Flat White

Groupthink in the media and political classes

7 July 2016

7:22 AM

7 July 2016

7:22 AM

Never have so few done so little for so many. That more or less sums up our political class in this country, and our media class. At least that is the case if you are, like me, a small government, Hobbesian, right-of-centre guy (sorry, did I say ‘guy’ Mr – oops – Australian of the Year). Let us leave aside all the incestuous connections within the Labor party, and within the ABC, and indeed between the two of them. Instead, let us just look at the Liberal Party and what I think is the single best quality newspaper in the country, The Australian. Now that we have had to live through the last 10 months since the defenestration of Mr Abbott and the rise and precipitous decline of Mr Turnbull, I think we can say a few things about group think in the media and political class on the right.

First off, not enough of the politicians on the right seem to put principle above personal political success. They come across as happy to go along to get along. Repealing 18C is proving a tad hard? Ditch the effort. Or worse, maybe the Libs pre-selected someone who didn’t care about free speech at all in the first place. Remember, not a single Cabinet Minister resigned in protest over the ditching of the attempt to repeal most of 18C, not a single one. And there was barely a murmur amongst the backbenchers. Indeed I had two separate conversations with two different then Liberal MPs – back when Mr Abbott had not yet abandoned free speech in favour of ‘Team Australia’ – and neither Liberal MP was in favour of the attempt to repeal 18C and based on our conversations neither had a clue about the value of free speech. These are the people the Libs are pre-selecting! Do they interact with ordinary Liberal voters?

Look at how many of them seem to get into university politics, then go and work as dogsbodies for some MP or think tank, and then use those connections to get pre-selected. These people spend their lives hanging around other politicos. They don’t put principle ahead of advancement because they have never had to do that – not in some real world job, that’s for sure. When you are an advisor to an MP, you don’t quit on a point of principle. And they overwhelmingly seem to focus their attention and care on what’s said on Q&A, or what is trending on social media, or what the columnists are saying in The Australian.

So consider Brexit. At least 70 percent of MPs in the UK Parliament were for ‘Remain’, and that includes a majority of Tory MPs. The Party membership was over two-thirds for ‘Leave’. Same goes for the media class, which was massively for staying – and that includes a legion of Tory commentators like Matthew Parris, who welcomed the chance for the Conservative Party to clean out the loser disgruntled ‘Outs’ once he got his expected ‘Remain’ result.

The point is that there was a massive disconnect between the party base, and the people supposedly representing them in Parliament, and talking to them in the papers. Brexit, possibly the best voting outcome in my life, may well be the start of the push-back against the anti-democratic aspects of so much of the institutional structures now in place in the West, including much of international law, much of over-powerful judges spouting off about their subjective views on what is rights-respecting, and basically all of the EU’s internal structures. And the vote in Brexit exposed that disconnect between voters and the political and media class plainly for all to observe.


Well, I see an enervated version of that here now in Australia on the right side of politics. I refer to the assassination of Abbott and the coronation of Turnbull. Would the paid up party members have voted for this change? To ask is to know the answer. Were the 54 MPs thinking of anything other than their own personal electoral prospects (and they even got that wrong)? Seriously, how do you explain people who had just lived through the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd fiasco, and seen what Australian voters do to those who defenestrate first term sitting MPs, doing exactly the same thing themselves? Do they understand long-term consequences at all, or is everything short-term and immediate in their worlds?

Well, in part it’s no doubt because they don’t get out enough by which I mean they take their information from the same sources. Alas, that does not widen the gene pool much. Here’s what I mean. There were two top columnists on The Australian with close connections to top ranking Liberal Party movers-and-shakers, and I mean ‘close’ in every sense of the word. Was this announced on the top of each column these people wrote? If it were, the readers might be able to judge the comment articles in that light. Now of course the MPs would know about these domestic arrangements, but most readers were not. In law the test is never ‘real bias’ (as no one can know this) the test is always ‘the appearance of bias’. And one way to remove that is to declare your interest or connection up front, so that others can judge accordingly.

Or how could it be that just about every single columnist on The Australian thought that the coup against Abbott was a good thing that would help the Libs? Okay, Maurice Newman was an exception. But talk about group think. Go back and look at the post-coup predictions by Savva, by van Onselen, by Albrechtsen, by Kelly, even by the Labor-leaning columnists on the newspaper. All have been proven to be laughable. Miles off the mark. And yet today, post election, most of them are still at it, still puffing up a man who looks to me to be wholly disconnected to the party base and who seems to think that the election fiasco was due to a Mediscare campaign that was prompted by – wait for it – not him but Tony Abbott. And this after one of the most disgraceful election night speeches I have seen ever, and I’ve seen a lot not just here but in Canada, New Zealand, the US and Britain.

Look, I will put my cards on the table and admit that I am a dyed-in-the-wool DelCon. From the day of the coup against Abbott I have said, in print, that it was a mistake; that it would end badly; and that I would never vote for the white-anting, backstabbing coup ringleader Herr Turnbull. (And I said that as someone who had strongly criticised Abbott over his disgraceful capitulation on free speech and on his incomprehensible attachment to a Big Government paid parental leave scheme. But such criticisms in no way indicated the desire for a Gillard-like coup, or worse the installing of the most left-wing leader ever.)

What is amazing to me is that the Libs and the op-ed columnists in The Australian seemed not to think there were many people like me out there. What was it that genius Mark Textor said about core Liberal party voters on the right? Oh yes. ‘The qualitative evidence is they don’t matter. The sum of a more centrist approach outweighs any alleged marginal loss of so-called based voters’. (emphasis mine) Leave aside the usual incoherence behind ‘qualitative evidence’ and marvel at the astounding condescension of such a comment. Why, it reminds me of the way that David Cameron ran the ‘Remain’ campaign – you try to win by insulting your own core voters and calling them stupid, ‘loonies and fruitcakes’ were the words of the (now former) British PM.

So here is the thing. If Turnbull is the leader of the party I will not vote for it come what may. Turnbull could bring back Tony, I don’t care. He could have Tony run seminars around the country urging Libs to come back home, I don’t care. He could have a Cabinet weighted towards conservatives, I DON’T CARE. The thing is that for the long-term benefit of the Liberal Party, MPs need to see what happens to those who defenestrate a first-term PM – and especially to those who white-ant and undermine and snidely deride that PM. They have to see that their own party base will not stand for it, because in the long-term the party will be the better for it. Listening to some of the main plotters in the Abbott assassination now ask for loyalty, and preach about the foolhardiness of removing a PM, is vomit inducing. Do Brandis and McGrath and Ryan and others not see the massive hypocrisy involved in such pleas?

By all means let’s bring in a rule or convention that the party won’t stab a PM in the first few years of his or her leadership, but don’t bother bringing it in till Turnbull is gone.

This, I am quite confident, is a widespread feeling amongst Liberal voters (almost none of whom were swayed to vote Labor because they are stupid fools who didn’t know the Labor line on Medicare was a scare campaign). If the Liberal political class cannot see this, if it really cannot appreciate the need for change, well then let’s get on with the next election so that we can have a big Labor win and change can come that way.

Meantime why is it that the vast preponderance of the columnists on The Australian can’t see that Turnbull needs to go? Why do they still paint him as a potentially PM great, a saviour (albeit a tad chastened), and the white-washing goes on and on? I don’t know. But in my opinion the political and media class in this country – and I refer now to those two classes on the right side of politics – need to widen their gene pools.

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