The Prime Minister may be finding petro-politics difficult to negotiate at the moment, but there’s one bright spot: at least the luvvies now hate him.

Alison Croggon’s letter contains the sort of logical fallacies that First Year Philosophy students are taught to avoid. It is entirely irrelevant that Henson is “a highly distinguished artist” or that he has been photographing “young” models for “more than 15 years.” But the real value of the letter for Rudd is in the signatories, which include 2020 summiteers, and most especially Cate Blanchett.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly weighing in to hysterically and bizarrely declare “the Henson witch-hunt may yet become Labor’s ‘children overboard’ affair” won’t hurt, either.

When you’ve got a politician on one side and artists on another, it’s a rolled-gold certainty popular sentiment will back the politician. For Kevin Rudd, who has been copping it for visiting Cate Blanchett’s new baby and hanging out with Hugh Jackman, the letter is the perfect reinforcement of his credentials as a man of suburban Australia.

But if Rudd had done his research, he’d have realised that politicians cannot have a sustainable long-term relationship with the artistic community.

Paul Keating tried it. In fact he became King of the Luvvies, and in doing so ended up so closely associated with them that it fed directly into his image as hopelessly out of touch with most Australians. Tony Blair tried it with Cool Britannia, but Iraq and his relationship with Dubya put an end to whatever semblance of respect he has with British arty types. And Democrats in the US have slowly come to realise that the endorsement of a bunch of Hollywood stars isn’t worth much more than getting the stamp of approval from Osama Bin Laden.

Politicians are in the business of being elected, which means taking mainstream positions on just about everything. Sooner or later, this ensures artists, whose job description is or should be challenging mainstream views, must part ways with any political leader they think somehow reflects their views. There’s also, to indulge in stereotypes for a moment (they save time, as The Onion notes), a default disconnect between artists, who tend to be progressives and therefore ALP or Green supporters, and most Labor politicians, who have risen through the union movement or through MPs’ offices — neither of which have much to do with artistic endeavours or are encouraging of artistic temperaments.

The Croggon letter calls on Peter Garrett, Australian politics’ most famous ex-artist, to “stand up for artists” in his capacity as Arts Minister. Garrett may not be quite the best person to make this request of, since he will know better than most of his colleagues what the “artistic community” is actually like. Crikey is aware of more than one rumour that Garrett can’t stand many of the arts stakeholders in his portfolio. And in any event, Garrett is now a politician, a reality that a few of his erstwhile fans on the left have had difficulty accepting.

The glitz and glamour of film stars might lend some cool-by-association to an ueber-wonk like Kevin Rudd, but it is entirely unhelpful politically, and bound to come to grief. That it did so so quickly is probably good for the Prime Minister.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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