I’ve been thinking a lot about political tactics of late. Tactics that make people shrug and go “oh well, it’s just the way things are done now”. Politicians say things they know to be outright lies, and we go “oh well, what did you expect? That’s politics.”
Gay candidates have whisper campaigns run against them in conservative communities – which seems to me to be unspeakably foul – and we say “well, it works, so of course they will try it.”
I think it’s time we stopped shrugging. I think it’s time we valued decency. I think it’s time we told each and every candidate that negative campaigning sickens us. That we want to know what they will do, and what they believe, not how much they hate their opponents.
A few weeks ago the new Labor candidate for the federal seat of Bruce, Julian Hill, was outside my daughter’s school when I arrived to pick her up. Seeing an opportunity to grill him on asylum seekers and climate change (two of the most urgent and compellingly moral issues Australia faces right now, in my opinion), I went to talk to him, much to the disgust of my kids. (“OMG! Mum, he’s a politician! Gross!”)
I was intending to go in hard, because I am bitterly disappointed by both of our major parties on most issues, and on these two issues I am enraged. I was taken aback, therefore, when Julian proved himself to be thoughtful, considered, and compassionate. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I could not help but respect the fact that he had thought things through and didn’t just spout a series of pre-prepared slogans, which seems to be the standard political response these days.
I went away and researched some of the things he said and emailed him about them, and he replied immediately. Again he was thoughtful, rational, and decent. I found myself, a Greens member of long standing, contemplating voting for this man. You may think that decency is a pretty low bar to set, but it’s one I think a lot of our politicians would struggle to clear. Decent people rather stand out.
What really struck me about my interactions with Julian is that through talking to him and grilling him on his attitudes to various things, I became much more engaged with the political process. I am surrounded, for the most part, by people I agree with. That’s pretty normal – we tend to seek out people we have a lot in common with – but it does mean that my views aren’t challenged as often as they could be. That, in turn, means that my views aren’t always well thought out (shocking, I know).
I found myself responding to Julian with a lot of “I think”s, so I then went home and set about changing them to “I know”s, or “I was wrong”s by checking my facts. This is another thing there’s not enough of in our current politics. (Incidentally one of the things that impresses me, again unexpectedly, about Ricky Muir – he is quite prepared to find stuff out and be persuaded by evidence. How novel!).
Sometimes when I’m tired and grumpy I don’t like people challenging my views. But I always, always learn from it. (Sometimes what I learn is not to hit the “send” button late at night…)
Whatever your politics and whatever your usual voting pattern, it’s worth engaging with your local candidates to find out, as much as you can, who they are and what they believe in. At worst you might only get chapter and verse of the party line, but that in itself is quite revealing. If you despise a party’s policies, but then find that your local candidate for that party has more moderate views, a vote for them can influence the path of the whole party. Even parties who typically vote in lockstep have members with differing opinions who might just be worth supporting.
At best you might learn something about your local politicians. You might even reconsider your own voting patterns – maybe to confirm them, or maybe to change them. It’s a way to ensure that you are voting for the candidate who best represents your personal values.
Best of all it’s a way to make yourself think about what is important to you. And that’s worth voting for.