Poor, miserable Sussan Ley. The Health Minister has surely earned a Gold Coast holiday. As investigations into her real estate “scandal” proceed, she is obliged to hand her portfolio over to the care of Arthur Sinodinos. The best thing that can be publicly said about that recent ICAC graduate is probably “no findings of his wrongdoing at this time”. If Turnbull plans on returning Ley, in many accounts a politician who comports herself honestly and well, he could surely do better than fill her post with a name so closely associated with slippery self-interest.
Things only got worse for Ley when she suffered proximity to another bad name: Bronwyn Bishop. Surely, the lady’s defence on the matter of travel rorts was about as useful to Ley as the defence of a mosquito by a rat.
With friends like these, the political class has no want of enemies. Nobody facing investigation of the type wants help from the unrepentant Bishop, who continues to assert that her profligacy was “within the rules”, with no understanding that it was far beyond what the electorate knows to be the pale.
Bronwyn’s Thatcherite hubris, as seen on Sky yesterday, is a relic to behold. When asked if such use of public monies — her own, in the unlikely case you’ve forgotten, was a four-grand chopper ride to a fundraising event easily accessible by rail — would pass the pub test, she answered, “it depends on which pub you are in”. Maybe she has a point. Bron is a Northern Beaches girl, and you can probably order scampi sashimi in the chic bistros of Mackellar. The rest of us wait for chicken parma night.
[Let them eat Centrelink debt notices]
This is no good for Ley, a person who has likely not erred so badly. It’s bloody good for a laugh though; Bishop really is such a marvellous antique. She is one of a very few in this era of economic hardship still making naked claims about having “earned” her privilege (even the US President-elect admits to bending the rules). After 40 years of wage stagnation, most Australians don’t permit this sort of talk past the pub test, the Facebook test or any other kind of trial. When the ALP’s Sam Dastyari said that he accepted money from a private company because he simply didn’t feel like paying his high travel bill, his career was almost done.
Bronwyn’s political career is utterly done, but her refusal to see why it ended is not. She just doesn’t get it, and won’t shut up about it, still using the language of Thatcher, her idol, to justify the privileges of the well-to-do and all the marvellous advantages of the “free market”, that set of conditions imposed by the state, which, for example, allow a few people to buy an investment property or a nice flat on the Gold Coast and coerce a rapidly increasing number of us to rent.
Nearly every other centrist speaker in the West now knows to keep their admiration for inequality — and the cheap capital offered by our “free market” leaders to property investors is a guarantee of inequality — a secret. The IMF, the cruel creditor of Greece, has denounced neoliberalism by name. Paul Krugman, one of the architects of Clinton’s aggressive era of financialisation, has remade himself as a kind Keynesian and opponent of the N-word. Krugman now travels the world lecturing on the evils of rent-seeking, having first made sure to introduce a range of rent-seeking policies to the world’s most influential economy. In short, every economist and politician knows not to say “Voldemort”. When Joe Hockey came close to uttering his true name in his DOA 2014 budget, the spell of supply-side thinking began to break. Shhh. You are not supposed to say it, Bronwyn.
Notwithstanding my friend Mr Keane’s efforts to reclaim the name of Voldemort for the people, let’s just call it what it is: neoliberalism, a creditor-friendly deflationary reaction to the full-employment regime run in the West from, roughly, the depth of the Great Depression to the height of Phil Collins’ career, is the thing that most leaders now know not to talk about. You don’t outright say “austerity” and you don’t accuse a nation of people immiserated by the investor class of feeling “entitled”. The language you now use is not Thatcher’s, as Bronwyn did, but those Silicon Valley buzzwords that Turnbull prefers. We’re going to “innovate” our way out of rising poverty, insecure housing and precarious employment. We’re going to have a TED talk and find the power within ourselves to overcome creditor-friendly policies. We’re going to have an app.
What we must not have, if neoliberal policies are to survive their challengers from the hard right and material left, is people like Bronwyn mouthing off like Gordon Gekko.
The trick to propagating ideology is never to mention it, perhaps not even acknowledge it to yourself as ideology. And what you certainly don’t do is mention its greatest historic antagonist, socialism. But Bronwyn couldn’t stop rubbishing socialism on Sky, giving it, to my delight, a very good name. She said that socialism had ruined nations. She said that the ALP was full of socialists. She said that socialism was “always on the march”. None of these statements is true.
[Rundle: how do you solve a problem like neoliberalism?]
For all the scientifically fixated terror that began to unfold in that nation 100 years ago this year, Russia was not “ruined” by socialism. There is not one socialist in the parliamentary ALP, a stack of quoits who justify their attachment to neoliberalism, cruel detention policies and unconscionable inertia on Aboriginal Australia by wearing rainbow ribbons in solidarity with gay teens, or whatever. There is, at the time of writing, about 50 socialists in the nation, and we’re all far too busy arguing about which International we liked best to ever march in a vanguard.
What will provoke a meaningful dedication among the vast army of Millennials to the socialism Bishop despises is not Bronwyn herself, nor Ley, who, again, probably didn’t do anything terrible. Like, say, charter a chopper to go and hit up Liberal Party donors.
The terrible thing that young people will revolt against is a 40-year-old regime that now allows a select few to buy a holiday flat on a whim while they themselves live in service to rent-seekers. Bronwyn is the prophet of the new synthesis! If radical changes to our economy are not made, those young socialists that we can already see being formed will be on the march. And I’ll be cheering them and the death of neoliberal enchantment on with cries of “Voldemort”.