This Psychological Life
There has been a lot of commentary about the current trend for the half-life of Prime Ministers being no longer than a disposable nappy. The implication is, of course, that we like the certainty of knowing what we’ve got. It follows that, presumably, we can adjust to even what we don’t like. Although the shameful treatment of Julia Gillard would belie this assumption.
The facts are, however, that, including our most recent PMs, Tony Abbott and the self-aggrandising Kevin Rudd there has been a tradition of short tenure in the office since Federation. Frank Forde managed 8 days before being deposed by Joe Chifley. Page managed 20 days, McEwen was good for 23 days and Fadden survived for 30 days. Others managed just a few months with our most recent short stay being Kevin Rudd’s second bite of the cherry where he lasted a tad under 3 months. However, unlike many others, who were deposed, he was defeated in an unwinnable general election. Out of 28 PMs, 10 didn’t last a year and a further 5 went within 2 years. So, over half didn’t see out a 3-year term.
It seems that political life for a PM has the same security as seasonal fruit picking, although the pension and prospects are somewhat different. For one group the fruit disappears from the tree and for the other the fruit just keeps on growing. Perhaps the risk and that being PM can end in tears is worth it.
There is a more pressing issue with which we should be concerned than this apparent new addition to the throw away society, and that has to do with accountability. Like so much cynical political behaviour we have become deconditioned to the lack of accountability, or lying, if you like, and see it as normal. This is known as the normalisation of deviance, where what was seen as abnormal behaviour becomes normal. Drunken and violent behaviour on our city streets is an example, except for visitors to the city who are outraged when they see it.
We had a French teacher at school who would spring impromptu tests on us in class. We marked the test ourselves and he would ask by show of hands how many questions we got right. I wasn’t very good at French. One day, I decided to thrust up my hand for a 9 out of 10. Not sure why I did this except to say that I have always been impetuous. He knew, of course, and called me up to his desk in front of my class of around 30 students. I never lied again in the same way. I certainly lied but it was never brazen, where it was clear I could not get caught. This was the culture in the 60s.
Now, we have a culture led by our politicians where lying is acceptable, lack of accountability is the norm. We see it every day where someone, somewhere denies liability when all and sundry know that they are guilty, that they lied, that they didn’t deliver. Our media lies, journalists and shock jocks misinform, social media circulates and recirculates rumour, innuendo and falsehoods without any attempt to check the facts. And with no risk of accountability. Perhaps we shall continue to see the revolving political door because of this phenomenon. We live in an interesting time of social change and it will be interesting to watch as it continues to evolve.