Latest Political Developments

Hello and welcome to this second edition of the Politics and IR Society blog for 2019-20. I apologise for the delay in publishing this post; with the exams fully behind us we can look forward to a lovely break from our studies and to enjoy the summer holiday. Here is a summary of the latest political developments in international politics.

In the latest twist in the Brexit saga, the Conservative Party has begun its search for a new leader in the wake of Theresa May’s intention to step down after the upcoming fourth ‘meaningful vote’ on the British government’s EU withdrawal agreement on the 3rd of June. Prime Minister May, during a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, agreed that following the vote, which is expected to be the fourth and decisive rejection of the agreement she has negotiated during her near-three year term in office, she would have exhausted her mandate. This would consequently begin the process through which a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister would be elected by the party either within the summer or by the party conference in October. This also comes amidst opinion polling suggesting that the Conservatives are expected to face their worst ever set of national election results in the European parliamentary elections on the 23rd of May, which in turn has increased pressure on May to resign before the party can suffer further losses to the insurgent Brexit Party. Boris Johnson, long rumoured to have held leadership ambitions and of whom desires a clean break from the EU, has publicly announced that he will run for the leadership once the position becomes available, and a number of cabinet ministers such as Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd and Michael Gove are also tipped to run to succeed May. In response to the Prime Minister’s decision to step aside, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that talks between the government and Labour in regards to reaching a compromise in regards to Brexit have come to an end, arguing that a lack of government stability renders a lasting agreement between the two sides impossible. For Theresa May, this will represent a sorry end to her premiership, as she has failed to achieve her objectives in regards to Brexit and other areas of government policy during her premiership. More importantly however, it has cast the future of Brexit into even greater uncertainty, and has thereby rendered the prospects of a resolution to the political impasse even less likely. The deadlock over Brexit is therefore unlikely to be resolved for the time-being.

Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Iran have dangerously increased in the last few days, with US President Donald Trump dispatching the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, along with bombers and missile systems to the region in order to counter what the US government alleges is a growing threat to US interests in the region by Iran. Notably, all non-emergency staff at the United States’ diplomatic mission in Iraq have been ordered to leave the country in the wake of the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Such developments strongly imply that the Trump administration is increasingly considering the possibility of conflict between the two countries, particularly in the case of certain members of Trump’s administration urging a confrontational stance with Iran. As noted by a number of foreign policy analysts, the brinkmanship between the American and Iranian governments is a situation that is fraught with risk, as a miscalculation by either side could ultimately lead to the outbreak of a prolonged and highly destructive conflict in the Middle East. This has unsurprisingly been met with an urgent attempt on the part of European governments to reiterate the importance of diplomacy as the means to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme, especially in the case of honouring the 2015 agreement signed by the US, the EU and Iran, and to warn of the consequences of potential military action carried out by either the United States or Iran against the other. The tension between the two nations ultimately has the potential to dangerously escalate, and diplomatic restraint is required to resolve this.

In regards to the latest developments in Australian politics, the nation’s federal election appears to have ended in a shock victory for the incumbent centre-right Coalition government, defying opinion polls that had projected a narrow win for the opposition Labor Party. With results still being counted, the Coalition, which is comprised of the Liberal Party and three other conservative parties that share a joint whip in parliament, is expected to either win a small majority or to fall slightly short of one in the House of Representatives, thereby allowing incumbent Prime Minister and Liberal leader Scott Morrison to continue in office. Labor, who had led in most polls during the election campaign, were expected to win a majority government, but instead has suffered a third consecutive electoral defeat since losing office in the 2013 election. The results have been met with extreme dismay amongst supporters of Labor, which regarded a Labor victory as fundamental towards addressing global climate change, and celebration amongst supporters of the Coalition, who had warned of higher taxes under Labor. One major source of disappointment for the Coalition however was the defeat of former Prime Minister Tony Abbot in his Warringah constituency to former Olympic skier Zali Steggall, who ran as an independent candidate. The loss of the former premier’s very safe seat has been attributed to Steggall’s strong campaigning on the issue of climate change, whilst Abbot has largely remained opposed to drastic measures to cut global emissions, and of whom was also considered to be out of step with increasingly progressive values within Australian society such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which was approved by Australian voters in a 2017 referendum. The surprise re-election of the Coalition government and the loss of one of its safest seats and former leader demonstrates how political outcomes can never be taken for granted, regardless of opinion polling or general expectations amongst politicians and the electorate.

And in the case of large-scale protests across Sudan in recent weeks, the military government of the state has temporarily suspended talks with pro-democracy demonstrators over the proposed transition from martial to civilian rule. This development has been attributed by the government to tactics on the part of protesters such as the establishment of road blocks in the capital city Khartoum, whilst representatives of the pro-democracy movement accused authorities of excessive violence against demonstrators, 14 of whom were recently wounded in central Khartoum. The negotiations had previously been regarded as constructive and were expected to reach an agreement in the last few days in regards to the composition of the interim government. Whilst the negotiations have not fully collapsed, this is nonetheless a set-back for the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been on-going since December of last year. These demonstrations emerged out of widespread discontent with cuts to bread and fuel subsidies by the authoritarian regime of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was already widely blamed for the chronic economic stagnation facing Sudan, along with institutionalised corruption and widespread human rights abuses. On the 11th of April, in the wake of the sustained and prolonged protests, al-Bashir was removed from office and imprisoned by the military, which subsequently formed an interim administration that it argued would only last for three years. This was not enough to satisfy protesters, who insisted that the military step aside to allow for the establishment of a civilian administration immediately. The subsequent negotiations between the government and leaders of the opposition movement were established in an attempt to come to an agreed settlement, which is now less likely following the suspension of the talks. Ultimately, it is clear that despite the widespread popular support for the establishing of civilian rule, the military regime is unlikely to relinquish its authority over Sudan in the meantime, demonstrating the uphill struggle of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

That concludes this week’s article. I will shortly update everyone in regards to the upcoming events and programme planned by the society for the coming academic year.