Flat White

History is not determined by the majority

20 February 2022

9:00 AM

20 February 2022

9:00 AM

Only a small number of leaders make world-changing decisions. Only a small portion of votes elect these leaders. Only a small group within each party nominates a candidate, and even fewer influence policy.

History shows that leaders are not the only minority who can have disproportionate influence – revolutions are led by small groups also. Though it may require widespread support to form a government, it only takes a small group withdrawing their consent to be governed to deliver a fatal wound.

This is interesting to contemplate as the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada completes its third week. There’s no reason to doubt that Justin Trudeau was re-elected through a fair election just a few months ago; about two-thirds of the nation voted left of centre.

The convoy probably doesn’t represent the majority of the nation, it only represents a sub-set. Yet it represents a group who feel strongly that the laws are too oppressive for them, that too many privileges have been attached to getting an over-rated vaccine, that this diminishes their liberty and privacy, and that they want it all back.

Even if they are a minority, surely they ought to be heard? Protest is a risk that all democracies must manage. Democracy may be the fairest system available, but it can succumb to a ‘tyranny of the majority’. Hence, it is the responsibility of government to listen to all its people, even to a minority, and even to those who don’t and probably never will vote for the current leaders. Whether you think they should be protesting or not, realpolitik wisdom means dealing with the fact that they are.

Consequently, our leaders’ dismissive reaction to Australia’s freedom protest shows a dangerous attitude. They are so embedded in the rhythm of politics-as-usual that they are not even attempting to engage with a large subset of our population who are clearly very upset.

I hate to say this, because on the whole I like Scott Morrison, but he is not the right leader for this moment.

The problem is not his factional alignment or political beliefs. Sure, I would have loved the party to select a conservative like Dutton rather than an all-rounder like ScoMo; but I also appreciate that in a two-party system any major party must be a ‘broad church’. They probably made the right choice there and the last election vindicated them.

The problem at the moment is more one of character and persona. Scott Morrison was selected because he was benign. Non-confrontational. Conciliatory. His refrain at the last election was that of ‘just getting on with his job, so that we can all get on with ours’. He speaks with the tone of someone coaching someone who’s diffusing a bomb.

‘It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m okay. We’re all going to be okay. How good is Australia?’

Dear Prime Minister, you know that silent majority who you credited with your last election? That silent majority who didn’t want all the crazy government interventions that Bill Shorten was proposing? Well, guess what? Quite a few of them are out on that lawn at Parliament House not being silent. You didn’t just get on with your job and leave us to do ours; you’ve affected every aspect of our lives for two years. Maybe you had cause, but it still broke the promise.

‘Politics’ is a small game played among rivals. ‘Leadership’ is the big game you play with the country.

Leadership matters far more than politics, and our politicians need to recognise what is needed. That rally on the weekend – you know, the largest one Canberra has had for a generation – that was an opportunity to play the big game. To be a leader. Dismissing it with ‘mandates are a state problem’ was not a useful response.

We don’t need a benign leader. We don’t need conciliatory, even if he does come with an undercurrent of stubbornness. We need strength, clarity, determination, and chutzpah. We don’t just want to know what you plan to do, we want to know how you are thinking, what you stand for, and what you would fight for.

The world has scarcely felt more unsettled at any other time in my life. China and Russia are both testing the waters for some border realignment; Russia just wants its old block back, but China wants the whole planet. Hong Kong is lost, Taiwan and Ukraine may soon be taken. The idea of another world war is being discussed with a straight face. The USA is technically strong, but practically weak.

Internally, things are no better. More than 10 per cent of working Australians work for the government, which has funded itself with debt that it pays by printing money. Mandatory superannuation has created a vast pool of wealth being controlled by people who don’t own it and don’t suffer when it has poor returns; we’re funding activists with our superannuation, who are advocating against our interests. Supply chains, inflation, housing affordability … all have the potential to create perfect storms. Hovering over all this is excessive regulation interfering with productivity and negating competitive forces; we have our pants down around our ankles and we’ll only discover it when we suddenly find ourselves needing to run.

Our culture in the West is fracturing. A rift of seemingly insurmountable magnitude is opening between citizens; it is hard to describe just how different someone who writes for the Guardian and someone who writes for The Spectator Australia view the world. People are angry with one another, just read the intro to this article on The Shot – yet our leaders and media deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this; they have been scapegoating, defaming, and othering portions of their citizenship repeatedly, and happily deploying citizens to police one another, without anticipating the consequences.

If the rift across ideologies is awful, the rift between citizens and the ruling class is also growing and is potentially more dangerous. I turn on the news and all I hear is adults being juvenile. Blabbing on about sexism in parliament, transgender children being bullied, and the Prime Minister shampooing someone’s hair. Why would I think that any of the people running this country care about things that actually matter? They don’t listen to me and they don’t value my freedom, they listen to ‘experts’ and ‘marketers’ who each have only one lens for viewing the world. Elites, compared to everyday Australians, have very different levels of trust in our institutions and leaders.

Democracy may be the best system, but across the West the process itself is also under threat. In some places, democracy is under direct attack; public debate in the USA, for instance, focuses on who votes rather than who they vote for. Fail-safe systems intended to prevent fraudulent voting are being removed and the Democratic Party is trying to federalise their attack. In Australia, however, there is no need to attack democracy because it is already dysfunctional; the major parties are insensitive to many voter interests. Internal party processes are not followed by the public eye. Voting in Australia is like pressing on the middle of a see-saw.

Strong leadership, rather than petty politics, would be really good right about now.

Consider again the Freedom Convoy in Canada. The convoy escalated from peacefully protesting, to more aggressive actions, like partially blocking key highways. The protesters are now risking government force. People only take this risk when they weigh up the consequences of their defiance against the consequences of submitting to the law as written, and conclude that defiance is worth it. Canada’s government should think deeply on that point; truckers aren’t worried about what they will do to them, because they are already incensed by what they have done to them.

Even so, I don’t think that the convoy would have escalated if the response of Trudeau’s government had not been so reprehensibly dishonest and combative. First, Trudeau himself smeared them as racist, sexist, homophobic sorts of people. Then the fund-raising company the convoy used froze their money. When the convoy turned to another fund-raising site, the government obtained a court order to seize the funds. Then that site was hacked and closed, but not before the identity of all the donors was released to the media. The government is now trying to freeze cryptocurrencies.

The police were sent in to block the convoy’s access to fuel. Big Tech has removed the pages of groups trying to organise similar protests elsewhere. Basically, government, tech companies, and the media are teaming up to bully everyone supportive of the movement. Finally, Trudeau has invoked emergency powers, which allow him to issue a wide range of diktats with a wide range of potential consequences for not complying.

This is what you get for peacefully protesting for freedom in Canada, you are slandered, blockaded, robbed, threatened and – worst of all – ignored.

Though they don’t (and probably won’t) have scenes of lethal force of a Tiananmen Square kind, neither are we observing legitimate use of government force in a free country. And, though we may not see lethal force, I wouldn’t be surprised if protesters receive unreasonably long prison sentences and high fines. Ideologues always consider sins against their ideology to be the most grievous, even compared to actual crimes. In Soviet Russia the penalty for political prisoners was much worse than for thieves. More recently, look at what happened after the January 6 protests in the USA: protesters who were unarmed and acted en masse were placed in solitary confinement for months for the crime of trespassing. Once away from the eye of the public, they were treated as if they had no value and no rights.

Trudeau reacted to legitimate democratic expression by going to war against his own citizens. Does he realise he’s playing with fire?

All the ingredients of revolution are here. It may not happen today, but while our leaders remain this incompetent, arrogant and disconnected, it’s difficult to see the movement reducing rather than increasing.

It is worth remembering that Canada is quite similar to Australia. I’m not impressed with Scott Morrison’s recent performance, as I said above, but boy-oh-boy and I glad that Mark McGowan isn’t the Prime Minister. If we’d had continuous Labor government since 2014, instead of Liberal, then the similarities between us and Canada would be seen in all the worst places.

And this is my point. I don’t know what will happen. I am an advocate for peace and stability and effecting change through the routes prescribed in our constitution. Yet I am sure that complacency, dismissal, or politics-as-usual are poor responses. This disgruntled minority is one no one can afford to ignore. Revolutions have happened before, why would anyone presume they might not happen again? The hubris of our leaders could well be their downfall.

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