None of your business


Big news last Friday when two AFL executives were basically sacked after having affairs with female subordinates.

It’s not a good look, and given these men are married with children, is pretty shabby – but since when is that sufficient to fire someone?

I can’t support these men, but I feel some disquiet over what’s happened because it sets up the employer as moral arbiter. More pointedly, it’s interference in personal lives.

In both cases the affairs were consensual. No-one did anything against their will. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, older executive with younger, more junior colleague, but that’s all it is. It may be questionable, but it’s not illegal, and it’s only vaguely immoral when the parties have other partners – but then, it happens all the time. What if we lived in a society whereby adultery led to instant dismissal? We don’t thankfully, yet these men have lost their jobs (but only because the media got hold of it).

The only possible justification I can see is if it directly impacts on job performance, in which case the reason for dismissal is performance. Otherwise it might contravene a code of conduct the employees have signed up to – but then I don’t think such a thing should be in a code of conduct. It becomes more understandable if it is part of a pattern and a broader culture of entitlement and abuse – which may be the case here. It’s not something that should be encouraged, and yet I’d bet if these guys chose to challenge their dismissal then the law would be on their side.

One of the things I find disturbing about this is the general acceptance that this is just. Officially these managers chose to resign, but only after a hefty push. There seem only a few who have questioned the justice of this, or pointed out that really this is nobody’s business but those involved. It feels to me that convention and public morality intrudes more and more upon our private lives. There is a gap – a necessary gap – between our private and public/professional lives that should be maintained, even if we choose to get hot and bothered with someone we work with.

Speaking for myself I’ve had multiple affairs with women I’ve worked with. Who hasn’t? It’s hardly unusual. I understand if it is frowned upon, but no corporation has the right to dictate my personal relationships. This is what has happened now though, these men have lost their jobs, the women humiliated, and the PR fallout very ugly – and for the most part we seem ready to accept it as fair. Why?

 

Our ABC


I was out for a few convivial drinks on Friday night at a local bar when I received a text message from an acquaintance. He was inviting me to a function on Sunday, all tickets paid for. After I got home later I ruminated on the invitation before messaging him back that I would attend. It interfered with other plans, but I agreed to go as a gesture of goodwill.

It was not that I was uninterested in the function. It was being held by the Friends of the ABC, of which I would consider myself a (non-ticket holding) member of. Furthermore Kerrie O’Brien was speaking, and a tribute to John Clarke was promised. I had my writing to do, household chores and cooking, plus the footy was on, but on this occasion it seemed fair enough.

The last couple of days have been classic Melbourne winter days. They start out near freezing and slowly warm, though never to the point that you can go out without a jacket. The day is clear though, the sky blue. From a purely aesthetic point of view they’re pretty days.

I did my cooking in the morning then put my jacket on and took the train to the city. The train was full of people heading to the footy, most of them in red and black, the colours of my team. On this day I wasn’t joining them. Instead I was met by my friend under the clocks of Flinders Street station and off we went to the event.

I’m sympathetic to the ABC. I think it is a grand institution, and an absolutely essential institution. We need a national broadcaster that caters for all and reaches to every corner of the continent. The ABC has a rich history of quality programming in general, but particularly in the area of current affairs. These days the ABC is under frequent attack, mostly on political and ideological grounds. Though the ABC affects impartiality it is accused (erroneously) of a left bias (an interesting sociological question actually – most of the audience would be of liberal disposition). As a result over the last 20 years the ABC has suffered attacks by conservative politics and had its budget much reduced and services foolishly constrained.

The Friends of the ABC are there to defend the ABC and uphold the tradition. In effect they resist the political tide looking to politicise, diminish, emasculate or eliminate altogether the reach of the ABC.

The function was held in an auditorium of the Fed Square complex overlooking the Yarra River. Probably 90% of the crowd would have been over 60. Most were – as the ABC critics would have it – well spoken, educated types from smart suburbs. Some had driven in from the country for the day. All were passionate about the future of the ABC, both TV and Radio National, which is such a lifeline for so many people.

Kerrie O’Brien is a bit of a legend. He comes from a long line of distinguished ABC journalists, intelligent, erudite, probing, thoughtful. He retired a few years back, which was big news at the time. Yesterday he spoke about leadership, and in particular the example of three recent leaders.

The first was Nelson Mandela, who he described as the greatest leader he had ever met. The next was Paul Keating, which was no great surprise. Keating is revered by many (including me), and O’Brien had a long professional relationship with him, culminating recently in a biography he wrote of Keating. It’s clear he admires him greatly, and in his speech he focused on the challenge of getting Mabo into law. The final example was at first blush surprising: John Howard. I’m no fan of John Howard, and I suspect O’Brien isn’t really either, but the point was well made. Much as I might disavow much of Howard’s government it took real courage to push through the gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre.

The counterpoint to all of this was the abject lack of leadership in recent times, and as an exemplar of that O’Brien spoke of the botched history of climate change policy and the doomed variety of policy initiatives to combat it. It’s a sad story of political intransigence and cowardice. No-one has been willing to take a true leadership position on the matter. In speaking of Mabo O’Brien had made the point that there were no votes in the fight for Keating, in fact, probably the opposite. He did it because it was right, and by strength of will and conviction he wrangled it into law.

No-one has shown anything like the same leadership when it comes to climate change. Every prime minister has failed. No-one has had the strength of character to make the unpopular call. Every one of them has looked to the polls, or to their political colleagues. No-one has – like Keating did, and Howard as well – stood up and said this is the right thing, and this is what we’re going to do come what may.

It’s depressing, but familiar. It’s not news to anyone, but to hear it from the lips of such a distinguished commentator made it seem official: there has been a deficit of leadership in Australia (and around the world, as he similarly made the point).

It was a strangely uplifting afternoon. It’s always refreshing to be among passionate, intelligent people. It was easy to believe that we were on the side of right, and reassuring to sense the resistance to those who would diminish our way of life. Near the end there was a moving tribute to John Clarke. Everyone there loved and admired what he stood for, as they did Kerrie O’Brien (who is revered by these cultured people).

I left for home glad to have gone, refreshed in a way and encouraged. Just as well I didn’t know the footy score.

What the people don’t want


It’s tempting to suggest the unlikely rise of Jeremy Corbyn is due to the political difference he represents. His gentler political philosophies are certainly widely appealing (unlike some of his more hard-line policies). After years of austere neo-liberalism being rammed down their throats Corbyn’s emphasis on traditional labour values and focus on the small, the under-privileged, the voiceless came as a welcome relief, and that’s very real. People are sick and tired of being overlooked in favour of big business and the top end of town, and to find in Corbyn someone who sincerely and authentically spoke for them was a breath of fresh air – and it’s a truth that would apply equally here in Oz, where much the same complaints – and resentments – exist.

While the folksy Jeremy Corbyn was genuinely appealing, it was more about what he wasn’t than what he was that led him to the verge of an unlikely victory. What he wasn’t – or at least, appeared not to be – was a member of the political machine. Scorned by his own party and rejected by much of the mainstream media he epitomised an authentic political character. In the world of 2017 there’s an instinctive appeal in that.

My view is this recent run of surprising election results is less to do with voting for something than it is about voting against something. What is being rejected are incumbent orthodoxies and stale vested interests. Corbyn’s success was less an endorsement of his politics and much more a rejection of political orthodoxy (and neo-liberalism) as embodied in the fumbling Theresa May.

Likewise when Trump got up what he represented was the anti-system, and by voting for him swathes of the American public were voting against the established political class of which Hilary Clinton was a leading member. For years they’d heard the same old slogans and formulas repeated ad nauseam, and to little effect. They were weary of pollsters and slick political machines and above all class of the perpetual, and bitter about the flawed system that spawned them.

Corbyn and Trump have very little in common. Their politics are polar opposites. Their styles couldn’t be more different. What they share is an outsider’s status. Trump came from business, outspoken, boastful and larger than life. He gave voice to many of the electorate made cynical by party machinations. He was over the top, perhaps unpleasant, but he might actually make a difference because he was different.

Corbyn came from the unfashionable socialist wing of the Labour party. Guys like him are bit like political duffers, they’re idealistic to a fault and speak in unrealistic riddles. They’re cardigan wearers that lend a bit of street cred to the Labour movement, but in an era of slick new-Labour, never meant to rule. Except by an extraordinary series of events he managed to get himself elected to Labour party leadership. Somehow he managed to retain his leadership in the face of challenges and criticism. Altogether he is an unlikely character and, like Trump, represents the anti-political establishment.

I write this from Australia where this phenomenon is yet to bite deeply, but there is a lesson there for anyone who cares to heed it.

There has certainly been a drift towards the minor parties on the edge in Australia, and for the same reasons as above – voters are jaded about mainstream politics. The independent parties have waxed and waned in popularity, but are well established now and seem to be accepted as a necessary evil by both Liberal and Labor.

The Libs are the incumbents, but barely competent. Labor leads in the polls, but only because the Libs are so riven and ineffective. In Bill Shorten Labor have an uninspiring and mediocre leader who is more concerned about plying political tricks than he is in advocating for the genuine benefit of Australians. He would rather exploit a tricky political angle for political advantage than he is in allowing for bipartisan reform. It’s all about the polls, all about winning.

This is what politics has become, but it’s now a stale formula. People see through that now. They’ve heard it all before and though they may have fallen for it the first half dozen times they’re now awake to it. This is the new political reality: the electorate is angry, and they’re through with being treated like fools. The shonky backroom deals and cynical compromises have been exposed.

I seriously doubt that Shorten and polling minions are oblivious to this. They live in a bubble, and there is an inherent arrogance that has them believe they know better – which is one of the central things the people have rejected.

Stop playing games. Speak to truth. Show what you believe in. Expose your values. Be vulnerable. Risk something. This is what people want now.

I don’t know that Shorten has that in him, but it’s what the electorate are clamouring for. Shorten is of the machine. He is created by it and has the mentality of it. It was a mistake when the party powerbrokers rejected the vote of the members and installed Shorten ahead of Albanese. Albo is tough and smart, but he’s earthy too, and real. He’s an old fashioned Labor idealist too – he believes in things (and was mentored by one of my all-time favourite politicians, Tom Uren – a great man).

Labor is ahead in the polls now, but no guarantee he will be when the next election comes. Albo would be ahead of Shorten if leader, and has the credibility and authenticity to carry it to election day. One sure thing, when that day comes there will be more surprises unless someone – Turnbull or Shorten – is prepared to make a difference.

Disunited Kingdom


Another interesting few weeks in international politics. Trump gets nearer and nearer the precipice, though if anyone ever gives him a push is anyone’s guess. Then there’s the UK. Jermy Corbyn gave Theresa May an almighty scare in the general election, to the point that to form government the Conservatives need to enter into a coalition with the uglies of the Irish Unionists, who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or abortion, and in general have a range of retrograde policies – and they hold the whip hand. Then came the awful Grenfell Tower fire in London. Last I heard there were 58 reported deaths, and bad deaths too – trapped in a burning building and succumbing to smoke or flame. The firestorm has spread far beyond the building though.

I don’t see how Theresa May can survive this. She got a very shaky mandate from the electorate after running a poor campaign. Her conduct and behaviour after the election inspired little, but it’s the Grenfell Tower fire that is her death knell. But let’s start at the start.

It’s not long ago that Corbyn was deemed unelectable, and May called an election in the expectation of a landslide. Corbyn improved his game, and May was diabolical on the campaign trail, and these in combination were a catalyst for reconsideration by the electorate. The elements were already there though – general cynicism, disenfranchised voters searching for something to believe in, and those disenchanted in general with the party system and the rhetoric that goes with it. Much has been made of the Conservative mantra throughout the campaign of strong and stable government and I agree it played a big part in the outcome – as a negative to the conservatives.

That’s not always the case. As mindless as these slogans may seem, it’s apparent that by the perpetual repetition of them something gets through to the electorate. In the past it proved a positive for like trained monkey’s we (well, never me) came to associate the proponents of the slogan with the message. That was in simpler times.

These days it’s a rowdy crowd. They’ve come angry, unwilling to be appeased by mindless drivel. Had May been better that sense may never have been activated in the electorate. As it was she was unwilling to engage and came off as being evasive and untrustworthy, while Corbyn was campaigning on simple sincerity. Get a load of this the punters thought, and just listen to the bullshit she’s spouting! The electorate became aware, at which point the repetition of empty phrases became a negative.

The move towards Corbyn was a rejection of political party machinations. All over the world voters have become jaded by cynical politics, faceless and cruel bureaucracy, and an utter absence of sincerity or ideals. May embodied that and in comparison Corbyn’s homeliness and home-spun wisdom was positively attractive. In the end I think the English electorate were drawn to Corbyn and what he represented, but were unsure whether they wanted him to govern. That was then.

Now it might be different. The disaster at Grenfell Towers is almost biblical in what it means. It feels as if a message from on high sent to expose the inequity and utter poverty of the Conservative movement. What is a human disaster has been proved to have been utterly preventable if not for corruption and shortcuts being taken by the ruling Tories. Added to that was the deplorable conduct of Theresa May in the aftermath – a more out of touch leader you won’t see.

Where do we start? Well, Grenfell Towers is public housing in a posh area, Kensington. The victims were working class strugglers. They had complained about the risk of fire and were ignored. The building itself had no smoke alarms or sprinklers – unimaginable (and illegal) in Australia. The cladding added to the building during a recent renovation was proven to he highly flammable, but chosen to save money. Then of course there were the cuts made by Boris Johnson when he was mayor to the fire service. And so on. Then, to add insult to injury, after this barely comprehensible tragedy Theresa May turns up shielded by minders and talks only to the firefighters – the homeless victims are ignored. (In comparison Corbyn, and even the Queen, showed normal human compassion. Corbyn has really shone throughout this).

May copped a lot of criticism for this, and rightly so, but what I see is a woman totally out of her depth. She’s not a particularly attractive character, but this misjudgement I suspect is borne of complete confusion – not that that’s an excuse.

A government has yet to be formed in Britain, and Brexit looms. After Grenfell Towers great swathes of the population are outraged. If they had an election today I think it’s Corbyn who would win in a landslide. That’s not going to happen though. What will happen is hard to know. I think May’s leadership is now not sustainable; and I think there are too many questions about the proposed coalition which, after Grenfell Towers, contradicts entirely the mood of the nation.

I’m fascinated to see what will happen now. There must be victims – sacrifices – which is all a part of the political culture. May is dead, and I think Boris is terminal now too. Admission must be made, the sacrifices made public, and a conciliatory leader who promises to ‘bring the nation together’ will be found. How they resolve the political stalemate I don’t know.

As for Australia, if we’re watching then there’s a lot to learn – but I’ll get onto that another time.

 

Disruptive hopes


Some time last year I had a conversation with someone comparing Bernie Sanders with Jeremy Corbyn. There were superficial similarities between them, with both being well to the left, both anti-populist, and both theoretically appealing to the great swathes of the politically disaffected. In the US, without Sanders as a candidate, most of the disaffected ended up in Trump’s court. The question was whether Corbyn, an incumbent leader, could go one step further than Sanders when the time came.

The time is now upon us with a British general election on Thursday, but my answer now is somewhat different what it was back then.

Last year I scoffed at the prospect of Corbyn ever becoming prime minister. The consensus was that he was unelectable and I had no reason to disagree with that. Sanders, by comparison, was eminently electable I thought – the pity was that he never got the chance.

The problem with Corbyn is that he appeared a narrow ideologue, passionate, idealistic and totally out of touch with practical realities – a bit like an Australian Green. If anything he was too left, too purely hardline without a skerrick of compromise in him. It didn’t help that he looked like a downtrodden history master with a bit of the bolshie in him. He was as far as you could get from the slick grove of New Labour (not altogether a bad thing).

Sanders, by comparison, was both passionate and idealistic also, but more practical. He was a better communicator, and roused large parts of America in the lead-up to the primaries with his message of change and hope. He was, like Corbyn, a different voice, someone outside of the political machine, and there was a great part of his appeal – but Trump was outside .

It appeared up to a few months ago that the critics take on Corbyn was broadly true. He had been utterly ineffectual in the campaign against Brexit, and trailed by a huge margin in the opinion polls. Now, a couple of days out from the election, he is well within striking distance. It seems a small miracle.

He has been greatly assisted in that his opponent, the Liberal Prime Minister Theresa May, is a very unappealing and largely unimpressive character. She took for granted that a big lead in the polls would translate into a big lead in the election, and campaigned accordingly. She has come off as shifty, evasive and a touch cowardly – which is pretty much your standard polly circa 2017.

Corbyn at least has been sincere. That is his virtue. There is no cant with him. He may be earnest, but what you see is what you get. And, unlike so many politicians today, he seems fully committed. He is a true conviction politician, and in an era of shifting opinions, policies and rhetoric that becomes very appealing.

May is of the old political order. It’s an order the electorate no longer trusts or really believes in. It’s the safer option, but it’s not something that anyone can really believe in.

Corbyn is of a different order. He is the disruptive candidate because he doesn’t hold with conventional wisdom, or with conventional platitudes. He is distinctly his own man and that is immensely appealing in an era of packaged messages and

Sanders is of the same order, but so too was Trump. Being different, going your own individual way, doesn’t automatically make it right.

I sit here writing this hoping that Corbyn gets up. It’s not that I agree with his policies – some I think are too extreme – but I admire his fervour, and believe strongly that the likes of him and Sanders offer an antidote to the soulless political dichotomy we have for so long been served with. That needs to be broken, and the election of a reasonable man outside of that might just be what it takes. (Trump is not a reasonable man, and unfortunately his presidency is far from an endorsement).

That’s it in a nutshell. You may not agree with Corbyn, but you have to admire him – which is the obverse of what many might feel about may, and her ilk.

I don’t expect Corbyn to win. I may be being cautious, but I tend to believe that while punters may flirt with the option of a Sanders many will end up ticking the box for the tried and worn out. But who knows, I could be wrong.

Can’t ignore any longer


I can’t go on writing of trivial things when about me in the world momentous events occur. I think of Kafka who in his diaries made mention of WW1 commencing, followed up by a note that he ‘went swimming’. I understand that. A diary is personal, it’s not intended to reflect on the great moments of history. There comes a point though when those moments become personal, and to continue to disregard them is just impossible, and vaguely immoral. My issues may consume me, but in a time where innocents are targeted for brutal execution they are small things indeed.

Of course over the weekend there were terrorist attacks in London, a couple of weeks after the terrorist bombing in Manchester. On Saturday amid widespread panic and disruption 6 people were murdered by jihadists. It may well have been much worse. By memory 22 died in the Manchester bombing, most of them children and young people, and all of them much loved by friends and family. The damage goes far beyond a simple list of dead.

It might sound callous, but it’s not the lists of dead that I find most horrifying, but rather it’s the incomprehensible ideology that exults in this violence.

When the bomb exploded at the Ariana Grande concert I wondered at the mentality of people who set out to wreak destruction on the most innocent and vulnerable of our society. The audience for an Ariana Grande audience is always going to be predominantly junior – kids and teenagers for whom Grande is an idol. To attend a concert of this type should be the most innocuous and joyful of pastimes for people who have yet to hurt anyone. Yet it was these people who were targeted. How can you understand that?

The attacks over the weekend were more normal in the sense that there have been similar attacks in France, Germany and Denmark in recent times. The method was to create panic and terror, and in that it was a complete success. London was virtually shut down and all the news services carried it for hours on end. The death toll was modest considering the impact, but the tactical objective was achieved.

In the aftermath of these attacks there is widespread and justified outrage. It’s hard to deny that, but it serves ISIS objectives exactly. I cannot comprehend the ideology, but the strategy is clear. The death of infidels is a bonus, it’s the terror, fear, mistrust and violent reaction these attacks provoke which is the real purpose of them.

The people who commit these crimes are commonly described as evil. It’s an easy label and it seems an easy fit at first blush. Certainly these are evil acts, but I suspect that the schmucks who sacrificed themselves for this misplaced ideology are a mix of fools and tragically misguided, the easily led and readily corrupted. In the absence of anything more meaningful they have been drawn to the exotic appeal of the extreme, and a purpose in death they could never find in life.

The true evil is the corrupt ideology that justifies such heinous acts, and the cruel and sadistic leaders of this ideology who seek to manipulate, enslave and murder. They claim to act in god’s name, but that too is a corruption – no just god demands the death of unbelievers; and no true man of god demands – and so exults – the murder of so many innocent. This is a false ideology, the god they clamour to is not the true god of their faith, and those who seek to destroy will themselves one day find themselves called to a violent judgement.

For now, it’s a hard thing to get your mind around. It is so big now, and seemingly unending – and just so terribly wrong. For a moment you wonder what it is that allows this – but then you recall all those movements through history who have had a similar urge to righteous murder. It’s just the most recent form of extremist reaction, this time Islamist, but it’s nothing new, regardless of what the other extremes will tell you.

There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been better said by others, but I can’t stay silent any longer.