Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the UK general election held Thursday, the Conservatives lost their majority. With all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats (down 13 since the 2015 election), Labour 262 (up 30), the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) 35 (down 21), the Liberal Democrats 12 (up 4). Northern Ireland (NI) parties hold 18 seats and five went to the Welsh nationalists and Greens.

Vote shares were 42.4% for the Conservatives (up 5.5), 40.0% for Labour (up 9.5), 7.4% for the Lib Dems (down 0.5) and 3.0% for the SNP (down 1.7). This was Labour’s highest vote since 2001, and the Conservatives’ highest vote since 1983. The total major party vote share was the highest since 1970. Election turnout was 68.7% (up 2.3 from 2015, and the highest turnout since 1997).

In NI, the very socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 10 of the 18 seats on 0.9% of the UK-wide vote. As Sinn Fein, which won 7 seats in NI, will not take its seats owing to historical opposition to the UK government’s rule of NI, the DUP and Conservatives have enough seats for a majority. PM Theresa May has come to an arrangement with the DUP, and the Conservatives will continue to govern.

The tweet and pictures of the right wing Daily Mail below show how shocking this result was. When Theresa May called the election, the Conservatives had a 15-19 point poll lead over Labour.


While the Conservatives lost many seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in England and Wales, they gained 12 seats in Scotland. The overall Scotland results were SNP 35 of 59 seats (down 21), Conservatives 13 (up 12), Labour 7 (up 6) and Lib Dems 4 (up 3).

If the Conservatives had not performed so well in Scotland, it is likely that a progressive alliance of Labour, SNP and Lib Dems would have taken power. The Conservatives’ 13 Scottish seats are their most in Scotland since 1983.

There were several reasons for the Conservatives’ shocking performance. First, Labour’s manifesto had many popular measures, while the Conservative manifesto had a highly controversial proposal.

Second, US President Donald Trump is very unpopular in much of the developed world. Even if Trump had kept out of the way, there would probably have still been a “Trump Factor” in Labour’s rise. But Trump exacerbated this hatred by withdrawing from the Paris agreement a week before the election, and then by attacking the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after the London terror attack. The lesson for mainstream conservative parties is: keep your distance from Trump.

Third, I believe the Conservatives focused too much on Brexit in their campaign. The Brexit question was decided last year, and it probably did not have a great impact on voting. In my opinion, the Conservative campaign should have focused on the economy.

Conservatives win elections when in government by claiming that the opposition will wreck the economy through its reckless spending and increased taxation. The Conservatives should have focused on this message, and not on Brexit.

After beginning the campaign as a massive underdog, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation has been greatly enhanced. Virtually all commentators assumed that radical left wing politics could never work, but he has proved them wrong. If not for the Scottish Conservative gains, Corbyn would probably be PM.

The best pollsters at this election were Survation, with a one-point Conservative lead, and SurveyMonkey, with a four-point lead (actual result 2.4 points). Other pollsters “herded” their final polls towards a 7-8 point lead. The worst results were from ComRes (a 10-point lead), ICM (12 points) and BMG (13 points). These three pollsters made large adjustments to their raw votes, and ended up overcompensating for the 2015 polling errors.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house has 577 members, elected by single-member electorates using a two-round system. The top two candidates in each seat, and any other candidate who wins over 12.5% of registered voters, qualify for the second round. Candidates sometimes withdraw before the second round to give their broad faction a better chance, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s REM party will win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 30%, the conservative Les Républicains on 21%, the National Front on 18%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 13% and the Socialists and Greens on a combined 11%.

The ConversationThere has been little movement in the polls since I last discussed the French lower house elections ten days ago. If the current polls are accurate, the REM will easily win a majority of the French lower house after the second round vote on 18 June. Polls for both the first and second round close at 4am Monday Melbourne time.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Rise of ‘anti-politics’ produces surprise result in the UK election – and it’s playing a role in Australia, too

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Theresa May’s gamble on calling an early election has not paid off.
Reuters/Toby Melville

Brenton Prosser, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, University of Canberra

A little over a week before the 2017 UK general election, the improbable occurred. A poll indicated that Prime Minister Theresa May could lose the Conservative majority. The shadow of a hung parliament was cast over the UK parliament again. It was a claim credible enough to the markets for the sterling to drop. Most political analysts, however, did not take it seriously.

But these are unconventional times. There is an unlikely president in the White House. No pundit predicted Brexit. And now, a Labour Party led by an “anti-politician” in Jeremy Corbyn has delivered a hung parliament.

While Theresa May will soon be on her way to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen’s permission to form minority government, the unlikelihood of a stable coalition government means Britons may be heading back to the polls much sooner than they expected.

A win for anti-politics?

“Anti-politics” is often used to describe:

  • a growing distrust of career politicians;

  • hatred of partisan politics; and

  • disaffection with democracy.

Among its causes is complacency in rich Western nations, as well as disinterest in institutions (especially from the young). Many see anti-politics as a tide sweeping away much that was previously taken for granted.

According to leading UK scholars, anti-politics is not a democratic de-alignment as much as the result of political realignment. In other words, it is not that we are turning off democracy – but that we are turning away from political elites and major party politics.

A recent Australian survey found righteous indignation among its citizens. This anger is directed at parties and politicians who are swayed by the quest for power and seem to break promises without impunity.

One of the significant lessons from the 2017 UK poll is that “anti-politics” voters are no longer welded on to any one party. There is growing volatility in the UK electorate. In the 1960s, less than 10% of voters changed their allegiance between elections. In yesterday’s poll it was closer to 40%.

Thanks to anti-politics, gone are the days when voters supported a political party in the way they might support the family football team.

But how then do we explain the strongest combined major party vote for two decades (Conservative 43 / Labour 40)? Does this suggest a return to two-party politics?

No, because one side – Labour – was playing anti-politics.

Corbyn’s success in context

There is no doubt that no-one expected the dramatic growth in the Labour vote. But there are two stories to tell.

First, the support for Corbyn came against economic and political convention. Labour focused on larger cities and university towns, targeting students, service industries and the public sector. It promised to end austerity, nationalise utilities, increase taxes, and invest heavily in public services. It was an anti-political appeal.

Second, the Labour vote was a big enough to hamper the Conservatives, but not much more.

Despite Labour’s celebration over approximately 30 seats, the 2017 result is only eight seats more than when it lost power in 2010. The reality is that Labour is little closer to the 60-plus seats it needs for power than it was last week. What will make this a potentially insurmountable gap is an unacknowledged divide in the UK electorate.

A deeper UK divide

Recently, UK researchers analysed the 2015 UK election results. They found that anti-politics attitudes spread across all voter groups. But what was really challenging for parties was not a traditional split along class lines, but a growing “bifurcation” in the vote of cosmopolitan and provincial England.

Cosmopolitan voters had benefited more from globalisation, were more outward-looking, pluralist and open to the EU. In contrast, those in provincial regions of economic decline were more inward-looking, illiberal, and negative toward immigration.

Perhaps there are no great surprises here. But what is interesting is that this division had real effects that challenged political parties. In other words, these shifts made it harder for larger parties to develop a platform that spans these “two Englands”.

In 2015, this resulted in cosmopolitan votes for Labour and the Greens. It saw provincial support for UKIP and an element of both for the Conservatives.

This suggests that the Conservatives’ 2015 success was due to being more adept at targeting appeals to both cosmopolitan and provisional electorates, while being more pragmatic around taking nationally consistent positions.

What happened in the 2017 general election?

While the Conservatives won 5.5% more of the vote (but lost a dozen seats), Labour won a 7% swing in cosmopolitan areas that had voted Conservative and “Remain”. While participation was up 2.6% overall (up from 66.1% in 2015), it rose by over 5% in seats Labour won.

On the back of record youth enrolment to vote, Labour surged in the youth vote in cosmopolitan areas. Meanwhile, Conservative London cosmopolitan seats changed hands, while Labour won university seats like Sheffield Hallam from the Liberal Democrats.

Yet the challenge for Labour remains. Its wins were cosmopolitan, with little progress in the provincial areas that it needs for a majority in the future.

Meanwhile, the Conservative appeal to provincial England through an emphasis on Brexit and bringing down net migration were successfully targeted at a collapsing UKIP and winning some SNP seats. But it compromised the Tories’ cosmopolitan wins from 2015.

Here lies the challenge for all large party leaders: how do they connect with prevailing moods in both cosmopolitan and provincial areas when they diverge in such opposite directions?

What might this mean for Australia?

It is not unreasonable to suggest Australia may be seeing its own version of the “bifurcation” challenge.

Australian demographer Bernard Salt has already identified a tale of two nations. And as Ken Henry recently observed, the Australian population continues to grow beyond the capacity of existing capital cities and puts pressure on economic performance and infrastructure planning. This can only contribute to “two Australias” that are divided by geography, economic opportunity and even identity.

Meanwhile, some states (hit hard by globalisation) have turned to provincial, protectionist and issue-based politicians. And, as national votes become harder to span, the notion of slim majority as mandate will become even more problematic.

Many argue that former prime minister John Howard’s ability to win traditional Labor voters was at the heart of his sustained electoral success.

The ConversationHowever, the challenge for today’s Australian leaders is more complex than it was during the Howard era. Not only must they manage competing ideologies in their parties and span diverging nations, they must also respond to a volatile electorate that is decidedly “anti-politics”.

Brenton Prosser, Senior Fellow, Australian National University and Gerry Stoker, Fellow and Centenary Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Manchester, ritual emotion and the healing power of song

Samantha Dieckmann, University of Melbourne and Jane Davidson, University of Melbourne

On Sunday, Ariana Grande played to a packed house of 60,000 fans at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, in tribute to the 22 people killed at Grande’s Dangerous Woman concert in the same city two weeks ago. She was joined on stage by pop stars including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Pharrell Williams.

One Love Manchester aimed to counter the effects of terrorism by spreading messages of unity and love through music, harnessing pop as a personal and collective coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. But in troubled times, can music really heal?

The Manchester bombing is the latest in a line of assaults on entertainment venues, including the attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’s Bataclan Theatre in 2015, and at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year. These are seemingly inspired by a desire to curtail Western liberal freedoms, and specifically the freedom of women, the gay community and the young people who are celebrated in pop music.

Given the sentiment of the event, Grande drew some backlash on Twitter for performing her risqué song Side to Side. But as she revealed during the concert, she had changed her set list after talking with the mother of 15-year-old Olivia, who was killed in the bombing. During their emotional meeting, Olivia’s mum said that she “would’ve wanted to hear the hits”.

Evidence shows that bereaved families increasingly choose to commemorate loved ones with contemporary songs with which they, or the deceased, personally identify.
An Australian funeral services provider reported Queen’s The Show Must Go On or Another One Bites the Dust were increasingly popular funeral songs. In the same way, pop concerts are built on a known repertoire of songs, which the audience predicts. This assists in the ritual communication of emotion.


It was music’s capacity to arouse different emotions that allowed One Love Manchester to achieve Grande’s aim for her concerts to be, “a place for them to escape, to celebrate, to heal, to feel safe and to be themselves.” It is now well established that mechanisms such as rhythm, shared emotions and the memory of specific events make music a powerful tool for connecting with other people.

Pharrell Williams’ upbeat Happy embodied the concert’s defiant stance on terrorism, suggesting that fear can be triumphantly overcome through the enactment of happiness and joy. Coldplay’s touching performance of Fix You allowed for the expression of mourning and collective grief.

Robbie Williams led the audience in a version of his song Strong, changing the lyrics to, “Manchester we’re strong, we’re strong”. Cultural studies theorist Graeme Turner has argued that this sort of sharing brings with it a temporary experience of equality and comradeship between many people.


Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love?, inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, has become an anthem for countering terrorism and related anti-Islamic sentiment. It provided the Manchester audience with an emotional bridge to the larger, global community of those affected by terrorism.

The ConversationWe need to do more research to understand how these shared emotions and experiences can be galvanised to create longer-term resilience and solidarity. But for this night, One Love Manchester demonstrated the power of music to heal an urban community and bring people together.

Samantha Dieckmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne and Jane Davidson, Deputy Director ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As Britain reels from another terror attack, political leaders wobble towards an election

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Floral tributes near an an anti-Islamic State poster near Borough market, London.
AAP/Andy Rain

Jim Middleton, University of Melbourne

Legitimate questions certainly arise from the weekend outrage in London, but they are not those immediately provoked by Pauline Hanson or Donald Trump.

The US president’s impetuous reaction was to tweet that the attack on London Bridge and the Borough Market proved that American courts should “give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” Note the exemplary use of the exclamation mark. However, Trump did have the grace eight minutes later to offer a form of condolence to the British people – “WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”


The capitals presumably mean either that he was shouting or that he really means it. Not so the One Nation leader, who chose to use Twitter to desecrate the warning from the British authorities for people to “run, hide and tell” by declaring that it was time to “stop Islamic immigration before it is too late”.


Labor’s Penny Wong rightly declared Hanson’s eructation “irresponsible and crass”. One of Australia’s foremost counter-terrorism experts, Greg Barton of Deakin University, went further, telling me that what the One Nation leader was saying was “downright dangerous” on at least two counts.

One, in this age of postmodern terrorism, Islamic State operates as the first metaphysical nation with no dependence on physical territory or traditional communication to wield its power. In that environment, the security authorities rely on tips from the communities from which impressionable operatives emerge.

Maligning those very communities, Barton says, tends to make its members turn inward, reducing their trust in the authorities and diminishing the likelihood that they will report the wayward behaviour of people they know. Witness the bizarre spectacle of the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, praying loudly in the street.

Second, it encourages the very sense of alienation, the feeling that they are stigmatised outsiders, that leads people to lose their sense of belonging. That makes them more vulnerable to the brutal siren call of murderous extremists.

Hanson either does not know this or does not care, because it is likely that her anti-Muslim message, basically a reworking of her initial hostility to Aborigines and then to Asians, appeals to much of One Nation’s base. What more would you expect from a person who over two decades has used the public purse to turn politics into a highly successful small business?

There are legitimate questions, though, about this latest attack in the UK, the third in as many months. One is whether Britain has a peculiar problem when it comes to these apparently autonomous acts of ghastly violence. The other is whether the London Bridge/Borough Market attack had anything to do with the UK election, now only days away.

The answer to the latter is probably not. As Barton points out, if the perpetrators had wanted to influence voters, they or their sponsors would have made a statement to that effect in some form, either direct or allusive.

That is not to say that the violence of Saturday night won’t affect the result of Thursday’s poll. Conventional analysis has it that assaults on security tend to favour the incumbent, especially if they are from the centre right.

Theresa May’s Tories consistently poll as “better for” national security than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But this has not been a conventional UK election campaign and there are also questions about whether a sense may take root within the electorate that the government is failing to protect the community, following two fatal acts of terrorism in just a fortnight – Manchester and now London. May was, after all, home secretary, responsible for domestic security, for six years before she became prime minister.

She has not had a good election. Gone are the days, less than two months ago, when it looked as if she could gain a majority of 100 in the House of Commons, knocking Corbyn for six. Her refusal to engage with Corbyn was seen as arrogant, and UK voters are sick of going to the polls (three times in less than two years). There was also her blunder on a “dementia” tax, essentially a proposal to make the elderly contribute to their health care if they have combined assets of more than £100,000.

Immediate public outcry forced a U-turn, but the damage had been done. As campaign managers would say, May had gone “off-message”. The election was no longer a plebiscite on her managing of Brexit, but an argument about health and welfare, traditional Labour turf.

It was a surprising mistake, especially given that as a political up-and-comer May warned the Conservatives back in 2002 that it had become the “nasty party”. Its base was “too narrow” and on occasion so were its sympathies, a sermon this child of the manse had clearly forgotten delivering.

On the question of security, the message from the voters is decidedly mixed. In the wake of the Manchester attack Corbyn boldly, but deliberately, stated:

Many … professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported … and terrorism here at home.

From the G7 summit, May went thermonuclear:

I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault.

Corbyn was “not up to the job”, she said. He also faced criticism from within his own ranks, but it seems May’s decision to play the security card was not as effective as she might have hoped, because the opinion polls continued to tighten in Labour’s favour.

None of this means May will lose when the votes come in on Thursday. Rather, it shows that national security is a more complex issue in the UK these days, after a decade and a half of unpopular wars and years punctuated by regular, fatal terrorist attacks.

The ConversationIt is not clear whether the story is the same in either the United States or Australia. It is possible this is one way the UK is grimly unique.

Jim Middleton, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Newspoll steady at 53-47 to Labor. Plus UK and French elections

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1655, is completely unchanged on voting intentions since last fortnight’s post-budget Newspoll. Labor leads 53-47, from primary votes of 36% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens and 9% One Nation.

35% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up 2) and 54% were dissatisfied (up 1), for a net approval of -19. Turnbull’s ratings have risen from a net -29 in early April. According to Kevin Bonham, this is Turnbull’s best net approval since last September, breaking a run of 12 Newspolls with his net approval at or below -20. Shorten’s net approval was -20, up two points.

In my opinion, Turnbull’s gains on approval are because he is moving towards the centre on some policies, such as school funding and the bank levy. However, the electorate trusts Labor more on schools and health. Producing a “Labor-lite” budget has not helped the Coalition, as it surrenders on principles of fiscal rectitude, which are seen as strengths for the Coalition.

56% supported Labor’s position of only raising the Medicare levy for those earning at least $87,000 per year, while 33% supported the Coalition’s position of raising the Medicare levy for taxpayers who already pay the levy. 19% were very worried about a cost blowout for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, 46% were somewhat worried, and 24% not worried.

This Newspoll asked about leader traits, with May 2016 used for comparison. Both leaders fell on every trait, except the negative trait of “arrogant”. Turnbull led by seven points on “decisive and strong” and six points on “likeable”. Shorten led by nine points on “cares for people”, and trailed by 14 on the negative trait of “arrogant”.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

Since last fortnight, the Coalition has gained a point in Essential. Primary votes are 38% Coalition (up 1), 36% Labor (down 2), 11% Greens (up 1), 5% One Nation (down 1) and 3% Nick Xenophon Team (steady). One Nation has dropped in Essential in the last two months, while holding up in Newspoll. Voting intentions were based on a two-week sample of 1780, with additional questions using just this week’s sample.

By 67-12, voters agreed that asylum seekers should be deported to their country of origin if their claims are unsuccessful. By 53-25, voters thought the government was not too tough on asylum seekers. By 40-32, they thought that asylum seekers who cannot be safely relocated to another country when Manus Island closes should not be brought to Australia.

Most major government decisions were well supported, with the exceptions of privatising Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra.

48% thought the bank levy should apply to foreign banks and the big Australian banks, 16% thought it should also apply to small banks, 12% to the big Australian banks only and just 10% thought it should not apply to any bank.

38% thought Catholic schools would not be worse off under the new funding model, and 20% thought they would be worse off. By 52-23, voters would prefer an income tax cut to stronger workplace laws.

French lower house elections: 11 and 18 June

The French lower house is elected for a five-year term (the same as the President) using 577 single-member electorates. Unless one candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round on 11 June, the top two candidates in each seat proceed to the 18 June second round.

Candidates other than the top two can also advance to the second round if they win at least 12.5% of registered voters. That means those who did not vote or spoiled their ballots are counted in the determination. For example, if 50% abstain or spoil their ballots, a 25% threshold of valid votes must be met for candidates other than the top two to proceed to the second round.

The second round uses First Past the Post. As a result, third and sometimes second candidates will often withdraw prior to the second round, to give their broad faction a greater chance of winning, and/or to stop an extremist party like Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

The key question about the lower house elections is whether President Emmanuel Macron’s new party, La République en Marche! (Forward the Republic!) can win a majority. Polling has the REM on about 31%, followed by the conservative Les Républicains on 20%, the far right National Front on 19%, the hard left Unsubmissive France on 14%, and the Greens and Socialists have 10% combined.

If the election results are similar to these polls, the REM will be first or second in the vast majority of seats on 11 June. Whether their main opponent comes from the hard left, centre right or far right, the REM is likely to do well from the votes of excluded candidates, and easily win a majority of the French lower house on 18 June.

UK general election: 8 June

With nine days left until the UK election, polls have diverged. The most Labour-friendly polls (Survation, ORG, YouGov and SurveyMonkey) give the Conservatives 6-8 point leads over Labour. However, the ComRes and ICM polls have the Conservatives 12-14 points ahead. The 10-point Conservative lead in Opinium may be a result of Opinium polling in the two days immediately following the Manchester attack.

Turnout assumptions are the largest cause of the poll divergence. According to UK election analyst Matt Singh, the better polls for Labour use self-reported likelihood to vote among respondents, while ComRes and ICM use historical election turnout patterns to model this election’s turnout. Older people have historically been far more likely to vote than young people.

Turnout assumptions are making a large difference at this election as there is a massive divide between the generations. According to the latest YouGov poll, those aged 18-24 favour Labour by 69-12, while those aged over 65 favour the Conservatives by 66-16.

For Labour to pull off what would be one of the biggest upsets in election history, they need a massive turnout from young people. A five point Conservative lead would probably lead to a hung Parliament, so the more Labour-friendly polls are close to that.

Update Wednesday morning: A new ICM poll has the Conservatives leading by 12 points. However, as noted by UK Polling Report, the lead is only three points before adjustments for historical turnout likelihood among the various demographics.

Some on US right applaud Republican candidate’s assault of journalist

On Friday I wrote that, the day before a by-election, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted The Guardian’s reporter Ben Jacobs. Gianforte nevertheless won the by-election 50-44, and has been applauded by some on the US right; this attitude is shown by the Tweet and cartoon below.


The ConversationThe donkey represents the Democrats in the US; an elephant represents Republicans.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s involvement in an ‘Anglosphere’ is the delusion of a golden age that never existed

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For almost all of its cumbersome history, the British Empire was a very ramshackle affair.

Allan Patience, University of Melbourne

The weird and wonderful concept of the Anglosphere is gaining a surprising salience in public debates as Britain faces up to its post-Europe future.

Angst seems to be mounting as many British voters who voted to leave the European Union begin to realise that in Brexit they might have bitten off far more than they can chew. So they are turning to the “Commonwealth”, to ask if something like the old imperial order may be resurrected. This is being referred to as the “Anglosphere”.

This kind of thinking has its devotees in Australia too, including former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard. For Abbott, the bonds uniting the Anglosphere states:

… arise from patterns of thinking originally shaped by Shakespeare and the King James Bible, constantly reinforced by reading each other’s books, watching the same movies and consuming the same international magazines.

And for Howard, Anglosphere membership implies that Australia has overriding cultural, economic and strategic interests in common with the US, Canada and New Zealand. These are interests that, as Stefano Gulmanelli points out, “provide the compass in defining Australia’s national interest and its projection into the world”.

As noted in a recent piece in The Conversation, advocates of the idea of the Anglosphere are inclined to see it as a springboard for a post-Europe, “truly global Britain”.

But those advocates are rather a rum lot. They include the extreme right-winger Nigel Farage, as well as ministers Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis in Theresa May’s government. Their dreaming is an attempt to re-imagine a Britain that can turn its back on Europe and benefit from new trade agreements and security alliances with its former colonies, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Before Australians even start to think about joining in the Anglosphere frolic, a great deal more needs to be understood about this worrisome concept. Its roots are in proposals for an imperial federation of the white settler colonial societies within the British Empire towards the end of the 19th century.

Alfred Deakin was an Australian champion of this wild idea on the eve of federation, and it reached into the thinking of our longest-serving prime minister, Robert Menzies. The idea remains a nostalgic dream among the dwindling ranks of British Empire loyalists and staunch monarchists in contemporary Australia. It was probably a factor influencing Abbott’s risible adornment of Prince Philip with an Australian knighthood.

It is important to remember that the British Empire was a very ramshackle affair for almost all of its cumbersome history. To paint it in glorious hues, to thrill to the chords of Elgar’s blood and state music, or to be enthralled by Kipling’s tales of derring-do British colonial officials in far-away climes, is to be deceived by a version of history as much riddled with falsehoods and jingoism as it is a true account of what really happened in the British Empire.

While it might have instigated some modernising benefits, the empire also brought a great deal of arrogant British brutality and ignominious conquest to many noble civilisations.

Recall, for example, the Amritsar massacre in India in 1919. British troops under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer fired into a crowd of pilgrims, killing 1,000 and wounding many more. This hideous moment is one of many stains on Britain’s imperial history in India. The Raj was an era of racialist superiority, economic exploitation, cultural crassness and bureaucratic stupidity as much as it was an era of enlightenment.

The British Empire started to come crashing down at the end of the first world war. The second world war delivered its coup de grace as independence movements swept many former colonies to post-colonial freedom.

It is well to remember that the roots of latter-day Anglosphere imagining lie all gnarled and twisted amid the British Empire’s ruins. Srdjan Vucetic has written what is arguably the finest scholarly critique so far of the Anglosphere concept. In his exceptional book he explains:

… the Anglosphere cannot be understood without reference to the legacies and shifts in Self-Other relations inside and outside the territorial boundaries of its five core states.“

It is, he points out, a “racialised” identity.

Australia ingratiating itself into a post-Brexit, British-instigated Anglosphere would be a futile exercise in counterproductive nostalgia. Almost invariably, nostalgia entails delusional imaginings of a golden age that never existed.

The ConversationAustralia’s present and future security and prosperity are irrevocably involved with the country finding its way into Asia. The US and the UK are now wallowing in politically fouled nests entirely of their own making. Australia should stay well away from any entanglement whatsoever with such a ridiculous political confection as the Anglosphere represents.

Allan Patience, Principal Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Carnage at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester a suspected terrorist attack

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A young woman sits on the ground as police guard the area following the explosion at a Manchester concert.

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

The pattern has become all too familiar. Young people gathered for a musical event find themselves subjected to what British Prime Minister Theresa May has described as an “appalling terrorist attack”. The Conversation

While there is no confirmation as yet this was a terrorist-inspired incident, police suspect the Manchester attack, which has so far killed 22 people and injured 59 others, was caused either by a bomb contained in an abandoned backpack, or was the work of a suicide bomber.

At this stage no group has claimed responsibility. But it is not being overlooked that last week Islamic State released a 44-minute video in which fighters of different nationalities urged their supporters back home to carry out acts of violence.

Among those featured was a British man.

What makes Islamic State more dangerous – even desperate – in the current climate is that it finds itself under enormous pressure in its strongholds in Iraq and in Syria. Its grip on the northern Iraqi city of Mosul is slipping, and it is under threat in its Syrian redoubt of Raqqa.

It is important not to jump to conclusions about the identity of those responsible. However, whatever judgements might be made about the carnage at a Manchester music hall, this latest bombing underscores the vulnerability of European cities to such acts of violence.

Underscoring the deep-seated shock this will be causing in Britain is that this is the worst terrorism-related episode since the 2005 public transport bombings in London in which 52 people died.

Since 2015, more than half-a-dozen terrorist attacks have been carried out in various European locations, including France, Germany, Belgium and Britain, and in the case of several of these countries there have been multiple incidents.

What the governments of Europe have on their hands are threats to personal security that can strike at any time and in any place, as various terrorist incidents in the past year or so have demonstrated.

This poses an enormous challenge to security agencies, including the police, and, in the case of Britain, MI5, the spy agency responsible for internal security.

Such random acts of terrorism are enormously difficult, if not impossible, to counter unless open societies are subjected to security measures that most citizens would find difficult to accept.

If it proves to be the case the Manchester bombing was carried out by a sole suicide bomber, or a bomb-laden backpack placed strategically, this would underscore difficulties in policing a musical event in which large numbers of people gather in a specific location.

While France has been the main victim of a wave of terrorism in the past several years, Britain is running second.

In the most recent incident prior to the Manchester bombing, the driver of a vehicle mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and then shot a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.

The concert hall attack in Manchester recalls a similar episode in Paris at a the Bataclan concert hall in November 2015 when shootings caused multiple deaths.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on that occasion.

What is adding to political complexities of the Manchester bombing is that it comes in the middle of a British election campaign in which immigration and Britain’s withdrawal from Europe are central questions.

How this will play out in the next days and weeks is difficult to assess, but as a rule of thumb such incidents would be more likely to benefit the parties of the right than the left.

On the other hand, governments in power and therefore responsible for security inevitably face awkward questions about levels of preparedness for such terrorist incidents, if indeed that is what we are talking about in the case of the Manchester bombing.

Terrorist violence is now baked into the European landscape. It is hard to see an end to this.

* Note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest information on fatalities.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Terror in London: Western cities will always be vulnerable to these attacks

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Five people are dead – including the perpetrator – following a terror attack in London.
EPA/Andy Rain

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Just when the Western world had absorbed the shock of a truck attack in Berlin in December that claimed 12 lives, it is reminded again of the dangers of “lone-wolf” attacks inspired by Islamic State (IS) that are almost impossible to guard against. The Conversation

When a sole attacker drove randomly across London’s Westminster Bridge towards the Houses of Parliament – one of the most trafficked thoroughfares in the Western world – killing and maiming innocent bystanders, it served as a reminder, if that were required, that open, global cities are vulnerable to such attacks.

These are moments that serve as a reality check for those in authority who are striving to maintain a balance between oppressive policing and surveillance and a free society. This is enormously challenging in an environment in which strains of fanaticism have been let loose.

Regrettably, the London terrorist attack leading to five deaths, including the perpetrator and a policeman, will find its way into a racially tinged political discourse – and not in a way that will be particularly edifying.

But there is also no point in pretending that mayhem in the Middle East can be separated from what takes place on the streets of London or Brussels or Berlin or Nice, or in other places that become victims of continuing upheaval in a crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to South Asia.

Now that the weapon of choice for lone-wolf terrorists seems to have become a vehicle to mow down people innocently going about their business, a policing task becomes even more difficult.

Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert, noted in a post for CNN that as long ago as 2010, al Qaeda’s Yemen branch had encouraged its recruits in the West to use vehicles as weapons.

A headline on its webzine, Inspire, had described vehicles as “the ultimate mowing nachine” – not to “mow grass, but mow down the enemies of Allah”. He wrote:

These attacks are hard to defend against in free societies where crowds will gather, as was the case for Bastille Day in Nice, or the Christmas market in Berlin … and now throngs of tourists and visitors that typically crowd the sidewalks around the Houses of Parliament.

The utter cynicism and brutality of these random low-tech attacks pose enormous challenges for security.

This latest episode will not be the last such vehicle attack with the possibility that something much worse might eventuate, including the detonation of a truck packed with explosives and shards of shrapnel. Open Western cities will always be vulnerable to these sorts of attacks.

The threat of IS-inspired terrorism is now embedded in Western societies. It is no good pretending it is not.

Since 2014, when IS proclaimed its caliphate, there have been more than 70 terrorist attacks “conducted or inspired” by its followers in 20 countries (not including Syria and Iraq), according to a running total kept by CNN.

If Syria and Iraq were added, such terrorist attacks would number in the hundreds.

In 2014, CNN lists seven terrorist incidents, including the stabbing of two Australian police officers in New South Wales. Six died and 12 were injured in 2014, in Belgium, Australia, Canada, the US and France.

That was the beginning.

By 2016, the numbers of casualties from IS-inspired terrorism had risen sharply across the Middle East and in Europe. This included the Brussels bombings at a metro station and an airport, in which 32 people died and 340 were injured.

It is not least of macabre coincidences that the London terrorist attack occurred on the first anniversary to the day of the Brussels bombings.

So far this year, there have been five major incidents. Most, if not all, are linked to IS.

London was the first such episode in continental Europe. The others occurred in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Out of all this, it is a depressing conclusion, but as IS in its strongholds in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria is further degraded, chances are it will step up its terrorist activities elsewhere.

In other words, risks to countries involved in the war against IS will rise as its fortunes in its so-called caliphate slide. IS is on the ropes in its Middle Eastern strongholds. This makes it more dangerous to Western interests.

In London, and among Britain’s allies, political leaders have hastened to express solidarity, but all would be aware that such ritualistic professions of support and concern will not provide a foolproof shield against the next Islamist-inspired terrorist attack.

The question is not if, but when and where.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.