22 September 2015
The day governing stopped and the soap opera began
In life sometimes we never know when one thing becomes another – when does youth become middle age, when does curvy become overweight, when does like become love – but for Australians we know the exact moment that the pretense of Governing stopped and the ‘Australian Politics Soap Opera’ began. In a 4PM speech, Monday 14 September, Malcolm Turnbull announced he would be challenging the Prime Minister for Liberal party leadership, and in doing so the era of Governing was over and the latest season of Leadership was beginning.
The drama on the national stage being played out is character driven, not policy driven. The Liberal National coalition are no longer governing, they are stock characters in a soapie, ones that happen to make our laws. Media no longer analyse policy, it is about who is backstabbing who, who is aligning with who, who is seeking revenge on who, who is wearing what – Oh no, she didn’t – it is not budget, diplomacy, trade, communities. The drama is all about Them, and not about Us.
Margaret Thatcher said “if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left”, or as the situation has become in Australian politics, if they’re talking about themselves and each other personally, they haven’t a single policy idea left.
Turnbull told us the reason for knifing the sitting PM (do we use “knifing” when Liberal males do it, or only when Labor women become PM?). Losing 30 newspolls in a row – do that on a major television drama and you start killing off the main characters to get the audience back, in a shocking twist.
With the Abbott to Turnbull change of leadership, our role in democracy has shifted – voters used to be participants and the media were observers, now media are participants and voters sit back and watch. Media smell the blood in the water, and they will craft the narrative, and the stars of the political soap opera will step up and play the characters that narrative demands.
Perhaps it has always been this way, the Abbott government was described by one US commentator as a “Murdoch puppet government”, the difference is we now get to see it played out on TVs every day, in excruciating painful minute mind-numbing detail.
What the Liberal Party should have realised is – it’s not about the characters. Voters don’t want a younger, bitchier, more-glam, more fit, version of the cast they just voted off the island, they want a different show altogether. The more the Liberals focus on the drama, the faster votes will be turned off and want it to just end. Make the drama go away!
The revolving door on the Lodge turned many away from the Labor party in 2013. Australians voted to end this cult of personality and voted for a Government to get on with job of governing. This recent coup serves as a reminder of all the things the Australian pubic grew to hate about Labor’s leadership obsession.
The media can’t help themselves, their job is to get readers/viewers/clicks, they will do whatever it takes to get that audience. The media can’t sit around and wait for politicians to follow the script, the media want to be players in politics, they have mistaken reporting the news for making the news.
We, the public, are force-fed a daily diet of the actions of our politicians as if they were characters who have been given roles to fill. Our politicians become shallow stereotypes – the scorned woman, the handsome square-jaw hero, the hypotenuse in an eternal love triangle, the bad guy ultimately with a heart of gold. However, our politicians are not television characters, they are not gods or cartoon super villains or heroes, they are not (or shouldn’t be) works of fiction – the pretty puppet made to dance while others pull the strings.
Once we stop seeing politicians as our elected representatives and begin treating them as the latest cast in our favourite soapie, then our role changes – we go from participant in democracy to commentator of the action. Powerless. When we choose to see them as characters, reading from a script and not our MPs we remove ourselves from the process and become mere spectators.