Prognosis: Sad Face

A friend writes:

I’m supposedly on the same side of the left-right political spectrum as Abbott and I’m baffled by his actions.

He goes onto state why and how his connection with the current Liberal Party is problematic (at best).

To me, this is one of the inherent problems for a two-party political system. Alienation from established rules, norms and ideology together with short-term political posturing means there is little outlet for formal political participation for rather a lot of people. I don’t have any figures to back up this ambient claim, however I think the problems associated with it are serious. Lack of participation, growing apathy in the electorate, a loss of connection to the wider polity. These problems are root causes for broader societal trends regarding disconnective-ness (you know what I mean) and isolation.

First, some will point to groups like GetUp! and the rise of the Greens as a third party that this is in fact not actually occurring. Perhaps this is true and third-party groups are playing a more active role in the political environment however I feel this is not going to break the two-party system any time soon because of two reasons. One, many people feel attracted to the idea that you have to be inside the tent to enact actual change and this stymies active participation in these groups considering the inability of these groups to actually govern. Two, and to a lesser extent, there is real stigma around newer groups when compared to more established political institutions. Change is a difficult concept to wrap ones head around.

So, if we can accept that the two-party system is here for awhile longer yet can we then claim that people feel real disconnect from parties which stops political participation? And if we can, what is the issue with this?

Formal political participation, interaction through political parties, is often dismissed as the environment for the hard-core or for the ‘insider’. The seriousness of the discussion. The focus on the purely political. It paints a picture of an extremist wanting to stream roll into the future yet this is often highly overstated – to the detriment of more people getting involved. Some of the stories I heard about branch meetings scared the beejesus out of me. However what I have witnessed at a very local level is mostly a bunch of white, middle-aged to elderly, public servants who listen politely to one and other. I’m sure under the surface is a boiling emotional mess of past grievances but it is not a place to feel threatened by. Stories about political behaviour on election day, vicious campaigns to smear opponents certainly do not help. Nor does the perception that political parties only want your attention once every three years. Overcoming these issues of image is a major problem for major parties which doesn’t look like happening soon.

What is interesting and perhaps there is a solution in here somewhere, is the rusted on effect of most voters to a political party. At the 2010 election, 83% of people identified with a political party. This is an astounding number of people who are attached to mainstream political parties. However, these people do not involve themselves in active political participation. Does this occur because of the powerlessness that people feel within political organisations? Perhaps people aren’t interested. There are not 10 different, active political parties from which to choose the best fit. You have two (at best three in the medium-term future). You have to squeeze into the existing structures, accepting blindly all the posturing and political bullshit along the way. In the case of the ALP, you will be expelled if you advocate alternative positions.

These conventions are there for a reason. They contribute to the success and stability of long-term democracy in Australia through a two party system. However, it is important to also recognise what else these conventions contribute to. Active repulsion by the political engaged (such as the example at the top) and, perhaps worse, wide-spread apathy of the disinterested. Serious issues which are often ignored. A signal about how the current Government feels about these issues will be heard on Friday. This is when the ALP National Executive is presented and decides on a direction about the Review which recently occurred. The publicly available part paints a picture of ALP members who are fed up with business as usual. Members who have given so much, yet feel ignored and truly sad about the current state of affairs.

Recommendations about change, new methods to involve people and a way to re-invigorate a slowly dying party will be presented. It is unlikely they will be treated with the respect that ALP members deserve.


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