Posted by The Futility Monster on August 24, 2010 @ 11:47
Yes. It is.
To me, the beauty of the American political system is in its enforced renewal. Every two years, the populist House has to be re-mandated. It is this very nature that makes it populist. Meanwhile, their ultimate leader and national figurehead, the President, gets a little longer, but is not allowed to stick around for more than eight years, lest he (not yet a she) start to get ideas above his station, and become a little too attached to the trappings of office.
There aren’t many other Western political systems that have such rigorous time and term limits on everything. The rest of us, especially Westminster inspired systems, have a lot more flexibility regarding the calling of elections. And that’s where the problem begins.
Take Australia. In January, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd looked in an extremely powerful position. The opposition had just replaced its leader, in a fractious contest that split the party down the middle. His personal approval ratings were sky high. The opposition controlled Senate had just blocked a key plank of his legislation – environmental regulation – for the second time. This opened the door for Rudd to engage in some constitutional jiggery-pokery: a “double dissolution” election, which, most probably, would have resulted in a sweeping Labour victory in both chambers of the Parliament.
Instead, he decides to tough it out. And then sees everything go wrong, getting chucked out and replaced by Julia Gillard.
Julia Gillard doesn’t want to repeat Rudd’s mistake. While the polls see her arrival as positive, and the Labor Party improves its standing, she decides to seize upon the honeymoon and go straight to that election. The net result: Labor on the brink, courtesy of a terrible, back-biting campaign, and an opposition that had had eight months to prepare for this very moment.
Then there’s Gordon Brown: clinging on by his fingernails till the very last moment. If only he’d gone straight away, like so many commentators (including me) thought he should. His first job, after accepting the invitation of the Queen to be the Prime Minister, should have been to say, “And now I’d like an election to mandate this change”. He didn’t. He didn’t want to be one of the shortest ever PMs. And yet all the omens were good for them. Tories still not ready. Old election boundaries. Honeymoon period. The rest is history.
Recent evidence seems to be that politicians are not very good at choosing the timing of elections. They either worry that they’re about to sign their own death warrant, or are hopelessly optimistic about what’s lurking around the corner.
Since we should only trust politicians as much as is necessary, we should do them all a favour and back the idea of fixed election dates. Let’s take the stress off them, and in return, remove a major element of political fiddling from the system.
Though I still think five years is too long…
Posted in Musings | Tagged: Australian politics, comparative legislatures, elections, fixed term parliaments, Gordon Brown, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, political bravery, political science, populism, US politics | 2 Comments »
Posted by The Futility Monster on December 1, 2009 @ 08:30
"And not a lot of people know that" said Mr Rudd
Psephologically speaking, I mean.
The Australian Liberal Party – who aren’t very liberal – have just elected a new leader. A new fall guy, perhaps, but certainly someone who thinks he can take the fight to the governing Labor Party.
And the key issue?
What other than that thing that gets conservatives across the globe hot under the collar: climate change.
The issue of whether to back Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s plans for an emissions trading scheme has split the Liberal Party right down the middle. Previous leader Malcolm Turnbull had insisted his party supports the scheme, but the consequence of that is now plain for all to see. The final round of voting in the leadership election ended with Turnbull getting 41 votes, and new leader Tony Abbott getting a superb 42.
(Incidentally, it’s good to see the return of the smoke-filled room electing a party leader; clearly there wasn’t a vote of the membership, unless they really have just 83 members…)
So the Liberal Party is in complete turmoil. Meanwhile, the climate change legislation is popular, the government has excellent opinion poll ratings, Kevin Rudd is still the preferred Prime Minister and the Australian Constitution has a get out clause enabling a mega election – called a double dissolution – in which both Houses of the Australian Parliament are dissolved completely, rather than the usual whole lower House and half the upper House.
Is Rudd bold enough to take on the gamble? He has not been known for such an aggressive strategy in the past, but it would be foolish to rule out the threat of an early election as that is one way you keep both your party in line and place the opposition under further pressure.
There is also the unknown of whether the new Liberal leader will manage to unite his party and turn them into a credible electoral force. Rudd is very likely to wait until he gets the answer to that question before taking any decision.
However, if I was in Rudd’s position, I would ensure that the climate change legislation is once more put before the Senate and rejected, which then gives the government the double dissolution option. It also puts the incoming leader under tremendous pressure in the first few days of his new job. That will answer a lot of questions about him.
Then, consider the options in the New Year. Indeed, consider the option of not only making climate change the major issue, but opening up the possibility of much stronger legislation because – assuming electoral victory – he will no longer be forced to make concessions to an opposition controlled Senate.
Thus giving Australia a chance to position itself as the leader of the world in the fight against climate change.
Sure, that’s bound to piss off the sceptics and big business. But the world really cannot afford to continue this pretence of tackling the issue while doing absolutely nothing about it any longer.
Posted in Musings | Tagged: Australian politics, climate change, elections, electoral strategies, environmental politics, environmentalism, intra-party discipline, Kevin Rudd, leadership, next Australian federal election, party leadership, psephology, Tony Abbott | Leave a Comment »