Friday, 10 September 2010
As the major parties congratulate themselves in Canberra yesterday for their respective lousy showings in the election, there is a similar sense of unreality going on in the media and some parts of the blogosphere to what has been happening in the past few days. While the right and left in Canberra have been oblivious to what the new power of the independents means, so it seems have many in the media and its self-styled alternative in the blogosphere.
The view from some parts of the media that Gillard’s government is illegitimate because Windsor said he was only supporting Labor because they couldn’t win an election, is being hotly contested and put down to just right-wing media bitterness.
Let’s clear this up first. Of course, Tony Windsor said it at the press conference Q&A (for which unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a clip), at least twice to questioning that this blogger can recall. It was not only the media who believed so. As the media started getting aggressive, Oakeshott, who seemed to be smiling in agreement when Windsor first said it, a few minutes later made a point of noting what Windsor said and explicitly distanced himself from it. By the evening, Windsor was also back-tracking for the same reason; it was giving ammunition to those who wanted an early election.
It is worth emphasising this point because it leads to one major misconception over what the independents are about, what they mean by ‘stability’. ‘Stability’ is not keeping Labor in for three years. Stability is keeping the current Parliament, which gives the independents maximum power, divided for three years. Otherwise, in the interests of ‘stability’ Katter would have joined Labor and boosted its majority, not joined the Coalition and made it thin as possible.
The basis of their flexibility is that the two party system has lost its meaning. This will make Coalition attempts to turn their conservative electorates against them difficult. It will need, for example, for voters in Armidale to reject the high speed broadband because those socialists brought it in, rather than say, that nice responsible Coalition that was prepared to spend $1bn on a single hospital.
Besides, while elections are always welcome by this blog, the right-wing press saying that Windsor’s comments mean the government should go back to the polls are just being hypocrites since by that criteria any government should go to an election when the polls are unfavourable.
But the left are being hypocrites too. They are defending the right of the independents to make the decision they have, while deliberately ignoring what that decision is. Because if Windsor undermined the government’s legitimacy indirectly, Oakeshott was quite explicit that Labor was not being given a mandate, something those in the blogosphere defending the independents have routinely ignored.
Quite what this means is not yet fully appreciated, shown up in the way the media are treating that other phrase the independents like using, the ‘new paradigm’. In seeing it as meaning a consensus between the major parties, journalists have understandably been cynical. However, for the independents, the ‘new paradigm’ is not based on whether the major parties come together. The ‘new paradigm’ is that it is irrelevant whether they do or not. Consensus is not about the major parties coming together, but the independents choosing which policies of either party they want.
They have not taken long to make this clear, with talk that they could support the Coalition’s paid parental leave. Windsor was blunt on the political reality behind adopting Coalition policies:
They can do things with us and the executive won’t have the power to shut them down. The opposition can be part of the government, too.
In other words, only one independent need switch to the Coalition and it can bring in a policy without Labor being able to do anything about it. The implications of this are yet to sink in. For example, Jenny Macklin may very well be reaffirmed as Minister for Families. That’s nice. But what does it mean if she has to implement the Coalition’s PPL scheme? What will Swan’s role mean if he has to finance it?
However, the most exquisite irony is that it is not good news for the Coalition either. After all, the policies it has do not come from any philosophy. As Windsor says, that philosophy (or to be specific, representing business interests) died years ago. Like Labor, Coalition policy comes from either focus groups telling them what is necessary to obtain government or to protect the ‘brand’. Implementing a policy because an independent briefly switches sides does neither for the Coalition. Indeed, by undermining the legitimacy of both parties, it will do the opposite.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 10 September 2010.Filed under State of the parties