Watching the 10 Network’s So You Think You Can Dance on Sunday night reminded me of the political season about to begin this week.
The ikonic show, about undiscovered wannabees who, enraptured by high hopes of stardom and fame, enter a multi-stage dance competition – with us as intimate voyeurs of their every move - tells us a lot about human hope.
There was the plain, frumpy girl who believes Jesus is with her at every step. The lithe, enchanting young aboriginal man whose mum’s indifference to his dancing caused tears all around. The thirty-something hoofer who has been around the traps and is destined to stay trapped. The conga line of untrained hip-hop shakers and rollers with their limited talent no match for their unlimited energy. The semi-professionals, expecting to make it easily into the finals. The Hard Judge, the Mother Judge, the Cooly Professional Choreographer Judge. Hopes and expectations dashed. Dreams come true. Life in the raw, or as raw as a heavily edited commercial television show can present it: the Life Struggle, through the medium of movement, youth and expensive SMS voting fees.
On the political side of this metaphor we have seen the surprise elevation of Tony Abbott, a wildcard candidate, to the leadership of the Liberals, by one vote. The Glamour Boy, Malcolm Turnbull, has been voted off the show. The once fresh-faced newbie, Rudd, is now regarded as the stodgy old incumbent, araldited into the same seat as Howard, never seen in budgie smugglers, rarely out of a suit. His routine, especially in the Climate area, trashed with the disappointment of post-Copenhagen days, could do with some sprucing up as the bare-chested, lean-and-hungry challenger takes the fight to him. Abbott is flanked by the glamourous Ice Maiden, Julie Bishop, and the once-jovial but now permanently grumpy Joe Hockey who mocks every move Kevin Rudd, his former TV friend, makes.
The Liberals and Nationals, thrown out of a previous series in the grand final, decimated by the shock desertion or expulsion of senior members – Costello, Downer, Vaile, Howard, Nelson, Brough – have reinvented themselves as the underdogs, running a low budget campaign to steal the public’s hearts with honesty and true grit. Kevin, on the other hand, jets about the world like a Little King (how dare he use the Prime Ministerial plane for overseas jaunts?). He rarely utters an un-convoluted word according to his critics, who are many and mostly angry. The implication is that he is a phoney, couldn’t lie straight in bed. But you have to admit, the man has talent when it comes to winning the People’s Choice Award.
Abbott is a flawed character. He preaches against extra-marital sex, yet he fathered a child, then deserted both the baby and the mother, only to find that the baby never existed. Whether this is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy or a comedy I cannot decide. He is a religious zealot who has a habit of sinning and then, in good Catholic tradition, confessing publicly. He is the whiskey priest, flunked out of the seminary for the green fields of Oxford and politics. By contrast, Rudd’s one known foray into the underworld, the Scores Incident, was so surprising to the voters that it saw his ratings shoot up, presumably in delight at the possibility of a glimmer of raunchiness in his character.
The common thread between each side of politics is that they both think they can dance.
Tony told us the other day that government is easy. You just make a promise and stick to it. You take a line and then abide by your decision. It’s a dangerous tack to sail for Tony, who has never been known to stick to any policy in his political life or, more to the point, has rarely been seen saying the same thing to any more than one group of listeners at a time. His waverings on Climate Change have wandered from True Believer, to pragmatic acceptance, to 'It’s crap', to his current position: although he doesn’t believe action on climate is necessary, he proposes to fix our environment by spending no money, using volunteers and 'incentives'. I can see the Hard Men of the coal industry dutifully falling into line on that one.
Kevin, despite the misery of Copenhagen, in the face of continuing revelations of flawed climate science (even if only here and there), is sticking to his guns. There are too many eggs in the basket of ETS to abandon it now. If he did so it would likely signal the beginning of the end of his government. Tony has given the public an out, an excuse to reject action on Climate Change. Sure it’s an impossible dream, but this is Reality TV, not reality. Kevin’s performance on Climate, supposedly his strong suit, has been technically difficult and reasonably well-executed, but is starting to be seen as too clever, lacking panache.
Never mind his brilliant performance in the GFC round, where he danced rings around several challengers in a largely impromptu performance that saw Australia come out on top of the world. Never mind the lowest interest rates in decades, the best prospects for infrastructure, comparatively modest unemployment, an about to re-boom economy, Kevin’s government is still seen as the least preferred Economic Managers compared to the Coalition. It makes you wonder what else “Good Economic Management” is about if it is not about these things. According to Essential Research the voters believe the parties who would have had them out of work, their schools without infrastructure spending, their industries fending for themselves and who told us first there was a Rudd Recession and then there wasn’t... are the savants of economics. Go figure! I guess it’s all about presentation on the night.
Which brings us to the media, stacking the studio benches with loud adoring fans, spruiking a miracle Coalition resurgence in a loud attempt to try to cover up for policy holes and inconsistencies you could drive a debt truck through. To get around Tony Abbott’s predilection for inventing policies on the run, for making it up as he goes along, they have invented the myth of the “Conviction Politician”. Tony Abbott is man who believes in what he says, at the time he says it, no matter how many times he contradicts himself. This isn’t political cynicism on Tony’s part. It’s a genius for improvisation. The conservative Papist, whose sins (long forgiven by a supportive press) prove merely the morbidity of the flesh, is up against a government that is given only grudging praise for its great successes so far, and whose Prime Minister is mocked and condemned for the slightest falter, be it fairly shaking a sauce bottle (instead of sucking it), or swearing at a poor young flight attendant. Rudd’s government is supposed to have defeated the GFC and kept all its promises, while all we have from Tony Abbott is promises to produce glittering prosperity from the Magic Pudding of 'budget savings'. Never mind that 'budget savings' means a sharp curtailment of social welfare, infrastructure and spending on other government priorities, the Conviction Politician will see us through... somehow. We can worry about that later.
So, as we exit the preliminaries and get to the series proper, junkies on both sides will eagerly await the Reality TV show called Question Time. They will hang off every word and nuance, forgiving on the one hand, condemning on the other. The wannabee from two seasons ago has become the solid favourite. The reactionary Catholic man we thought we all knew as an opportunistic hypocrite, preaching what he never practised, has been reinvented as the plain-speaking saviour of the nation. On the sidelines it will be a fascinating exercise in whether the media, deprived of the river of gold of government advertising (a promise kept, but rarely referred to), still have the clout they believe they should have.
They all think they can dance, but can the fat lady sing?