War Against Democracy?

Here we go again. During every election campaign mainstream media perpetuate the myth that we vote for political leaders rather than the representatives of electorates. So when Sydney Morning Herald’s political editor Peter Hartcher approvingly quotes satirical site The Shovel saying Poll shows 49% of people would vote for Bill Shorten if they knew who he was (SMH, June 4-5, p. 27) does he realise this actually undermines our Westminster System?

Probably, because being able to focus attention on the leaders of just one of two political parties is cheap and easy journalism that effectively overrides the basic principles of representative democracy in the Westminster tradition – which seems to be the undeclared goal. The myth we are repeatedly encouraged to believe is that in any election we vote for leaders and their political parties. This is not so. Whether or not anyone believes that to be the case, we actually vote for representatives who have designated constituencies. Governments are formed in parliaments by a process of majority rule that may come from the members of one party or be an alliance of members belonging to different parties and/or independents. Parliamentary leaders, who generally become the leaders of their parties, are elected by those parliamentary members who have already been elected as the representatives of their electorates.

Not only do journalists generally over-emphasise political leaders (as if they were the decision makers), they also perpetuate the myth that democracy depends upon mass support for a very small number of political parties (two). The ‘two party system’ so staunchly defended by journalists like Peter Hartcher, is effectively a process of marginalisation of independents and small parties, like The Greens (whose leader is never considered a potential government leader, as ‘he’ formally should be).

Indeed, as independent parliamentarian Nick Xenophon has so correctly emphasised, the Australian Constitution does not mention political parties. Political Leaders of political parties are elected in parliament by groups of elected representatives. Only on that basis should people be encouraged to support the leaders of political parties–much like, it would seem, one might support the captains of Queensland or New South Wales in a football match.

Too bad that the polling of The Shovel, or the deliberate misreporting of journalists, undermines our Westminster system; too bad that it encourages the concentration of political power in the hands of unelected officials running political parties. The prize for journalists and the media makes it all worth while: two men (leaders) in an arm wrestle, two large political parties that will eagerly join with journalists to manipulate public opinion, and the overall creation of ‘celebrity politicians’ in never ending soap operas. The undeclared goal of these lazy practices appears to be the creation of a fictional presidential system. It’s really all about strong men in positions of power over their team and the rest of us ‘out there’ who are always good for votes and taxes.

The narratives we consume as ‘news’ are dependent on media and journalists and legal processes weakened by interference from politicians and media. It’s not pretty or necessarily ‘real’, but it’s the best we’ve got.

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