12 June 2017

How Is the Anglosphere Voting?

Both big Anglosphere countries, the United States and the United Kingdom, have held a national election within less than twelve months. The United Kingdom also conducted a national referndum within this time frame, which may have a significant bearing on the future direction of the Anglosphere. I thought it would be of interest to take stock of what these and other recent national elections might tell us about where the Anglosphere is going.

First, let's construct a simple working definition of the Anglosphere, for this purpose. I am going to define it as follows:

'An Anglosphere country a) speaks English as an official (or dominant administrative) language; b) uses a legal system rooted in English common law; and c) either contains significant settlement from the British (or Western) Isles, or has Queen Elizabeth and her heirs and successors as head of state.'

Also, for the purposes of this post, I am excluding all countries with a population under a million, and Papua New Guinea, the latter because I don't know much about its politics. (I am already stretching my knowledge far beyond what I normally would do in these posts.) Another qualification for inclusion here is that the election must have occurred since 7 September 2013, when an Australian Federal Election removed the last surviving pre-Global Financial Crisis government in the Anglosphere, when the Australian Labor Party lost power.

That gives us, going chronologically, the following elections:

New Zealand    20 September 2014 right-of-centre incumbent won
United Kingdom  7 May 2015 right-of-centre incumbent won
Canada         19 October 2015, centrist opposition won
Jamaica        25 February 2016, right-of-centre oppostion won
United Kingdom 23 June 2016 populist nationalist victory in referendum
Australia       2 July 2016 right-of-centre incumbent won
United States   9 November 2016 populist nationalist opposition won
United Kingdom  8 June 2017 right-of-centre incumbent lost

New Zealand is due an election in September, but otherwise the pattern for Anglosphere governance is set for the next couple of years. The cycle will probably resume again with either an Australian or a Canadian election in 2019, depending on who goes first. The overall trend is fairly clear. After Barack Obama did nothing to the bankers, there has been little appetite for left-of-centre solutions to the fallout from the global financial crisis.

However, the elections since the Canadian election in October 2015 have suggested that voters are fed-up with budget cuts and jobless recoveries. In Canada, Justin Trudeau won by promising more economic growth. In Jamaica, Andrew Holness proposed unleashing the power of the market in place of IMF mandated austerity. The hair-shirt economics of Malcolm Turnbull's government was rebuffed in Australia, although the governing Liberal-National coalition still clung (by one seat) to a majority in the House of Representatives. Trump followed Holness in proposing that a government of American business leaders could transform the country and restore jobs that went missing after 2008.

Last Thursday's UK general election has continued this trend. It's fairly clear that the promise of more money for social welfare struck a chord with enough of the voters to dispell convincingly the prediction that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was a runaway train back to 1970s-style stagflation.

Reading analyses of the voting, like Robert Ford's piece in The Guardian, suggests that Labour mobilised two distinct and apparently irreconcilable groups -- (a) social-democratic Leave voters and (b) Remainers seeking to block Theresa May's 'hard Brexit, if we must, but Brexit at all costs' approach. The latter may have reason to be happier than the former, and it is hard to regard this coalition as a stable one.

It does appear that hard-line Leavers, of any social class, have turned to the Conservative party. The Conservatives are shameless enough to shake the magic money tree in order to rob Labour of the social-democratic Leavers, at the same time as they are alienated by Remainers trying hard to push Labour in a 'stop Brexit' direction.

Having noted that, the one thing to be sure about is that events will render everything I have written here out-of-date sooner or later. There are too many variables in play -- the global growth picture is not good, the attitude of the EU27 is going to play an important role in shaping public opinion in the United Kingdom, radical Islamic terrorist attacks could change the popular mood.

However, all the Anglosphere polities should note that at present if you want to get elected the time has come to set aside expressions like 'magic money tree' and talk about how your election is going to secure jobs and a social safety net people can believe in. The mass of people have reached the limit of reducing expectations to deal with the Global Financial Crisis.

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