Thursday, November 4, 2010

Preying on Ignorance: It Works.

The Herald Sun at the weekend involved itself in a smear campaign against State Greens candidate Brian Walters. The campaign relies on the general public’s ignorance of an important principle of legal practice: that because everyone is entitled to legal representation, a barrister must not turn down a case if it is in his area of expertise. Brian Walters has represented the coal industry. He’s also represented a Nazi in his extradition case — does that make him a sympathiser or an anti-Semite? Well, yes, says the Labor government, the significant number of qualified lawyers in its ranks inexplicably failing to speak up and correct this misconception.

Whether you like this principle or not — hey, lawyers have always had a reputation for being spineless, but it does make sense if you value the right to representation — Labor and the Sun are banking on public ignorance and emotional reactions to be a more powerful force than the desire to actually be informed. And they’re right, from a cynical standpoint. More people will be turned away from Walters by his supposed hypocrisy than will be turned in his favour by the facts of the case. Even though both the newspapers are now exposing the facts* — I’m as amazed at this as anyone, by the way — it’s still quite possible that the Greens will have lost this one in the eyes of a lot of casual swinging voters. The Greens’ core electorate is statistically better educated and more inclined to think for itself, but unfortunately such people are a distinct minority, probably still in the seats they look like potentially winning. Their supporters are also more idealistic than many, and mightn’t take too kindly to Walters following the rules.

Whether this piece of gutter politics will be enough to keep Walters or the Green Party as a whole out of our State Parliament for four more years is yet to be seen, of course — but I’d bet money that four years is the most it will buy the government. If Labor wants to still be the dominant left-wing party a decade or two down the track, it’s going to have to actually have some distinctive left-wing policies, like the Greens do, rather than campaigning on a platform of “the Liberals suck”, as it has done for as long as I can remember. (It can get away with that, of course, because the Libs’ platform has mostly been “Labor sucks”.)

We live in interesting times. Personally, I’d like to see policy back in politics.

*Not all the facts, of course. The Sun is careful to forget to mention its own part in the smear campaign, painting it solely as an ALP job, despite the fact that Walters was vilified in its own editorial.

UPDATED 6:22 PM. REASON: I wrote this first thing this morning, and parts were a bit rushed or unclear.

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