A party machine we can believe in
Less than a month into the new parliament, there is no shortage of advice for our Prime Minister, with News Ltd warning about the danger of ‘over-reaching to the left’, while former British PM Tony Blair – perhaps nostalgic for his own failed New Labor experiment in the UK – is urging her to stay the ‘centre course’.
But the ‘sky is falling’ hysteria about our new patch-work parliament has been a little overplayed: it mirrors perfectly the divisions across our rainbow nation – between regional and urban Australia, between migrant and non-migrant communities, between open minded and closed minded individuals … and the list goes on.
We live with these divisions every day – and manage to negotiate our lives around them. It’s curious that we don’t reckon our politicians should be expected to do the same.
These divisions also illustrate the divide between a politics based on ideals and one manipulated by party machines. In this election machine politics has been the big loser, and the clear winners are those far away from the machine fray - the Greens and a handful of independents. This in itself is truly remarkable given the amount of money spent by the major parties trying to capture people’s votes (as opposed to their imaginations).
The story of how Labor lost the faith of the country after its landslide win in 2007 has been well documented in a narrative that weaves its way through a series of mishaps, leaks and poor campaign strategy and settles on the abandonment of conviction politics and the embrace of the party machine.
This is a story that borrows heavily from Blair’s New Labor style – one that successively jettisoned the party’s base for a shallow focus group driven approach to politics. For anyone interested in seeing how this plays out simply tune into a the political satire In the thick of it, which presents a brilliant parody of soul-less politics when a couple of hapless Labor staffers luck upon Mary, a single mother who symbolises middle England. With great excitement, they do away with focus groups and instead mine the opinions of the invincible Mary in a series of hilarious one on ones.
For anyone who lives in NSW, this approach is immediately recognizable, and one suspects there was a besieged version of Mary lurking somewhere in Western Sydney during our recent campaign. The past success of this model in NSW has as much (if not more) to do with the revolving door of Liberal leaders and lack of energetic opposition than it has with the genius of campaign tactics and targeted vote buying announcements.
Those who are unhappy with this political style in the UK simply abandon the vote: UK Labor won with a 74% turnout in 1997, by 2001 this had collapsed to 59%. Meanwhile Australia hit a record informal vote in the federal election and nearly 12% of voters turned to the Greens in what is a troubling message to Labor’s left that many voters think the best way to shift policy towards more progressive outcomes may be to abandon the party altogether.
It’s clear that our new government of coalitions won’t be without its challenges. Writing recently about right wing coalitions in the US, Paul Waldren has observed that coalitions whose goal is to hold national power and enact a broad agenda will inevitably be unwieldy, noting that few things are harder than getting those from one corner of the progressive movement to sublimate their agenda to someone else’s. He says conservatives—though they have as many sub-factions as American liberals do—have always seemed better at doing so.
Can it work here? Big business, conservative and some media interests appear affronted by any suggestion of success, and have highlighted the ‘weakness’ of compromise associated with any coalition. Still for most of us modern life is all about compromise – whether at work, home or in the community. And while we might yearn for authoritative control over our lives, we generally just get on with things by making the best of what’s available.
The big question is: Can our politicians do the same?
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…