Where would you like to be led?

Politicians these days are all about polls. In a classic episode of The West Wing, Joey Lucas, a professional pollster, told Josh Lyman that being poll driven was like the leader of the French resistance who said “There go my people. I must see where they are going, so that I can lead them.” There, in a tiny, depressing nutshell, you have the current state of Australian politics.

Want to find out a politician’s opinion? Listen for the loudest screaming from the most visible pressure group. Politicians believe that. Wholeheartedly. At least, until a different lobby group starts drowning out the first one. Then they believe that. Utterly. With every fibre of their disturbingly fibreless beings.

There are a few politicians who stand up for what they believe in, and don’t sway in the breeze of public opinion. Bob Brown is one notable example. Petro Georgiou was another. There have been politicians both Labor and Liberal who have, on occasion gone out on a limb and publicly disagreed with their party – most recently Mark Arbib made his views on gay marriage known, but given that the majority of Australians now support gay marriage, that may actually be political cunning rather than conviction. It is inevitable that a ban on gay marriage will seem as disgusting in the future as a ban on interracial marriages seems to us now. Arbib may just be sniffing the breeze there, but even that is a brave thing to do these days when it means not toeing the party line.

But what we need now is not politicians who decide what to do today by sniffing the breeze or listening to the screaming. Nor by the size and location of their donor pool, with its glossy, gold plated sun lounges with the built in hand cuffs. We need politicians with conviction, courage, compassion and cleverness. (Alliterative ability also appreciated. Sorry. I’ll stop now.)

There are so many pressing challenges – climate & environment, humanitarian and economic. We need a radical new approach. We need leadership, vision, and a willingness to try new things. We need someone with the ability to listen not only to the screaming, but to the people who are making no noise.

Imagine if political donations were not capped, but were outlawed. If every political party had a fixed, tiny budget for advertising. A massive levelling of the playing field. No-one would be allowed to advertise any kind of political message – under the guise of “educating” people about myki, or “informing” people of their rights, or any other smokescreen. It would be incredibly difficult to police, of course. Product placement would give way to politics placement. Witness the way the Tea Party in the US was borne aloft on a wave of gratis advertising from a media empire which shall remain namelessly self-serving.

But imagine if it were possible. Imagine if decisions got made on the basis of facts instead of gloss. Imagine if all parties (and even independents) had equal access to the media, and to the eyes, ears and computers of the public.  Imagine an election decided on meaning, not image. What would the political landscape look like then?

I think it would change things. Real leaders would emerge, who needed actual substance in order to win votes, instead of simply needing the most expensive advertising agency and image consultants. Imagine that. Leaders who did what they believed was right, rather than what they believed would win votes. We could have that, even without electoral reform. We don’t have to buy the image campaigns. We could be asking the hard questions, and supporting the media that ask them on our behalves.

I believe we get the government we deserve, and we have given up expecting anything better from our politicians. Ask yourself – is your local member more of the same? Do you have choices?  Are you ready for something different? It’s time to raise the bar.


Disclosure – I am a member of The Victorian Greens, and recently stood for election in the upper house, South Eastern Metro region.

4 thoughts on “Where would you like to be led?

  1. Joe

    I can understand trying to shut up the “money screams” elements of political motivation. Buuut… are polls not a reasonable proxy for the voice of the people on given issues? Is this a suggestion that “the people” are somewhat ignorant and need to be led in a different direction to their current default preferences on issues?

    One poll I think should be banned is the pre-election voting intentions poll. I got heartily sick of the *front page* coverage of how the “race” was going leading up to the last election. To the extent that publishing that information changes anything it can only be bad… “Who ya gonna vote for?” “Dunno, it’s too close to call a winner yet.” wtf?!?

    1. lindamciver

      Hey Joe,

      I do believe that popular opinion is not always a good way to make a decision. In the 70s, the white australia policy was pretty popular, but the government quietly dismantled it anyway, because that was the right thing to do. Hanson, Howard, and those of their ilk can whip up popular opinion to a frenzy of racism and xenophobia. Is it then right to follow the voice of the people?

      The people can fairly easily be whipped up into a frenzy in favour of capital punishment, where the crime is sufficiently horrific – do we then follow the voice of the people?

      Sometimes the people can be a mob.

      It’s a common fallacy that democracy is about doing what the people want. I don’t believe that it is. I believe it’s about electing someone that the people (ideally) can trust to govern and lead. And governing and leading are not about being popular. Whole new post waiting to happen there. :)

      1. Joe

        Indeed we are, as a society, easily pushed around by the opinions of a few editors.

        But it’s a very tempting idea, adjacent neurons pretty much, that opinion polls and the electoral process are both the voice of the people. Who’s to say an election gets it right and an opinion poll gets it wrong?

        If the community (were it possible to let us not be pushed around by sensationalist media and carefully colourful language) are not the arbiter of what is “right” for our community… welllll.

        Granted, the aforementioned editors have too much power over public opinion and could (should the mood take them) whip people into a frenzy of support for capital punishment. Sooo… aren’t they just similarly in a position to influence election outcomes?

        Also, while I agree wholeheartedly with dismantling a white Australia policy so may be heartened by an example of political will that aligns with my own, I may not be so cheerful about watching the state get “Jeffed” which is in all respects a very similar example of determined and principled leadership striving forward to what’s “right” while ignoring the voice of the people.

        I think it is, literally, impossible to get one version of “principled / ideological leadership” without the other.

        Aside: Speaking of editorial power, I am reminded of an article on the front page of my colleague’s paper, citing the number of brothels operating in NSW and following with the line “this shocking statistic …”. And I was thinking, “oh, now you’re telling me the facts *and* how to react to them? Hmmm.”

  2. Joe

    (To be clear, I think both popular opinion and “principled leadership” have the pitfall of fringe unexpected responses to unpredicted important situations. I don’t think either approach is more … reliable. I don’t know that there’s a perfect solution to it.)

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