As if you didn’t already know, the year is fast coming to a close. A few weeks ago now was the end of a tumultuous year in the federal parliament which saw us experience more noise, more nonsense and more annoying antics than ever before, not to mention many new rules and regulations. As I remarked to someone the other night, politics is a continuous learning curve, even for those of us that observe it closely and perhaps a little to closely.
To that end, I thought I would share with my readers, some lessons that I have learned from Australian politics in 2012. And you, the reader, may have learned these lessons too.
CYNICISM AND POLITICS
Now, I know upon reading the title of this section, that you are probably thinking, but of course we should be cynical about politics. And you are right, we should, unfortunately, be cynical about politics. Politics for many, including seasoned observers, has an uncanny knack of disappointing, of making us feel like we should almost always expect bad things from our elected representatives.
What I have in fact discovered over the last twelve months, is that a little bit of cynicism does not go far enough. It has to be at the front of your mind at all times as you dissect what politicians say and do in the mad scramble to get power or to maintain dominance. And that is a shame, because politicians should always have the mantra of doing the right thing in the forefront of their minds, not how to continue to be politically dominant.
The cause for needing extra cynicism is probably largely down to the tight numbers in Parliament House, though you would have to argue that the starting level of cynicism required to view politics is already too high.
NEGATIVITY AND POLITICS
The year 2012 has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that negative politics works. We have also proved beyond any shadow of a doubt here in Australia, that it is much easier to engage in than positive policy discussion.
The polls have shown though, that there is such thing as too much and that has affected party votes and leader preferences.
But if there is one thing that political pundits are sick of more than anything, it is exactly the ridiculous level of negativity that infects the political debate. The broader population however have largely switched off from politics and did so a long time ago.
THE POLITICS OF PERSONALITIES
This year, above all others, politicians have spent a large amount of time attacking the character of each other and the way that each side of politics conducts themselves in the political debate. Politicians have done this at the expense of policy arguments, though hopefully, with 2013 being an election year, policies will be the order of the day.
The lesson however, is do not be too hopeful.
POLITICAL FATIGUE IS POSSIBLE
Of course the general public experience fatigue from the consumption of politics even after the smallest possible political meal on the nightly news’ bulletins. And the public at large has been subjected to chronic political fatigue syndrome.
But one thing I never thought possible, even at the start of the year after about one and a half years of minority government, was that I, a self-confessed political junkie would at times be too exhausted by our politics and that is a sad indictment on the state of the discourse.
PARTY NAMES AND IDEOLOGIES MEAN A LOT LESS
In 2012 we have seen, from time to time, more than I can ever remember, that party names and the political ideologies behind them are becoming even more redundant. In part this is because of the nature of the 43rd parliament and surely too, because of the increasing appeal of populism to political parties.
We’ve seen the Liberal Party become even less of a Liberal Party than under John Howard and have also seen Labor willing to ditch their core values more often than ever in the last 12 months. Both sides shifting has the potential to alienate people.
AND SO IT GOES…
The year ends in less than two weeks and after that same period of time an election year will be upon us. Soon, the year 2012 in Australian politics will mean very little, as the more important election year choices start being made.
Let’s hope it is a much more edifying spectacle.
In the week leading up to last night’s episode of ABC1 panel show Q&A, the instalment was billed as the Rudd and Turnbull show, the ‘two elephants in the room’, despite the fact that there was two other panellists, Judith Sloan and Heather Ridout. A new noun was spawned for the two former leaders, ‘Ruddbull’.
Despite the two female members of the panel, that’s basically what it was, the Rudd-Turnbull conversation hour with the occasional recognition of the other two guests on the show.
There were two questions you just knew were unfortunately going to be asked, either by a member of the audience or through a video question. After a good 53 minutes of intelligent questions and reasonable debate, a rarity for Q&A, those questions came.
The first question was along the lines of ‘Malcolm and Kevin: When will you take back the reins of leadership, reclaiming the place that rightly belongs to you in your respective political parties?’.
The second question that is usually asked when Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull are appearing publicly is equally as vapid, predictable and lacking in intellect. It is a question that, coming from a guest on a show about politics , actually reveals a distinct lack of understanding of both the ideological spectrum and the political realities of present day politics.
That question usually goes a little something like this- ‘Kevin and Malcolm: When are you two going to leave your respective political parties and form a third force in politics to conquer all evil in both the Liberal and Labor Parties?’
This might come as a shock to many, but both the Liberal and Labor Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd some time ago now. Malcolm Turnbull was the first to go, dispatched in favour of the more conservative and anti-ETS Tony Abbott. Then, half a year later, in the swiftest and rarest of prime ministerial coups, Kevin Rudd was gone in favour of Julia Gillard.
What may also surprise people is that despite the poll popularity of both Rudd and Turnbull, neither candidate can lay claim to the being the rightful ‘owner’ of the leadership. That is true of any candidate, despite popularity.
We know in theory that the polls say that is the contest people want. But the reality is different.
Rudd may be more popular with voters than Julia Gillard, but his popularity was sliding while still in office. Also, after having his reputation so heavily besmirched by his own party, by some of his own cabinet, there is absolutely no hope of him ever being returned. This is especially the case after being heavily defeated in the February leadership spill.
If Mr Rudd were returned, the Liberal Party would have a field day. As it is, their campaign strategy for the next election, in terms of targeting the ALP, has already been written.
The case for Mr Turnbull is slightly different.
It is true that under his leadership the polls were getting close and may have continued to improve for the Coalition as we neared the 2010 election, However, a first term defeat still would have been a very unlikely proposition, even though that nearly happened under Tony Abbott.
The simple fact with the Liberal side of politics is that Malcolm Turnbull was dumped in favour of Tony Abbott who managed to greatly excite the party’s base, increasingly conservative voters.
The positive for Turnbull is that the polls are narrowing and Tony Abbott continues to be an unpopular leader. Among Liberal voters, according to one poll, Malcolm Turnbull is preferred Liberal leader.
It is also the case that the carbon price, according to the polls, is becoming much less of an issue. If that trend continues, a pro-ETS leader in what was largely a pro-ETS party, but for electoral purposes, could again seize the leadership.
However, it is a case of ‘what-ifs’. It would seem that the polls are unlikely to change much more than they already have and if they do not narrow further in the coming months, the case for Turnbull leading the Liberal Party will again peter out.
But again, Turnbull is not the rightful heir of some kind of political kingdom.
In terms of the hilarious proposition that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull hand in their membership cards and leave their respective parties to form a new political force, well, one can only laugh.
Of course largely, across politics, particularly in recent decades, there has been a significant amount agreement on policy grounds, over 80%, even during what is supposed to have been a destructive Abbott leadership.
Really, there should be more of a policy difference between both the Coalition and the Labor Party. There is however, in the real world of politics, the bane, many would say electoral reality, of populism.
What, in terms of major policy, do the two actually agree on? Very little actually. They may agree on outcomes, but as for the mode of getting there? Well there is clearly a difference.
Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull do both agree about acting on climate change, but so did most of the Liberal Party under Turnbull’s leadership and at least 44 Liberal MP’s in the leadership vote until the electoral popularity of the anti-carbon tax stance set in. So then obviously a number in the Liberal Party should actually leave it, not just Malcolm? I think not.
That really is the key similarity other than Kevin Rudd’s fake claim before the 2007 election to be an economic conservative. Malcolm Turnbull actually is one and has a history of economically conservative actions in an economically conservative government.
The only other key similarity is actually still a difference. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull represent more of what their party used to be than what it is today. Kevin Rudd is a social democrat and Malcolm Turnbull a liberal conservative rather than a conservative liberal, some would even say a true liberal.
Of course populism means there will be other similarities between the two and between the political parties they represent, though they are not as deep and abiding as to allow for the formation of a political party with broad common interests.
Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly to the left of the current ALP and Malcolm Turnbull to the left of the Liberal Party. However, Turnbull is firmly placed on the right of the political spectrum and Rudd on the left.
Unfortunately, a show now more interested in the superficial, in personalities, or at the very least a narrow range of policy areas again strayed into the absurd.
What should be a serious political show must not indulge such strange, deluded and predictable thoughts and certainly not on a regular basis.