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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grass Roots - Then & Now

Back in the day, the Labor Party's grass roots supporters were the working class.  Those hard working men and women who built this country and struggled to earn a living in order to feed, cloth and house the family. They were generally union members who fought for fair pay and conditions in the face of blatant opportunism and exploitation by "the man" - the boss who represented the company with no compassion for individual circumstance, no understanding of "work/life balance" and who was only interested in increasing profits for the Company.

The Liberal Party's grass roots voters were traditionally businessmen and women, those who owned businesses and were interested in the vagaries of the stock market.

The National Party's grass roots base were traditionally farmers.  Hard working men and women who struggled to make a living through drought, flood, fire and famine.

Back then, it was easier to differentiate political affiliations and loyalty.  Generally, people voted for the same party all their lives.

That was then.  This is now.

All three parties are so closely aligned that you would not know which party released a policy unless you were informed. No longer are the party policies clearly delineated.  People swing between parties from election to election, which is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the motivation for it, however it is made easier when the major parties are so closely aligned.

Party policies are predominantly determined by popularity and focus groups.

The "New Grass Roots" these days is driven by fear, selfishness, ignorance and misinformation which is often manipulated and encouraged through government rhetoric and media sensationalism.  Lindsay Tanner expounds on this in his book, "Sideshow - Dumbing Down Democracy".

The Labor Party has lost many of its grass roots supporters who have become disillusioned with unions and complacent about their industrial rights.  We see workers supporting the Liberal Party and even backing big business to sack other workers (for instance, the stand that many workers took in supporting the grounding of the QANTAS fleet to break the strike - a strike which was not just about more pay, but about protecting jobs in Australia and not seeing them outsourced overseas). Back in the day, every union in Australia would have gone on strike to support the QANTAS workers. It will be interesting to see if those workers who supported QANTAS management will then bleat if their jobs are the ones outsourced.  So much for solidarity.

One of the New Grass Roots values is fear.  Fear of anyone different to us, whether it be skin colour, race, nationality or religion.  We have seen asylum seekers demonised and misrepresented as terrorists.  People have very little sympathy or understanding of their situations.   Yet, had Australia been invaded by Japan in the Second World War, we may well have been the ones seeking asylum in other countries.  I wonder if we would have joined an orderly queue as we expect other asylum seekers to do.  I wonder if we would have politely awaited our turn as our families were brutalised.

The Grass Roots these days is also driven by selfishness.   Whenever an election is called many people are more interested in the benefits to their hip pockets than in what is good for the country, for the economy, for the environment, for those less fortunate then us.  This is evidenced by the increased "pork barreling" during recent election campaigns and the focus in the media of stories detailing "what's in it for you" or "what's the cost to the hip pocket?"

Two other values of the New Grass Roots are ignorance and misinformation.  Very little truth or detail is given by any party or the media when discussing policies.  It is more about smoke-screens, misdirection and focusing on red herrings rather than truth.

The New Grass Roots values of fear, selfishness, ignorance and misinformation are pandered to by all parties.  Political policy is often reduced to inane slogans which strike a chord with those who are too ignorant and apathetic to look deeper into those slogans, to realise that they have no substance, no policies and no real meaning.  

Politics in the 21st Century is marked by politicians capitulating to the amoral values of the New Grass Roots.  It is time that politicians of every persuasion change the dialogue which drives these selfish values and for the electorate to not accept blindly the manipulative posturing of politicians and the media who thrive on fear and feed on selfishness.

Regardless of political preference, we all should take stock and return to the true values of Australia - fairness, equality, tolerance ... mateship.

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