Our new home is on the wrong side of the Nightcliff peninsula in Darwin, the Rapid Creek side where part-Aboriginal families were housed from the early 1960s. The area long ago began to be gentrified, but it still bears the imprint of its recent history in somewhat lower house prices than the adjacent suburb of Nightcliff proper.
The snob value didn’t worry Jen and me. We reckon it’s a better location, north-facing, looking out to sea and along the wide open spaces of Casuarina Beach. But I can’t help wondering whether maybe a sub-conscious part of the appeal of Rapid Creek might have been the Kath and Kim syndrome. You know, the episode where Kim and Brett were looking for a house to buy and Brett expounded the real estate theory that you always buy the worst house in the best street. “No Brettie,” said Kim. “I reckon you buy the best house in the worst street, so you can look down on the neighbours and feel superior“.
It’s the aspirational mentality, the psyche of the group John Howard understands perfectly and to whom his messages of greed, fear, snobbery, envy and resentment have mostly been pitched over the last 8 years. More than anyone else, the men who created and honed these messages and fashioned Howard’s four federal election victories have been former federal Liberal Party Director Lynton Crosby and Coalition polling guru (and Territorian) Mark Textor. Both are now over in Britain trying to conjure similar political miracles for new Tory leader Michael Howard (inter alia, by engineering a refugee/immigration scare disturbingly similar to their successful 2001 campaign for the Aussie Howard).
But however much many on the left may detest Crosby and Textor, they’re undeniably brilliant political operators. Both have an understanding of the black arts of politics that no-one in the current ALP seems able to match. I’m sure there are lots of elements that I don’t even begin to understand, but one about which Crosby makes no secret (and which strikes me as critically important) is this:
Attacking the prime minister – and reeling off a series of policy initiatives – is not enough, Crosby is telling staff as he reminds them of the importance of his buzzword: values. “People don’t generally vote simply on the basis of issues,” he told a conference in Canberra last May. “They vote as much on the values and motivation of political parties in taking a particular position on an issue… It is the values you communicate, and the motivation you have, that influences the way people vote.”
Precisely. But values based on negative emotions like greed and fear are not the only ones available to be tapped. Positive ones more attuned to traditional social democratic concerns can be every bit as powerful.
What values? They’re pretty obvious really. Liberty, equality, fraternity. The Coalition pushes the liberty value untiringly, but only the economic kind (which appeals to people’s aspirational instincts) not the civil liberties kind. Moreover, even economic liberty is looking a bit tattered these days under the impact of Howard’s big government, tax-and-spend electoral pragmatism. And equality and fraternity don’t even get a look-in under Howard.
Surely these must be the keystone values around which Labor’s rhetoric, policies and strategies are rebuilt. They’re not outmoded in any sense. As Australians, we still see ourselves as holding dear the values of mateship (fraternity) and the fair go (equality). Not the levelling-down, envious sort of equality (of outcome), because that rightly antagonises our aspirational instincts. Hence the failure of Latham’s attempt to demonise wealthy private schools, and the anger generated by promising at one foul swoop to abolish the jobs of Tasmanian timber workers to appease the Greens. Equality of opportunity, not outcome. Latham cottoned on to part of these values and motivations with his “ladder of opportunity” imagery, but he failed to sustain it in any consistent way either in a rhetorical or policy sense.
Sadly, I can’t see the Great Convoluted Communicator Beazley managing to fashion the right mix of values, message and policies either. But we live in hope.