Wednesday, July 21, 2010
A few days into the election campaign, and things have mostly settled into a comfortable routine for both major parties. Each day the two leaders do a round of breakfast media before jetting off to one marginal seat or another for a stage managed photo op with some rusted on supporters, the media coverage of which makes for a non threatening evening news backdrop.
Julia repeats the things that she's in favour of: (listed here in case you haven't been paying attention) growing the economy, money for schools, moving forward... And Abbott repeats the things that he's against: debt, boat people, Julia Gillard. They both shake hands with some bewildered looking passersby and then scram as quickly as their campaign bus/plane/fleet of cars can get them out of there.
As journalist Matthew Franklin, covering the Gillard campaign for 'The Australian,' put it: 'The Prime Minister appears to be avoiding contact with any real human beings.'
This then, is the essence of the modern election campaign. And this surely makes you wonder what the point of the whole process is.
I mean, these jokers, on both sides, get elected and spend three years tucked away from the rest of us in Canberra, doing God knows what and spending great swathes of our money while they do it. The one time that they're actually forced out from behind the skirting board, out into the light with the rest of us, asking for our vote, and they still don't want anything much to do with us.
I mean, why don't they get out more amongst regular people and find out what we want? Or what we're thinking? Town Hall meetings? Walking down the main street of a regular suburb? Well, last night Channel 7 showed a grab of Federal Treasure Wayne Swan having a go at it yesterday:
SWAN (To shop owner he was walking past): How's business?
SHOP OWNER: Good... No thanks to the Government.
No doubt Swanny is in a bunker under the Treasury building right now, still in tears, interviewing lookalikes so he never has to go out in public ever again. But really, what's the big deal?
Well, the big deal is that the major party's are terrified that this is what'll get played on the 6pm news that night. Instead of what they want played on the 6pm news, which is some speech the leader has given where they repeat 'Moving Forward' or 'Stop the Boats' 97 times in an effort to drum it into our heads.
But imagine, instead, if Swan had thrown back his head and chuckled, said something like 'Good on yer mate,' and paused to shake the blokes hand. Maybe bought a sandwich or an apple or a piece of fetish gear or whatever the shop owner was selling. That clip would've been on the evening news and people would've loved it. And the shop owner himself, while probably not changing his vote, may have thought of the Federal Treasurer as something other than a cunt, which is almost certainly how he feels about him now.
Part of this problem of sanitised modern politickin' comes down to contemporary media coverage and the 24 hour news cycle, which has a tendency to magnify even small incidents as media outlets search for content. And part of the problem comes down to the sort of people who, for the most part, make up our elected representatives nowadays. Constructed from soy protein and pencil sharpenings and grown in large vats in the basement of the major parties headquarters, they are indoctrinated from an early age with the key mantra of modern politics: Stay On Message. And the best way to stay 'On Message?' Avoid anything that's off message.
As former Keating speech writer Don Watson put it: 'Most modern polticians have never done anything but be in politics.' And so the deadly dull nature of a Federal election campaign, with its stage managed photo ops, 'On Message' sound bites and ridiculous slogans seem entirely natural to them.
Which is bad news for anyone with even a passing interest in politics in this country. 'The Age' election bloggers Mark Davis and Jacqueline Riley sum it up, commenting on the end of Day 4 of campaigning:
Another day where Gillard Labor's tactics came from from the Modern Campaigning 101 playbook: staying relentlessly on message while unveiling a "new" policy which was more presentational than substantive (National Trade Cadetships). By contrast the Abbott operation looked more DIY, struggling again to get its chosen message across cleanly on the all-important prime time TV news bulletins due to self-inflicted distractions.
You can almost hear them saying, '4 and a half weeks to go? AAARGGGHHH!!!'