Friday, December 3, 2010

Arsenic and Old Labor

The 'New York Times' announced yesterday that NASA scientists had discovered an entirely new form of life: A new category of microbe that was the first known lifeform that didn't need phosphorous to survive. These newly discovered microbes survive by using arsenic as a phosphorous substitute (as I've been doing for years, although no scientists ever asked me about it).

This amazing scientific discovery will make an invaluable contribution to our understanding of, er... Well, it'll certainly unlock the door to any number of new, ummm... It means that we'll now be able to solve the mystery of... ah....

Well, while the discovery of lifeforms that thrive in arsenic may not mean much to the lay person, undoubtedly our major political parties will have taken note. They're always looking for a new source of candidates, after all. And a naturally occurring organism that can survive in a toxic environment may well be a quicker and easier source of political operatives than how they acquire them currently: i.e. growing them from subcutaneous fat in vats under party headquarters. You wouldn't imagine that they'd alter their training program for potential candidates though, as it's served them well for a long time i.e. raising them in darkness and while they teach them the art of 'Staying On Message.' For the uneducated, rare footage of this political training process can be seen below:

Which brings us to one particular graduate of this vat growing/training process, newly minted Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews.

But I don't want to rag on him too aggressively. Not right away. I mean, I'd really like to see him mouthing empty slogans for a bit before I really have a go at the bloke. And everything I've read about him so far indicates that he's dedicated, hard working, enthused and interested in policy. All desirable qualities in a political leader.

The problems begin, however, when we look at Mr Andrews' CV and how he got to where he is now.

The State Opposition leader achieved his current spot in what has become a depressingly familiar way. Straight from university and 'Young Labor' to a backroom job working for a Labor MP to pre-selection in a safe seat and then a slow climb up the Parliamentary hierarchy, culminating in a stint as health minister in the previous Government. In short, his entire professional life has been spent in the service of the ALP, with nary a toe dipped in any other field of endeavour. You really have to wonder how, with this background, he will be able to properly do his job formulating policy for the benefit of the rest of us plebs, who have spent our lives are far away from party politics as we've been able to get.

This has been a problem for Labor for some time now (and for the Liberals too, who's candidates also lead remarkably sheltered lives, but Big Ted is flying high so it's Labor who need to soul search). So many of their candidates now follow this path - or the nearly identical one of working for a union - into Parliament that the Labor benches are filled with a mostly bland, nearly talentless, relentlessly unimpressive bunch of representatives who pretty much define the concept 'out of touch.'

Formulating good policy for regular folks and standing up for things are not what this bunch are good at. What they're good at is 'Staying on Message' and 'Managing the Brand' and other crapulent modern political techniques that they've learnt in ALP finishing school. Which normally means that they're good at getting out in front of a TV camera or behind a radio mike and repeating endlessly that Labor stands for some nice, fluffy, broadly defined, focus group tested principals without ever saying exactly how they stand for them or what they'll do to propagate them.

As an example of this, consider the concept of 'Social Justice.'

The modern ALP is very keen on 'Social Justice.' It featured prominently in the recent State, and Federal, election campaigns and was all over their promotional material. There's a billboard at the end of my street for the ALP candidate for Brunswick, Jane Garrett, and 'Social Justice' is top of the list of things that appears beside her photo. I heard the same candidate interviewed on radio stating that 'Labor stands for Social Justice.'

But what does this mean from a policy perspective? Does it mean that the ALP promotes policies that would actually deliver outcomes that could be called 'Social Justice'? Like equal rights for gay people (at a state level) or just treatment of refugees (at Federal). Based on the policies taken by state and federal Labor to their last elections, the answer to this is: no. And people appear to have woken up to this spin heavy, policy lite style of politics, by giving Labor a kicking in both of those elections.

Which brings us back to Daniel Andrews and the task he has before him in Victoria. If he is to reverse Labor's slide in this state - and it's not irreversible as only one seat separates them from Government - he is going to need a lot more than some empty catchphrases and some vague concepts to rally people to his cause. You'd have to think that if they go to the next election spouting 'Social Justice' again (without actually promoting 'Social Justice') than they'll get beaten like gongs and rightly so. Mr Andrews needs to quickly deprogram himself, forget everything his lifetime employers have told him about how politickin' is done, get out in the community and talk to real people and then formulate policy to address their concerns.

A radical plan I know.

For the sake of the polity in this state, I hope he's up to the challenge. But, vat grown and raised in darkness, the odds are probably against it.

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