WILLIAM BRIGGS – The Victorian election in a global context

Nov 25, 2018

That the ALP won the Victorian election was not really a surprise. The magnitude of that victory certainly was. Tea-leaves are being read and many a goat has had its entrails threatened as the political class and the media search for understanding. Something is happening out there and that something is being reflected across the globe. It is in the drawing together of a web of interconnected causes and effects that we can understand the Victorian result and all of those other ‘somethings’ that are shaking our world.

As the analysts attempt to unpick the election result, they will, and already have, laid before us a range of ‘causes’ as to why Victorians voted in such numbers for the ALP. The reasons that are presented are all valid. There was the ‘Canberra’ effect, the move by the Liberal Party to positions of disturbing right-wing extremism, the failed ‘law and order’ reaction, the racist slurs against the Sudanese and Chinese and the glaring failure by conservatives to acknowledge climate issues.

Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, conveniently fell back on the ‘local’ issues argument. Behind his desperation there is a glimmer of reality. The people have expectations of their elected governments. It is all part of the contract of legitimacy that keeps things ticking along. Victorians were promised and believe that at least some of Labor’s promises will be kept. The Opposition’s message was regarded as being negative, divisive and linked to a drive, nationally, that has let too many people down. The fact is that the very legitimacy of our national polity is being drawn more and more into question. The people want and deserve a ‘fair go’ and an expectation that things might be alright, that their children will have a secure and decent future. Whether this is an expectation that is realisable is quite another question. The hopes and desires of the people of Victoria are no different to those of any other Australians or any people anywhere in the world. And it is here that the commonalities and the interconnectedness across borders can be understood.

As the Victorian vote is being counted, France is experiencing a massive social upheaval. Hundreds of thousands are on the streets denouncing a government that is seen to be acting against the best interests of its people. This is but the latest in a series of dramatic but ill-fated fight-backs across Europe in recent years. Just last week the ‘Black Friday’ sales phenomenon was met by a global strike by thousands of Amazon workers. Industrial action is sweeping across the USA and Europe. Analysts, commentators and governments are acknowledging a rise in interest and acceptance of the idea of socialism. Social inequality is soaring, wages are stagnating and there has been a continuous move across the OECD states towards right wing responses and right-wing populism.

None of this has happened of itself. There is not some malignant conspiracy to make people’s lives miserable. The shift to the right is a response to an intensifying global crisis within capitalism. There is, on the one hand, an unstoppable move towards a globalised and integrated capitalist economy, and on the other is a nation-state system that capital requires in order to govern and maintain a degree of stability. This irresolvable contradiction is at the root of the dilemma and discontent that is sweeping the world.

The crisis that has given birth to the rightward movement of mainstream political organisations began slowly enough. The economic crisis of the 1970s and the rise of globalisation began to change how politics was to be conducted. That crisis has quickened and deepened since then. The world as it is, and especially since the GFC of 2008, is a not entirely pleasant place to be if you are a working person or a part of the new ‘precariat’. It is little wonder that a reaction is being felt in all countries.

Eric Drouet, the truck driver who issued one of the original calls that led to the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement in France captured the feelings of so many when he said: “No, the Yellow Vests are not the sheep of nationalists, fascists and other extremist movements, just as our movement is not represented by any party or union”. These words represent both the strength and weakness inherent in the movement against the rise of the right. It unites people but is without an on-going sense of leadership and perspective.

This brings us back to Victoria and the remarkable electoral result that has cemented the ALP in power. The Victorian people, like those in France or anywhere else, have instinctively rejected the policies and motivations of the right. They don’t want anything especially dramatic. The French want reasonable petrol prices. The French, just like the Victorians, also want decent health, public transport, schools and jobs for their children. They want a ‘fair go’ and to allow that contract of legitimacy to remain as it has been. The Victorian people are placing their trust in the ALP to provide the necessary leadership to deliver on those rather modest demands. How far they can be met and for how long, given the endless and irresolvable crisis that is afflicting capitalist economies the world over, remains to be seen.

William Briggs’ areas of research, special interests and expertise centre around International Relations, Global Political Economy and Political Theory. A book based on his PhD research is due for publication early in 2019. Prior to this he worked as a teacher for many years and as a journalist.





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