With a spill of the Labor party leadership this afternoon, I thought it appropriate that I share a few of my thoughts about the current Australian political landscape. I fucking hate Australian politics usually, it doesn’t appeal to the “big ideas” pretentiousness inside me that Canadian or Indian politics does. But living here it is difficult to avoid.
Last week I engaged in a debate with a friend of mine about the respective presentation styles of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. I had just watched Rudd’s recent speech on the anniversary of the Apology, and had to say I was impressed. For the International Relations and political philosophy nerds it was a lovely piece of Constructivist insight into the Australian nation, but at the same time it was accessible to those who have not studied such things.
Gillard makes no attempt to engage with the educated voter at all. Her rhetoric is aimed squarely at those who may catch a ten second news snippet every second day. She is a slave to the public relations douche-bag complex that modern politics has become. She makes no attempt to transcend this, and no attempt to even meld the two worlds, like Rudd does.
There could be an argument that this is a result of our compulsory voting system. That the engaged political junkie is not a large enough slice of the electoral pie to be worth speaking to. Yet implicit in this argument is the idea that the “average punter” is too dumb to understand complexity. To me, that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Both Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott have adopted this slow and deliberate speaking style that is really quite pathetic.
Presumably there is some research that indicates the suburban swinging voter has hearing difficulties, and speaking like an American tourist in a non-English speaking country is the only way to connect with them. But I don’t buy it.
I would say that the current public distrust in, and disdain for, politicians is a direct blowback of the distrust and disdain that politicians have for the public. The Prime Minister’s vocal stylings are the epitome of the childlike and uneducated view the modern political communications professional has of the general public.
I’m not sure whether it is the influence of such douche-bags, or the PM herself that is the real reason she is not relatable on a large scale. Quite frankly I find Gillard to be very awkward. The evolution of ideas through 60s to the 90s seems to have evaded her. She seems to have just sticky-taped a modern 21st Century woman onto a 1950s Old Labor worldview. In an era of rapid change, we frequently discuss the conflicts created by generational change, but Gillard seems to be a personification of this conflict.
So if things remain as they are Abbott will win the forthcoming election by default, from McMasion Man to erudite and effete political scholar this is blatantly obvious. Although personally I would prefer Gillard’s lack of gravitas, vision and execution to Abbott’s toxic, backwards and pathetic worldview, I believe the combination of the two will reset the clock on Australian politics. The public will demand something more that what we currently have on offer. The tension caused if the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate may speed this eventuality up, but this sentiment is bubbling quite strongly through the public consciousness and I suspect will give Abbott only one term in office.
Somewhat amusingly, the two most popular politicians in the country have been rejected by their respective parties.
Malcolm Turnbull is as removed from the average suburban punter as one can can get. Yet people associate his wealth with his ability. He may not be the first bloke you would invite to a BBQ, but there’s a belief he knows his shit. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a product of his life experiences, and people respect that, even if it is disassociated from their own life experiences.
Rudd, regardless of his flaws as autocratic and abusive manager, has spark of vision and intellect that the public does actually seem to desire in their leaders.
But this phenomenon is a product of our political system that is a slave to the brutality of party discipline and pre-selection. The two politicians who have “personal brands” outside of their party lines, and are popular as a result, have both been spat out by their parties. The internal party structures cannot tolerate that kind of personal popularity. It’s reasonably ironic for a democracy, and a significant flaw in the Westminster system.