10 August 2014

The futility of anger

The far right of the Liberal Party contributed little to the Coalition's election victory last year, and its reward was a smaller representation in ministerial ranks than it thought it deserved. In the past week Abbott has added insult to injury on two fronts, alienating a core conservative constituency.

First, the government's decision not to amend or abolish section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has apparently caused "white hot anger" among many conservatives:
Mr Abbott phoned [Andrew] Bolt and John Roskam from the IPA to tell them he would be announcing the government would be abandoning its reforms ahead of Tuesday's public announcement.

Mr Roskam from the IPA urged the Coalition not to underestimate the "white hot anger" of the Liberal faithful in response to the "broken promise".
Further proof of Charlie Chaplin's belief that there is nothing funnier than impotent rage. The IPA has had the best of this government, and its tantrum at not getting absolutely everything is all the more disgraceful for that. By raising money for a newspaper ad to promote their persuasive failure the IPA have, as @fakeEdButler said, reduced themselves to the right-wing GetUp - and why they did not ask for, and receive, free advertising from The Australian is a mystery.

NewsCorp, the Liberal Party, and Network Ten have created for their own reasons the impression that Bolt wields enormous political power. On Tuesday, Abbott shirtfronted Bolt: he took the chance that there was greater community acceptance for leaving s18C in place than for changing it. Abbott, who holds the country's highest political office, showed that Bolt can be slapped down publicly and will cop it quietly.

George Brandis is a close supporter of Abbott's; Abbott shows he can slap him down too, having carried him through the wedding travel concessions thing and the bookcase thing, and now forcing him to carry the electronic surveillance proposals despite Brandis' clear disdain for the online world.

As he did in his court case, and when his employers told him they wouldn't fund an appeal, Bolt cultivated an air of disappointment at this news (which came ahead of the public announcement). He has to do this. Bolt might be perpetually furious in print but in public he has to appear genial and considered because seething will erode his audience over time. His fury becomes less entertaining if he develops a reputation for snarling and if images of his hate-contorted face make it into other media. He leaves that to John Roskam (note the picture here), which may be why the clubby Victorian Libs gently discourage him from preselection contests.

Second, Eric Abetz's claim of a medical link between abortion and breast cancer was a red herring. Abetz is the Employment Minister in a government that promised to create jobs, but unemployment is at a 12-year high. Yes, he's a Cabinet Minister, but he is not the Health Minister, much less an expert in obstetrics or oncology. Abetz has succeeded in diverting attention away from the issue at the heart of his portfolio, and it's disappointing that experienced journalists chose to be diverted.

Both Prime Minister Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have denied any link between abortion and breast cancer. To suggest a link between these conditions is a desperate ploy to reverse public support for women's access to abortion that is not only legal but funded publicly.

Neither Abbott nor Dutton wants an influx of women to the health system seeking expensive and unnecessary tests. Having also 'shelved' PPL, the government wants to limit further damage to women's perceptions of this government.

When it was revealed that asylum seekers in offshore detention centres were having abortions, I expected anti-abortion groups to be right onto it. The Prime Minister has been careful to avoid having his Catholic faith drawn into abortion debates, but I thought his proxies would step up and work toward a solution that didn't force this option. They were silent.

The World Congress of Families in Melbourne has attracted two federal Cabinet Ministers, Abetz and Kevin Andrews, as well as Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark, and no doubt many other conservative politicians besides. The hue and cry surrounding political involvement in this event is reminiscent of a similar event before the 2007 election, addressed by then-Treasurer and putative PM Peter Costello, which also only served to alienate swinging voters. A speaker at WCF will put the case for the abortion-breast cancer link, Eric Abetz will host a reception for her, and he has diminished himself by his denials of support for her views.

Again, the fact that the panic merchants have been shown up as impotent rather than powerful is at the heart of anger like this. The WCF is designed to demonstrate enormous power by conservative Christianists. The dismissals by Abbott and Dutton make Abetz, Andrews, and Clark look like they're pandering, or engaged in some frolic of their own: neither of which reflect well on the Federal or Victorian Coalition governments.

The fact that the Christianist far right are angry with the government generally, and with Abbott, is neither here nor there. They are a small presence in Australian politics, cashed up to some extent but far from the leviathan that they are in US politics. They repel swinging, centrist voters.

When Christianist cash is withheld from Liberal coffers, this is noticed by Coalition backroom operators and steps are taken to see how Christian organisations may be enticed to boost their support.

When the Coalition gets into trouble, the leader should be able to rally the faithful to the aid of their party. Having been shirtfronted publicly by this government, Liberal fundraisers and preference negotiators may find their jobs hard when dealing with those who had received them warmly. Howard regularly acted against the interests of conservative Christianist groups - as Health Minister, Abbott did nothing significant to limit abortions - but when Howard called on them at times of need they always rallied.

This is why the support of the small but noisy community of conservative Christianists matters: fundraising, preferences, and the perception of a broad and unified movement with momentum. The presence of all three favours the Coalition at the next election, while their absence boosts the chances of 'one-term Tony'.

Abbott runs the risk of burning bridges to a core conservative constituency. Last year, Labor faced not only a resurgent Coalition but the lukewarm support of unions and other normally Labor-friendly organisations. When those organisations are keen and motivated Labor does well; observers could use this lack of support to justify their own lack of support for that government. Abbott may overestimate his ability to mollify conservative Christianists later, and underestimate how much political capital he may have to do so. Today, Abbott is already unpopular; if his mates desert him, why should you rally?

Joe Hockey was a happy bloke who put people at ease when I knew him, and many people have a similar experience of the man. In the past three months that has changed: the grave demeanour in the face of cuts, the gravity of budgeting for the government of the world's 12th/13th biggest economy. Now he's complaining that he's doing it tough, and that the media consensus that once worked for him is working against him.

The media always turn, and business goes to ground in the face of political storms, which is why cultivating media is so futile: you can only stand or fall on your own merits, and hope to divide the press gallery consensus wherever possible. Hockey can only go around the press gallery and its rapidly hardening consensus Narrative by reprising that friendly, constructive and engaging persona that drew people to him in the first place. Consumer and business confidence cannot rise and nor unemployment fall while Hockey wrings his hands over the 'need' for cuts.

The main reason why people vote Coalition is security: economic and physical. Economic security is in peril as unemployment rises. Physical security is not guaranteed - MH17 showed that, and too much more banging on about it will work against the government. The bipartisan proposed surveillance program, where we are all to be under suspicion for the sake of a couple of dozen might-be terrorists, will make people less secure rather than more so. Without security, what else does this government offer?

This government was always an angry government. Having been angry at being chucked out in 2007 and at being kept out in 2010, the Coalition's joy at winning could never translate to calm and magnanimity because their lack of preparation for government meant they became floundering and reactive (and therefore angry). Anger can be a spur to action, but having declared a 'budget emergency' last September and not starting work on it until May (and leaving it undone at time of writing) has dissipated that energy. Unemployment is going up, and the Ministers for Employment and Social Security are having tea with their churchy friends. It doesn't inspire confidence.

Also not inspiring confidence is the Murdoch press, which goes into paroxysms and/or flogs the dead horse of Gillard's domestic arrangements from years ago when this government stumbles yet again. People who are angry/sad are four times more likely to buy things than those who are content, so advertising platforms like the Murdoch press at least have a commercial interest in getting people upset. Like Abbott, the Murdoch press does destruction, not advocacy. The government has no interest in making people angry/sad with its performance, but people who aren't angry/sad aren't conservative. The Coalition has left themselves exposed for outsourcing their advocacy skills to the Murdoch press.

They are going to be so angry when chucked out of office again - but so what?


  1. Hillbilly Skeleton10/8/14 9:02 am

    '- and why they did not ask for, and receive, free advertising from The Australian is a mystery.'
    Obvious. Because 'money talks' to these people. It's what is used to delineate and discriminate amongst them and to 'speak' to their intended targets. So, by telegraphing ('Telegraphing' ? ;) ) to Abbott that they have raised x number of dollars in y number of hours from white (White ? ;) ) hot, angry Liberals, on the verge of leaving the party in a huff, taking their Don Bradman bat, and ball, with them (as if, the Liberal Party is everything to these people, THE most exclusive club), what Roskam is demonstrating is twofold.

    Firstly, that the IPA will, more likely than not, execute a donations freeze-out of the Liberal Party until Abbott 'sees sense' ($ and cents). This will hurt more than any full-page ad in The Daily Terror and The UnAustralian, though they will keep their end up in the jihad.

    Secondly, it sends the message to Abbott that, of the two, Roskam has the biggest balls and, in the land of 'The Big Swinging Dicks', size matters.

    So, down the pike, watch Abbott capitulate, after the 'Home Grown Terrorist Emergency' has been 'dealt with' and closer to the election, when the fulsome praise is not as fulsome as it used to be and a sharp reduction in the number of slavering front pages occurs. That's how they will bring him to heel. And, as well-trained middle managers do, he will obey.

    1. As you say Mr Skeleton, a government of middle managers. I don't know about "well trained" more like "promoted well above their own level of incompetence".

  2. VoterBentleigh10/8/14 11:41 am

    Mr Abbott has dumped all the humiliation on Senator Brandis. Mr Abbott's excuse for doing so has only insulted Australians who are of the Islamic faith, as if only Muslims can be terrorists / extremists. This, together with the failure to have policy coherently developed in a "methodical" way before announcing it, shows that the Coalition's policies are the problem, as distinct from a failure of the populace to understand them. The challenge to Operation Team Australia is from the Christian politicians, with Senator Day opposing Mr Abbott with a private member's bill.

    Mr Hockey fundamentally believes that all the spoils go to the winners. The media were impressed with his bonhomie and cheerfulness, but my view is that a politican must have principle, not just a sanguine disposition. When I read Mr Hockey's speech on entitlement, I could see that he lacked empathy with those who have not prospered and that he is only concerned with himself. Mr Hockey strikes me as all swagger and bluster. All his behaviour has been consistent with this view.

  3. If Joe Hockey is genuinely surprised that "the media is against him" - after he sued Fairfax for defamation!! - then he's even stupider than most of his cabinet colleagues.

    Can't believe nobody warned him that suing a newspaper publisher will guarantee him a lifetime of negative coverage.

  4. Good on you Andrew. You make me feel connected.

    Just a reminder. Not all 'churchy' folk are conservative. Social justice is still throbbing away and churches are at the forefront of advocating for and providing practical assistance for asylum seekers.

    1. Agreed - it is my Christian faith that compels me to vote labor and advocate for all policies which are about caring for those who Jesus cared about - the poor & all of the groups that are marginalised by the powerful.

      How someone can claim to be truly Christian and support the so called Conservative (big business) agenda is beyond me.

    2. I've come to understand that there are two distinct Jesuses. One for the right and one for the left.

  5. I'm surprised you still have the capacity to be disappointed by the failure of journalists. Just goes to show we all still live in hope!

  6. Multiculturalism has always been accepted by the elite since Malcolm Fraser.

    It's a policy that's worked incredibly well in this country.

    Leave it alone Freedom fighters.

    It's a divisive topic that's annoyed everyone thus far.

    I think Mr Wilson's stance is extremist and disturbed especially as he is gay himself.

    Adam Creighton from The Australian was even more balanced about this issue in a thoughtful manner.

    Sadly more Jewish students were attacked by teenagers on a bus in Sydney.

    They instigate a dark and disturbing societal norm that's not decent in our civic society.

  7. How much tax free money do these Christianists donate? I'm sure they are anticipating some action against abortions but understand that to expect much more is a hard ask. Stifling the debate on adequate euthanasia legislation and chaplains I'm schools is the bread and butter they demand for their investment I'm the coalition.

  8. Andrew,

    There are clearly moves afoot in sections of the govt and the Murdoch press to pin the whole budget mess on Hockey. Anything to, once again, protect Abbott.

    Do you think they honestly believe that they can cleanly blame the treasurer and not weaken the govt AND Abbott's Prime-ministership?

    If I was any other leadership contender (apart from Joe) as soon as it became apparent what was going on I would go for the jugular. It would be complete admission of failure if this PM tried to blame/turf his treasurer. They would both have to go.

    Also I want to follow you on twitter and I can't because you have it set to private.

    1. Now you know why Abbott was grinning so broadly, and why Hockey was so nervous, on budget night.

      Abbott will think he'll have achieved something if he diminishes his rivals. The Liberals' worst-case scenario is an unpopular Abbott with no credible alternative; this is also the most likely scenario.

      You can follow me on Twitter, you just have to apply.