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.
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?!