Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Wheel of Fortune.

It's taken me a long time to come back to psephite - mainly because I didn't know how to respond to the Australian and US election results.

When I think about politics I often think in terms of cycle - like the medieval wheel of fortune where you inexorably experience ups and downs. I think this way partly because of the way politics is described - by 'terms' and the electoral 'cycle', which convey a sense of finite time and a bias towards change, and the two party / adversarial system, which suggests that power will swing. I also think it's because my lifetime has been split between Liberal and Labor Governments at the Federal level in Australia - one of my first political memories is Bob Hawke coming to power in 1983. I grew up in the Hawke / Keating years, and it was only when I was Uni 'becoming a grown-up' that the Liberal Government was elected under Howard. Because I've lived unde both reigns for about the same amount of time, it makes me feel like Government is a pendulum - it swings back and forth, from left to right, from Labor to Liberal, at regular intervals over time.

I found the 2004 election result confronting because it didn't conform to my idea of an electoral pattern, or the wheel of fortune. Because after 8 years in power, in which most time appeared to be spent teetering on the brink of electoral defeat, the Howard Government is simply getting stronger. And this made me realise that politics in my lifetime in Australia has been abnormal. It's not usual for incumbency to be spread between two parties. Politics isn't neat or fair. Statistically, it's more likely that the Liberal party will be in power than Labor. Maybe the political Wheel of Fortune is weighted in the conservatives favour, and it is that much harder for the Labor party to gain enough momentum to end up on top.

On the other hand, I don't want to fall victim to a 'it has to be that way' mentality. I don't want to explain away defeat by saying that the electorate is inherently conservative. That the Liberals are the natural party of Government. I kind of feel like that's a Tory ruse.

So I guess what I take from this election is that political power is not a given. It won't inevitably shift, or correct itself. There is no promise that people will simply become tired of the Governing party and switch allegiances. All you can do is keep working to get enough shoulders behind the democratic wheel.


At 10:08 PM, Blogger TimT said...

Don't feel too bad. Labor was in for 11 years, after all. The whole decade 1970 - 1983 was unstable (Menzies leaving - death of Holt - Gorton's brief tenure - the entrance and exit of Whitlam). Before that, Australia spent a good 20 years under Menzies. That's twenty years of conservative government!

I'm saying, basically, you have to look at it in perspective. The results of elections are never certain, and a lot of funny things can happen. In 20 - 50 years time - things might have shifted back to the left, and the Libs might look back on this as one of their golden ages.

Not that I'm saying that's a good or a bad thing, either. Perspective. It's all a matter of perspective.

At 10:34 AM, Blogger weezil said...

TimT, points well taken, but I arrived in Australia in Oct 1996, seconds before HoWARd took office. My visa was among those approved on the very last day of Keating administration migration rules.

I'd rather like to see what the place would be like with someone else at the helm. I would very much have liked to have been in Australia for the 12.5 seconds Gough was in charge.

The mere fact that I would not have been able to migrate to Australia under HoWARd's xenophobic immigration policy makes the trip mentionable in and of itself.

Politigeist, there are lots of lost leftie souls wandering the vast wastelands in search of reasons to live under conservative/fascist regimes of the US & Australia. I have copped it twice* in that regard. The most serious suggestion I can make is "early to bed, early to rise, protest like hell and proselytise!" ;)

Meditate & medicate.


*You can take heart in the idea that the US elections ain't over yet. See

At 6:11 PM, Blogger Nic White said...

I think the momentum that the Liberal Party has right now is mainly due to Howard himself. Sure we might all hate him, but he's been around a long time and has proven himself to be a damn good leader, we have to accept this. Most of the voting population will vote on fear, leadership and money. For the last 4 elections Howard has managed to pull off all those. The fact that Howard lies and misleads does not register very highly with the electorate.

Fear - Terrorism and interest rates. Both were well played on by Howard this time around, and in previous elections he used other things such as Tampa. People fell for the interest rate lie and Labor failed to disprove it fast or well enough. During unsettled times of terrorism, people tend to want to stick with what theyve got, not "switch horsemen mid apocalypse" if you like. They thought Howard would be able to protect them.

Leadership - Howard is a good leader overall, its true. Hes a least a damn good politician who gives off the impression that hes a good leader to the voters. Hes been around for ages, people can look at him as steadfast and able to tough it out - they trust him. With the Labor leadership in such turmoil the electorate was much less likely to opt for a change.

Money - As is always the case in Australia, we are apathetic. We are forced to vote when most of us dont relaly care very much. So who do you back? The guy that will give you the most money. Things appear to be going along quite nicely on the surface to most people, so they see no reason to change. Also conservatives are at an advantage for this kind of voting population, because people want things to stay the same unless they are going badly, which by definition is what conservatives do.

Once Howard gives up (god knows when) then Labor will have more than a fighting chance, because both leaders will be on level peggings.

Thats just how I see it anyway.


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