It’ll surprise absolutely no one that I’m a cynic when it comes to politics, and according to some of my regular readers, I am a miserable, negative ‘queen of the stirrers’, Canberra’s ‘whiner-in-chief’ etc etc.
But what will surprise some of you is that, despite accusations to the contrary, I have zero interest in ever running for politics.
And looking at the state of play ahead of this year’s federal election when it comes to ACT’s Senate candidates, I feel very justified in my cynicism when I say that these days, politics is all about winning, promoting the privileged and popular over others regardless of their comparable skill sets.
Take a look at the announced candidates running for the Senate.
I have basically no interest in candidates from major parties, as their backgrounds and abilities are largely irrelevant given they’ll be toeing the party line if elected. But many Canberrans have expressed delight at former rugby player David Pocock running as an independent candidate, alongside Dr Kim Rubenstein, also running as an independent.
Here is where my cynicism is likely to alienate. I have no doubt that David Pocock has immense capacity to contribute to our community. He’s demonstrated a passion for key issues like climate change, diversity and inclusion. But I also don’t think that he, compared with other Senate candidates, has the experience to be a senator.
Yet, in the conversations I’ve had with friends and family, those who share the progressive values I espouse, everyone is determined to vote for him because he’s likely to win. That’s it – he’s popular and could actually get elected. The fact that he’s also progressive is enough of a reason to push for his success because the goal is just to ‘win’ in terms of the ratio of left versus right representation across government.
That ratio is definitely crucial, as it determines the balance of power and what legislation is likely to pass or fail. But it feels wrong to me that the two-party system has led us to this point where the individual’s capabilities and qualifications are secondary to name recognition and popularity in the race to get elected.
Is politics just a popularity contest?
I have nothing against David Pocock. For all I know, he’ll be an excellent Senator, and I’m sure he’s committed to upskilling in the mechanics of government, in surrounding himself with the best possible advice, and for developing a more comprehensive policy platform ahead of the election.
But my point is that he could do none of those things and still be elected because we no longer even pretend to have an expectation of prerequisite experience and qualifications for our politicians.
Of course, the major parties are also riddled with lifetime political hacks who have gotten elected based on nepotism, the party machines and other arbitrary factors that most Australians don’t give a damn about. So this isn’t an attack on Pocock or anyone else in particular, it’s more aimed at the dysfunctional system voters are navigating.
I love the idea of politics becoming more egalitarian, with people from all walks of life, without necessarily having university qualifications or a background in policy being able to run and be elected. But that isn’t what’s happening here – instead, it’s middle-class people or famous individuals leveraging their privilege to run, while those with ambition but fewer expendable resources have no hope of making it to the polls.
Maybe we should take a page out of reality TV and start some sort of ‘blind voting’ system where we vote for candidates who are anonymously listed based on their policy promises and ratings across a range of skills, and we don’t get to find out who they are until after the polls close. Remove the personality from it entirely. Honestly, at this point, I feel like anything else from what we have would be better.