There’s lots of fluttering in the media at the moment about whether or not Kim Beazley’s leadership of the ALP is safe. There are some posts on a few of the Australian political blogs that are fairly dismissive about the substance of the story. Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy says it is “purest waffle”. However, his next words are just as relevant – “Except for the fact that to even speculate is to potentially create momentum.” This is where political commentators can’t lose. By floating a bit of gossip about leadership rumblings, they get people talking about it – even if just to dismiss it – which of course is enough to create the gossip they were reporting on, this reinforcing their story.
It is no coincidence that other blogs which write about what a beat-up it is – such as Oz Politics and The Road to Surfdom, still go on to talk about whether or not Beazley really can win, whether a change is likely, etc etc. Larvatus Prodeo deals with it somewhat more fleetingly. Usually this sort of media rumourmill is harmless enough filler of no real consequence, but every now and then circumstances are such that it can develop a life of its own (often by being fed by people who either have their own agendas or else just get off on feeling like they are part of some sort of intrigue).
I sense many people seem to think this latest round of gossiping about Beazley is the mainstream media (and especially the Murdoch press) being unfair to Labor. I’m not convinced by this. There have been other pieces in the last couple of days, such as this one featuring some bitchy internal gossip from the Liberal Party and also this piece full of anonymous gossip about the Governor-General. Whilst there’s no doubt that there is some political bias against certain parties or people at times from some quarters, these sorts of speculative or soap opera style ‘lives of the
rich and famous’ style stories will always be run about all sides of politics if there’s some public interest in the figures involved.
Much as it may irritate me, gossip style commentary is often more likely to be read or noticed by the general public than earnest pieces about policy. Fortunately for the writers, these pieces can also be based on totally anonymous sources, don’t need to verified and can rarely be proven false. It’s not much different to Who Weekly – people don’t really expect all the rumours to be true, they just like being able to read about them and talk about them.
I note that the piece I mentioned above about the Liberal Party rumours, dealing with the good old standard of reshuffle speculation, even presents itself nobly as “taking on the role of de facto Opposition to keep the Government under pressure.” Sadly, any time an Opposition MP speaks at the moment, the media will just ask them about the Beazley rumours, leaving no space for any other comments they may make pointing out flaws in government policy. Lucky for us, and for democracy, that we have the media there willing to be the Opposition for us.
The two purported targets for dumping from the Ministry are Senators Amanda Vanstone and Ian Campbell. The names of four current Parliamentary Secretaries are put forward as likely candidates for promotion. There is the slight problem that the two people purportedly at risk of being chopped are both in the Senate, and none of the four potential promotees are. This would reduce the already small number of Senators in the Ministry to a threadbare level of just six from a total of 30 Ministers. It could potentially be even worse, as the one Minister who has already all but offered to stand down is Senator Rod Kemp who is retiring at the next election, so it would be reasonable to remove him as well if a reshuffle were to happen.
The rumours and gossip about Vanstone being in for the chop have been around for well over a year, and get a run publicly from time to time. I guess if they’re repeated often enough, they’ll be right eventually. I have enough reasons to be critical of the policy approaches taken by both Amanda Vanstone and Ian Campbell, but they’re far from the worst two performing Ministers in the Senate – in fact in my view they’d both clearly be in the top half of the 8 Ministers there currently. There is some good talent on the Coalition backbench in the Senate, but I can’t see how it would make sense to drop some of the better performers to make way for them.
Still, as Clint Eastwood once said, “deserves got nothing to do with it” (which is another way of saying the Ministry is not exactly a meritocracy). In any case, I’ve got more than enough on my plate trying to get re-elected next year, so I’m not that interested in spending time on rumours and gossip about reshuffles, which don’t effect me anyway.
I just wish that, given all the major policy and democracy failures of both the major parties, the mainstream media didn’t spend so much time on them either. But I suppose they’re just giving the people what they want – perhaps I should try that myself sometime.
PS: This version of the Governor-General gossip story (or whispering campaign to use the terminology in the article) also has readers’ comments following on from it. It’s interesting to see most responses are fairly antagonistic to the story. Of course, that’s also part of the timeless attraction of gossip columns in newspapers – people also like to be able to tut-tut about how terrible they are.
UPDATE (28/11): The following Sunday saw another article in some of the News Ltd papers with more rumours about the Governor-General. This time he’s being criticised (anonymously) for something he hasn’t even done yet – allegedly lobbying SA Premier Mike Rann on behalf of a friend – despite the fact he’s the opportunity if he had wanted.