If you want a candid confession of who the parliamentarians really work for, just check out former minister Matt Canavan taking a moment to note on Facebook that it had “been such an honour to represent the Australian mining sector over the past year”.
Survey after survey indicates that most of us feel profoundly disconnected from politicians and the electoral process in general. We are right to do so. Bill Shorten’s latest suggestion for four-year terms between federal elections only exacerbates those sentiments.
In Shorten’s words, “Governments can be more daring and determined if they’re not constantly thinking about the next election”. Clearly, democracy, with its need to consult those pesky voters, is an inconvenience.
How far away this is from the demand for annual parliaments that characterised radical democrats, from John Lilburne in the 1640s, to the working class Chartists two centuries later, to those fighting for democratic rights worldwide today.
Once upon a time, anti-democratic sentiments used to be couched in the language of fear of the “swinish multitude”, or the horror of lord Abinger in 1842: “The doctrines promulgated by the Chartists were doctrines of perfect insanity … A popular assembly devoted to democratic principles and elected by persons, a vast majority of whom have no property and depend on manual labour …”.
These days you’re more likely to find fear and loathing of the opinionated masses in the editorial pages of the “quality” press. The Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial, “Four-year fixed terms for Federal Parliament are overdue”, bemoaned the likelihood that governments focused on forthcoming elections would be led to policies that might be, shudder, “palatable”.
The unexpectedly strong support for Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing policies in the British election in June produced an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “The British election is a reminder of the perils of too much democracy”. Democracy is an inconvenience and ought to be replaced as much as possible by technocratic solutions for which experts make the decisions.
The idea that most people are mugs, able to be manipulated by clever electioneering, is a myth.
Working class people are well and truly over being told that neoliberalism, inequality, weak unions and stagnant wages are good for them. Instead, there is a growing perception that there is one rule for those at the top of society and another rule for the rest of us.
A longer term between elections merely concedes even more power to corporations and the richest people to get their way, unimpeded even by the pretence of caring about what the mass of us think.
Rather than extending the period between elections, we should be looking at ways to force governments to go to the polls more frequently.