Raymond Williams once said there were no masses just ways of seeing people as masses. But masses are useful constructs. In Australia they are the ways in which we govern our lives. The laws are still generally obeyed, the courts do their duty unimpeded and the health system is showing no more signs of collapse than usual. No one has stopped coming to work or school and very few protest in the streets. The media has kept publishing, though they and the markets were the only ones in any way agitated with the political outcome. People at home consume their media in the same detached way they consume their burger.Political stasis won’t last forever but for now it is re-assuring to see how unimportant politics is in everyday life. What the hung parliament is telling us is the choices we make to elect a government are small compared to our choices we make every minute of our lives in our jobs, in our relationships and in the haphazard game of life. We create our own politics to deal with all these realities of identity.
British writer Frank Furedi said he was struck by the depoliticised character of the Australian election and no-one had strong views on any of the top issues except for hardened party activists. “Yet people were far from complacent, and they clearly wanted to improve their lives,” Furedi wrote. “What really seemed to preoccupy them was their economic security: jobs, high prices, their children’s future.”
Furedi conceded it was an interesting election in the end. If we are no longer sure what parties stand for any more, we remain interested in the health of the broader polity. Julia Gillard is still officially the Prime Minister but the Prime Minister’s site acknowledges the caretaker period has not ended. The transcript of the PM’s media conference today on the Labor site shows a steely Gillard is still very much in the hot seat.
Rob Oakeshott is one of the independents she must deal with and he has proposed a unity cabinet. This is exactly what Australia needs for the next ten years if it is serious about tackling climate change, a topic close to Oakeshott’s heart. “It is a cheeky option, and it’s not for me to pick cabinets, [but] Malcolm Turnbull in a Julia Gillard government or Kevin Rudd as foreign minister in a Tony Abbott government?” he said. “Here is a moment when we can explore the edges and explore outside the box.” Needless to say he was put back in his box and his plan was “shott down” in flames. As politicians and the media remind him, power is not for sharing in this country.
Yet maybe the paradigm of adversarial politics is changing. In the vacuum of ideas Labor and Liberal have more in common that what divides them. The independents have been a refreshing shot in the arm. For Gillard, the bush bloc may even be easier to deal with than the “faceless men” of Labor politics. It might just be the “Real Julia” can face a minority government future with more confidence than if she was handled the poisoned chalice of outright victory.