One of the most interesting conversations I ever had in Denmark went a bit like this…
Friend: “So what are your politics?”
Me: “I guess I’ve always been a bit of a socialist.”
Friend: “Well you might have been a socialist in England, but are you a socialist in Danish terms?”
It was a brilliant question because I had never really thought of politics as being relative, depending on which country you live in. But of course, my friend was correct. The beliefs that placed me left of centre in the predominantly right-leaning UK, may not have been so radical after all in full-on socialist Scandinavia. In fact, in local terms, my views may even have been right of centre.
Politics has interested me for a long time. I grew up in the UK under Thatcherism and was in my mid-teens when that most polarising of disputes, the UK miners’ strike, was in full swing. The campaign for nuclear disarmament was a genuine topic of debate among many of my schoolfriends, as was the Solidarity-led workers’ uprising in Poland, and many of my favourite musicians formed the Red Wedge coalition to try and bring about a change of UK government in the late 1980s. Later on, for many years, I was a card-carrying member of the UK Labour party.
I have to confess that when the chance first came to live in Scandinavia, aside from all the personal and professional boxes that it ticked, the move appealed to me on a political level too. Instead of voting, with regular failure, for a UK government that would raise taxes and properly fund public services such as the National Health Service, public transport, education and so on, why not go and live in a country where that was already happening? And so we did.
I don’t need to wax lyrical about the fantastic nature of public services here in Denmark. You can find out about them elsewhere. But I wanted to paint a picture of them so that you would understand that I’m very comfortable with the political system here – far more so than I ever was in the UK. And yes, that includes the 63% top rate of income tax and the 25% VAT (although less so with the 180% registration tax on all new cars).
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Australia, and honestly, I don’t know what to think. I know that Julia Gillard/Kevin Rudd’s Labor government was ousted by Tony Abbott’s centre-right coalition last September and, from what I read, this has brought about a lurch to the right in Australian government policy. But I also know that Australia has a strong track record in environmental campaigning, in trade unionism, and in working to put right many years of discrimination against Aboriginal Australians.
Then there’s government at the state level. In the Australian Capital Territory, i.e., Canberra, the Chief Minister is Katy Gallagher, leader of the ACT Labor party. I assume there are state legislatures in all the other states and territories too. But I couldn’t tell you what jurisdiction they have over policy, or how national and state politics intersect and in what way they affect ordinary Australians.
The lesson I learned from the Danish friend I mentioned at the beginning of this article still lives with me today so that I know enough to know that I know very little about Australian politics at this point. I also now know that the positions I took on issues in the UK and the political language I used to describe those positions only make sense within a UK context.
I don’t think I’m any less political than I used to me. Nor do I think my moral compass has shifted. But I do know that I’ll have a lot to learn when I arrive in Australia before I can take an educated stance on very much. The good news is, since Canberra is the home of Australian politics, I should have plenty of opportunities to learn fast.