Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday morning musings - gender & the possible rise of Mr Turnbull?

The new information emerging on the Slipper matter is tending to support the position I adopted in Abbott, Gillard - time to stop!. Peter Hartcher's Amid the fury, a quiet execution is an example. I couldn't help being struck by the irony that it appears that it was Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop's anger over the sexist nature of Mr Slipper's remarks that set in train the chain of events that led to the PM's attack on Mr Abbott.

I don't especially want to revisit the detail of who said what and why. Rather, I want to use the last paragraph of my previous post as an entry point to this post. There I said:

The comments on the Holmes piece are interesting because they show the way that discussion around this matter is affected by starting points. I am not saying anything profound here. At one level, my comment is obviously self-evident. However, the longer term effect depends on the way that those very different interpretations and weightings work their way through within an Australian domestic political and social frame. I actually have no idea just what the outcome will be.

I still have no real idea, but in this post I want to look at some of the dynamics involved. I am not talking about rights or wrongs, good or bad, simply seeking to understand with sufficient clarity that others can, if they wish, critique my views.

Public opinion about both Opposition Leader Abbott and PM Gillard is deeply polarised and has been for a long time. We see this in the polls, but it also comes through in commentary, in the flow of comments on social media and in private conversations. I haven't seen anything quite like it before, for the reactions are deeply personal. The nearest equivalent from my direct experience is the Whitlam period, but the divisive reactions then were rather more political than personal. As PM, Mr Keating attracted a visceral reaction as well, so did Mr Howard, but the present position is still unusual. It may be that all this is part of what I think of as the personalisation of Australian politics, but for the moment we can just take it as a given.

One side effect of the deep polarisation is that it makes sensible conversation very difficult. You try saying something nice about either leader to those in the opposite camp and you will see the effects of detestation at once. A second side effect is that to those with strong views, each development is interpreted within and used to support a mental frame based on dislike. This, the argument goes, is further evidence of (insert perception). One practical effect is that the views of perhaps two thirds of the Australian population can be largely ignored when it comes to considering the immediate political fall-out from recent events. However, those views cannot be ignored when it comes to consider the heat created within political discourse.

The evidence suggests, too, that opinion towards both leaders is polarised along gender lines and has been for some time in a way that we haven't seen before. Now that we have added misogyny wars to the list of cultural and social conflicts, this divide will be strengthened, but only at the margin. People are not one dimensional. We all have worries and concerns that extend beyond gender issues. It is actually hard to see Julia Gillard increasing her female vote, Tony Abbott increasing his male vote. The whole affair may increase the intensity of feeling among those who already have certain views, but won't have much impact on the placement of the dividing line between views.

It will affect the language of political discourse. No politician in his right mind interested in main stream votes would want to experience the vitriol and inevitable tarnish associated with the misogynist brush. The impact at the margin is less clear cut. This will also play out among fringe groups on the left and right who, seeing an opportunity to attract support, will add the matter to their political repertoire. On the fringe, it doesn't matter if you alienate the 95% if you can attract the 5%.

To my mind, the most important immediate political issue is whether Ms Gillard has been able to wound Mr Abbott to the point of political gangrene. We have seen this before. Political machines are pretty ruthless. Depending on the way all this plays out, there is a fair chance that Mr Abbott will be amputated before the next election, replaced by Mr Turnbull. That would change the dynamics at once, effectively taking the gender issue out of the equation.

On 1 October in Will PM Gillard win the next election? And possibly why I thought that events were swinging Ms Gillard's way. As they say, a week is a long time in politics. Now that both Mr Abbott and and Ms Gillard have effectively run onto each other's swords, who can say what will happen?


The ripples from this affair continue. Here in NSW Cathy Stoner, the wife of NSW National Party Leader and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner, received an abrupt lesson in the dangers of expressing personal views via Twitter (Politician's wife retweeted anti-Muslim tirades).

Cathy Stoner's views are not a-typical. I have a fairly diverse group of Facebook friends spanning left to right, along with multiple party persuasions. I generally avoid political comments on Facebook partly for that reason, more because I use Facebook in a purely personal way.  Others are more forthcoming, implicitly assuming that their Facebook friends actually share their views. As a consequence, I see similar views expressed quite often, as well as those diametrically opposed.

Meantime, Treasurer Wayne Swan also received a salutary lesson in the new political dynamics (Wayne Swan says he should have condemned joke) when he failed to leave a Union function after an off-colour joke about the relations between Mr Abbott and his chief of staff. Now this is actually a case of political correctness gone mad. The organisers weren't responsible for the joke - that was apparently done by the hired comedy team as a last moment insertion. What Mr Swan should have done is simply distance himself at the time from the joke, then proceed with the speech. But it's easy to be wise after the event.

Meantime, Lenore Taylor felt obliged to come to the defence of the press gallery in PM's speech did stir hearts, but remember the context. That's fine. She expressed somewhat similar views to me, then right at the end she felt obliged to add: And it could also be that one reason the feeling, the silent cheer, the thank-god-someone is-saying-it response was almost entirely missing on the day after the Prime Minister's speech was not because the writers lived in Canberra, but because on that particular day a lot of the most prominent commentary was written by men.

Mmm. Maybe I'm wrong, but we seem to be at the stage now where gender issues can only be discussed or responded too by women, and god help any man who comments and especially a man who defends a male position. I have got into trouble a couple of times here myself in exploring the social and personal implications of changing gender roles.

I am supporter of equality of opportunity and choice regardless of gender. That includes exploring the conflicts and choices that arise, as well as the implications of changing demography and the way that discrimination is sometimes exercised against men.

And as a final note before I put this one aside, Annabel Crabb's Grubby, grotty, silly and sexist, but misogyny is a sledge too far provides yet another take. Incidentally, interesting that Julie Bishop feels obliged to defend Tony Abbott against the possibility of a Malcolm Turnbull leadership change. 

Postscript two

Oh dear, I know that I am out of touch when I see this piece described on twitter, and I quote, as "the week in sexism & politics - this column by @bairdjulia is the best op-ed on the topic." Really?!


Anonymous said...

Removing Abbott means the carbon tax will stay and a lot of coalition votes will look right again.

Rod said...

I think your comment about falling on each others swords is an excellent description. As far as I can tell this whole affair has done them both incredible damage while further entrenching the absolute views of the elite bodyguards of both camps. I think for both parties to come out of this without further damage they both need a rebellion from within. For the Liberals though, Turnbull would be an interesting selection since in my view it would be like trying to make the Liberal Party more like Labor!

Jim Belshaw said...

You may be right, anon, if I interpret you correctly. The last sentence of Rod's comment is pertinent here.

It's interesting, Rod, that some of the ALP people like Penny Wong are trying to distance not from the PM, but from the idea of misogyny wars. That union function muddied the waters further.

Evan said...

The big muddying of the waters I think was making single mothers poorer.

The surprising thing about the reaction to Julia's skewering of Tony for me was the vehemance of it.

This may be because I socialise mostly with those like me. We tend to the left (some would think so much so as to have fallen off the twig) in cultural matters.

Although much of the cheering seemed to come as much from the middle class - gathered around their computers cheering in the office of a women's blog for instance.

I think this kind of intensity means something (the nearest event I have is Aus winning the Americas Cup).

Evan said...

to get comments

Jim Belshaw said...

One of the difficulties, I think, Evan is that if you look at the policies of the two parties through an equality frame independent of gender there is not a lot of difference between the two!

Now I wouldn't say that you have fallen of the twig in cultural matters. I am hardly left, yet we can still discourse!

Now at the risk on inciting a troll attack, a lot of the atmospherics in all this seem to come from women of a certain age plus those who dislike Mr Abbott. I accept that's a gross generalization.I accept, too, that Mr Abbott's wording over time really has pissed off women including younger women like daughter C. But the intensity is still remarkable.

I wouldn't have thought of the Americas Cup analogy. But if we extend that analogy,then the practical impact of the whole affair is likely to be zero.I think that it's a little more than that.

Evan said...

Yes I do think the two parties have converged to a centrist, centre-right place. There isn't a lot of differences I can see.

I think you are right about where the noise is coming from.

For me the intensity means it must speak to these people's experience.

My hope is that we will see, as men lose the positions or privelege, a movement of men against patriarchy. The situation in my life time has changed remarkably (especially re gays - the big change point I think was AIDS - just my impression).

I hope it leads to some alliances and action - there is so much energy that could be constructively channelled.

Anonymous said...

"a lot of the atmospherics in all this seem to come from women of a certain age plus those who dislike Mr Abbott"

Jim I don't really agree with that assessment, but I hope you don't suffer from an attack of the trolls because of it.

I think I've made it quite plain that I'm a right of centre sort of person, and I neither like nor dislike Mr Abbott. I watched his comments, and Ms gillard's response, and as far as I'm concerned he deliberately chose his language, and was handed his head on a plate quite justifiably.

But to 'see it as part of a bigger picture' or of any ongoing political significance is to grant the incident a significance I don't think is warranted.

What I think (or should that be hope) is that all most of us want are serious people seriously addressing the quite serious issues this country faces - and I don't think either party offers much in the way of ideas or solutions at the moment.

And I also think that it would help a bit (along with your own desire for more edifying debate) if we could also get our basic language right: we don't actually have a 'carbon tax' and Ms Gillard made no bones about the fact before the last election that there would be a price on carbon. To call her a 'liar' is to deny both those uncontested facts; to suggest that the coalition has easy answers to those issues which trouble us all is not based upon anything they've yet announced.

People bring their own cloudy lenses to these discussions - so much so that it is very difficult to cut through the tribalism to see what if anything concrete is being proposed, and how that might fit within all the other equally important issues any government will face in the next few years.

The thing which makes me boil about Mr Abbott at the moment is the ceaseless, nonsensical repetition of meaningless slogans. "Stop the boats", "No great big new taxes" etc.

Without valid alternative policy positions to back them up he just comes over as someone who has made the assessment that the electorate at large is comprised of fools and morons - and I find that quite insulting. And if you think that the foregoing is some sort of defence of Ms Gillard then I've expressed myself very badly.

One final thing (so I don't clog up your blog endlessly) I cannot see any hope for a Malcolm Turnbull resurgence; at the very least government is about uneasy consensus of competing interests, and his earlier attempt found him seriously lacking in any recognition of that, and I see no change in him since then.


Jim Belshaw said...

kvd first. I would respond to your first line in detail, but it really deserves its own post. Still, and very briefly.

We are in agreement that the constant repetition by Mr Abbott of certain narrowly defined slogans is pretty meaningless. I was going to say mindless repletion, but its conscious, not mindless. I agree about the absence of the positives. Mr Abbott focuses on why we should vote against the ALP, not why we should vote for him.

I agree that we should get our language right. I agree with your cloudiness point. I do not agree in this case that Mr Abbott consciously chose his language. I think that he just slipped up. To think otherwise, would be to give him a level of political stupidity not supported by evidence.

I do not agree with you re the political significance. The whole thing has clearly damaged both. Just how that plays out has still to be seen. It's a matter of judgement whose validity can only be seen in time.

My comment about women of a certain age is an opinion based on my perception but is arguable, refutable, on the facts. Essentially, and as I have argued before, some of the most rampant feminists are those born in the ten years from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. There are particular reasons for this, but in any event my assertion is subject to factual check.

Finally, turning to Mr Turnbull I am not a Turnbull supporter. I take the force in your comment. But the dynamics do suggest that he might well become opposition leader simply through the force of circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Jim re the particular I guess it boils down to how much respect you have for Mr Abbot's political skills.

For mine, I choose to believe that he is a very canny operator who chooses his words quite carefully. Further, given the amount and extent of the Alan Jones saga/furore, to suggest the particular quite specific phrase 'died of shame' was accidentally invoked as 'a government dying of shame' grants him a level of stupidity I just cannot accept, so on that point we differ.

And if 'the whole thing has clearly damaged both' as you suggest - and I tend to agree - then what further significance can you attach to a lowering of 'both sides' in the eyes of the electorate? Ms Gillard will be more likely undone by the festering sore of the Slater Gordon connection than this; and Mr Abbott has an election to lose, not win.

All this has done is further polarise already committed bases.


Jim Belshaw said...

Evan, belatedly responding to your last comment, I agree that AIDS was a turning point. As for patriarchy? That died a while ago. My argument has been that we haven't really adapted to changes that have already taken place. I don't expect all this to have significant longer term effects in terms of fundamental change, beyond accentuation of existing divisions.

kvd, by accentuating divisions, the position of both is weakened. On Mr Abbott specifically, my impression is that in the heat of debate he is quite likely to do silly things.

On Slater Gordon, I have no idea. My impression is that it's just another thing that will bob along unless new evidence emerges. I saw the most recent reporting and I'm not sure how much that added to our knowledge.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thinking about all this further, the way things are now I guess that you can expect a continued attack on the PM centered on the question of character, in which case Slater & Gordon will certainly get a run.

It's really difficult to see how both sides can break out of this cycle. Putting on my ancient and now very moldy political machine hat, attack is the best form of defence. Taking into account the very real anger in the coalition over the whole affair, a continued conscious attack on the PM would seem the best way to go.

Looking back over Australian politics, there is one apparent equivalent. Earle Page's attack on Menzies. It wiped out Menzies for the moment, but wipes out Page as well.

Anonymous said...

rampant [ˈræmpənt]
1. unrestrained or violent in behaviour, desire, opinions, etc.
2. growing or developing unchecked
3. (History / Heraldry) (postpositive) Heraldry (of a beast) standing on the hind legs, the right foreleg raised above the left
4. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Architecture) (of an arch) having one abutment higher than the other
[from Old French ramper to crawl, rear; see ramp]

Oh dear, Jim. I think it might be wise to offer a 'slip of the tongue' excuse for that. Then you'd only have to worry about the 'of a certain age' thing.

Said in gentle jest, with hopes for your eventual re-education.


ContemporaryPolitics said...

With the constant personal attacks and increasing public disillusionment, is modern politics of risk at wiping itself out completely?

Politicians repeated rehearsed phrases, but do you think we could get politicians to start giving us the straight forward, undiluted facts?

Jim Belshaw said...

Well, kvd, either 1 or 3 might fit! I fear that I have probably been re-educated too many times now. It seems to be wearing off. Alternatively, I'm just very modern!

Winton Bates said...

If I judge the public reaction correctly, the winner from the PM's outburst is more likely to be Kevin Rudd than Malcolm Turnbull.
The next polls will be very interesting.

Jim Belshaw said...

You could be right, Winton. although with this type of issue you need to look over a longer time horizon while people make up their minds.

Anonymous said...

Kiss of death:

I'm just wondering which bits of the Pres's Kennedy and Clinton she is referring to?


Jim Belshaw said...

oh dear, kvd. Pass.

Winton Bates said...

Well, Jim, it seems that I didn't judge the public reaction correctly. The overall reaction to the hissy fit seems to have been positive. The 'go girl' mob must be larger than I thought.

Perhaps I have a 'small sample' problem!

Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with you on the small sample point, Winton. I have a somewhat similar problem. I don't think that these initial results should be too suprising. The overall voting position is similar in trend terms. The leader standings are more interesting, in that they do suggest that the PM did some damage to Mr Abbott, gained something herself.