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Tag Archives: elections

Forging the Wrong Leaders

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“We are not the Labor party.”  Amongst the leadership tensions of the past few weeks in the ruling Coalition government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to have adopted this as a mantra of sorts, an incantation to ward off the attacks of his foes both inside and outside of his own party. A return to the internecine warfare of 2010 and 2013, he argues, would make the Liberal party as bad as their predecessors. He speaks as if there is something qualitatively different between the parties and the way they go about their operation, as if the Liberal and Labor parties have entirely different and incompatible DNAs.

Whilst the spill motion may have failed, the simple fact that the motion was raised shows that this is manifestly untrue.

Labor has not been slow to join in the chorus of jibes, directly quoting back invective initially directed at Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd by Abbott and his fellows. There is no shortage of material to use. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and others were incessant in their criticism of Labor’s leadership woes, all at the instigation of the consummate attack dog who now finds the tables turned. The rich irony is that leadership battles are only unpalatable because Tony Abbott made them so. They are not new to Australian politics.

Admittedly, leadership changes at the Federal level are rarer than in State politics. Additionally, many Prime Ministers step down “gracefully” before the inevitable push.  It is not until Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – and the unedifying return to Rudd – that replacement of a sitting Prime Minister by force became somewhat common. However, the attempt by Liberal backbenchers to push a spill motion and depose Tony Abbott shows that leadership battles are not restricted to one side of politics. They are caused by something deeper – a malaise in politics.

“To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.)

Deposing (or attempting to depose) a sitting, first-term Prime Minister is, admittedly rare – at least, until recent years. So how is it that we’ve come to this?

Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 with a sweeping majority and the hopes and aspirations of Australians behind him. Less than three years later he was pushed from office, a broken, tearful man. What forces wrought the triumphant visionary of Kevin 07 into the chaotic, vindictive morass he became?

The issue at the heart of Kevin Rudd’s downfall was his inability to govern. Rudd was a great communicator, an idealist, a visionary and a fantastic politician for elections. In government, however, he proved lacking in the skills and attributes required of a Prime Minister. This came about, essentially, because elections and governments require very distinct skill-sets. What makes a great leader during an election campaign does not make a wonderful leader in power. Unfortunately, the reverse is also often true: great leaders may be let down by their inability to win elections.

Our modern democracy revolves around elections. They are the fixed points at which the people can have their say. It has been argued that Australia is a democracy for a month or so every three years, after which it becomes an effective oligarchy. There is some truth to this.

Increasingly, however, the three years between elections are conducted with an unremitting focus on the next election. Oppositions have this easy: they spend their years in the political wilderness with nothing but the next election to think about. Government is a harder job. Making decisions in the greater good, aware that every action will have detractors, will be attacked by the opposition and by the media, requires courage. Making decisions aimed solely at bolstering the government’s reputation at the next election is easier.

During elections, enormous sums of money are spent on revealing and promoting policy, on attacking political opponents, and on strategising the message. How much do you reveal? How long can you keep your best offerings hidden, in order to best capture public approval whilst restricting the other party’s opportunity to respond? All is done with an eye on the prize – the all-important twelve hours when the electoral booths are open.

Elections are replete with unreasonable expectations, with impossible promises, and unfortunately often, dirty tactics. Throw a partisan media into the mixture and an election becomes so much froth and noise, a lot of the detail can be obscured.

But then the election is over. The winning party is expected to segue into governing. Suddenly there is no money for advertising. The messaging takes a back seat: governing is a long game. In governing, there is limited value to continuing to attack the other side. Even a party which had the media’s partisan support during the election can find, all too soon, that it becomes hostile. Sudden attention is paid to detail. Promises were made during the campaign, but when it comes to execution, any number of headwinds interfere: from the quality of the public service to unexpected financial setbacks. Changing circumstances require flexibility, but promises and public expectations are not flexible.
In the public’s view, the choice has been made. The election is over: it is time to make good on the promises. And woe betide a party that cannot deliver on its promises, the next time elections come around.

Promises are the currency of elections

Campaigning requires a particular skillset of a political party and its leaders. Leaders must bring inspiration and vision. An election from opposition can be carried on criticism of the government, but only insofar as plans can be proposed to address the identified shortcomings. Attacking your opponents will get you only so far; a party needs to explain what it would do differently. The universal truth of electoral campaigns is promises.
Kevin Rudd was a great campaigner. He brought vision and grand plans. His rhetoric inspired the young and the old alike in an idea of what Australia could be. He promised changes that would be difficult, but he made them sound easy, and he had obvious commitment to his cause. Kevin 07 was a whirlwind of hope, and with a strong team behind him, he made his promises sound convincing.

Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd proved to be terrible at governing. The essential qualities of a government leader are the ability to negotiate, persistence to follow-through on projects, focus on detail, delegation and empowerment of your team, and detailed planning. These were not Kevin Rudd’s strengths. In eternal search for polling approval, Rudd lacked the ability to push projects through to completion against critical media campaigns and public resistance. His inability to delegate power and responsibility was also a detriment. In an election, the leader’s visibility and personality are critical to success. But Australia is too large and complex for a single leader, however frenetic, to manage. Kevin Rudd and his centralisation became a bottleneck, and Labor was unable to effectively execute on its promises.

Kevin Rudd was a great “wartime leader” but a mediocre peacetime one. When he was deposed in favour of Julia Gillard, the priority was to regain some momentum on the projects that had stalled. Fulfilling at least some of the promises that won the 2007 election would go some way to address the electors’ buyer’s remorse. Such was Gillard’s success in a short period of time that she won Labor another term of office.

Gillard was amazing at the things that Rudd was not. Negotiation and persistence were the hallmarks of the Gillard administration. With Gillard’s direct intervention and follow-through, outstanding issues got resolved. Promises made at the previous election, sabotaged by poor planning and policy backdowns, were resolved in short order – perhaps with suboptimal outcomes, but enough to get them off the table.

Gillard was a very successful peacetime leader and history will likely judge her kindly. However, she was let down in the face of Tony Abbott’s incessant campaigning by a poor communication style. Gillard was not seen as a great campaigner. A last-minute return to the Great Campaigner, Kevin Rudd, in late 2013 was insufficient to address the extended election campaign Tony Abbott had run from the moment he ascended to the Liberal leadership.

Uncomfortable parallels

Tony Abbott was also a great campaigner. His approach was different to Rudd’s; he brought no grand plans or vision to the table. Instead his approach was to sow discontent wherever possible, and his pitch was for a return to the Good Old Days of prosperity under Howard. His messaging was consistent and strident and believable. With no grand plans to propose, details of execution were not required. Tony Abbott ran a three-year election campaign leading up to his election in 2013. The primary promise of Tony Abbott’s Coalition was to “Not be Labor” – a message he is still pushing today, over a year after taking government.

Abbott’s success on the campaign trail has not carried through to success as Prime Minister. Tony Abbott and his cabinet repeatedly point to their grand successes – the mining tax, the “carbon tax”, and three free trade agreements. Regardless of whether you consider these outcomes to be successes, unstated are the Attacks on Everyone of the 2014 budget, the ideological attack on industrial relations, the Captain’s Picks, or the reliance of the Coalition on a model of Australia’s prosperity (mining and export) that is rapidly coming to an end. Not described is the government’s lack of a plan for developing the country into a nation of the 21st century – nor the failure of the government to progress its plans to forge the country into the preeminent example of a 20th century country. Not mentioned is the changing circumstance which is the belated acceptance of the rest of the world that Climate Change is an existential issue demanding action.

Like Rudd, Abbott is also a centraliser. The inability to entrust his Ministers with management of their own offices, let alone their own portfolios, has led to internal dissatisfaction – just like Kevin Rudd. The inability of the Abbott government – with its hard right-wing policies and its head-kicker parliamentary supremos – leads to an inability to negotiate in good faith with their political opponents, which leads to legislation languishing in the Senate. In turn, this leads to further deterioration of the budget. This government seems to know only one way to respond to a budget problem, but this approach does not have the approval of the people the government is elected to serve, nor the Senate which protects them.

The skills and attributes that brought Tony Abbott to government are not the skills and attributes needed to effectively govern this country. This is the malaise of our democracy. The focus on winning government means that leaders are forged who can win elections but not lead the country.

The enormous political cost of changing from Rudd to Gillard, and back to Rudd, led to Rudd introducing new rules to the Labor party around leadership contention. This was good politics. It is not, necessarily, good government, if it serves to protect the interests of an incompetent or unsatisfactory Prime Minister. Such rules, ironically, would serve to protect Tony Abbott, and a similar set of requirements have been proposed for the Coalition that would further endanger Australia’s ability to unseat a leader who can campaign but not govern.

Where to from here?

History shows us that Tony Abbott is unlikely to survive as Prime Minister to the next election – unless the Coalition follows Labor’s lead and institutes new rules to prevent the unseating of a Prime Minister. If Tony Abbott is unseated, perhaps as a result of another poor Captain’s Call or a further string of poor polls and State election results, who would be expected to replace him? And would Abbott be replaced by a good governor – or a great campaigner?

Amongst the ideologues and right-wing extremists, the climate deniers and the silver spoon born-to-rule set, who on the Coalition’s side can be the great governor Australia needs? Malcolm Turnbull looks like the most likely candidate for the top job (despite the particular loathing which some of his Coalition colleagues reserve for him). Can Malcolm Turnbull the Despised become the negotiator, the facilitator, and the project lead that the Coalition so desperately needs?

 

Sweeteners

porkbarrel-e1409295205387“Australians don’t want another election”, says Tony Abbott. Naturally, this reflects both his own achievement of the goal – personal power – and the government’s standing in the polls. For Tony Abbott, elections are not about fulfilling the will of the people. They are about putting the right people into government. The “right people” are already there, job’s done, so there’s absolutely no call for another election – even one that might strengthen the government’s own standing.

In any case, a new election at this point in the cycle would not suit the Coalition. It is standard political operating procedure. In your first year in office, you do the “Mother Hubbard” trick and use it as an excuse to bring in the most unpopular and difficult of your priorities. To some extent you can still trade off this dialogue for your second budget as well.

By the time you get to the third year in office, you need to start thinking about another election, which means you focus on what little tidbits you can feed to a battered population. John Howard was a past master at this cycle and it bought him three terms despite the most egregious betrayals of the electorate – including a “never, ever” GST. It was only the continued focus on Workchoices – introduced midway through a cycle and still “alive” at the time of the 2007 election – that ended his run. This was despite Howard’s late attempt, in mid 2007, to introduce a “sweetener” to his toxic IR platform, in the form of a fairness test.

This is actually a crystal clear example of the way the Coalition works: impose your ideological position early, and if required, water it down slightly by the time of the election. You still end up with most of your goals intact.

A couple of days ago Kaye Lee related the experience of a senior government official, who was confident the Coalition would win the next election: “The sweeteners are coming and that is what they will remember.” If this is true, then Australia needs an election NOW – before the Coalition gets the chance to bring about its full electoral cycle of “hit hard, then give ’em back some of what you took to win votes”.

This statement leads to consideration: what kind of sweeteners can the Team Big Australia realistically offer come 2016?

It is certainly true that the toughest changes in the recent budget are expected to come to pass later rather than earlier – either ramping up over the next few years, or budgeted to become active after the next election. In part, this is Tony Abbott’s self-limitation: his unwarranted promises not to impose changes to education, health, the ABC or seemingly anything else before another election. Those promises force Abbott to adopt a largely status-quo approach: no major changes for the first few years. How that must smart.

Politics operates on a long-term forward-planning basis, but it’s often not good at communicating that. See, for example, Labor’s MRRT, the proceeds from which are expected to ramp up significantly in the next few years. That won’t save it from the Coalition’s “barely any revenue” rhetoric or its intractible desire to repeal it.

Therefore, much of the pain of Joe’s budget, the budget that we’re all squealing so loudly about, doesn’t actually kick in until after the next election. Notable exceptions are the changes to Newstart / Youth Allowance eligibility, which start on 1 January 2015, and the medicare co-payment, scheduled to begin 1 July 2015. (Both dates presume the legislation can be successfully passed before those deadlines.) But many of the most painful elements, including the indexation changes to the age pension and the $80bn cuts to health and education payments to the States, aren’t expected until after 2016.

All of this indicates that come 2016, the Coalition has more pain in mind, not sweeteners. But lately, the conversation has notably changed tack.

Joe Hockey has previously stated that the 2014 budget is just the start. We don’t hear much said about this any more – the idea that the Coalition wanted to go further, cut more harshly. Instead, the promise of doing more, with the implication that this is necessary and good, has transmuted to an amorphous threat that more will come if Labor and the Greens don’t play ball and pass this budget. The conversation has changed. Instead of being the first step in a long-term dialogue with the Australian people, “starting a national conversation about how we can live within our means” as Hockey said at the time, the 2014 budget is now the magic pill that tastes bad but will make it all better by the time the next election comes around.

It seems like not too far a stretch to expect that the Coalition plans to begin handing out its incentives by the time the next election comes around. Again, what kind of sweeteners can it actually offer? And is there any possibility that they might be successful? Will the Coalition really “romp home” in 2016?

Having run so hard on the concept that “Nothing is for free… nothing can continue to be free,” it seems unlikely that they will offer to restore the social support structures they’re currently fighting so hard to dismantle. Changes to unemployment benefits, healthcare funding, and pensions are long-term structural changes. The intent is good even if the methodology is not; these are areas where ongoing expenditure must be controlled for fear of them outstripping the government’s ability to support them. It would be counterproductive for the government to offer to retreat from its changes, so it’s fairly certain that, once legislated, the six-month furlough of payments, the medicare co-payment, and the changes to eligibility and indexation of support payments will be here to stay.

They could offer more infrastructure. But Tony Abbott’s repeated mantra of being “the infrastructure Prime Minister” appears to be falling on deaf ears. This is partly because of the Coalition’s intent to artificially restrict the kind of infrastructure projects it will engage in, and partly because of a range of State Liberal governments backing unpopular or inefficient projects that lack the populist chops except amongst people who are already their strongest supporters.

Thus the Coalition is likely to find itself constrained by the time of the next election. Building more schools and hospitals will not be helpful if the funding for existing schools and hospitals has been gutted. By the time of the next election the promise of more toll roads is unlikely to be a big draw-card, and the Coalition doesn’t want to be engaged in building rail.

This leaves tax cuts: the perennial stopgap of conservative governments and darling of John Howard’s appeal to the battlers. Tax cuts are within the Coalition’s DNA – their raison d’etre is to reduce taxes, reduce government offerings, and reduce community support. For those who can’t prosper under those conditions, the Market Will Provide.

Past Coalition election sweeteners have included a succession of income tax cuts, company tax cuts, and bonuses – for instance, the baby bonus was introduced by Howard in 2001. The 2007 election campaign carried all manner of sweeteners – 9 billion dollars worth – if we would only give the Coalition another chance. In many cases these offerings were “me-too” responses to promises already made by Labor.

So any incentives the Coalition can offer are likely to come in the form of tax cuts. They might be named “bonuses” or “supplements”, and they might be one-time only, but effectively the government will offer cash, hand over fist. Labor’s offer to increase the tax-free threshold to $18k and adjust the tax brackets, effectively giving tax cuts to large portions of the electorate, will be entirely forgotten in the rush of joy we will all feel at the government’s largesse. Expect many congratulatory statements from Team Abbott about how we all “pulled together”, bore the pain, took our medicine and reached a point, thanks to the Coalition’s careful management of the economy, where we can afford the rewards.

But will sweeteners be enough to secure the Coalition another term? It’s been repeatedly said that elections are lost, not won. It’s certainly true that the past two changes of government have occurred in spite of offered sweeteners, rather than because of them. In 2007, as mentioned above, Howard offered more incentives to electors in addition to a concession of watering down his beloved WorkChoices regime, but that didn’t save him; public opinion was far too set against his government and Kevin Rudd led Labor to a resounding victory. In 2013, too, Labor had far more on the table than the Coalition, including the aforementioned adjustments to income tax that would have seen millions of Australians no longer needing to pay tax at all. Ironically, Tony Abbott’s repealing of this legislation means that many more people are paying more tax than they otherwise would. Regardless of the sweeteners on offer, voters resoundingly voted Labor out of power. Unfortunately, the corollary is that they voted Tony Abbott in, without ever necessarily being won over by his ideological intentions on policy. Labor warned the electorate, at length, about the likely outcomes of an Abbott victory. Tony Abbott blithely dismissed these warnings as political alarmism and promised that he wouldn’t be like that at all. So now that his reassurances have proven hollow, could the Australian people be hoodwinked a second time?

We’ve never seen a government with the trajectory of the Abbott government. Already it languishes in depths of unpopularity not traditionally seen until several terms into government and, usually, preceding an electoral loss. It would seem at least possible that One-Term-Tony could be a predictive term. Historically, Australians don’t vote governments out after only one term, but this government may prove the exception. It seems likely that the only thing that could save them would be an electorate that still thinks that Labor is unelectable by the time of the 2016 election, which is why rejuvenation and reform of the Labor party is so critically important.

If the Coalition is able to retain government at the next election, the faint consolation will be that it won’t take long after the election for them to tighten the screws further. Then we’ll be having this discussion again, three years later, and with each successive election the chances of Labor regaining power improve.

The question then becomes, how much damage will Tony Abbott and his fellows do to Australian egalitarianism and society?

Why Obama beat the elephant . . he WAS the elephant

Photo: front.moveon.org

Photo: front.moveon.org

“If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void”

Barak Obama

Thanks to a cartoonist, the USA Democratic Party has been associated with the donkey, while the Republicans have been an elephant. But recently, I came across an analogy where human decision making was compared to a rider and an elephant – the rider being the intellect, and the elephant being the emotion. The rider may know where he should be going, but the elephant isn’t always easy to control.

So when someone argued that the conservative parties had the market cornered on emotional politics, it seemed appropriate that the Republicans were most closely linked with the elephant. Conservatives, it was suggested, use concepts such as loyalty (family values and patriotism) and fear (rising crime and weak borders) to win people over, whereas the Left are more inclined towards reason and argument.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, but one only has to look at the recent Australian election to see how this has played out. Budget emergency and border crisis were the buttons that the Coalition kept pushing over and over again. Labor, for the most part, stood on their record and used reasoned argument to suggest that this wasn’t true.

It’s probably worth remembering that one of the biggest boosts Gillard gave Labor was her “misogyny speech”. While the commentators reasoned that she shouldn’t be defending Slipper, the public responded well to her anger.

The problem that Abbott has now, in Government, is by taking away the reasons for the emotions – by telling us that the debt crisis isn’t really that urgent and shutting down the information on boat arrivals – he is encouraging people to think. And when they think, one of the thoughts is: Why did we vote for this clown?

In the United States, the Republicans gained great traction after September 11th attacks. Bush was able to use patriotism to rally people behind him. And by the 2004 election, while some people still questioned the decision to invade Iraq, there was a large portion of the US who felt that not voting for the President in times of war was, well, down-right un-American!

By 2008, of course, the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts no longer had the same emotional appeal. People were looking for a way out.

Barak Obama was different. Yes, he was black. But he possessed that charisma that made him sound inspiring. It’s sometimes hard to put your finger on why the same words will sound inspiring from one speaker, but like tired cliches from another. Something to do with the intonation; something to do with the timing. But whatever it was, Obama had it. He was able to excite the emotions.

Unlike the 2000 election where George W. Bush was challenged by the intellectual Al Gore, Obama was up against John McCain. Compare the emotional resonance of “Change we can believe in” with “Country First”!

And, at least for some, the opportunity to elect the first black President was exciting.

Then, even though some of excitement had worn off by 2012, Obama was up against a candidate whose motto was “Believe in America”. And while Obama’s “Forward” wasn’t much better it at least gave a direction rather than an ambiguous order. Obama won again because he was still able to engage the elephant as well as the rider, while his opponent had difficulty in making people care enough to actually want change.

Generally, the only successful Democrat candidates for president over the past fifty years have all been able to engage the emotions: Kennedy, Clinton and Obama. Carter, of course, had the advantage that he was standing after the shock of Watergate.

Does Labor need a similarly charismatic leader, or will Abbott manage to have people emotionally charged anyway? After all, fear of losing one’s job may be a pretty potent one by 2016. But loyalty and fear aren’t the only emotions. People can become worked up over things like fairness and honesty too.

The Greens support is dropping – just shows that climate change isn’t real

Photo: wordbubble generator

Photo: wordbubble generator

Ok, I’ve read a number of times about The Greens losing votes in the Federal Election. Then after Saturday’s Miranda By-Election in NSW where the Liberals lost with a swing against them over 20%, Paul Sheehan treated us to this:

Bushfires should be good for the Greens.

They have been warning about the rising impact of extreme weather events caused by global warming. Their deputy leader, Adam Bandt, spent last week attaching the bushfires raging across the state, with the destruction of more than 100 homes, to the policies of Abbott. The destruction of the Labor brand in NSW should also be good for the Greens. So, too, should be the government’s cuts in services. And the dominance of the NSW Liberals by lobbyists.

Despite all this, on Saturday, in an electorate that adjoins the bushfire-prone Royal National Park, and on a day when Sydney was ringed by fires and had just experienced the hottest September on record, the voters demolished the Greens.

In the 2011 state election, the Greens won a respectable 8.8 per cent of the primary vote in Miranda. On Saturday, that was cut in half, to 4.4 per cent. This was also worse than their 6.6 per cent vote in 2007, and 5.9 per cent in 2003. You have to go back 14 years, to the 1999 state election, when the Greens were still a fledgling party, to find a lower Greens vote in Miranda, 4.2 per cent.

This follows a failure in last year’s local government elections, where the swings against the Greens were biggest in the areas where they had exercised the most power. Their primary vote fell 12 per cent in Woollahra, in Leichhardt it dropped 11 per cent, in Canterbury, 10 per cent, in Marrickville, 7.4 per cent, and in the City of Sydney, 9 per cent. Apart from several modest improvements in other local government areas, the Greens’ vote in last year’s NSW local elections was a general retreat.

Apart from making the rather strange comment that “Bushfires should be good for the Greens” – (I wouldn’t have thought that bushfires are good for anybody. Reminds me of a comment from someone about the “pro global warming lobby”?? when refering to people concerned about climate change) – Sheehan goes on to say later:

The Greens have been going backwards for several years. Yet the party shows no evidence of humility, nor signs of listening to the messages being delivered by the wider public.

This analysis concerns me for a number of reasons. Sheehan is not the first commentator to suggest that The Greens have had their day, and now the electorate is returning to “more sensible” parties. But very few of them aknowledge one of the very important differences when comparing the votes today with the previous election.

Bob Brown’s retirement.

Bob Brown was a high profile politician, who like him or loathe him, gave you the feeling that he believed in his cause. He managed to project his party into the media in a way that Milne is yet to do. This is how Sara Phillips, ABC, saw his retirement at the time:

Bob Brown’s departure from politics is a big deal. His party garnered nearly 12 per cent of the vote in the last election. The Greens held the balance of power in the upper house of parliament, and was a key vote in the government’s shaky grip on the lower house. The party appeared to be growing and seemed as though it were an increasingly serious third force in power.

Commentators are wondering whether his replacement, Christine Milne, has the strength of character and political smarts to hold the party together and push it forward into the future.

His political style was one of calm reassurance. His lanky frame never looked at ease in a suit, but he carried out interviews in a way that seemed to emphasise the reasonableness of his view. Christine Milne, by contrast, always seems lecturing and peevish. Where Brown is all ageing greyhound, Milne is a Jack Russell.

Brown is certainly a focal point for the environment movement. He earned his stripes campaigning on the Franklin River dam protests. Ardent environmental admirers will point out that he even had the strength of conviction to go to jail for what he believed in. Environmentalists saw him as one of them.

It was not unexpected that the loss of Brown would lead to a drop in the party’s vote. Yet, in spite of the drop in support for The Greens, Adam Bandt retained his seat.

But I’m not as concerned for The Greens as a party, as much as Paul Sheehan’s other assertion that it “shows no evidence of humility, nor signs of listening to the messages being delivered by the wider public.”

A few years ago, there was a poll in one of the newspapers which asked if we thought that the Queen should abdicate now in favour of Charles, or wait until William was old enough to take the throne. My immediate thought was that it doesn’t matter what we think. The Royal Family is not a democratic institution.

And so with climate change, it doesn’t matter how we vote. It’s not a democratic institution. We can’t vote it out of existence. (Yes, all you sceptics, just because the majority of scientists say it’s real, doesn’t make it so! Personally, I’d rather go along with the majority than Lord Monkton.)  Were The Greens to say that they’ve suddenly realised the economic potential of razing entire forests to the ground, it’s not really likely to win them any votes. And their reason for existing would disappear.

We expect The Greens to be a party of conviction. Even those who don’t vote for them would be surprised if they made a pragmatic decision in order to win a few votes. The Greens are expected to be like our conscience – at times, a little annoying for most of us; something to be ignored by others.

There are two ways of looking at what a political party should offer us. The first is that parties should stand for something, that it should have certain core values and that you know when you vote for, say Rossleigh Brisbane’s United Australia Party, that you’re electing someone who believes that economic prosperity is more important than people’s rights, but if you vote for the People Against Slavery Party they have a strong record on human rights.  Any change in these core values should be a long and slow process, not something to be defined with each election.

The second is that parties should sway whichever was the breeze is blowing, and to reflect community sentiment. That its aim should be to do whatever it takes to gain the maximum number of votes.

The trouble with the latter is that we then end up with no alternatives. If every party is following the focus groups and opinion polls, then every party offers what the majority allegedly wants. For example, if you support gay marriage, which of the major parties was offering to bring that in? (In reality, neither, although Labor might have introduced a Bill.)

I’m glad that The Greens do stick to their policies. I expect them to not listen to the public, but to present their views and give the public a chance to judge them.  I don’t agree with everything they say or do, but I’m pleased that they’re not the pragmatists chasing every possible vote.

Strange that Paul Sheehan also mentions how well the Christian Democrats did in the same by-election by doubling their vote to 7%. I can’t seem to find any articles suggesting that the Christian Democrats are lacking humility or not listening to the public.

Margaret Thatcher divisive in death, attacks and celebrations unsavoury

Margaret Thatcher (image from theguardian.com)

Margaret Thatcher (image from theguardian.com)

Margaret Thatcher is as controversial in death as she was in life. The response to her death, by some, has been disappointing. Matthew Donovan explains.

I must admit I have been a little shocked and disappointed by the vitriol being meted out by some on the progressive side of politics towards a recently deceased Margaret Thatcher.

Those of you that know me, my background and political activities know I am a staunch and unapologetic left winger. So far be it from me to declare I am a fan of her actions in government.

She was a force to be reckoned with, especially when it came to unions and the idea of the collective. Her actions, to many, meant unemployment and a loss of quality of life.

Entire areas, most specifically areas such as Brixton, which were very much working class communities were smashed to pieces by her unyielding approach. However, it is unpleasant to see people celebrate the death of anyone.

For my mind that is not how progressives should behave. Our values lead us to be better than that. Better people than that.

I’m not saying we should mourn or fawn over her in death. I, for one, don’t have any strong emotions in relation to her death.

What I do have is respect for her place in history and her will to achieve her vision at all costs.

That’s politics. One side wins and they set about implementing their agenda. The opportunity to have a say about that agenda is given to electors every election where they pass judgment on where the country is heading.

Civility needs to remain part of politics no matter how one feels personally about the program being implemented by leaders or proposed to be implemented.

Tony Abbott is a perfect example of not remaining civil in politics and that is why I truly despise his approach.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhsl0QHSDWE&w=420&h=315]

One thing that does ring alarm bells for me is Tony Abbott’s statement on her passing and how he views her approach and legacy:

“Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest British prime ministers and one of the most significant world leaders of our times.

She was the first female prime minister of Great Britain and ranks with the greatest of prime ministers because of the quality of her leadership and the impact she had on Britain and the wider world.

Margaret Thatcher arrested the decline of Britain and gave the British people renewed confidence. She ensured the British people no longer simply dwelt on the glories of the past but could enjoy a strong and prosperous future.

The thoughts of the Coalition are with Baroness Thatcher’s family and the British people at this time.”

It is instructive of how he would lead this country and where he would take us. I will be fighting it with all my will.

The reason I am a little disappointed about the response of some people I would call friends is because it reminds me of the actions and words of nasty, repulsive trolls on anti-Gillard pages.

We can express our opinions without personal, vitriolic attacks. We’re smarter than that.

She was a divisive figure and there is no doubting that.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA_zEltxnb4&w=420&h=315]

I personally would have preferred she was never prime minister and I am distressed by the impact her policies had on many.

The level of hate towards her, even in death, brings that into sharp focus.

When all is said and done a human being has died and there is a family mourning the loss of a loved relative.

Dancing on her grave during that time is an ugly look.

(Originally published on www.independentaustralia.net)

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