On the morning of the American presidential election, The Australian, with all the massive North American and indeed worldwide resources of News Corp and by far Australia’s leading newspaper, made a confident and conclusive announcement about the presidential election on its front page.
They declared: “Hillary Clinton is poised to become the next US President after a late surge in support yesterday gave her what should be a winning lead,” adding that ”… the respected Real Clear Politics average of polls showed Mrs Clinton’s lead jump from 1.8 percentage points to 3 points yesterday, swinging the momentum her way on election day.”
After Brexit , the British election and our recent election, it was surely unwise to treat opinion polling with such deference. This wasn’t the first time that the media have been wrong . The older generation will recall vividly the 1948 presidential election when all the knowledgeable assumed that the popular and sophisticated Governor Dewey would win over plain old Harry Truman. Indeed, the Chicago Daily Tribune, who had once called Harry Truman a ”nincompoop”, unwisely went to press with the headline “Dewey defeats Truman”.
What was appalling in the current presidential election was that much of the media (not The Australian, although some of its commentators paid far too much attention to personality and not to policy) were arrogantly disdainful towards he who may well be President-elect Trump.
What I have noticed since the 1999 referendum is the emergence of an elite who think they are vastly superior in morality and intelligence to the rank-and-file, and who have permeated both the political parties and the media. At that time the mainstream media were unanimous in barracking for the Turnbull-Keating republic. On the evening of 6 November, when the people delivered a landslide nationally, in every state and 72 percent of electorates, they had egg on their faces. Just as Laurie Oakes and other members of the commentariat must have now.
The elites constantly and arrogantly ignore the first rule of politics. This was not only discovered by Alan Jones, he elegantly enunciated what may be called his Alan Jones rule. This is to be expressed in the form of the eternal question: “Does it pass the pub test?”
When Alan first promulgated this he was ridiculed from ABC to Fairfax and especially in such inner city electorates as Wentworth. Now it seems that almost every galah in every pet shop in the country is endlessly repeating it. But politics in other countries are bad enough with the dominance of the elites , but Australia goes to extremes in the way the opinion of the rank-and-file is declared to be worthless and that of the elites priceless.
This is because the Australian political parties have, unlike those in most comparable countries, fallen under the control of small and smaller cabals of powerbrokers and lobbyists who have seriously tainted our representative democracy. The basis of this system is that the people must have the opportunity to choose their representatives on the basis of merit. This ignores the fact that political life in Australia has become as tainted as that of economic life under any monopoly where the rules of competition are twisted to take everything for the benefit of a tiny minority.
This is mirrored in the major Australian political parties. One of the worst examples is in the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party which is under the stranglehold of a hard left cabal of powerbroker lobbyists who think they have cleverly headed off reform. The result is that in recent preselections the usual excellent candidates who would stand no there is no point in even bothering to nominate.
Both parties are putting into parliament politicians who know everything about Machiavellian plotting, especially the sort of thing we saw in the Great Bedwetting Incident of 2015 against the then leader. What they are ignorant of are the rich life experiences of the rank-and-file who they think can be and should be totally ignored.
The consequence can be seen in the standard of decisions taken by governments recently. Examples include ignoring the separation of powers where people are not only found guilty by ICAC but that finding is insisted upon even when a court has found otherwise, unduly relaxing the bail laws, imposing fines which can be forgiven by ministerial discretion for not selling sufficient ethanol, seizing property without paying proper compensation, amalgamating local government on the basis of a secret and allegedly compromised report, targeting self-funded retirees with superannuation changes imposing excessive compliance costs and taxes higher even than Labor proposed while protecting the platinum and gold plated schemes for politicians, imposing not only a special heavy ( now discounted) tax on backpackers and but also effectively confiscating their superannuation and ignoring the plight of students hauled for years before a so-called human rights star chamber.
In the last federal election, conservative voters were dismissed on the arrogant ground that they had nowhere else to go. They did, and one result has been the re-emergence in the parliament of the supposedly unwelcome Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. The result has been that in their maiden speeches, their senators have been saying things that are commonplace in the pubs of the nation but are never or are hardly ever heard in the parliament. This party now offers a viable home to alienated voters not only for the Coalition but also old-fashioned pre-Greens Labor.
What the American presidential election demonstrates is that if the elites, particularly those in alliance with powerbrokers and lobbyists, think they can take over and run the country, the rank and file will eventually rebel.
Notwithstanding the brand to which they have long given loyalty ,they will choose someone or some party who, they believe, speaks for them. The fluidity of American political parties permitted the emergence of an opposition and an alternative within one of the major parties in the persons of not only Donald Trump but also, let us not forget, Ted Cruz. Australia is too straitjacketed for this, our political parties too much under the dictatorial control of assorted powerbrokers and lobbyists.
The fact is that if the traditional Australian political parties do not reform and become democratic, voters will move to other choices. The US election is a warning for our elite politicians and media.