Jul 5, 2017

Matthewson: Abbott’s push to ‘democratise’ the NSW Libs isn’t about democracy at all

On its face, Tony Abbott’s call for “democratic” reform of the NSW Liberal Party seems perfectly reasonable. But only on its face ...

Paula Matthewson — Political commentator and communications adviser

Paula Matthewson

Political commentator and communications adviser

A superficial interpretation of Tony Abbott’s latest mutterings would suggest the former prime minister is a fan of democracy. He certainly claims to be, particularly when it comes to “democratic” reform of the New South Wales Liberal Party.

But a closer look at Abbott’s motivation for party reform, paired with his calls for changes to the Senate, show he’s only interested in wresting power from those with whom he disagrees.

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26 thoughts on “Matthewson: Abbott’s push to ‘democratise’ the NSW Libs isn’t about democracy at all

  1. Bob the builder

    Once again Crikey writers betray their suspicion of grassroots democracy.

    “The state’s Liberal Party members aren’t representative of the broader community, yet Tony Abbott wants them to have a greater say in selecting the party’s candidates.”

    Are the party elite more “representative” of the electorate than the members?

    Any Party should be representative of its members, not “the broader community”. That’s what Parliament is for.

    On principle and in practice I support greater member say in Parties, especially in preselection – greater democracy in the Liberal party would be the best way to ensure they never enter government again!

    1. Barbara Haan

      Huh? I don’t feel this article “betray(s) Crikey’s writers suspicions of grassroots democracy at all. I agree with what Paula has written. aTonement has always been always been all about himself.

      1. Bob the builder

        Maybe you should read my comment to the end.

        1. lykurgus

          Babs isn’t much of a reader

          1. Barbara Haan

            Oh mighty Spartan warrior, this is your BFF Babs here. Lucky we have you here to keep us on the straight and narrow. The suppositions you make about how people think and vote are truly stupendous. Keep the compliments coming please.

    2. lykurgus

      The thing is Bob, if he really wanted the thing we NOW call democracy, he’d push for the UK Labour model. You know, the ballot that gave them Jeremy Corbyn.
      Or, he would’ve done so when he led the party.
      But he won’t, because a recent Essential poll says that 43% of voters want Tony Abbott to just fuck off already.

      You need to remember that the “demos” were fully-enfranchised citizens (with tossils*, of course); a very priveleged caste in Tony Abbotts day (circa Peloponnesian Wars), not the general populace (polloi).
      So he is using the word correctly; he just doesn’t realise it.
      Read what you will into the fact that in the Peloponnesos, the demos were called homoioi (“those who are alike”) with the masses called helot (“captive”)

      You also need to remember that Crikey correspondents are still hurting over the fact, that they spent more than a year declaring Corbyns leadership to be an irretrievable calamity, with Bernard Keane being alone in admitting that they fucked up, and Guy Rundle STILL refusing to believe it.
      It’ll be a long time before they have anything nice to say about direct representation.

      *(apropos of not very much, testimony was named after what you swore on; yep, your apricots)

      1. Bob the builder

        My point wasn’t about Abbott or the Liberal party, it was about Keane’s article yesterday and this one today, that seems to find the idea of a party controlled by its members distasteful.
        Regarding demokratia, the analogy with the Peloponnesos, by which I assume you mean Sparta, isn’t that useful, as no-one’s ever said the Spartans were democratic. In Periclean Athens the broad mass of people were citizens, not an Abbotesque elite. Not everyone, and not slaves, had the vote, but most did and it was an astonishing step forward from what had preceded it.

        1. lykurgus

          If by “most” or “the broad mass”, you mean 10-15 percent on average, or never more than a third (Thorley, J., Athenian Democracy, Routledge, 2005). Similar to the homoioi/helot ratio. They were both “dēmoskrátos” in the original sense of the word, but not in the sense we use it now.

          But I know what your point was, and was full-throatedly agreeing with it. To wit…
          “You also need to remember that Crikey correspondents are still hurting over the fact, that they spent more than a year declaring Corbyns leadership to be an irretrievable calamity, with Bernard Keane being alone in admitting that they fucked up, and Guy Rundle STILL refusing to believe it.
          It’ll be a long time before they have anything nice to say about direct representation.”

          1. Bob the builder

            I must re-read my Athenian history, I was under a different impression. Nevertheless the Solonic reforms and the developments that followed it were a massive step forward in democratic empowerment.
            Regardless, we’re off-topic somewhat!
            I did realise we’re in agreement for the most part, unfortunately some readers can’t distinguish between dislike of Abbott and support for his argument (not matter how disingenuous, insincere and hypocritical he may be in advancing them).
            The inability to argue a case on its merits rather than on your attitude toward who holds it seems to be particularly widespread in current Australian discourse.

      2. Barbara Haan

        Well, far be it for me to presume to speak for Guy Rundle, but I have always got the opposite impression from reading his articles: that he indeed is very happy that Corbyn did so well. Must be my tiny brain showing up again. I never read, as you so wisely pointed out above. Please set me straight oh mighty guide and philosopher.

          1. Barbara Haan

            Lovely to “meet” you Spartan. Please lead me along the paths of righteousness.

    3. Woopwoop

      I on’t think the article is saying that the party elite are more representative, just that they have a better idea of what is needed in an MP.

      1. AR

        Which is precisely the problem “the elite have a better idea of what is needed in an MP” – obedient, unimaginative, docile, seat polishers who just follows orders from the aforementioned ‘elite’.
        The time serving simulacrae in both T1 & T2 who move from uni to party to Parliament, without passing through the real world or collecting a real wage for real work.
        What is most amusing about the dilemma of party membership/broad community being at odds is that Corbyn proves the folly of the political class. A mass movement of new members gave him the leadership to the horror & dismay of the blairite/apparatchik MPs.
        This elite can’t bear to associate with the unwashed masses upon whom they depend for votes and their highly agreeable lifestyle – hell, they can barely speak the same language.
        Which brings us to the current stoush in the Greens – they have already begun to fossilise and accrete all the faults of the elder parties whereas the membership is a great deal younger, principled and keener for real change.

  2. BroMan

    The SA Liberals have had full membership voting for lower house preselections for years and since it was introduced, the membership have chosen the male candidate in every contested preselection for a safe Lib seat. So far it is 16 preselections and counting.

  3. MJM

    ” …that the former PM is not big on consistency or internal logic. But his diametrically opposed positions on democracy — advocating more for Liberal conservatives but less for Senate voters — are the most incoherent yet. ”

    Thank you for those words Paula. I was beginning to think I was going crazy so it is nice to see someone confirm that it is Abbott, not me, who is incoherent and inconsistent.

  4. Dog's Breakfast

    “There’s even talk the moderates will orchestrate a challenge against Abbott for preselection before the next federal election.”

    It would be the best thing for the Liberal Party if they did that. The ‘conservative’ element is unelectable to 75% of the public, they would be pared back to a minor party if the RWNJ’s had their way.

    On the other hand, as Bob The B points out, that would be grassroots democracy.

  5. Dog's Breakfast

    Bob, Lykurgus, Barbara,

    Just on that discussion, the idea and practice of grassroots democracy can lead to either good or bad outcomes, as per current events.

    The Libs moving to true grassroots democracy would lead to ultra-conservative members, and ultimately their demise as a political force. The executive are over-ruling the more conservative members towards the electable centre, but its thus far not particularly successful as the conservatives would rather wreck the party than suffer moderate government.

    The Corbyn example was different, in my view, in that the grassroots were much more aligned with the whole electorate than the ‘executive class’ of the party, who were going along merrily assuming that neoliberal-lite was the policy stance to win government.

    In the UK case, the grassroots were closer to the mind of the electorate in general than the executive class, and therefore their grassroots democracy helped the party.

    On Corbyn generally, I thought Rundle was cheering Corbyn on, while occasionally hedging his bets with the odd article suggesting they were finished. Keane has only just come across (still wary, he may be a double agent) to the awareness of what damage neoliberal economic philosophy has perpetrated on the peoples, so I agree with Lykurgus comments there.

    And then Herr Razer, who was cheering Corbyn for all she was worth.

    As for commenters, as opposed to correspondents, there were plenty of us hoping upon hope that Corbyn could give them a black eye, and I nailed my colours to that mast quite clearly.

    Even that, this analysis is post facto. Who can really say with certainty that Corbyn’s unexpected results were the results of effective grassroots politics, or him finding his feet in the battle of an election, or May falling over. More likely a bit of each, but I am confident that the neoliberal edifice has some chunks taken out of it, and like the Berlin Wall many years ago is hopefully a few more hammer blows from coming down completely.

    Cheers all

    1. Malcolm Street

      The difference with Corbyn comes from the UK not having compulsory voting. What happened was that there were a sizeable proportion of UK voters on the Left who saw no-one reflecting their views and advocating their interests and so tuned out. Corbyn has provided these people with representation.

  6. Robert Garnett

    Whenever a politician starts talking democracy no bull detector is required. The only people who believe in democracy are:
    – Economics professors on permanent tenure,
    – Fascist dictatorships who run the elections,
    – American state department spokespeople, the Pentagon and CIA.
    All of whom are passionately in favour of democracy as long as their Man (and it’s usually a man) gets in.
    The US was ecstatic about the Palestinians of Gaza having a democratic process until they voted for the wrong people.

    Abbott is no different. I can remember a fellow traveler of his who is currently on his way back from Rome waxing lyrical about democracy in an Age op-ed, which engendered a very low level of credulity in anyone who took more than a passing interest in the topic. Of course Abbot had nothing useful to say about this, as George is one of his tribe and could never be wrong and thus it is unnecessary ask any obvious questions.

    Abbot would be a little more believable if he wasn’t a rampant class warrior who boasted about “shirt fronting” Putin, a man who doesn’t claim to be a great democratic leader, but who can keep a civil and restrained tongue in his head. Someone who thinks somewhat logically before he acts. Abbot should get out of parliament and get a real job as a chicken plucker, or septic tank emptier. Concentrating his mind on the issues these people face might make him a real politician.
    What I cannot understand is why anyone other than the Murdoch press bothers with him.

  7. Justin Harding

    Being a well-balanced far-right whack-job to the extent that he foams from both sides of the mouth simultaneously and equally, I’d bet St Paul’s Cathedral to a bent hatpin that Tone the Toole was enthusiastically in favour of The Toe-cutter’s Senate tactics in 1975. Just love it when Tory governments get their fat, well-fed collective bums bitten bloody by the Senate, and the pitiful howls of indignant outrage that inevitably follow. And as the Sergeant Major would not doubt observe at this juncture, “Ohdearhowsadnevermind”. Snicker …

  8. Rais

    If Tony wants candidates selected democratically perhaps he would support a system of primaries as they have in the US where everyone who is prepared to register as a Lib can vote to choose the candidate, not just those who can afford the party’s membership fees.

  9. AR

    The old answer given the lost stranger asking directions, “you can’t start from here” would seem to be pertinent in this discussion, and not unrelated to grundle’s current theme about electoral forms.
    The problem is the party structure as she is spoke today – it belongs to another, long gone century when literacy was low, mass communication by word of mouth and distances traversed by most people on Shank’s pony.
    Political parties are nothing more than private clubs, like philately enthusiasts or butterfly fanciers – a fair reading of our Constitution is that they are forbidden from exercising control over an MPs actions.
    Even the Greens, formed at the tail end of the last century are still phase bound to this Procrustean bed (hi, Lykki!), but at least they have a semi sentient, not yet entirely senile membership several times larger than T1 & T2, and the gNats can’t even meet in a phone box because they were all removed from rural areas years ago.
    The larger a membership the more likely it is to reflect community mores which is why the Greens far exceed the gNats vote (as did the Dems, back in prehistoric times) overall but have only a single seat in the Reps.
    The lesson that should, but won’t, be drawn from Corbyn is that people matter but it’s very hard to get them to realise it when life is such a struggle.
    Civilisation is said to be 3 missed meals from bloody revolution so we may be lucky if democracy is just two.

  10. klewso

    A “democracy” that “elects the PM”?

    Surely this crusade is the forces of Tony the Wethervain – of Staxony (his standard a double cross) – fighting to the death, the heretic Saracen hordes of the “Left” for the heart of the Liberal Holyland?

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