Before, during and after the implosion of the Abbott government, commentators have blamed this political failure on a ‘lack of narrative’. The media’s narrative of this ‘lack of narrative’ is a story about a good government who has many great ideas, but just can’t sell them to the untrusting, fickle, inattentive electorate. As someone who is studying political narrative, I can assure you these commentators have got it all wrong. The Abbott government, and the right-wing political class including the right-wing media, have a very obvious narrative to those who know what they’re looking for. Their narrative clearly describes their policies. Their narrative has been consistent across many generations of right-wingers. The snake-oil-salesmen in the Liberal Party are coherently telling this story. The problem is not, therefore, a missing narrative. The problem for the government is that voters, in the majority, do not like the story they are trying to sell. Turnbull is now trying to polish the same story, covering it in glitter. But we all know turds can’t be polished, and under eye-catching-glitter they’re still stinky turds.
Perhaps rather than telling us the Abbott government lacked a narrative, journalists could have done a better job of scrutinising the Abbott government narrative. It would have been really helpful if this had happened BEFORE ABBOTT WAS ELECTED. Anyhow, just like one of those brain twister images where you think you’re looking at a black and white twirl, but when you squint you can see a monster staring back at you, once you see the right-wing narrative, you can’t un-see it. Once you know the story, you see it everywhere. It haunts you. The right-wing story is scary. In fact, I would go as far as saying it’s a horror story.
The right wing narrative can fittingly be summed up with the tag line of a BMW advertisement: Life is not a race… said those who lost. In this narrative, the hero are those who in their mind have won the race. The race to get wealthy. The race to inherit wealth. The race for power. The race to afford a BMW. The race to climb the ladder and the race to kick the ladder away so other racers can’t climb up behind. These people live their life by the concept of dog eat dog. They see themselves as heroes for eating a dog before it eats them. No matter how advantaged they are in the race before the starting gun goes off, these right-wingers always see their own success as something they have won through merit. Not luck. Not privilege. Just because they’re born winners. And they are therefore the heroes in their right-wing narrative. But they are also the victims. Because in their scary little minds, and their narrow little worlds, they think they’re being dragged down in their quest to win the race of life by their story’s villain. I think by now you can guess who the villain is. Yep, you’ve guessed it. The weak. The poor. The sick. The uneducated. The vulnerable. The ones who think life isn’t a race because they lost. And of course, left-wingers who want to help these ‘losers’ are also part of the problem. Right-wingers think they’re the victims of these do-gooder-lefties who believe everyone in a community has a responsibility to care for everyone else. So in a nutshell the story is about right-wing heroes defending their victimised selves against the villainous losers and the losers who want to help the losers who don’t realise life is a race and that right-wingers have won the race. Get it?
Now you see the story, you realise how worn out it is. The Abbott/Hockey budget told this story, with the winners nicknamed the ‘lifters’ and of course the losers the ‘leaners’. Abbott and his government colleagues all share the values in this story. Turnbull, a filthy rich merchant banker who believes in the power of a free market to ensure the heroes keep getting richer and aren’t made into victims by villainous governments and their un-free redistribution of wealth to weak losers. Workers organising into unions to demand a fair share of capitalist profit are, in the right-wing narrative, the villains who should just shut up and worship the heroes who gave them a job in the first place. Miranda Devine has told the same story when this weekend she victim-blamed ‘unsuitable women’ for the abuse they suffer since they choose to have relationships with ‘feckless men’. Everything is the fault of the weak. The abused. The ones asking for help. You see the same story in this article describing the behaviour of Conservative politicians in the UK who join clubs of rich young men who burn money in front of homeless people.
The right wing narrative is a scary story about a community I would never choose to live in. I was not brought up to blame the disadvantaged for their predicament. And nor will I bring up my child to think our societies’ problems are the fault of the vulnerable, the disabled, the sick, the mentally ill, the poor and the abused. The rejection of the Abbott government has, I hope, proved that the majority of Australians, like me, reject this story and don’t believe that life is a race. I hope so. But either way, next time someone says the Liberal government is missing a narrative, just remember the narrative is there. It’s just not a very nice story and they know this so they do their best to keep it hidden. Don’t let them get away with it. You know the story. Call it out whenever you see it.
As J. K. Galbraith expressed a similar viewpoint as propounded in your salient essay:
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of the world’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
Galbraith is underrated, in my book, no doubt (at least in part) because his economic views were informed by morality.
I’m an irregular reader of your blogs but I think this is the most insightful I’ve read.
However, the real tragedy will be the re-election of the Liberals with Turnbull at the helm. He is a polished salesman who excels at selling Australians polished turds.
It is also true that the Labor Party’s narrative has become a disingenuous tragicomedy and the Greens don’t reflect the Australian experience at all. So, who to vote for on election day? And what does it matter anyway under our current preferential voting system? The votes people cast often end up somewhere completely different. The only thing that will rescue our secular democracy will be a complete overhaul of our political system, but that must come from the grassroots up and not the likes of Turnbull. All of our politicians treat us as if we are their subjects and Australia their fiefdom.