There is something utterly delicious in watching the Gladys Berejiklian fan brigade trying to think their way through the disaster of Stadiumgate… or perhaps Stadiumturnstile would be the right word. Here’s a state government who say they’ve turned the economy around, who used the privatisation of state assets to create some new ones, who have managed to avoid the decadence of the last term of post-Carr NSW Labor — and yet here they are, on the edge of losing again. Or at least of losing their majority. And all this because of a stadium.
It’s driving them mad. The can’t get their heads around it. They’re getting to that point losing political forces always do — blaming the public for being so moronic that they can’t see the sheer beauty of their political vision for a few measly details. Fools! Poltroons!
It’s delicious to watch, but it also comes with a distinct political lesson. Governments and parties can no longer dictate the things that people will care most about, or the issues that they will elect as symbolic of legitimacy.
The Berejiklian government thought they could get away with
a sop to Big Sport a great matter of public importance, and that it would be forgotten after three days of grumbling. That didn’t happen. The stadium demolition concentrated multiple voter concerns in one, literally, concrete object. It broke the cardinal rule of modern NSW politics, established by Bob Carr: you don’t do too much for “inner” city Sydney. That ensured Carr a risk-free decade, but it left Sydney as a city in decline. Mike Baird then finished it off with his nightlife laws, which managed to combine an advantage to the casino with his seeming determination to stop people having fun.
This is the paradox of contemporary politics. Parties pay huge amounts to employ spin doctors, media consultants, and focus groups all of whom tell them that the public are increasingly focused on issues that the pollies themselves consider marginal, symbolic and scatty. Having spent all that money to find these things out, they continue to believe that the governance-economic narrative is the “real” one, for which they will be rewarded or punished.
That simple narrative was a feature of the middle period of Australian politics, from the 1970s to the 1990s, when we were all suddenly flattered to be included in the technical conversation on J curves, terms of trade, interest rates and the like. That ended when the real choices governments make started to pass, membership of unions, parties and organisations died, and people’s connection to the broader social whole came to be overwhelmingly through the media. For many, there is no longer the ghost of a left-right fight in this politics: there are wars of audacity, surprise, quick turnaround, reframing and repositioning.
This could be seen in the Victorian election, when the refrain went out that the Andrews government was at least “doing something”. That “something” was the sky rail along south eastern rail lines. Note that people didn’t say, “well the government’s committing to public transport”. It was the pure fact of concrete, again literally, achievement. It was the fact of something rather than nothing that persuaded people over to Labor. The NSW government’s light rail program has been, by contrast, such an incompetent boondoggle it would make Guatemala blush.
Such sudden movements are everywhere now — as exemplified in Victoria by Julian Burnside, whose political brand has been discounted quicker than a last-day tuna sandwich, after his membership of the Savage Club became an issue. The Savage, a 19th century club initially for bohemians who couldn’t get into the major clubs, uses appropriated artefacts to emphasise their “savage” nature. It’s been a late anomaly that some of Melbourne’s left-liberal men have been trying to keep quiet for as long as possible (which wouldn’t be an issue if Burnside had run as an independent liberal). As a Green, it has damaged his candidacy as well as theirs, right from the get-go.
But if the right is crowing about that, they should remember that Milo is coming! Yes, Milo Yiannopoulos, it appears, will now get a visa after the right commentariat lobbied vociferously, with a little help from the Freedom Boy Timmy Wilson, and Senator Sprog Paterson. I’ve got no great problem with that. I don’t think Milo’s done anything — unlike violence-mongers Gavin McInnes and Tommy Robinson — to deny him entry. The real reason the government tried to keep him out is that he has the potential to embarrass the right thoroughly in the weeks leading up to the election proper.
Given his public support for the beneficial aspects of adult male-underage teenager sex, the presence of Milo can’t help but give the impression that the two factions of the right are now underage sex “moderates” like Milo, and convicted paedophiles like George Pell. Milo’s stock in trade is outrage. Combine his views on consent and his “$14.88” Nazi trolling of a Jewish journalist, and you have to ask what he’s going to do, must do, to keep the show on the road. He is currently selling possessions on Facebook, after a series of pleading send-money emails between him and his initial tour-backers were revealed. The right is about to find out. If they think it won’t play as a major issue, they still haven’t got it.
In the crumbling stadium of modern politics, the sideshow is now the main event.
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