If being in the EU was the cause of all Britain’s woes, with Brexit done, one can expect things to be pretty perfect anytime soon.
In the unlikely event that all problems don’t suddenly vanish, perhaps it is electoral reform in Britain which offers the cure.
Proportional Representation is the new Brexit, the panacea for activists with a new life purpose, and for people to form polarised opinions based on spurious statistics and empty promises.
Since the 2019 UK election, where more people voted left of centre yet woke up to a Conservative majority government, PR has gone from niche to mainstream. Even during the Labour leadership contest, it has divided opinion.
Enthusiastic progressives pledge PR could mend the broken system and breathe new life into stale one party governments.
Just look at Scandinavia they exclaim! Look at Italy, the critics respond, citing the worst possible example!
The idea of a hung parliament, or as most of Europe calls it, simply, parliament, was high in many peoples’ expectations.
PR doesn’t always lead to coalitions, but it does lead to fairer representation and greater coöperation.
The larger parties won’t compromise their monopoly, while smaller parties gravitate towards PR to get a slice of power.
Yet do we discuss the potential long-term effects as part of wider electoral reform?
The 2010 British coalition ending like a tawdry and bitter celeb breakup, wasn’t the way to create a new political landscape, but the political climate is different now.
Maybe coalitions could bring greener policies and more progressive politicians, or maybe it would invite in extremists and create stalemate politics. If electoral reform is on the table, we must have this debate, and what better way than by observing other countries.
The recent Austrian marriage of convenience between the Greens and the staunchly conservative ÖVP makes even the most pro PR activist question it. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz heralds the partnership as radical with no Social Democrats involved, calling it a blueprint for Germany to support a Green coalition when they vote in 2021.
It might be good for Green politics in the short term, but not so great from a progressive long-term viewpoint.
Can any coalition work between people at opposite ends of the spectrum who were previously insulting each other?
In Scandinavian coalitions, forming alliances in the middle ground is easier when partners aren’t ideological opposites.
Belgium managed 163 days with no government because they couldn’t decide how to have a coalition of such different parties.
The fact that Belgium managed perfectly well without any kind of government, coalition or otherwise begs the question whether we need governments at all, but that is a whole other debate!
For the first time, the Greens are part of the Austrian government, and with a growing desire for greener politics this is an exciting opportunity. However, not all green politics is the same.
Germany’s Greens whilst excited for their neighbour and sister party, also condemn the Austrian Greens for sacrificing key policies, believing they will struggle in coalition with such a diametrically opposed partner. Some feel the Austrian Greens have let the side down in the same way Liberal Democrats felt Nick Clegg sold out to the Conservatives.
Kurz is one of the most conservative populist leaders in Europe whose previous coalition with the even further right-wing populists FPÖ only fell apart due to a good old-fashioned salacious scandal. His partnership with the Greens is out of necessity and sets a worrying precedent for hard right-wingers to look credible to greener voters.
The far right won’t see Kurz as diluting his populist rhetoric because as in most coalitions, there is often one more dominant party and the Greens will have a hard time with some of the anti-immigrant policies and hard right stance of the ÖVP.
This could damage the Greens’ reputation or cause dissent, but with all eyes watching what happens we must be optimistic and hope that international scrutiny will bring out their best. Not their worst. Many Austrians who felt alienated by the previous far right government believe this coalition can unite Austria.
It is easy to dismiss it as an uneasy alliance doomed to failure, but the route to consensus is not simple.
Middle ground is easy to navigate when you are on the same page, but grown up discussions emerge when everyone disagrees on almost everything. Finding commonality is the key for all progressive politics.
If there is any upside to extremism it is that it forces people from across the spectrum to coöperate for the greater good, and in this case a greener consensus is good for the whole planet.
When any of us are closely observed, it tends to make us ‘up our game’, so as the rest of Europe monitors Austria, we should not overly criticise in the same way Britain did during the LD/Con coalition. While cynicism is an easy default, it is more conducive to have hope and desire for better.
Our everyday lives are filled with choices, so our politics needs to offer the same level of freedom.
Independent thinking and working with others are not mutually exclusive – this is political evolution.