Play up play up

7

The last football match I went to, forty years ago, was Coventry Reserves playing Preston North End Reserves (starring an ancient Nobby Styles) in 1974. I say this to demonstrate my lack of interest in football as a spectator sport rather than for any historic interest (other than the aforesaid young Nobby) in that game itself.

Oh, I have watched on tv the odd cup and grand final since then, read an occasional analytical piece on, say, “the future of rugby league” – I always aim to be able to hold my end up for two minutes in a discussion on any subject, part of being civilised. But no more than 2 minutes on sport.

So here is my two minute’s worth. When one team is successful in a season, more so in two, other teams strive to copy, and improve on, the reasons for their success. Aim to, say, handball long distances, flood defensive zones, work in pairs, whatever the tactical secret has been, but do it faster, stronger, more accurately. There is a limit, you see, to innovation, set by line markings, offside laws, restrictions on tackling style, and so on. Unless, like William Webb Ellis, you are going to catch a ball and then decide to run, changing a game forever, you are stuck with the limits placed upon you by the rules of the game. Indeed the beauty of football, as of any game, and arts such as music and poetry, is of maximum achievement within the limits of a framework.

But this tells you more than you want to know about football if I am any judge of my audience. It was a rather long-winded, and a little pretentious, introduction to yet another pensee on politics. But be fair, sporting metaphors are obligatory for any serious political pundit.

Political parties learn from each other just as footballers do. If one political party has success, a run of election wins, its rival will copy its tactics, try to do them better – more effective tv ads, more door-knocking, better slogans, bigger billboards. But there is a difference – in principle there are no sidelines, offside rules, tackle laws. Should be no reason why one player wouldn’t comment “only one team is playing football out there”. The other might be playing, oh, say cricket.

It is curious then that in practice the parties behave as if there were Hoyle’s Laws of Politics. More than curious. In politics, the best strategy would seem to be to NOT copy what your rival has done, but to try for something completely different. If your opponent is removing environmental protection you should restore and add to it; they support private schools, you support public ones; private medicine triumphing under one party, socialised medicine should look to triumph under the other.

But this isn’t what happens these days in Australia (or elsewhere) although once upon a time it did. Instead the managers, coaches, of the political teams strive for the tactic of me-too-ism. Anything you can do we can do better is the approach. Money for new babies? More money for new babies. Cheap power? Cheaper power. New roads? More new roads. And so on. The umpires, sorry, voters, are asked to decide on the winners of the political game when both teams are performing almost identically.

Why is it so? Well because there other interests at play in this sporting life. Interests that have come, in recent times (perhaps they always did!), to be the people who actually add guidelines, rules, to the political game. Both political teams these days are playing strong within constraints imposed by a third umpire upstairs. The rules are – taxes, especially for the rich, can only be cut, never increased; regulations must be removed not written; defence spending must always increase, American alliance must not be questioned; development always trumps environment; private always trumps public. And so on.

Curiously, perhaps, these laws of the political game just happen to suit the financial interests of the pool of people from whom the third umpires are provided.

Let is be clear here. The problem is not that there is a group of people with financial interests who are taking part in the political process in order to advance those interests in competition with other groups in society with other interests. That after all is the broad definition of politics. No the problem is that we have a situation as if one group of footballers on a field decided on the rules that all the others would play by, rules which favoured them.

Leaving sporting metaphor behind (at last!), the political reality we now have is that what was once a political spectrum all the way from far left to far right, from A to Z, is now a spectrum that runs only from far right to extreme right, from Y to Z.

The other day in Australia, after consternation about the order of the Labor Senate ticket in WA and its apparent lack of relationship to candidate ability, Bill Shorten called for some reform of the Labor Party he leads. The only thing he spoke of (as did others) was the link between party and unions. But the party actually needs to be recreated as a progressive social democrat party with Green links.

No one suggested this? Why not? Well, you know the answer. The party is constrained by the invented rules. If the Party attempted to return to its roots – to improve pay and conditions for workers, push public ownership, look after the disadvantaged, tax the rich more than the poor, and, in partnership with The Greens, protect the environment, support progressive social policies, culture, science. Whatever Mr Shorten’s personal beliefs and preferences, whatever those of some at least of his colleagues, any attempt to put distance between Labor and his conservative opponents, to give the public a genuine choice, would be met with a storm of booing, disqualifications, bookings, sending-offs, by the third umpire. The media will not permit any attempt to again expand the political spectrum, to suggest policies that will advantage any interests except those of the super rich.

Bill Shorten I think knows the rules of the game, knows how he must play the game, as well as Nobby Styles knew how to play football 40 years ago. So do all of us. No doubt who wins every political game these days.

Monkey magic

13

We all know the nature of monkey is irrepressible, right?

And the nature of the lion is to hunt, of the vulture to pick up the leftovers, of the hyena to scavenge the scraps.

Regular readers know that I don’t have “a deep burning hatred” for the neo-conservative scum (oops, sorry) now infesting the Australian corridors of power. No, not at all. Liberal and National Party politicians, and the right-wing think tank vermin (again, “oopsy”) that advise them, simply can’t help being what they are. When they demand the scrapping of the minimum wage, want additional payments to see the doctor, talk nonsense about natural CO2 and demand scrapping of a price on carbon, refuse legal advice to refugees, rewrite school curricula, dump spoil on Barrier Reef, remove limits on hate speech, sell public assets, remove financial and environmental regulations, invade other countries, clear-fell heritage forests, and so on, this just reflects their nature.
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Arrows of desire

8

Watching Australian politics since the election of the Abbott government has been like watching one of those comedy routines, Benny Hill perhaps, or The Goodies, where the film is run backwards and the comedians are seen jerkily and rapidly moving back into the landscape, finally disappearing backwards over a hill.

Tony Abbott and his clown troupe running the clock backwards has astonished not just Australian citizens who had thought they were living in the 21st century, but civilised people everywhere who had thought we were too.
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Pixels made flesh

39

“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”
“Now.”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
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The contrary assumption

1

Saw a quote yesterday, and, as is so often the case in my near-dotage, didn’t write it down in case I decided to use it later, which of course I did just 24 hours later. So forgive me a little inexactitude in the interests of a Meloncholic Muse. It was from a right wing politician in Australia (or America, Argentina, Angola, Azerbaijan…) bemoaning the fact that the Left in Australia (Albania, Austria…) liked to sign international treaties.

It was related, I think, to the Tasmanian election, and the determination of the Liberals to turn thousands of hectares of World Heritage forest into wood chips and scorched ground. Or perhaps it was related to the UN Refugee Convention. Or Human Rights. Whatever, it was related to the nerve of any agreement having the temerity to presume to limit the activities of an incoming Liberal government hell-bent on destroying whatever stood in the way of its neoconservative religion as surely as the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas that stood in the way of their religion.
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Lights out

7

The last time an Australian Labor leader came up with a phrase that was both memorable and of positive benefit to the Party was Ben Chifley’s ‘Light on the Hill’. So good was it, in fact, that the media have deliberately tried to turn it into a joke phrase.

Oddly, the phrase is part of an otherwise forgettable piece of prose:

I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

Indeed the memorable ‘light’ part bears no obvious relation to the rest of the worthy description, and that in turn, though it is worthy, is totally unclear. ‘Better standards of living’? ‘Greater happiness’? You see what he is trying to get at, but it is no ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, is it?
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Green parasols

1

‘You have come down here to see an election – eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?’ The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

‘And what is the likely result of the contest?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,’ replied the little man. ‘Fizkin’s people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.’
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Hustled

24

I’ve been re-watching a whole lot of old DVDs lately (yes, yes, instead of blogging) – Callan, Dad’s Army, Party Down, Monty Python, a very small glass of Last of the Summer Wine, and, of course, Groundhog Day! Just been watching Hustle (yes, yes, I know, ok?).

Although I’ve been trying to ignore Australian politics since September, since writing about it required more depths of gloom than even I am capable of, Abbott’s latest antics, coinciding with a viewing of Hustle, sent a metaphor racing into my brain.

If you haven’t seen Hustle it is a kind of modern-day Robin Hood set in the forest of London, in which Micky Hood (sorry, Stone), his band of merry men, and Maid Stacey, cleverly outwit a whole series of evil Sheriffs, take their money, and, often, give much of it to the poor. So far so completely the opposite of Tony Hood, his band of merry men, and Maid Julie, right, but bear with me.

At the end of almost every episode there is a standard scene in which the victim, the “mark” opens a brief case in which he or she confidently expects to find a large sum of money. Instead, through sleight of hand, and a lot of lies, the case is full of newspaper instead of bank notes. Meanwhile, back at Eddie’s Bar, the good guys are opening an identical case which is indeed full of money, and they have a jolly good laugh at having outwitted the mark.
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Books do furnish an MP’s room

17

Some years ago I wrote a piece in which I suggested a new form of swearing-in of a new Prime Minister of Australia, which included a choice of books on which the newly elected best and brightest could swear the oath instead of the bible – Origin of Species, Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, 1984, Catch-22.

This week I remembered those suggestions as the revelations of rorting of parliamentary allowances by Liberal MPs belatedly (ie safely after the election) came to light. Among the rorts were thousands of dollars worth of books purchased.
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Denial’s advocate

5

The MSM standard practice is to interview by taking the worst most extreme antitheses, and or “talking points”, from deniers (for example), and using them as questions for climate scientists (for example). Similarly in interviewing a Labor minister the questions are obtained from the most recent talking points released by the Liberal Party. This practice has become so ubiquitous as to be accepted as merely “the way things are done”.

I guess if you asked a journalist about this they would, after expressing surprise that you were questioning this approach, express a couple of reasons for it. One would be that it saves time, that journalists in this time of media cost-cutting and job-shedding, simply are unable to research a topic in any meaningful way before doing an interview. Indeed I suspect that the idea of “research” being anything EXCEPT reading something from an opponent is now foreign to journalism in Australia.
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