Vincent Matthews: A tale of two Prime Ministers misjudging voter sentiment

David Cameron and Malcolm Turnbull. Photos / AP, Doug Sherring
David Cameron and Malcolm Turnbull. Photos / AP, Doug Sherring

Vincent Matthews is a British-born journalist who worked for many years in Australia and now lives on Auckland's North Shore.

There's a remarkable analogy in the British EU referendum and Australia's election results.

Neither would admit it, but David Cameron and Malcolm Turnbull have been victims of a false belief that the electors in their countries trusted them.

Cameron caved to pressure from his angry, anti-EU Conservative Party MPs in calling the referendum. And Turnbull seemed to have dumped all his genuine political beliefs to pacify his party's right.

Cameron was confident Britons would vote to stay in Europe. Turnbull called a double dissolution poll, believing he'd win a big enough vote to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We now know how wrong they were.

As predicted, the EU Leave victory has divided a nation and for the voters who naively wanted a "Great" Britain again, the worst is yet to come. Leading international banks and investment managers are now reported to be already looking for new headquarters out of London - taking thousands of jobs off to Paris or Frankfurt.

European leaders and Commission officials are becoming impatient and irritated by Britain's delay in confirming the decision to leave and beginning the lengthy and tedious negotiating process.

They also want to make clear to the British there cannot be any "special" treatment. Leaving means exactly that. None of this was fully understood by the Leave voters misled by Boris Johnson and co with monstrous lies and exaggerations.

As for Australia, the best Turnbull can hope for is a wafer-thin majority in the House of Representatives. But he faces months if not years of political hell with the most rebellious bunch of senators in virtual control of the Upper House.

Britain and Australia are now facing the economic effects of these electors' choices. Nothing unnerves the business world more than an unpredictable and apparently near-impotent government. And ratings agencies Standard and Poor's and Moody's are letting out warnings of credit downgrades for two nations divided and confused.

In Britain's case, now that Cameron has announced, with dignity, that he is resigning, the Conservative Party faces the agony of choosing a new leader. On one side, anxious to be Prime Minister, is a Brutus-style Michael Gove, who betrayed his Leave vote ally Boris Johnson by contesting the leadership when he knew Johnson wanted to live in No 10 Downing Street. On the other side, fortunately, is a highly respected Home Secretary, Theresa May, who supported the Remain campaign and is favourite to win.

The Labour Party in Britain is in as troublesome a condition as the Tories - if not worse. Leader Jeremy Corbyn assured Cameron he supported the Remain case, but managed to remain unseen and unheard throughout the campaign. Betrayal in buckets. Cameron, visibly angry at Corbyn's duplicity, told him in the House of Commons after the vote, "For heaven's sake, man, go."

Now 80 per cent of Labour MPs also want him to get out but he's hanging on because all Labour Party members have a vote in choosing a leader. And he's confident of getting the support of Labour voters who were the main reason for the Leave vote in the referendum.

In Australia, strange as it may seem, extreme right-wingers are calling for Tony Abbott to make a comeback - first as a minister and then as Prime Minister. Significantly, a most perceptive heading in a daily newspaper letters page in Sydney during the election campaign referred to "Tony Turnbull". Virtually following the Abbott agenda, in many voters' eyes, was Turnbull's biggest weakness.

Meanwhile, Labor leader Bill Shorten can sit back and smile, secure in his position and proud of the achievement of getting his party so close to government after only one session in opposition.

And back here in New Zealand, a much luckier country than Australia, we have a stable Government and sound economic prospects. We can at least be content that John Key won't have to be taking any gambles on a fickle electorate. Of course, no mention must be made of the $26 million change-the-flag referendum fiasco. Hardly significant by comparison.

- NZ Herald

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