most left-leaning leader of the Liberal Party, well, ever.  By all normal comparisons – so excluding a comparison to Justin Trudeau – Mr. Turnbull is politically correct; he leans left on constitutional matters; he’s at home in the inner-city coffee-culture haunts and the ABC’s workshop collectives, where the merest mention of Mr. Abbott provoked (and still does provoke) spasms of apoplexy and the spewing of bile. Ourt latest Prime Ministe is seemingly far less concerned about reining in the deficit than Mr. Abbott — though, to be fair, that may just be because his key selling point to 54 MPs when defenestrating Tony was his ability to keep the opinion polls favourable and so actually taking a tough decision on cutting spending is hardly a way to do that, however important it may be to the country’s long-term future.  Alas, one even worries about border security after the next election.

What of Mr. Cameron in the UK, now that he’s won that surprise majority government?  Well, having promised a repeal of their statutory bill of rights (aka Human Rights Act) and a referendum on leaving the European Union, we can expect tensions in the Tory Party to become increasingly fraught as conflict between wets and the dries escalates. It will take all of Mr. Cameron’s skills to keep the Tory Party together. And if the EU referendum produces a result in favour of leaving, well, it’s hard to see how such a pro-stay-in-Europe PM as Mr. Cameron can stay in his job, at least not in the long term.

That brings us to the US. This November is a presidential election of unusual significance.  A win by a Democrat and the Obama legacy (Obamacare, incredibly weak and naïve foreign policy, plenty of emphasis on side-stepping the Republican-controlled legislature and forcing change by executive fiat, with all the implications that has on federalism) will be locked in for some time to come.  A win by a Republican and much, perhaps all, of it will be unwound.  Odds are still strongly on Hillary Clinton to win the nomination for the Democrats.  Things are far less clear for the Republicans: a Trump win is now imaginable (though not, in my view, desirable), with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio the two most likely ‘normal’ candidates to emerge victorious and take the Repubican nomination.  Hillary carries a lot of baggage and is nothing like the campaigner that Obama is.

The election will be a very close one.  As far as world affairs go this is the contest that matters, with the UK’s referendum to leave the EU a close second.  For right-leaning, small government Hobbesians, the Australian election due sometime this year doesn’t seem to matter much at all.  We don’t have any skin in the game as it were, as either way it will be a left-of-centre winner.

James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland is the author of Democracy in Decline

Comments [19]

  1. Bran Dee says:

    Leadership in the Anglosphere seems as as much if not more to be determined by glamour and good looks than by policy. Perhaps it was always so in Australia where reliable and loyal and Chinese speaking gravelly voiced Arthur Calwell lacked popularity where erratic and self obsessed and Chinese speaking prolixious Kevin Rudd was too popular for Australia’s good. Recall that good looking Andrew Peacock delayed the success of the more plain feathered John Howard, and a worldly wise loquacious polished lawyer subverted the hesitant and briefly spoken seminary trained incumbent.

    Ronald Reagan gained office with conviction and charisma and rugged Hollywood good looks. Donald Trump may do the same.
    Where is Australia’s charming and charismatic conservative leader in Waiting?

  2. Rob Brighton says:

    We are is serious strife Bran if, as you say we must rely on good looks. I just googled Mr Turnbulls front bench none of them are likely to rank high on the most attractive people in the universe list.

    I submit as evidence the following image from that chip wrapping in waiting, the Canberra Times http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/all-modern-ministers-now-20150923-gjsv5s.html

  3. Homer Sapien says:

    As usual Dr Ben Carson doesn’t get a mention yet he stands for just about everything we value. At least his 38 honorary degrees should somewhat ring a bell notwithstanding the extreme hostile press he gets from the left. Not to include him with your two “normal” candidates leaves me somewhat puzzled.

    • pgang says:

      Carson was never really in the race once Trump got rolling. He didn’t have the momentum. Cruz is looking more like the nominee every day from my extremely limited perspective, and he should make a good president as he seems to be a genuine conservative.

    • Rob Brighton says:

      He also believes evolution is the work of the devil. This does not seem to be the best mindset to be held by the guy who has his hand on the big red button.

    • LBLoveday says:

      Does not puzzle me at all – Mr Allan wrote “..with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio the two most likely ‘normal’ candidates to emerge victorious and take the Repubican nomination”, and there is only room for two in “the two most likely”.

      Further, Carson, like Trump, is a political outsider, never having held political office, while Cruz and Rubio are Senators; they are ‘normal’ candidates, Carson is not.

      Then, even were Carson considered ‘normal’, look at ‘likely’. Bookmakers make their living getting odds right long-term – they currently have the prices for the Republican nominee as:
      Trump 2.25
      Rubio 3.25
      Cruz 4.33
      Bush 9.00
      Christy 23.00
      Kasich 41.00
      Carson 101.00
      Others 101.00

      You don’t need to be a punter to realize that means Carson is NOT ‘likely’, and the two most likely are emphatically Rubio and Cruz, but you may want to take a slice of 101.00.

  4. Ian MacDougall says:

    What James Allan apparently objects to is liberal democracy, as in (1) liberalism, combined with (2) some sort of popular control in the political process in question.
    Liberalism gives us free competition among contenders in the marketplace of ideas and opinions, and democracy gives us the freedom to choose between those contenders. Allan is objecting to what the internal democracy of the Liberal Party, such as it is, has brought forth.
    When I last looked, Liberal leaders were chosen by their parliamentary peers: not by God or even by His clerical representatives here below. And to gain the right to vote in that parliamentary contest, one had to first win a Liberal preselection; whose processes and criteria are (admittedly) kept somewhat obscure by the powers-that-be in that organisation.
    It has been a long tradition in the Liberal Party to dispatch without delay any leader who manages to lose an election, and prior to Turnbull’s ascent even the foggiest of its politicians could see that their Abbottonian leadership was headed for electoral disaster. The said pollies understandably preferred to cut Abbott’s political throat before that pathetic event, rather than after it.
    Nor has Abbott mustered the numbers since to stage a comeback.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    It is most unfortunate that universal suffrage is the accepted norm in liberal democracies the world over, not just in the Anglosphere, coupled with the fact that the ignorance and apathy of the “average” voter is appalling. Sadly, there isn’t a credible alternative but one can’t help wishing that there should be one. How could anyone not condemn the dismal level of intelligence of the USA voting public after twice electing Obama or that of the Canadians after the election the greenhorn leftist Trudeau, and then that of the Australians whose opinion polls put Turnbull into the lodge.

    • Real Oz says:

      Bill,as the great Winston wrote,
      “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
      Worse still everytime we “improve” Democracy it seems we inevitably make it more like the “others”.
      In Australia we might actually improve our form of Democracy by making the voting age say 21 years, allowing all voters the choice of refusing to vote and last but not least make Constitutional Studies compulsory for all school students and immigrants seeking Australian Citizenship.
      In short let our voters be willing adult and informed.
      Of course we do have an urgent need to “improve” just how we count and allocate those precious votes!

      • LBLoveday says:

        Churchill did not state “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” as his opinion, although it likely was.

        What he said was “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” He did not say by whom it had been said.

        Churchill said that nearly 70 years ago, and maybe if he’d lived to see a benevolent dictatorship/meritocracy raise the standard of living in Singapore from 3rd world to similar to that of Australia in a short time while restricting crime to a rate we can only dream of, he’d have revisited the matter.

    • gardner.peter.d says:

      There are alternatives to democracy and the EU-philes, including David Cameron, believe strongly in their chosen form of post democracy government. It is supra-national government by technocrats and bureaucrats supported by selected experts on the issues of the day and active participation of commercial lobbyists and special interest groups. Individual citizens have no freedom in the common law sense but are granted rights by the state.

      The plan for the EU’s next development is laid out in the Five Presidents’ Report on Completing Economic and Monetary Union’ published in June 2015 when most national governments were on holidays and national parliaments in their long summer recess. A white paper is planned for the Spring of 2017 followed by treaty change with the aim of completing this union by 2025. The next step is to found the Federal State of Europe on the premier tier of EU member states that complete economic and monetary union.

      Mr Cameron is expected to facilitate the passage of these treaty changes when he holds the rotating presidency of the European Council from July to December 2017. He has announced his retirement from British politics when his term as Prime minister ends in 2020 and he probably expects this to be his crowning achievement.

      It is a provision of the Lisbon Treaty that where there is any conflict of interest between a prime minister’s obligations to his or her country and as a member of the European Council, to those of the EU, the latter shall have precedence.

      There are many reasons for Britain to leave the EU but the passing of sovereignty to an unelected and unaccountable government comprised mainly of foreigners is the most fundamental.

      You may wonder why so many politicians favour this form of supra-national government instead of parliamentary democracy. There are, I believe two main reasons. First, government ministers can hide in the collective and secretive policy and decision making of supra-national bodies and avoid accountabilty to national parliaments and electorates. Secondly, when ministers and even MPs travel overseas they can claim to represent the more than 500 million citizens of the EU rather than merely their own country and this does in fact give them greater weight on the international stage.

      That foreign unaccountable collective government does not advance the interests of the national electorates is beside the point from the perspective of the professional politician. But it contributes greatly to the increasing separation of the governed from the governing elite in European countries, especially in Britain.

      • Bill Martin says:

        Apropose the matter of supra-national governance being gradually introduced in the EU, it is merely a stepping stone to one World Government, as is the scantily disguised agenda of the United Nations. Such an arrangement would admirably suit the interests of Big Money (think Bilderberg Group), socialist ideologues, and even Islamists. They all believe in their various ways that with all power in the hands of the “right people”, nirvana would descend on Earth. Unfortunately, there are legions of useful idiots enthusiastically supporting this extremely dangerous idea.

  6. Homer Sapien says:

    “Democracy counts heads not what’s in it.” ergo Dr Carsons popularity.

  7. Jack Richards says:

    I am hoping for a decisive Trump victory.