THE ALL TOO EASILY EMBARRASSED
It is said that a picture paints a thousand words.
If one looks carefully at the graphics used by the local candidate – the sitting member for the seat of Corangamite in Federal Parliament – those that adorn the two pieces of “election material” that have thus far come into my letter-box, it will become apparent that one image is the “photoshopped” inverse of the other.
Well if you aren’t in receipt of these two pieces of election advertising you won’t see what I am referring to, I guess. But this isn’t really an embarrassment. The candidate could easily shrug it off even if those reading the material notice. They will see that both images are of the same person. I’m told it is done all the time in the art world.
So why bother to draw attention to this slightly humorous glitch of the local Liberal Team’s marketing department? We could catalogue all glitches, typos and ambiguous misstatements, whatever the marketing department “product” of whatever the party. (This blog too will probably have typos!) Yet, apart from the humour – and elections need not be grim realities – this glitch is a graphic reminder that we are confronting, even if not persuaded by, slick colour-coded messages. We voters are the focus of a hard sell campaign with the same old mantra – “this country needs you to vote for us; we will put mega bucks into generating new ideas to generate mega bucks!” Ah yes, heard that one before. But what about the un-priceable value of new political ideas that might suggest ways to confront and overcome the problems facing our parliamentary democracy? Haven’t we had almost a decade of “team leader” revolts since Kevin 007? Any ideas to overcome that instability and erosion of trust?
But our oft-repeated hypothesis is confirmed. The aesthetics of this July 2 election campaign confirm that the battle is between rival public relations firms.
It is a serious situation. Genuine political party politics has eroded. It is not only the electors who are confused but the candidates themselves. They now operate in a “social media” environment in which their control over their own words and images is significantly curtailed. They may well put forward “plans”. But how does abstract calculations about balancing the national accounts explain how these economic views will politically safeguard and develop our 115 year old system of public governance?
Consider the following: one minder of the Labor party leader has described the election as a “race for The Lodge”, a competition to decide the occupant of the Prime Minister’s residence in Canberra. And yet such a description of an election for our Federal Parliament assumes an “Americanised” way of “doing politics” and neither side is willing to explain that to the voters. Why can’t they go to the election seeking to have this political interpretation of Australian elections endorsed by the voters? Or dare they challenge the “americanisation” by appeal to our own form of the “Westminster” tradition? Hardly.
Herein lies Australia’s political capitulation to political elitism that keeps on running counter to the democratic and parliamentary aspirations that gave us a Federal Constitution in 1901! We all know we are drifting and the major fact of the election is that the political parties and their candidates are unable to say so publicly.
Instead of challenging this view, the Liberal and National candidates have been completely besotted with asking Labor, “Where is the money coming from?” They have missed the opportunity to remind Labor and the rest of us that we do not have a presidential system.
Our parliamentary democracy wasn’t conceived as a two-horse race. But of course to say so would mean turning away from the “reality” the Liberal and National parties, along with their Labor opponents, have been trying to construct for themselves since at least 1974.
So we are expected to believe that the major parties are in a two-horse race, as if we are electing a president. And of that there is no choice fort voters, not even a plebiscite. Their respective “plans” are not about the different political views of public governance they bring to the Parliament. They are rather committed to alternative economic views or interests about how the Parliament should subordinate public governance to the demands of “the economy”, “industry”, “the market”, “workers”, “jobs” or the international financial system.
Mr Turnbull may well say that Australia “needs political stability and a strong economic plan for jobs and families”, but he simply ignores the political instability that his own party has continued to wreck upon this country. Since before taking the Treasury Benches last time, his “side” has continued to rant about a “plan” while being unable to present a coherent political platform. He therefore ignores the contribution of the Liberal-National coalition to the “very uncertain world” he says his “team” will now confront. And he also ignores, what we all know about, the “very uncertain instability” within the ranks of the Coalition. What does he propose to do about that long-term?
To be a candidate at this time, it seems, is to be both a cause and a potential consequence of this very uncertain world. It doesn’t matter from what party or advertising firm, most candidates are willing to have their photos photoshopped and their portraits manipulated; they present us with all kinds of images about themselves even before they begin to repeat one more time the slogans their polling suggests will get the most tweets.
And so politics in our formally constituted polity – the Commonwealth of Australia – makes way for glossy ties and Gucci suits versus open-necked shirts poking out from beneath “on the job” safety-jackets. For photo opportunities, safety helmets are a regular add-on. There will be vigorous walking tours of shopping precincts and pre-breakfast jogging along the coast. And more and more there will be flashy ear-rings lining up against designer drab culottes.
And then, of course, it has to be asked: just what are we being asked to vote for? With the effective replacement of political parties by public relations firms, we confront the logo of “The Turnbull Liberal Team” and its “plan”.
Presumably the “Turnbull Liberal Team” believe this logo gives us a true picture not only of their campaign but of our future. The logo is reminiscent of a prospectus for buying Gold Bullion. But note: we are being asked to buy a “team”. This is the majority group within the parliamentarians of Liberal Party and National Party affiliation. Malcolm Turnbull and his “team” need to be asked: what is to happen to the Coalition members of Parliament who are not on his “team” should his “team” (or is it “side”?) win the election? For all its gilded trimmings this logo is eloquent of what is still a “very uncertain political instability”.