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Political parties deliver village idiots not village elders

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New Yorkers Protest the US$850 BILLION Wall Street bailout, NYC, 25 September 25 2008 (Image by Alane Golden | Flickr)

Why do we end up with village idiots representing our electorates rather than village elders? Managing editor David Donovan says it’s the fault of the big political parties.

Read some of David Donovan’s other recent pieces on Australia's rotten democracy:

Australia’s barbaric judicial and political system
Reforming Australia’s system of democracy

N AUSTRALIA, like many other western nations, we have a system of representative democracy in which we vote to elect a candidate who is meant to best represent our local community. In theory, this means that Parliament should be made up of “village elder” types, who meet in Canberra periodically and use their experience and wisdom to respond to the needs of the nation. And with each community having their own designate representing their interests and their interests alone, every part of the nation should have an equal opportunity to have their say.

In truth, our representatives seldom, if ever, put their constituents first. For almost all of them, bitter experience shows us that their actual order of priority would appear to be:

  • their own career;
  • the needs of their political party
  • clear daylight; and finally
  • the needs of their constituents.

You only need to look at the kind of buffoons typically served up in state parliaments around our nation to know that something is not right. The venal mess in NSW under its last Government is alone enough to make one feel dismayed by the average quality of elected representatives.

Put simply, we are getting our political representatives through political parties, but political parties – whose memberships have fallen through the floor – are simply not getting the right sorts of candidates. Rather than the village elder, what we all too often end up with is the village idiot. People who have never done a real day's work in their lives. People who – rather than learning about life through working and living with real, honest, decent, everyday people – have only ever “worked” in some politician’s office, or as a union rep, or as an ambulance chasing lawyer, or a snooty barrister. These are the people make up about 90 per cent of the MPs in our Parliaments. They do these other jobs beforehand while they furtively plot ways to undermine other like-minded people with similar tawdry aspirations to be a career politician — to climb that slimy, greasy, pole to political success. And the closest they ever get to ordinary people’s values, hopes and aspirations is when they look through the one way mirror at a political pollsters office while he is conducting a polling group in outer Western Sydney or Melbourne.

It's no wonder, then, that our politicians are so out of touch with our interests. If they happened to live in the same world as us, then they might be able to understand intrinsically our desires and aspirations, rather than take as wisdom’s pearls the throwaway non sequiturs of a bunch of bored suburbanites in a polling group. They’d be able to represent our interests, rather than striving to divide our society down the middle into two warring camps – the major political parties – that are based on nothing more than out-dated political ideology centred on almost-forgotten class divisions.

But this, alas, is our body politic — detached from reality, disengaged from society and, sadly, rotten to its very core.

Of course, the problem always come back to the major political parties — blandly indifferent organisations that are dedicated exclusively and solely to their own perpetuation and power, but which are so enmeshed, embedded and entrenched in our system that they provide an obvious and attainable pathway for the career-driven, politically ambitious, village idiot. The track they typically follow is well-worn : join a party, bide your time, hand out some how-to-vote cards, get someone’s patronage, get pre-selected in a winnable seat, get elected, hurrah!, sit on the back bench, say nothing, vote along party lines, get kicked out by the voters, receive inordinately handsome superannuation payments for the rest of your life.

For your average village idiot, it’s the best career option in town — no wonder so many take it.

But if you aren’t a village idiot, and you are not prepared to compromise your principles by joining one of these sleazy political parties – like 99.5% of the population (hardly anyone is a member these days) – then the only option you have to represent your community is by standing as an unaligned Independent candidate. Unfortunately, you have roughly the same chance of being hit by an asteroid as being elected as an Independent, such is the iron grip political parties have over the public's popular voting preferences. In our system, you only get elected as an Independent if you first stood as a member of a major party, got elected and then later resigned or got kicked out of the party — and only then in a rural seat and even then you are a weird anomaly.

The reason the parties dominate our voting patterns is simply marketing, familiarity and conditioning. You can think of it as the Hungry Jacks / McDonald’s / KFC principle. You may not particularly like the fast food you receive from those outlets, but you feel comfortable buying it because you have had it before, so you have a pretty good idea what you are going to get and you will more than likely be able to force it down and then, hopefully, forget about it. Who knows what you’ll get at an Independent outlet, right? So, if you like burgers you might go to McDonald’s. If you don’t like their burgers, or feel like a change, you might decide to go to Hungry Jacks. If you don’t want a burger, maybe you’ll get something from KFC.

So it is with our political parties. If you’re a worker or wage-earner, you’ll probably vote Labor. If you’re a manager, a boss or self-employed, you’re likely to vote Liberal. If you work on the land, you’ll vote for the Nationals. And if you’re concerned about the environment…well, you get the general idea.

But these groups are not about representing the individual needs and aspirations of people living in particular communities — or electorates. Not at all. They represent special interests: unions, employer groups, industry groups, environmental groups, farmers' lobbies and, in general, whoever gives them their biggest donations. Funding is important to political parties, because only by keeping big war chests can they continue to maintain their oligarchy over the Australian political system. Oh, and they also set the rules, enabling them to tip the scales against anyone trying to muscle into their cosy little set-up — anyone silly enough to want real democracy and break apart their odious little cartel.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

What I am interested in is a solution to this mess. And I think I have a solution — a plan to get more Independents elected into Parliament. People who are dedicated to representing their electorates and breaking the back of the vested interests who have hijacked our system.

A plan to root out more of the village idiots – the greasy career driven political operatives – and get more genuine, sensible, wise, everyday people representing our interests — and not the interests of big business or union bosses.

Coming tomorrow – ‘The Australian Independents’'.

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