“Good riddance 2014” was the tone of a lot of vaguely knowing Twitter messages, and I’ve been trying to work out why that is. Was it the weird air crashes? The beheadings? The freak death of one cricketer? It appears to have been all that and more.
There wasn’t a single place in the world which appeared to be having a win. It was either tragedy or just a general grinding on. Even those who got a win didn’t get much of a real one. The Russia/Ukraine thing was just a messy continuando, the withdrawal from Iraq simply blew the starting whistle for what was always going to happen there when it happened, the global economy remained stagnant, the growing chasm between rich and poor became ever more visible as any solution to it receded yet further.
The victory of the Republicans in the mid-terms had no glorious Tea Party extravaganza quality to it, just a slow pushing back. The outbreak of Ebola exposed us not only to a lethal disease that cares nothing for humanity, but to how many black people have to die before we do do something, and how that usually involves saving white people first. In Syria, the mass killing continued block-by-block, barrel-bomb-by-barrel-bomb, hundred-by-hundred and utterly unnoticed. It was those new kids at the chopping block, Islamic State, who got all the attention, the only people in the world who appeared to be enjoying their job. Their body counts were about average for your insurgent group, determined to use proto-state terror to subdue a population and a territory, but they had video-styling smarts, and an eye for the sort of bold colour areas that would work on a newspaper front page. To exhausted governments and burnt out media organisations, they were a godsend, a death cult that was a source of life energy.
For Australians, the global gloom was doubled by an entirely local surplus. The Abbott government was dismaying to anyone who had ever supported them, him, or anything he believed in, or was advocating. For anyone who hated them, there was only the merest of schadenfreude, since the ALP was AWOL, the Palmer United Party was a circus, the crossbenchers were their rejects, and the Greens struggled to break through with a clear message. Much of the gloom that hung over Australia seemed to arise from our determined attempt to turn ourselves into psychological basket cases. The shooting down of one plane over a war zone in an era of shoulder-strapped missiles was taken as a unique attack on our nation. The freak death of a cricketer was taken as an act of hostility by the universe directed at each individual Australian. Not even Abbott offered to do anything about the latter, but he did promise to “Bring Them Home”, which was a sacred oath apparently in response to their deaths in war, until “bringing them home” was made impossible by the war they died in.
Now it’s “Operation They’re Still There, Those The Wolves Didn’t Get”. There was little comment on Abbott’s blustering, unrealistic response to the remaining hopes of those who’d lost loved ones, but I suspect it’s an Antigone-level event — the unburied dead to whom he made a pledge have blackened his prime ministership irreversibly. No less dispiriting for the country and the world was MH370, which reminded everyone — if it was needed — that you can just disappear off the Earth. It was easy to believe that the world was putting on a danse macabre for our benefit.
What was dispiriting was not perhaps the sheer reign of indifferent destruction, but the absence of any countervailing narrative. This was the first year that the West was entirely out of easy narratives of success or transformation. There was nothing left, not a one. The last ghost of neoconservative triumphalism expired with the first knife of IS, the Obama administration had long since become a minimal program. Tony Abbott’s election allowed him to protect some last vague shadow of the old Tory mystique: hardbodied paladin, living in the police college to save the taxpayer money blah blah, but since the political movement he’s part of is nearly dead, and he himself is inept, it faded quickly. What died in 2014 was a number of consoling illusions. For anyone who wants history to crack on a bit, that was a good thing, not a bad thing.
In 2015, well God knows, of course. No one saw IS coming, even people who were keeping a pretty close eye on post-occupation Iraq. 2014 was a pretty formless, squidgy year. But for those hoping for a kick-on by the progressive forces, however bedraggled they might be, 2015 is looking more like a set of football fixtures, with a bunch of primo elections on the way.
“Elections are for the most part less important than the crises they bring on. We may be on the edge of fast-moving times.”
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Greece is the first kick-off on January 25, a sudden election triggered by the collapse of the most recent government in parliament. The centre-right party New Democracy has led a coalition of several parties, with the support of independents, implementing the diktats of the EU’s troika. Each new demand has seen a few more non-ND supporters peel off, and the party leader Antonis Samaras could not recover a sufficient majority in three parliamentary votes. Thus was an election triggered, one that “far-left” party Syriza is going to win.
Ostensibly a coalition, Syriza is mostly a former Communist party of the Eurocommunist type. “Far-left” these days simply means you don’t believe that the Greeks should suffer a ritual sadism that prolongs their economic depression, when a simple debt write-off such as banks have got would reset the clock. Syriza’s election would not be a victory of any soft-left party — if they caved on their promises to resist the troika, then I suspect Greece would rise up from the streets. Should the Greeks hold their nerve against immense pressure, then there will be a stand-off.
Queensland, January 31: I didn’t include this in my list of possible Anglosphere one-term, right-wing governments, because of the vast ground to make up, but Can-do Campbell Newman has done it. A loss here would send the Right into a silverfish-under-the-rock style panic. Whether a Katter-PUP hung parliament would be better or worse depends on how much of a sideshow you think it is.
UK, May 15: Second of my four fixtures in the Make the Right History tour, this one will be knife-edge. In recent polls, Labour has led the Tories by 3-7 points, enough for victory, but everyone believes that will come in, and that a majority lies out of their grasp. Labour’s problem is that it will lose a swathe of its Scottish vote to the Scottish National Party — perhaps as many as 35 of the 40+ seats it relied on Scotland for, forcing at best an ugly three-way coalition, and at worst a new election. Though UKIP is lowering the Tories’ vote, the Greens are lowering Labour’s — the latter are currently on 7% (equal with the Lib-Dems). The Lib-Dems will get 25 seats out of that, the Greens 1 or 2 at most. But that might be enough to screw up Labour, unless a deal is done.
Turkey, June (or before): Nah, not a good one for this narrative. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party’s combination of traditional Islam and free-market economics wows them in the provinces, where any new economic activity is good. The opposition Attaturkists are by no means to the Left — indeed they are yet to work out a program that will sell them to Turks. They sit on around 25% to the AKP’s 50%. Skip Istanbul.
Argentina, October: Ok, no bluffing here, I’ve been studying this one for an hour and I still can’t make head nor tail of it. I think it’s all good in that dissatisfaction with the “leftish” Kirchners may prompt a move to the Left in the assembly, while the presidential race is a close one between Peronists and Kirchnerists. But this ain’t Brazil or Ecuador, and a left-wing government merely seems to mean someone who knows how to wear a seersucker suit with panache.
Canada, October: Didn’t include this in my Anglosphere grand slam (Victoria-[Queensland]-UK-Australia-US presidential), because it’s a bit more volatile, but it looks like the Canadian conservative mix of pompous international hectoring, and right-wing climate denialism and general irrationalism at home is no longer working. Could the Right lose six in a row to the end of 2016?
Spain, December: Another one, like Greece, with a bit more meaning, since the upsurge of Podemos (“We Can”) has left the old major parties gasping. Starting as a movement against the useless imposed austerity on a stagnant economy, Podemos has taken the risky move of converting itself into a party. More at the centre than Syriza, it is nevertheless anti-systemic, and if both were in power by the end of 2015, the northern centre of the EU would have to renegotiate power within the Union.
Enough? Not really, but it will do to be going on with. Elections are for the most part less important than the crises they bring on. We may be on the edge of fast-moving times. If 2014 was a dark and stagnant cloud, the heavens may be about to roar.