What can the 2022 Australian elections tell us about the future of U.K, and Northern Irish politics?

From seismic political shifts to the fall of traditional party allegiance, do Australia's election results foreshadow the future of politics for Western Europe? Joshua Smith writes…

The 2022 Australian elections appeared to paint a picture of a more environmentally focused future for the country. Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition was replaced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labour party, suggesting a national shift to the political left. However, the truth may not be as simple as that.

Much of the Labour party’s electoral success resulted from Scott Morrison’s negligence toward climate
change policy. Morrison focused heavily on economic policies and foreign affairs. For instance, when
energy policies were discussed, Morrison emphasised coal, one of Australia’s most common natural
resources and historically among their largest exports.

The former PM’s obsession with the coal industry once went as far as bringing coal as a prop into question time and declaring his opposition has “coal-phobia”;

“Mr Speaker, this is coal. Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it’s coal… Mr Speaker, those opposite have an
irrational pathological fear of coal!”

-Scott Morrison, former Australian Prime Minister, and leader of the Liberal party.

Despite Labour’s win over the Liberal party, they still saw a decrease in votes: down 0.8% since the 2019
election. While Albanese’s party saw success across the nation, the true winners might be considered the
flourishing Teal independents.

The Teal independents primarily differ from the rest of Australia’s political parties by not being one. The Teals are a collection of independent candidates with their own policies yet share similar, broader concerns. Their name “teal” references their tendency to echo soft, Liberal ‘blue’ policies with a greater prioritisation of ‘green’ legislation.

The Teals have redefined the role and capability of independent candidates. Their gain of seven seats across Australia reflects the feasibility of ‘grassroots politics’ and its ability to alter the political landscape.

However, there is still an argument to be made that Teal candidates are not true independents due to their affiliation with Climate 200, allowing for greater funding; often matching mainstream political parties. In the United Kingdom, a similar fallout of party allegiance can be seen, though not to the same scale seen in Australia.

The United Kingdom has seen a dramatic drop in party membership, experiencing the lowest party
membership across Europe. Only 1% of their population are members of any political party, with many
turning to pressure groups instead.

Today, the Caravan Club has more members than the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties combined. Moreover, the National Trust has more than 1 million members- far higher than any UK party.

Furthermore, the 2022 council elections highlight a rise of independents and pro-environment parties in the UK, albeit on a smaller scale than in Australia. In England alone, the Green party almost doubled their number of councillors, gaining 63 across the country, suggesting a move away from larger political parties and a more environmentally focused future for politics.

Even in Northern Ireland, where disputes over nationality often force political demarcations to the edges
of the political spectrum, there has been a rise in the alternative, central choice via the electoral success of
the “Alliance surge”.

The makeup of the Northern Ireland Assembly has consistently been divided between ‘nationalist’ and ‘unionist’ parties since the return of devolution in 1998. However, 21% of the population identified as ‘Northern Irish’ in the 2011 census.

While the Alliance’s ‘non-sectarian’ role in the Assembly has seen them gain support across both sides of the political divide. Alliance has flourished despite the political vacuum within local politics, more than doubling their seats from 8 to 17.

But their success can be explained if we turn once more to Australia. For both the Teal independence and
the alliance party, the internal feuds within their countries’ conservative parties allowed them to usurp
votes as many on the political right moved towards the centre-ground.

In Australia, quarrels between the Liberal party’s Cabinet Ministers furthered anger towards Morrison’s ministration. In 2021, leaked messages showed the deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce calling Scott Morrison a “hypocrite and a liar”.

“He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time. I have never trusted him, and I dislike how he earnestly rearranges the truth to a lie.”
– Barnaby Joyce, former Australian Deputy Prime Minister

Similarly in Northern Ireland, following DUP leader Arlene Foster’s resignation, internal division over the next leader of the party, resulting in Edwin Poots resigning from the position after only 21 days, caused splintering from the party among voters and party members alike.

In addition to public frustrations over the party’s “confidence and supply” deal with Theresa May’s ministration led to many ‘soft unionist’ voters siding with the Alliance party. But Alliance’s success wasn’t without warning.

Falling party allegiance in Northern Ireland is not nearly as new as in Australia and the rest of the UK. The country’s voter turnout has been repeatedly and notoriously low.

In 2022, voter turnout only reached 63%. Although, it remained much higher than the 2016 elections, 54.9% turnout; implying dissatisfaction with NI’s parties in mass.

The emergence of Alliance in recent years correlates with the gradual yet growing voter turnout. Seemingly gaining votes from previously alienated voters without strong opinions towards either national or unionist ideologies.

While traditional party support appears to be fracturing across the western world, pressure groups and non-traditional candidates are beginning to take their place. But with Caroline Lucas remaining the only Green MP in the UK and Northern Ireland’s two MLAs losing their seats in this year’s elections. Environmental parties’ position in politics is still murky.

However, the political vacuum has ignited the next generation of environmental-focused bodies across the globe from the Teal independents in Australia to the more extremist pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion in the U.K.

So, while the unpredictable futurenof politics is only beginning to unfold, the present denotes at least elements of hope for a positive, environmental future around the world.

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