Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Politics Or Entertainment

“There’s only two types of people in this world- The ones that entertain and the ones that observe”
Opening line from Circus by Britney Spears

The Australian election campaign has really shown the truth of these words. In a complete policy vacuum where stage-managed appearances and scripted lines are the norm one bright light has actually stood out for entertainment and indeed thought provoking comment

That is Mark Latham, the former Labour leader turned commentator and part time journalist. Clearly he is in the category of those who entertain. His appearances and words have been as widely reported as those of the two “leaders”. The difference is that Latham is actually genuine. You may not like him or agree with him. You may even feel that his views are colored by spite or other emotion. However what he says he actually believes and he has a unique perspective having played the game of politics.

What is most fascinating is the reaction he generates. Journalists and politicians are “outraged”. His meeting with Julia Gillard was big news. Why? He is entitled to ask the Prime minister a question as a citizen and even more so wearing his “journalist” hat. There was absolutely nothing untoward in this other than he beat the Canberra press gallery at its own game.

Meanwhile his meeting with opposition leader Tiny Abbott was a media event in itself. On Sky news the studio was eagerly anticipating the live “cross” to Latham meeting Abbott. When it happened the camera was on Latham the whole time. So who is actually running for prime minister?

And so what is really aggravating the politicians and journalists is that because he knows the game from the inside he is able to give out trade secrets. When Latham talks about how media events are set up he knows this from personal experience. When he talks about leaks to senior Canberra journalists he also knows from personal experience.

Apparently 1.3 million Australians watched his piece on 60 minutes where at the end he stated that he would not fill in the ballot paper and urged others to do the same. This is the ultimate in not playing the game.

Not surprisingly the media has gone into hyper drive. I have heard more about Latham’s no vote line than about Julia Gillard’s policy launch today. The camps split into two. Those who were suitably “outraged” and those, who were entertained.

It says a lot about this election campaign and the games that are played, that the musings of a former politician can get so much traction. The simple reason for this is that Latham is entertaining. But that by itself may not gather so much attention. The ability to entertain coupled with insights into the political games by a former insider is a potent mix.

Like him or not Latham has nothing to lose by being honest. He is no longer part of the “ game”. Regardless his motives for telling it like it is, he is doing it. Those whose livelihoods depend on the game continuing as is are of course threatened.

In a dull colorless and boring campaign where the focus of each party is not on what they offer the country but to attack the other, the appearances of Mark Latham have been a breath of fresh air. He is a man who has come over from the “dark side” and is now shining a light on political spin.

It is a positive reflection on how fortunate we are to live in Australia that there is so little interest in who governs it and that it probably makes very little difference.

As for his idea on not filling out the ballot paper- it is an idea worth considering.

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