“They couldn't sell a cold beer on a hot day.” How many times have I heard that said about the ALP lately? A point which was reinforced in my mind with reference to the Democrats in the USA when I read a Paul Krugman article, Let's Not Be Civil
, recently; but which could also be as easily said about the ALP in Australia:
The money quote for mine, is as follows: 'So let’s not be civil. Instead, let’s have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats
[the ALP] believe that Republicans
[the Coalition] are talking cruel nonsense, they should say so – and take their case to the voters.’
Would that Kevin Rudd have had the 'plums', as Possum puts it, to do that at the last election, he may still have been Prime Minister. But that's an argument for another day.
Suffice to say that the article and the quote goes to, what is now an increasingly solidifying fact in the minds of the electorate, that Progressive politicians, 'liberals', as they are sneeringly referred to by Conservatives (mainly overseas because the 'Liberal' Party has facetiously co-opted the term for their own misleading use here), are just too damned nice. Too civil.
Also, we're not very good at this point in political time at getting our message across effectively. Although I do take comfort from Andrew Elder's recent blog, Abbott's Stale Mate
, wherein he says about the polls for the Labor Party: 'All governments worth their salt go backwards at this point in the electoral cycle. Howard did this, Keating did it, Hawke did it and all of them came back to win.'
Well, Keating helped Hawke to come back and win again. Sadly voter ennui caught up with him in 1996.
Nevertheless, this Nervous Nellie thought she'd have a go at giving the ALP some advice on getting a message across more effectively, as I have to admit that, sans
effective and rich policy underpinnings to aid them, the Coalition are surfing a wave of popularity because they are better at sending out a message than the ALP, even though, as I say, their policy cupboard is bare. I am reminded of the Monty Python skit, 'The 4 Yorkshiremen'
, when I reflect upon the Coalition, whereby four obviously wealthy men seek to outdo each other with tales of their impoverished upbringing, about the 'Luxury' of living in a hole in the road and getting up for work before you have even gone to bed! That is the Coalition: 'Here's a lump of Coal, electorate, but it's the shiniest lump of coal you'll ever see.'
And the electorate go, 'Yes, mm, shiny.'
Reinforced, of course, by a media whose job it appears to be to encourage the appreciation of lumps of Coal.
Now back to the ALP.
Understanding the Conservatives’ most powerful weapon
For the most part, Progressives still don't understand what Conservatives are doing to them. I have not seen much discussion at all of the mechanism Conservatives use to confound Progressives and forever have them on the defensive.
That mechanism is called 'Framing'. Conservatives have managed to frame public debate on just about every issue. They have framed the NBN as inadequate because it has not had a 'Cost/Benefit Analysis', as if you can put a price on benefit to the common weal or a price on future innovations that haven't even been invented yet. They have framed regulation and new laws that they don't like as 'government interference' in either the free market or people's lives. The 'Free Market', which is in turn framed as the way to optimise wealth for all hard-working citizens. Which leads to the Conservatives blaming poor people and Welfare recipients as undisciplined and to blame for their lot in life. Though I will admit that the PM has bought into this frame as well, however I believe that her solutions will not be half as punitive as those proffered by Tony Abbott to 'solve' that particular 'problem'. Also environmentalists/The Greens are framed as 'Tree Huggers', who care more about the environment than jobs. Yet, as much as Progressives discuss politics, they still have not yet learned enough about framing to see how Conservatives are winning the 'Framing Wars'. Even the term 'Culture Wars' is just another battlefront opened up in the Framing Wars. It is the Conservatives desire to determine which 'Values' the citizenry adopts. The term, 'Values' is yet again just another word that Conservatives have appropriated to give positive lustre to their ideological viewpoints.
So, Progressives have to learn how to fight and win this war so as to be more effective when contributing to public discourse.
Framing is the Conservatives most important weapon. Framing is critical because a frame, once established in the mind of the reader (or listener, or viewer, etc.) leads that person almost inevitably to the conclusion desired by the framer, and it blocks consideration of other possible facts and interpretations.
The Conservative's framing around tax illustrates this. When Conservatives discuss tax reduction, the phrase ‘tax relief’ is repeated over and over. For there to be ‘relief’ there must be an affliction. Tax. A reliever who takes the affliction away is therefore a hero in the electorate's eyes. And if anybody wants to stop the reliever, he's a villain wanting the suffering to go on. Add 'tax' and you have a metaphorical frame: taxation is an affliction. The taxpayer is the afflicted party, the Conservatives are heroes for wanting to remove the affliction and Progressives are villains for wanting to keep a tax or introduce a new one. Despite how fiscally irresponsible such actions by Conservatives may turn out to be.
Tony Abbott's 'Great Big New Tax' mantra is only the most recent manifestation of this political sleight of hand. This message is a frame within a frame. Firstly, the mistaken perception, trumpeted by the Coalition, and reinforced by the media, that the Cost of Living is burdensome for families at the moment. This despite the fact that we are one of the richest countries per head of population on the planet, and the fact that what really is dragging down our budgets is the cost of housing and the cost of the lifestyle we wish to pay for. Electricity bills and Cost of Living are just the bogeymen created to distract us from the facts. Therefore, any political party which does not want to relieve the pain on the hip-pocket nerve and which instead wants to introduce a new tax, is therefore by easy definition, the villain in the frame. Boo! Hiss!
Just forget the reasoning behind the need for the 'Great Big New Tax', for example, the Carbon Tax/Price on Carbon Pollution, the best way to take action to address CO2 production by big polluters in the economy and hence improve the chances of dealing effectively with Climate Change; that doesn't fit the Conservative frame any more and so is increasingly being ignored as the reason for the action by the electorate.
As I said, the Labor Party would be well advised to steer clear of the Opposition's frames and refuse to support them. If you try to negate a frame you just reinforce the frame. Denying a claim in public reinforces the claim in people's minds. A case of encouraging people to think, 'Methinks they doth protest too much.'
You are better off just ignoring it, as by using the other side's words you reinforce their frames. It's a trap Progressives continually fall into.
Another trap is the assumption that all you have to do is set the facts straight and people will reason their way to the right conclusion. Wrong! If the facts contradict the entrenched frame, the frame will stay, and the facts will be ignored. The facts won't register unless they are presented as part of a successful reframing of the issue.
This is what the ALP has to learn to do. Reflexively. Frame better. Reframe.
What do you think?