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Election promises Vs long-term track records and personal views

July 21, 2010

Social network chatter on Twitter, Facebook and others is abuzz with criticism about previously broken election promises by both major parties, and the shadow these cast over the credibility of any promises made in the lead up to the August 21 Federal Election.

Anyone who has been around long enough to experience more than one previous election probably has a healthy level of scepticism about election promises, so this chatter certainly isn’t surprising or unique to this election campaign. What is interesting however is the role social networks now play as sources of public opinion, and platforms for publicising views or agenda.

Monitoring the #ausvotes hashtag on Twitter reveals a constant stream of criticism and subsequent defence of various politician’s and party’s broken promises. It seems no-one is spared, as each major and minor party has its critics, with many critical Tweets picked up and re-tweeted by others in a never-ending stream of ‘you can’t believe this person because they broke this promise’ messages.

Taking these observations at face-value, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture – politics is inevitably an absurd game of tight-rope walking, over a sea-mine field full of sharks, whilst waving away swarms of killer bees and trying to maintain a smile, all to avoid being voted out of the game by sit-at-home punters who hold the quick-release switch to your tight-rope which they can drop at any moment.

My simile is a little absurd (although I wouldn’t be surprised if American TV execs are taking notes, considering a new reality TV show based on just this scenario), but I think you get the point – As a politician, staying true to one’s cause requires a constant reassessment of one’s position, prevailing public opinion, and the causes near and dear to those around you who’s support you need to push yours, whilst trying to be honest with yourself and your electorate about what it is you’re trying to achieve.

No doubt Peter Garrett, ALP member for Kingsford Smith and current Minister for Environmental Protection and the Arts, wrestled many internal conflicts when he finally decided to seek pre-selection as an ALP candidate, knowing full well he’d have to compromise on many strongly held convictions to forward his greater environmental agenda. Ex-leader of the Liberal Party Malcolm Turnbull compromised his entire leadership, due in part, to his commitment to some action, however small, on climate change. More recently Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown has been forced to publicly defend his party’s decision to direct preferences to the ALP, a compromise, he says, which was necessary to ensure the party maintains a presence in the Senate to continue pushing their environmental agenda, which would be impossible without the benefits such a deal offers.

It is a truly absurd system, dominated by party-politics which are necessary to ensure your cause receives attention, and those politics extend to every single elected member, independent or affiliated, who constantly compromise and deal to support this or that in exchange for support on their cause or causes.

Given this environment, where participation requires deal-making, and faltering can result in losing your seat and platform for pursuing your agenda, what do election promises really mean in the grand scheme of things?

It may be perceived as cynicism, but I feel all election promises should be taken with a grain of salt. It is far more informative to look at the long-term historical views and actions of political candidates, much easier of course if they are standing for re-election or previously had some public role resulting in an internet-trail which can be researched.

Pressures change. Factions emerge, grow in strength or support. Media influences public opinion. Action and lobby groups highlight issues, push agendas and make support deals. The political environment is constantly changing. Knowing this, I want representatives who are guided by a moral and philosophical blueprint which as closely matches mine as possible. I accept that they’ll have to deal, and even break promises. That’s politics, and it doesn’t discriminate – all parties, personalities and players are effected.

My vote will be based on the body of knowledge available about the convictions of the candidates. In so voting, I too become a part of this system of compromise, putting my most strongly held values ahead of lesser desires for change with-which my chosen candidate may not agree. Will I be disappointed? Yep, no doubt. There’ll be decisions made over the next three years which will make my blood boil. All I can do is hope my elected representatives stay true to their closely-held values, assuming they win their seats, so at least the issues most important to me receive the attention I believe they deserve.

What do you think? Are politicians all doomed to break promises due to the compromises endemic to pursuing their cause? Should we accept the reality that our representatives will have different views to others in their party, and recognise that they’ll sometimes have to put these aside to tow the party line, allowing them to fight another day? Should we bin our pollies when they break an election promise, or look to their long-term track-record in deciding whether they are worthy or our support?

nb: I’ve written this on my iPhone as I’m laid out dealing with back-pain. Please excuse any typos which may have crept in due to iPhone keyboard use issues. I now also have finger-pain issues arising from said iPhone keyboard use!

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