Despite finishing second in the recent general election Jacinda Arden’s Labour Party will lead the next government of New Zealand after reaching an agreement with the centre-left Green Party and the conservative populists of New Zealand First. The move will result in New Zealand’s first government not led by the National Party since 2008 and as a result much attention has been paid to what the priorities of the next administration will be. In recent days Arden has been more explicit in what her government will do and on the whole the Left should welcome the announcements, although there are some caveats that need to be added.
The current debate around citizenship that is lingering in the Australian political discourse stems from a section of the constitution that should have been removed years ago. The question about citizenship is essentially a masked point about loyalty to the people of Australia. Not only is this unjustifiable mistrust of the perceived ‘Other’ harmful to the fabric of society, the examples of recent weeks illustrate how this section of the constitution has been disruptive to Australian public life in a way that is highly ironic given one of the purposes of such a provision.
One of the issues currently dominating the political discourse of Australia is whether or not the country should legalise same-sex marriage. The actual substance behind this discussion is not the question in most people’s minds, as poll after poll has shown a healthy majority of Australians in support of marriage equality. Indeed, in recent weeks the case has become even more overwhelming as, although opponents of equality often cite their sincerely held religious beliefs, a poll by Galaxy Research found that a majority of Christians in Australia supported equal marriage. Rather than policy substance, the debate has shifted to how equality is introduced. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that there will be a non-binding postal vote plebiscite on the issue and some have since argued that such a vote should be boycotted. I would strongly recommend not to do that.
A few days ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she may drop her opposition to a vote on marriage equality after she said at a debate that her party was discussing the issue at length. At this same debate Merkel argued that she favoured a conscience vote on the issue. Almost all the Chancellor’s political opponents support marriage equality and after her announcement sought to gain political capital from her decision. They pressured for a snap vote on the issue and, much to my surprise, she permitted one.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often lauded in the Western press as an example of a strong national leader that proudly stands up for socially liberal values. This was most notably demonstrated by the approach many organisations took to her decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees into Germany, much to the opposition of other EU states. However for advocates of LGBT equality there has always been a black rain cloud above Mrs Merkel when she is described in such glowingly positive terms as she and her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have always opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The news yesterday was that the CDU may change this position.
Elections for the city council of Berlin produced some interesting results than need to be unpicked. The overarching trend was that the biggest two political parties in the city, the SPD and the CDU, lost a significant number of seats and that the anti-refugee far-right AfD picked up a number of seats and entered the city council for the first time. Thankfully no political party has agreed to work with the AfD in a coalition, both at a local and a national level, which has essentially locked them out of power. The good news is that the overall outcome of the election, in relation to the new administration, is a shift to the Left.
The House of Commons currently contains 650 MPs. At the last general election the Conservative manifesto said that they wanted to reduce this number to 600 in order to make government cheaper. This was easy to sell to the electorate because everybody dislikes politicians and successive scandals like Cash for Access and the Expenses Scandal have increased the hostility towards politicians. But what the Tories are doing is redrawing the electoral map to make it harder for Labour to win at a general election. This has to be challenged.