It’s a common feature of UK news, and UK political news in particular, that we pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the US. That’s why shootings in the US often receive headline coverage in the UK when other deaths, greater in number and greater in impact, in other countries get little attention.
It is also why two different internal party contests got very different levels of media coverage in the UK last year. One was an internal contest to choose the next leader of the governing party in a country whose economy is the largest in Europe, whose political influence on the EU is massive and whose past plays a dominant role in our culture. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is now set to become Europe’s most powerful politician thanks to winning the contest to succeed Angela Merkle as the CDU’s leader – a victory that got only a little media coverage in the UK.
By contrast, a contest in the US to decide who would be the Democrat candidate for a seat that amounts to just one of the 435 that were up for election for that body – and whose victor is now the equivalent of a new backbencher – received a burst of media coverage in the UK, and especially amongst political news for political geeks.
The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a Democrat primary for the House of Representatives certainly has some good news value – shock result, talented winner – but the contrast with that of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says much more about the UK’s obsession with US politics rather than with the likely future impact of each person’s victory. (After all, even if her talent takes her a long way in politics, as Beto O’Rourke shows, Ocasio-Cortez losing would not have been the end of it for her career.)
Already we can see a similar pattern on the way for 2019 with UK political news starting to focus on the US Presidential primaries and caucuses which start in 2020. Sure, the next President of the US will matter to us in the UK too. But the level of detail already being discussed around the dates on which the Californian primary postal ballots will be issued (there will be lots of them, and they’ll be early, most likely hugely cutting the perceived traditional influence of the early New Hampshire and Iowa contests) suggests a repeat of that 2018 mismatch in coverage is on its way.
So in an attempt to balance things up a little, here are four other overseas elections which will, crystal ball permitting, matter the most in 2019 to those of us in the UK, along with their scheduled months.
Indian Lok Sabha, the lower house (April 2019)
Although I have no data to prove it, I have a strong suspicion that standard news values in the UK haven’t really caught up with just how many people in the UK have personal links with the Indian sub-continent. It makes the contrast between coverage in the UK of natural disasters in that region and in the US even more striking. A possible impending natural disaster in the US will get UK headlines. For the Indian sub-continent, impending is not enough. It has to have happened and caused widespread death to do so, and even then the coverage can be fleeting.
In addition, India’s growing influence globally matters for us in the UK too. There’s been much talk about the shift in global power towards China and what that might mean. Less noticed so far has been the plausible route by which India ends up overtaking China for economic power and international influence. A route which, as it involves a democracy rather than a dictatorship, could bring many positives with it.
Regardless, India matters, and so its elections matter.
European Parliament (May 2019)
If Brexit has gone ahead by then, then these contests will still be important to the UK – especially for the opportunity they give for extreme populism to prosper further or to be beaten back. It’s a big test for reviving liberalism.
And if the UK is not yet out of the E.U. – for example, due to an extension of the Article 50 period – then this contest in the UK will be a rollercoaster of political theatre with multiple opportunities to upend the political system. Will a new centre party use them as a launchpad for success, in the manner that UKIP and before the Greens used such a contest to grab a share of the national political stage? Will Nigel Farage manage to launch a new party, kill off old Ukip and create a successful new Ukip? Will the current Labour coalition between a Eurosceptic party leader and a heavily Remain voter base (about 4:1 at the moment) splinter? Will the Liberal Democrats, possibly under a new leader, manage to use them for a Parliamentary by-election style dramatic leap back into the political headlines? And what on earth will happen to the Conservatives, especially if still under the leadership of Theresa May?
Canadian House of Commons (October 2019)
Justin Trudeau’s previous election victory both gave heart to liberals around the world – aggressively promoting liberal values (except, ahem, u-turning on electoral reform) can still work. It’s also often touted as a model for the Liberal Democrats.
In addition then to being important for Canadians, the results of this election will have an impact on the political bubble mood in the UK.
Australian Senate and House of Representatives (November 2019)
Politics in Australia is a wonderful soap opera of absurdity at times. (Even Brexit struggles to match for absurdity the extended crisis over politicians suddenly discovering they were foreigners.) It’s also got an important impact on the UK because of its global impact: Australia has often been one of the most vocal obstructive voices to effective global action on the environment. Who wins matters for us too.
I will of course by obessing about the detail of Californian postal ballot dates in 2020 too. But I hope I’ll also remember the importance of these elections. And if I let them all pass by without any further blogging, please do beat me over the keyboard with this post…
List compiled with the help of Election Guide, where you can find the many other foreign elections which didn’t make the cut.