The Victorian Liberals’ victory came as unsurprising to me, and not just for the reasons outlined by the ever-perceptive Peter Brent. There has been voter crankiness against state and federal Labor governments that reflects the exhaustion of the party’s attempt to use technocratic managerialism as a substitute for traditional social democratic politics. As Left Flank has pointed out, this strategy emerged from the peculiarities of neoliberal ideology:
In the neoliberal mindset, none but the most perfunctory social decisions can be made independent of an apparently external market logic, thus downgrading the importance of democracy. This phenomenon first became apparent at the state level in Australia, as governments (mainly Labor) reduced their mission to something analogous to managing a business, devoid of any consideration of variegated social interests (apart from those of the boss’ bottom line). Increasingly dismissive of any social base for their actions, they came to project their role as one of a technocratic fix. That this fix was implicitly in the interests of the business class was elided with talk of a post-ideological era. The ideology of the day was that there was no ideology anymore.
It was difficult to know how to approach Paul Howes’ Confessions Of A Faceless Man, his public “diary” of the 2010 election campaign. Was it to be a tell-all insider’s account delivering anecdotes that journalistic efforts would miss? Was it to be a re-evaluation of the problems the first-term federal government got itself into, a thoughtful introspection on how the ALP went from astronomical to disastrous poll ratings in very short order? Or was it to be a meditation on the long-term trajectory of a Labor Party that, as Howes is keen to tell us on his book tour, needs to have some serious debates about “big picture” ideas.
Me in today’s The Drum Unleashed on the ABC website, where I look at the collapse of the Greens’ strategy to secure Liberal Party preferences in some key inner-Melbourne seats. Just why is a Left party playing these games?
Since 2006 the ALP has hammered the fact the Greens are willing to do deals with the Liberals, a line specifically designed to stop traditional Labor supporters from crossing the Rubicon into Greens territory. As the wealth statistics above suggest, class remains a powerful social fact in modern Australia even if it has faded from official discourse. Yet for the ALP, crude class rhetoric about the Greens backing the Tories can help it hold onto its base, even if for purely negative reasons. This ties in with repeated (and unfounded) claims that the Greens represent a privileged, middle-class constituency, indifferent to the needs of working families. Despite the Greens’ protests that voters are smarter than this, or that there really is no difference between Liberal and Labor, the fact remains that they are in a battle for the left wing of Labor’s constituency, where class still holds real meaning.
Hence state candidate for Melbourne, Brian Walters [pictured above], can admit amazement the Liberals would risk the election over ideology, yet in the same breath say he thinks “there is a certain logic in the grand conservative Coalition that we are now seeing between Labor and Liberal.” And then, not wanting to cruel potential deals next time, he can add, “How much that holds in the future we will see”. His mixed messages reflect a growing divergence between the kinds of voters and active members the Greens are attracting. The latter, like Walters, tend to be more conservative and seek rapid access to political power through moderation and deal making. Unsurprisingly, Electrical Trades Union leader Dean Mighell has pulled his union’s support away from the Victorian Greens after having backed Bandt to the hilt.
Me in today’s Overland Journal blog, on the crisis in psychiatry:
Biological psychiatry is currently facing pervasive challenges to its hegemony. Mental illness has gained massive recognition and medical treatments for such disorders are virtually ubiquitous. At the same time, the field is beset by scandals around kickbacks from drug companies, embroiled in divisive arguments over its diagnostic bible (the DSM-V) and finding it ever harder to provide conclusive scientific proof of its effectiveness. The psychiatric profession is facing a crisis of confidence bigger than at the height of the antipsychiatry movements of the 1960s and 70s.
In the middle of this comes a compelling critique of some of psychiatry’s key claims by Richard Bentall, a UK clinical psychologist working within the NHS. In Doctoring The Mind: Why Psychiatric Treatments Fail, Bentall provides a lucid and accessible account of the meagre successes and substantial failures of psychiatry, following on from his earlier Madness Explained. Unlike many critics of the discipline, he remains committed to a scientific understanding, which he calls ‘rational antipsychiatry’.
As I wrote previously, Stephen Fry was under fire earlier this week for making comments regarding women’s sexuality. Subjected to condemnation, he left Twitter and nothing further was heard from him. Since then he has published a piece on his website, explaining himself:
I suppose the keenest disappointment I feel about the past week and the almost incredible weirdnesses it has brought in its train is the idea that there are people out there who actually swallow the notion that I am so stupid as to believe that women don’t enjoy sex. That I not only believe it but that I am dense, dotty and suicidally deluded enough to make a public declaration of such a crazed belief.
So what is politics? For most, politics is that thing that happens in Canberra and on Macquarie Street. That thing to be ridiculed, not trusted, obsessed over and argued about. It is that thing external from us, happening ‘out there’ in other locations, and reported in the media.
Yet politics is also a practice, or potential practice, of everyday life. One that is greater and more diverse than official or representative politics, and yet also not reducible to personal visions, actions and views. It is something that is social, and sits in civil society rather than simply within the state and political society (Thomas 2009).
Stephen Fry has quit Twitter. Some are saying that his tweet, “So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I’m the Antichrist. I give up.” and his subsequent, “Bye bye” is a “hissy fit”.
Maybe. We’re all entitled to bad behaviour. I also wonder if it is a reaction occurring during a manic phase (Fry is quite open about his bipolar) when feeling piled upon. The only person who would know that would be him, and his doctor, but I have to say that’s how it comes across to me.
So, what was he supposedly misquoted in saying?
In my review of John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics I started to develop a theme about the nature of neoliberalism that goes beyond his focus on a set of flawed economic ideas and their application:
So why do market liberal ideas persist despite being disproved in practice? Quiggin suggests a mixture of the influence of vested interests and institutional inertia among economists. Both are true, but they overstate the independent power of the ideas he is critiquing. His description of the history of policy responses to the crisis of the 1970s exposes a rapidly shifting theoretical terrain, more consistent with a desperate and pragmatic search for a solution to recession on capital’s terms. So under “really existing neoliberalism” the state never removes itself from economic life, it rather acts more aggressively for elite interests. Market mechanisms don’t get applied neutrally but to increase the exploitation of workers and increase profitability at ordinary people’s expense. And behind every mystification within neoliberal ideology is the drive to make the majority class pay for the restoration of the minority ruling class’s power and wealth.
Quiggin ends with a modest program for mainstream economics, one that is necessarily lacking in hubris because he doesn’t claim to have “the answer”. Yet he strongly implies that the ideas of market liberalism will eventually die out as a result of their practical failure (currently for him they exist mainly in reanimated, “zombie” form, hence his title).