Saturday, 21 August 2010
Beyond Blighty: Hung parliament down under
There was an element of schadenfreude watching the Australian election this morning. The incumbent Labor party (which went into the election with an unelected Prime Minister) lost its majority, although the opposition couldn't get enough seats to claim victory, meaning there was a hung parliament. It all felt very familiar.
Of cource, there are a many differences between what happened in the UK in May. For example, there is no Australian equivalent of the Liberal Democrats for the two main parties to negotiate with as the remaining seats, which will determine the next government of Australia, are not held by a single political party but a collection of independents, each with very different agendas.
Just a few months ago it was all very different. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was far ahead in the polls and it looked like he would easily lead the Australian Labor Party into a second term. Meanwhile, the opposition was in a certain amount of disarray having changed its leader three times in as many years, the latest one being Tony Abbott, born in London, who was seen as something of a joke by the media.
It all changed very quickly when Labor's poll numbers began to dip. Just eight weeks ago, Mr. Rudd was forced into a sudden leadership contest which he lost in a shock defeat to his own Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. The insinuation was that Ms. Gillard, who was born in Wales, had been planning the coup against Kevin Rudd for years and was just waiting for the perfect time to strike.
So it was Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia's first woman PM, who led Labor into this election and its surprisingly bad result. It seems the government lost support for many reasons, but a big one was that the Australian public didn't like the way Mr. Rudd had been treated by his party. Another problem for Labor was that they were unable to run on their relatively good record in government as the first question would have been "if you were doing so well, why did you ditch your Prime Minister?"
Michael Heseltine famously said "he who wields the dagger never wears the crown". Ms. Gillard appears to have wielded the dagger against Mr. Rudd, and she wears the crown, for now, but how much longer?
It is going to be an interesting few days in Australia and there could be a change in government and another new PM in the form of Tony Abbott, or maybe Julia Gillard will become Australia's first elected woman PM. Negotiations on government forming will start soon.
As is often the case with Australia, it's very far away but somehow seems very close to home.