Monday, September 08, 2008

New Nationals - and a new sense of hope

Anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis will know that I do not fit in in conventional Australian political terms. I get typed variously as a conservative, a soft left small l liberal, a right winger, a social conservative, old fashioned, sometimes even as a radical.

Anybody who reads this blog will also know that I am disillusioned with current politics and approaches to public policy. Here I try to apply my analytical skills to suggest new directions.

I describe my traditional party position as country party, a party that no longer exists. In constitutional terms I am a monarchist who also wants to tear down the existing system to create new entities, to clarify responsibilities.

If you look at what I write about, I constantly emphasise the need to recognise differences across Australia, to avoid one size fits all approaches. I write about localities and regions, about the Aborigines not as "the Aborigines" but as Kamilaroi or Bandjalung.

I have tried to articulate my position in a range of posts.

In Sunday Essay - The beliefs of a New England populist I attempted to outline the origins of some of my beliefs. In Why I am not a conservative and then in a follow up post Why I am not a conservative revisited - and now Saturday Morning musings as well. I tried to articulate some of my broader positions.

If you look at my writings on my beloved New England you will see that I did not just argue that New England was neglected, that self-government was the right option, I also tried to articulate what needed to be done at a policy level to turn decline and relative deprivation around. To use modern jargon, I tried at least in part to create bench marks against which policy and programs could be judged.

In writing about politics I complained about the use of the word punter to describe votes, about the application of the concept of the brand to political parties. I complained too, and on many occasions, about the application of what I called supermarket politics, the idea that voters walked the aisles looking at goods until they decided what to buy.

This links across to the current abuse of the word "mandate", the idea that election promises are like contracts on which parties must deliver. Anything not covered by the contract is outside the mandate.

In all this, the distinctive thing about the WA Nats, the things that commentators are both fascinated by and struggling to come to grips with, is that Brendon Grylls and his colleagues appear to have articulated a position based on principles and then stuck to it.

I cannot comment on the sense of the WA Nats policy positions because I have not analysed them. I am struck, however, by the way that Mr Grylls is approaching discussions about alliance and the future in terms of specific principles laid down over the last two years and set out clearly to the electorate.

This is what people want. This is why Peter Andren was so successful in Clare. This is why the New England independents - Peter Windsor, Richard Torbay, Rob Oakshott - have been so successful. They are the real inheritors of the tradition to which I belong.

Interviewed tonight on the 7.30 Report, Brendon Grylls was asked about the implications of the WA result for the Eastern State Nationals. He said, simply, that it is all about community. The transcript is not up yet, but should come up here. In my words, the WA Nats were part of, identified with and represented their communities.

This does not mean simply going with the majority view. Peter Andren in Calare did not. But his electorate always knew what he stood for, what he would do, that he belonged to them.

This is a world apart from the modern political machine in which everything is spun, focus grouped to death, fine tuned.

I accept that I am old fashioned, that the world has changed. But regardless of the final outcome, the success of the WA Nats gives me hope that that the world that I thought had gone is not completely lost.

Postscript

The WA results are still unclear. However, I am so enjoying it all.

National leader Brendon Grylls emphasises that what he wants has to be set in a budget context. Current Premier Carpenter says that Mr Grylls has made it clear that he does not want to set the regions against metro Perth. According to Mr Carpenter, Mr Grylls keeps emphasing outcomes.

Mr John Bowler, the new independent member for Kalgoorlie who was dumped by by Mr Carpenter from Labor and who everybody assumed would support Labor, has been talking to the Nats. He emphasises that, like the Nats, he is truly independent. I do not think that there is any way that Mr Bowler would join the Nats - his point is that he and the Nats have things in common.

The truly enjoyable thing in all this is that Mr Grylls really seems to have set currently accepted conventional principles aside. He gambled on true independence, articulated principles, and now seems to be sticking by them.

I cut my eye teeth on this stuff. This is right back to the 1920s when the NSW Progressive Party split over coalition with the then equivalent of the Libs. The True Blues, the group who became the NSW Country Party, would not countenance coalition because this would compromise their principles.

Don Aitkin spoke of Country Party mythology. The True Blues are part of that mythology. It is a mythology that has become lost in the modern NSW Nats.

I wrote of the split in my biography of my grandfather. It's actually quite a gripping story that has never been fully published. Perhaps its time I put it on-line.

4 comments:

Michael Gorey said...

It's unusual I find someone who agrees with my country first/social conservative philosophy.

I'm trusting Brendon Grylls (who I have met) to initiate a new era for regional politics in this country.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Michael. Good to hear from you. I am probably not a social conservative in the sense that I suspect you mean the term. I am certainly someone who want to refresh and renew a country philosophy that has (as see it) become sadly lost. I am keeping my fingers crossed re Brendon.

Michael Gorey said...

Sorry Jim, I shouldn't brand you without knowing you.

However, I think we both agree the National Party should be an independent advocate for country people.

We'll know the decision of the WA Nats soon. Regardless of what they decide, the process has been refreshing for Australian politics.

Jim Belshaw said...

Michale, sorry for the delay in responding to this comment. I ahve been in China. I was not in any way concerned re you comment on social conservatism, just correcting. We are in absolute agreement about the need for the Nats to be an independent voice. I would go further, repeating something that i said in a comment. The whole country philosophy needs refershing to break it out of current political stereotypes.