Saturday, 18 May 2013 21:57

Corn Flakes, Conscience Votes and Political Parties

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Politicians are fond of reminding us how much better off they could be by having stayed in the private sector rather than accept the meagre pittance, miserly handouts and thin promises of a life after politics we taxpayers deign to offer our Members of Parliament.  They wish only to serve their country, they claim, and they clearly must mean that because why else would they deliver their stirring speeches while standing in front of a furled Australian flag?  They choose, though they would much rather infer that they have been anointed, which Party they will represent because, like long established businesses, they have an image that can be trusted and relied upon, core values that will always remain true.  A vote for a particular Polly is a vote for the Party of which they are proud to sit on the benches.   How much should we rely on their rhetoric?  And just how much are we really entitled to expect that what their Party stands for is what that Party will deliver after the flags have stopped waving? 

Corn Flakes, Conscience Votes and Political Parties

Are we getting what we expected?

The leader of one of the minor Australian political parties was recently trying to push through a piece of feel-good legislation and demanded that one of the main-stream Parties, whose traditional core values would see it oppose the Bill, allow it’s members a conscience vote.    Divide and conquer is a common tactic and stratagem of warfare used when the other side has superiority of numbers and strength.  The hope here was to sap the strength of the opposition, weakening its resolve by opening the issue to debate within its ranks.  All being fair in love, war and politics, it is a good strategy.  But what are the ramifications of such manoeuvring for us, the voters?

I now live in a small town—and love it—where you stop to chat with people, strangers or not.   I was at a local supermarket wandering up and down the aisles, trying to avoid running people over with my shopping trolley and noticed an elderly gentleman staring vacantly at the cereal display.   I needed cereal, I remembered, and grabbed a box of my usual as I skirted around him.  He smiled as I made room for the cereal in my trolley, and he said, “That seemed easy enough”.   I momentarily wondered if he was facing some difficulty and smiled obligingly back at him and queried, “Having a problem”?  He pointed to a well-known brand of cereal that has been a familiar staple on grocery shelves for many decades.  He complained that cereals seemingly were no longer made for a simple palate.  It seems the last purchase of his preferred cereal was flavoured, which he didn’t care much for, and he had missed noticing it when he grabbed the box from the shelf.  Indeed, there were five distinct varieties of this very simple cereal and those five varieties came in as many as three different box sizes.  One, he claimed as he pointed an accusing finger at the box, was even too large to fit into his cupboard.  I nodded sympathetically for I had the year before been taken in by a sale of similar size boxes and it did not fit any of my cupboards either.  He took two steps along the aisle to where the oaten cereals took up an entire section of the shelving.  “This is oatmeal porridge for God’s sake.  How can you have this many varieties of porridge”?  There were the usual familiar brand names as well as the odd addition.  One brand even seemed to be making the point that it would be unpatriotic not to buy it in preference.   One would be hard pressed to shake a stick at the number of varieties and sizes that filled the shelves.  He shook his head and then, in a grand gesture, swept his arm the length of the aisle.  I followed his gesture with my eyes and almost the entire length of the aisle was cereal, top to bottom.  He was rather easily making his point but so what, it is just cereal, and despite the need to spend an inordinate amount of time having to read each box carefully to see what you were getting, what did it really matter?  Clearly, this was only a problem for the cereal makers and the grocers I thought but didn’t voice.   He shook his head in disgust once again and asked if I had any idea how much all of this was costing the consumer.  I had never thought overly much about it.  Frankly, cereal wars are not something that keep me awake at nights.  But he was quite right.  If the makers of cereals have to accommodate so many varieties and box sizes, it must be costing them heaps of unnecessary dollars and that has to translate into a higher store price and you and I are the mugs paying for it all.  And really, all we want is a simple box of cereal that tastes good and that is good for us as part of our daily diet do we not? 

It was the same with every aisle, from olive oil to peanut butter, pickles to laundry soap and even toilet paper.  Bread took up an entire section of the store as did milk.  There was almost a full aisle of pasta.  Once you get past spaghetti, how much more variety do you need?  What in the world is going on?

I suppose that all of us inherit our political affiliation from our parents as we did our religious beliefs.  Though those beliefs may well be modified or even abandoned in adulthood, it is hard to imagine that we stray too far from those values.  My parents were not politically minded but they did vote at every election and their choice of newspaper and radio stations had to have some bearing on my own viewpoint as I grew up: acer acerpori; as the maple so the sapling.  We are all thus.

At one time we lived in villages, small towns and boroughs where left and right values were, indeed, valued.  It has changed now.  Traditional values no longer seem to hold sway; we no longer attend political rallies (except for the more activist among us); we no longer hear the impassioned speeches of the candidates for election and we rarely ever buttonhole a candidate as they make their way through the shopping malls that are now considered to be part of the campaign trail.  We are content to simply shake hands or jeer if our loyalty happens to lie elsewhere.  There are few local media outlets for a candidate to express their personal views anymore and about the best they can do is make good use of the social media with tweets and blog pages.  Those corridors are filled with the rabble, however, and little reasoned debate is ever seen or likely to be and we are obliged to rely on Party affiliation to determine just what they can bring to us if we cast our vote to their favour.  In fact, nearly all of us rely on the How to Vote leaflets handed out at the polling booths and rarely give much consideration to the actual outcomes that will have on our lives.  It is not likely to change in any event nor do we seem to expect or desire that it should change; voting, at least in Australia, seems to have become an odious chore that, thank God, comes only once every three years.

The Australian Labor Party often has debates on a return to traditional Labor values by those within their ranks who think they may have strayed.  The use of emotive words like, heartland and traditional, are modifiers of the other terms like Aussie Battlers and moms and dads that are used to define what is thought to be the core Labor support.   Labor supporters identify with such terms.  It is hard, in fact, to deter Labor Party supporters or to even shake their loyalty so, should they not have the right to expect adherence to those values that have attracted their support down through the years?  The same is true of those who traditionally vote for Conservative Parties.  They too, have the right to know what they are getting when they fill in the boxes on the ballot paper in accordance with the How to Vote leaflet.  That no longer seems to be the case.  Far too often one or the other Party will fall on the side of political expediency rather than on what they once declared to be their vision.  Do we not have the right to expect more?

We in Australia have a preferential voting system rather than a first-past-the-post method of voting.  This ensures, by the method of preferences being passed on to a nominated Party, pre-election, that voters wind up with a government that most closely resembles their first choice.  But we are not getting that.  The Independents and the minor Parties having said they would vote along with the Party to whom they promised to give their preferences, don’t.  The Independents vote, seemingly, whichever way popular opinion sways them.  The minor Parties are far more interested in getting their own Bills passed and so attempt to blackmail and coerce the Government by threatening to vote with the Opposition at almost every turn unless consideration is given to their drivel and cant.  This is not what the voters wanted or had the right to expect.  The voters must be able to rely on the declared values of their Party to be the arbiter in aye or nay votes on legislation that affects their lives, that affects businesses that offer them employment or for challenges to our legal system and schemes that would bind us to crushing debt.  There should be no conscience votes and certainly no posturing by scheming wishy-washy leaders of the minority Parties and Independents.  They must vote as they promised they would or we should simply write them off the ballot paper at the very next election.  This is our country and we put them in office to do our bidding not theirs.  We should get what we expected to get, nothing less and certainly not something we did not expect to get.

I passed the gentleman I had met in the cereal aisle as I made my own way to the check-out.  He had a standard-sized box of cornflakes of an easily recognised brand in his trolley.  No surprises there.

David Edwards

Read 3031 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 23:45
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