Australia might be a long way away from Britain. But it seems to me that the present battle for the leadership of the conservative party there is a circus. It is both the outcome of the standing of politicians in the public eye and a display of greedy ambition.
The contest, initially between about a dozen contenders and now whittled down to two, has seen a list of dirty tricks, backroom deals, and constant public brawling. The decisions have so far been made by the politicians. Next, the party membership gets a vote. But before believing this to be a process of true democracy, one must consider the contest has been carefully crafted to ensure there is not much of a choice at the end.
According to many commentators, the Conservatives will pay a heavy price. They are probably right. The circus is sinking the reputation of politicians to an even lower level, especially when there is little connection between the everyday concerns of the punter in the street and the ambitions to occupy 10 Downing Street. An ineffective labour opposition is their best cover so far. But even this might not save them from an electoral disaster in the end.
The real problem that Britain faces is that it is entering a major political crisis, conditioned by the increasing hardship many are facing in the post-Brexit and Covid era. The rapidly rising cost of living and declining future prospects is the reality.
Oblivious to this harsh reality, the circus will continue. The politicians will mount the hustings to sell their snake oil remedies. One thing that stands out among the candidates is that they offer nothing but business as usual. There is no remarkable difference between them.
Australia is a long way away and faces a different situation. There are also some similarities. Here too, the politicians are on the nose. Few believe they really serve the interests of the voters. And this perception has been building over recent years.
There was the May election, the Morrison government was tossed out and the Albanese one came in. This provided an opportunity for Australia to move on. It is still too early to tell whether this is going to be taken up or not, and so far, it has been a mixed bag. Anthony Albanese and his team have underperformed in a number of important policy areas. In foreign affairs, they have more or less continued the Morrison policy, even if a little less aggressively.
Not much has happened to tackle the rising cost of living. The wages share of national income continues to fall and nothing is being done to alleviate alarming poverty and mistreatment of those dependent on social security. Homelessness is growing rapidly.
The Albanese government’s approval ratings are slipping because of this. The next tests will be its responses to Australia’s carbon reduction needs and how it handles the new wave of the pandemic. It can still take up the opportunity to move forward with a real alternative. if the opportunity id missed, it will work to undermine the Albanese government and usher in the return of the Coalition with Peter Dutton at its head, in conditions where politicians are even more on the nose.
Some sobering truths about the recent election should come to mind. Labor came into office despite losing votes. Fewer voted Labor than for the Coalition. There is a deep seated distrust within the population, and the dissatisfied, more than a third of the voters, turned to the Greens and independents or opted out from voting for anyone at all. The unpopularity of the major parties is the ongoing political reality, and it has the seeds of a more intense political crisis within it.
Backstabbing to capture the leadership has been a rising feature of life in the Australian parliament. The circus goes on and there is little concern from the players for the declining standard of living most ordinary people are facing.
Should this circus continue, and it probably will, the political crisis revealed by the election will become more intense.
Will we see in Australia the type of spectacle playing out in Britain? Time will tell. But it would do well to draw a lesson from what is happening on the other side of the world.