May 31st 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The Twilight of the Elites

EDITORIAL: The issues the Budget ignored

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Budget proves paralysis in family policy

Family Law Act: the damage continues

SUGAR: A return to feudal agriculture?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Tories favoured / West Europe model

How water rights can be eroded: lessons of the Barmah-Millewa Forest

ECONOMY: Where the Budget leaves us

HEALTH: Over-the-counter sale for morning after pill?

OBITUARY: Tom Perrott (1921-2003)

Why Washington is warming to India

President Vicente Fox and Mexico's demographic threat

TAIWAN: SARS response shows strength of democracy

Dollar drive 'dumbs down' the media

BOOKS: FORCED LABOR: What's Wrong with Balancing Work and Family?, Brian Robertson

BOOKS: Italian Travel Pack CD

Books promotion page

Tories favoured / West Europe model

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, May 31, 2003
The Australian media rarely report the annual British local elections, which are conducted nationwide, including Scotland and Wales. This silence is broken only when the Tories suffer heavy losses, and Labour or better still, the Greens, do well. Nothing like that occurred this time; so our media was silent. Labour lost 800 seats, while the Tories, winning more than 600 extra seats, became the dominant party in local government for the first time since 1991.

The British Liberals and Greens failed to make real headway anywhere. Had the voter retreat from Labour been motivated by dissatisfaction with their foreign and military policies (policies wholeheartedly supported by the Tories), we would expect those voters to have turned to the little parties, who, along with Labour's Left, opposed the War; reviled Bush; and jeered at Blair.

Tories favoured

They did not vote thus: they turned to the Tories. In the UK, local government and its politics are still far more important than their Australian equivalents. They are also, quite often, bell weathers for the future.

But our media are not interested in such matters.

Nor are they interested in the state of Germany - erstwhile economic powerhouse of Europe, and the third largest economic aggregation in the world; long a key player in NATO etc. As Andrew Gimson, The Spectator's Foreign Editor writes, 'Germany Falling - Berlin lives in the past - welfare is generous, and the nation is going bankrupt'. This is becoming a familiar story in Western democracies - resistant welfare lobbies, with rapidly increasing numbers of clients, a need for ever rising taxation to oblige and all this from increasingly stagnant economies, e.g., Germany is set to grow 0.5% this year and 1% next year - though Schroeder tells different stories.

Unions will not give way over labour reform or welfare changes, unemployment mounts, and the governing Social Democratic Party (SPD) is on its way to splitting, possibly internally, but also with its partner the Greens - who now form a de facto part of the SPD Left.

A similar drama is being played out in France, though at an earlier stage. But the current economic and domestic political log jams, which hold so much of Europe in their vice, make it neither a source of military nor economic strength; not a social, philosophical or political model to imitate.

The global system has changed so much since September 11, 2001, and yet so obviously only in the early stages of a systemic revolution, that most observers and political partisans have simply lost their bearings.

Used to a play with familiar players and a familiar script, what is happening now is making cruel demands upon people caught unprepared for the need to throw out beloved pieces of mental and ideological furniture; and perhaps make do with a table and a few hard chairs.

It seems only yesterday that one had a long list of groups, or ideologies or cultural blocs, from which to choose - and many opinion formers still play this game. We had the now vanishing identification with the Communist and radical Third World States; the Asia of which we (Australia), are part of, and wherein our fate resides; the American Alliance and its cultural and economic enterprises - as well as strategic and political expressions; One World, the UN and its world wide network; the poor and the wretched of the Earth - as against the rich West; and some version or other of an independent Australia - sui generis.

West Europe model

At this post-Iraq stage of history, many of these choices (which are not real choices), look quite irrelevant to deciding what we must do from now on.

Yet a half-hearted attempt to push Europe - Western Europe - as the people with whom we should be siding and identifying is being made for they have a future - they are about to become one of the big hitters of the system - economically, politically, culturally.

And, they are the base from which to check and harass the British and Americans. Their social policies, welfare states and powerful unions etc., are the next best version of an idealised ALP that we can find.

We know the realities are otherwise - the traditional economic and political leader of Europe is on the skids - Germany - and the Northern tier, so influential in Social Democratic theory and history, is sinking back into the kind of modest posture which existed between the wars. Ideologically and politically, the Scandinavian experiment has run its race.

But, the most significant thing is that there is no united Europe, and even if there were, it would be unable to make any real contributions to shaping world events - which are now of a most dramatic even primal kind. Europe has become averse to drama, and conflict - and who could blame it? - but therefore is disqualified to do anything except to hold conferences, as did some European countries in the 1920s and 1930s. But just beyond the conference halls lies the jungle.

So Americans and British who still understand the jungle we are now in, talk a different language, one which the jungle dwellers understand, and use themselves, though they are angered at the Anglo Saxon reversion to this language, and the deeds of realpolitik. Bush and Rumsfeld are hated far more than Clinton and Madeleine Albright - those gallant, affable little failures. Hated ... for saying 'No Way'.

If you say 'it's us or them' and you do - so do we. The terrorist 'second wave' strikes are the expressions of anger and destructiveness, now that the malcontent and assassin nations realise the enormity of American power - as the Japanese and the Germans did. They are model citizens now, are they not?

If there is to be Pax in the world, its precondition will be a Pax Americana. After which, we can start moving on and exploring new avenues for world cooperation. But not until the recidivists and dinosaurs leave the scene.

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