Hell hath no fury…

”Hang on, woah woah woah woah!”

If you believe Paul Sheehan we can thank Alan Jones for the demise of Malcolm Turnbull and the derailment of the CPRS.

Every time a Liberal backbencher is asked why he or she withdrew their support for Ian MacFarlane’s deal, the answer is the same — ‘my office has received literally thousands of emails and faxes from our electors, demanding that we stop this ETS’. The Senator or Honourable Member goes on to deny vehemently that the correspondence consisted of form letters, or betrayed any other signs of an organised campaign.

But it was always hard to believe these thousands of letters were spontaneous, and Jones is a plausible culprit. Sheehan doesn’t explicitly say that Jones exhorted listeners to write to their MPs, but he clearly implies it. Nor does he explain why parliamentarians outside of New South Wales received floods of correspondence — assuming they did, though I’m not sure about that, since I’ve been hearing mostly NSW backbenchers, on ABC Sydney local radio.

In any case, if it’s true that Jones inspired the letter campaign, it raises two issues. One is the ability of radio ranters like him to exert influence vastly out of proportion to their knowledge and wisdom. This influence corrupts the democratic process: ideally, citizens take information from a range of sources (including the superior blogs) in the market for ideas, and weigh them up, rather than adopt fully formed opinions from one shrill source. It’s not just that these broadcasters are propaganda tools for vested interests; the type of individual whose opininated ravings rate highly also tends to be motivated by quite arbitrary personal prejudices and preoccupations.

In Jones’s case a relevant foible is that he can’t happen to stand anyone who refuses to be sycophantic. He is vindictiveness itself when not shown due deference. It was astounding to see Turnbull stand up to him in the interview last month (read Sheehan for some highlights), and I confess to having lazily thought to myself, it’s nice to see a federal leader refusing to be cowed by this demagogue. What I’d forgotten is that they grovel for a good reason, and in the last week we may have seen the chickens coming home to roost. Now, it’s possible that Jones helped destroy Turnbull at the behest wealthy and powerful interests, but — and this is my point — it may just have been because Turnbull got under his skin. And that isn’t a healthy basis for determining the course of climate policy.

The second issue is whether in this case the tactic will backfire, in terms of the Liberals’ long term electoral prospects. As Peter Hartcher puts it, the Party has

made a fundamental choice to stop campaigning for the centre ground in Australian politics, to move to the right… the Liberal Party has decided that it’s more important to cater to its base than to the mainstream of Australian public opinion… Once the Government sees this result, sees that the Liberal Party has chosen an unpopular leader, campaigning on an unpopular issue, it may find the temptation to call an early double dissolution election overwhelming.

According to a Ray Morgan research cited by Clive Hamilton, Liberal voters are over-represented in Jones’s audience by a factor of two. It’s therefore likely that it was rusted-on Liberal voters whose letters persuaded their local members to ditch Turnbull and his ETS compromise. In appeasing them, they may be driving the swinging voters away and putting their seats at greater risk. The weekend by-elections should give us an indication.

In any case the implication is that Jones’s persuasive power has more to do with undermining consensus and polarising opinion than with determining policy outcomes by converting fresh minds to his point of view.

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17 Responses to Hell hath no fury…

  1. The last senior politician to stand up to a great maniacal media megalomaniac was Gough Whitlam standing up to Rupert Murdoch. It didn’t end up going much better for him.

  2. whyisitso says:

    Hell hath no fury… Quite so. The left can’t stand that the Liberal Party has been restored to conservatives. What amazes me is that the Liberal Party allowed itself to be hijacked by the left for so long. Leftists should stay with their natural homes – the ALP and the Greens. I accept that us conservatives are in the minority in the community for now. But I’m quite happy we’ve made our first step in getting our party back. We still have a long way to go of course. The narrow Abbott margin attests to that.

  3. Patrick says:

    How pathetic. If I may paraphrase: how dare these right thugs encourage those right-wing bogan unwashed plebs to express their non-superior-blogs-approved opinion? But, say, GetUp, that’s all good.

    Truly a perversion of democracy when the bogans express their uneducated opinions.

  4. James Farrell says:

    Patrick, the superior blogs thing was intended as a bit of self-parody for your benefit. Speaking of backfiring.

  5. Sam Lowry says:

    #3 “Restored” to Conservatives eh?

    You are, of course, aware in the “liberal” vs. “conservative” divide that has been present in the Australian Liberal Party and its predecessors since, oh lets say, Federation?

    You don’t think the name “Liberal Party” might have given that away?

    I hope they split into two parties that will give people a choice so they can be properly represented.

    The idea that someone who opposes Government regulation should have to vote for a nutter who also opposes abortion and doesn’t care that a large majority of Australians disagrees with him is wrong.

    I disagree that that means they’ll always be in opposition. Preferential voting means that one or the other should get in in seats currently held by the LP so long as preferences are allocated properly.

    It might even mean more of a share of votes for the economic conservatives since people who are currently put off by people like Abbott will be able to vote for the “liberal” party instead of Labor.

    The ALP-DLP split isn’t a good precedent because that was so bitter that it lead to people voting for a party that they disagreed with in policy terms.

  6. Edward Mariyani-Squire says:

    whyisitso said: “the Liberal Party has been restored to conservatives”.

    If only! Don’t we all long for the Ancien R

  7. whyisitso says:

    Like so many words, liberal and progressive have had their plain English language meaning stolen by the left. The word liberal harked back to the writings of J S Mill and Adam Smith, today know as classical liberals (hated as neo-liberals by the left). The left in America are know as liberals, and in Australia those of that philosophy are know as small-l liberals – a philosophy 180 degrees away from true liberals.

    Conservatives and classical liberals share many characteristics, but differ in others. My own beliefs are a mixture of both.

    Opposition to abortion is quite a reasonable point-of-view, despite those who profess it being described as nutters by the ignorant.

    The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion stems from their reasonable religious belief that a human soul is created at the moment of conception, thus investing the foetus with its humanity.

    Those opponents of abortion whose position is not religious but simply stems from logic and ethics believe that conception is the only logical dramatic starting point of a human life, more logical than birth itself and of any intermediate process. And from that starting point their position is that killing of the foetus is thus murder, a reasonable flow on from that belief. Of course there are many people in favour of abortion who accept this but are in favour of abortion nevertheless. I guess they are able to justify their apparent contradictory thinking by some form of rationalisation.

    Whatever the arguments for and against abortion it doesn’t advance anything by calling adherents of beliefs you oppose nutters.

  8. derrida derider says:

    If it is true that backbenchers were swayed by a torrent of infuriated letters it just shows that they are really dumb. Any experienced politician knows that noise and power are not the same thing. The people writing in would never vote for Labor in a pink fit and could have been safely ignored, in the same way Labor ignores the greenies infuriated by the weakness of the ETS.

    whyisitso has clearly not read much JS Mill. He’d definitely be considered a lefty today – in fact in later life he described himself as a socialist. Adam Smith is a more legitimate claim for the right, but even he was not the uncritical partisan of the neoliberal worldview that caricatures of him make out.

  9. whyisitso says:

    Thanks derrida derider for putting me right on JS Mills. You’ve prompted me to get out my copy of “On Liberty” and re-read it after many years. As I get older obviously my memory has faded, for I seem to remember him championing the rights of the individual versus the all-encompassing nanny state (although I don’t recall him using the term “nanny”). As I read it then and relate it to the left now, the left’s version of nanny-statism is all-encompassing, especially under Rudd. I had placed JSM on the extreme right end of the political spectrum.

  10. rog says:

    Whenever I hear the word “nanny state” this image springs to mind.

  11. Coolius Kickarse says:

    As someone who is paid to listen to Jones many days of the week, I find this argument a little strange as Jones has been a very strong and vocal supporter of Turnbull, while commentators like Chris Smith (also 2GB) have been quite hostile to him. If Jones were as influential as you claim, then Turnbull would have enjoyed greater support than he did amongst conservatives. The day before the spill, Jones was still promoting Turnbull, so if his opposition to the ETS resulted in Turnbull being rolled, it was not out of vindictiveness over that specific interview. Jones simply does not like the ETS. Jones may have helped fuel the letters being written to MPs over the issue, but I don’t think you can really draw the conclusion that people did so because they listen to him, as it is also possible that people who did so also happen to be the people who listen to him (and may also be the same people who would be members of Liberal branches). It is very easy to overstate the influence any single radio personality actually has, particularly if you listen to their callers.

  12. Jacques Chester says:

    Nor does he explain why parliamentarians outside of New South Wales received floods of correspondence …

    Because it’s as easy to send a CC’d email to 80ish as it is to one.

  13. Jacques Chester says:

    Actually, if I were a smart journo with MSM resources I’d lodge an FOI request for all emails received by coalition members and senators in the 48 hours in question. It would be interesting to properly mine them for similarities, check the IPs for obvious spamming etc.

  14. James Farrell says:

    Coolius: That’s interesting. When it comes to Jones I’m in the position of Fred Nile condemning The Last Temptation of Christ. I’m surprised to hear that he still supported Turnbull after that interview, but there you go. The hypothesis that he instigated the email deluge was based on Sheehan who, as I stressed, avoided making the connection explicit. If the experience of a letter writer in to today’s Herald is anything to go by, some pro-ETS emails may have been (perhaps even unwittingly) misrepresented by the mutineers as anti.

  15. You can FOI MP’s emails?

  16. Jacques Chester says:

    I don’t know.

  17. rog says:

    Here is Jones off the RSS;
    Alan Jones comments on the climate change debate, and the culture of denial in Canberra http://www.2gb.com http://www.2gb.com/podcasts/alanjonesvideo/alanjonescomments201109.flv

    He has made up his mind

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