A historic day in politics: not Boris, but Vienna calling

A potentially epoch-making day in European politics: no, not the shenanigans in London on Thursday (of which a brief mention in a moment), but in Vienna on Friday.

The Austrian Supreme Court has ordered a rerun of May’s knife-edge Presidential Election, in which Alexander von Bellen, a Green, held off the Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party by just 31,000 votes or just 0.7%.

According to Reuters, “the court found no proof that the result had been manipulated, but the possibility that it might have been affected was enough for a challenge to succeed”. Officials in some areas, racing to provide a result, breached protocols on by counting postal votes on the evening of the vote, and not on the day after the election in front of party observers.

Current President Heinz Fischer, whose term runs out on July 8, has said the rerun will most likely take place in the autumn.

Although Austria has a ceremonial Presidency, a victory for Hofer would send shockwaves across Europe. Hofer has called for German-speaking parts of South Tyrol, part of Italy since 1918, to be annexed by Austria and flirts with Nazi imagery and pan-Germanism. The symbolism of a far-right President of the country that produced Hitler will strain the idea of Austria being a ‘normal’ EU country.

As for events at Westminster, Boris’ defenestration, while highly amusing – the Vicar of Bray has just been deprived of his living – snatches a significant strand of hope from Remainers still entertaining the idea that Brexit can be averted. It’s hard to think of anyone other than Boris who would have the chutzpah and salesmanship to even attempt to walk back a national referendum vote on a big turnout. That, indeed, is one of the reasons why the decision was taken to torpedo his candidacy.

Apart from that, a contest between ideologically similar figures equally committed to pursuing Brexit now the vote has taken place, is not necessarily of great importance.

Theresa May must be the hot favourite now. We’ve seen many twists and turns in UK politics this year, but it’s hard to imagine May having career-destroying skeletons in her closet.

If May calls a snap General Election with a honeymoon factor and a dismembered opposition, she may well win big. Then she’s the tough Mummy figure voters love in scary times (c.f. Merkel, Angela) and may well build from there: all depends on the state of a UK-EU settlement and the economic effect of Brexit.

A final thought – petrol was 110.9p in Tesco this evening. Bregret is not going to happen while that is the case.

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