By The Greatest Statesman
The public are disaffected & don’t take politics seriously. The Greatest Statesman tells us how to fix this…
More than ever before, citizens are disengaging with politics. But why?
It is a profound problem, and has the opportunity to threaten the democracy we hold so dear. If you ask a swing voter, even a mildly informed citizen, their thoughts on democracy you will oft hear ‘they’re all the same, mate’ or ‘they only serve with self interest’. Whether or not these allegations against the polity are true, the fact that citizens are disengaging from political debate is a judgment of its own. It identifies a problem with politics, be it temporary or structural, that politics isn’t worth engaging in, regardless of its incumbent power.
It would be naïve to think there was a time when our society, or any democracy, worked perfectly with full engagement. But this disengagement by the citizenry is a ‘wicked’ one, with no singular systematic cause or solution – it is something more fundamental, a malaise of the economics, culture and regulation of politics. If you could accurately point the finger, it would have to be with the ruling class, the elected politicians who hold the political power society and therefore part of the problem.
This is not a partisan question of whether one side and their actions have hurt the standing of politicians, but is a question of what has gone wrong with the type of politician our nation employs. There has been in the last two generations, a dramatic shift from elected layperson to career politician. Where all parties once contained a significant number of laypeople, those who were formerly agriculturalists, tradesmen, business owners, accountants and lawyers for example; the current generation has made it a mandatory art to assume power through a fulltime career in politics.
This change to full time career politics is a function of an increasing population. Political parties needed to employ more campaign management resources to help access larger voter bases with more professionalism and efficacy, in doing so, creating a political bureaucracy who held their own power and expectation of ascendency. Whilst the population has increased, participation in political parties has diminished, leaving the ambitious and socially awkward to fill the void as party members, staffers and apparatchiks.
“Factions need to be dismantled, if only for the fact they select less competent candidates & apparatchiks without the necessary competition and vetting…”
But a political party is only as effective as the collective competence of its members and it’s leadership. Long term success is marked on the ability to respond well to the needs of constituencies, which is naturally encumbered when a party lacks diversity and experience. How can a party truly know what farmers need if it’s made up of lawyers? The work of inquiries, commissions and parliamentary committees is limited if the decision makers do not personally embody the experience and needs of a constituency, giving way for decisions to be more skewed by interest groups, rather than a desire for what is true, right and necessary.
Where then are the statesmen of the modern age? Often you will hear the quotes of Churchill or Washington, and if listening carefully Howard or Keating. But seldom would one quote Gillard, Rudd or even Abbott – their politics exist in a world of sound bites and hyperactive media cycles. If society is to think through deep issues with great integrity, we must lend our nation leaders who have the wisdom, time and philosophical nous to articulate deep truths. Nowadays when a potential party leader, say Turnbull or Rudd, gives softly spoken thoughts with a modicum of understanding, it strikes fear into the hearts of party leaders, forcing them to consider replacing the Prime Minister for a more viable candidate. And so this delicate power construct will continue until we again elect Members of Parliament who embody a diversity of experience and skill. As with corporate governance, the board does not hire someone that does not fit a need in it’s skills matrix, but our nation continues to employ MPs who have no real prowess other than in wheeling and dealing.
The first obligation therefore lies with political parties, both major and minor, to select candidates who embody the skills and experience that contribute to an effective government. Factions need to be dismantled, if only for the fact they select less competent candidates & apparatchiks without the necessary competition and vetting. Likewise, party leaders through to the regular members need to adopt a long term perspective; not just selecting candidates who meet the needs of the next political cycle but those who can develop deep and enduring links to the communities of both safe and marginal seats.
As a nation, Australia is truly blessed with the wisdom of governance that lives on in the Westminster System, the work of our forefathers. But those frameworks when tinkered with and bloated with incompetents, can only take our nation so far.