Crikey's Guy Rundle and Charlie Lewis (Images: Private Media)

Crikey readers know well the piercing prose of correspondent-at-large Guy Rundle. One of his greatest gifts is mixing shrewd political insight with humour and there was no better example of this than in last night’s Crikey Talks, when Rundle talked about what makes Scott Morrison electable.

Rundle asked: “Do you elect a prime minister as someone who should represent your values? Or do you elect them in the way you choose a divorce lawyer?

“When you hire a divorce lawyer, you want the most lying sack of shit you can find with an office above a garage, and that has always been one way to do politics. If a section of politics — and that may be the swinging 20% of politics of the middle- and upper-middle class — if they feel Scott Morrison is lying on their behalf to other people, then they will vote for him again.”

Rundle’s discussion with Crikey‘s Tips and Murmurs editor Charlie Lewis was wide-ranging, with a focus on how the past 10 years has led to the current fractured state of politics — the theme of Rundle’s new book, Between the Last Oasis and the Next Mirage — Writings on Australia.

Abbott’s and Morrison’s wrecking crew

Rundle has often provided analysis on the idea of a political “wrecking crew“, politicians implementing “purposefully destructive policy”. He explained how this idea came from the United States, where “Democrats criticised Republicans for not doing government well, when in fact they weren’t trying to do it well”.

“This idea became relevant in Australia in 2013 with the Tony Abbott circus that rolled on under various proprietors. The Abbott years were a mix of ideological fantasy and agendas, but if you look at what they did to the carbon tax and renewable energy, this was an attempt to make it absurd. 

“This sort of politics had never entered Australia before; we had never had that US tradition of being absolutely anti-government, the idea that the government is the enemy.”

This idea carried on into the Morrison years. As Crikey consistently reports, the current government has brought lies and falsehoods into standard practice. 

“With Scott Morrison, sophism has come to the centre of politics. He uses words however he wants and there is no criterion of truth. This leads to a politics of dismay, and no one can find a way out.

“Lying as a strategy … undermines the capacity of any truth. Truth and lies are not symmetrical; rather a lie is a counterfeit truth, and there is bias towards truth in any discourse.”

Labor and the new progressive class 

As for where Labor fits into the past 10 years, its narrative has been largely marked by the rise of what Rundle calls the new “progressive class”. 

The end of most of Australia’s manufacturing industry made way for the “progressives” to become a class within itself, “with its own way of generating value”. 

“For this new class, the social is as important as the economic. This is good for the Greens who can simply represent this class. But for Labor, it’s now a continuous struggle to balance those factors. The problem is, so many of Labor leaders, including Anthony Albanese, are part of that progressive class, that they have to do a complex act of ventriloquism to express the values of more socially conservative groupings.”

Seats to watch for 2022

The razor-thin margins in Bass and Braddon in Northern Tasmania will make them seats to watch. Rundle says Devonport is the “last place where simple, old-class politics interact, where there’s no substantial knowledge class yet, and the highly unionised working-class contrast with the traditional middle class”.

This dynamic will see a hotly contested fight for the seats in lower house as well as the final Tasmanian Senate seat that Jacqui Lambie wants to secure with a candidate from her Jacqui Lambie Network. 

Rundle says Richmond, NSW, which encompasses Tweed Heads and Byron Bay, is the Greens’ best chance at a seat outside urban centres. 

Where does the media fit in? 

Reflecting on his years at Crikey, Rundle says its ultimate mission is to “write in a way that will convey something beyond the flood tide of material on the internet in the 1990s and 2000s”.

“The mass of journalism online means Crikey had to figure out how to be different.”