Ideas@TheCentre

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Demos deals with Green trendies

Jeremy Sammut | 30 March 2012

In his new book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray worries about the consequences of the formation in the United States of a culturally distinctive upper class – enjoying all the benefits bestowed by high intellects, high incomes, and high status professions – that has limited knowledge and understanding of the lives and attitudes of middle America.

In Australia, this aspect of the culture wars is usually discussed in political terms of ‘inner city trendies,’ with a preference for pro-Greens policies versus ‘ordinary’ Australians, aka ‘the battlers,’ with families and mortgages in the outer suburbs.

Murray does not explore the electoral consequences of the growing divide between the so-called ‘best’ and the rest in great detail. I wonder whether this is because in democratic polities, the ‘problem’ of political elitism is often self-correcting.

It is true that members of the political class these days are predominantly drawn from among university-educated elites. But politicians who ignore the values and aspirations of average voters, and become obsessed with fashionable ‘progressive’ causes of the moment to the exclusion of core or mainstream preoccupations (jobs, livings standards, transport, etc.), are liable to have brief careers.

This appears to be one of the chief lessons of the catastrophic defeat suffered by the Labor government at last weekend’s Queensland state election. The fall in Labor’s parliamentary representation from 51 seats to just seven speaks of a formidable talent for alienating average voters.

The more astute on both sides of politics appear to recognise this. Commenting on Queensland Labor’s annihilation, federal Trade Minister Craig Emerson warned his party against embracing Greens-style anti-coal hysteria, which leaves most voters cold.

‘If you think you can smash up the coal seam gas industry and harvest votes from that,’ Emerson told Sky News, ‘you’re wrong.’

The same point concerning the ‘policy inflection that’s come from the Greens’ was made in a more entertaining fashion by Senator Barnaby Joyce on ABC’s Lateline:

We can’t build a dam anymore because it’s all impossible. It’s too difficult.

Everything every time we try to make a decision to take our nation forward, to build something constructive, there is someone who stands up and says that that affects the way they see the world and therefore we can’t do it.

And they get garlands of roses thrown at their feet in Canberra, but what happens in the regions such as Queensland is you get voted out of office and the Labor Party have seen that tonight.

So, if you want to get away from the nanny state, get away from Green policies that just drag you into oblivion. And as soon as the Labor Party works that and drops crazy ideas, just dippy, loopy ideas such as the carbon tax, well the better off they will be and maybe they’ll have a chance of rebuilding.

There is more to this than a gratuitous political sledge. The policy failures of the Beattie and Bligh governments included refusing to build new dams (which arguably contributed to the scale of the devastating Brisbane floods of 2011 by delaying the release of flood water from the Wivenhoe Dam) and the Wild Rivers legislation, which banned all economic development in areas such as Cape York in return for Greens-preferences.

So if you can get past the confusion of concepts and garbled presentation, Senator Joyce has expressed a pertinent piece of political wisdom. Ultimately – and I think compulsory voting plays a part in producing this outcome in Australia – the demos can be trusted to solve the problem of political elitism by casting the trendies and all their works into the wasteland of electoral defeat.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies.