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.

Advertisements

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.

Shabby deals, poor policy


The latest piece of nonsense from the Australian government is cutting the company tax rates for business with turnover of $50M or less. As announced Friday, it will fall from 30% to 27.5%. The government will claim an economic driver for this, but really it’s all political. It’s theatre, which accounts for much of our politics these days. This is something government hung its hat on and was determined to drive through by hook or by crook. Originally they sought an across the board cut to business tax rates, but that was never going to happen – but anything was better than nothing.

In a time of so-called budget emergency and with a growing deficit – not to mention a range of essential services like health and education being constrained – giving a tax cut to big business was always going to be a difficult political argument. Not surprisingly the ALP opposed it, as did most of the cross-benchers, and public sentiment was against it also. In the end a watered down version only got through because of a now routine shabby back-room deal, this time with Nick Xenophon. But at least the government could claim a victory of sorts, and that’s what all this was about.

There is very little good in this. The myth of cutting company tax rates creating economic growth is right up there with the unicorn. There is no evidence anywhere that it works, despite it being a popular piece of dogma around the world for the decade or so. It’s similar to the old-fashioned and similarly ludicrous ‘trickle-down’ economics espoused by Reagan when he was president. It just doesn’t work.

The idea is that if you give more money to the people at the stop of the pyramid they’ll spend or invest it and it will trickle down towards the poor sods at the base of the pyramid holding it up. It’s the same sort of ill-considered philosophy that saw Sunday penalty rates cut recently – the notion being that it will make small business more profitable, meaning they could do more, and maybe even pay their staff more. No-one believes that, and not only is it unfair to the person who gives up their Sunday to work, it overlooks some pretty basic economic precepts.

Economic activity is predicated on money circulating through the economy. You want money in people’s hands, and you want them to spend it. It’s one of the major arguments for tax cuts in general. The problem here is that by reducing penalty rates you’re taking money out of people’s hands. It means they spend less and economic activity diminishes in that sector (not to mention quality of life). The irony in this case is the unforeseen impact on tax revenue. Everyone knows that overtime gets taxed more – as soon as you reduce it you also reduce income tax revenue, which impacts on all of us. Just stupid all round.

It’s the same with cutting company tax rates. I’m not against reducing tax, but it has to be for the right reasons, and preferably directly linked to productivity targets. The reasons stated here are just bogus. The majority of the cuts will go towards profit, shareholders or CEO wages and bonuses. Some will likely be invested, but very little will go towards better employee wages. And it’s likely to make not one whit of difference to international investors looking for somewhere to invest.

What it does do is drastically reduce government tax revenues – when already there is insufficient. It further entrenches inequity of a system where low income workers carry the greater share of the burden while having services they rely further cut. It’s disgraceful, and really does beg the question: who does the government govern for? Is it for the people, or for big business? We know the answer to that, and the reasons are all political – big business is the biggest donor to Liberal party funds. This is payback.

It’s hard to look upon Nick Xenophon with anything but contempt after this. I used to respect him, but he’s cut a deal to suit his own political agenda, and betrayed his greater responsibility to the Australian people. In exchange for his vote he’s negotiated a one-off payment to pensioners – I hate one-off payments; and negotiated government investment in a thermal plant for his home state of SA.

As far as I’m concerned the final result is almost the worst possible outcome. Because there is a cut-off amount it will increase red-tape and encourage rorting, if not outright corruption. It complicates a tax regime when we should be simplifying it, and will certainly drive work to the finance sector to account for this increased complexity, and no doubt to set-up complex company structures to ensure revenue is under the $50M cap to take advantage of it. And because it is gifted, rather than tied to productivity incentives, it’s unlikely it will lead to any meaningful business investment.

You and I get nothing from it, indeed, we probably lose more now as decreased tax revenues doubtless lead to a further contraction of essential services.

Turnbull can crow about it, but it’s a miserable outcome for this country.

 

What would Orwell say?


18C raised its contentious head again yesterday, and today goes to the senate to be passed. My guess is that it will be knocked on the head.

The amendment they’re looking to pass is to replace the term ‘offend’ with ‘harass’. What to you and me may seem semantics are actually pretty important distinctions in the legal world. To boil it down to something everyone can understand it equates basically to the right of someone to call another person the ‘n’ word.

For proponents of free speech it’s tricky, though there is a difference between the right to free speech and the right to vilify or abuse. Still, there is ambiguity.

I think any intelligent person understands there must be a limit to what free speech permits in a civilised society. The question is, where do you draw that line, how to you define it, and how is transgression measured?

I don’t think this will ever be a simple exercise because, in my view, context counts for a lot. Certainly there are words, actions and phrases that most of the reasonable public believe to be out of bounds, and in fact I think the pub test is basically the best determinant of what should be permitted. In general, it combines common sense with reasonableness, and most people know in their gut when commentary has gone too far. That’s great, but how do you legislate the pub test?

I had a long debate about it with my nephew on Twitter last night. He came out applauding the proposed changes, not really appreciating – I think – what they meant. I took issue with him. The experience of a white, middle-class, educated Australian male is very different from that of the typical victims of this. What may seem casually offensive to us is very often oppressive to others. The reason for that, as I explained to him, was historical and cultural precedents we couldn’t begin to appreciate.

He has a very absolutist view of the issue, and it reminded me of myself at his age. When you’re that age it’s very easy to be gung-ho about your passionately held beliefs and in being so the subtleties are often lost (incidentally, that was the sort of comment that would infuriate me at his age). As I explained, there is very little wisdom in absolutist positions – nothing is all one thing or another, truth is generally somewhere in between, and a key to life is to keep things in balance – that much I’ve learned.

I think he believed to ‘offend’ was essentially to say something that might hurt someone’s feelings, when in fact – in the legal definition of it – it means to cause ‘profound’ grief – such as calling someone the ‘n’ word. Given we the current laws allow for the offensive cartoons of Bill Leak I don’t understand why they need watering down. What is it that people can’t say today that they want to say? In any case, the current laws don’t prohibit free speech – they simply allow for someone offended by it to seek redress.

As anyone who has been on Twitter would know, it’s hard to prosecute an argument in 140 characters, which is why there is so much trolling and abuse on it (ironically). So we went backwards and forwards before my nephew signed off with the kind of claptrap I abhor – that if I don’t worry about free speech, then no-one will care about mine. It’s the sort of thing that Andrew Bolt would say, or a politician at a doorstep searching for a catchy sound bite for the evening news. It sounds good, but means fuck all. It’s rhetoric and it gives me the shits.

For all of this, it is a delicate and difficult discussion. I believe strongly in free speech, but believe also very strongly that we must preserve the rights of the least privileged (particularly) and most vulnerable. I can look after myself, but then I’m hardly a target demographic. These laws are in place not for me, but for those who actually need it.

The problem with unfettered free speech is that it allows the kind of commentary that confirms or incites racist views. It encourages the more extreme in their extreme views and language. If there’s not a barrier to butt their heads up against then the risk is that it becomes rampant. As we know, language often leads to action, and informs attitudes.

For me that’s easy. It becomes more complex when it’s not abuse that is impacted, but comment. Charlie Hebdo is a good example of that (my nephew also brought up South Park as an example). If you recall Charlie Hebdo was targeted by Muslim extremists because they were derogatory of the Muslim religion in general, and the prophet Muhammad particularly.

Does this cross the line? To the devout Muslim it does, and certainly to the extreme. There’s a good argument that people’s beliefs should be protected – and yet in western society there is a long history of irreverence. The Catholic church is a frequent target and doesn’t like it, but does it make it wrong?

It’s a western attitude that very little is above the law as such. Anything is fair game. That’s very different to most other cultures. Are we to exhibit cultural sensitivities to others that we don’t to ourselves? Should we be sympathetic to the mores of others, or simply be true to our own?

This is where the line gets blurred. There’s no simple take on that, and even the pub test would leave me feeling uneasy. For me there’s no definitive answer to that – but I would reference intent and context. If the intent is simply to vilify another set of beliefs then it crosses the line; if it is the product of a more serious analysis or commentary then it is more permissible. In simple terms, if it is gratuitous then let it go, but even then, what defines offensive?

For questions such as this I often find myself asking what George Orwell would say? I think Orwell was an uncommonly wise man when it came to questions of politics and the culture of power. He was a socialist who was an outspoken critic of communism and the Soviet Union. He believed in language and clarity and freedom of expression, but he was also very much on the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden. I don’t know, but think he might agree with me.

Not an alternate reality


There’s a very good story by Ray Bradbury called A Sound of Thunder he wrote sometime back in the 1950’s. It’s set in a future where travelling into the past has become possible. Hunters travel back to prehistoric times with their guides and are allowed to kill a dinosaur or somesuch already identified as being on the cusp of death to avoid any deviations from history and consequences through time. It’s very carefully managed. Everyone keeps to an elevated platform and are told under no circumstances to step from it, or to touch or damage anything but the target.

In the story a hunting group journeys back to kill a T-Rex, but upon sight of the snarling, terrifying beast one of the hunters panics and runs from it, inadvertently stepping off the path in doing so. They return back to present times and discover small anomalies. Common English spelling is different, and the fascist candidate for president they left behind is now the president of the country. Something has changed history. Looking at his boot the hunter discovers a butterfly crushed into the sole of it. The death of the butterfly has through the millennia resulted in a totally different destiny.

I’ve been reminded of that story many times over the last weeks. Trump is that fascist president, but this is not an alternate reality.

It’s only very early days, but it appears already that the Trump presidency will be as bad, if not worse, than our most diabolical fears. There was some hope that once in the big job he might moderate; that some sort of sense would prevail. Instead, he has gone hard and gone fast. He is about to change America fundamentally, and by connection the rest of the world.

It must be terrible to be a liberal American right now. To see your country and everything you believe in being torn so wilfully asunder would be devastating. What he has done, and what he threatens to do, is totally foreign to the idea of America through history. America is not perfect, nor has it ever been as great as it always proclaims, and it’s true the difference between the idea and the reality of it has often been marked – but America stood for something. Though occasionally insular and sometimes clumsy America has nonetheless since the end of the Civil War espoused principles of democracy, liberty and equality. That’s the idea.

That idea is changing now, and with that is the reality. Trump is a racist, sexist, homophobic fool. He is like a child spoiled with supreme power, and like a child, he wields it indulging his immature whims. Already – hardly a week after the inauguration – he is changing the face of America.

I have often railed at things in Australia, but as of this moment I would find it incredibly tough being a liberal American. I would be angry and scared and heartbroken. I would be doing everything in my power to overturn this, despairing that there was nothing in my power I could do.

As a citizen of the world I look on with utter dismay, but afraid also of where this may lead. During the week the doomsday clock was set forward 30 seconds closer to armageddon, the closest it’s been in living memory. It feels true though that we are that much closer to catastrophe. It’s been but a week! A week! How much more damage can he do? Where does it end? We live in truly unpredictable times.

You like to think it can’t last, and certainly there is a great hope that it won’t. But how does that happen? Who, outside the people, has that will? He is already dismantling the structures of governance. I’m sure he will do things worthy of impeachment, if he hasn’t already – but who will police that? He has a hard-core about him, and is hand-picking replacements for key roles in government, security and bureaucracy. And he has the rabid support of the ‘deplorables’. He has split American society in two.

At a time like this you would hope that the world community would band together to contain the poison. We had the same hope in 1938, and just as in 1938 there are already world leaders cosying up to the despot. Theresa May, leader of another soon to be rogue state, has lauded him and said she expects Britain to do business with Trump. Chamberlain said exactly the same thing about Hitler.

I know its old hat to compare tyrants of all ilks with Hitler, and mostly it’s pretty lazy. This time the parallels are significant. It’s a reasonable comparison.

As an Australian I hope we stand up to the tyrannical and undemocratic dictates of Trump, but I have no real hope of that. It’s hard to imagine a more spineless or ineffectual leader than Turnbull. And it’s hard as an Australian leader to assume the high moral ground when we have created our own brand of concentration camp. They spoke together this morning, Trump and Turnbull, and 10 to 1 I bet Trump praised Turnbull for offshore processing and being tough on ‘illegals’.

Still and all we’re a lot better off here than in the US, and even Britain, and indeed most places. If we’re smart as nation we should find what small advantage the circumstances offer and invite the best and brightest of liberal America to come down under. We can offer them a good life and more freedom than what they’re being threatened with in their home country.

I hope for Australia to be a better place, but have the direct evidence of how it could be worse. I’m interested to see what comes of Trump’s ascension in the next few years. There will be a reaction to him, there is now. Right now it’s all reflex, in time it will be something innate. Either there will be a clamour to join his club, or else the horror of what he does will drive the common citizen in the opposite direction. I’m hoping for the latter. For the US though if they don’t get rid of him inside of 6 months I think the future will be bleak.

The lesser of two evils


There’s no wonder there’s so much clamour and angst about the upcoming US election. On the one hand there’s likely the most despicable candidate the system has ever thrown up, and opposing him is one of the least trusted. By virtue of being the lesser of two evils most of the intelligent world is hoping Clinton gets the nod, but it hardly fills you with cheer.

In all likelihood Hillary Clinton will be the next – and first woman – president of the United States. She leads marginally in the polls, and more importantly has her nose ahead across the key states. It’s amazing that it can be so close. From the outside looking in you would think a candidate like Donald Trump would be utterly unelectable. I’m convinced much of it is theatre, but regardless, he’s a pretty ordinary human being with nothing to offer a civilised world. That it’s so close is testament perhaps to the enduring mistrust of Clinton, and the system she represents. Any decent candidate would be streets ahead.

It’s water under the bridge now, but I think American Democrats missed an opportunity when they nominated Clinton over Sanders. Sanders is the mongoose to Trump’s cobra. For a start he’s a cleanskin, with none of the baggage that Clinton carries, and a much smaller target. In a way also he’s an outlier in the same way Trump is, but in the other direction. Mainstream politics is on the nose in the states, which is the main reason that Trump endures. Sanders is not part of that, and you would expect in an alternate universe that he would be drawing many disgruntled voters to his side who currently support Trump (such is the perversity of American politics). Ultimately Sanders is an idealist, looking to govern for the people rather than vested interests. The political system is broken in America, and he was the last best hope of fixing it.

Therein lies the deeper problem. Even if Clinton gets up next week it won’t put a stop to the drama, innuendo and vitriol. The body politic is tainted, and will remain noxious until someone does something about it. There are vast swathes of America who despise Clinton who have been given voice by Trump. As much as anything their support for Trump is a (ill-considered) shout of protest. Electing Clinton won’t make that go away. The genie is out of the bottle, and expect massive disruption and protest, and from that, who knows what? It won’t be peaceful or easy, and it won’t go away – the divide will become greater.

Though my politics are different I understand some of their frustration, and for all his borderline fascist and nonsensical claims, think that Trump has struck a nerve that resonates widely because there is some – some – truth to it.

It was interesting to read last week how a bunch of notable Americans had banded together to publish a plea to their fellow countrymen to vote for Clinton ahead of Trump. It was desperate gambit, but I would think more likely to do harm than good. Somehow this seems to have escaped many commentators. They concentrate on supposed facts, supported by their convictions, and fail to see the plain truth. This election is not about facts or even good policy; it’s about the man in the street too long ignored and overlooked finding his voice. It’s about outrage and bitterness and frustration long harboured and spilling forth. It’s about the kind of people who will react with outrage to a bunch of ‘elites’ telling them how to vote – and they’re just as likely to do the opposite to prove the point.

Trump has done so well because he has campaigned asymmetrically. It hardly matters what he says, and the more outrageous he is the greater the response becomes. To those of us who observe and listen it seems incredible that a man with such toxic (and often ridiculous) views and of such poor character could be a viable candidate. We shake our heads in bewilderment. That’s why so many of us are afraid – how could a man like that ever be in power? What then? Yet much of his support is because he is toxic – he says what he likes and delights in provoking the establishment and his followers delight in it too. They believe in him with fawning hope, a billionaire who dares to stick it up the despised ‘system’. That’s his strength, and if he wins, that’s why.

This is a symptom, not a cause. Small town Americans are sick of being dictated to by big city sophisticates. They feel poorly served by a system that has failed them in so many ways. The fact is there is corruption – though much of it is systemised (read this). The media, as in Australia and in many other places, has fallen into disrepute – sensation over facts, partisan and selective over impartial and objective (the story I found most disturbing in the Wikileaks dump was an American journalist sending his piece to the Clinton camp to be vetted before publication). They feel victims of a system they have no say in, and Clinton, more than any other, epitomises that.

Clinton is an imperfect candidate. If I was American I’d probably vote for Jill Stein, just to feel good about myself (my views on Hillary Clinton mirror Susan Sarandon’s). But if it’s a race in two – which it is – then Clinton is the only option.

Sure, Clinton is opportunistic and two-faced, supremely talented, but duplicitous. She was stupid beyond words choosing to use her own email server, and much of what is revealed confirms a grubby politic. But Trump is publicly racist, bigoted, nasty, not to mention sexist and seemingly a sleazy serial molester; a liar, a fraud, a huckster. Regardless of her character Clinton has a history of distinguished service; Trump has a history of unconscionable behaviour. He’s a deplorable human being whose publicly uttered policies would be ruinous to America, and the world in general (though I think Trump is full of sound(bites) and fury and would likely moderate if he got in power. It’s not conviction, but convenience, which makes him the perfect modern-day politician).

I think Clinton will get up, but the closeness of the result should serve as warning. The result won’t be the end of it, but the beginning of a perilous path forward in which the supreme goal must be to reconcile the warring factions of the United States. That will be hard, and maybe impossible. The Republican side of politics is likely to fracture further, and go further to the right, and I see no will in Clinton to go beyond the politically expedient. I may be wrong. Clinton is by far the lesser of two evils. Survive this, and hope for something better to come.

Hung


Election day yesterday, and just like every election day I spent last night sitting in front of the TV flicking between channels to catch the latest in election coverage. This was by far one of the more interesting election days to follow.

As I sit here this morning we don’t have a result. It’s more likely than not that Turnbull will be returned as PM, though it might take a deal with one of the independents to make it happen. A Labor victory is still possible, as is a stalemate whereby no party can assume government. Quite extraordinary.

I thought it would be close. The LNP have been favourites all the way through, but when I was asked during the week I said I thought they’d sneak home by a seat or two, but no more. Gut feeling at the time was the so-called Mediscare campaign had some cut through and would impact at the ballot box. On top of that Shorten had campaigned energetically while Malcolm, as is his wont, had looked at times as if he thought he was above it.

The probability is that we won’t know for a week or more who will form government, and deals may need to be made. For the LNP, and Turnbull, it’s a disaster. For Bill Shorten it may be the best possible result. It leaves the ALP poised to pounce next election, and without having the taint of the tough times I think we’re likely to endure. It makes it hard for Turnbull to govern, and to be convincing, which is both good and bad. Good in the sense that it means some of the more contentious policies are unlikely to get through now. Bad in the sense that good government will be hard to achieve.

Last night in the wake of this Turnbull gave an extraordinarily poorly judged speech. He was at pains to appear confident, yet came off at histrionic, even manic. Rather than playing a sensible straight bat to events he chose instead to blame pretty well everyone but himself. It was likely a pitch more to the Liberal party rank and file, keen to shore up his position, than to the Australian people, but it lacked grace.

The reality is that if Malcolm had been the authentic self everyone hoped he would be then he would have romped it in. He’s under threat today because the majority of Australia is disappointed in him. No doubt he’s been put in a difficult position because of the deals he had to make to get the top job. He’s in the pocket of the conservative nutjobs, and I reckon he figured that he would change his tune when properly elected in his own right, and with a mandate to explore his own agenda. It was a reasonable plan, except as it turns out squeaking by (as he probably will) is no-one’s idea of a clear mandate. The irony is he failed to get a mandate to be himself because he lacked the courage to be himself.

Where this leaves Turnbull, and the LNP, is anyone’s guess. He’s talented but flawed, the Hamlet of Australian politics. It may turn out just as bloody as that.

The message from yesterday’s result is that the electorate is weary of mainstream political rhetoric. Independents got a bigger share of the pie than ever before. Unfortunately it means that Pauline Hanson, and One Nation, are back in business, largely thanks to Queensland. It also means that Nick Xenophon and his fledgling party have a voice to.

Like most in Australia I have a lot of time for Nick Xenophon, who appears decent, honest and smart. He sits somewhere in the middle, and I suspect is here to stay. He’s a pragmatic politician who also has genuine belief, which is a good combination. I think many people are drawn to him because he doesn’t belong to one of the party machines, and that for all his pragmatism, lacks the cynical opportunism that characterises so much of our politics today. I’m drawn to him because I can’t believe truly in any of the big parties – but turned away because he’s not yet in a position to make a difference.

The big parties need to ponder this. The primary vote of both the LNP and ALP is shrinking, and even the Greens have stagnated.

Far from being an electoral fail, the result yesterday is proof that the system works, whether you like it or not. This is what Malcolm has to understand: the Australian people have spoken. It’s not their fault you weren’t elected; it’s your fault they didn’t elect you. Perhaps you – the others – should have a listen to what we’re saying. I doubt it though. The superficial message they seem to have heard is that negative campaigning works (true), ignoring the real schism this result has revealed.

Further proof of that is in the senate. Liberal and Labor colluded in their own interests to ‘reform’ the senate to ensure it better represented the electorate. That was the spiel, and it made sense – when independents (like Ricky Muir) get voted in with a fraction of the vote of those who miss out then something was screwy. The real motivation was to keep the senate red and blue, with a smattering of green. It was all about power.

I always vote beneath the line. Like many Australians I was offended by this power grab by the big parties. I was as critical as anyone when Ricky Muir got in, but guess what? He turned into a fine and conscientious senator who represented interests beyond the narrow political agendas of Liberal and Labor.

This is not about Ricky Muir, but about getting a cross-section of views. It’s about democratic process and, as Don Chipp said once, keeping the bastards honest. The result is that after yesterday the major parties power has been further diluted in the senate. It backfired, and it backfired because we’re not so cynical to fall for the neat rhetoric – and because we want to hear other voices.

There’s no point complaining about it boys, this is the world now, and won’t change, unless you do.