A Year To Remember
It’s no secret that when it comes to the domestic political environment, many nations tend to mimic one another from time-to-time. As another particularly turbulent political year draws to a close, let’s have a look at what’s similar and different around the world.
Consider Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom (admittedly some of the more comparable places on the planet). Each of them has had an election this year and each has effectively been delivered a minority government by its people – David Cameron’s Conservatives entered a historic coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the UK in May; Julia Gillard and Labor cobbled together an ultra-slim majority through an alliance with the Greens and a few independent MPs in August; and, just last month, Barack Obama’s Democratic Party spectacularly lost control of the House of Representatives while managing to hold onto the Senate.
From an ideological standpoint, Australia most closely mirrors the American situation. In a few short years, the new leadership of both Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama has been considerably rebuked. Rudd was considered toxic enough by his own party that he had to be disposed of and Julia Gillard only just held back Tony Abbott’s surge in the subsequent election. And while there are key institutional differences, the Democrats in the US suffered a similar historic backlash against the legislative platform lead by President Obama.
The situation in the United Kingdom is a little different. David Cameron took the Conservatives to power in coalition after thirteen years of Labor rule this year, similarly emphasising the change mantra but with a narrower message warning of sacrifice and austerity in the face of trying economic times.
The most salient issue in each of the respective elections has undoubtedly been the economy. Faced with great uncertainty, voters sent their leaders a clear message without delivering them power to act without the help of the other side. They demanded action, but wanted it provided collectively. The respective leaders now find themselves in unusual situations and their actions tell us something about their political priorities.
In the UK Prime Minister Cameron and his coalition government, sensing a historic responsibility and facing dire fiscal circumstances, have taken fairly drastic measures – cutting spending across the board, raising taxes and laying off some 500,000 public servants.
In Australia, enjoying a much rosier economic situation, Julia Gillard has largely vacillated back-and-forth as she tries to get a feel for the new minority arrangements. However, until she shows she is able to pass comprehensive legislation her government lacks authority and is doing little to promote an image of political stability.
The real one to watch is the forthcoming rise of the Republican leadership in the US House. Divided government is much more common in America but the dire economic outlook demands the type of comprehensive action that can only be brought about by real bipartisanship. Much easier said than done following a particularly nasty mid-term election campaign that rewarded Republicans for doing exactly the opposite.
A big year indeed, characterised by turmoil and uncertainty with much more to come.