Karl du Fresne on the Death of Democracy if it doesn’t go your way

du Fresne is one of the more balanced minds in our media

It’s been an extraordinarily turbulent few weeks in international politics.

Two patterns have emerged. The first, which has been much commented on, is that alienated voters are rebelling against the political elites which, for the past couple of decades, have been calling the shots.

People are looking for something new from politicians. For want of a better word, they seem to be looking for some type of authenticity – a sense that politicians actually stand for something, even if it’s not very well articulated. […]

Closer to home, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – a bland, middle-of-the-road pragmatist in the same mould as John Key and David Cameron – called an election in the expectation that he would be returned with a thumping majority and be rid of obstructive individuals who had been making life difficult for him in the Senate.

As it turned out, his coalition government barely squeaked back into power after a cliff-hanger election which saw the opposition Labor Party restored as a political force.

What’s more, Turnbull will have even more contrary mavericks to contend with in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Turnbull ousted his predecessor Tony Abbott in an opportunist coup (many called it treacherous) last year, but ran a lacklustre campaign and must now be casting anxious glances over his shoulder.

Many commentators have been saying that for all Abbott’s failings, the former PM would have run a far more stirring campaign – one that would have connected with voters in the conservative heartland.

Abbott, like Sanders, Corbyn and Ukip’s Nigel Farage, is a conviction politician rather than one guided by focus groups and highly paid professional strategists. Trump has convinced Americans he’s a conviction politician too, though it’s hard to say.

Another is Pauline Hanson, one of the mavericks elected to the Australian Senate. Hanson is a conservative Queensland politician whose career has been built on her outsider status.

That brings us to the second pattern to emerge from the recent upheavals. It seems that in the eyes of some people, democracy is fine only as long as it delivers the results they want.

Both the EU referendum result and Hanson’s election in Australia triggered ugly, hysterical backlashes, mostly from people who probably think of themselves as liberal.

In Britain, four million bad losers signed a petition demanding that the referendum be held again. This is like the All Blacks losing a test match 48-52 and demanding a replay.

In New Zealand, a loudmouth radio host wrote a newspaper column arguing that people over 65 shouldn’t be entitled to vote (this, because older Brits voted to leave the EU while younger people, many of whom were too lazy to vote, wanted to stay in).

Similarly, the vicious media attacks on Hanson suggest the liberal elites would prefer it if the people who support politicians like Hanson were disenfranchised, presumably because they’re too thick and too redneck to be allowed anywhere near a polling both.

But Hanson’s supporters are as entitled as anyone to vote for whoever they think will best represent them. It’s called democracy.

Next year is going to be interesting for Kiwi voters.  General parallels exist in New Zealand politics, and without the perverted side show of Kim Dotcom and Dirty Politics, people are going yearn for politicians they can believe in, even if these people are heavily flawed in other ways.

One thing that is notable, with the possible exception of Trump, the conviction politicians are still unable to gather sufficient support to get over the line.

Trump, Corbyn, Boris and Hanson all have something in common that our own politicians lack:  a lack of fear of what “others” may say.

We need some true seat-of-the-pants campaigning performed by natural communicators.  But they may still be outmaneuvered by focus group driven statistics.

 

Karl du Fresne


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