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Belmont Club

The Australian Elections

August 21st, 2010 - 5:33 am

Australia is having a cliffhanger of an election. While the question of who will win a majority is still hanging in the balance, whatever happens the Left will have suffered a considerable setback. Here’s how it happened.

Until recently Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister of Australia but because his party’s policies were becoming so unpopular with the voters the backroom foresaw disaster in the next election if it didn’t have a makeover.  Rather than make any real changes to their policies the Labor backroom decided to alter appearances. It was time for a new mask over the old mug. That meant Rudd had to go.

This proved tricky to rig because Labor came to power by slipstreaming behind the then-popular Kevin Rudd who pulled the rest of them along on their coat-tails. Rudd’s strong suit was his distance from the Labor power base. Thus he was “fresh”. When he had become stale the same power base that had advanced in shadow decided he had to go for the sake of the many. Their chosen front person was Julia Gillard, who depending on who you believe, either signed on at the last minute or was in on the plot from the start. Her Faustian bargain was to round on Kevin Rudd in exchange for the Prime Ministership.

With Gillard at the head of the party, and with her “historic”status as Australia’s first woman prime minister, the political consultants figured an election could be safely called in which she was expected to prevail against a stolid but unspectacular conservative leader Tony Abbott. The MSM subtly portrayed Abbott as a “mad monk” in reference to the fact that he studied for the ministry in his youth and, with so many PR advantages behind them, he was expected to disappear under the steam roller, the John McCain to Gillard’s Obama.

But a strange thing happened. The Labor Plan did not survive contact with reality As the polling date neared, Abbott’s party began to edge alarmingly close to the historic Prime Minister’s until it became clear it would be a real contest. The Mad Monk, photographed and portrayed in the most sinister angles was inexplicably overhauling the historic Prime Minister. All the same the Australian MSM gave Labor a slight edge in the polls and in exit-polling. Even on election night Abbott’s supporters believed, until halfway into the evening of the count that Labor would squeak through. But from the beginning of the tally it was clear that a “freakish” groundswell was coming from nowhere. Abbott’s party was doing “unexpectedly” well. Star Labor candidates went down in flames. A 20-year old conservative was elected MP. By the end of the count the Liberals (which is Abbott’s party and is the equivalent, roughly speaking of the GOP) had outlogged Labor, which was now forced to consider coalition with the Greens to stay in power. It’s not clear whether it will be enough to get Labor through.

As this is written there is no clear winner. It may come down to the postal votes in a situation that recalls Florida in 2000. But the celebrations are all on the Abbott side. They did better than they had hoped. In contrast the Labor election parties had the atmosphere of a wake. It was theirs to lose and they may have done. The postmortems are already starting. Why did did Labor fail so badly?

One obvious explanation was a significant resentment of Gillard’s manner of accession.  Even though the Prime Minister is selected by the party in power in a Parliamentary system,  many Australian voters believed they had “elected” Kevin Rudd. He had a mandate. And even though he might have turned out to be a dud, he was an elected dud and there was something underhand about his replacement by faceless Labor appratchiks who acted as if they could do so  with impunity. And of course they could. But it demonstrated, not for the last time that while a course of action might be technically legal, it is not always wise. Voters hate to be told they are too stupid to elect their leaders.  Gillard therefore mounted to power with the made-in-the-backroom mantle of Judas. And now she is facing the ultimate in humiliation. It would have been one thing if she had turned on her party leader for gain. Then she would have had office  as a consolation. Now it turns out she may have rounded on her party leader for nothing.

All that betrayal and intrigue have essentially bought the Labor party to a point a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Even a possible victory over the conservatives will be purchased at the price of a coalition with the Greens.  That will drag Labor to the Left, which can only mean it will have more of what made it unpopular in the first place. A coalition with the Greens is a like being handed an icepick to put out the fire in your hair.

The influence of the MSM in Australian politics is probably at the level of America’s in 2006. The “names” still rule the roost and the networks play games which are by now old hat in the USA. But it is changing. With this election the “Sydney and Melbourne” elites, as some have described them, have experienced an intimation of mortality. Their authority doesn’t go quite as far as it used to, but a new order has not  yet developed to take its place.

What seems clear on this definitive, yet inconclusive night, is that the same forces that are driving American politics are present, in one way or the other, in the southern hemisphere. The impact of globalization and its crisis; immigration; the sharpening conflict between left and right; and the widespread dissatisfaction with a distant elite are not the inventions of a crazed group of people clinging to Bibles and to guns. They are part of the signs of the times. The count continues and the times they are changing.


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