Will the Australian election be our canary down the mine?

Can politics get any more bizarre? Former Mayor of London and Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson rules himself out of ...

Can politics get any more bizarre? Former Mayor of London and Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson rules himself out of the Tory leadership race.

OPINION: Someone on Twitter summed it up. Today is the most extraordinary day in British politics since yesterday.

Australians go to the polls on Saturday, an event which would usually grab our attention. But we've barely noticed. We are in thrall to a game of politics being played out on the other side of the world. Satire has been rendered redundant by a cast of characters with names like Boris and Nigel.

Before Brexit we were consumed by Donald Trump. But even the outlandish Trump has been topped by the extraordinary sight of Britain imploding. It's a real-life House of Cards, but with a plot that's more unbelievable, and more ridiculous than anything a screen writer might dream up.

Who needs House of Cards when we've got the real thing.

Who needs House of Cards when we've got the real thing.

Read more

* Boris Johnson: I have decided not to run for British Prime Minister

* And they're off: Tory leadership runners and riders

* Michael Gove to run for British prime minister

* Malcolm Turnbull's election announcement a colossal gamble

It would be fun if it wasn't so serious. Google reported a spike in the number of Brits searching for an escape route to Australia and New Zealand immediately after the Brexit vote. "Leave" voters must be wondering if they should also jump ship after their pied piper, Boris Johnson, prematurely threw in the towel, no doubt heartily relieved that he wouldn't be the one trying to pick up the pieces of the post-Brexit Britain.

Is politics broken? When 17 million Britons vote against the establishment view that Brexit would be a path to economic ruin, surely that must be a sign that something is broke?

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Even after the case for exit was revealed as resting on a big lie - the claim that Brexit would free up £350 million a week for the National Health Service - Brits voted for it anyway.

Why? Is it, as Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove pointed out, that people have had enough of experts? Or that fact checking is an "elitist, media-type thing", as one of Trump's people noted?

If so, then politics surely must be broken

When nobody trusts the media or the establishment or even the experts anymore, there is no longer any disincentive not to lie. If enough people believe it's true that's all that matters.It's a licence to finally let the dogs loose.

It's anti-establishmentism gone mad. And it may be a case of politicians reaping what they sow. The Brexit campaigners, and Trump, have resonated with those voters who are feeling disenfranchised from politics and removed from the political process, marginalised by gotcha politics, and the policies of parties that are increasingly hard to tell apart as they jostle each other for ascendancy in the political centre ground.

They are calling them the forgotten voters.

Have we reached that point yet, down here at the bottom of the world?

Britain's outgoing prime minister, David Cameron, clearly didn't see Brexit coming. Nobody could have predicted the chaos into which British politics has been plunged. The Conservatives leaderless, British Labour hopelessly fractured, its parliamentary wing all but divorced from the grassroots membership.

The Australian election might be our canary in the mine. If Malcolm Turnbull wins - and the bookies say he will - it will be a flight to safety in an uncertain world, a response to Turnbull's plea to vote for stability, and economic continuity.

But if Turnbull's government is voted out, would that be down to the same establishment backlash that put wings under Brexit, and is similarly lifting Trump?

National's huge lead in poll after poll makes it complacent that there is no great underswell for change. But National's success rests as much on Labour's failures as it does John Key's popularity.

We also have MMP - it was our "Brexit" moment that brought us MMP 20 years ago, when successive governments implemented policies without first getting a mandate. It was a reaction against Rogernomics, means-testing the pension, factory closures, flogging off the railways and stripping away subsidies.

But over the years MMP has also proved itself a useful safety valve, a way of putting the brakes on the big parties.

That may have taken the sting out of voter disillusionment.

A post-Brexit - and post-Trump? - world might play into John Key's hands if the world remains mired in uncertainty during next year's election campaign. After all, Kiwis remember this Government most for steering us through the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.

We also lack the larger-than-life characters that have strode the stage in Britain and in the US. Our politicians seem way too normal to amplify these emotions.

Maybe Winston Peters comes close, but despite Peters' push into the regions - perhaps the ripest field from which to pluck New Zealand's "forgotten" voters - his face is probably too familiar to become the lightning rod for change.

But after recent events, National will be wary of assuming that just because it can't see it coming, the mood for change isn't already building.

 - Stuff

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