The comment thread to my previous post Can Pauline Sue Tony Abbott? has thrown up some fascinating discussion. It also seems to have reached a consensus of sorts, well summarised by Dave Ricardo: “I agree that what Abbott did was just grubby business as usual politics. But that being the case, the attack on Abbott is also grubby business as usual politics.”
Is the entire Hanson/Abbott fiasco any more than just another 15 minute media feeding frenzy, a circus for the masses with no broader political significance? I think that depends on several factors. It’s certainly true at this stage of the game that Labor has succeeded in deflecting the anger of disgruntled former One Nation supporters (and maybe the much larger group of generally alienated voters) onto silver spoon bovver boy Tony Abbott. The trick for Labor will be whether they’re able to smear the mud more widely to besmirch Howard as well. I suspect that the combination of Howard’s great political skills and experience and Simon the Unlikeable’s ineptness will provide the answer in the immediate term.
However, maybe there’s more to it than that.
Even without directly tying Howard into the “Get Pauline” saga, this whole episode could conceivably contribute to a swelling disenchantment with the Coalition that ultimately has government-changing electoral consequences. Malcolm Gladwell’s pop sociology “tipping point” concept might provide a useful frame of reference here. We’ve had a succession of instances of government “sleaze” in recent times, from Children Overboard, Howard lying over Manildra, Ruddock receiving donations from dodgy Asian businessmen, Ironbar Tuckey’s attempt to “fix” his son’s traffic ticket, and now the Abbott/Hanson affair.
None of these things in themselves have government-changing significance, but cumulatively it might be different provided that certain preconditions exist. A review in Publishers’ Weekly explains Gladwell’s “theory” like this:
The premise of this facile piece of pop sociology has built-in appeal: little changes can have big effects; when small numbers of people start behaving differently, that behavior can ripple outward until a critical mass or “tipping point” is reached, changing the world. Gladwell’s thesis that ideas, products, messages and behaviors “spread just like viruses do” remains a metaphor as he follows the growth of “word-of-mouth epidemics” triggered with the help of three pivotal types. These are Connectors, sociable personalities who bring people together; Mavens, who like to pass along knowledge; and Salesmen, adept at persuading the unenlightened.
Bloggers, on this view, are both Mavens and Salesmen (as well as fire-alarms). So are radio shockjocks like John Laws and Alan Jones. To the extent that they convey a strong message of sleaze and decay over a period of time, a “tipping point” might be reached where a general “time for a change” atmosphere rapidly becomes established and dominant. I don’t see any real sign of it at the moment, however, and the combination of a serious ongoing national security threat from terrorism and the lack of an even vaguely attractive alternative while Simon the Unlikeable remains as ALP leader might well ensure that the “tipping point” is never reached. But it’s a situation that bears watching.
PS – Blogger Dave Pollard also has an interesting discussion of Gladwell’s “tipping point” ideas here.