Friday, 18 November 2016    

That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.

It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

– The empathy bit in Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech

There is a persistent confusion in most political commentary, and the election of Trump shows that this had better be sorted out, and quick. This confusion rests on the relationship between politics and society, and especially an increasingly common habit of projecting what is going on politically directly on to society.

One example during the campaign were the occasional profiles in the better quality press trying to explain the thinking of Trump supporters (usually when he was doing relatively well). The more “thoughtful” pieces did real profiles on real people, talking of their real concerns, anger at politicians, and how their communities are struggling against globalisation, job losses, blah, blah, blah.

Leaving aside the inherent bias that meant Trump voters had to be “explained” whereas Clinton supporters did not, the problem with these profiles is not just that they more reflected the prejudices of the writer than anything else, but that they were sourcing the rise of Trump in the wrong place. Stagnant wages, distrust of political institutions, concern about the flight of jobs, have all been a feature of the US electorate for years.

Furthermore, the breakdown of exit polls showed that there was no major realignment in the electorate. In fact, by and large, Democrats voted for the Democratic nominee and Republicans voted for the Republican nominee, in what some have described as “tribal”, but could have just as easily be described as “normal”.

What was decisive this election round was not what was happening in the electorate but in the political parties, and they way their breakdown meant these issues could no longer be ignored. The issue was not so much why voters voted for their respective party nominee, but why two such weak candidates were the nominees in the first place.

Trump is a product of US political decline. The source of that decline is the difficulty the US has in maintaining a global framework to exert its influence, especially since the end of the Cold War. This has worked its way through the domestic political scene and it has especially affected the party that previously most benefited from that framework, the Republicans.

It is why the Republicans have only won the popular vote in one election (including this one) since the end of the Cold War – in the midst of that ersatz Cold War, the War on Terror in 2004. The Southern Strategy set up by Nixon and Reagan, a coalition between the upper middle class and the southern post-segregation whites, was glued together with Cold War ideology that proved difficult to replace.

The hollowing out of the Republicans’ political project was personified by the Republican establishment’s choice this election, Jeb Bush, a nepotic pick of a non-entity who had little resonance even within his own state party, let alone anywhere else.

But Trump not only swept aside the Republican establishment, but also what had been the GOP establishment’s main opposition within the party, the conservatives and fundamentalists clustered around the Tea Party (remember them?).

One of the striking things of the primaries was how charges that Trump was not conservative enough, that had been used before by the likes of Ted Cruz against mainstream Republicans, simply didn’t stick. Partly this was helped by Trump’s stand against immigration and radical Islam, but his moderate stance on most social issues showed that the strict ideological rulebook did not apply. This mish-mash meant that even well after winning the nomination, Trump was still seen by registered voters as the most moderate Republican nominees for more than a generation.

So Trump walked into a vacuum to take the Republican nomination. But in the general election he faced a Democratic party that was almost in the same state. As the Democrat establishment pick, Clinton was a phenomenally weak choice. She had already lost once to an outsider in 2008, Obama, and struggled to put down even a weak outsider like Bernie Sanders in 2016. Against Trump, she found it little easier.

Much has been made of the white swing towards Trump in the election, but it wasn’t much. Trump had a bigger swing with non-educated whites but lost on educated whites, a bigger swing with white men but lost with white women (although still won more than Clinton), won with whites in rural areas in the mid-west but lost in the cities on the west coast.

Yet what was probably more of interest was what didn’t happen, namely a swing away by African Americans and Hispanics.

The exaggeration in the white swing comes from the media projecting a political view provided by the Democrat version of Trump onto the electorate. But in their targeting of minorities, the Democrats did much the same thing themselves. This was one reason why the media could not imagine a Trump win, which was little to do with the polls. The assumption was that with Trump having (supposedly in some cases) insulted different voting groups, it would surely translate into punishment in the polls.

It never happened. Trump increased his vote (slightly) with African-Amercians, Latinos and Asian Americans. Perhaps like whites, other factors like the economy, corruption etc. might have figured, who knows. This slice ‘em and dice ‘em view of minority voters reached ludicrousness levels, such as on election night when it was expected that a high Latino vote in Florida would be bad for Trump because Cubans would be upset over Trump’s comments about Mexicans, and they’re all the same, aren’t they?

But it was probably with women where this political thinking really fell apart. This was supposed to be the gender election. The first female major party nominee was going up against someone who, let’s be blunt, was arguably the most vulnerable to such a campaign for decades. The importance of gender and the first chance to elect a women President became an increasingly important theme of the Democrat campaign, with solemn visits to the grave of Susan B Anthony and reminiscinces of the suffragette movement, all wrapped up in the “I’m with her” slogan. As the New York Times said, “It was supposed to be the election in which women rejected the candidate who hates women in favor of the candidate who is one.”

Yet again, nothing happened. Incredibly, exit polls suggest Clinton did slightly worse against Trump with women than Obama did against Romney’s whose worst comment was something about binders.

Partly this was obscured by race. African Americans stayed at home, but especially women, where in absolute terms Clinton appears to have lost the vote of a thumping 1.4 million black women compared to 0.4 million black men. But Clinton also lost white women by 43/53, and failed to end the Democrat’s long running losing streak with white women only broken in the last 30 years by her husband in 1996. In absolute terms, while Clinton also did a bit worse with Latino women than Obama (but still won 68% of them), while Trump did a little bit better with Latino and African American women than Romney in 2012.

So despite all the expectations from the media and the Democrats, their gender based campaign flopped. Looking at it, it’s not hard to see why.

At the start of Clinton’s campaign she posed the election of a woman as President as a moment of change because, well, the President would be a woman. The trouble with that is that the US had already elected an African American in the previous two elections and it’s possible to argue you can’t signify change much more than that. The problem was also that this was all it did do, signify it. Nothing much really changed to meet the symbolism. So the idea that a woman in White House would mean anything more to people’s lives, female or male, was not obvious.

Then the gender issue really took off after the release of the video from 10 years ago of Trump on mic with Billy Bush, and the accusations of sexual assault that followed. While understandably Trump’s comments disgusted many, directly relating it to people’s lives was again not that straightforward.

It was especially telling on the issue that did directly affect millions of American women, abortion. In the third debate, Trump raised the issue of late abortion with an especially unpleasant retelling of “ripping” the foetus out in a late abortion. In one of Clinton’s best moments in the campaign, she made the obvious point that it was precisely in such a difficult moment that the ability for the woman to have control over her body was so important.

But there the issue died. It was striking that abortion was far less an issue in the 2016 campaign than it was in 2012, despite the Republicans having a candidate that openly called for a reversal of Roe v Wade (even if inconsistently, given his previous pro-abortion stance). Instead, the Democrat campaign was preferring to focus on Trump’s “fat-shaming” of a beauty pageant queen and his language and behaviour. These were great weapons in the culture war, and a wonderful opportunity for men to show their gallantry (especially anti-abortion #NeverTrumpers in the GOP) but not an issue directly affecting women’s lives like restricting access to abortion.

If the purpose of the Democrats’ focus on Trump’s personal language and behaviour towards women, instead of issues like abortion, was to draw away otherwise socially conservative GOP supporters, then that failed again. Senior figures in the GOP establishment like McCain used it as an excuse to exhibit their refined sensibilities (please don’t look up McCain’s comments on Chelsea and Reno in 2008) and do what they always wanted, to isolate Trump. But the GOP voters didn’t follow the establishment – just like they didn’t in the primaries. Whatever the movements around the edges, Republican supporters voted for the Republican nominee in around the same numbers as last time. The right’s talk of a resurgence” against PC etc. is as phoney as the left’s refusal to admit the flop of their “rainbow coalition” strategy.

In short, the 2016 election was one long culture war that had little real impact, but especially on the Democrat side. It was primarily a political crisis from above than a realignment from below. That crisis coincided with the failure of a political way of thinking that has, if anything, become even worse after the election.

This political thinking was best summed up by Clinton’s now notorious “deplorables” speech. The speech was seen as a major gaffe of the campaign like Romney’s “47%” comment in the last election. But unlike Romney’s gaffe, or Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” comment in 2008, Clinton’s speech was scripted and broadcast to the media. It after all reflected the prevailing view in the media and political commentary that also saw the Trump electorate as either consigned to the basket of “deplorables” or deserving of pity.

The “deplorable” comment was quickly leapt on by the Republicans as a sign of the “contempt of the elite” towards ordinary voters, and helped give a unifying theme to a chaotic Republican campaign. But the real problem with the speech was subtler.

In fact, Clinton was not especially targeting Republican supporters as such, but Trump. Her argument was that Trump’s main failing was that through his language he was provoking the dark forces below. As she says, “we are living in a volatile political environment” and Trump’s irresponsibility was that he was “lifting up” the deplorables, and those were just angry at tough economic conditions had to be rescued from the same fate.

This is a key political argument of this period: that the public contains dark forces that politicians have a responsibility not to “lift up”. It was a concern during the Brexit referendum and reached its height in Australia where a public debate on same sex marriage was quashed because it was apparently less capable of holding it than Ireland without dark forces being provoked.

This heightened sensitivity to what politicians say, rather than do, has distorted important policy issues. One example during the campaign was deportations. Trump’s policy on mass deportations of 2-3 million people has rightly provoked outrage. The trouble is that this has already been a policy of Obama with barely any outrage at all.

Obama has deported nearly 3 million immigrants which is almost more than any previous President combined – i.e. a qualitative jump. Yet the sensitivity over language means it is only Trump attracting the outrage after calling some of the Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. No wonder Latinos directly affected by the policy struggled to see the difference.

That language and ideas drives society is understandably strongly held by those in politics, the media and academia whose jobs rely on that view. We all want to do good. The assumption that words mean as much to everyone else, and can offend or provoke, however leads to confusion. It projects assumptions of the power of ideas in the political sphere on society at large. It was why there was such a widely-held assumption in media and political circles that Clinton would win – and horror that she didn’t.

The political order is breaking up and this confusion is likely to get worse. Along with Brexit, Trump’s victory showed that the UK and the US, stabilisers of the world order of the 20th century, are proving the destabilisers of the 21st. Trump’s victory means there is unlikely to be stability anytime soon, and there is likely to be increasing concerns about what such instability will do in society, from those who should know better.


Equality – an update

Wednesday, 19 October 2016    

On the issue of marriage, I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious and historical view around that which we have to respect. I do respect the fact that’s how people view the institution.

Penny Wong 2010

I do find myself on the conservative side in this question. I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future. If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now, I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.

Now, I know people might look at me and think that’s something that they wouldn’t necessarily expect me to say, but that is what I believe.

Julia Gillard 2011

Personally speaking, I’m completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite. I’d be wary of trying to use a referendum and a constitutional mechanism to start tampering with the Marriage Act. But in terms of a plebiscite — I would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people.

Bill Shorten 2013

Questions of marriage are the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament. Referendums are held in this country where there’s a proposal to change the constitution. I don’t think anyone is suggesting the constitution needs to be changed in this respect.

Tony Abbott 2015

Marriage is primarily a social institution rather than a legal or political one. If some whacky law was passed tomorrow annulling all marriages, they would of course continue to be recognised by society, both by those in them and everyone else. Society is constantly evolving and so naturally does its view of marriage and its relation to the family. Decades ago, divorce had a social stigma and children born out of marriage were considered illegitimate. These days, every social attitude survey and opinion polls indicates that society recognises marriage between same sex couples and so you’d think the law would be changed to reflect that.

You’d think. Read more …


Failing state

Monday, 1 August 2016    

Isn't that what elections are for?

Isn’t that what elections are for?

When Howard announced the intervention into Northern Territory indigenous communities in the run up to the 2007 election, it was widely seen as a political masterstroke, comparable to the storming of the Tampa that was supposed to have won the 2001 election (so mis-reading both elections).

At the time this blog suggested that the invasion of Iraq might be a better comparison. Read more …

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Locked in – an update

Sunday, 3 July 2016    

A newly installed Prime Minister goes to the first election and claims a mandate that doesn’t exist while an opposition leader claimed a victory that he never won. The eerie mirroring of the 2010 result shows that Australian politics still hasn’t left the deadlock it’s been in since then. Read more …


The confusions of anti-politics: Brexit – an update

Monday, 27 June 2016    

The French can be cruel.

The French can be cruel.


It was hard not to escape the conclusion from the reaction to the shock Brexit vote that this was an internal Conservative leadership contest that had somehow spun out of control. Read more …


Words and deeds

Monday, 20 June 2016    

The “I” word

Against the terrible events of the last two weeks the general political response from left and right has been dire. It is not, as some have argued, wrong to immediately impose political agendas when something like the attack on an Orlando gay club or the murder of Jo Cox happens. It’s the inability of those political agendas to get a grip on what actually did happen that’s the problem, and the cynical way it was used in Australia immediately after.

After the Orlando shooting it was the right that could identify it as Islamist terrorism while the left dissembled the motive of the killer. Within a few days both sides had clambered over each other to take opposite positions on the murder of Jo Cox. This time it was the left who could call it the far right terrorism it was, while the right tried to shift the discussion away to his mental health.

But it was not just the back-flipping and hypocrisy of both sides’ positions in a matter of a few days. It got much worse than that.

A few weeks ago ISIS was reported to have made a call for “lone wolf” attacks across the Europe and the US during Ramadan. Within a couple of weeks there were two attacks close to each other, the Orlando shooting and the stabbing of two police officers outside Paris. Both followed the usual pattern: claiming allegiance with ISIS on Facebook and, in the Orlando case, by dialling 911, and holding hostages for maximum publicity. Both were designed to increase ISIS’s profile around the world at a time when it was on the retreat in Iraq and Syria.

What ISIS may not have allowed for, however, was the extent to which sections of the US political class and media would go out of its way to deny that the killer did what he several times said he was doing. Instead, the first response from some was to claim it was just another problem of gun control, ignoring not only the fact that he had a security licence and been twice cleared by the FBI, but the particular targeted intent of this attack rather than just a random cinema. Even worse, some jumped on the theory that it happened because Mateen was a repressed homosexual, as though that explained anything, a particularly tasteless speculation given the target, and the sort of psychosexual babble you’d expect in the 1950s of Agatha Christie and her homicidal lesbians. Reports that the FBI is dropping that theory are unsurprising.

The result of all this wriggling on the left side to avoid saying the “I” word – summed up by the President’s meaningless labelling of it as a “terrorism of hate” (as opposed to a “terrorism of love”?), a tactic followed by Clinton (wisely abandoned) – was to let the right completely off the hook and sound almost sensible. It obscured that Trump had no solution than to revive the Muslim ban he previously dropped, out of time not only because after the event, but given Mateen was born in the US, would have required time travel to around 1979 when his father came to the US and Islamic fighters were being armed by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

When the left side did acknowledge that Mateen might be who he said he was, the usual response then was to argue that this shouldn’t reflect on other Muslims, even if they hold anti-gay views.

Actually, this is fair enough. Words are not deeds. There is a world of difference between saying a religious belief, no matter how vile, and carrying it out in practice (otherwise the world would be full of good Christians). Even the so-called “hate speech” preacher who was in Orlando weeks before the shooting and hurriedly (and opportunistically) denied a visa to Australia can hardly be directly linked to such killings.

Mateen’s profile is similar to many observed in Europe going to fight for ISIS in not being especially theological or even that clear on the myriad of Islamic militarist groupings in Syria. The answers surely more lie in the social reality they live for which Islamic radicalism is more likely a vehicle than the primary driver. For example, it has been reasonably suggested that the second generation immigrant status of many who go to fight for ISIS, and Mateen, is more pertinent to their radicalisation – nicely described as the Islamification of radicalism than the radicalisation of Islam.

The trouble is, however, this is not what the left actually thinks. Generally for politicos words are deeds, or at least an incitement to them. The whole concept of “hate speech” is embedded in much of left politics and the calls for bans on, er, black US rap artists coming to Australia is based on the idea that inflammatory speech will directly link to violent acts.

Thirty years ago, it tended to be the censorious right that was more willing to ascribe words or images to violent acts (the new-fangled “video games” were a particular target) while the left’s attitude was more to take pride in criticising what was said to reveal the social reality behind it. With the left having since lost its direct connection to social reality and also ascended into the ether, clamping down on words and images is now presented as an act of social change.

That’s why on Islamic terrorism it has nothing to say. So embedded is the idea that words drive action, that it is hard not to ascribe terrorism to the anti-progressive elements of Islamic teachings, rather than the particular lived reality of the terrorists in the west, and their response to it.

“Forces unleashed”

With the murder of Jo Cox, however, to this blogger one of the saddest political events, positions were at least initially more back to normal, and it was instantly ascribed to the far right ideology as details emerged.

But then it changed and it began shifting to something else than just about far right ideology. To understand why it is necessary to look at what was happening in the days leading up to the murder.

As noted before, the dynamic of the Brexit campaign was similar to last year’s Scottish referendum with two campaigns running at the same time: an official nationalist campaign, that was more a middle class concern, and a more hidden anti-establishment anti-elite campaign running in working class areas.

Cameron did the same thing he did in Scotland: wheel out the experts to warn of the economic danger of leaving, something that appears to have some impact on the traditional Conservative base. But the result was also to polarise the “anti-expert” mood in the Leave supporters, especially with traditional Labour supporters.

Labour’s low profile has been noted and explained by its unenthusiastic leader and as a tactic to let the Tories tear each other apart. But when tight polls put increasing pressure on Labour to bring its supporters in line, the real reason for the Labour reticence became clear, it had completely lost touch with them.

That Labour has disconnected from its base is hardly new and has been going on for at least 30 years. But until recently it could be ignored as politically in England there was nowhere else to go. While Scotland, its historical stronghold, was wiped out to the SNP, in England the only party making inroads was UKIP, and even here not as much as some thought – although the fact that an ex-Tory stockbroker could make any headway at all in northern England showed how bad the situation was.

With the EU referendum there is no reason to hold back, and the breach between Labour and its traditional working class base is now fully in the open. There is a highly illuminating video of a Guardian reporter following a Labour MP around her constituency in northern England campaigning for Remain. What is illustrative is not only the surprise of the Guardian reporter at the depth of Leave sentiment with white working class and Muslim communities, but the cluelessness of the MP that is supposed to represent them (the MP seeking refuge in the pottery factory near the end is especially amusing).

By midway through last week, Labour was in full panic mode. The problem was not only the breach with the base, but precisely because of that breach that Labour is desperate to retain ties with the EU bureaucracy. By mid-week some senior Labour figures were promising to make a deal with the EU to restrict immigration (unlikely) while being flatly contradicted by its leader. Guardian columnists were warning darkly of forces being unleashed from a working class no longer under Labour influence.

Then the murder happened. Almost immediately the panic in the Remain camp meant the traditional response to blame the message became focused not just on far right ideology but on the mainstream Leave campaign as well.

Leaving aside that Mair has been a far right activist decades before the EU referendum, from a democratic point of view this is not such a great development. For a UK political campaign, the Brexit campaign is pretty run of the mill. Indeed the farcical “flotilla war” the day before summed up for many what had been a petty and silly campaign. Britain has certainly had more vitriolic campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s. Nor is immigration being a centre-piece that unusual. The Conservatives ran directly on it in 2005 under the classic Crosby dog whistle slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” (it flopped). Even at the last election, immigration was enough of an issue for Labour to issue reassuring mugs and Cameron to promise an immigration level he had no intention of fulfilling.

For a start, it is surely up to the public in a democracy to determine how a campaign is conducted and on what issues. More importantly, letting the actions of a far right nut job determine the limits of what can be talked about is hardly healthy. Even worse, the murder then became linked to a broader “anti-politics” mood against the “elites” that stemmed from the quite justifiable anger about MPs expenses – a bizarre accusation that had nothing to do with the murderer who seemed to be suffering less from anti-politics, than a bit too much of it. It seemed more about the reasserting the battered reputation of a political class than the murder of Jo Cox and her killer.

Cynicism at home

In Australia we saw last week just how crass this approach can get. In the Facebook leaders debate, fortunately watched by no one, Shorten tried to make a link between the Orlando and Cox shootings and the dangers of holding a plebiscite on same sex marriage (from which he later backtracked).

The hypocrisy of Shorten and Labor on this is staggering. Leaving aside that a plebiscite wouldn’t be needed if Labor had passed it in six years of government, it will be remembered that last year Shorten took the lead in blocking an attempt at Conference to make support for same sex marriage Labor policy in favour of keeping it a conscience vote. Funnily enough a block on same sex marriage that was policy when Labor joined the Coalition to apply it in 2004, must now be a conscience vote to lift it.

In reality, same sex marriage has been an internal party political football in Labor even more than it is in the Liberals. Support for same sex marriage has usually been taken up as part of a modernising push against right-wing union control. Their declining grip might have something to do with the shift in “consciences”, especially with NSW right MPs, over recent years, making it otherwise the biggest simultaneous conversion of consciences since the Resurrection.

This is just politics. But to then turn and echo the sentiment in the UK against the public, as being unable to do what the Labor party still can’t, is really too much. Probably one of the most annoying offenders is Senator Wong, who has spoken before about the homophobia in the public that makes her concerned over holding a plebiscite, forgetting that the “homophobic public” was able to tell pollsters they supported same sex marriage before her political career allowed her to do the same. Yesterday she was again warning of the dangers of a public debate, raising hurtful comments about bestiality, while forgetting that it came not from the masses but a fellow South Australian Senator opposite her in the chamber we are now supposed to solely trust with the debate.

The final irony to all of this concern over a public campaign on same sex marriage is, of course, it is precisely what Labor is doing right now in the election campaign. It seems the only safe way to campaign on any issue is when it ends in Vote Labor. And if words are now deeds, it seems the only responsible guardians of them from the public are the politicians they are supposed to elect.

1 comment

Car crash

Monday, 30 May 2016    

Picture: Mike Bowers

Picture: Mike Bowers

If a car crash is two vehicles heading in the opposite direction on the same track, then we had the definition of it at the leaders’ debate on Sunday night. Both the press and the two leaders are grappling with the same thing but coming at it from completely opposite directions, and despite all the swerving and evasion to avoid it from both sides, the result ended up being a mess.

Away from the tedious finessing over policy detail, there really is only one issue this election: where both parties go from here now they’ve run out of options. Both parties come to this election exhausted. The leadership toing and froing of the last eight years has solved nothing. Rudd/Turnbull failed to take their parties somewhere new, the return of the old under Gillard/Abbott only made things worse.

Since it became clear that the 2013 election and the end of the Gillard/Rudd period, has solved nothing, there is now more talk of a widespread political malaise in press commentary. But no real attempt to get what was behind it. Instead there has been an exhortation from the more serious commentary to reignite the serious drive for reform from the Hawke/Keating era that never actually happened. As a result, we had this belief when Turnbull took over the leadership, that he could simply over-step the paralysis in the parties and solve the political crisis through his own Fabulousness and pick up where Rudd left off but without the policy waffle.

But Turnbull is no Rudd. He simply does not have the political smarts that allowed Rudd to defeat a long term Prime Minister and become, at least for a while, the most popular political leader in a generation. Rather than take on his own party as Rudd did, Turnbull looks keener to tread water and wait for an election victory to give him the authority he still lacks.

But this isn’t going to happen. Unless it is a landslide, surviving a first term against Shorten Labor is unlikely to be seen by his critics as such an achievement as to shut them up – especially as they will regard him as having watered down the agenda to do so. But as was already clear under Abbott, other considerations than electoral ones apply. Turnbull will still face the almost impossible task of finding a way of promoting the party’s brand and remain electorally viable.

So on Sunday night, we had a format and questions that were suitably high-minded and serious to evoke the, er, great debates of the Hawke/Keating/Hewson era, and two leaders who were simply not in a position to respond.

Of the two, Shorten at least seemed to have adapted more to the times. The little man act, the bad suit, the excessive politeness, the “keeping it real” counter-position of mums and dads against the big corporations and the banks with their $50bn tax cut, was more in keeping with the diminished expectations of current circumstances.

In contrast, Turnbull still has the windy rhetoric that he had when he took office but without the expectation now that it would actually mean something. Without understanding the situation both leaders’ find themselves, there has been understandable annoyance from the press at the two leaders’ lacklustre performance, but especially on Turnbull from whom so much was hoped.

The debate is unlikely to have changed much, given that it reflects the reality of which everyone is already aware. But it might give an indication that in the unlikely event Labor does win, there will be complete incomprehension from some quarters as to why.


The confusions of anti-politics: Brexit

Tuesday, 24 May 2016    

The current state of the British political project.

There is a fundamental (and fairly obvious) flaw at the centre of the Brexit campaign. Read more …


Locked in

Monday, 9 May 2016    

David Rowe, AFR

David Rowe, AFR

It is not right for Australians to be forced into a guessing game, and it’s not right for Australians to not face this year with certainty and stability. So in the interests of certainty, in the interest of transparency, in the interest of good governance, I have made the date clear today.

J Gillard, January 2013

Turnbull’s bold play came as the latest Newspoll showed his authority sliding, and his government wearing the costs of a perceived drift. Turnbull’s frustration at these perceptions has been as evident as it has been pointless. Having so many unknowns in play at once has done the new PM no favours.

This special sitting / early budget / early double-D election announcement will change all of that smartly.

Mark Kenny, 21 March

Poor polling is making the decision to defer the election until July look increasingly questionable.

Mark Kenny, one month later

This is the second election in a row that the date has been locked in well in advance. The key advantage of choosing an election date, so helpful to a Prime Minister’s authority, has been thrown away by Prime Ministers who desperately needed all the help they can get, because other concerns prevailed – namely the need to lock in a party behind them that was in danger of drifting and fragmenting beneath them. Read more …


Book review: Niki Savva’s Road to Ruin

Monday, 28 March 2016    



Like a dead fish, a paralysed government soon flips upside down in the water. Read more …


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