Party Unity and Winning Elections

Those advocating a Christian political option need to assess what is going on in “the news”. To appreciate the distance between our system of public governance, and parliament’s place and contribution therein, and what is presupposed by our constitution, we only need to listen carefully to the “best and most” reliable, the “educated” news sources (e.g. those that avoid the ranting of the shockjocks – in Victoria ABC 621, 774 and News Radio). It will not take long before we notice how even publicly funded broadcasting is thoroughly embedded in the political crisis that our major parties are presuming to make their own. It is the character of this inner crisis that all too often is all too conveniently ignored in the reporting of “news”. All appeals to “but we are committed to balanced reporting of both sides” simply fall away in such critical circumstances.

The reliable reporting is apparently all about “balance”; and so to report normatively on an ongoing crisis might then tip the balance and become “unbalanced”. Why does this appeal to “balance” hinder genuine normative judgment? The actual and factual (not fake news) political crisis is being played out in the reports that “mainline news reports” continue to present. Take as an example what we will call the current “Twittered rumour” from Liberal Party back-benchers that they are threatening to cross the floor in order to have same-sex marriage legislated by this Parliament before the end of its term in office. It is a good example of the ABC (and others) capitulating to agitprop; the demand is made in the context of the Liberal Party’s fear of losing the next election and some in marginal seats have their hearts set on a political “career” – a parliamentarian’s “career” is a notion somewhat foreign to the underlying presuppositions of our Federal constitution’s understanding of parliamentary representation and was certainly abhorent Alfred Deakin. These “Liberals” obviously believe that the other “side” has captured the SSM vote. Further, they feel stranded by the platform commitment last time that got them elected – their own side’s attempt to resolve the issue Tony Abbott’s way via a plebiscite – and so with insufficient members in the Senate to pass the enabling legislation it has had to lapse even as it is still said (by some) to be policy.

And so, when we hear this report we hear that these Parliamentarians have said that there must be legislation in this Parliament. What are we hearing here? Is it Parliamentarians of the Liberal Party addressing the Parliament? Is it Liberal Party members addressing the Government? Is it Liberal Party members addressing their own party, requiring the party to demolish its own platform upon which these parliamentarians were elected on the Government side of the house? The fact is that these questions are completely ignored by “balanced” and “factual” reporting and that fact confirms that we are mid-stream in a crisis – not only of public governance but of public reporting. And clearly, in terms of Australia’s system of Government, as presupposed by our Constitution, these back-bench parliamentarians are reducing government to what is convenient to their party’s prospects at the next election.

In these probes, these thoroughly opportunistic politicians completely disregard the platform upon which they were elected – they are obviously agitating for their own election next time, seeking already a share of the SSM vote – and so are forgetting the many who voted for their party precisely because of its platform.

Here we note that an ethic of parliamentary accountability has been lost. It needs to be re-discovered. These parliamentarians and those who voted for them – like the rest of their parliamentary colleagues on all sides – need to understand that politics involves waiting, waiting until next election before one gets elected on a new platform. Just because Julia Gillard as PM received approval from the Federal Labor Conference to change her party’s uranium export policy, so that she then could come  back to the parliament with enabling legislation to send the stuff to India (was Mr Tony Abbott MP in his role of Leader of the Opposition leading criticism of that decision – ha!) is no constitutional basis for Labor’s opponents to jump on the populist bandwagon. And just because it was mineral exports doesn’t mean it wasn’t a populist sidestep of due process. And, by the way, it is the Liberal Party agitators and not just their opponents who need to remind themselves that the Constitution does not recognise the Federal Labor Conference as a part of our system of public governance.

I’m not – as I have said previously – indulging in cynicism but it is very difficult to avoid that accusation when you point to the embedded cynicism that is confirmed by our “news media’s” failure to reckon with the departure from what is presupposed in our Constitution by parliamentary democracy. If it weren’t enough to have the imposition upon the nation of ongoing political traditions by which the two major “sides” continue to dominate, cramp and misconstrue in their own interest our system of public governance. Our citizenship responsibility which, we thought, was about the accountability of those making the laws to those who have elected them (ha!), is simply being nulled by these careering careerists. Our system of public governance is a train wreck that hasn’t understood that it is already running off the rails.

But what is indicative of the depth of our political crisis is the persistent lack of normative judgement by the “reliable media” when it comes to instances of agitprop like this recent one. The inner tensions between party unity on the basis of a party platform and efforts to maintain party unity by changing the grounds of a party’s parliamentary representation in order to win the next election are presumed to be the normal and normative way of politics.

Donald Trump, as David Brooks of the NYT has opined, has seemingly been good for NYT’s subscriptions. But to travel down this path by silence and failure to comment openly about naked populism, eschewing judgment because it is merely a “fact” means “news” which avoids editorial censure, an attempt to dodge ongoing responsibility. And  in fact such a view is destructive of our system of parliamentary representation, and continues to deepen the crisis in its own journalistic way. It simply dispenses with all ordinances of self-denial in order to report upon the dispensing of political self-denial as if the latter is simply to be expected. And hence we see a further wedge driven into our failing system of parliamentary democracy, and parliamentarian’s accountability to the electorate is dissolved in public opinion surveys by vested interests.

We are in deep trouble.

The non-fake news is that the failure of the ABC and other allegedly “reputable” news sources and media is fully part of our political crisis.

The emergent political strategy in this agitprop is obviously aimed to get the matter off the political agenda. It will no longer be an issue such advocates assume because if the law says so therefore it must be right and true, therefore it must be “normal” therefore it will no longer be an issue. Presumably we will then “get on with the rest of our lives”. This means little more than concentrating on making sure our materialist and individualist (if not narcissistic) success ideology gets front and centre attention by our parliaments so that the people of this country can get on with their lives in terms of their goals for success.

Given the combination of a lack of respect for electors with a lack of coherence in platform policies concerning marriage, family and household (the full bio-politics kaboodle), it will probably be not too far off before legislation for “marriage equality” is passed. But will such legislation be mainly a symbolic parliamentary endorsement, a point in our nation’s legislative history that can be pointed to in order to advocate further “progressive” measures?

A Christian political option needs to avoid getting caught up in flag-waving exercises, and those wanting to see public justice will need to engage in a truly root and branch rethink of Government’s relation to marriage, family, household and friendship. The task of forming public policy takes decades and to now promote genuine public respect from the perspective of a Christian political option will not be easy. It will have to be long-term.

But the way will not be found by accommodation to the populist inner tension now so evident in the mass media’s reports of “both sides” of politics. The maintenance of a political party’s unity is assumed to be the same as gaining electoral success. Such a dialectic needs to be scrupulously avoided; it is merely an endorsement of the crisis we are now going through.

BCW 1.8.17


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