People like us

7

It is often remarked that people in different political parties can seem more alike and be more comfortable with each other, than with members of their own parties. The reason is simple. Political parties are composed of no more than three kinds of people (what follows is based on Australia, but with minor variations could also be used for US and UK) – idealists, ideologues, careerists.

The careerists of both sides have little interest in policy or ideology. Such people join the Liberal Party in a natural progression, just as they might join the Melbourne Club. A brief stint as a lawyer, into politics, on to diplomacy, into lucrative seats on the boards of big companies. It’s just what people like us do, dear chap, what our families and friends do, have always done. One expects, naturally, to be a minister, but the purpose of being so, except for providing mates’ rates on government projects for friends, is of less interest than the tailor who has made one’s suit. Just give them the party platform, whatever it is, and they’ll go along with it and be sure to stick their hands up at the right times. In return the lucrative business opportunities to make serious money will emerge naturally from the contacts made.

Much the same on the Labor side. Some university training, perhaps in Law, activity in a suitable Union involving administration in some way, into politics, into diplomacy perhaps, on to Boards of medium-sized companies and statutory authorities. Friends and family will have often followed similar career trajectories. If you are smart you’ll become a minister, but apart from making decisions that will benefit causes you and your friends hold dear, just give them the party platform, tell them which faction they are in, and the hand will be raised at the right time. In return, after, or even during political life, business opportunities will arise that make poor boys from the wrong side of the tracks or the wrong side of the ocean, rich almost beyond the dreams of avarice.

The ideologues who join the Liberals do so because this is the Party that will, for purely pragmatic reasons, support them. A gaggle of true believers in one or more of Libertarianism, neoconservatism, union-bashing, fundamentalist religions, racism, climate change denial, anti vaccination, guns, anti-environmentalism, war, the rich, anti fluoridation, misogyny, anti-abortion, xenophobia, creationism, gay bashing, the 1950s, find a warm and welcoming roof over their heads in the Liberal Party. They come from small community groups and even smaller astro-turf groups. Once they would have found themselves on the very back seat of the very back row of the Back Bench, these days they find themselves as Shadow Ministers and Ministers. And where once ministers might be selected for their expertise in, say, education or health, these days the ideologues will find themselves in charge of that which they hate most – climate change deniers as environment minister for example, xenophobes in immigration, religious fundamentalists in science, union bashers in workplace relations, anti vaccers in health, creationists in education, and so on. In later life they will go back to doing what they were doing before political life, listening to shock jocks and taking part in virulent demonstrations outside abortion clinics or refugee bureaus.

The ideologues who join Labor often do so from Union backgrounds. They do so because of the chance to sing “solidarity forever” out of tune at union meetings, and to be totally supported by fellow colleagues, while having a platform to rant about their particular obsession, which may be total support for union activity regardless of any other consideration, fundamentalist religions, racism, climate change denial, anti vaccination, guns, anti-environmentalism, war, the rich, anti fluoridation, misogyny, anti-abortion, xenophobia, creationism, gay bashing, the 1950s. They rarely seek ministerial glory (and would be seen as too loopy to get it), but are much happier in the back rooms deciding who does get the ministries and what policies are followed. They can it seems block environmental action, same-sex marriage, serious climate change moves, compassionate attitudes to refugees, while supporting chaplains in schools. Later life will be the same.

The idealists in the Liberal Party hark back to the golden age of small-l liberalism, back to the time of Menzies, and believe it still forms the core of the Liberal Party. They imagine the Party as a “Broad Church”, one where many voices and points of view are welcomed, indeed encouraged, where one is free to be an individual (unlike of course the regimented group-think of Labor), where merit is recognised. There may be small-l libertarian, small-b business, and small-r religious beliefs involved. They believe, or believe they believe, in science, rationalism, humanism, and that they are the children of the Enlightenment. In spite, or rather because, of these beliefs, in government they find themselves shunted into low status soft ministries (like arts or environment or social services) or left on the back bench, where they may occasionally consider crossing the floor in relation to issues such as refugees. In later life they find themselves heading community service organisations, or becoming professors of public medicine, or practising pro bono legal work, or working for causes such as refugees or Aboriginal people.

The idealists in the Labor Party are drawn to it, moths to a flame, by the Light on the Hill, believing that the Party is still that of Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam. They come into it not via the unions but via universities and community organisations. They imagine Labor is a Broad Church where a diversity of ideas and opinions are encouraged, individuality welcomed, unlike the Liberal Party with its iron party discipline. They believe in small-s socialism, small-e environmentalism, small-a atheism. They believe, or believe they believe, in science, rationalism, humanism, and that they are the children of the Enlightenment. In spite, or rather because, of these beliefs, in government they find themselves shunted into low status soft ministries (like arts or environment or social services) or left on the back bench, where they may occasionally consider crossing the floor in relation to issues such as refugees. In later life they find themselves heading community service organisations, or becoming professors of public medicine, or practising pro bono legal work, or working for causes such as refugees or Aboriginal people.

Clearly, those within each category, irrespective of party, will have a lot in common. Labor and Liberal careerists may combine on a more or less shady business deal; Labor and Liberal ideologues opposing abortion will find themselves at the same rally or prayer meeting; Labor and Liberal idealists will find themselves signing the same petitions, joining the same university departments. Each pair may well find themselves complaining about how bad their careerist and ideologue colleagues, say, are.

What is needed, clearly, is a mechanism for converting the two parties into three.

7 comments on “People like us

  1. Don says:

    “Third” parties, with different bases and objectives (DLP, Democrats) have failed and the Greens could be in trouble. Is this demise inevitable? If so – why? If not – what is going wrong?

    Like

  2. Joy Cooper says:

    Then, of course, there are those of us who have a strong sense of fair play & justice naturally finding one party more to our taste. The Greens are too black & white, no shades of grey with never any thought of negotiation, no matter what..It’s their way or no way. No thanks.

    The Liberals are too up themselves thinking they are the chosen ones. Our betters if you will. I’d refuse to be sent to the tea making room to make supper during branch meetings. Nup not much in common with them,,either, I’m afraid.

    Guess that just leaves ??

    Like

  3. Alan Phillips says:

    Exactly what I’ve been saying for many years, and is why I vote for a minor party. The system needs a third party that can hold to Don Chipp’s slogan to “keep the bastards honest.” Sadly the Democrats couldn’t.

    Like

  4. hudsongodfrey says:

    Political parties can be a bit like football teams. There are a few members but a lot more supporters, and because your categories I think allude to what the members have in common, that probably leaves a larger number of people who make up the electorate wondering. Which is fine, but I’d add that in order to convert two parties into three it seems to me that the big challenge is to get enough people to vote for that third party. is it not?

    Like

  5. Hypocritophobe says:

    Or you can vote for who supports your own value set.
    Otherwise doesn’t it make you purely a pragmatist?

    Our electoral system is ‘too’ aggro in its adversary and bases itself more and more on fear, and these days both major parties driven totally by unfettered growth.They are more an arm of business,The Libs by the font door, labor in the back.
    The fact that we even ‘need’ a Green party is an indication that we have lost the intrinsic connections which make us human first,voter second.
    The birth (evolution) of economic rationalism, obviously saw the bulk of politics shift focus.That will come back and bite us on the arse.
    The prospect of having no green party, and economic rationalist at both ends of the political spectrum will just accelerate the inevitable.
    However, ironically, there are growing numbers of FIFO tree changers who find themselves torn.Do they turn into NIMBYs and complain about development on their own home turf, and be called hypocrites, or do they stand up for their beliefs.
    Experience so far has shown me that that they cop it on the chin, as the wilderness hobby farm has it’s guts ripped out. because otherwise ‘they may offend the boss.”I think Margaret River coal exploration in WA,changed that a tiny bit.This is a phenomenon worth watching as tree changers grown in number and area, at a similar pace to fracking etc.The clashes are likely to grow in number and location.
    My belief for this election is that if the Greens lose too much ground it will be a very sad day for the fragile Australian environment as it begins the long haul into AGW.Whether people believe it or not,neither major party ever places the enviro ministry at the same level of importance, and the appointments always reflect that.
    I doubt that given the current level of mining development either party is willing to say no before saying “be careful,if it’s OK by you.”
    So I’ve gone from a life of Labor voting, to Labor/Green and for this election(at this stage it looks to be all green).
    I seriously hope the greens thrive and prosper, because we need them to counter balance a rapacious heavy industry based economy, and both majors are in their pockets severely at this moment in our history.There are also good reasons for rural people,even within agriculture, to look for a ‘second political opinion’, given the Nationals are just a vote net for the Libs, and an obedient servant at best.

    To be honest I think under Howe,with ICAC,Slipper and Thomson Labor has a lot more to worry about than the greens do.
    On the other side of this election,an Abbott government will come out all guns blazing at Labor and the unions.That in the long run,however, is a good thing.
    I for one would like a broader Labor again.One which had room for the left and those who are environmentally aware and proactive in that area.
    Right night Howe has indicated that no-one like that is welcome in Labor.(Even though he would take their vote)
    It reminds of a scene during the Howard years when he went to Tasmania and the union movement (CFMEU) lobbied to have their members vote for Howard’s members in Tasmania.Whilst I can see the pragmatic side of it,it shows that the union movement has changed to be a fluffer for whoever can get them off, and I never,ever thought I would see a day when a union would back the enemy.As it turns out the fear and bullshit the CFMEU used to aid Howard was totally unwarranted.Howard got his seats, and the issue over logging never transpired.In effect the union sold it’s soul for no good reason.
    Labor has changed and the unions have changed.Both for the worse.
    All in all this election will reshape the political landscape a lot more than even the last hung one,did.

    Like

  6. Great piece David. Our desperate political system needs an injection of new blood. As a die-hard Labor voter all my life, I’m now a swinging voter; I shift between being disillusioned to being despairing.

    Like

  7. [...] story was originally published on David Horton’s The Watermelon Blog and has been republished with permission. You can [...]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s