AusOpinion Reblogged 12 – Assertions, the Greens and the Black Knight

The founder of AusOpinion was Paula Matthewson, aka Dragonista.  That didn’t stop me from doing my deconstruction thing on one of her anti – Green posts (and, FTR, Bandt didn’t need a preference deal with one of the majors to win…)
One of the chief weaknesses of political reporting and blogging in the leadup to the 2013 election is assertions.  Assertions that x will happen because of y – and the y is usually based on evidence that is part gutfeel and part reading media reports through an already constructed prism.  It would be good to try to negotiate a more objective path than what we see from our media, but this could well be an almost impossible task in 2013.  Disappointingly, the latest piece by Ausvotes’ own Paula Matthewson in the Guardian Comment is Free section is another example of this assertion opinion making. As usual in these kind of deconstructions of mine, her words are in italics.

Time is up for the Australian Greens

No matter how much Christine Milne claims otherwise, this election will not be about them or the independents. It will be a battle of giants

It WILL be a battle of giants. Based on… ? NO MATTER HOW MUCH. High modality assertion kicks off the piece, not allowing for any other possibility. I can’t say how many times we see this kind of high modality assertions in the way our politics is written about. It’s now also here.

Greens leader Christine Milne entered the federal election campaign last week in the party’s latest attempt at relevancy.

“Attempt” at relevancy.  This backhanded swipe at the Greens sets the tone of this piece, which is a touch disingenous, especially in light of the relevance the Greens have had in supporting the current minority Labor Government and having key legislation passed.  That’s a fair dose of relevancy.

In her first interview with Guardian Australia, Milne made several demands of the putative prime minister-elect, Tony Abbott, to secure the Greens’ cooperation with a new Coalition government. Pledging that her party’s role will be to “keep the bastards honest” and insisting that Abbott would need to produce acceptable spending initiatives, Milne resembled the Black Knight more than a serious alternative to the leaders of the “old parties”.

In framing the comments of Milne as “demands”, Matthewson is continuing her thesis that the Greens have no relevancy – so much so, she uses what has become another press gallery staple – the crude pop culture analogy. This time, it’s the Black Knight of Monty Python, which is trying to convince the readers that a party with 9 senators in the Senate and one MP in the HOR is somehow powerless and is having all its limbs cut off.  A bow so long it could play 10 double basses at once.  This does lead, though, to a theme to which Matthewson returns often – whether it’s been in Ausvotes, or on the King’s Tribune, that the Greens are doomed.

Like the feisty medieval soldier, Milne doesn’t seem to realise her party’s melee is over. The Greens will not play a major role in the September federal election, nor will they be significant force afterwards.

Will not.  Nor will they be. More Assertions – as we see, based on evidence so weak that they easily break under the weight of context – like much of what we see from our major media outlets.

Only 17% of voters think the performance of the Greens in federal parliament has been good, while the party’s primary vote has dropped from a peak of 11.8% at the 2010 election to around 9% now. Unless Adam Bandt can secure a preference deal with one of the major parties, the Greens poster boy in the house of representatives will be a one-term wonder.

Basing an assertion that the Greens are doomed on these figures is using another poor press gallery tactic – flimsy poll result driven analysis. The Essential report figures aren’t surprising, as the figures largely followed partisan political lines, where Labor and Liberal voters thinking the Greens don’t perform well in parliament. There’s a shock. Also, talking about one national poll figure doesn’t suggest much more than there’s been a small drop in support – hardly Black Knight territory. No accounting there for regional variation – again, like the blunt instrument poll analysis we see too often from the traditional media. To see that from an alternative media analyst like Matthewson is disappointing.

The party’s Senate vote is also estimated to have dropped, from 13.1% at the election to around 11% now, putting most of the Green Senate candidates – and the prospect of retaining the balance of power – at risk of being wiped out by closed shop preference deals between the major parties.

13.1% when? Where? This isn’t stated at this part of the article, and again one poll of 3,000 souls being used to prove the thesis that the Black Knight is nearly dead is superficial analysis, as is the blanket statement about “closed shop preference deals”. What does Matthewson mean here? That she knows the Labor and Liberal Parties will be preferencing each other for Senate votes for the first time in history? It is here that the piece verges into the field of the bizarre.

But like the Black Knight, the Greens aren’t giving up that easily. They’ve tried hard to insert themselves into this contest in an effort to stem the loss of votes.

Despite having not supported the poor metaphor of the Black Knight with substantial evidence, Matthewson doggedly sticks to it. As she does with the backhanded “minor party”…

The minor party wasted no time taking credit for the carbon price decision that history will judge as prime minister Gillard’s greatest misstep. They played hardball on asylum seekers to stake out the high moral ground. And after years of harassing farmers for their animal husbandry and environmental management practices, the Greens sought to join forces with the very same primary producers to “help” them resist the developers of rural coal seam gas deposits. Not one of these endeavours has delivered votes (as measured by the published opinion polls).

“History will judge” – more assertion based on something that won’t necessarily happen. It also frames carbon pricing as a mistake, rather than something that the Rudd Government had promised in 2007 and something that is being instituted in many different economies and countries. In this assertion, Matthewson is sounding more like a columnist in the Australian than as a detached, objective commentator. Carbon pricing shouldn’t have been something the Greens should not have used their BOP status to achieve.  As for the issue of asylum seekers, Matthewson is painting a party representing its promised party platform as sullied by “morals” – clearly, in the frame of this analysis, a messy and unfortunate barrier to the realpolitik of making asylum seekers someone else’s problem.

The words “harassing” and the snide placement of commas around help also reveals a partisan loading against the Greens in the tone of this article – where “insisting on certain safeguards” might have been more accurate in the former and genuine support in the case of CSG mining is more accurate in the latter.  To then go onto assert that opposing CSG has “not delivered votes” by showing a twitpic of the national Green vote is another News Ltd style trick of using general national numbers to prove something they cannot prove – support for the Greens in areas where CSG continues to be a real and present threat to farmers’ livelihoods. There hasn’t been polls around this issue – well, none Matthewson has provided – so her point here is unsupported.

Even Milne’s dramatic public announcement that she was calling off the formal arrangement between the Greens and Labor struck at the formation of minority government in 2010 – the political equivalent of being told “you’re dropped” – did nothing to gain new supporters. Since that election, half the votes lost by Labor have gone to the Coalition, while the rest have drifted to independents, others and don’t knows. None have shifted to the Greens.

“Did nothing” – more assertion based on no substantial evidence.  Moreover, there is nothing to suggest that Milne’s announcement was designed to attract more votes. Maybe it was there to show existing voters of the Greens that the Labor Party really hadn’t taken the agreement seriously. That idea is not entertained here – it would take away from the sledgehammer Matthewson is taking to the Greens in this piece.

Milne’s latest ploy will have equally little traction. Her claim that Abbott is not fit for leadership because of his stance on climate change is based on a mistaken assumption that voters planning to vote for Abbott care that he is, for all intents and purposes, a climate change skeptic. It ignores the fact that Abbott was elected Liberal leader over Malcolm Turnbull expressly to overturn the pro-emissions trading position Turnbull had imposed on the Liberal party. No one currently thinking of voting for the Coalition will change their vote to the Greens, or to Labor for that matter, because of Abbott’s climate change position. For him it’s a vote winner, not a vote loser.

“Will have”. More assertion. And there was more to Turnbull’s deposing than climate change, even if the vote did provide the trigger for Minchin and Turnbull’s other opponents. There’s also little evidence than Milne is trying to attract Liberal voters – though, it would be interesting to see Matthewson’s evidence that “no-one” is currently thinking of voting for the Greens instead of the Liberals due to climate change. No-one. More high modality assertion.

No matter how much Milne and the other Greens parliamentarians claim otherwise, this election will simply not be about them or the independents: it will predominantly be a battle of the giants. The election will be distinguished by voters returning to the major parties after what they consider to be a brief but torrid flirtation with the Greens and the current batch of independents.

“It will be”… “Brief and torrid flirtation”.  Not only more assertion, but a crude sexual analogy to boot.

While minority governments have been the norm at the state level for some time, voters are unfamiliar and unhappy with them at the national level. This disenchantment is manifest: only 28% believe the current minority government arrangement with the Greens and independents holding the balance of power has been good for Australia. And as we have seen in the published polls, only a third of that number are prepared to elect the Greens to a similar position this time around.

This year, the federal election is simply about Labor and the Coalition: the voters have already determined this by rejecting the non-major parties and the concept of minority government.

“The voters have…” Really, have they?

No matter how loudly the Greens demand to be taken seriously in the campaign, their reality is that their time is over. They can yell and posture as much as they wish, claiming they’re not finished yet, but they won’t be noticed or heard over the grunts and roars of the grappling giants.

“The reality is their time is over”.  “Yell and posture.” “Grappling giants.”   More press gallery style assertion and facile metaphors based on very little but gutfeel and in this case, desire. “The reality is” is one of these phrases used to belittle anyone who might want to argue with a position being taken. Makes them look like fantastists that aren’t “living in reality”.  It summarises the tone being taken here – to belittle and insult the Greens.

There are those who will point to Matthewson’s past and suggest that she has a long held loathing of the Greens and she can taste their destruction. Unfortunately, she has fuelled that perception with such a partisan, poorly supported opinion piece like this. Frankly, this piece looks more like a wish list rather than an objectively argued case about the Greens – which is a pity, considering the excellence of much of her work in the past two years.

It is fair to say that the Greens will have a tough time during this election campaign. They are always excluded from leaders’ debates and the media coverage dedicated to them is usually superficial and brief. They will also have disappointed some people who expected the world from them and received instead a poorly explained carbon pricing scheme and other actions like Denticare that have seemingly gone unnoticed. The Greens MPs sticking to their party’s asylum seeker policies has also been disappointing to people who prefer pragmatism over principle.

There’s little to suggest the Green vote will go up, that it will probably go down and it will be tough for the Greens to gain votes in various areas.  It is a poor form, however, to make bald “will happen” assertions throughout an analytical piece and worse still to make silly Monty Python in the gleeful manner shown in this piece.  I would have hoped that the new media would be more measured and less nakedly partisan than is shown here. That probably makes me Candide.

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