A Christian political option will be setting forth a view of how the contribution of political parties should be understood. In that sense already, I guess, we will see the defection of some who may have “pricked up their ears” to our call, but drift away because such reflection will be seen as “too impractical”, “too theoretical”. Are we suggesting a Christian political option in order to bring about change to our political culture? How unrealistic is that?
Well actually, as unrealistic as it may appear, that is exactly what such an option must think about and not only think about; any resulting political action must come to a definite resolution on this defining issue. And keep in mind, this is only a series of blog articles. We might be able, in some kind of overview, to list a number of policy areas that can be said to be part of such an “option” – we have done so in the past (Numbers 13&14 August Nurturing Justice 2006-2007 copy). And that listing in its own way attested to the importance of a Christian political option. But there is a long way to go between a list or this published plea on the margins of blog culture and the need to promote genuine and principled political discussion let alone answering complex questions about policy, organising discussion among possible supporters, arranging meetings, setting up venues for ongoing political education, gathering resources in order to provide continuity, cohesion and solidarity between subscribers or members. The first hurdle is enormous however: is such a Christian political option going to be worth all the trouble?
As far as I am concerned, what I have said thus far derives from a conviction, formed over 4 decades, that such a Christian political option is no soft option. But there are issues like “leadership”, like “membership” that need to be clarified by extensive theoretical reflection and scholarship that cannot be overcome simply by one or other leader find a majority of “likes” on a Facebook page or a public opinion poll taken by those who assume such polling is integral to our political life. In point of fact, I tend to think that these polls are simply the self-fulfilling prophecies of those who assume, like power-made newspaper proprietors, that they have a King-Maker role to perform. They, in fact, are part of the political problem we face if we are serious about changing our political culture in order to see an increased recognition of public justice for all as a principle rather than a convenient slogan. Consider: how easy is it to generate superficial political agreement these days with a superficial slogan: “No more superficial slogans!”
Our discussion since the first article in this series – exploring the Liberal Party’s constitutional crisis of 1974-1975 – has suggested that part of our current problems about political leadership from the nation’s parliaments has to do with the transformation of political parties with a political viewpoint to vote-harvesting electoral machines bent on winning office. It not only subordinates the “rank and file” members to the combined force within the party of those who have been el;acted, in time it has also shown a blatant disregard of a party’s accountability to electors. After all, a party platform is effectively reconstructed under this (corporatist) view to be a mere piece of electoral advertising to be superseded by a new bill-board and set of slogans when fresh propaganda is needed to harvest votes and along the way shore up “public opinion” results as measured by news media polling. And when it is deemed necessary, elected members spend an inordinate amount of time in creating diversions from the fact that they are no longer accountable in terms of their party’s platform. And in Labor’s case the media have allowed them to give the distinct impression that the national conference gives a party in Government a mandate to change policies between elections. It seems as if the need to hold onto one’s seat, or in the case of a party to retain control of the treasury benches, simply absolves the party from being accountable to electors! It is in that deplorable political situation that a Christian political option is going to have to find a way to develop its own party’s identity.
Consider the manner in which contemporary political popularism from “both sides” conveniently forgets its election manifesto and ditches its former leader because of its focus upon the publication of opinion polls by the ever-circling mass media. In such a political paradigm, party unity behind a leader, has become the sine qua non of one or other side, of Government or Opposition, and the major political issue becomes the muttering of those who fear they will loose their seats because their leader – their nomination for the country’s Prime Minister – no longer polls well against the person on the other side. The fear is generated in the face of polls predicting the results – “Had an election been held last weekend …”. We will need deepened appreciation for how and why has this utterly immature game has come to be the defining characteristic of our system of parliamentary representation. It is the bequest of the two major electoral machines that dominate and hollow out our system of parliamentary representation, but suffice to say it is not their responsibility alone? If we are to develop a Christian political option, then we are going to have to have a deepened understanding of how we are putting forward a view in which those who ascribe to it will be taking their share of responsibility and seek an alternative direction.
Of course that question implies that a Christian political option stands in need already of scholarship that explores political in an historical framework. How has it come about in this polity that political parties have now, by and large, given way to electoral combine-vote-harvesters? And finding a coherent theoretical account of this political process must be presupposed not just in the election manifesto of a party putting forward a Christian political option; it must be part of the party’s own constitution, our own “political creed” where due recognition is given to our own political failures and our own complicity in these.
Just because political parties are not mentioned in our constitution does not mean that a political party constitution should ignore the responsibility it has to itself to clearly and unequivocally state how it views the validity and normative responsibility of political parties in the life of the polity. The ongoing conduct of political parties has enormous impact upon the way in which our polity is shaped, how a new generation of citizens is educated, not only by what these parties say in explicit policy terms, but also by what they conveniently forget to acknowledge when seeking a mandate for themselves at election time. We have already noted the decided trend from “both sides of politics” to conveniently ditch their party platform during the life of a parliament. Their own members may have been elected in terms of this, but if they are convinced that ditching such “promises” in the life of this parliament will improve their electoral prospects next time, they have shown no hesitation to do so. I am not here discussing the inability of both Coalition and Labor Governments to retain the “leader” they previously set forth, even as some of their apologists have complained that the former Prime Minister was actually elected as such. That view is simply another part of the inherent instability in party ranks on both sides.
In the view of Nurturing Justice, this obsessive and instinctive focus upon which “leader” has the best prospects for re-election is a direct result of an approach to party politics, that has its roots in the Liberal Party’s pragmatic response to its own internal party crises of 1974-1975. There is now indeed a “credibility crisis” for any party’s policy platform and it coincides with the increasing reliance with political parties upon an ideology fuelled by neo-liberal managerial dogmas and the slick public relations rubbish that we find we have financed because of the public funding that has been set aside for election campaigns. How can any candidate be held accountable to a party’s manifesto under these circumstances? This too is an issue that requires substantial and comprehensive policy response by a principle political movement, particularly one that claims to present a Christian democratic political option.