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Issue #1611      September 18, 2013

Culture & Life

Life, demagogues and phoneys

Now that the tumult and the shouting is over – for the time being, at any rate – we can perhaps look at some features of this latest federal election. To understand the significance of the outcome of the election, one has to realise that to the more avid supporters of capitalism, business is sacred. Yes, sacred. Nothing can be allowed to interfere with the corporate pursuit of profit, which is a noble and uplifting activity that not only makes the world go round but is the source of all good things in life.

Such is clearly the credo of our new PM, and it bodes ill for the working people of this country, for Mr Abbott sees Australia’s workers, small farmers and other battlers not as the producers of the nation’s wealth but as the foot-dragging obstacle to improving corporate profits. And as we said, nothing is more important than corporate profits.

Corporate profits are also very important to the new wildcard in the electoral game in Australia, mining magnate Clive Palmer, our very own Berlusconi clone. The desire of filthy rich demagogues to go into politics is of course encouraged by the example of the United States of America, where all successful politicians must either be millionaires or have access to some one else’s millions.

Last year when Palmer set about founding his party, he announced that he was in fact “re-founding” it. It was to be a re-established United Australia Party or UAP. The UAP had been the conservative party of big business in this country in the 1930s, but when Robert Menzies gained control of it he renamed it the Liberal Party, not because its policies changed but because the UAP’s name was so much on the nose (thanks to those very policies, of course).

I don’t suppose Menzies’ habit of kowtowing to English royalty went down too well with a member of Australia’s national bourgeoisie like Clive Palmer, so his nostalgia for a pre-Menzies big business party is understandable. Simple minded, but understandable.

Unfortunately, there was already a registered political party called the Uniting Australia Party, so he had to drop the UAP idea. He chose instead to glorify himself, as such a person would. That a wealthy demagogue with a clutch of populist policies can get himself elected to federal parliament may disappoint us, but it should not surprise us. The mass of the people are not seriously encouraged to analyse or examine candidates’ policies. Most of the time, they are not even told what those policies are.

Clive Palmer has no doubt thrown plenty of money around in his electorate of Fairfax to make him popular, and he is a known supporter of the regional call for north Queensland to become a separate Australian state.

But do the electors there really believe that a multi-millionaire (if he is not a billionaire) can have any appreciation of the problems facing ordinary people – workers, small farmers, shop-keepers, pensioners, the unemployed? To vote for someone so out of touch with the reality of ordinary people’s lives is an act of desperation by people who have lost faith in political parties, who hope (rather than believe) that his promises will come true.

Demagoguery comes in many forms, but it always offers people what those doing the offering think people want to hear. Not what the people need or what they deserve, but what they have been told to want. What they have been told to think is important to them. While Palmer United campaigned on the curious slogan “Reunite the Nation” (in what way is it currently disunited?), the Libs campaigned on the extremely simplistic slogan “More jobs, Stronger borders”.

You could go on line and read their “Plan”, but they knew most people wouldn’t bother. People knew it was mostly political spin anyway.

The Greens were somewhat eclipsed in the plethora of hitherto unknown parties that stood (especially for the Senate). There can be no doubt that some of the new Senate parties were simply Liberal fronts intended to divert votes away from Labor and the Greens. We had a couple of “Independents” standing as a team in our area. Their policies were nebulous, not bad, focussed on local issues, but they also made a big point of making sure their preferences went straight to the Libs.

The Greens were burdened with the desire to tell the electors the truth and to actually have policies, rather than relying on glib slogans. But this meant that to get their message across they had to get people to actually read their election material in detail. Their main slogan, “Standing up for what matters”, does not in fact tell you what they are standing up for at all. Only if you read their ad in full would you discover that their program included opposing new coal mines, more money for the unemployed and single mothers, cutting CO2 emissions by a whopping 90 percent by 2030, more money for universities, expanding Denticare and humanitarian treatment of asylum seekers.

Admittedly hard to put all that in a catchy slogan, unlike the other major players who didn’t bother with policies, just chose a slogan their focus groups told them would sound good and be remembered until polling day.

The deficiencies in bourgeois democracy, and the ease with which it can be manipulated by those with money, were glaringly obvious in this latest federal election. It has led to numerous calls to limit the ability of “small parties” to get on the Senate ballot paper.

This is backed by people who want to stop outfits like the Gun Lovers Party cluttering up the ballot paper, but if adopted such limits would be used to prevent working class parties from contesting elections. We have enough of a hard time already under the existing restrictions, thank you.

It has even provided an opportunity for some people (even in our own Party!) to question the wisdom and validity of compulsory voting, one of the working class’s victories we must defend and retain.

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