He spun us a tale of a dwindling number of older, less educated, and unemployed white males, duped by a billionaire’s extravagant advertising spend. The Palmer vote in 2013 was an outlier, after a poor showing in the Tasmanian state election it was clear that the Palmer United Party would struggle to make 4%. The not so subtle message was that the Palmer voters who remained where dupes, unemployed, under educated, older and angry.
Last night the Palmer United Party won 12.49% of the vote, 7.48% more than in the federal election last year.
Seccombe’s article is fascinating, largely because of where it appears. The Saturday Paper is has been marketed as “a newspaper without the Murdoch”. The assumption that underlies it is that the failure of the social democratic left in this country has been due to the nefarious influence of an all-powerful Rupert Murdoch, and a working class stupid enough to believe him.
What passes for Australian social democracy has a convenient scapegoat in Murdoch. Why did Labor rush to the right? Murdoch. Why do governments torment refugees? They’re appealing to stupid racists who believe Murdoch. Why did the Gillard government fail? Murdoch and stupid people. Why haven’t the Greens broken through into the mainstream? The evil Murdoch monster tells lies.
When confronted with a phenomena like Clive Palmer, how does this “left” understand him? He’s a rich man duping stupid people, and there is nothing else going on that we have to understand.
There is something else going on. The failures of Australian social democracy are not due to some all-powerful media baron, or that Australians are simply too stupid to understand that the left are correct. Rather, Australian social democracy fails because of its total disconnect from the reality of the Australian working class, and its own lack of political content.
Clive Palmer’s success yesterday means something, and explaining it is important to understanding what is going on. The two explanations that the mainstream left will offer are wrong. Clive Palmer did not buy the vote, advertising spend does not determine the course of an election, if it did he would have won far more than 12.49% of the vote. And the Australian working class is not stupid. Formal tertiary education is not some indicator of intelligence (especially when you look at what the Australian edufactory produces), and the Australian working class did not somehow acquire some form of stupidity recently that it did not have when those darlings of the current left, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, were elected.
Don’t get me wrong, Clive Palmer is a joke. He is a self-interested dinosaur-building Titanic-raising coal-mining billionaire. But this isn’t some secret. 12.49% of Western Australians voted for him even though he is a joke. The vote for Clive Palmer is an indication of growing disillusionment. When faced with the vacuous circus that is Australian politics, 12.49% of Western Australians consider a joke like Clive Palmer the better alternative.
The mainstream left will nash their teeth. But for the radical left, this is actually a good sign. Parliament is a farce. Our democracy is a sham. The parliamentary process does not serve the interests of the Australian working class. Evidence that the legitimacy of authority of the official political process is being slowly eroded should be welcomed.
Tad Tietze at Left Flank:
The rise of PUP in WA, winning 12.5 percent of the vote has again wrong-footed mainstream and Left observers. Most still seem to think that attacking Palmer’s economically undeliverable promises will expose him as a fraud. Or that damning him for using (his own) corporate cash to win votes will reveal him to have no real support. Or that his erratic anti-politician persona, complete with scathing vitriol directed at the established parties, will simply show he is not to be taken seriously. Or, finally, that his status as a member of the business elite will repel people, as soon as people wake up to it. All these views miss what is happening, because in fact political attacks only increase the anti-political appeal of operators like Palmer. It confirms to voters that the insular, self-obsessed political class and its media lapdogs are simply trying to shore up their own interests against the threat he poses. After all, these same politicos don’t blink when the established parties makes promises they don’t intend to keep, amass corporate money for their campaigns, ridicule their opponents, and get entitled about their entitlements. Palmer’s success is a reflection of the disdain for politics that is the defining feature of the political situation today, and his nasty anti-democratic side matters little when voters see the sick state of actually existing democracy.