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This momentous election outcome feels strangely familiar, and yet not at all

Introduction: What might Australia learn from the election of the new Labour Government in the UK?

Dr Tim Senior, a prominent GP and Croakey contributor, has some ideas, and reports below from travels in the UK, courtesy of a Churchill Fellowship investigating how to support GPs providing care in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, Croakey notes that Sir Keir Starmer, in his first press conference as the UK’s new Prime Minister, said he wants to reduce the number of people going to prison through renewed efforts to cut reoffending.

(And a free Croakey News subscription to anyone who can find an Australian Prime Minister who’s ever made such a promise, let alone at their first press conference).


Tim Senior writes:

“This is my first conference likely to start under one government and finish under a different one,” said Professor Chrissie Thirlwell, Head of Bristol Medical School, opening the Society of Academic Primary Care 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting in Bristol, on 3 July.

As expected, that proved to be the case.

The morning after the election result, the conference held a session on environmentally sustainable primary care, which opened with a recognition and round of applause for the local win for the Greens candidate.

I also had a moment of celebration that Kellie-Jay Keen, aka Posie Parker, the anti-trans activist who attracted support from neo-Nazis in Melbourne last year, only managed a pitiful 196 votes in the same constituency.

There was also recognition of Jeremy Corbyn’s win in North London (one of the main speakers was from Islington, north London), with much less enthusiastic applause than for the local Greens candidate.

This was the story of the election. I don’t need to tell you the result – a resounding landslide victory for Labour – but some things are worth noting for an Australian visiting during a momentous election result.

Some things will feel very familiar to Australians.

This was a right wing government thrown out after a long period in power, where essentially they had stopped governing, and just started fighting culture wars.

There was real anger still at the Conservative Party literally partying during COVID lockdowns, while people had been unable to see dying relatives in hospital. Even the Queen mourned alone.

COVID policy was characterised by delayed lockdowns, outbreaks in aged care, and PPE contracts for friends of government ministers.

There was anger at the economy-crashing fantasy prime-ministership of Liz Truss, and even the pre-election, self-enriching betting scandal of the campaign itself. I haven’t even mentioned Brexit.

In the end, there were almost too many scandals to keep track of, too much to be angry about.

To get a flavour of the anger, listen to Carol Vorderman on the Channel 4 Election coverage. (Carol Vorderman became famous in the UK as the mathematician on the UK edition of Letters and Numbers – not a political activist!).

If you want to hear the full (and very sweary) catalogue, try Tom Walker as Jonathan Pie.

Watch the clip: https://x.com/JonathanPieNews/status/1808078089370349656

There’s not a great sense of enthusiasm for Labour, just relief that the Tories are out. Much like Albanese’s Labor party, Starmer’s Labour party has kept a very small target, and the economy is so tight, it hard to see what they have a mandate for.

There are interesting ripples in the overall result though. As in Australia, there was a lot of voting for whichever candidates were best placed to get rid of the incumbents.

As a result, the Liberal Democrats (a middle ground party, whose main policy seems to be making their leader get dunked in water) won its highest number of seats. The Greens have won four seats overall, taking one from Labour and two from the Conservatives.

Reform – a company majority owned by Nigel Farage, not a political party – also won four seats. There were wins for Independent candidates at the expense of Labour, because of their stance on the Israeli unlawful killing of Palestinian civilians.

Schadenfreude

There were a number of high profile losses that were satisfying in that way that only democracy can provide.

Liz Truss – famous for her childlike enthusiasm for pork markets, then infamous for her short-lived, economy-crashing stint as PM, then, unrepentant, tried to break into the US right wing lecture circuit with a strange book.

Jacob Rees-Mogg – Defiantly old-fashioned, almost parodic portrayal of an English Aristocrat with no understanding of the English Aristocratic noblesse oblige, architect of Brexit, who had to ask readers of the Sun Newspaper to tell him the opportunities arising from Brexit because he couldn’t find any. His biggest contribution to politics was lying down on the parliamentary bench.

Penny Mordaunt – Tipped as a future leader because she can hold a sword still for a while, she now won’t be a future leader.

Grant Shapps – Man of many ministries, who held a second job under a pseudonym, among other things.

Gillian Keegan – Former Education Minister who wondered swearily why she wasn’t praised more.

There are others. There is no shortage to choose from!

Things that will seem strange to Australians

Voting is not compulsory. Only 60 percent of those eligible to vote did so.

First past the post voting means you don’t get anything more than your first preference, so while a lot of people might vote Green or Reform, that doesn’t translate into seats.

There is a fine tradition of spoof candidates. This election had the Monster Raving Loony Party (who have been around for ages), Count Binface, Elmo, Captain Beany, and a pub in Richmond all standing as candidates.

There are no democracy sausages.

Will the change of government improve health?

I’d love to think it will. The Labour Party manifesto has some good things to say about health policy. Health inequalities and social determinants of health are both mentioned, though policies are not very specific. There are some good goals in the section on public health, mental health and social care.

In these early days and weeks, there’s relief at being rid of a bad government, and room for cautious optimism. Refreshingly, Starmer talks about government as public service.

I originally finished this article expecting a small target Labour government being careful not to change too much.

Straight away, though, Starmer has killed off the Rwanda deportation plan, a deliberately cruel, performative policy.

He’s appointed a cabinet of people who know their stuff. The new Health Minister immediately sets out to resolve the dispute with junior doctors. The new Prisons Minister has spoken sensibly about reducing prison numbers.

Is it possible that competence, expertise and knowledge of the evidence could provide grounds for such optimism?

Is it possible that the Australian Government could discover their own bravery?

Watch the clip above, with Foreign Secretary David Lammy


Bookmark this link to follow Dr Tim Senior on his #ChurchillDeepEnd investigations

 

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