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In a year where the only certainty has been uncertainty – particularly as far as election results have been concerned, the acceptance of the result in the postponed re-run of the run-off for the President Election was a relief – marking at least in Austria the end of the political year dominated by the “Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung“. Back in May, with Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer too close to separate from physical votes cast, we had had a nervous weight for a result – Austria’s news providers’ webservers crashing seemed to collude to make the announced results at 4pm on the Monday back in May after a Sunday vote even more tense. This time, the tension was dissipated incredibly quickly, as Van der Bellen’s lead was announced, and Hofer conceded and Strache ruled out contesting the result. As quickly as people started to post on Facebook, I had to start the comments of caution – this battle might have been won, after a protracted fight, a definite scare and a genuine fear until last evening that Hofer would win the run-off. The Nationalrat elections of 2018 stand to be a monumental event – I sadly doubt that either of the parties in the Grand Coalition (SPÖ and ÖVP) will manage to flush out the dead wood in time to avert the threat of the FPÖ. The next 18 months will tell.
N*gel F*rage had weighed into the debate, saying in the build-up to the vote that Hofer would trigger a referendum in Austria on the country’s EU membership, whether his intervention had any bearing on the final result, I’m not sure, but some of the ORF’s dismal pundits seemed to think so.
A few hours later, having been asleep for only a short while, I was woken up by an unhappy Alexander – his namesake was hopefully enjoying finally being able to be celebrate becoming Austria’s President – and once peace had returned, I checked the Italian Referendum result, which had gone
badly wrong disastrously for Renzi. The situation in Italy this week has again been one of turmoil – particularly in relation with Banca Monte Paschi di Siena, a situation that I observe closely in relation to my professional interests.
Back in the UK, this week was the Supreme Court appeal by the Government in relation to the action brought about by Gina Miller, and while the proceedings were only ran until Thursday 8th December, the Supreme Court Judgment will only be released in the New Year. This has not stopped pieces appearing in the papers to the contrary – but they seem very skewed in the sense that the coverage claims it is trying to “derail Brexit”. If anything it may only affect when and how the May Government triggers Article 50, and could affect whether Article 50 will be triggered in Q1 2017 as intended. Given recent performances by Messrs. Johnson and Davis, drawing the process out as long as possible might have the effect of exposing them, and with each new blooper, foot-in-mouth incident etc., their credibility suffers. Johnson’s statement on Saudi Arabia this week was another case of him saying what he thinks – not what the government necessarily wants him to say. On this occasion his thinking-out-loud might have even been corrected, but was met by a Downing Street spokesperson saying that his views did not represent official Government policy.
Unfortunately though, none of this does anything to reunite the divisively split United Kingdom – and a shock by-election victory, like Richmond Park appears to have only highlighted the continuing lack of unity. Even removing the government’s majority will not halt them in their tracks, given the lack of credible opposition – and with a General Election in 2020, it seems unlikely also that Labour can regroup to make them a credible force. A delay in delivering Brexit will probably only lead to the continued presence of UKIP. The next by-election result, from the Lincolnshire constituency of Sleaford and North Hykeham, saw the Conservatives hold the seat. To date the Richmond Park result is the first by-election result of the 2015-20 Parliament to have a different outcome to that at the 2015 General Election.
Doing the mental arithmetic, possibly the most interesting point in the event of a failure to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 will be that the two year negotiation period (still seems idealistic…) not be concluded by the end of Q1 2019. If Article 50 is triggered any later, the more it will encroach on preparations for the 2020 General Election. The prospect of the UK leaving the EU and then bouncing the Conservatives out of power in the same year could be possible.
P.S. Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung was voted Word of the Year in Austria.