Friday, December 5, 2014

Geek up late reading stories of political turmoil

I have always been into politics and being a political geek means spending a lot of time reading books about politics well into the night and well after ALP branch meeting have finished and conferences have wrapped up.

It must be tough running a country. With what Jacqueline Kent describes as a ‘sullen and disengaged electorate’, alongside a 24 hour news cycle and an increasingly globalised world it is not easy to have rational and sensible discussions about the decisions that are being made in Canberra. 

Below are just a few books and essays on the challenges that the government faces in managing Australia’s prosperity while ensuring a fair and decent country for all citizens.    

Sideshow – dumbing down of democracy (Lindsay Tanner)

I don’t know where to start with this book, not to say that it was bad in anyway but that Lindsay Tanner brought up so any good points that I could almost write an essay.

But basically political spin has increased over the decades and Tanner seemed to imply that the main reason because the main purpose of commercial media was to make a profit and therefore giving people consumers what they want, i.e. entertainment. As he points out ‘news is now often judged on its entertainment value; and that there is an increasing emphasis on visual imagery.  This means that everything has to be seen as ‘fun’ and the physical appearance of politicians (more often than not, female politicians) is more important than the difficult discussions surrounding inequality, Aboriginal disadvantage  and refugees. As a result anything serious and of substance is a lot harder to get covered by the media.

This idea is shared by Mark Latham in this book (see review below) who writes, ‘for most people news bulletins and current affairs shows have just become another form of infotainment, a forum for escapism and light relief, rather than hard news content.’ It is all a bit depressing really. The challenge of including the electorate in the discussions and decisions that directly affects them has to be one of bigger ones that face the government.  

So in this current environment, the media focus on words and events that would entertain their viewers and readers. Just think of the stunts that Steve Fielding pulled or any situations that were described as fiasco, turmoil, row, crisis or chaos and any of such situations are not nearly as big as they are made out to be.  The 24 hour news cycle doesn’t help either.

I found his arguments surrounding the role that media plays in the disengagement with politics and the widening gap between those who are “into” politics and those who aren’t very interesting and a point that I wished he’d developed further.     

Tales from the Political Trenches (Maxine McKew)

As an ALP hack and in Sydney during the 2007 election campaign, I found it interesting to read her story about her time in Politics as well as why we didn't hear more from her. It soon became apparent that it was the party machine's slight obsession with keeping on message at all costs But as I got through the book I found that it was as much about her story as it was about the current problems with the party and politics in general.

It was often painful to see the dirty laundry of the party whose values (working for the common good, equality, improving the lives of working people etc) that I believe in aired in public but hopefully books such as Maxine's will get read and will learn from the mistakes that she discusses. 

No wonder that the apparatchiks don't want to read this book because it has the repercussions of their work staring back at them.

The Making of Julia Gillard (Jacqueline Kent)

Simply written but an easy read! While it interesting to find out more about Julia Gillard's life, I didn't learn anything that I couldn't find out on the internet; my attitudes weren't shifted in any way. It does read like a bible for any future political ALP hack or apparatchik, so if you are thinking of running for parliament this is a good book for you.

Not Dead Yet: Labor’s Post-Left Future (Mark Latham)

Latham’s essay describes a party with an identity that is in conflict with itself and the changing nature of Australian society. Australia is very different to the Australia that gave birth to the Australian Labor Party in the 1890s. Australia’s working class no longer is necessarily economically disadvantaged or even supporters of the labour movement. 

Latham correctly identifies that civil society has changed and developed to a post political party environment; meaning that individuals opt to participate in civil society groups, even though they might be political in nature, rather than participating in the mainstream political process.

Mark Latham laments that while union membership is at around 16%, the ALP is still controlled by an “oligarchy of union-based factional leaders” whose unquestioned power extends to who gets pre-selected, which issues get “debated” at party state/national conferences and how delegates to these conferences vote. This, he argues, has lead to disengagement by the rank and file membership who struggle to participate in a party that seems to be full of “the aging party faithful, plus party members of parliament and their staff and hustling aspirants for elected office”. 

Of all Latham’s recommendations it was his focus on using education as a tool to economic and social empowerment which also included improving the status of the teaching profession, using the Asian model of education (encouraging and supporting parents in the education of the children) and improving pre-school education. Also his focus on poverty in Australia was a good reminder Australia is not a lucky country for everyone.

The Political Bubble (Mark Latham)

You mention Mark Latham to rusted on Labor supporters and they will dismiss him as a once crazy leader who crashed and burned. But after reading his latest book I have developed a new respect for Latham. 

For a while I thought his time out of politics had mellowed him and given him a sense of perspective but his article on feminism in November 2014 in the Financial Review made me not so sure.

But sometimes I just think he gets it and maybe the reason why some ALP people hate him so much is because Latham writes some uncomfortable things about the political game that they play. Like when he argues ‘It operates as a tribal situation, a closed club in which the comfort of its members is a bigger priority than the interest of outsiders’.

I found the discussion around the government’s decreasing control over the economy interesting and how governments like to claim more control over the economy. I think he’s correct when he writes ‘increasingly in public life, there is a disconnection between political rhetoric and the power of the government. While party leaders continue to make promises they can’t keep, the influence and authority of the nation state continues to be marginalised’.  

I also found his reading of the Australian public quite interesting. He argues that Australians have become (through better access to education and jobs) socially mobile and self sufficient as a result. This has meant that there has been a shift in how citizens view the political establishment.

He argues that ‘the weight of influence in Western nations has shifted to individual agents: well-educated, highly skilled people who have little reason to rely on collective organisations….elsewhere, capacity has dispersed to a growing group of self-sufficient citizens, people with the skills and resources to bypass traditional institutions. While I think his reading of the general public is by in large correct, he doesn’t discuss the sense of entitlement that goes with that and the common attitude of ‘the government owes me’ or ‘what does the government done for me?’

It is a good read, especially if you are into party politics, although your level of discomfort will be linked to your level cynicism.

Latham’s World: The new politics of the outsiders (Margaret Simons)

The first thing that struck me about this article was how much Simons was a fan of Mark Latham and I wondered how much objectivity she would have.

Mark Latham was a Labor Party leader in the early to mid naughties and was a ‘loose cannon’. He was hated by many and not considered prime minister material by many more.

The article taught me a lot about how Latham's past influenced his politics and behaviour. I now appreciate what he stands for and can see past the roguish behaviour to his values that drive him to be a player in the political game.     

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...