Where Politics Ends And Decency Begins #blogboost

Image courtesy of flickr
Leo Reynolds photostream

Today marks the day when bloggers far and wide take to their keyboards. Thirty one posts in thirty-one days, October 1 to October 31, The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I am one of the bloggers who has chosen to accept this Challenge and am aiming to post once a day during the month. The rules however permit flexible posting as long as you post thirty-one posts by October 31.

My first post centres around politics. I have always felt it unwise to mix blogging and politics, but that’s only a personal preference. A lot of my blogging friends mix the two quite successfully. So with some shining examples in the back of my mind, I’m going to dip my toe in the non-partisan waters. It may give some readers a break from coverage of the US Presidential elections and an alternate perspective to the way they view politicians.

The Political Background

Like the US and Britain, Australia has two major political parties – Liberal and Labor. Unlike the US, the Liberal Party is not actually liberal, it is in fact conservative and is the Republican/Tory equivalent. The Labor party is more left wing and traditionally has represented unions and the labour movement. I’m not sure whether you would say it was on all fours with the Democrats, but it is certainly more liberal than the Liberals.

We currently have a Labor government headed by a female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard is our first ever female prime minister and holds power as a result of a deal brokered with a handful of independent MP’s after the 2010 election produced a hung parliament. Her performance and that of her Government has not been popular,  although our country seems to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in the alternative.

Ms Gillard is 51 years old and approximately three weeks ago her 83 year old father passed away whilst Ms Gillard was in Russia attending the APEC summit. By all accounts, Ms Gillard was close to her father and he influenced her ideoligical direction and involvement in the Labor movement. The Gillards were immigrants from Wales where life was not kind to John Gillard as he was forced to work from the age of 14, despite his desire and love of education. His loss was clearly acutely felt by his daughter.

The Conservative Radio Commentator

Enter Alan Jones, high rating radio commentator and talk-back host who makes no secret of his conservative political leanings. Some might go so far as to say he is the Rush Limbaugh of Australian politics. Mr Jones has on numerous occasions expressed his dislike of Ms Gillard’s politics and Ms Gillard herself.

Last week Mr Jones gave an address at a Young Liberals function. During that address he was heard to call Ms Gillard a liar and suggested that Ms Gillard’s late father had therefore died of shame. You can hear the relevant extract from the speech in the video below which also shows a transcrip of what was said.

The Fallout

The fallout from the remarks has been sweeping and swift. Politicians from both sides of politics have condemned Mr Jones’ attack as have waves of social media users. Consumers have been quick to call on those companies who advertise on Mr Jones’ radio show to withdraw their business and for Mr Jones’ corporate sponsors to pull their sponsorship. As of writing, sponsors and advertisers who have in fact pulled their dollars include Mercedes-Benz, Woolworths, Bing Lee and Freedom Furniture. Further ,Mr Jones made a public apology this afternoon, admitting that his remarks were in bad taste. You can read the text of his apology here.

Opinion

This is an extraordinary event in Australian politics throwing up almost universal condemnation of such inappropriate behaviour. The comments have been called ugly and insensitive as well as being out of line. And rightly so.

To put this in context until recent times Australian political debate has centered around political issues rather than character issues. Most US citizens would yawn at Australia’s  recent lacklustre comprehensively scripted political campaign. Generally, at best, most Australians have merely a passing interest in politics in the three to six weeks of an election campaign. We are not a “rah-rah” banner waving political nation. To have a country pay attention and almost speak as one in favour of a prime minister is novel.

Politics can be a grubby business. It is a profession where perception becomes reality and spin is king. We all get cynical about politics and politicians at times, but that is no reason to lose our sense of decency for our fellow man or in this case woman. Respect is and needs to remain a key platform in our dealings with each other and commentators should stick to attacking the issue, not the person. The timing and content of this comment is reprehensible and cannot be justified on any basis. It transcends basic human decency.

Mr Jones, Australians want leaders they can respect. Whether those leaders are politicians or commentators with considerable influence.  Being in the public eye is not an invitation to belittle or dehumanize a person or their sense of loss. Let’s not forget that at our core we all weep and in the words of the wonderful John Farnham, “we are all someone’s daughter, we are all someone’s son.”

The fallout continues…

Does basic human decency have a role in politics? Do politicians by the nature of the profession undermine their right to be treated respectfully?