Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fame conveys authority in Labor’s ranks

I enjoyed The Age article by Theodore Dalrymple on a world that has become trivialized by the ‘cult of authority’. Bono has the authority, if not the knowledge, to ‘save’ Africa and we listen to him because he is a celebrity. The philanthropic millionaire with his IPOD and his rose-tinted sunglasses is determined to save those kids from AIDS. It is better than his singing.

Spoilt brat Diana Princess of Wales never said anything in her life that was not banal and saccharine. She was taken seriously because she was a ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘People’s Princess’ celebrity who incidentally provided moral leadership – a recent rock concert in her memory sold out in 20 minutes. Although she was always a bit of a lightweight she had authority because she was a celebrity dill.

Some of this analysis applies to recent trends in Australian Labor politics. Australia has its own logie-level, proletarian, celebrity aristocracy that is being recruited to stand as Labor candidates.

Maxine McKew is cute and smiles a lot but has distinguished herself in the lead-up to the next Federal election by saying nothing beyond the utterly trite and obvious, ‘it will be an uphill battle’ etc etc. She has been pitted against one of Australia’s most experienced and wily politicians, JWH. Yes she can ask good questions in an interview but don’t politicians also have to be able to answer questions?

The ABCs weatherman Mike Bailey will challenge Joe Hockey. Apart from being a recognized person on ABC news what skills does he bring? Why a weatherman who reads simple prompts from an autocue? He might be better than Mary Delahunty but not by much.

Nicole Cornes is the wife of a celebrity. (Yes celebrity status can be transferred by marriage). Nicole is attractive but doesn’t know what a tax cut means and would not have a clue about global warming. She is a Labor candidate in an Adelaide electorate.

Labor doesn’t have a Bono but does have Peter Garrett who is just as
pretentious and just as lacking in political (and musical) ability.

As I have said before: Why not Aunty Jack, Kath, Kim or Mr Squiggle if the ALP wants celebrities? Or as I have suggested before, recruit Bindi Irwin for the Rudd job.

Even without taking things to such extremes isn’t it almost ludicrous to trivialize politics in this way? Was there ever a time when Australians took politics seriously? A time when engine drivers, teachers, doctors, farmers and fish and chip shop operators were selected as Labor candidates. The Parliamentary Labor Party is replacing a few of its union drones and party political hacks with celebrity nothings. Are there not alternatives?

Why can’t Labor and why cannot Australia do better? Is Labor recruiting celebrities because it sees this as one step up on the party hacks and trade union dummies that it would otherwise choose? Are there no better alternatives? What happened to people with substance - the likes of Peter Walsh, Barry Jones and the sensationally able John Button? Decent men had ability who were anything but celebrities.

6 comments:

Damien Eldridge said...

Harry, I think you can push this idea too far. Why would we want to deter anyone who is capable from running for parliament?

For example, regardless of whether you agree with Peter Garrett views on everything, some things or nothing, it is difficult to argue that his involvement in politics is only due to his celebrity status. He was involved in politics long before he became a member of parliament. In many respects, his music career and his political involvement developed together. Many od Midnight Oil's songs were political in nature. He was also involved in the electorally unsuccessful Nuclear Disarmament Party back in the 1980s. (I think it was the 1980s.) On top of that I think he has a law degree.

hc said...

Well Garrett does have strong views on uranium and on global warming. They are however populist and inconsistent - he was one of the handful of drones who sought retention of the 'three mines' policy. He had to abandon his populist views on US military bases when he joined parliament.

I wonder if we should ever hope to learn much about the case for (or against) nuclear power from a muddle-minded pop singer.

Maybe he can serve as an MP. But are there not many much more capable people than this?

davidp said...

FWIW
1. My belief is that Peter Garrett didn't write the lyrics for Midnight Oil (though I guess he didn't disagree with them either)

2. Herman Hesse talks about such a phenomenon (celebrities being treated as authorities on matters they have no expertise in) in the Glass Bead Game (when discussing the age of the feutillion (spelling?) suggesting this is not a new phenomenon. How much of a problem it is is something worth thought though.

Matt Canavan said...

Harry I disagree. I have no problem with those who may not have detailed knowledge of economics or politics becoming MPs, indeed I think it is an advantage. Democracy is not a system to hit the optimal policy all of the time, it is a system that permits all to have 'ownership' of the system. So, it is important that some MPs are not just technocrats but represent real people. In any case, I doubt that a government of experts would be superior, since experts tend to get carried with their own hype or theories (like Treasury and the CAD in the late 90s).

Further, isn't it efficient for the electorate to prefer those who already have a positive public profile? Most have limited time to devote to politics and if you already trust someone why not vote for them?

hc said...

Matt, Know I don't think parliamentarians hit optima either. But I want them to be a street-wise smart and representative bunch.

Labor is recruiting celebrities because it is thin in the talents rankings.

I support the conservatives but they will perform better with a strong opposition. If Labor wins power I wonder about the efficiency of government with the riff-raff they have selected. Apart from Rudd who is a bureaucrat organiser they are thin.

Matt Canavan said...

Good point, Harry. I agree.