I fully support modern communication and improvements in living standards. I am benefitting from both right now. But I think that the situation we are currently seeing in Australian politics is partly due to some of the inexorable changes that have been wrought to world wide democracy by developments in wealth and communication.
Democracy operated differently when I was a child (and I don’t even go back to the ancient Greeks). I don’t know my mother’s politics as she claimed the privilege of the “secret ballot” but my father was certainly left of centre. As a young teenager I was encouraged in my interest, bought books on the philosophical bases of political ideologies and had the advantage of being taken to one of “Bob” Menzies election speeches. He was brilliant and was he heckled! But the heckling was not in the form of rude signs to catch a camera or chants to mask his voice. It consisted of clear, pertinent questions or comments (mostly extremely negative) which he delightedly fielded and returned with precision and wit.
But more often, at election time, we went to hear our local candidates. At these meetings their ideologies were questioned and areas in which there might be differences between them and their party often arose and were probed with interest by constituents.
The “old days” of my experience happened well past the days depicted in “How Green Was My Valley” and well before the days when miners were some of the best paid workers in the land. The difference between political parties was viewed more as one of ideals about alternative ways to equality of opportunity rather than differences created on very, very specific issues.
My opinion is that it is probably the advent of television, big money to spend on specific political issues and therefore pre-prepared electioneering, that has made local candidates almost irrelevant and two parties very powerful. (We do not have a strong record of a lasting, independent third party in Australian politics.) How long is it since the main election events in an electorate were provided by local candidates? The last time to my knowledge that there was an advertised public event in my electorate was 1999. I attended.
In a Poll that I was randomly selected to answer in the last few days I was asked whether my preferred Prime Minister would be Abbott, Gillard or Rudd (in alphabetical order). I could answer that. I was also asked, inter alia, whether I was going to vote Labor, LNP or Greens at the next election. How could anyone in a true democracy answer this without knowing whom the candidates would be?
Whilst so ever this attitude prevails we are not voting in a truly democratic way for the future of our country or of our electorate. We are voting on the (ever changing) ideologies of two parties.
And as the voices of local members become irrelevant in the democratic system we will find ourselves more often in the midst of imbroglios.