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July 26th 2011 print

James Allan

Windsor & Oakeshott sink Labor

Imagine that Windsor and Oakeshott were genius undercover operatives whose goal was to make Labor unelectable for a decade or more. 

Until recently my thoughts on our two rural socialist faux independent MPs, the two propping up this Gillard/Greens government, were pretty standard.

They’d sold out their constituents I figured. They had no regard for representing the majority view of the voters who’d put them into office. They were single-handedly, or double-handedly I suppose, making sure that getting elected as an independent would be much harder for quite a while to come. 

This was and is all pretty standard. Of course nothing in our Westminster system requires an elected member of parliament to vote in accord with the views of those who put him or her into the legislature. The remedy for breaching the trust of the voters comes a few years down the road, when those same voters get another chance to pass judgement on you. If you are an MP who thinks he knows better than the majority of his constituents, you’d better hope your electors change their minds before the next election. Otherwise the retribution will be swift, clear-cut and lacking in mercy.

Put another way, our two rural socialist faux independents won’t be able to get elected as dog-catchers, let alone anything else come 2013 or before.

Now I know that there is a certain strain of thinking out there that likes to lament that some MP or other ‘only wants to get re-elected’. The claim here is that the member of parliament is too focused on the views of the people who voted for him or her.

But if you think about that for even a minute it becomes a very odd sort of complaint. The whole point of democracy, at least in Benthamite utilitarian terms, is to provide incentives – sticks and carrots – for our elected rulers to care for more than themselves, their families, and their extended circle of supporters, as in juntas and dictatorships. We positively DO want our MPs to care about getting re-elected. That’s the whole point. We want them to care what we the voters think.

Now it’s true that these sticks and carrots incentives do not make MPs and political parties care about everyone. But they need at least to care about enough people to try to get into office, to win elections. That’s the beauty of democracy. It realigns the interests of the rulers with those who vote, a majority of the population (though clearly not everyone in the country).

Now you can understand the Churchillian line that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other system so far tried. Democracy has lots of flaws, but fewer than any other system, including ones where the great and the good rule in the name of being better educated or EU-type systems that enervate majoritarianism.

An American pundit once said that a country would be better off ruled by the first 200 names in the Boston phone book than by the senior common room (the top professors) of Harvard University. That’s the same sort of point as above about the need for those elected to care about the views of those who put them in office.

All of this bears on my thoughts above that Messrs Oakeshott and Windsor can have their fun, but that our system will have its revenge on them. It assumed that they had grown too big for their boots, drunk in too much of their own publicity, call it what you will.

But a week or two ago a different idea struck me. I know it’s far-fetched. I know it wallows in cheap conspiracy-style thinking. But just for a moment imagine this.

Imagine that Herrs Windsor and Oakeshott were not in fact puffed-up egomaniacs unconcerned with the views of their constituents but were in fact determined to ruin the Labor Party for a generation and determined to make people see the true colours of the Green Party. Imagine that they were genius undercover operatives whose goal was to make Labor unelectable for a decade or more.

So they opt to sacrifice themselves, even to the point of going before the cameras and making fools of themselves when they announce whom it is they’ll be backing. Accordingly they decide to support a money wasting NBN program that delivers a monopoly of sorts, high prices, lots of government waste and next to no benefits.

Then they support a carbon dioxide tax that they know the Labor Prime Minister had explicitly promised just before the last election not to bring in. (That should help with the conspiracy.) And it would be a tax that brought in myriad new bureaucracies; that makes bizarrely unlikely – okay false – claims about what the US, China, Canada and others will be doing in the next few years vis-à-vis reducing their carbon dioxide emissions; that will be open to EU-style gaming; that churns and churns taxpayers’ money; and most damningly of all, that accomplishes virtually nothing in terms of slowing temperature change, some miniscule fraction of one degree at the very best.

That should help ruin the Labor brand.

Just to make sure they even voice support for indeterminate references to greater press regulation, or to put that in more explicit terms, to going back a few centuries to when the press was explicitly regulated in what it could say. Pretending to support the fatuous claims about ensuring that only proper, acceptable views are allowed to be published would be pure genius, right? That’s if you’re secretly trying to make fools of a Labor government as part of some secret undercover operation.

Of course this is all musing. The problem with conspiracy thinking is that it requires you to believe that human beings are smarter and more competent than experience ever gives you much reason to think. The incompetent, puffed-up answer is almost always more accurate.

Still, it is fun to imagine that our two rural independents are something other than self-interested egocentrics who took themselves far more seriously than anyone else and who sold out their electors.