Pejorative terms roll off the lips of usually grovelling media spivs when it comes to the “jester”, the “merry prankster”, the “bizarre” MP Clive Palmer. And when talking about his “litter of pups” – as some wit labelled the Palmer United Party senators – they just can’t help themselves.
Take the interviews Mike Willesee did with them in Boston for Channel Seven’s Sunday Night. They were introduced sarcastically as “very interesting”, “eccentric” and “unpredictable”. Why? Because they try to explain why they oppose Abbott’s attacks on working people, and don’t have pat phrases dreamt up by spin doctors at hand. Victorian Senator Ricky Muir is described as “painfully disjointed”; he “fumbles through” his interview.
The picture the sanctimonious crew known as the commentariat project is of a sinister group who threaten the very way of parliamentary life. They are, shock horror, inexperienced, and will vote along party lines!
Of course Penny Wong, Labor’s finance spokesperson, is unremarkable when she writes that it is “the case that structural improvements in the budget are needed to ensure key spending is sustainable”. That’s well-recognised jargon to justify Labor’s crimes in government.
Sarah Ferguson had praise heaped on her by commentators and bloggers for her badgering interviews of PUP senators. The self-righteous Ferguson, fronting the ABC’s 7.30 Report, couldn’t believe her ears when Jacqui Lambie and Dio Wang admitted they didn’t know what it would cost to provide free university education, that they regard it as a principle. To her credit, Lambie came up with the suggestion that we use some of the banks’ billions of dollars in profits.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any time for billionaires or the system that creates them in the midst of poverty and deprivation. But I can’t help a secret smile when Clive Palmer tells ABC’s Tony Jones, the oh-so-polite facilitator of “democratic” discussion on shows like Q&A, to “shut up”.
And I have some sympathy for those alienated people who want an alternative to the shit that passes for politics. It’s understandable that 35 percent of people think Palmer is “visionary”, and 26 percent think it’s good that the PUP has the balance of power.
Perhaps it’s because Palmer says such things as, “We must stand for more than money. You know the gross domestic product measures a lot of things … But it doesn’t measure the smile on a child’s face in the morning … It doesn’t measure any of the things that make life worth living.”
I can see why Palmer, for all his billions, gets their support when he said of Willesee: “Who does he think he is? He has a plum stuck right up his arse”, and declared solidarity with the thousands who went online to say “Willesee is a dickhead.”
The labour movement fought to have politicians paid precisely so that “inexperienced”, “ordinary” people could take working class issues into parliament. We need more parliamentarians who match Palmer’s irreverence towards the farce of parliamentary politics, who perhaps will stumble through interviews, but who stand for the self-organised working class taking it up to the bosses.
In the meantime let’s be clear that any hint that the left is sympathetic to this sneering middle class elitism directed at the PUP senators just gives credence to the conception that the left is sympathetic only to the inner city university educated. It serves only to push the disaffected into the arms of populists like Palmer.