Political parties as temp agencies

The usual political debate inside our country revolves around conspicuous things concerning the top leaders, like whether someone has been overtly corrupt, promised something too loudly that they could not really deliver, is handing out money to worthy or unworthy causes, or is going up against some vested interest. Whilst there is nothing innately wrong with this mix of politics-as-entertainment and holding top politicians to account, it has always seemed to me to miss the bigger picture, which is that political parties have become temp agencies.

What do I mean by this? Simple, the main role of political parties is to organise temporary political jobs for its members: political parties ‘deliver’ thousands of mayors, councillers, ministers, lobbyists, MPs, select committee members, etc. Political parties are an intermediary between a whole layer of temporary political jobs and the people who want those jobs. In short, they are temp agencies for managerial political jobs. There is nothing wrong with this reality, but there is something wrong with judging temp agencies just by its corporate image.

What is wrong with the political debate as played out in newspapers and television? Again, simple: you dont just ask a temp agency about its corporate mission statement.

Think about it: when you are looking for a new CEO or just a local boss, is the only question you ask whether they have been corrupt elsewhere or promised something they could not deliver? Of course not. You want to know about how well trained they are, what kind of contacts they have, whether they can work with people, who is internally holding them to account, etc.

So what are the questions that we should be asking of our political parties that we are not? Instead of droning on and on about fairly meaningless shades of ‘ideology’ like liberals versus progressives, which in Australia is really of zero actual consequence once a party is in power, we should be asking about the internal training programs inside political parties. We should be looking at measures of competency in terms of whether a particular politician is a good organiser and can motivate people working with them. We should be asking for internal monitoring mechanisms such that a party keeps tabs on how corrupt and self-serving ‘their’ members are once they become mayors, ministers, etc. Have you ever seen a newspaper article digging through the internal training systems of political parties in Australia, or the mechanisms to follow-up on the behaviour of the temps ‘in the field’? I have not and that is weird if you think about it.

In short, we should treat political parties like any other temp agency and demand they are good temp agencies. At the moment, we mainly ask of them that they are good at propagating and defending a corporate story, but we dont really ask whether the people they ‘recruit’ are good managers and what programs they have to ‘improve’ the managerial abilities of their staff.

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Pedro
Pedro
8 years ago

I don’t think the temp agency analogy is a good one. A political party holds itself out as being a key part of the description and bio of the candidates. It is a brand and not a warehouse. Party membership supposedly tells you what canditates stand for. The adoption of the party brand is a term of the candidate’s contract with the voters. Elect me and I will represent you by seeking to do the things on the manifesto.

The three of four main parties also have reasonable distinct characters. The Libs are a collection of people of varying degrees of conservatism who are largely united by some shared values. The greens are a collection of people of varying degrees of economic radicalism and starry-eyed conservationism who are not so comfortably united by the need for strength in numbers. The Nats are a special interest lobby group united by a love of mecantilism. The ALP seems now largely to be a special interest group and the career structure for the union movement.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
8 years ago
Reply to  Pedro

Pedro,

the description you give is already a quite higher-order one that I am sure many members of those parties would disagree with. But you are really making my point, which is that we currently tend to look at these parties through an ideological lense as if the only thing we should care about is whether they tow the party line on their marketing slogans. Meanwhile, they ARE temp agencies in that they are the intermediary between thousands of temporary political jobs and the people who want them.

All I am saying is that it would, once in a while, be handy for journos and commentators to ask the parties whether they are good temp agencies in terms of delivering good personnel suited for their jobs. We now do this only for the most visible top people, but what about the thousands of others?

GrueBleen
GrueBleen
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Frijters

Well, several days between the post and the first response. I was beginning to think this was an exercise by you in satirical irony and I was the only one who didn’t get the joke. Phewww … great relief.

Anyhow, surely political parties aren’t the only ‘temp agencies’ – I offer you Greg Combet and Bill Shorten (and a host of others) to show that unions are also ‘temp agencies’ that “are the intermediary between thousands of temporary political jobs and the people who want them.”

Not to mention universities and the legal profession (what is the percentage of Australian politicians that are ex-lawyers ?). And large corporations too (does anybody remember John Elliott ? Do we count Malcolm Turnbull as ‘corporate’ or as ‘legal’ ?).

So what does this mean: that we have to test and supervise the training practices of any and all groups and organisations that people may join as a way of ‘signalling’ their desire for some set of ‘temporary’ jobs ?

Perhaps the only practical solution is to set and publish ‘occupant (and performance) standards’ for all publically funded jobs and make sure that only people who satisfy them get appointed.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
8 years ago
Reply to  GrueBleen

Interesting. I am not so sure about unions. They are interest groups representing their members and negotiating with outside powers (employers, government), whereas political parties are appealing to the sympathies of voters in order to get their hands on thousands of jobs in which they then lord over us in various unseen ways. So the analogy would be between us-the-voters and the political parties and lower-union-members and their elected leadership. There is no clear separate entity intermediating between that leadership and the members though inside unions apart from ‘the hierarchy’. I dont know all that much about the internal operation of unions but my impression has been that they indeed do a lot of training and cross-monitoring of local union bosses, but that may be entirely off the mark.

In case of the university hierarchy it is less clear who appoints them. Part of the problem in recent decades is that they have become a self-sustaining group without effective oversight, leading to those exploding salaries at the top and admin overload. So they might be temps, but there as yet is no one in a position to demand they are good temps, partially because of the split responsibilities between states and commonwealth regarding the unis. Not so for political parties on which we-the-voters regularly have a real say about. We are in a position to demand they are good temps but we get continuously sidetracked by the corporate slogans.

I would welcome greater scrutiny though of the top of universities and large corporations by the rest of society.

Pedro
Pedro
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Frijters

I’m not sure how I’m making your point, which I read as being this:

“Whilst there is nothing innately wrong with this mix of politics-as-entertainment and holding top politicians to account, it has always seemed to me to miss the bigger picture, which is that political parties have become temp agencies.”

If you mean that parties have a few things in common with temp agencies, then fine, but fundamentally they are nothing like them.

Certainly I agree that the scrutiny should go much further down the line, but I expect there really isn’t the column inches or airtime available for the job.

To the extent prospective pollies are dicks rather than just dills, their enemies usually out them pretty quickly. Some cretins who ran for the LNP up here were fingered pretty smartly, and Craig Thompson’s dirty linen was in clear view a long time ago.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
8 years ago
Reply to  Pedro

“Certainly I agree that the scrutiny should go much further down the line, but I expect there really isn’t the column inches or airtime available for the job.”

Which is the main point. If you are right, and I agree entirely with you on this statement of fact, then we should pressurise these parties for having internal monitoring systems and then judge them on those, just like we would want the police to have an internal affairs and a temp agency to check up on how their temps are doing. Why shouldn’t, say, the Greens have a website in which they tell us how many of their local councillors took up lucrative lobbying jobs after leaving office? Would you find that a reasonable measure of ‘follow-up’ to be expected of a temp agency?