Thursday, August 23, 2018

History of spill and why Canada could use some

I like politics this much (M. Turnbull)
They are having a spill in Australian politics again, and I kind of admire it. "Spill" is what Australians call a leadership challenge. The right wing government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has (with coalition support) a narrow majority, but the even-more right wing anti-immigrant demagogue Peter Dutton has resigned from cabinet and challenged Turnbull's leadership of the Liberal Party.
“This is a fight for the heart and the soul of the Liberal party,” says one moderate MP. “These people surrounding Dutton – these people are not Liberals, they are not conservatives, they are fucking reactionaries, and I have nothing but contempt for them.”
In Auz constituencies elect (or defeat) MPs and MPs elect (and when  necessary remove) their party leaders; it would only take 43 Liberal MPs to bring on a leadership vote within the caucus. This whole notion of accountability makes most Canadian commentators flutter and go pale and talk about coups d'etat.

Canadian politics wrings its hands over Maxime Bernier's independent line on Conservative party policy -- what will Scheer do about him? what does it mean? why can't he be controlled? Serious commentators still insist that those ugly vote-buying extravaganzas we call leadership conventions are a valid way to chose leaders -- and to bestow dictatorial power on them for years on end.

Australian politics, however, accepts that in parliamentary societies, we elect caucuses, not one Great Leader. Within a caucus there will always be a diversity of views and some healthy tension.  Quite a few Conservative MPs and conservative supporters in Canada surely share Bernier's anti-immigrant and anti-diversity beliefs.  Since those beliefs are probably a political liability, it's reasonable for the party leader to avoid or at least downplay them. But why pretend does Canada intra-party differences do not exist or that the leader should be entitled to silence them instantly?

Britain currently has an odd, disfunctional mix of the Canadian system (mass membership selection of leaders, most of the time) and the Australian system of constant leadership accountability. Look at the huge policy differences that Brexit has created within the Conservative government cabinet and caucus, and in the Labour caucus too.  Better surely, to have those differences genuinely represented in caucus that to have a dictatorial leader decree that they cannot exist. )   

It is true that Australian politicians, both Labour and Liberal, have been alarmingly eager to launch leadership spills in recent decades, and their excessive use of the leadership challenge has damaged both  parties.  But before long they will learn by doing that over-use of the spill makes them look fractious, disorganized, and disloyal.

I don't know the political leanings of the major Auz papers, but the Sydney Morning Herald says that PM Turnbull (basically a moderate) sold his soul to the reactionary fringe of his party in order to gain power, and now the reactionaries want the substance of power as well as mere influence. The Australian simply says that Turnbull is ruthlessly ambitious and will do anything for power -- or for revenge if he loses it: he will bring down the government if Dutton leads it.

All sides seems to agree the whole thing is great news for Labour and a guy called Bill Shorten who currently leads it.  Of course past Labour PMs Rudd and Gillard also faced spills in the recent past, so...

Engagingly weird detail: Dutton owns a business that sells services to the government, and that may make him ineligible to be prime minister. (He says it does not.)

Update, same day:  Helen Webberley checks in from Melbourne:
Westminster democracy depends on a party being able to elect and discard its own leader, of course. And any member of the governing party can put up his hand to be selected as the new leader, if the existing leader has proved to be inept.
But most Australian citizens are centrist i.e to the right wing of the Labor Party and to the left, progressive wing of the Conservative Party. For Dutton and the extreme right of the Conservative Party to block, harm and intimidate members of the governing party is a disgrace. Dutton was the only Federal Parliamentarian in Australia to boycott the national apology to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Families.
Hmm, yes. But somebody must have elected the almost-half of the governing party that wants to make Dutton prime minister.

Update, August 24:  And now there is a new prime minister, Scott Morrison, who had been finance minister. The Guardian:
On Friday, incumbent Malcolm Turnbull failed in his attempt to stare down a challenge from hard right MP Peter Dutton, with insurgents in his party gathering enough signatures to call for a “spill” – or leadership contest.
That led to a three-way challenge that included Morrison, Turnbull’s treasurer, Dutton, the former home affairs minister, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister. Turnbull himself stood aside from the contest.
Bishop was eliminated in the first round, and Morrison beat Dutton in a subsequent run-off, 45 votes to 40, suggesting the party is still deeply divided.
There appears no end in sight to the civil war consuming the ruling Liberal-led coalition government.
The new PM ain't Dutton but he is "the socially conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies."
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