Or: If you can’t beat the House, why keep playing the game?
By Steve Laing
Disclaimer: I am not, nor have ever been a member of any political party in significant part because I am skeptical of the true motives of many “party politicians”, but I do consider myself a progressive. The article is in large part focused on Labor because at this point in time, they represent the progressive party most likely to win the next general election, however the sentiments are equally applicable to other parties. And I apologise in advance for its length…
OK, I have to admit it; I’m a gamer. From a very early age, games have captured my imagination (and far too much of my time), particularly those that involve other people and aren’t purely down to luck. To the many who aren’t interested, games seem an almighty waste of time, and indeed I have often reflected on what compels me to devote time to such endeavours. But at its best, playing games can be an excellent way to exercise those problem-solving skills, as well as sometimes prompting interesting insights through considering situations from a variety of perspectives.
All very interesting you say, but what in Jebus’ name are you telling me this on an independent news site? Because the most important part of any game if you want to win, is to know the rules and then build strategies that utilize them to your advantage. If you can get the rules to work in your favor, then whilst you might not win every time, you can significantly improve your odds of doing so.
Have you ever wondered why right wing parties in democracies around the world, despite very rarely passing legislation that actually benefits the majority, continue not only to get elected, but then also usually stay in power longer? To a gamer/problem solver like me, the answer is pretty obvious. The “rules”, and thus the strategies that can be built from them, are stacked very much in their favour. And having few morals and little empathy they generally play the game without mercy. For them winning is the goal, not governing, because if you don’t win, guess what…
So, lying and cheating? Not an issue, the rules don’t disallow it. Abusing office funding allowances to pour money into party coffers? Why not, the rules don’t say you can’t. Doing deals with other “parties”, then either reneging or finding a way to pull a dirty trick? All in a day’s work. Publishing your opponents’ confidential cabinet documents? Pork barreling? Using the AFP like a private enforcer? Undertaking Royal Commission to try and undermine your political opponents? When the game is all about getting into power, and then wing it once you’ve got there, the Coalition are really rather good players. Because the rules are porous, and winning is winning. Right?
So what do Labor do? Well, they carry on playing the game, hoping that by following the rules as they appear to be written, they will be successful, publishing policies, considering the greater good, behaving ethically. And indeed in part they have to, because one thing is certain, if they step out of line, the media will be all over them like a rash.
Blind Freddy can see that the commercial MSM act in the interests of their owners, and thus the politicians most likely to look after them. The fact that they are now almost completely embedded in our public media institutions has taken longer to achieve, but has again been undertaken to almost complete the stranglehold on contrary views.
Politics in Australia is much like politics in the UK. The rules and traditions are stacked in favor of the conservative incumbent, and the “House” has significant powers outside of parliament (particularly the media, but also large wealthy benefactors, donors, businesses and their various lobbies, and the financial clout that sits behind them). This means that the coalition can still play within the rules, but in a manner that works to their strengths, as well as to the weaknesses of their opposition. (It also reveals their concern about organizations such as GetUp who have found a way to do what they consider only their entitlement – namely to use money to achieve political goals).
So time and time again, opposition parties fall into their traps. Sure, Labor occasionally manage a win, but the policy gains from those wins are often short-lived as the right wing have absolutely no qualms about unwinding them as soon as the opportunity next comes about. And generally (and unfortunately) you don’t have to wait too long for such to occur.
The main election strategies of the right are easy. Here are some of the most obvious ones, but I know there are many more.
Firstly, if possible make it a personality contest, not a policy one. The Coalition framed the last election as Turnbull versus Shorten. The one before that Abbott vs Gillard (the “greatest opposition leader ever” versus the “liar”). Sure, the last election actually ended up a much closer run thing than Turnbull clearly expected, but the right still won despite having no policies and only a few dodgy slogans repeated ad infinitum and since largely forgotten about – just where is Jobson Grothe these days?
Whilst Shorten is clearly a fairly capable negotiator and party leader, he is not what one might call charismatic and he has “baggage” in the eyes of significant parts of the electorate, in no small part due to the mud slinging from a Royal Commission built to do just that – smear the opposition. Dirty, cheaty, effective. The rest of the Cabinet were never to be seen – Turnbull was considered the drawcard, whose personal popularity would all but guarantee the win. And close though it was, it did. However it is clear from his election night hissy fit, Malcolm was not happy that the people didn’t show him the love which he clearly thinks he is due for being all round Mr Positive and Lovely. This term will be our punishment for not fawning enough to his brilliance – how very dare we. But I digress.
Secondly, keep attacking a well-defined target. It’s hard to miss that every, and I mean every, statement that a minister from the government makes, there has to be a knock to Labor somewhere in it. Without fail. The current Centrelink debacle where claimants are being told to pay back “debts” due to some spurious mechanism where a claimants yearly ATO record is often incorrectly converted into weekly payments, which are then compared to weekly benefits received, and then flagged as benefit fraud is currently in full swing. Happy Holidays! But even when Porter was questioned about what was going on, he managed to get in an attack on the last Labor government and why they hadn’t addressed this when they were in government. (The fact that Howard hadn’t either is conveniently ignored – it’s the narrative that counts, not the facts). This repetitive mantra is entirely designed to undermine your opponents on a subliminal level, and after a while people will ignore the facts and buy into the message. Who are the best party to manage the economy? Well that depends if you make your decision based on evidence, or constantly repeated hearsay; and a lot of people just don’t do evidence.
Thirdly, whenever you get the chance, split the enemy. This is a particularly easy one given that Labor seem to love to attack the Greens, and vice versa. The truly dull fights about “who preferenced whom” when in fact these are merely suggestions that most ignore reveal a pettiness, but also a lack of confidence in the ability of ones own candidates. This is of course a problem with political parties, rather than political movements. Parties, and their supporters, behave much in the same way as football teams. Blind loyalty, even though the values, policies and agenda (much like a team’s players) change over time, often becoming a very different beast than previously. Again, this suits the right, rather than the left, because the poor (Labor’s traditional base) are easier to attack, middle class aspirationals are easier to bribe, and Murdoch readers are easily led.
Fourthly, promote the adversarial/party system. The party system is great news for the Coalition as it allows them to use every debating trick under the sun to show up their opponents. Any difference in opinion amongst party members equals disunity (approach to refugees). A change in position reveals lack of conviction (eg same sex marriage). If you don’t support the policies on Manus and Nauru, you must believe in open borders AND want deaths at sea (the good old false dichotomy). As George Carlin said, “Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience”. There is no debate in our parliament. Question Time is the Coalition’s favorite pantomime, and they have no qualms in abusing the soapbox it provides them. The party system creates easy targets for those prepared to go for the jugular. But it is also why the Coalition hate independents – far too much work to undermine them all, and too hard a target to pin down. Mind you, so does Labor for much the same reason.
Now as an aside, don’t get sucked in by the Liberal/Conservative split rumour. However much this is talked up, I believe it is highly unlikely to happen. It is, in my opinion, a very handy ruse to put those on the left off their guard, smugly expecting the disintegration of their opponents. On the contrary it is designed purely to try to win back One Nation voters back to the Coalition by suggesting that there are people within the Coalition who will look after them and their warped worldview, so they should feel comfortable that they can come back into the fold (as well as put more pressure on Turnbull to keep following the now populist as well as neoliberal agenda) – there is always a place for xenophobic racists in the Coalition, doncha know? Outside the Coalition Bernardi, Christensen and their ilk would be powerless, and they know it (and it’s not like they aren’t getting their own way within the party at present, are they!). But the promise of a new Conservative party is but the perpetual lie from the cheating husband to the mistress who is waiting for him to leave his wife, but who has absolutely no intention of giving up that comfortable life. It also explains why Malcolm does not appear in the least bit worried about this ruse, but Tony, now being on the outer (and a bit thick), isn’t aware that this is naught but a cynical political stunt to win back the “populist” voters. My bet is that before the election those conservative warriors will be right back happily in the arms of the party, totally “unified”.
Fifthly, only worry about the marginals. Votes don’t win elections, seats do. So don’t waste your time or energy on safe seats, pour your resources into the ones that count. Again this ties back to the divide and rule strategy – no point wasting government money and resources on people who won’t vote for you.
Six, forget facts, use emotions. Be policy light, because the media won’t be able to go after you (and won’t), but play on people’s fears if the vote for the other side. Refugees, Muslims, drugs, intergenerational debt etc. Only the Right are tough enough to deal with these issues. Protect yourself! Bypass the higher brain, and tap straight into the lizard brain – use advertising and slogans, keep it simple and repeat.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t change the bloody rules! Now this one area where Malcolm (but perhaps also Bill) very stupidly made a big mistake last year, largely because Malcolm’s ego made him believe he was more popular than he actually was. It was part of his triumvirate of tricks that would allow him a Double Dissolution and bring him the mandate he believed he was due. Poor, deluded, spineless fool.
Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2
Steve Laing – Steve is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such. Steve also has his own blog: www.makeourvoiceheard.com.
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