For years The Guardian ran a column by one Bel Littlejohn, a distillation of the worst of the Left-liberal prejudices of the Grauniad audience. Australian visitors found it hilarious — especially after one had quietly explained that it was a parody, the work of Private Eye superstar Craig Brown. Now, I don’t know who’s doing this Nick Cater character at News Corp, but they’ve got the makings of an award-winning comedy festival character right there.

For years we’ve wondered how you parody the pose taken by right-wing insiders, that they represent the voice of the people against some mysterious left-wing elite. Whoever’s writing the “Nick Cater” columns has nailed it –the writer has made him purportedly an executive editor of a company that controls wads of Australia newsprint, and then made his one argument that “gatekeepers” are controlling the culture and leaving people of his views without a voice. In recent times, the gag was taken once stage higher when a whole book by “Cater” complaining of this exclusion was put out by the publisher owned by the guy who owns 70% of Australian newsprint, and who employs “Cater” and others to run it. Ern Malley had nothing on that little episode.

I didn’t think the “Cater”-ers could top that, but Tuesday’s piece did the trick. “Cater” is horrified that inner-city seats contain more journalists than plumbers. Yes, bizarre. Plumbers are evenly spread across cities because plumbing tends to be. What possible reason could there be for people who work in Surry Hills, Docklands, Ultimo and Spencer Street to tend to live closer in? Easier access to chai and sodomy, presumably.

Journos, this argument goes, live in a narrow inner-city belt so far to the Left of the general population as to be off the scale. “Cater” then goes to the figures:

“Consider a hypothetical election in a country we will call Media Land, which consists of the 29 federal parliamentary seats where half of Australia’s 75,000 media professionals lived in 2011. The Coalition is in government in Media Land with 15 seats; Labor holds 13 and the Greens one.”

Yeah you read that right. “Cater’s” attempt to prove that “Media Land” is Left-shifted founders on his own mathematical evidence that in 2011 it went for the Coalition 53%-47%, when the country went for Labor 50.1%-49.9% in 2010. How to square this circle? Pose a hypothetical.

“If Labor were to win Brisbane, however, one of the seats considered likely to go its way, the party would be able to form government with the support of the Greens. If the ALP defeats Adam Bandt in Melbourne, or if it were to retake Bennelong, another seat some believe is in play, it would govern in its own right. In other words, Kevin Rudd may have a better chance of becoming the notional prime minister of Media Land than he does of winning a mandate from the other 121 seats.”

The take-away from that gibberish is that, with some wild speculation, Labor might win 53%-47% in the 29 “Media Land” seats, while it currently polls 48-52% across the whole of Australia — in other words, “Cater”‘s whole argument for some deviation of “Media Land” from the national norm falls within the 3% error bars of such polling. Given that the 53-47% figure was based on speculation (and includes John Howard’s old seat in Media Land) it’s a double randomisation. There’s no useful statistical information to be drawn off the comparison at all. One can’t tell from the piece whether “Cater”‘s creators intend him to be duplicitous, or not able to understand his own self-sabotage, but they give him a pretty jaundiced attitude to book-learnin’ so maybe it’s the latter. He ends with a flight of fantasy about the rollback of social liberalism:

“It is a reminder of the folly of assuming that social conservatism would die out with Labor leader Arthur Calwell, who was replaced by Gough Whitlam back in 1967, and the arrogance of assuming that the tide of history was washing everything before it towards a progressive future.”

Really? The Whitlam period brought an end to censorship, no-fault divorce, beginnings of decriminalisation of abortion and homos-xuality, equal pay for women, anti-discrimination campaigns, relaxation of drug laws, the end of the death penalty. These and other values that were then a preserve of Media Land/liberal elite/the elites/rootless cosmopolitans/un-Americans/beatniks/bohemians/dandies/Caveliers/troubadours/Cathars/the Essenes/Babylon are now the values of the mainstream, plumbers included. None of this social liberalisation has gone backward. Indeed the rate at which further liberalisation, such as gay marriage, gains a majority in favour — which it now has — has increased greatly. The last great waves of liberal reform took at least half a century of work. These ones have gained majority support in less than a decade.

Still, great fiction sets its own rules, and fiction it is. I mean, imagine an organisation whose executive editor had a barely concealed contempt for the people who worked for him! What the hell would that be like? More from the “Cater”-ing committee please.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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