Saturday, December 05, 2009

Politics and the media: Searching for narratives with Jesus

Today’s little joke story in the Courier-Mail was lifted (with attribution) straight out of Associated Press. The headline “Jesus Christ kicked off jury for asking too many questions” simply demanded to be read further. Unsurprisingly the story was pure fruitbat Americana - in prim NSW it is unacceptable to change your name by deed poll to Jesus Christ (or Ned Kelly for that matter). This particular Jesus Christ was from Birmingham, Alabama and was born Dorothy Lola Killingworth. As AP and the Courier-Mail told the story, Christ was apparently tossed off a jury for being disruptive and “asking questions instead of answering them.”

Leaving aside why jurors are asking or answering questions when their role is simply to listen, it seems that the focus of the story changed as it travelled. AP’s point was how funny someone called Jesus didn’t seem to be acting Christian. But as originally told to The Birmingham News, the newsworthy element was simply that someone called Jesus was called for jury service. The Alabama paper confirmed the disruptiveness and her questions. And while their “efforts to reach Christ” were in vain, they did reach Court administrator Sandra Turner who stood up for her. Unlike some Jefferson County residents, said Turner, Christ did not try to get out of jury duty. "She was perfectly happy to serve," she said.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story here is other than to always interrogate the moral of the story. Certainly those who love narratives will have a difficult task in prising apart of the moral of this week’s dizzyingly confusing story of Australian federal politics and the media. The last December before an election year is traditionally the killing fields for a tottering leader and so it proved again this year. A fierce and very public battle for the soul of the Liberal Party ended when arch-republican Malcolm Turnbull was rolled in a complex three-way ballot by arch-monarchist Tony Abbott. In truth, the monarchy/republic dyad had little to do with Abbott’s success but it was one of the many emblems that made the choice look quite stark and the twists and turns were enjoyable to follow from a distance.

While the fight was very public, much of the real decision making took place behind the scenes. The partyroom doors were firmly closed during the voting and this was one of the few times in the week the nation was not ruled by Tweet. One of the other critical moves of the week was the calculated decision to feature Tony Abbott photographed in the wonderfully named “budgie smugglers” at a Sydney swimming carnival. It signified common-man vigour and sexual dynamism that contrasted with the snobbish intellectual air of Turnbull and the jovial butchery of Joe Hockey.

The result was a shock for most commentators and an instantaneous defeat for Labor’s CPRS legislation. When Abbott appeared after his victory surrounded by Bronwyn Bishop, Sophie Mirabella and Wilson Tuckey, it was clear this was a win for the hard right of the party. Barnaby Joyce was brought in to cabinet fold. Somewhere out of sight, Nick Minchin was probably pulling strings. Loyal puppie Julie Bishop was kept on as a harmless deputy and a sop/mop to the narrowly defeated dripping wet side of the party. Senators Troeth and Boyes crossed the floor and Turnbull rattled the cage in the background but otherwise the liberal Liberals have taken defeat on the chin.

The commentariat quickly assumed their respective positions. The left spluttered their disbelief and assumed the Liberals had just handed the 2010 election to Kevin Rudd on a plate. Many commented on his failure to convince women. As former Health Minister he was in charge of many health decisions that were affected by his deep Catholic beliefs. New ABC appointee Annabel Crabb showed how this was an open source and a brilliant post by Kerryn Goldsworthy showed how Abbott duly ignored the question under the cover of the imfamous budgie smugglers. Goldsworthy’s conclusion is that Abbott in power would be dangerous “where biology meets the budget or the law”.

But Abbott’s media supporters were quick to emerge too. Within hours of the spill results, The Australian’s Miranda Devine had coined the term “Abbott haters” to describe the majority of journalists who immediate wrote off his chances in the next election. Devine’s point is that journalists are elitists who turn people off with their prognostications into the arms of those they criticise. The irascible Piers Akerman said Abbott’s duty was “to expose the CPRS as a nation-destroying fraud”. In the Punch David Penberthy also warned Labor about underestimating their new opponent and talked up his “potential electoral appeal”.

But the fact remains that the regardless of leader (as NSW Labor will also find out in 2011), opinion polls suggest the Liberal party is heading for a shattering loss in 2010. The outlier 53-47 poll since his election since Abbott's election may give him hope. His negative politics on the CPRS and interest rate rises might save a few seats but every urban seat margin under five percent is vulnerable. And these seats are mostly held by the Turnbull wing. After the Liberals will be left as a skewed right-wing party that will have even less incentive to change its ways in order to regain power. At 52, Tony Abbott is the same age as Kevin Rudd. Both men may lead their parties for a long time to come. And like Jesus Christ (and they both do), they will be happy to serve. But only one will ever be Prime Minister.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.