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People, stay alert. The world has given us hopeless leadership

Phil 2015
Phil Fitzpatrick - "The old adage, don’t vote for them, it just encourages them, strikes a chord with many people"


TUMBY BAY - Politicians all over the world are on the nose. In some places they rank in popularity below street thieves and lazy public servants.

The most popular politician in Australia is New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

We don’t know who the most popular politician in Papua New Guinea is because nobody conducts surveys.

Right now it might be prime minister James Marape, who is still in his honeymoon period. But it could be Bryan Kramer because of his unflinching habit of doing the right thing and also communicating directly with people on social media.

In places like Australia people tend to select their favourite politician depending on their own right or left wing biases. In PNG it is more likely they would be selected along tribal and clan lines.

It would be interesting to turn the whole question on its head and ask people who is the most unpopular politician. I suspect that would attract a much more enthusiastic response.

But it’s in so-called Western countries that the biggest problems are seen – the US, UK, Australia, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.

So what has caused this malaise about politicians and politics?

There are two things that come to mind. The first is the greed and self-interest of current politicians and the second is the preponderance of clowns that people seem to elect nowadays.

In the latter instance, people like US president Donald Trump stand out. We have yet to see how the new UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, behaves but all indications are that he could be another clown.

Two other types of politician are worth mentioning here. The first is the totally boring and bland type. We’ve currently got one of them as our prime minister in Australia. He’s deliberately cultivating this image, for what purpose we are yet to find out but I suspect it’s not good.

The second is the totally untrustworthy, dishonest and incompetent type. Peter O’Neill probably epitomised this.

This burgeoning trend to ignore politicians and politics might seem benign. The old adage, “don’t vote for them, it just encourages them”, strikes a chord with many people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People get up to mischief if they think that no one is watching them. Politicians are no different.

There is another reason why people can ignore what politicians are doing.

This is when a politician proves to be exceptionally good and caring and people feel comfortable to trust them to get on with it.

Unfortunately these politicians are a rarity. Some of our political leaders have started out that way but invariably fail us in the longer term.

In PNG, Peter O’Neill seemed like a breath of fresh air but looked what happened there. As Keith Jackson has pointed out, there are possible cracks starting to appear in the Marape persona too.

In light of all these things there’s no question that we must keep our politicians and political leaders under close watch.

If they are so incredibly bad we must keep a keen eye on them rather than giving up in frustration and trying to ignore them.

Conversely, even if our politicians are good at what they do, is it wise to let them get on with it and trust them to stay that way?

Politicians will always be politicians. If they see that we have become distracted, either through frustration or complacency, won’t they just take advantage of the situation and do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get away with?

There are some historic precedents for this phenomenon, names like Robert Menzies and Michael Somare come to mind.

Of course, if Australia and PNG each had a national independent commission against corruption, we could rest a bit easier.

But we shouldn’t hold our breath.


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Chris Overland

Good point Paul.

Quite consistent with Phil's and my observations.

Paul Oates

At the risk of writing a similar rant, let's just put the essence of the issue down to one undeniable fact. Most people couldn't care less about who leads the nation provided it doesn't personally affect them.

The fact that national leadership in reality, will always affect everyone is easily dismissed until it personally smacks them in the face.

In any democratic or claiming to be democratic country, the clear and obvious answer to why no one is basically interested in joining a political party and taking the time to work at building a policy base and influencing others is that it's damn hard work.

Family, Sport, football, racing, hobbies, beer, etc. is just easier to get involved with rather than dumb old talking to other people who may not want to hear what you think.

'Here endeth the lesson, thanks be to god'.

Chris Overland

I agree with Phil that, as a general observation, politicians as a class are seriously on the nose across the democratic world.

Strangely, individual politicians appear to remain popular within their own electorates, even if they clearly are not people of the highest moral or ethical character. The former Australian Deputy Prime Minister immediately springs to mind as an example of this.

PNG has all too many examples of highly ethically compromised politicians who remain very popular in their electorates. It must be the beer and lamb flaps effect at work.

More pragmatically, I put this phenomena down to the fact that politicians, in their day to day work, spend a lot of time helping ordinary people navigate the labyrinthine byways of the government bureaucracy, thus building a reservoir of goodwill that they can draw upon when elections come around.

This is called "farming the electorate" and a good "farmer" can often survive adverse changes of electoral fortune in a way that defies all expectations.

Thus the current Australian prime minister, who ran an outstandingly disciplined but blatantly populist election campaign, triumphed over an opposition saddled with an unpopular leader who could not successfully sell a complex array of mostly sensible and carefully crafted policies.

This points to the ultimate source of the problem, which is the painful fact that many of our fellow citizens have great trouble distinguishing between what is objectively true and what is merely blarney, blatherskite and bullshit.

Theoretically, universal education is supposed to be the antidote to this affliction but, sadly, this is manifestly not the case. Many people apparently survive their years of schooling without ever developing a capacity for effective critical thinking.

They are, as a result, unduly credulous and deeply susceptible to things like the pseudo-science used to justify things like the anti-vaxxer movement or a whole range of dietary fads or the consumption of vast quantities of essentially useless vitamins, mineral supplements and so forth.

They are also easily conned when it comes to complex issues like how the economy actually works as distinct from how politicians might explain it.

There is much excellent and alarming research that indicates that there is a startling lack of financial literacy amongst the Australian population. No doubt the situation is similar or worse across the globe.

This collective ignorance and credulity is, I think, the heart of the problem with democratic politics.

It helps explain why a Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdogan or Boris Johnson or Peter O'Neill can remain in power for so long.

Basically, the voting populations seem unable to grasp that what comes out of their political leaders' mouths often doesn't reflect reality. Very often it merely reflects self interest or the interests of their powerful backers.

This is especially true where those politicians play to our prejudices and beliefs instead of our intellects.

Paradoxically, these same credulous voters will insist that they neither believe nor trust their political leaders.

I assume that there are several possible psycho-social explanations for what is a bizarre mismatch between this supposed distrust and the resultant observable electoral behaviour but I find it baffling in the extreme.

People are not being honest with themselves, let alone with others. Our capacity for self deception seems to be infinite.

Anyway, for whatever reasons too many of us keep voting for the same disingenuous, deviousness and dishonesty that we purport to deplore.

Until this changes, we will continue to get the governments we deserve as distinct from those that we actually need.

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