Category Archives: Stupidity

Exclusion leading to concerned indifference

“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party, I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party, I’m not the leader of a party even called the social democratic party. I’m the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately, because that is where we come from, that is what we believe in, that is who we are.” – Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Australian Workers Union National Conference, February 18th, 2013

When I heard the Prime Minister utter these words last night on Lateline, I felt a twinge of anger and despair in my stomach, not because of the words but because of their intended political purpose.

As someone who identifies with words such as “social democrat”, “progressive” and “moderate” and considers the Australian Labor Party to be the natural home for someone who believes in all of those approaches to issues, I felt quite alienated. I believe that emotion is the opposite of the very foundation of what the Australian Labor Party is meant to be about!

Many times Prime Minister Gillard has spoken about “Labor values” without specifically defining what they are in terms of what people value or values systems people have established throughout their lives.

I consider inclusion to be a core value of the Australian Labor Party and the words uttered by the Prime Minister last night were exclusionary and go a long way to explaining many of the political problems the party is currently experiencing.

Leaving aside words such as “social democrat” and “progressive”, the fact the Prime Minister would disassociate herself from the word “moderate” is a major mistake!

Many people who are supporters of a so called “centre-right” agenda identify themselves as “moderate.” These are people who need to vote for the ALP in order for the party to win the next federal election and they have many trigger points that will turn them away from the Liberal Party such as asylum seeker policy, an emotionally reassuring, pragmatic and optimistic approach to the economy, addressing dangerous climate change and the extreme social and economic positions of their current leader to name a few.

When many of these “moderates” see Tony Abbott, they feel a deep sense of concern. When they hear Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan dissociate themselves from the word “moderate” and “the middle ground” in order to re-appeal to the old anvil of the blue collar manufacturing base and the old economy of the industrial age, many feel passively indifferent about him.

They don’t lose the feelings of concern, they simply disassociate themselves emotionally from what is happening in the national conversation.

Whenever the ALP attack Abbott or any of the other Liberal state Premier for being extreme all it does is intensify this emotional state of concerned indifference.

There is a lot of talk right now that suggests the ALP should adopt the successful campaigning methods from the Democrats in the USA in order to win the next federal election. The exclusionary rhetoric on display last night is inconsistent with what the Democrats were doing during that campaign and why it was successful.

I have never once seen Barack Obama disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bill Clinton disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Bob Hawke disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Paul Keating disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

I have never once seen Kevin Rudd disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.

In short, no one who wins elections at a national level either in Australia or the United States says what Prime Minister Gillard said last night!

Many people in the ALP wonder why the party has struggled since 1996 to consistently get over 40% of the primary vote at a federal level. I believe excluding people in the community in order to play to the ever diminishing base vote goes a very long way to understanding why this is and has been the case for such a long time.

The Prime Minister and her people should think very long and hard about the effects of this exclusionary rhetoric before engaging in it again. It will not win the next federal election for the ALP and it’s extremely damaging when the party needs to be opening itself up to the community and the people living in it so they can win as many votes as possible rather than closing itself off and engaging in an ultimately self defeating race to the bottom with the Coalition parties.

“Too many people in the Labor Party don’t like the society we created” – Paul Keating in conversation with Kerry O’Brien in 2011

Mr Keating has a very unique way of summarising situations and people in a single sentence. I think this one as applied to what was said last night is dead on the money!

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Your opponents aren’t stupid

If there’s one thing that I see often that frustrates me beyond belief, its supporters of the progressive side of politics believing the conservatives are, for lack of a better word, stupid. The reason is because it’s one of the ways conservatives in Australia have gone about exploiting progressives vulnerabilities since 1995.

One of the reasons John Howard was able to beat the ALP at four federal elections was because the ALP considered him beneath them. In 1996, he simply played the small target, photocopied, hedgehog game against a government that had been in office for 13 years.

The public were ready to boot him out of office in 1998, 2001 and 2004 but every time the ALP thought he was stupid and had him beaten, he managed to paint the ALP as erratic and not reassuring to the public and he did it by any means necessary. In other words, he used his perceived stupidity as his biggest asset to put the focus back on the ALP … and it worked for 11 years!

Tony Abbott right now is adopting the exact same tactics in opposition as John Howard did in government. The ALP think he’s the stupidest politician who’s ever lead a political party in Australian history, yet he’s been leader of the Liberal Party since the end of 2009. It’s been three years and he’s still in the job! Sure, people have very entrenched negative views about him that aren’t going to change without the entire country being exposed to some sort of nuclear fallout, but he’s still there!

I’m not sure about you, but I think he might have figured out something that might be a little subtle and counter intuitive.

What I think the Liberal Party understand is how to provoke, keep things simple and deliberately play dumb. They know that politics is about people and whenever the ALP attack them for what they consider to be stupidity or their provocative political behaviour which goes oh so near crossing the line, they open up opportunities for painting them as out of touch with middle Australia and begin to frame everything around their beliefs and values systems.

I also think the Liberal Party understand that Tony Abbott is a polarising figure and the more the ALP get into the mode of thinking that goes along the lines of “he’s not clever enough to do that” they know they’re in control of what’s happening in the national debate.

The point is that you always have to assume your political opponents are smart and they have some sort of strategy even when you’re grinding their noses into the dirt. Believing your political opponents are and will always be stupid leaves you wide open to your message, your platform and your policies being undermined and defeated.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the government or the opposition, this applies!

Does this mean the Liberal Party are complete political geniuses and one of the smartest oppositions of all time? Of course not. In my view they’ve left himself wide open to a nuanced and sophisticated policy attack based around real ideas and what people value. The ALP however are so focused on destroying Abbott at a personal level, partly because they think it will work, partly to compensate for their own self inflicted identity crisis, that they’ve missed the incredible vulnerability he has with the middle ground in regards to actual policy and real issues.

Of course, if you say something like this, you’ll predictably get the response from ALP supporters that the ALP are focusing on policy and real issues and Abbott’s the one who is being superficial. If that’s true then why am I constantly seeing repeated attacks on Abbott’s chief of staff for pretty much no other reason than the fact that she’s Abbott’s chief of staff and social media gimmicks like #AshbyInquiryNow which are more to do with attempting to damage Abbott politically than anything to do with the actual issue?

This is before we get to the constant aggressiveness towards journalists for not mentioning specific issues and events in interviews with shadow ministers where they think they’re vulnerable which have absolutely nothing to do with their portfolio, contradicting the view that they want a real policy debate.

“If we don’t attack, we’re giving him a free pass” is often the cry. This sort of black/white, good/bad thinking is precisely what allows someone like Abbott to be in control of the terms of the national debate.

The idea that sometimes what he does speaks for himself never occurs to anyone. As someone with a marketing background, I can tell you that there’s such a thing as negative marketing. In other words, the intent of your communication can and often does backfire and end up achieving the exact opposite of your intended outcome.

Abbott frequently puts himself in a straight jacket and the ALP seem intent on getting him out of it at pretty much every opportunity because they don’t see the nuance or the intelligence in anything that he or the Liberal Party do politically. It’s all “Evil Tony” washed, rinsed and repeated! It’s extremely one dimensional and the Liberal Party know exactly how to counter it.

Many progressives watch someone like Paul Keating and think the reason for his political success in 1993 was entirely due to his flicking the switch to vaudeville and aggression and they attempt to imitate it because he seems to have a strong sense of self and know what he’s talking about. They never pay any attention to the way he uses language, the nuance, the guile, the underlying narrative of what his government was about that provided the base for his attacks on the Coalition, his big picture, his systemic view of how things tied together in terms of politics and policy, how that way of thinking beat the Liberal Party, let alone his intuitive sensitivity which people often confused for cold-hearted arrogance. They try to imitate what he does and to use one of his classic lines, it ends up being “all tip and no iceberg.”

By thinking Abbott and the Liberal Party are stupid, many progressives and ALP supporters have blinded themselves to the reality that he’s taking advantage of their thinking. John Howard did it for 11 years in government! If there’s one thing you can rely on it’s that Abbott who is Howard’s number one fan, and the professional people advising him know this type of game from top to bottom. They know from first hand experience that you can ride stupidity all the way into office!

If you ask me, underestimating it and not learning the lessons of history is real stupidity!

Know your role

“It’s not our job to support (insert what the government is doing with a negative twist)” Tony Abbott

If there’s one line that’s caused more upset for the current ALP government than any other line the opposition leader’s used during this term of parliament, it’s the one above.

Firstly, it contains certain assumptions surrounding whose job it is to define the government’s agenda.

Secondly, it makes the opposition leader the issue for the government rather than the policy area being dealt with at the time.

Thirdly, it makes the playing field uneven. The ALP want the opposition leader to be judged by the public at the same standard they’re judged at as a government (this is a major mistake in my view).

If there is one major criticism I’ve had of the present ALP, it’s their confusion about the role of government, the role of opposition and everyone else in the political process. If you’re the government, by definition, you’re the one who has the power. Not the opposition, not the opposition leader, not the media, not some wealthy individual or outside organisations donating to your political opponents. If you’re the government, you’re in charge. You are the issue because governments are always the issue for the public! You define the roles! No one else. You are responsible.

So when the ALP attack the opposition leader over pretty much anything related to policy, the public see it as blame and if the government is blaming their problems on the opposition leader, who’s stewarding the nation? Who’s in control of the national debate?

Here’s a common news headline: “Abbott urged to release policies”

Who’s in control here? The people doing the urging or the person being urged? One might think such a headline is bad news for the opposition leader because he appears to be avoiding scrutiny when in reality, his people are in complete control of the power dynamic. This is not an even playing field and they know it and they know exactly how the government reacts to it.

Pretty much every poll available to the public that asks the question of approval of political leaders shows Tony Abbott to be one of the most unpopular opposition leaders in Australian history. People have very strong views about him and they’re mostly negative. The predisposition towards him from the electorate is “I don’t like him” or the more emotional “I hate him!” and the one I personally resonate with: “I’m tired of him.”

He never has been and never will be popular with the Australian public.

The ALP observe such polling and conduct focus groups that show the same thing and assume the solution to their problems is to emphasise just how unpopular he really is. The public who are disengaged and for the most part already understand what’s going on react to these tactics by saying “So what? We hate him. We know. We don’t care. You’re the government! What have you done for me lately?” and then the focus of attention shifts directly back to the ALP’s negative issues and behaviour.

By relentlessly focusing on Abbott’s unpopularity, the ALP unintentionally give him authority that he’s never had and in doing so they make themselves the issue. It’s a bit like one of those homing missiles that misses it’s target and begins to follow the person who fired it.

Yesterday, Abbott joined his local volunteer firefighting service to fight the bushfires engulfing New South Wales. If there is one thing he’s constantly made known about his private life throughout his time in federal politics, it’s the time he devotes to this cause. This is one of those situations where if you attack him, you will never nail him because he’s got pretty much all of his bases covered. It’s a minefield of positive emotional vectors for him and potentially negative emotional vectors for the ALP.

Instead of calmly letting it go, the Minister for Small Business Brendan O’Connor on twitter took the bait and warned his followers to standby for yet another Abbott publicity stunt. He immediately apologised for the remark after he experienced the reaction this sort of comment generates during this type of circumstance.

The misguided thinking and assumptions behind such an attack goes like this: “Abbott will get positive publicity for doing something good for his community and looking courageous in his fire gear, fighting real danger. This must be stopped by any means necessary. Let’s attack him by implying he’s inauthentically volunteering during a time of national emergency. How could that possibly go wrong? The conservatives would do the same thing if they were in our position so let’s follow their playbook. It’s in the media so it must demand an immediate aggressive reply, regardless of the consequences!” … and so on.

When you see this sort of thing happen in real-time, you have to double check that its actually a government minister making the comment. It speaks volumes about how the government sees it’s role and none of its good. Every time you see this sort of attack from the government, it communicates at a subtle level that “we don’t have our act together” and in the end, that’s what people really care about. It’s almost as if they’re trying to dig Abbott out of the holes he’s dug for himself.

If all you see is Tony Abbott and the media everywhere and you define your entire political strategy based upon what you anticipate Tony Abbott and the media are going to do and you consider Tony Abbott the greatest opposition leader you’ve ever seen and you’re unclear about what your role in the community is, you’re very likely missing an extremely large chunk of what’s happening in the real world. It’s like the awareness test below. If you’re only counting the passes the team in white makes, you’re probably missing the moonwalking bear.

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see everything as a nail” Abraham Masolw

Adherence to dogmatic ideology is so 1982

1983 was a watershed moment in Australian society.

Before 1983, politics was a simple game: the Liberal Party represented big businesses, the Labor Party represented trade unions and their members, the Country/National Party represented farmers and rural constituencies and the Democrats represented angry teachers.

The conventional wisdom was Liberal/National Coalition governments would be in power for long periods of time and occasionally the electorate would get sick of them and you’d get a Labor government which would quickly screw things up and the Coalition would immediately be back in power.

After 1983, things changed.

The ALP government lead by Bob Hawke went about deregulating the Australian economy and opening the country’s doors to the rest of the world. Paul Keating and the leader of the ACTU at the time Bill Kelty established the prices and incomes accord to contain inflation and wages growth which had spiraled out of control under the Fraser government. Enterprise bargaining was implemented to transition the industrial relations system from centralised wage fixing to the realities of the modern age in a balanced, fair, flexible and productive way. Most importantly compulsory superannuation was introduced to deal with the long term demographic stresses that would impact the social security system as well as making sure every working person living in the country would be able to afford a decent standard of living and quality of life in retirement.

Many of the so called “left” saw these reforms as “neoliberalism” even though the ALP never pursued these reforms for ideological purposes. The difference between the Hawke and Keating governments, Tony Blair’s “Third Way” in Great Britain and Bill Clinton’s “Vital Center” in the United States is the fact that the ALP government actually believed in looking at what the data said and making pragmatic decisions in the nation’s interest. It wasn’t done in order to concoct some marketing slogan to capture the middle ground at the expense of the working class constituent. They actually believed in what they were doing.

If they were an ideological government, they would have remained stuck in the old Australian model which broke down in the early 1980’s. Nor did they swallow an economic textbook that adhered the dogmatic ideology of neoliberalism whereby the concept of the market becomes the overriding political philosophy. The idea behind that government was one of pragmatic transition.

That’s also why you don’t hear pseudo-intellectuals and “left of centre” academics in Australia come up with big fancy names for what that government did besides the one dimensional “neoliberal” name calling.

I’ve previously written about levels of development as they apply to values systems and emotional communication using Lawrence Kohlberg’s three stage model of moral development. I use this simple model as a way of identifying and understanding where people are at and where they’re coming from:

Stage 1: Pre-Conventional

  • A primal need for safety from the big bad world
  • Power for ego’s sake and to hell with everybody else

Stage 2: Conventional

  • Discipline through obedience to an authority figure
  • Order via a hierarchical structure (follow the leader)
  • Mutual Responsibility via the social contract
  • Success and achievement through rational scientific method

Stage 3: Post Conventional

  • Fairness, equality and social justice
  • Respect and tolerance for all values systems

Individuals and groups progress through these stages in order to solve the problems of the previous stage. In other words, you don’t go directly from a Pre-Conventional stage to a Post Conventional stage. The Conventional stage emerges as a solution to the problems of the Pre-Conventional stage and the Post Conventional stage emerges as a solution to the problems of the Conventional stage.

You have to experience life at each stage and go through a process of objectification to begin to solve some of that stage’s problems in order to progress to the next stage where the solutions to the previous stage’s problems create an even more complex set of problems (which also perversely includes the problems of all of the previous stages you’ve gone through).

Put simply: development is a complex and evolving process.

This is reasonably easy to understand. Here’s a slightly more complicated model as it applies to cultures.

Stage 1: Foraging

A foraging culture tends to operate on the most basic hunter/gather instincts. You do what you can to survive by any means necessary.

Stage 2: Horticulture

Some bright person figured out that it’s easier to survive by using tools, planting seeds and growing crops.

Stage 3: Agrarian

An even brighter person figured out how to hook a plough to the back of an Ox which created an even more complex societal structure. You’ll see this type of society whenever you watch anything on television on Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome etc.

Stage 4: Industrial

This stage emerged with the discovery of science, invention, liberation etc. You got various forms of technology such as steam engines and the concept of mass production. You also get the rise of the various liberation movements such as civil rights, feminism and so on because they’re no longer oppressed and excluded by the Agrarian societal type.

Stage 5: Informational

With the invention of computers, the microchip, unlimited distribution space and sophisticated technology, the need for the production line and the manufacturing plant diminishes in value and we see the rise in value of education, health as well as products and services that promote self actualisation and a means of expressing oneself. You also get the rise of pluralistic democracy and popularity in highly annoying philosophies like postmodernism.

What many don’t appear to get is between 1970 to the present day, the world shifted a stage in its economic development.

The Hawke and Keating government’s shifted Australia from the industrial age to the informational age. Instead of working at a manufacturing plant and doing manual work with our hands, advances in technology, culture and the introduction of international competition to the marketplace which lead to cheaper prices for everyday goods and services and a higher standard of living and quality of life for most people made knowledge and information valuable in our economy. We became knowledge workers.

This is the reality of the modern age. The production of value has shifted from our hands to our heads.

If there is one thing that annoys me more than anything else, it’s when I see people on the left who want to alleviate suffering and help people lift themselves out of poverty take aim at Labor governments and progressives for advocating for market economic policies based on either data or pragmatism over ideology which are designed to achieve that outcome.

What’s often the case is the same people will advocate for policies that effectively regress the economy back to the declining industrial, manufacturing age while ignoring the fact that many of the things we take for granted and that have enabled these people to make the criticisms have come as a result of the process of competition in the market economy and the democratisation of the means of production in the first place!

Worse still is when the current Labor government, who are also pursuing policies to pragmatically transition the nation, attempt to play to “the base” by communicating a policy narrative based around returning the economy to the period of the old industrial age. This usually is seen in the form of over protecting declining manufacturing industries, deliberate attempts to confuse the Fair Work Act with a return to centralised wage-fixing and engaging in the race to the bottom with the Coalition on asylum seeker policy.

Sure, there are issues regarding inequality and people at the top getting compensated in an obscene manner. But the process of how the economy works as a system is a far bigger issue than a few greedy super rich people and their “neoliberal” worshipers.

The reason I gave a brief overview of Kohlberg’s developmental model is because I want to emphasise something that often gets lost in the noise: you can’t get to the Post Conventional levels of economic development without going through the market economy. The market economy is a solution to the problem of the rigid, inflexible system where you had no social mobility that preceded it.

Similarly, you can’t get to the stage of having a market economy without first having a bureaucratic, rigid, inflexible system with no social mobility to begin with and so on. It’s the exact same process. One stage emerges to solve the problems of the previous stage and they’re built on top of one another to form a complex, interdependent system. Each stage must transcend and include the previous stage. They can’t repress and deny them as that would be like amputating a limb for no reason other than the thrill of doing it.

What progressives who are triggered by fairness and social justice should be doing instead of raging at the evils of the free market, the “neoliberals” and the greedy super rich people is looking for ways to improve the process from the Conventional stage of economic development to where they’re mostly at which is at the Post Conventional stage of economic development. Otherwise the rage turns into a perverse advocacy of poverty and a trap for the many people who are struggling day to day to make ends meet. In effect, they’re hurting the very same people they want to help.

Life, society and the economy are extremely complex systems and getting caught in the adherence to a dogmatic ideology on either side of the political divide is a fool’s game that leads to you getting mugged by reality and ending up confused and miserable.

I’ll end this post with one of my favourite quotes:

“The subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject at the next stage” – Robert Kegan

Vision, comical mediocrity and cynical publicity stunts – psychologically dealing with unemployment

The political year has kicked off with a silly contest between the Minister for Community Services Jenny Macklin and Greens MP Adam Bandt in relation to being able to live on unemployment benefits. It’s a very sad state of affairs.

As someone who has experienced and recovered from the extremely depressing and debilitating effects of long term unemployment, what strikes me is how petty and trivial this issue is treated by the political class.

If you’re a politician and you want to deal with the issue of unemployment, you don’t go around saying you could live on welfare benefits and then get your back room people to bury what you said by using the word “inaudible” on the transcript in order to avoid the question reappearing in future dealings with the media.

Nor do you take what appears to be the “pro-poverty” stance of the Greens by demonstrating your ability to “suffer” by living like someone receiving unemployment benefits in the interests of cynical political purposes and attacking the ALP from the left.

What you do as an elected representative of the community is paint a picture of an optimistic and inspirational future. Something to strive for and something that can make the clouds of despondency begin to dissipate.

As someone who has been in the situation where your life breaks down, your health deteriorates and your social relationships fall to pieces, the thing that holds all of it in place is the view that your circumstances are fixed. The view that you are and always will be an unemployed person. There is no other identity for you but that one. You have no choice.

This fixed, self referentially processed identity tells you over and over again that you will always be a stupid, pathetic, depressing, lazy, worthless, guilty, struggling, lonely, dependent, despondent, unhealthy, unemployed person who will always be on the hamster wheel of despair and anxiety, always rejected by people (this is before you get to thinking about potential employers) regardless of how much effort you give and worst of all: you will never have a future!

Then comes the self blame and the shame for thinking these thoughts, the mental imagery such as the scrapheap of humanity or the adult still at primary school and on it goes. What’s really awful is when an opportunity opens up right in front of you but you fail to seize it because you’re stuck in this constant stream of thinking and when you think about what happened, the emotions intensify.

I know that it can get to the place where you wonder whether it’s worth it. Fortunately for me, I never got to that place but I certainly feared it.

In short, this is an extremely dark, depressing and disheartening state of affairs we’re dealing with here and it’s not going to be solved with a simple $50 increase to the unemployment benefit by itself. The actual issue needs to be psychologically and emotionally wrestled to the ground.

As a politician, you aren’t communicating a sense of optimism, inspiration or empathy to people when you say you’re going to live like them for a week. You’re actually making things much worse.

The way to get people out of this situation is through radical vision and an understanding of both this crippling world view and how to eradicate it from people’s brains.

Here’s what Paul Keating said during his 1993 election night victory speech in relation to dealing with unemployment:

“The people of Australia have taken us on trust and we’ll return that trust and we’ll care about those people out there, particularly the unemployed – we want to get them back to work.

If we can’t get them back to work immediately, as sure as hell we are going to look after them. We are not going to leave them in the lurch. We are not going to leave them in the lurch and we are going to put our hand out and we are going to pull them up behind us.

And we are going to move along. This country is going to move along together. We have such enormous opportunity. This world recession is now starting to dissipate; we’ve made the break out of it. America’s started to turn – it won’t be that long before the Japanese economy starts to turn, and hopefully we’ll be away and running in the nineties in a low inflationary period of prosperity”

Whether or not this resonated with people at the time is irrelevant now. In this day and age, you won’t see many politicians talk this way. This sort of talk requires big thinking, a process of illustration and a level of emotional resonance that simply can’t be acquired through thoughtless media management and cynical publicity stunts. Compare the indented passage above to the last couple of days of silliness and you’ll see why people have disengaged from the national conversation.

Playing to Paul Kelly and “The New Australian Stress” is evil bunny stupid

In the summer issue of the The Monthly, BBC journalist Nick Bryant wrote a superb portrait (paywalled) of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Communications Director John McTernan.

There were a couple of major points in the piece that caught my attention and I think they explain a lot of the Labor Party’s problems right now:

  • He believes Tony Abbott is one of the greatest opposition leaders he’s ever seen
  • He believes Paul Kelly and Laurie Oakes are umpires in shaping the government’s “narrative”

I addressed issues regarding the Labor Party’s fixation with the opposition leader in a previous post. Missing from that post was the fact that the Labor Party seem to be making a conscious effort to use every campaign technique in the book to turn Tony Abbott into the evil bunny in this parody ad of Liberal Party fear campaigns that appeared online in 2007. It’s quite disturbing to watch.

Here’s a couple of examples of election campaign ads by the party in government using “evil bunny” tactics and the response ads from the opposition that show how easily they’re taken apart. The fact that I can find them and the responses to them on youtube should underline to you how one dimensional the tactic is:

2012 Queensland State Election, Campbell’s Web

Response

2007 Federal Election, Trade Unions

Response

With Abbott, the “throw the kitchen sink at him” tactics will look even weaker because his entire game plan is dependent on Labor making him the issue.

My view is the best way to attack Abbott has always been to split him from the Liberal Party on policy issues where they’re philosophically at odds (there’s an awful lot of them) while letting the proverbial Mad Monk run free but nuance, subtlety and guile aren’t words in the Labor Party’s vocabulary at the moment.

How Tony Abbott occurs to the Labor Party is one thing. It’s the second point which I find much more disturbing.

When I first took an interest in politics, it was around the time Paul Kelly’s book “The March of Patriots” was released. This was the big political book at the time and it got a lot of publicity. The theme of the book revolved around Paul Keating and John Howard being the last two “gladiators” of Australian politics and recounted the period from after Keating’s victory at the 1993 unwinnable election to John Howard’s defeat at 2007 election. It’s a pretty boring book but because Paul Kelly wrote it, it’s given high esteem due to his reputation.

If you read Paul Kelly’s columns in The Australian newspaper over a couple of months, his writing style becomes fairly predictable. You’ll constantly see phrases like “there are four underlying themes” or “in making this point, politician X has three saving graces” and so on. My personal favourite is the “falling domino” metaphor.

His columns, to borrow his phrasing, always seem to be based around one or a combination of seven underlying themes:

  1. Australian living standards are falling
  2. Productivity is declining due to the Fair Work Act
  3. Reform on Industrial Relations policy is urgently required
  4. Australian-US relations are vitally important to national security
  5. The world is on the verge of collapse
  6. The Catholic Church must be respected above all else
  7. Anything that contradicts the view of The Australian newspaper’s editorial position is wrong

You might even be lucky enough to catch him attempting to coin a term to describe this repetitive, paranoid and inconsistent message such as “The New Australian Stress” which usually is accompanied by some amateur hour reading of the latest Newspoll and “demographic analysis” by Bernard Salt.

The thing that bothers me is not Paul Kelly. He’s simply a columnist writing for a substandard newspaper. What bothers me is there are people in the Prime Minister’s office who view columnists such as Paul Kelly as opinion influencers and shapers of the government’s narrative and storyline.

If you asked someone in the street who Paul Kelly was, the image of a reasonably popular musician would come to mind. Not some grumpy old guy who writes columns on federal politics for an ordinary newspaper. If you asked them questions relating to “The New Australian Stress” they’d probably think you’re a fruitcake and immediately disengage.

Whenever the government talks about education policy or health policy or the economy or anything else and they assume “The New Australian Stress” is what’s driving things in the community, they’re not connecting with the Australian people. All they’re doing is getting caught chasing their tail inside the cycleway of Canberra instead of proactively controlling the frame of the national conversation.

The end of Nick Bryant’s piece was what really hit it home for me:

“If she (Gillard) loses, as he has told journalists, his professional reputation will survive intact because her position is seen as irretrievable.”

It says a lot that the person who is in charge of communications for the Prime Minister is so self centered that he could care less whether his boss wins the next federal election. Combine that with him giving weight to inconsequential mouthpieces in the external environment such as Tony Abbott and Paul Kelly and it becomes obvious why the government has a problem communicating with normal people.