May 23, 2007
On the Inside, the Roses Grow...
Tim Battin has some very good thoughts on the "baffling" disconnect between how the public and the pundits perceive Howard's chance of re-election.
The present perplexity of the fourth estate over the Labor Party's continued electoral buoyancy makes for an interesting study...Well, indeed. Here's Barrie Cassidy's opening spiel - note the lovely give-away in the second paragraph:
[R]evealing was the widely and oft-expressed view that Labor would take a hammering once the budget was brought down. When this situation failed to eventuate, at least one managing director of a polling company, commenting on his own company's research, was reduced to saying that the people will eventually get it right. Last Sunday's Insiders program on the ABC is another example of general (and seemingly genuine) puzzlement in our commentariat at what is going on.
Good morning, welcome to Insiders. And it's been another weird week in politics. The Government was out and about selling a Budget that was, by and large, well received, and the latest research put consumer confidence at its highest in 32 years, a neat juxtaposition with unemployment - the lowest in 32 years.Gosh. Ordinary punters ignoring the opinion of the business sector - how terribly weird.
And at the same time, Kevin Rudd and Labor were under sustained attack from big business over its industrial relations policy. And yet the polls - all of them - either showed Labor maintaining its huge lead over the Coalition or building on it.
It's a very apt title, "Insiders", and not just because of the host's revolving door career, journalist to press secretary and back again. I can't bear the program but occasionally find it useful to remind myself of the average journo's paralysing incapacity to poke his head outside the hermetic bubble of establishment thinking.
Journalists interviewing journalists is always a good sign that you can expect no sensible insight - Insiders seems to have decided to make a totem of this truism with its weekly chat with the increasingly irrelevant Paul "the Duchess" Kelly. Coincidentally, his mouthing of the "baffling" polls concept served to underline exactly what was wrong with the forum in which he delivered it.
CASSIDY: Paul, good morning. I was talking before about a rather odd week and you wrote on Saturday about the insiders and outsiders.Note the assumption here that the "insider" view is the correct one. Never mind that the outsiders are the ones who'll be deciding the election result. Never mind that the perception of good economic management is a product of the same bubble-thinking that leaves the pundits baffled by the polls.
PAUL KELLY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, THE AUSTRALIAN: That's right, Barrie. I think there's a mood of frustration and worry in the Government about the polls, and puzzlement as to how the polls can be turned around and I think politics is split at the moment between the insider and outsider view.
The insider view based on economic prosperity and the outsider view based on the mood of the country. Virtually each week we see new, very good economic figures for the Government: record levels of low unemployment, record consumer confidence, yet this is not translating into hard political support for the Government.
How it works is amusingly demonstrated here:
I think the signals on industrial relations are quite confused and complicated. My understanding of Labor's situation is this: Kevin Rudd believes that WorkChoices is the biggest single vote switcher from the Howard Government to Labor, therefore Kevin Rudd feels under no political or electoral pressure to make concessions at all, in fact just the reverse.See, there you go. Rudd's (partial, temporary) refusal to cave in to business demands is driven by "political" and "electoral" considerations. If he had caved, he would have been swayed by a commitment to "economic productivity".
In his talks with business he's yet to be persuaded by business that there is a strong argument in terms of economic productivity for Labor to make further significant concessions.
Back to Mr Battin:
So why does this gulf exist? Part of the explanation is that it has always been there, and has become more apparent once again. It was there in the three years or so after John Howard's — and Pauline Hanson's — victory in 1996 when senior journalists, along with other opinion makers ... simply didn't get what was fuelling the Hanson momentum...I'll pointlessly note in passing that it was only after Hanson spoke out against economic globalisation that Howard denounced her. His objections were notable by their absence while she was still only wittering on about "the Aboriginal industry" and Asians who "can't assimilate".
Economic insecurity was the real issue. After trashing the Keating Government, the public was again given angst by the first and second Costello budgets. The commentariat was very slow to catch on to this and there was rarely any admission that material issues were of prime concern, partly because the late '90s was a period when the culture wars entered a new phase.
In other words, the Howard Government understood what was needed: some strategic backdowns on globalisation, a lot of money thrown at rural Australia, and fomenting cultural division in Australian society in the hope that attention could be diverted from the material, economic issues of state, over which division necessarily occurs. Labor assisted by blurring much of the difference it might otherwise have had with the Government, in both policy and rhetorical terms.
Meantime, the preoccupation of Liberal politicians was with establishing the Government's economic credentials. We might even allow ourselves to think that some of them believed that once the economic standing of the Government was established by sustained prosperity, they could come to rely less on the racism and other prejudices of the culture wars.Which is a polite way of saying that the pundits don't give a rat's arse about Industrial Relations because they don't give a rat's arse about workers, as is only to be expected from middle-class "professionals" whose meal-tickets depend on framing agendas in the manner preferred by their employers.
The trouble with this approach is that the Government has been too drawn in by its own party line (as ageing governments often are). It has come to believe its own propaganda about how good things are. The scandal is that many of the media's senior commentators have also swallowed the propaganda of prosperity hook, line and sinker...
Most tellingly of all, economic insecurity has resurfaced in the public's response to an industrial system of Howard's making. Already vulnerable to the relentless increase of overwork and unpaid overtime, Australians see that Howard's new system will exacerbate the problem. Collective bargaining rights are meaningless in a system that is prearranged to make collective bargaining ineffective. Despite their present disinclination to join a union — a trend that has now bottomed out — Australians generally express a gladness that unions are around.
And they know there is something nasty about Australian Workplace Agreements. Senior commentators don't or won't ask why we would need a special kind of individual contract to do what other individual contracts have done, but the public suspects there is something wrong with an arrangement that removes so many conditions of employment.
It is difficult to say how much of the commentariat's present stance is due to ignorance about the industrial legislation and how much it is due to the inability of contracted, individualistic and well-paid commentators, from the distance of their own orbit, to recognise the way the real world works.