Compromise and Compromised

Politics… I really wish I could ignore it. I don’t actually care about politics as such, but as I get older I’ve been more interested in the way it impacts me, my family and the world around me. Ideally, the political system would work in a rational manner with the politicians having reasonable and sensible debates to achieve the best possible outcome all around. Yeah right.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones (GoT) with my wife (I’ve already read the books) and while the characterisations are quite extreme, it does provide some interesting food for thought.

We want out politicians to have integrity, honour and principles. How though do they compromise on some of those strongly held beliefs to deliver an acceptable outcome involving many people without actually being compromised entirely?

Eddard (Ned) Stark in GoT is a character of unimpeachable honour. He will do everything by the book, support his friends, and protect his family. Right up to the point that his head falls off. Now it’s great that he has such strong convictions, but by failing to compromise even a little bit he actually creates much bigger problems that will challenge his principles even more than the original problem. You can only hold out for so long before you break, or get broken. Once your head is gone, you can’t even help nudge things on a better course, no matter how much you disagree with them.

A really big example (to my way of thinking at least) was Kevin Rudd’s ETS policy that he took to the 2007 election. This election resulted in convincing win, which in todays language would be deemed a “Mandate”. The policy was never implemented and things got bad pretty quick.

In this case, the Greens decided it didn’t go far enough and that it gave concessions to groups they didn’t think should have those concessions. The total lack of compromise by the Greens essentially resulted in the policy being scrapped, Kevin getting kicked out, and then next several years of near chaos in Australian politics. (oversimplification perhaps)

Several years later and another election, and then we end up with the “Carbon Tax”. The new policy is significantly watered down compared to the original. By failing to compromise in the first instance, it would seem the Greens lost out on what they actually wanted. They can claim their integrity was still in tact as they stuck to their principles, but it very nearly cost them their heads. I’m sure there are much deeper and better analysis of that chapter in politics elsewhere, but that’s my take, and to the people (ordinary voters) I speak to it seems to be the way everyone else sees it as well.

Which leads me to the politicians of today.

One big point that seems to be highlighted is that we don’t currently have any politicians of true integrity and vision. Some are better than others, but it seems that all of them are jumping at every small noise from the polls and the MSM. It’s not about formulating a real working vision and sticking to it knowing it’s “the right thing to do”. It seems to be about building a vision based on what the loudest of voters seem to think. The problem here is this view is not based on anything but a very small sample size of people, often generated using very leading questions.

Julia Gillard appears in the last year or so to have finally got some sort of balance to who she is. Unfortunately the party behind her doesn’t, and the years leading up to this point have put her so far out of favour that it may not matter what she does now. Her image has been tarred with the same brush as the party she leads.

Tony Abbott on the other hand is full of “aspirations”. This basically means he has a bunch of ideas that sound kinda cool, but are either impossible or impractical to implement, or rely on some altered version of reality to justify the need for them. His ability to make announcements based on the poll that morning, only to reverse the announcement days later is absolutely amazing. On top of that, the “24 hour media cycle” lets him get away with it because the original sound bite is new, while the follow up retraction is an “old story”.

Compare to a newspaper making a huge page 1 story in massive font about a claim that is later demonstrated to be false. The paper will of course print a retraction… on page 31, in a small box buried amongst other stories and the smallest font they are permitted to use. Well, there you go, all fixed. As a quick aside, I am firmly of the opinion that all retractions (print, tv, politicians etc.) should feature with exactly the same prominence as the original story. If you want to make a huge claim on the front page of your paper, be damn sure it’s correct; otherwise be prepared to print the retraction on the front page as well.

So, because of this ability to “get away with it”, our politicians have realised they don’t need principles and integrity any more because nobody is going to hold them to account over breaches of those principles. They have completely compromised any ideals they once held and the only thing that matters is that they *WIN* the game. They can say whatever they like and take all the glory. When they retract days later, the response is “yeah, that’s an old announcement, we’ve moved on to this new shiny thing over here now”. Meanwhile, the shock jocks and the voters that only pay attention to the headlines have cemented another piece in their world view that now becomes “fact”, and the correction of that “fact” will never happen because it’s never presented to them with the same prominence to displace it.

Can Labor win the next election? I guess there’s always a chance, but are they really capable of getting together, forming a clear set of principals that can be presented to Australia in such a way to displace the view of them to date? Can the Liberal coalition manage to keep a low enough profile in the hope the voters don’t see their actual lack of policy? I still think things are going to be closer than the media would have us believe, and there’s a lot of time to put plenty of feet into mouths before then, but what are we going to get either way?

Will we have a leader of conviction who is prepared to compromise when needed, or will we have one that is already well and truly compromised?

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