Home > Oz Politics > Missing in action? Bill Shorten’s ‘small target’ strategy is his only option

Missing in action? Bill Shorten’s ‘small target’ strategy is his only option

September 29th, 2014

That’s the title of my latest piece in The Guardian. Opening paras:

Throughout his first year as opposition leader, Bill Shorten has adopted a “small target” strategy, which has been the subject of considerable criticism. “Missing in action” has been among the kinder phrases used.

The criticism has only intensified with Shorten’s endorsement of the Abbott government’s commitment of troops to a new Iraq war, and Labor’s support for a slightly amended version of the government’s anti-terror laws, explicitly sold as reducing our freedom.

Much of this criticism misses the point, harking back to a largely imaginary past in which the big issues of the day were thrashed out in parliament, and particularly in the presentation of alternative policy platforms by party leaders.

In reality, some version of the small target strategy is effectively forced on the main opposition party by the way in which our political system and media now operate. This in turn means that serious criticism of government policy must come from elsewhere.

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  1. Ken_L
    September 29th, 2014 at 11:56 | #1

    I’ve never understood why Labor has become such an unquestioning supporter of America’s global reign. To hear Julia Gillard boasting to the US Congress that Australia had joined America in wars which her own party had opposed at the relevant time was just weird. The ALP should have been able to make significant political capital out of Simon Crean’s principled position on the Iraq invasion, but both Rudd and Gillard seemed determined Never to Mention the War.

  2. David Irving (no relation)
    September 29th, 2014 at 12:54 | #2

    I thought a couple of Royal Commissions would’ve been in order, Ken, but no such luck. Hopefully they’ll do better next time.

  3. Ikonoclast
    September 29th, 2014 at 13:12 | #3

    John, if Labor had remained principled and the party of the workers and the low and middle class majority, then there is no way they would be ignored or could be ignored. Instead, they chose to betray the classes and the ideals they were meant to represent. They chose to become Clayton’s Neocons, aping everything the Neocons do. This why they have no profile and no credibility. Why would any news outlet, even an unbiased one, choose to report “Me-too” Shorten in anything he says when he servilly supports the Liberals on every substantive point? Labor are weak, unprincipled and traitorous. They are contemptible and deserve to be destroyed at the ballot box.

    What you are really saying in your article is that parliamentary democracy ceases to be properly functional once we have a two-party / one-ideology system as we now see in the US and Australia. Of course, it has occurred because of the capture of democracy by the oligarchic interests. Our democracy was never more than a bourgeois democracy and the proof is in the final capture of it by monied interests and the rollback of the Keynesian-Welfare era policies. Without workplace democracy and worker onwership of the means of production, pariliamentary democracy on its own is token and prone to capture. The proof is in the pudding. It is captured.

    If parliament fails to express the will and needs of the people what then? You say “But the days when the House of Representatives was the natural forum for such a debate, and when the two main political parties were the obvious protagonists are gone, for good or ill.”

    Well, clearly it is ill that we have become a one-ideology state. Why hedge in your conclusion? What do you propose if, as you clearly conclude, the two-party / one-ideology system and our pariliamant are now ineffective? I will say it. We need a revolutionary change. I am against violent revolution for a number of reasons. The main reason is that peple get hurt, the results are chaotic and predictable only in that even worse system usually seems to result from a violent revolution.

    We need a peaceful Gandhian style revolution. Mass non-violent protest and refusal to act when the government makes laws against the popular will and humanitiarian principles. Australians are not there yet. I expect such movements to take hold when the lower classes and middle classes in Australia collapse into poverty as is already occurring in the USA. I mean the collapse of the lower classes and middle classes in the USA is already happening. Protest and even peaceful resistance in the USA will prove very difficult. The US authorities will react with extreme violence to any popular movement which threatens oligarchic capitalism. We see it now in Ferguson, USA. Australia has a better chance of a peaceful change.

  4. Donald Oats
    September 29th, 2014 at 13:19 | #4

    Actually, I disagree with the small target strategy, because it effectively leaves it to the government to set the agenda. We already know that the Abbott Government is comfortable with dissembling to us mug voters, so much so that we are hardly in a position to know what information is solid and what is confected bulldust. If the major opposition party refuses to step up and to counter the government—even on matters of national security, especially on matters of national security—then we poor voters simply don’t know what the government is getting us into, in terms of policies, and in terms of the various wars overseas.

    I hate to say it, but Bill Shorten’s public announcements of being with the government on the national security issues too often come across as obsequious. Surely a competent opposition party can establish some principles they abide by, and in light of those principles, tear into the government’s continuing practice of massive overreach in the security bills they present. Where’s the confidence in yourselves, ALP members of parliament? Simon Crean had it right the last time ’round, and his own party caned him for it.

    If I were to take to heart the Abbott Guvm’nt’s blandishments on terrorists, I’d be quaking under the bed along with the old Reds. Goodness.

  5. rog
    September 29th, 2014 at 13:33 | #5
  6. Megan
    September 29th, 2014 at 14:15 | #6

    @rog

    The comments on that piece are telling.

    A large proportion are along the lines: “Too little, too late. Good points, but the media failures mean we have no sympathy left for you.”

    Also telling, last week while Ludlam and Xenophon were desperately trying to make the Senate function the way it’s intended – as a house of review – and questioning the new laws that further criminalise journalism, the press gallery was empty.

    I have no sympathy left for either the ALP or the Establishment Media. They can go to hell together.

    The rest of us will have to reclaim our democracy alone, these dead-weights are just going to hold us back.

  7. J-D
    September 29th, 2014 at 15:14 | #7

    @Ikonoclast

    You write that ‘if Labor had remained principled and the party of the workers and the low and middle class majority, then there is no way they would be ignored or could be ignored’. Does that mean you think there was a period when Labor was (a) principled and the party of the workers and the low and middle class majority; and (b) never ignored? That’s not the way the history looks to me. On the one hand it seems to me that accusations of Labor having failed to remain true to its principles and its supporters have been pretty much a recurring phenomenon since the party was founded; on the other hand it seems to me that general ignoring of positions taken by Labor has also been pretty much a recurring phenomenon since the party was founded.

  8. Fran Barlow
    September 29th, 2014 at 15:36 | #8

    J-D

    It’s a lovely thought — the idea that in an age only half-recalled, things were better, the people more authentic and community-minded, our parties composed of folk who were exactly what they seemed — decent chaps who looked after the common man or woman.

    Our memories are selectively Panglossian, because most of us prefer to dwell on happy recollections rather than painful ones. The ALP was never a socialist party, though it is true that it was substantially a union-based party and substantially more communitarian in its ethos, though also racist and sexist and ageist and to some e tent Catholic, with all that accompanied that.

    It also tolerated more avowed socialists in its ranks — largely because of the union connection, and because for a time, there were quite a few avowed socialists outside the party working the same side of the street. That allows people today to look back with rose-coloured glasses on what once was.

    That’s not to deny that today’s ALP pays far less lip-service to social justice than did the ALP of Evatt and Chifley and Curtin. It is worth recalling though that only one PM has called the troops out against striking workers, and he was an ALP man.

  9. J-D
    September 29th, 2014 at 16:25 | #9

    @Fran Barlow

    This kind of selective reading of the past doesn’t just affect the way people discuss the ALP, and it doesn’t just affect the way people discuss parties in general. Also, I don’t think it arises only or even primarily from people preferring happy recollections to painful ones. I think when people want to draw emphatic attention to something they look for contrasts, and when they can’t find them they imagine them — and not just in the past, either. As well as being prone to emphasise an interpretation of Now by inventing a version of Then to provide contrast, people emphasise an interpretation of Here (this country, Australia) by inventing a version of There (some other country which they imagine to be more different than it really is) to provide contrast.

    See how John Quiggin begins his column by acknowledging that the past in which parliament was a place where ideas were thrashed out is a largely imaginary one, but ends it by saying that the time when parliament was the forum for national debate has passed, as if it did exist once, as if he too still has some belief in that imaginary past?

    Of course, things do really change. Nothing stays the same. Parliaments have changed and parties have changed, Labor and the rest. However, if one of those changes is that Labor is ignored now more than it was in the past, as Ikonoclast suggests, I haven’t seen the evidence.

  10. Nicholas Gruen
    September 29th, 2014 at 16:33 | #10

    John,

    I’m sympathetic to your argument and on account of that rarely criticise oppositions who have to basically carry on like pork chops, oppose everything, including things they supported yesterday when they were in government and hope that the government loses the election.

    But I don’t accept that the ALP couldn’t have made a principled stand on the new laws removing civil liberties in a pretty simple way. It could have allowed the legislation through subject to a six month sunset clause serving notice that we needed debate and expert input in the meantime. Or if it didn’t then want to be wedged during this term of government, it could have simply waved things through subject to a three year or five year sunset clause and simply refused to budge beyond that point.

  11. jungney
    September 29th, 2014 at 17:03 | #11

    I couldn’t agree more than with Ikonoklast above. The irony of a call for Ghandian revolution is that, at the moment at least, it is farmers, rural residents and and the broad environment movement who are leading the way in the practical application of NVDA principles. As I write the people of Gloucester are scrambling to greet a police escorted CSG drill rig and the bravehearts up at Maules Creek, as well as a lone individual in Newcastle, have peacefully interrupted coal exports:

    https://www.facebook.com/FrontLineActionOnCoal

    In many ways this is a training exercise for the near future. It is astonishing that Lock the Gate should be responsible for training cadre but that is what is happening. The interaction between bushies and eco-radicals has included exposing the bushies to radicals of all sorts. Camp Wando, Camp Quoll, the Pilliga mob and Bentley adopted a policy of radical inclusion such that any kind of negative -ism was rejected in favour of a very sound policy of democratic participation for all.

    This means, among other things, that the bone heads of the union movement have effectively excluded themselves from potential future leadership roles of what will be a truly historic movement for liberation. As a lifelong union member and activist within the NSW Nurses Assoc and the NSW PSA I cannot tell you how pleased I am that the dead hand of bureaucracy has stayed away because I’ve had it up to the back teeth with what Bea Campbell once described as the ‘butch and baronial’ attitudes of union leaders (she was addressing Doug Campbell at the time).

    In the meantime, don’t fret over the USA where Indigenous Americans have taken a leadership role in opposing the Keystone Pipeline and where the courts still practise the law such that, for example, two people who used an old crayfish boat to block a coal ship from leaving port, in Bristol, had charges against them dropped by the prosecutor who said:

    “Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking. I am heartened that we were able to forge an agreement that both parties were pleased with and that appeared to satisfy the police and those here in sympathy with the individuals who were charged.”

    http://tinyurl.com/lf42xrl

    I know I’ve a track record here at JQ’s and elsewhere of urging people to get some fresh air into their lungs by getting out there and participating but I’ve never been so blunt before: stop gnawing on the bones of old grievances, put away your Alexandra Kollontai, even if she was the best of them, get some Marge Piercy or Le Guin up you and act.

    Now is the time.

  12. Calyptorhynchus
    September 29th, 2014 at 17:11 | #12

    Things can never change until they do. I would have thought that now is the perfect time to stand up and differentiate himself and Labor from Abbott’s morass. He needs to make sure a discredited Abbott government becomes an irretrievably broken one.

    The danger is if he doesn’t he is tacitly accepting the Abbott government’s lies about the last Labor government, and Abbott will soldier on (pun intended) and win the election he doesn’t deserve to win, like Howard in 1998.

    He should certainly have opposed the new security legislation. With war in Iraq III he could simply he said he supported American and British efforts but he wouldn’t support Australia’s involvement because he didn’t think Abbott had good enough judgement.

    F

  13. Calyptorhynchus
    September 29th, 2014 at 17:12 | #13

    @ck bipartisanship.

  14. J-D
    September 29th, 2014 at 18:15 | #14

    ‘A visit to Shorten’s website reveals a near-daily output of speeches, press releases and media interviews. The vast majority of these go virtually unreported …’

    By itself, that doesn’t add up to a ‘small target strategy’. The part about not being reported is obviously not Shorten’s strategy.

    But what’s the content of those speeches, press releases, and media interviews? how much is endorsement of government stances in a spirit of bipartisanship? how much is purely negative denunciation of the government’s performances? how much is detailing of affirmative Opposition proposals?

  15. September 29th, 2014 at 20:11 | #15

    I broadly agree with you Prof. Quiggin. I do slightly disagree though. Here’s why.

    Does Shorten have a profile? Yes.
    Does Shorten have a profile as an Opposition Leader? No.

    Here, he needs to introduce a personality, hopefully one that is well received and well liked.

    Once that is done Shorten can implement the small target strategy.

    I also broadly agree with Nicholas Gruen – a stand of some sort needs to be made that makes the mass media to distinguish itself from the Liberal Party. (LOL)

  16. Megan
    September 29th, 2014 at 20:38 | #16

    I would disagree with this:

    Yet the political imperative to line up with the government has proved overwhelming. Labor correctly opposed the 2003 invasion, but scored no political credit.

    The invasion was late March 2003 and the next election, with Latham as leader of the ALP, was November 2004. That wasn’t long enough for the reality to really sink in that there never were any WMD and, more importantly, that Howard knew it all along.

    Howard’s capacity for “Truth” was however becoming an issue. That’s why he infamously announced the election by saying it was all about “Trust” – as in ‘Who do you trust (even though you know we’re lying through our teeth) to keep the housing boom rolling?’.

    At the next election in 2007 – when the ALP was promising to start withdrawing troops and the LNP was saying they wouldn’t – they received and banked the political credit.

  17. J-D
    September 29th, 2014 at 20:52 | #17

    If it’s true that ‘the general unpopularity of politicians … has grown over time as politics has become professionalised and poll-driven [and] pushes opposition parties towards a strategy of risk-avoidance and negativity’, doesn’t that suggest that parties have become too professionalised and poll-driven for their own good, and that there does exist the possibility of success through a different strategy, one that involves trying to be a little less professionalised and poll-driven?

    It seems to me that there’s not much chance of success in politics by ignoring technique, but there’s also not much chance of success by relying purely on technique.

  18. Salient Green
    September 29th, 2014 at 21:04 | #18

    As usual, Iconoclast speaks for me and much better than I could.
    The ALP no longer has any core values and principles on which to base it’s responses to the rapidly changing political situation and must therefore stay a small target until the issues facing them coming into the next election become evident.
    The issues of the news cycle current at the time leading up to an election then become the germ of policy vaguely influenced by the dim memories of progressive party history, as long as it’s going to get them elected.

  19. Megan
    September 29th, 2014 at 23:55 | #19

    Here’s what’s on Shorten’s website right now:

    26/9 “Open Letter to the Islamic Community”: ‘ISIL is a bad sick twisted ideology’

    25/9 “Rosh Hashanah”: ‘The Australian Jewish community has made its mark in so many aspects of public life, from business, the arts and philanthropy through to the legal profession and politics.’

    25/9 “Doorstop – Submarines”: ‘Labor will honour any contract to manufacture submarines in Japan or anywhere else, but we’d rather they were made here. Or Germany.’

    24/9 “UN Summit shows need for action on climate”: ‘Labor hopes the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reports back to Prime Minister Tony Abbott that his sceptic views are not shared by any of the 120 world leaders at the Summit.’

    24/9 “Cities Appointment”: ‘I am pleased to announce I have appointed Anthony Albanese Shadow Minister for Cities to sharpen Labor’s focus on the importance of urban Australia to the national economy.’

    23/9 “Labor Backs Korean Free Trade Deal”: ‘Labor will support legislation implementing the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA)’ – not to be confused with their full support for the LNP’s Legal Reforms: ‘Kafka’.

    23/9 “3AW”: ‘Federal Opposition has promised support for air strikes and the anti-terrorism measures’ – ‘the principle of working with the Government on National security, I don’t need a focus group or to think twice, when it comes to this, there is no alternative.’

    23/9 “Endeavour Hills Statement”: ‘In a complicated and uncertain and complicated, fundamentalist extremism gives the illusion of certainty and simplicity.’ [sic]

    That’s not presenting a small target to Abbott. It’s behaving as his suppository.

  20. rog
    September 30th, 2014 at 05:24 | #20

    It might be decades before Shorten accumulates sufficient gravitas to be taken seriously.

  21. Fran Barlow
    September 30th, 2014 at 06:34 | #21

    @Megan

    Quite right Megan. It’s even worse than I’d have imagined. It’s hard to imagine why he bothered releasing them at all. Perhaps a general ‘me too’ would have been more efficient and ironically, less committal.

    His 23/9 on ‘terr?r’ implies that he needs focus groups and to think twice on most things. Candour I suppose.

  22. J-D
    September 30th, 2014 at 07:27 | #22

    ‘The less that the parties engage in an issue, the greater the alienation of the public from the political process, and the greater the payoff to negativity.’

    If that’s true, then doesn’t it follow that the more the parties engage in issues, the less the alienation of the public and the less the payoff to negativity? And if that’s true, doesn’t it (again) suggest the feasibility of an alternative strategy?

  23. Gaius X
    September 30th, 2014 at 09:22 | #23

    Ken L:

    I’ve never understood why Labor has become such an unquestioning supporter of America’s global reign.

    On what planet does America have global reign?

    The Australian public overwhelmingly supports the US alliance. From the SMH:

    In its 2014 poll of Australian public opinion on foreign policy, the Lowy Institute has found that 78 per cent of Australians think the alliance is important for the nation’s security, with 52 per cent saying it is very important and 26 per cent saying it is fairly important.

    Interestingly, 48% of Australians are worried about CHina becoming a military threat.

    Australia already has an infantile Left party called the Australian Greens which appeals to about 10% of the electorate. I can’t see much point in Labor moving much further to the Left and making themselves electorally irrelevant.

  24. Ken_L
    September 30th, 2014 at 10:06 | #24

    @Gaius X

    Moving away from reflexive grovelling to Washington towards a more independent foreign policy would not be a move to the Left, Gaius X, if that was what your somewhat disjointed comment was meant to imply. Well unless you regard people like Malcolm Fraser as part of the “infantile Left”.

    It’s hardly surprising that a majority of Australians think the alliance is important, given most politicians and pundits have been telling them so incessantly since 1942. That doesn’t make it true. In fact Australia is far more likely to be dragged into wars in support of American interests than to need American protection.

  25. Megan
    September 30th, 2014 at 11:14 | #25

    @Ken_L

    And recall that the one time Australia tried to invoke the special ‘relationship’ (2005, Timor, John Howard sought US military involvement), the US told us to get stuffed.

    Not that I want the US militarily involved anywhere, but the point made by Fraser is that it’s very much a one-way street.

  26. Gaius X
    September 30th, 2014 at 11:26 | #26

    Fraser has been estranged from the Libs for many years and on some issues is now well to the Left. Infantile anti-Americanism is mostly associated with Green’s voters and the tiny blink- and-you’ll-miss-it Marxist left. America has made many foreign policy mistakes but most Australians realise we need to support the alliance.

    ps Great to see Q&A running Islamic State propaganda last night. Hopefully Abbott will have the guts to sell off the ABC before it does more damage to the national interest.

  27. September 30th, 2014 at 11:51 | #27

    @Gaius X
    I thought from your earlier comment that you were a Labor person attacking the Greens, now it seems you are probably an LNP supporter or such.

    Either way, using terms such as “infantile” to describe the Greens says more about you than them, but I can see how it fits with the Abbott ‘adults are back in charge’ discourse. I suspect that’s a coded patriarchal discourse, drawing on association of women with children and a women are childish/frivolous stereotype. It would be really interesting to see if it is particularly levelled against parties with female leaders.

    Oh I keep seeing all these wonderful bits of research that I don’t have time to do!

    But while I’m analysing discourse, can I suggest that what ProfQ really ought to do is start a campaign to replace Shorten with Plibersek, instead of trying (vainly I think) to defend Shorten. It would establish his (ProfQ’s) credentials as an even-handed commentator, who first campaigned to have a female, slightly left of centre (only in some ways, L know, people, don’t get too exercised about this) Labor leader with a slightly more right wing male leader, then later campaigned to have slightly more right wing male Labor Opposition leader replaced with a slightly more left wing female Labor Opposition leader. Total balance!

  28. rog
    September 30th, 2014 at 12:23 | #28

    Bill could do well to pick this battle; its without external consequences and he has grass roots support

    https://www.facebook.com/anggos/posts/823715597659075:0

  29. Ikonoclast
    September 30th, 2014 at 12:26 | #29

    @Val

    I don’t think the LNP would be nearly right wing enough for Gaius X. But in the absence of his preferred party I guess he has to make do with voting LNP.

  30. Gaius X
    September 30th, 2014 at 12:29 | #30

    I am a Labor voter Val but I care more about policy than tribalism.

    I suspect that’s [use of the term infantile] a coded patriarchal discourse, drawing on association of women with children and a women are childish/frivolous stereotype.

    I can see how an unhinged bunny boiler might leap to such a conclusion but not someone who is intelligent and capable of reason. I also called the Greens infantile when Bob Brown was the leader. I never mentioned Christine Milne.

    If I was grand poobah, I would make it a constitutional requirement that both houses of Parliament have a 50:50 gender split. I think the evidence is pretty clear that societies with more even gender power realatioins are more peaceful and prosperous.

    But while I’m analysing discourse, can I suggest that what ProfQ really ought to do is start a campaign to replace Shorten with Plibersek …

    Oh gawd I do hope you aren’t going to start another round of Fatal Attraction antics like you’ve done both here and at Larvatus Prodeo with poor John Quiggin and Mark Bahnisch as your respective victims. Can’t you vent your misandry elsewhere.

  31. Ken Fabian
    September 30th, 2014 at 12:59 | #31

    Some expounding of values and direction – if Labor cannot bring themselves to expound alternative policy – would be welcome. As would be some attempt to make Middle Out economic growth as an alternative to Trickle Down a familiar concept, some attempt to promote perceptions of a nation as family rather than a business, compassion as an alternative to resentment of those who are recipients of welfare or aid, calling out of the LNP for their misleading and deceptive pretense of taking climate seriously as they treat elimination of it as a consideration a crusade, calling out of their baiting the Senate into being their tool for driving the final nail into the Direct Action coffin that hands them the clean sweep of climate action whilst claiming that was everyone else’s fault…

    I don’t see much to like from Shorten or Labor.

  32. September 30th, 2014 at 13:49 | #32

    @Gaius X
    so now I’m a “bunny boiler”. Enough said on this I think, no point in engaging further.

    But I do like to republish these comments on my own blog at times, just as a record of the ridiculous things that some men (I assume you are a man, please correct me if I’m wrong) say to and about women online, so this will be a good one to add to the collection.

  33. Fran Barlow
    September 30th, 2014 at 13:54 | #33

    @Gaius X

    I call concern troll on that. None of us can be sure how you vote, and really, it is irrelevant. What you’re saying here on the ABC is simply murdochratic nonsense.

    The idea of having a 50-50 gender split enforced in parliament is a classic piece of misdirection/cover though, so well done on that one.

  34. Ikonoclast
    September 30th, 2014 at 13:56 | #34

    That Gaius X can be a (claimed) Labor voter with such clearly reactionary views, really settles the case. Modern Labor is a middle-right party along with the LNP. In some policies Labor and LNP are closer to the far right; viz. imprisoning men, women and children refugees in substandard territorial and extra-territorial concentration camps and in waging and/or supporting illegal wars.

  35. September 30th, 2014 at 13:57 | #35

    @Gaius X
    ah I just re-read and noticed that you claim to be a Labor voter. So I have seen this ‘attack the Greens’ thing elsewhere, including in stuff I receive from my local Labor federal MP.

    Just out of curiosity, and speaking as a former Labor researcher/adviser, what is the point of this strategy? What is it supposed to achieve? Because I’m damned if I can see it. Maybe in Vic electorates like mine, which are actually under threat from the Greens, there is some point, trying to persuade Labor voters not to switch to the Greens. But in broader Australia I can’t see the point.

    Labor is being wedged, with the LNP on one side and the Greens on the other. In Australia generally (not in electorates where they are actually under threat from the Greens), the strategy of getting into bed with the LNP and joining with them in calling the Greens names, seems to me deeply misguided. It’s like saying we don’t want to be taken seriously as a political party any more, isn’t it? Or am I missing some major strategic point here?

  36. September 30th, 2014 at 14:29 | #36

    @Ken Fabian
    Yes I think there is a lot in what you suggest Ken. Certainly Labor needs to think very carefully about how they are different from the LNP and how they will differentiate themselves in policy and image. In Victoria when I worked for the Labor party, back in the Kennett era, the positioning was as a party that cared. However now it does seem to me that Labor is so focused on fighting the Greens (it’s not just our self-described Labor voter here, though he does take it to extremes) that they have forgotten how to differentiate themselves from the LNP.

  37. Ken_L
    September 30th, 2014 at 14:40 | #37

    @Val

    Sadly Val we have seen the same thing in the union movement, where so many Labor apparatchiks learned their political craft. As union membership and power declined, the focus in most unions was on protecting their turf from other unions, even while their ability to do their core task of representing members to employers and governments was withering away. Shorten, of course, comes from the AWU, which many would say stopped representing the interests of workers decades ago in favour of creating a career factory for officials.

  38. John Quiggin
    September 30th, 2014 at 15:19 | #38

    Gaius X, please take a week off. When you return, no attacks on other commenters.

  39. Ikonoclast
    September 30th, 2014 at 15:59 | #39

    I think Val and Ken are substantially correct. Labor’s strategy makes no sense. They have ceded the discourse to their opponents. Labor have basically conceded that the neoconservative framing of particularly the economic debate is “irrefutable” so Labor will only seek to debate the neocons within the neocon framework.

    If the neocons claim to be represent “fiscal responsibility” then Labor must say they are even more fiscally responsible. No attempt is made to decode and unpack what fiscal responsibility means other than to say it represents a balanced budget or leaves “fiscal room”. Fiscal responsibility (as fiscal austerity) has played a major role in giving Greece and Spain 20% plus unemployment rates and all the human and social misery that entails. Fiscal responsibility taken to the extremes of counter-cyclical austerity protects the wealth of the rich at the expense of the poor (and many more who are soon made poor under austerity).

    Accepting your opponent’s chosen ground for the debate when that chosen ground is in fact fallacious (and won by propaganda not by truths) is a strategic error. It condemns you to attempt winning debates by telling bigger lies and making bigger distortions that your opponent. That is the only way to win a debate of falsehoods.

    The correct strategic procedure is to work to shift the debate to true grounds. This might well lead to tactical reverses in the short to mid term. Lies are simplistic and emotive. Truths are complex and logical. It is a longer and harder path to win an argument with truths. But if the ground-shifting strategy is successful you can finally win debates by telling the truth. Wouldn’t that be radical? Winning political debates by telling the truth! The thing about sets of truths are that they are consistent with each other. A political party attempting to win with truth must be patient and wait for the public to start perceiving the consistency of truth sets and the inconsistency of mish-mashes of lies.

    What if you can’t win with truth? The answer is simple. It is better to lose with truth than win with lies.

  40. patrickb
    September 30th, 2014 at 17:29 | #40

    @Gaius X
    Be interested in hearing your own arguments that justify Australia’s slavish adherence to US foreign policy. Most of what you write seems to be motivated by a dislike of the left (you quickly consign Fraser as a lefty because he happens to disagree with you, patently infantile move).
    What, for instance, is the benefit to Australia in adhering strongly to the US position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I can’t see any benefit at all, just downside. That isn’t to say we should oppose the state of Israel but I do think that we could take a more moderate position and show some empathy for the Palestinians.
    I assume you’re also able to mount to strong cost/benefit case for the last Iraq war? We were among the few who freely decided to join the US in that conflict and we must have done so hoping for a benefit. I mean we couldn’t be so naive as to commit people and money without a quid pro quo could we? So, can you tell me what we have gained, are there trade benefits perhaps? Has the US given us a grant of land that I’m not aware of? Perhaps they have donated some cash to help us pay for the cost to us of the war. I mean it’s not like we were actually threatened by Iraq and were thus motivated by self defense.

  41. Ivor
    September 30th, 2014 at 17:45 | #41

    I can’t see much point in Labor moving much further to the Left and making themselves electorally irrelevant.

    The ALP needs to move further to the Left this is the only way it can make itself electorally relevant.

  42. J-D
    September 30th, 2014 at 18:09 | #42

    @Ivor

    When you say that moving further to the Left would make the ALP ‘electorally relevant’, do you mean that it would get the party more votes, or do you mean something different from that? I’m not sure what you mean by ‘electorally relevant’, so I’m forced to guess. (I don’t know what Gaius X meant by ‘electorally irrelevant’, either, but can’t ask now — at least, there’d be no chance of an answer for a week at a minimum.)

  43. Ivor
    September 30th, 2014 at 18:43 | #43

    @J-D

    It is probably best if you resolve your own difficulties.

  44. J-D
    September 30th, 2014 at 19:27 | #44

    @Ivor

    In this case, sadly, I lack the power to resolve the difficulty. It is possible that you also lack the power to resolve the difficulty, but it would be sad to think so. On the other hand, the alternative possibility is that you have the power to resolve the difficulty but lack the will, and it would be sad to think that also.

  45. September 30th, 2014 at 20:20 | #45

    @rog
    Even as a pantheist (which maybe is what I am) I can’t help but love that Anglican Gosford church. Certainly if Shorten could get them on the team, he’d have much better lines!

  46. Fran Barlow
    September 30th, 2014 at 21:53 | #46

    @J-D

    Strictly speaking, Ivor didn’t claim that moving to the left would make the ALP electorally relevant. He merely claimed that this was the only way it could mate itself electorally relevant. This could include believing that one path (moving to the left) creates an opportunity for the ALP to be electorally relevant or clears away some impassable obstacle to relevance without guaranteeing that it will achieve electoral relevance.

    Clearly though, the ALP is already ‘electorally relevant’ since it regularly contests elections in which it wins either slightly more than half the seats in parliament or slightly fewer. At the moment, polls put it ahead of the existing regime on 2PP and though this is not a warranty of victory at the next election it is certainly a warranty of electoral relevance.

    Gaius proposed that moving “much further to the left” (the language here is perverse, as it implies the ALP has already moved somewhat to the left when clearly, the trend, if there is one, is to the right) will render it electorally irrelevant (by which I assume he meant to assert that the ALP would be in a position from which it could not hold out realistic hopes of leading a governing regime) but of course he offered no argument in support of this assertion nor even what ‘much further to the left’ would in practice entail. Polls do tend to show that while we Greens are supported by only about 10% of the populace policies that most would associate with us tend to attract support comparable to or greater than the primary support of the ALP, and yet we Greens have been described by Gaius as an infantile left party.

    What I think may be said is that while the ALP is indeed electorally relevant as the alternative conservative party to the preferred party of Murdoch and the dominant fractions of the business community, it’s politically unpalatable to varying degrees to much of the populace and in particular to those who feel they have no choice but to give it their effective preference. Every victory is pyrrhic. The anti-LNP group get a moment of happiness when some LNP leader has to admit defeat, and then have to become cognitively dissonant with increasing intensity as the ALP in power disappoints them by ruling very much like the party they defeated. Imagine going out to a club and trying to get rid of so e sleazy chap without success, being rescued by some apparently more upstanding and appealing man who upon walking you home turns out to have almost all the unappealing features of the chap he rescued you from — and to be his wingman! It’s a nasty thought. Dissonance is easier.

    It seems to me quite likely that if the ALP argued cogently and with apparent conviction for policies much like ours, that they would in due course not only destroy us but wedge the LNP as well since a fair slice of their rural base aren’t all that keen on the neoliberal paradigm, on the TPP, on banks or mining companies and much else. A large slice of the vote for PUP would be sliced off as well. Most importantly, the ALP would be in charge of its politics rather than the LNP
    or Murdoch. That would make their faithful a lot more excited about prospective victory.

  47. Patrickb
    September 30th, 2014 at 22:03 | #47

    @J-D
    Oh! The humanity, so much sadness, so much condescension. It is to cry, sob …

  48. J-D
    September 30th, 2014 at 22:29 | #48

    @Fran Barlow

    As I said, there’s no chance of confirming what Gaius X meant for a week at the minimum. There’s also no chance of confirming what Ivor meant if Ivor won’t condescend to clarification. Just because they used the same words doesn’t guarantee they used them equivalently.

    It seems clear enough how you understand the expression ‘electorally relevant’, but there’s no guarantee that your usage is equivalent to either or both of the others.

    I agree with you that it has been and will be possible for the ALP to gain votes and to win elections without moving to the left. Whether Ivor’s view is consistent with this or contradicts it is not clear to me.

    It also seems that you would probably prefer it if the ALP moved to the left and that Ivor would also prefer it if the ALP moved to the left. On the other hand, Gaius X probably would not. All that’s clear enough (and obviously the real crux of the disagreement between Ivor and Gaius X), and it seems to me better clearly and simply stated instead of dressed up in obscurities. If Ivor simply stated plainly ‘I would like it better if the ALP moved to the left’, it would be much less mystifying (than the remarks Ivor actually makes). For what it’s worth I too would prefer it if the ALP moved to the left. For that matter, I’d prefer it if the Coalition moved to the left.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that one way I seem to differ from a lot of people is that a lot of people seem to think that a party that adopted their own personal views would profit from it in electoral terms. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t give a farthing for the electoral prospects of a party that adopted my (highly idiosyncratic) personal views, and so have no difficulty distinguishing between my preference for the ALP to move to the left (on the one hand) and (on the other) predictions about the electoral effects this might have (which I don’t pretend to be able to estimate).

  49. Fran Barlow
    September 30th, 2014 at 23:09 | #49

    I think I’ve mentioned before that one way I seem to differ from a lot of people is that a lot of people seem to think that a party that adopted their own personal views would profit from it in electoral terms. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t give a farthing for the electoral prospects of a party that adopted my (highly idiosyncratic) personal views, and so have no difficulty distinguishing between my preference for the ALP to move to the left (on the one hand) and (on the other) predictions about the electoral effects this might have (which I don’t pretend to be able to estimate).

    While I doubt that if the ALP adopted all my views it would gain electorally i suspect it would gain electorally from having the kinds of processes that would allow views such as mine to be canvassed and reconciled with other views that might also have some merit. I am a member of a party whose views I don’t entirely share, but which respects me and other party members enough to listen respectfully, and which, importantly, I don’t see as fundamentally ethically flawed. I can have a dialog with other members and put ideas and have realistic prospects of having them taken up.

    In a community, we are happiest when we are amongst people who respect us and whom we respect. One can differ with others in such a community over what is best and shrug one’s shoulders if one is in the minority on some question. If the ALP were such a community they would perform significantly better electorally even if their policies were only a half step in my direction, and they rid themselves of their most egregious policies.

  50. Ken Fabian
    October 1st, 2014 at 07:24 | #50

    Even without expounding alternative policies it seems there is so much room to go on the offensive that failure to do so is lost opportunity or worse. Worse being seen as weak and ineffectual and unfit to be a credible replacement. Saving it all up for later? Isn’t one of the lessons from Abbott’s success as opposition leader that being relentless works? Failure to go on the offensive can be interpreted as Abbott’s failures not being that significant.

    Abbott’s achievements are remarkable – getting elected based on being misleading and deceptive, successfully blaming others for changing policies post election, and for the failures since, baiting opposition and cross benches into voting down the policies they put up that they never really wanted… As Ikonoclast said, better to lose with the truth than win with lies – absolutely agree; I sincerely hope that the lessons Labor learn are not how to do similar.

    Meanwhile there is so much that can be turned against Abbott and his government; those free overseas trips in luxury jets owned by mining magnates who stand to make billions by favorable decisions the government makes: words meaning what Mr Abbott wants them to mean, rather than the meaning the public was intended to take from them: ICAC: Abbott’s slush fund for attacking One Nation: Pyne, Brough, Ashby and Slipper. And the extraordinary extent to which they mislead and deceive and dance around the truth of their rejection of climate science and are engaged in a crusade to eliminate all consideration of it from government policy. And etc, etc.

  51. Collin Street
    October 1st, 2014 at 07:53 | #51

    Val :
    Labor is being wedged, with the LNP on one side and the Greens on the other. In Australia generally (not in electorates where they are actually under threat from the Greens), the strategy of getting into bed with the LNP and joining with them in calling the Greens names, seems to me deeply misguided. It’s like saying we don’t want to be taken seriously as a political party any more, isn’t it? Or am I missing some major strategic point here?

    + The interests of the party are not the interests of the people within the party: a labor/greens alliance or even rapprochement marginalises labor-right policies and those who support them.

    + Liberal party is doomed medium-term: the people it currently has are not capable of growing the party structure and not attractive to people who might be able to.

  52. J-D
    October 1st, 2014 at 08:24 | #52

    @Fran Barlow

    I personally would prefer it if the internal processes of the ALP were more democratic and made members feel more respected. For that matter, I’d prefer it if the the internal processes of the Coalition parties were more democratic and made members feel more respected. I’d say the same about political parties in general, and about most other kinds of organisation.

    Coming back to the ALP specifically, I’m confident that if its internal processes were more democratic it would make the members feel more comfortable. But it’s less clear to me that the party would get more votes as a result.

  53. J-D
    October 1st, 2014 at 08:25 | #53

    @Collin Street

    How long is ‘medium-term’? Five years, fifteen, twenty-five? And whenever that medium-term is, what is it that you’re saying the Liberal Party is doomed to? Doomed to cease to exist, doomed never again to win elections, or what?

  54. Fran Barlow
    October 1st, 2014 at 08:36 | #54

    @Ken Fabian

    Isn’t one of the lessons from Abbott’s success as opposition leader that being relentless works?

    Yes and no. Abbott was relentless but he had Murdoch and by extension, since they follow Murdoch, the non-Murdoch media including the ABC running his memes as if they were what politics was about. Had they simply ignored Abbott’s relentless door stops, photo ops, trolling (even without expressly attacking them) he could not have done what he did. Had they questioned him about matters of substance and insistently required answers, he’d have fallen apart because he had no material. Instead, Murdoch rode shotgun for Abbott in a way that he won’t for the ALP. Equally, the ABC is sucking its thumb in a corner so we can expect very little put of it.

    The ALP needs to revisit the long abandoned idea of running its own politics rather than being a mere artefact of media whimsy and let the chips fall where they may. They need to attack the regime, but unlike Abbott, they need some alternative material that their supporter base can build around outside of the Murdochracy.

    That may not work in the short run, but in the longer run, building a core based around an alternative vision for the country is foundational to becoming independent of the old media and positioning for their decline — which will happen. The truism hold too. Regardless of what the ALP says or does, if people perceive the ruling regime to have been a failure, they will dump it regardless of how ‘left’ the ALP looks — providing they appear reasonably coherent and disciplined — and with a solid and motivated core, they will.

    The LNP was able to engage their core because the murdochracy did their work for them, raising it to action, writing its slogans and suffocating all rival argument. That’s why their culture war, far from being a handicap, worked. The ALP needs to wage a counter-cultural war, but it must do the heavy lifting itself. That will be harder, but Murdoch is old and the old media is decaying before our eyes. I remain convinced that the LNP will not win the next election but the more important question is how the ALP can avoid a repeat of 2010-13 and more existentially, how they can arrest the long term decline in their supporter base.

  55. Ikonoclast
    October 1st, 2014 at 08:40 | #55

    @Collin Street

    I really don’t know why Labor would not enter into a coalition agreement with the Greens. Of course, they would have to get rid of their right-wing apparatchiks and neocon economic advisers. Then, they would have to move a bit left and a bit green but not too far, too fast or it would spook the electorate. They could rely on the Greens for a green and humanitarian conscience and use the Greens (in a nice way) to test the waters for more radical policies.

    Once in government, making a Green Deputy PM and a Green Environment Minister would send a big message. It is clear that climate change, species extinctions and other green issues which are really existential concerns for civilization and humans will become glaring obvious emergencies very soon. An enormous number of votes will soon flow to parties who are in the right side of history on these issues.

    Committing totally to refusal of further privatisations would also get masses of votes. Privatisations are clearly very unpopular wth the majority of unemployed, working class and middle class. I don’t know why Labor don’t have the courage and vision to oppose the LNP on green issues in particlar . It is glaringly obvious that these will soon become central issues as modern civilization faces a crisis of survival in the face of extreme environmental damage.

    On humanitarian issues like the refugee issue, it would be very easy to demonstrate that the current policies are not only inhumane and against U.N. conventions and our signatory status to them but also they are actually extremely costly policies and that the humanitarian approach would be no more costly and might well be much less costly. We are paying shelling out huge amounts of money to damage and injure people (physically and psychologically) when we could pay equal or less to help them and indirectly ourselves.

    Refugees who flee terror and persecution are self-selecting peaceable people. We want self-selecting peaceable people. If total intake numbers get too high, reduce voluntary immigration. In particular, limit voluntary immigration of rich people who bring capital. They are self-selecting exploitative, acquisative and selfish people. We actually don’t want them. They would help perpetuate exploitative systems and incidentally vote LNP. Why in heck would a Labor Party with its head screwed on bring them in? It’s possible to be humanitarian to the needy while being a bit hard-nosed and machieavellian against the exploiters and right-wingers.

    You have to use a bit of machieavellianism against the machieavellians. Labor should try it some time. It might just get them government. Being Abbott’s Little Echo will never get Shorten anywhere IMO. Of course, it is just possible Abbott and Co. will make such a huge mess that Shorten will get government by default. ButShorten is a necon and US sycophant anyway. He won’t change anything substantive unless he totally transforms himself first… which seems highly unlikely.

  56. Fran Barlow
    October 1st, 2014 at 08:49 | #56

    @J-D

    Coming back to the ALP specifically, I’m confident that if its internal processes were more democratic it would make the members feel more comfortable. But it’s less clear to me that the party would get more votes as a result.

    You impose too high a standard here. It can never be ‘clear’ of the extent to which a happy and respected membership will translate into support for a political party at elections. This is very much a ‘suck it and see’ proposition. It is intuitively reasonable to infer however that if members on the whole find their participation in a political party rewarding, that they are more likely to speak up for it in their workplaces, clubs, extended family gatherings, in the media and so forth. They are more likely to door-knock and phonebank and leaflet and staff polling booths and elicit new members who will do likewise. In marketing terms, word-of-mouth is far more effective than display advertising, which is what the Murdochracy does.

    It’s hard to imagine that this advocacy would not translate into more votes, and as we see, in most cases, a 3% 2PP swing wins the alternative party the election. An extra 120,000 votes spread evenly across the seats they conceded in 2013 would have comfortably saved their regime — not that it was worth saving.

  57. J-D
    October 1st, 2014 at 21:16 | #57

    @Fran Barlow

    I do see the intuitive reasonability of what you’re saying. I can’t help having doubts, though.

    You say you belong to a party which has processes that respects its members and their views, and I guess you do advocate for it — do you have any feeling for how much success your advocacy has had in winning more votes for your party? After all, your party, with all its internally democratic processes and respect for its members and their views, still gets far fewer votes than either Labor or the Coalition, isn’t that right? So how do you explain that?

  58. October 2nd, 2014 at 09:15 | #58

    Surely now we have the example of Melissa Parke to remind us what the ALP could be, no-one can really excuse Bill Shorten and the way the party is currently going?

  59. Megan
    October 2nd, 2014 at 09:23 | #59

    @Val

    That would be the Melissa Parke who voted with the LNP to pass its ASIO ‘police state’ laws yesterday?

  60. October 2nd, 2014 at 10:17 | #60

    @Megan
    sorry Megan I’m a bit confused – I thought Melissa Parke is the only ALP member who spoke against the laws – and abstained from voting?

    The way the ALP works, as I understand it, she can’t vote against a decision of caucus, so abstaining was all she could do (unless she wants to leave the party, maybe you think she should but I guess that’s a big step).

    here’s the speech http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/01/no-one-should-be-fooled-into-believing-security-is-as-simple-as-greater-surveillance-and-deeper-silence

  61. October 2nd, 2014 at 10:21 | #61

    @Megan
    Megan I sent you a reply, which is in moderation, but my understanding is Melissa Parke spoke against the law and abstained from voting (as an ALP member she can’t vote against a decision of caucus)

    the speech is in the Guardian, I won’t link to it because I guess that’s what got me in moderation

  62. Megan
    October 2nd, 2014 at 10:35 | #62

    @Val

    Apologies, I heard the speech but Hansard doesn’t record the “ayes” when there’s less than five “noes”. I incorrectly inferred that because she didn’t vote against it (with Wilkie, Bandt and McGowan) she voted FOR it.

    I knew that ALP members can’t vote against the party. My basic point is that she has been ‘allowed’ by Shorten’s office to be a – quiet – voice of dissent. I consider that to be cynical. I understand the counter-argument but I don’t accept it. If I don’t believe in something I’ll vote against it.

    That’s why I could never be in the ALP!

  63. Megan
    October 2nd, 2014 at 10:51 | #63

    @Val

    There was a piece in “The Saturday Paper” about this. It was particularly dealing with Parke’s ‘opposition’ to the inhumane treatment of refugees, but the point is the same:

    Parke plays a different role, as Labor navigates an awkward environment in which its options for criticising the government are circumscribed by its desire to be part of Team Australia.

    She provides an alibi for Labor to avoid a loss of votes to the Greens as it joins the government in backing tougher terror laws and military action in the Middle East and continues to offer bipartisan support for offshore processing of asylum seekers. Some Coalition MPs argue Bernardi plays a similar role in placating those Liberal supporters who were disappointed that Abbott abandoned the 18C changes.

    As Labor leader Bill Shorten stresses that he is “working very well together” with Abbott on national security, it doesn’t hurt to have at least one opposition MP putting an alternative view.

    Some also feared that, by reopening the debate, Parke was risking exposing Labor to attack over whether it was strong enough to manage the electorally sensitive issue.

    But Parke is not a loose cannon and her recent statements have been carefully worded. Even dissent in modern Labor is often tightly scripted. Although Dastyari’s remarks on refugee policy earlier this year were reported as pitting him against Shorten, his speech had in fact been vetted by the party’s leadership.

    I would love to view her position as a beacon of hope, but I only see it as a cynical exercise in buffing the ALP turd.

  64. J-D
    October 2nd, 2014 at 12:27 | #64

    @Val

    I am not sure whether you are discussing the same issue that Fran Barlow and I were just discussing and I hope you don’t mind if I ask you for clarification. Is it your view that the ALP would improve its chances of gaining votes and winning elections if Bill Shorten and the party generally followed the example of Melissa Parke?

  65. Fran Barlow
    October 2nd, 2014 at 13:54 | #65

    @j-d

    I do see the intuitive reasonability of what you’re saying. I can’t help having doubts, though.

    Anyone who wants to act without doubt ought to stay well clear of making any decisions in life. Politics, participation in collaborations with others generally, sports … doubt lurks everywhere.

    You say you belong to a party which has processes that respects its members and their views, and I guess you do advocate for it — do you have any feeling for how much success your advocacy has had in winning more votes for your party? After all, your party, with all its internally democratic processes and respect for its members and their views, still gets far fewer votes than either Labor or the Coalition, isn’t that right? So how do you explain that?

    Good internal processes are bedrock. They sustain you and make it more likely that your organisation will make the most if its human and material resources. You’re less likely to make mistakes, more likely to identify and rectify them before you pay a high cost, and likely to be able to learn from them. You are more likely to find workable solutions to problems and then to be able to improve them.

    None of this is a guarantee of success, but it is the most credible path.

    Our party faces enormous cultural obstacles. In my estimation, most people are creatures of habit. We get used to doing things a certain way, being relaxed about some risks and inordinately fearful of others, stating with what we know (or think we know) — the ‘strong priors’ — in part because these behaviours have, it typically seems to us, to have delivered at worst a viable existence and a modicum of satisfaction. We also have a kind of sunk cost emotional investment in not being shown to have been radically mistaken over the years we have spent working out what we should and shouldn’t believe. If you are forced to conclude that your judgements have been sharply wrong, then substituting new judgements or trusting others is by definition, scary. One sees an analog of this in people who have separated from a longterm life partner. They are wary of new relationships.

    The bulk of the populace has grown up believing that only two variants of rule are possible here: the ALP or the Liberals. This dichotomy issues from every portal of mainstream discourse, and our party is lambasted as, at best, a party of naive and eccentric political fringe-dwellers who would turn every verity upside down and expose hardworking folk to open ended risk of ruin in pursuit of social justice and environmental integrity.

    Our means to refute these and worse claims is quite limited. We have nothing like the resources of the majors, who are tied heavily to established business interests and in any event, our party, at Federal level, is little more than 20 years old. We have grown from a party defined publicly by a single popular leader attracting a handful of the vote away from the Democrats, to a party with a solid 10% and a seat in the HoR. Sadly, the structure of the parliamentary seat allocation favours geographically concentrated parties, as a comparison between us and the Nationals shows.

    Over time (a decade or two) I can see us threatening the duopoly, but people don’t toss aside their parties frivolously. They may be unhappy with them and like what they hear from us, but there is safety, reinforced by the mass media, in staying with one of the majors.

  66. nom de plume
    October 2nd, 2014 at 14:32 | #66

    Well, that was a depressing read. White flags anyone?

    ‘The first problem faced by an opposition leader who might wish to break away from the small target strategy is that of media invisibility’

    Not all oppositions, or rather, not all political parties are created equal in this regard, some being more invisible than others. No prizes for guessing. The only prog pols who ever get past the 1% gatekeepers like Rupert unscathed are traitors like Blair and malleable narcissists like Kevin. Was Abbott ignored in the way Shorten is? Was he as an opposition target as vanishingly small?

    No, he was bigger than Ben Hur. He got out there and told some of the biggest whoppers in our history, with a smile on his dial because he knew there was no risk, he knew who would benefit from his deceit, and they knew he knew too. He knew that the media (i.e. Murdoch and the agenda he sets for the rest of them now that the ABC is neutered) would cover his back, before and after the election. Now try to imagine the treatment a Gillard would have received for such a comprehensive volte-face on virtually every front.

    In the event, it was the ALP which was really the small target party… which leads to the consideration that perhaps it’s not so much being in opposition that dictates such a cautious approach, rather it’s necessary even in government if you have policies which do not align with the interests of the ownership class.

    It seems Harper in Canada and Key in NZ also enjoyed more coverage in opposition (and less criticism in govt) than their progressive peers… why would that be? Could it be that The Owners, the interests of finance and capital through control of the MSM, while happy enough to carry on the kabuki pretence of political even-handedness, can’t help but give greater love to their buffed, besuited servants in the political class, rather than the earnest, bearded, cardigan-wearing hand-wringers they have to endure in order to extend the pretence of genuine democratic choice? (Actually, no-one answers to that description any more, you’d probably be flat out finding one even at a local party gathering. Now they all look just like Libs, but in slightly less expensive threads)

    But it isn’t just the amount of coverage either, it’s the nature of it. Contrast the firm-jawed Seriousness with which elite-friendly conservative angles are covered even in the SMH nowadays, to the barely-suppressed tittering reserved for people/environment-friendly progressive concerns.. when they’re covered at all of course.

    Let’s face it, in the eternal contest between capital and labour, capital has won. It owns the ground upon which politics is now conducted and writes the rules, even (or especially) the unwritten ones. I don’t think accepting that situation belongs on the agenda of any genuinely progressive party; even if corruption is somehow avoided, policy deformity is inevitable. It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, and who knows after a while you might even be able to stand up again.

    ‘The biggest problem though is the general unpopularity of politicians’

    And why are they unpopular? For me, the whole rationale/ethos behind the concept of the ‘small target strategy’ is partly to blame. People don’t like being lied to, or not told the whole truth, or led carefully away from issues deemed ‘controversial’ or ‘divisive’.. even if it is professedly being done for the ‘right reasons’ i.e., not frightening the right-wing horses. ‘Blunt’ appears to be dead, but does it have to take ‘honest’ with it as well?

    At some point, I don’t know, after Abbott’s third term maybe, an uncomfortable truth will have to be faced (or kicked down the road for another fews years, more likely). A small target ‘strategy’ is actually not a strategy at all. It is simply a tactic, employed at each critical juncture as it arises because in the short term it appears the ‘sensible’ thing to do (hard-headed, decisive, macho even) It is not a sign of long term nous but chronic weakness on a day to day level and while it might demonstrably ‘work’ in increments, over time it is an albatross, as voters look back over years of inertia and me-tooism.

    Tactical prudence if employed as a default in this way will translate into strategic disaster… it already has.

  67. nom de plume
    October 2nd, 2014 at 14:40 | #67

    Van Badham’s column in the Guardian today almost seems a riposte to yours John:

    ‘In a media environment where Labor faced 30 aggressively pro-Abbott front-page tabloid headlines in the last election, Labor is disarming a necessary arsenal for a true electoral fight by clinging to policy positions that appear to speak to mainstream interests but which powerfully disengage a huge number of people who could, would and truthfully want to argue the Labor alternative’

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/01/bill-shortens-live-qa-was-a-showcase-of-labors-terrible-me-tooism-disease

  68. October 2nd, 2014 at 16:46 | #68

    @J-D
    Well yes I suppose I am – I’m suggesting that the ALP could argue genuinely more left positions from the LNP if they did it intelligently and thoughtfully as Melissa Parke did in her speech. I believe it is possible to argue a left position and take people with you, if you do it properly, and the ALP should do it – I’ve been saying that for years eg on asylum seekers, even though I no longer support the ALP and in general vote Green or other more left parties/Independents.

    However Megan is suggesting that Parke is being ‘allowed’ to do this as a sop to the left (particularly those in the ALP I suppose) and I fear there could be something in that. It’s a bit like ‘Labor for refugees’ has been allowed to exist even though they seem to make no difference to ALP policy.

    Still I think Parke made her case well.

  69. Calyptorhynchus
    October 2nd, 2014 at 16:47 | #69

    I think the ALP need to stop thinking that they will return to power at the next election without doing anything, or that the media will suddenly become kind to them. They need to stand up and differentiate themselves from Abbott right now. They should develop three three word slogans to keep on repeating and to use against every Abbott government failing. What about

    A fair society
    Action on carbon
    Protecting the environment

    They can then develop policies under these headings as the next two years unfold, and as Abbott fails more and more. Repetition of these slogans and remorseless arguing for policies under them will break through media bias in the end (IMHO)

  70. J-D
    October 4th, 2014 at 07:27 | #70

    @Val

    The two statements

    ‘It is possible for party A to pursue strategy X’

    and

    ‘Party A would be likely to improve its performance in attracting votes and winning elections by pursuing strategy X’

    are not equivalent.

    If you are asserting merely that it would be possible for the ALP to pursue a different strategy, I’m sure you’re right. But if you’re also asserting that this different strategy would be likely to win it more votes and more elections, I would like to know what makes you think that.

  71. October 4th, 2014 at 07:46 | #71

    @J-D
    There’s some evidence that Australians in general would prefer a fairer society (I’ve written about this on my blog) but are worried that’s it’s not practical. Recent polls (sorry don’t have time to link at present) also suggest increasing support for environmental measures.
    Therefore I believe that if Labor could present a coherent, practical and well argued case for such measures – without political spin and in-fighting – they could bring people with them and increase their support.

    It may not be possible for them to do that because too many on the right of Labor seem to be allied with capitalist big business. I gather even Greg Combet, whom I previously admired, seems to be going down this path, although I don’t know the full details.

  72. Paul Norton
    October 4th, 2014 at 08:57 | #72

    I think Calyptorhynchus @69 has the right idea. Labor needs to agree on a positive purpose for the next Federal Labor government and to vigorously articulate that purpose, and to develop and articulate policies that are rooted in that purpose. If Labor has its own clearly defined, positive and proactive purpose that it believes in, it can then clearly present an alternative to the Coalition. It would also then be in a better position to define its relationship with the Greens and other progressive political actors.

  73. Ikonoclast
    October 4th, 2014 at 12:32 | #73

    @Val

    I reckon that’s about right. Labor could do it if they wanted to but most of their professional politicians and apparatchiks are now bought off by big business. They identify as part of the wealthy and ruling class. They do not identify with workers or middle class people.

  74. jungney
    October 4th, 2014 at 14:47 | #74

    Calyptorhynchus’s three word program @ 69 would be perfect if we had the luxury of time for the ALP to catch up with reality. To explain the depth of the problem within the ALP in relationship to global warming and the environment in general let me introduce you to Luke Foley, the NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change as well as Shadow Minister for Planning & Infrastructure who, when asked to support a Green’s bill aimed at replacing all coal and gas-fired power stations by 2030, said that it would cripple the Hunter’s coal industry and was ‘‘not a serious policy proposal’’.

    In the meantime real policy leadership, at least in NSW, is being conducted by Greenpeace who have solidly backed front line action against the ex-Tinkler mine at Maule’s Creek, near Narrabri, where activists recenlty closed at all five of Whitehaven’s mine operations for many very expensive hours. You can look it up yourself @ ‘Front Line Action on Coal’.

    Ever since Greenpeace adopted a type of corporate structure I’ve been chary at the absence of real, accountable democratic structures. Similar complaints were made decades ago about the ACF, which is now much more democratic, and about TWS as well, which went through major ructions in adopting a new, democratic process for choosing leadership. I’ve always held to the view that anyone who advocates democracy ought to practice it. However, especially in light of the ALP’s dismal failure at inner reform, I now accept that any organization that provides leadership, even if it doesn’t conform to any ideal type of inner democratic governance, is better than what the ALP offers.

    Seriously, the NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change, a career NSW ‘left’ parliamentarian, appears ready to die in a ditch to preserve the Hunter coal industry. A true blue blood of the working class, for sure.

    In the meantime, up on Cliff’s farm, where a loose coalition of greenies, Greens, Greenpeace staffers, Aboriginal people, war veterans, farmers and assorted bushies has been putting up stalwart resistance to clearing the last great white box woodland in NSW, there has not been a visit from a single sitting member, preselected member or notable functionary of the ALP in the last two years.

    And the readers here think that the ALP will provide leadership on climate change. No sir. It’s become a DIY project where participants look to environmentalists from South America, Japan and the US, all of whom have visited camp Wando and participated in direct actions against coal, as well as members of the Greens, who need to visit more often. Attempts by unions and the ALP to direct the movement, which will happen, when they’ve been well absent, will be treated with justifiable scorn.

    Seriously, I couldn’t even give my second preference next year to the ALP. No effin’ way.

  75. Donald Oats
    October 4th, 2014 at 19:26 | #75

    Bill Shorten needs training in how to carry off a speech, whether it is a sentence or a long oratory. He needs to project emotion without it sounding rehearsed, and to keep it simple. He needs to drop the expression, “this is a government that”, and to simply bell the cat as “Abbott’s cabinet”, or something with Abbott’s name front and centre.

    When it comes to the looming war, instead of obsequiously agreeing with everything Abbott come up with, Shorten could and should have been examining and attacking the weaknesses in whatever policy Abbott has come up with, not letting it slide through uncontested in the public arena. As a perfectly reasonable example, the ALP should be demanding that the Abbott guvm’nt explain exactly how they plan to defeat ISIL without the use of ground forces, demand that Abbott present a coherent strategy to discern who is an ISIL fighter and who is simply a local citizen, because at some point we have to be capable of doing that. How are we going to build the intelligence info necessary to hoover up the ISIL fighters who conceal themselves among the towns’s peoples? Shorten should be rattling the cage and making Abbott’s crew sweat out their strategy into the public debate, forcing the government to defend itself.

    We all know that Murdoch won’t give the ALP an even break; however, going small target simply allows Murdoch’s rags to perpetuate old mythology and old mistakes that the ALP once made, rather than forcing Murdoch’s rags onto more current ALP-initiated debates in the public arena. At the moment, Abbott is being portrayed as the second coming of Jesus, if you believe Murdoch’s rags. When it comes to the next election, noone is going to vote for the ALP (and Bill Shorten) because they were nice to the government.

  76. Megan
    October 4th, 2014 at 23:00 | #76

    @Donald Oats

    “Sincerity is everything, if he can fake that he’s got it made.”

    On IS/ISIL/ISIS/FSA or whatever we’re calling that CIA outfit today, the one big problem with your prescription is that ALP/Shorten actually is 100% behind the non-strategy of the gummit – it has been dictated to Australia by our puppeteers and the 2 CEOs of our faux-democratic duopoly were selected for us precisely because of their ability to do that bidding. They both, as a team, perform the role of protecting the “1%” from us.

  77. zoot
    October 5th, 2014 at 01:01 | #77

    Shorten is starting to look like a repeat of Kim Beazley circa 2001 (and didn’t the strategy work brilliantly for him?).

  78. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2014 at 08:32 | #78

    “… this ISIS organization, also known as ISIL, was created by the United States, Saudi Arabic and Israel for the specific purpose of enacting regime change in Syria,” said Mark Dankof in an interview with Press TV on Thursday.

    “There needs to be a set of congressional hearings –honest ones which we are never going to see—that actually expose how this ISIS organization was created, who provided the funding, who provided the logistics, and why it is that this organization entered Syria and later Iraq principally to the auspices of two American allies; Turkey, a NATO member, and Jordan,” he added.

    Dankof characterized ISIL as “a foreign mercenary army” that has been “deliberately introduced into Syria” by the United States and its allies for the “nefarious purpose” of “regime change in Syria”… ” – Press TV.

    So who are the US and Australia going to be bombing? We (the citizens of US and Australia) don’t know where and who these bombs are actually landing on. We don’t know which M.E. groups our governments have clandestinely created and we don’t know who they are targetting now. We really don’t know anything of what our governments are up to. Can we trust them after the WMD deception and all the genuine revalations from Wikileaks, Snowden etc.? I think not. We cannot simply buy this current narrative. The fact that oppositions are in lock-step with governments just makes it more suspicious IMO. The absolute unanimity, the lack of critical assessment, the one-sided propaganda makes it like more orchestrated and manipulative than ever to the discerning mind.

  79. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 09:38 | #79

    @Ikonoclast

    The fact that you quote Mark Dankof makes it look as if you think Mark Dankof is worth quoting. How reliable a source do you think he is on this subject? Do you know on what he has based the statements you quote? Are you inclined to accept them as an accurate representation of the facts in this case, or at least probably largely accurate? Why or why not?

  80. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 10:02 | #80

    @Val

    It seems plausible to me to suppose that Australians in general would prefer a fairer society but are worried that it’s not practical, as you write. But if that’s true, what would happen to a political party that engaged in more vigorous advocacy of measures to make society fairer? Would it experience an increase in its support from voters because what it’s advocating is what people prefer? Or would it experience a decrease in its support from voters because people regard what it’s advocating as impractical? I don’t think this is so easy to judge. It would be easy for you or for me to think of measures that we don’t think are impractical, but what I’m discussing here is not how you or I might judge these things, but how significant numbers of voters would be likely to judge them.

  81. Fran Barlow
    October 5th, 2014 at 11:11 | #81

    @Ikonoclast

    Mark Dankof was a delegate to the Texas Republican Convention, standing for the Constitution Party. By his own reckoning, he stands for the constitution and authentic Christian values. I am calling him a paleo-conservative (which would bracket him with Pat Robertson).

    This is his big issue which makes him a magnet for hardcore anti-semites on the internet, whatever his personal views on jewishness may be.

    As far as I can tell, he has no direct evidence for his claim that Mossad did 9/11 and yet he does retail the claim that Jews were tipped off beforehand.

    I wouldn’t be citing this fellow, Ikono.

  82. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 11:46 | #82

    @Fran Barlow

    When you write that the Greens ‘have nothing like the resources of the majors, who are tied heavily to established business interests’, that makes it look as if you are suggesting that one major reason that Labor and the Coalition (each) get far more votes than the Greens is that each of them has access to a level of funding that is provided by established business interests and no other source. I’m not absolutely sure you mean that, but it does seem plausible. If it’s true, though, doesn’t it mean that any party which receives major funding from established business interests can expect a drastic loss of funding and a correspondingly drastic loss of votes if it adopts new policies or strategies that established business interests don’t like?

  83. Paul Norton
    October 5th, 2014 at 12:02 | #83

    Historically, it’s by no means easy for a party other than Labor and the main non-Labor party/coalition to establish a substantial, enduring presence in Australian politics. Superior resources and institutional advantages are part of the explanation for this, but demography, geography and political culture are also significant factors. Even the Greens took longer to establish themselves as a serious presence in Australian politics than our sister parties in other advanced capitalist democracies.

  84. Paul Norton
    October 5th, 2014 at 12:02 | #84

    I meant “Historically, it’s been by no means easy…”.

  85. nom de plume
    October 5th, 2014 at 13:42 | #85

    Agree with Calyptorhynchus’s urge to simplify and clarify. However I would say numbers two and three are really the same issue – environment, which can again be packed into another – security.

    I think an entire political philosophy for a new party could be boiled down to three concepts –

    Fairness
    Sovereignty
    Security

    Fairness would encompass:

    a restructure of our antiquated democratic processes, making much greater use of the internet referenda to canvass genuine voter intent (not ‘representative’ polls) conducted on dedicated open source software by a government agency responsible to Senate for transparency and integrity of results… an attempt to return our ‘representative’ democracy to its roots in ‘assembly’, with a view to voter preferences of critical mass being central to debate and decision in the chamber

    the presentation to the citizenry of a range of options to rein in and thereby re-establish the reputation and usefulness of banking and finance, with nationalisation a last resort should sensible reforms such as no bailouts/TBTF, Tobin tax, making illegal the use of offshore havens, etc be resisted – sweet reason is useless so a gun to the head it will have to be. The aim is to wrest the profits of our productivity back from a thieving overclass, and bring our Gini coefficient into respectable territory. We should accept that there will always be winners (whether the game is played fairly or not), but they must accept that we the majority define the boundaries of the fields they can play in.

    Sovereignty would involve an explicit statement of the primacy of Australian citizen preference in making important decisions which touch upon our sovereignty. So that the Alliance with the US cannot force us, via our weak and/or corrupt politicians and parties, into wars we should avoid, or indeed into trade agreements which if passed would empower private corporations to frack our backyards or sue us for decisions we make in the best interests of the health and well-being of Australians now and into the future. If we say no en masse, it shouldn’t happen.

    Security, which would cover much more ground than that word might indicate; involving not just military, police and intelligence to counter physical threat, but much greater emphasis on the causes of terror and conflict (including our own past behaviour) and a stated preference for prevention rather than cure… this all requiring of course a distancing from the US. But security should also cover making the environment safe and productive for future generations of Australians, and crucially must focus on preparing the infrastructure in education needed to produce populations capable of coping with change we can’t really begin to imagine just yet.

    Citizens armed with a government issued ID which permits them to return to ancient Athens i.e. to vote on issues rather than for people seems to me necessary to avoid the losses we face – freedom, security, prosperity, and hope. Issues can’t change their mind, or be bribed or intimidated.

  86. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2014 at 14:15 | #86

    @J-D

    J-D, you can gish-gallop till the cows come home. It doesn’t impress me.

    It’s another point of view separate from the standard Western propaganda. “In 2007, the Canadian weekly Maclean’s, while noting that “most of Press TV’s news reports are factually accurate,” alleged that Press TV also publishes “intentional errors.” – Wikepedia. Of course, Murdoch and other Western press also publish intentional errors. Do you call them out? I wonder.

    Are you inclined to accept standard western media claims at face value? Do you think Western governments are to be trusted after the deliberate WMD fabrication? Do you know for certain who they are bombing now? I could gish-gallop on but it’s a tedious and unimaginative way to conduct even a blog debate.

  87. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2014 at 14:29 | #87

    @Fran Barlow

    In the quote I mentioned, he simply calls for a congressional inquiry into events. There is considerable evidence that the US is complicit in running mercenaries and weapons into Syria for the opposition(s) maybe the FSA (Free Syria Army). I don’t subscribe to his conspiracy theories in other arenas (like the 9/11 conspiracy). Whether the US (and Saudis) directly created ISIL or accidently and indirectly created them I am not sure. I suspect it is the latter. But the whole murky history of US and CIA actions with respect to the M.E. and North Africa would have to be unravelled and exposed for anyone to be sure.

    These days to just dare to criticise any Israeli policy gets people branded anti-semite by the rapid ultra right-wing part of the Jewish press. Dankof might or might not be anti-semite I do not know. I am not in the habit of quoting him I might add. The quote I did use was reasonable.

    Who or what do you think created ISIL? No doubt it was a complex of forces but I suspect the US, in the entirety of its actions in the M.E. can take a good part of the “credit”.

  88. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 15:17 | #88

    @Ikonoclast

    The world is full of people putting forward different and mutually contradictory points of view (on this issue and on many, many others). However, you chose to quote one particular point of view from one particular individual on this particular subject. All I’m doing is asking why. If you choose to make this particular contribution to this discussion and then choose to offer no justification for it, I am going to conclude that the most probable reason is that you have no justification for it.

    You have chosen, for whatever reason, not to answer the questions I asked you. I choose to answer the questions you asked me.

    ‘Do you call them out?’ you asked me — meaning, do I ‘call out’ Murdoch and other Western press on their publication of intentional errors. As background, I add that I wasn’t ‘calling out’ Mark Dankof for intentional error — I have never heard of Mark Dankof before today and still have no reason to think he’s making intentional errors. The direct answer to your question, however, is that I cannot recall any occasion on which I have attempted to draw the occasion of any of the Western press to any of their intentional errors. Mind you, although I can remember reading things in the press that I knew were inaccurate, I can’t recall ever reading anything in the press that I had good reason to think was an intentional error. I do recall one occasion when I drew the attention of the ABC to an error (presumably unintentional) in one of their reports, and a correction was added to the relevant Web page. Having answered your question, I still don’t see how it’s relevant.

    ‘Are you inclined to accept standard western media claims at face value?’ you ask. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘standard western media claims’, but if you mean to ask whether I regard everything I read in newspapers, hear on the radio, or see on the television as reliably accurate, the answer is that I don’t. It depends on the nature of the report. If there’s something specific you’d like to know my assessment of, I’m more than happy to provide it.

    ‘Do you think Western governments are to be trusted after the deliberate WMD fabrication?’ you ask. Once again it depends on the issue. I don’t automatically assume that whatever they tell me is true, but then I don’t automatically assume that whatever anybody tells me is true.

    ‘Do you know for certain who they [Western governments] are bombing now?’ No, I don’t. Do you?

    If you think my way of approaching this discussion is tedious and unimaginative, what would you suggest as an alternative?

  89. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 15:35 | #89

    @Ikonoclast

    When you write ‘In the quote I mentioned, he simply calls for a congressional inquiry into events’, your statement is demonstrated to be false by the evidence you yourself have provided.

    You quoted Mark Dankof as saying, among other things, the following: ‘… this ISIS organization, also known as ISIL, was created by the United States, Saudi Arabic and Israel for the specific purpose of enacting regime change in Syria’ and also as characterising ‘ISIL as “a foreign mercenary army” that has been “deliberately introduced into Syria” by the United States and its allies for the “nefarious purpose” of “regime change in Syria”‘. According to the text you quoted, Mark Dankof did not ‘simply’ ask for a congressional inquiry into whether these things are true; he affirmed that they are true.

    I can think of three typical reasons why people quote statements in this way, although I suppose your own reason may perhaps be none of these three but rather some other reason I haven’t thought of.

    1. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they want to ask ‘Do you think this is right?’ In this instance, you might be looking for other people’s evaluations of what Mark Dankof has said.

    2. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they want to show how unreliable some sources are and what implausible reports they retail. In this instance, you might (theoretically; but I’m guessing not so in fact) be trying to illustrate what kind of rubbish is being repeated by some people, of whom Mark Dankof is an example.

    3. Sometimes people quote a report like this to other people because they think the statements being made are accurate (or, at least, probably largely accurate) and they quote somebody else making them as evidence in support of their own position. If that’s what you’re doing, it seems to me to be only fair to ask why you regard Mark Dankof’s word as having evidential value.

    A quick search of the Web reveals this example of Mark Dankof’s political views:

    ‘The root of the crisis involves what Matthias Chang has referred to as the Anglo-American-Zionist-Military Industrial Complex, which has overextended its reach in the world by using illegitimate military means and political/cultural subversion of individual countries to reach three (3) ultimate goals: 1) The establishment of a world banking system which is committed to the Nixon-Saudi petrodollar of August of 1971 as the global reserve currency of the planet and the only currency to be utilized for all international oil transactions; 2) The establishment of a world government ultimately based in Jerusalem which will have its foundations in this global banking system, even as it is run by the appointed agents of Zionist and Jewish power who control establishment banking, media, and government in all of the individual nation-states globally who have been subverted and brought into this oppressive mechanism; and 3) the achievement of Eretz Yisrael (Greater Israel) in the Middle East, where the Zionist entity will control all of the territory between the Nile River and the Tigris/Euphrates River with a United Jerusalem as the seat of a Globalist Empire which oversees world banking, individual governments, multi-national corporations, world technologies, and the military/intelligence apparatuses of formerly sovereign nation-states. All of this provided the foundational assumptions of World Zionism and the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods in 1944.’

    I personally find that enough to form my own judgement of how much value should be placed on what Mark Dankof has to say about international affairs, but I don’t ask anybody else to accept my judgement. I urge them to seek out and evaluate evidence for themselves. In a discussion like this I never expect anybody to take my word for anything: I am always happy to be questioned about the basis for any conclusion I put forward.

  90. Fran Barlow
    October 5th, 2014 at 15:36 | #90

    @Ikonoclast

    Who or what do you think created ISIL? No doubt it was a complex of forces but I suspect the US, in the entirety of its actions in the M.E. can take a good part of the “credit”.

    I don’t disagree with attributing a good part of the responsibility for the emergence of ISIL to the US. The US, over several decades, helped author the circumstances in which Islamism in its various iterations was awakened. This really goes back to 1979 and their use of Islamists to unsettle Soviet Central Asia. Equally, their client, Israel had a hand in laying the foundations for Islamic Jihad (in order to subvert the legitimacy of the PLO. And of course the carte blanche they gave to the Saudis, for a time also the Taliban, and their ouster of the Ba’athists in Iraq and the enormous outpouring of religio-ethnic nationalism there all created fertile ground for a group like ISIL.

    Finally, the ramping up under Petraeus of the Sunni fundamentalist ‘Sons of Iraq’ movement to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq on the basis of a pay off by the subsequent Iraqi regime backfired when the pay off never happened. Once Syria began decomposing, in part one suspects through US/Israeli subversion, there was now a place for disaffected Sunni fundamentalists to acquire weapons and assistance, largely through Arab regimes that in turn have been US clients, like the UAE and the Saudis.

    So while the US didn’t create ISIL, they certainly shaped the conflicts and facts on the ground in ways that strongly predisposed such organisations emerging. From their POV, this is not a mistake. People who are a nuisance to them and their allies are being attacked by people they are free to attack. Syria is weakened (which empowers their ally, Israel), and the US can continue to bankroll the US arms industry and regiment their populace. From a boss class POV what’s not to like?

    If ISIL runs amok and kills tens of thousands of people, the US won’t be remotely bothered by that. All grist to their propaganda mill. The only real losers are working humanity, about which the US and the west more generally could scarcely care less.

  91. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2014 at 17:18 | #91

    @J-D

    As usual, you don’t want to talk about the substantive issues. It’s clear that the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have funded the so-called moderate Syrian opposition(s) and also in the case of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar donors they have directly funded ISIS.

    “There is evidence that, as the US magazine The Atlantic puts it, “Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra”, an al-Qaida group operating in Syria. Less than two weeks ago, Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, was slapped down after pointing the finger at Qatar for funding Islamic State (Isis).

    While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US.” – Guardian.

    From the report – “To really combat terror, end support for Saudi Arabia” – Beta Guardian.

  92. Donald Oats
    October 5th, 2014 at 17:58 | #92

    J-D, in a democracy that allows businesses to donate to political parties, it is only natural for the larger businesses to donate to both major parties–in the case of Australia; this is because no matter which of the two parties is voted into office, the implied threat of not donating (to one of the parties) in the future is how businesses can exert their muscle. In other words, we fund you while you play nice when in power, or…

    This is what we know of as BAU: business as usual.

  93. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 20:06 | #93

    @Ikonoclast

    The statement

    ‘Powerful private individuals in Qatar are directly funding ISIS’

    and the statement

    ‘ISIL is a foreign mercenary army deliberately introduced into Syria by the United States and its allies’

    are not equivalent.

  94. J-D
    October 5th, 2014 at 20:08 | #94

    @Donald Oats

    That sounds plausible; so in such a case, how would you expect events to unfold in the hypothetical scenario where a major party acts in a way that antagonises those major business donors?

  95. Ikonoclast
    October 5th, 2014 at 21:01 | #95

    @J-D

    How would you expect events to unfold in a hypothetical scenario where you debated instead of metadebating?

  96. J-D
    October 6th, 2014 at 07:40 | #96

    @Ikonoclast

    I’d like to answer your question, but unfortunately that would require operating at a level of abstraction that I find myself incapable of. I don’t know the answer. Do you have any ideas about what might be expected in the scenario you’re hypothesising?

  97. jungney
    October 6th, 2014 at 19:42 | #97

    @Fran Barlow
    “Over time (a decade or two) I can see us threatening the duopoly…”

    We don’t have decade or two…

  98. Megan
    October 6th, 2014 at 20:15 | #98

    @jungney

    True, but…

    I’m reminded of a speech given by Chris Hedges in 2012 in which he said:

    …Stop asking yourself whether its practical. It’s never practical. Turn off your television. Nothing you do in the eyes of the corporate media is ever going to be a success. You’re always going to be deemed a failure. And listen to the people around you and not the pollution pouring out over the airwaves.

    I was in Leipzig on November 9, 1989, with the leaders of the East German opposition, and they said, “Maybe within a year there will be free passage back and forth across the Berlin Wall.” Within a few hours the Berlin Wall, at least as impediment to human traffic, did not exist. No one knows how movements work. No one knows at what point that spark ignites a conflagration.

    It can happen at any moment and ‘they’ know it, that’s why they’re always so paranoid and terrified of us.

  99. Fran Barlow
    October 6th, 2014 at 22:04 | #99

    @jungney

    I fear that’s so, but it’s what we have now. All one can do is one’s best to change that.

  100. J-D
    October 7th, 2014 at 06:58 | #100

    @Megan

    If nobody knows which spark will ignite a conflagration, then also nobody knows what — or who — will be burned up in that conflagration. The possibility of incalculable effects includes incalculable loss as well as incalculable gain.

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