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What is the “mad left”?

Even before the Albanese government was certain that it would have a clear majority, the Sky News chorus had begun baying about the “mad left” taking power. What the madness constitutes is never quite made clear. It is “vibe” rather than diagnosis.

It is not to be dismissed because of that inexactitude. This is another echo of the games deriving from the American right where the so-called left is essentially unfit to hold office; only the right can form a legitimate government. The fear-mongering underpins the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as well as the continuing efforts to “stop the steal.”

It is further developed in the US. The intertwining of the religious right with the Republican Party has given an Evangelical (Pentecostal) infusion to the mix. In the Spiritual Warfare battle between good and evil that must be won for Jesus to return, Jesus votes Republican and the “left” is a demonic force obstructing him.

Depicting the largely centrist Democrats as a wild left is quite an achievement. Two Democrat senators owned by the right prevent most legislation being passed, let alone progressive bills. Depicting the party as the face of evil in America makes democracy impossible.

The “conservative” parties of the UK and Australia are playing a less extreme version of the same game as part of their efforts to entrench minority rule. Their policies are not in the interests of the voters they need in (approximate) democracies: culture war battles inherent to “conservative” identity must replace policy platforms to attract the majority vote.

The GOP is aided by a deeply distorted democratic structure underpinning the republic. The Tories have just passed legislation that undermines the independence of their electoral commission in a substantial blow to British democracy. The Australian “conservative” parties struggle to surmount a hurdle not faced by their UK and US brothers: compulsory and preferential voting. Disillusionment and despair are strong motives not to bother voting if it is optional. These egalitarian measures force the Australian Coalition partners to work harder to convince their bloc to vote against their own interests.

The process of undermining Australians’ faith in our strong electoral processes is underway. Clive Palmer and his conspiracy voters are overtly echoing American talking points. Ballot boxes were hidden and shady companies provided electoral management, if you loiter in this underbelly of the internet.

The fact that the Labor Party achieved a majority government at all could be considered a miracle given the barrage of propaganda and nonsense that a lacklustre press gallery churned out as election coverage. That farce crested its years of echoing Coalition talking points; the members of Scott Morrison’s inner circle of reporters to whom inside information was granted were keen to maintain this access. Only a handful still merit the professional label of journalist.

This propagandist spin continues to seethe for the more mainstream “conservative” voter. News Corp has deployed the Dog Line to howl the weakness of Labor’s victory. Sky’s Gemma Tognini wrote in The Australian that Labor’s vote was “staggeringly low” and that the idea that Labor voters “abandoned it” robbed the new government of a “firm mandate.” Somehow “sliding into power via preferences” is a sign of shoddy victory rather than a canny electorate. The Australian’s National Editor, Dennis Shanahan, wrote to remind his peers that “tears, recriminations, claims of a lack of mandate, the lowest primary vote on record or that Labor is only a hybrid government tinged irrevocably teal and green from its independent allies” are “pointless.”

They are not, however, pointless. The point is to undermine faith in our voting system, as well as Labor’s right to form government. Through the Howard years, conservatives argued that voting should no longer be compulsory. In the controversial 2020 parliamentary committee report on electoral matters, conservative voices had pushed for the voter ID laws and optional preferential voting. Happily for the Coalition, optional preferential voting would “devastate Labor.”

Unlike the UK, Australia has so far seen off these Republican-style attacks on our electoral process, but we need to remain aware of the risks. The formerly conservative side of politics is entrenching a more radical right trajectory and undermining the numbers voting combined with enraging their base are the only ways they can bring a hard right government into being.

NSW moderate Matt Kean observed that none of the lost Liberal vote went to more conservative candidates. Nonetheless, Sky’s Peta Credlin celebrated the chance to go more radical right now the so-called moderates have been flushed. Sky’s Rowan Dean berated the moderate “bedwetters” betraying the base with their Labor-lite impotence. The toxic chorus demands the Liberals embrace more radical positions.

Sky News is funnelled free-to-air into the regions drumming in this message that Australia faces “three years of hard-core left-wing government that will destroy the fabric of this nation.” It unifies the conspiracy spheres that underly the UAP vote with a resentful base. Peter Dutton’s initial speeches as Leader of the Opposition have been loaded with disdain for the capacity of the ALP to govern. This has provided amusement for the many “safe Liberal” electorate voters who turned against the Morrison government’s malign incompetence, but it is to the base that he speaks. The mythical “socialist left” embodied by the Labor Party will destroy everything.

By depicting Dutton as a “pragmatic conservative” rather than a radical right figure, Greg Sheridan aims to normalise the leader’s authoritarian political leaning. Dutton has said he thinks parliament is a disadvantage for sitting governments. He combined Australia’s enforcement and surveillance arms in one body in the mega-department of Home Affairs, and deployed them in a highly illiberal way. He victimised an out-group for the vengeful pleasure of his in-group. His pitch is to lead this so-called party of the worker against the educated elite of the left.

Like America, we can celebrate the victory of the centre left over manifestly incompetent and malevolent radical right governments. Like America, though, we should be very careful not to believe the radical right is defeated.

This was originally published in Pearls and Irritations.

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7 comments

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  1. leefe

    As far as I can work out, the “mad Left” in Australia is composed of anyone (and everyone) who isn’t an IPA member, or who does not totally agree with the IPA’s hit list for the Australia they want to see.

    Extra points against anyone who isn’t straight, white, cis, Christian, male and/or reasonably well-off. And if you give a rat’s about other people and/or the environment … well, first to be up against the wall when their imagined revolution comes.

  2. Terence Mills

    As noted in the article, SKY are broadcasting into regional Australia free to air via networks WIN and Southern Cross Austereo. Plus they have their poorly supported pay TV offering.

    They have chosen to go regional as they did in the US with FOX as they see these regional markets as potentially divided and disaffected and easily influenced.

    Former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, told the media diversity inquiry in February that Sky News would seek to radicalise politics in Australia within a decade just as Fox News had undermined democracy in the US.

    Not a healthy situation for Australia to be in.

  3. Albos Elbow

    Well of course you would be mad for not voting for Scott Morrison and all the great things he’s done for Australia, like change the media ownership laws for Rupert Murdoch so that he can make more fantastic shows like Sky After Dark and The Bolt Report to re-educate people not to vote for the “mad left”.

    “And it’s goodnight from him . . . “

  4. Kathryn

    The “mad left” is a derogatory – and rather desperate – description used and abused by the “sore losers” in the LNP to describe the following members of our community:

    ** Anyone with an Intelligence Quotient >50 who has even the most basic level of compassion, discernment, foresight and common sense;

    ** Anyone with a pulse who has been thoroughly, and justifiably, nauseated, disgusted and angered by the unspeakable level of self-serving corruption, non-stop pathological lies, criminal rorting and waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars by the LNP – over the past catastrophic nine years of relentless mismanagement, malfeasance and ineptitude!

    ** Any thinking, intelligent person – of any sex, age, colour or creed – who has been understandably outraged, offended and angered by the level of insufferable condescending contempt in which the pompous, born-to-rule elitists in the LNP treats anyone and everyone who is not a member of their “inner circle” or who is not one of the LNP’s protected species in the Top 1%;

    ** Any fair-minded, egalitarian person – male or female – who isn’t disgusted by the level of criminal sexual mistreatment and abuse of women by so many disreputable, alpha male predators within the LNP – even at least three members of the front cabinet who, instead of facing justice for their appalling behaviour were, instead, promptly promoted through the ranks! The dismissive, contemptuous manner in which these smug, smirking misogynists in the LNP treat women (in general) has been a REAL problem for the LNP going back decades and continues to be so! Things went from bad to worse under the appalling male-dominated cabinet of that strutting, swaggering, inarticulate misogynist Abbott and, later, when the alpha-male Horizon cultist, Morrison backstabbed his way to the top, the twisted, sexist ideology of the CULT of Hillsong and Horizon became entrenched!

    ** Anyone who is infuriated and embarrassed by the appalling way the Abbott/Morrison regimes have embarrassed our nation on the world stage! Every time Abbott opened his mouth, he brought shame and disgrace to our shores! Then we had to suffer through Morrison’s abysmal “performances” overseas where he made an absolute idiot of himself – which, tragically, reflected upon our country – by being outed as a remorseless liar by the French President (Emmanuel Macron), doing a 180 degree turn and backing out – at the 11th hour – on a deal he made with France to build submarines, the lost of which will NOW cost Australia countless MILLIONS OF DOLLARS for nothing!

    ** Anyone who’s completely disgusted by the LNP’s horrific levels of blatant, and covert, racism and intolerance of anyone who isn’t white, male and/or Christian! The FACT that there is absolutely NOTHING “Christian”, kind, compassionate or genuine about one single member of the depraved LNP has been evident going back decades!

    ** Anyone who is repelled by the stone-cold, callous inhumanity exhibited by the LNP – especially Morrison and Dutton – who can only be described as the worst, most cruel, political psychopaths this country has ever seen! The devastation, misery and tragic consequences wrought by Morrison’s ROBODEBT could only have been masterminded by the type of cold-blooded, smug, bible-thumping hypocrite who didn’t have a single drop of compassion, sympathy or care for another living soul but themselves! Morrison was the warped, totally heartless architect of ROBODEBT but, you can be sure, Dutton will – if ever elected as the next soulless PM – will go on to extend, defend and militarise it! The manner in which Morrison and Dutton indefinitely and ILLEGALLY incarcerated that little Tamil family – including their two little children – in one of the LNP’s despicable off-shore concentration camps – received worldwide condemnation! The LNP used and abused this innocent family – who were beloved and welcomed in the town of Biloela – to make a mute point about their rigid, inhospitable and callous stance in relation to our international borders! Fortunately, Anthony Albanese has put a stop to the LNP’s ongoing traumatisation of this family and they have now been returned and welcomed back into the fold of Biloela!

    OK, now that we have listed the majority of intelligent, compassionate, foresightful and educated people in our nation whom the LNP contemptuously view as the “mad left” majority who were so willing and thankful to be given the opportunity to kick the LNP – the worst, most corrupt, callous and inept government in our history – to the kerb at the last election, what’s left?

    Answer: The irrational right-wing comprising the mindless, self-serving, racist, intolerant minority and/or the non-taxpaying corporate predators in the Top 1% who believe, or condone, ALL the character-assassinating lies, hubris and right-wing propaganda spewed out by the unconscionable LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance or all the manufactured, politically motivated, totally biased crap inhale from the Z-rated rags of the Murdoch press!

  5. Florence nee Fedup

    I don’t believe there many mad lefties when it comes to Labor. The Greens these days are further left. I had a lot of time for the mad left, such as the Commies. Most I knew were kind, primarily men. Passionate about their beliefs. They looked after one another. No. I was not one of them. I was in the process of awakening, moving from DLP to ALP. I know that the NSW Painters & Dockers had no time for the socialist, mainly young women in shabby skirts & $200 shoes. I was not talking about the Melbourne mob.

  6. Kaye Lee

    After the knifing of Turnbull in 2018, Craig Laundy made some interesting comments.

    “The part that gets missed for people outside Canberra … is when you are in Parliament House, our side of politics spends their whole time in their offices with Sky News playing in the background, and you are watching colleagues going head-to-head with Labor on policy, but once it gets to 6pm, it goes from panel-style shows to commentary shows.

    “Look that’s [Sky’s] business model, it isn’t sour grapes, they are entitled to do this, they are trying to go the Fox News, US-style controversial rightwing shake-it-up … and a lot of my colleagues take what they say as gospel.”

    “That’s the power of the Canberra bubble, the fact that [Sky] commentators, in the isolation of your office, can whip people up into a frenzy.” Laundy says those broadcasters have no impact on public consciousness in Australia at all, but “the impact they have is in the mind of the politician whilst in Canberra – and that’s something we need to break”.

    He says the government cannot afford to ignore the message of the recent Wentworth byelection, because the Liberal party holds too many other seats like it. The reaction of the community in Turnbull’s old seat is not an anomaly, he insists, it’s a harbinger of what’s to come. “If you want to lurch hard right … you are never going to win.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/25/craig-laundy-i-saw-the-worst-of-politics-i-had-a-ringside-seat

    That, along with branch stacking, has made Coalition politicians misjudge broader public sentiment.

  7. Andrew J. Smith

    Hopefully hubris and ignorance of voters will get to the hard right LNP as they seem to become more out of touch and dependent upon regional NSW & QLD for support, via the National Party and preference flows from ON etc., while there needs to be a media commission of inquiry and a mini enlightenment e.g. supporting science and critical thinking.

    On another related note, much impact is from the, often ‘Orwellian’ language and communications used in political PR including imported US tactics of Bernays, later dog whistling and denigration of targets (deflecting from others), but there is a more existential danger for the whole nation.

    Prof. Ian Haney-Lopez of Berkeley researched a book decade ago, ‘Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class‘, according to OUP ‘offered a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests‘.

    As disturbing is how both Haney-Lopez and UK Tory Baroness Warsi have warned that in US and UK ‘dog whistling’ and political partisanship is tearing apart both the nation and the middle class; helped by right wing legacy media with outcomes of Brexit and Trump, still dragging the same nations backwards…..

    Australia needs to be careful of the influence of not just consolidated or same thinking media publishers, whether NewsCorp, 7WM, 9F, Spectator, Breitbart or Rebel News, but the agitprop they transmit to nudge voters in the right policy direction, channeled via fossil fueled libertarian Koch Network think tanks and nativist ‘environmental’ Tanton Network NGOs; long term ‘architecture of influence’ used to support the right in the Anglosphere and trash society.

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