Aussie politics coming to the UK

Many parallels can be drawn between the political situation in Australia and the UK. Politics aficionados could do worse than keep an eye out for how it plays out.

Economic growth that has fallen below people’s expectations and an opposition that has maintained a consistent lead in the polls but is not trusted with the economy and led by a man who is less popular than the current Prime Minister. This is not a description of the UK but a description of the current political environment in Australia, though it could almost apply to the UK. On the face of it, the Australian election would appear to be the diametric opposite to the political situation in the UK. In Australia the Labor Party is in office and led by an experienced and ruthless politician, words that event the most servile quisling of the Labour party would not use to describe Ed Miliband. Nevertheless, beneath the surface, there are more similarities with the UK that first meet the eye, parallels that could help predict the outcome of the 2015 general election in the UK.

Up until a few months ago in Australia, Tony Abbott’s job approval rating had been ahead of the incumbent, Julia Gillard, for practically the entire Parliament, save for several months in late-2012 and early-2013. In spite of this, he is not a popular politician. According to polls commissioned by The Australian, his approval rating has been negative in every single poll they have recorded this Parliament. Nevertheless, whilst not popular he has been more or less consistently less unpopular than the hapless Gillard, Australia’s first, and now first ex, female Prime Minister.

This was changed by a political earthquake in June 2013 when Gillard was deposed as Labor leader by former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Ever since he was deposed as Prime Minister in 2010, few people doubted that Rudd intended to seize back his political crown. After years of preparation, a leadership ballot was called and held on the 26th of June. And on the 27th of June, Kevin Rudd stepped into The Lodge as Prime Minister. Since then, Rudd has led Abbott in every single Newspoll opinion poll asking Australians who they preferred as Prime Minister. At one point, the gap reached almost 30%, with Rudd’s approval rating standing at +7% compared to Abbott’s -21%.

Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott
Rudd (left) has led Abbott (right) in every single Newspoll opinion poll

The simple truth of the matter is that Abbott is gaffe-prone and not widely liked. A Freudian slip in a televised leaders debate led to Abbott becoming the butt of the joke via his analogy where he confused the words ‘depository’ (an area where an object of considerable value is deposited for safekeeping) with ‘suppository’ (a drug delivery system delivered into the rectum). The very next day, he attempted to list ‘sex appeal’ as a likable quality in one of his party’s candidates, but was interpreted as being misogynistic. By the end of the week, even his attempts to seem human by phoning into a radio show to talk to popstar Katy Perry ended in a PR debacle.

Nevertheless, the one fact to console Abbott has been that he is still likely to become Prime Minister on 7th of September. One poll conducted earlier this week found that, in spite of the respondents favouring the Coalition to Labor by 57% to 43% (an anomalously high lead due to the fickle nature of political polls), the same respondents favoured Rudd as Prime Minister by 46% to 43%. Every voting intention poll on the two-party preference in Australia recorded since 23rd of July has recorded the exact same lead for the Coalition: 4%. This is in spite of the fact that Abbott’s party is not trusted with the economy. Newspoll data across six years after each of the government’s budgets found that there has never been a majority who trusted the opposition to do a better job in the same circumstances. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the opposition leader is disliked and the opposition party is not trusted with the economy, it seems likely that the opposition shall enter government at the next election. Sound familiar?

Many will see a different message. On his Telegraph blog, James Dellingpole claimed thatif an unpopular and useless Prime Minister can be defenestrated by their party in Australia, why not in Britain too?” Apparently the fact that the Labor party were still headed for impending doom (something he himself seemed pretty certain about in the rest of his blog) was lost on him. Nevertheless, that is the message many will take from this episode of Australian politics, though the fact that David Cameron has no ready successor makes that particular scenario happening in the UK quite unlikely.

There are many reasons to be interested in the upcoming Australian election, least of all the fact that the UK and Australia have a shared past (as well as shared head of state). Nevertheless, the interesting parallels between the political situations in Australia and the UK mean that political aficionados could do a lot worse than to keep one eye open on the Australian election as it may well be our future in just 18 months time.

Will Archdeacon


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