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Ballyhoo and balloons: political elections

By Valerie Yule - posted Tuesday, 23 February 2010


The Shopping Centre Council of Australia has prepared a submission to the Joint Committee on Electoral Affairs, arguing that politicians should not be granted automatic access to shopping centres, because their campaigning often irritates customers.

Shopping is ahead in priority to the democratic participation of citizens. That political campaigning should irritate people shows how the government of the country is being taken from them with their connivance. They are being taught that participation in it is a hassle that they have a right to avoid.

In some other countries they can even choose not to vote. In Australia our ancestors saw that all adults have a responsibility to vote. The vote is something that has been struggled and bled for, over 800 years. And now we throw it away. Who knows our history now?

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Citizens have a responsibility to see that they are governed fairly. That goes with their right to be governed fairly.

They have a responsibility to make themselves informed of the issues that will affect them and their children.

Shopping centres are almost the only place where most people can meet their candidates and form personal opinions of them and discuss their policies. Door-knocking is a slow business for candidates because of the size of electorates and is almost always more harassing for voters, especially occurring, as it often does, in the small window of time between commuting home and sleep. Encountering candidates in shopping centres, the voters can pass by at will. All other ways of contacting voters are vastly expensive, thus cementing the two major parties as the only alternatives in perpetuity.

Letterboxing for many comes under the heading of junk mail, and may not be allowed. Public meetings are usually backing one candidate only.

Advertising favours the large and wealthy parties, which can pay for it. The legal argument that paid speech is “free speech” is preposterous and dangerous in its consequences. Advertising is the main reason why political parties owe debts to big donors, who often give generously to both the major parties. Advertising on TV is the main reason why the recipients of big donations win elections.

The advertising itself is put out by spin-doctors who are better at judging what will appeal to the common people, than at putting over the real policies. The more advertising, the less real political content. Because of the expense, national advertising only attends to major issues affecting the whole people and prefers to feature only the leaders of the major parties: the leaders are made the focus as if politics were a grand football game. People in all other constituencies often vote for faceless candidates with their chosen party’s label.

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Much media effort goes into convincing the public that they are not to be harassed by politics, and that it is a waste of time to take an interest in how they are governed. The satirists and comedians play a part in this as well; the effect of Yes, Minister is to make the situations it satirised become even more common than they were at the time the comedy was made.

In the old days, the men with power, the barons, ruled their fiefdoms directly. Then in England, when Parliaments began to represent them, the landed estates ruled through Parliament. As the franchise was extended, the men with economic power made sure in many ways that the newly enfranchised voters voted for them. Now, as all men and women have the vote, and politicians are of all varieties, it might be expected that Parliaments would finally represent the people, and carry out policies for the good of the people. Not so.

What has happened? The people who pay the political parties make the running.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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