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On politics as performance, Morrison's advantage is ebbing – and that could make a difference at the next election – The Conversation AU



A key to winning elections is performing better than your opponent in the theatre as well as the substance of politics. It’s central to getting voter attention, without which messages about vote-enticing policy offerings won’t be heard.

In recent weeks we have seen a nascent shift in the balance of theatrical advantage between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. It has been a shift in Albanese’s favour, with potential significance for the 2022 federal election.

As prime minister, Morrison has, until this month, been considered a master of the theatre of politics relative to his Labor rivals. He knows politics is not just about the words you use, but how you use them, what you look like when you use them, the dramatic context of their use and, as a consequence, the emotions they invoke.

He has grabbed attention through preconceived drama and action, spurring emotion in voters that has welded them to the Coalition’s political purpose in sufficient numbers to keep him in power.

At the last election, in May 2019, Morrison’s winning edge over Albanese’s predecessor as opposition leader, Bill Shorten, was one critical factor in the surprise Liberal-National Coalition win.

Morrison relentlessly toured his self-conjured, trucker-capped “daggy dad” persona across Australia during the campaign, generating daily vision of him enthusiastically engaging with voters who radiated enthusiasm back.

This repeated enactment of Morrison’s energetic, mutually positive interaction with voters contrasted favourably to Shorten’s more wooden, lower energy, self-focused performance.

On the job: Scott Morrison has long had a good understanding of the ‘theatre’ of politics.
Dean Lewins/AAP

If there is a golden rule in politics, it’s that your pitch has to at least appear to be all about voters, not about you. Morrison achieved this in the 2019 campaign. Shorten did not.

Morrison’s particular strength was being able to do this through pictures more than words – vastly more effective in reaching more voters, more viscerally, and in a shorter time than the alternatives. Annika Smethurst’s new biography, The Accidental Prime Minister, provides interesting detail on the roots of this skill: intense family involvement by Morrison’s parents and him in community theatre during his youth.

Assessments of Albanese’s capacity for political thespianism have been relatively negative. His fondness for retelling his origin story since becoming opposition leader has been emblematic. While Albanese is talking about himself, he’s not talking about voters – and voters are interested in themselves, not politicians.

Unlike the Morrison operation, and unfortunately in common with Shorten’s before him, the Albanese operation does not think visually. There’s an over-reliance on words to do a job that evocative pictures, supported by appropriate words, can do so much more powerfully.

Some improvement is evident. A recent interview coinciding with the COP26 climate conference had Albanese at a wind farm, the pictures reinforcing his renewable energy message. That was good. Him squinting at the camera because of sun glare was not.

Now the Albanese operation is starting to think “pictures”, it needs to make sure the candidate looks the best he possibly can in them. No squinting. Labor would be smart to attach a television producer with a good eye to the campaign to make compelling, politically persuasive vision of the alternative prime minister the daily norm, not a hit-and-miss achievement.

This is not least because Morrison’s thespian edge is relative and, recent events suggest, vulnerable.

A subtle deterioration in the optics of Morrison’s performance has been evident since his return from this month’s G20 and COP26 meetings, where he was under pressure on both the policy and character fronts. His announcement of new policy on electric vehicles (EVs) upon return is a case in point.

The Morrison who love-bombed voters so convincingly in the 2019 election campaign had disappeared. In his place was a hectoring politician trying to impose his version of his historical statements on EVs – at odds with the facts – through sheer rhetorical force.

It provided a public glimpse of Morrison’s overbearing private persona described by credible Coalition insiders such as former Liberal MP Julia Banks in her book Power Play.

Once glimpsed it may be hard to forget, particularly against the backdrop of sustained public discussion of Morrison’s truthfulness.

Read more:
View from The Hill: Scott Morrison caught in catch-22 over the issue of his integrity

Further, the prime minister’s frustration that his assertions, long uncritically accepted, are no longer unquestioned could feed into further deterioration in his voter-friendly persona.

It coincides with Morrison becoming a net liability for the government according to recent opinion polls. The latest Newspoll showed his approval falling to 44 (-2) and his disapproval rising to 52 (+2), for a net approval rating of -8.

This remains marginally better than Albanese’s net -11 approval rating. However, compared to Morrison’s soaring net approval advantage earlier in the year, it’s a significant shift, negating one of the Coalition’s big advantages over Labor.

Read more:
How to win an election? Do the substance as well as the theatre of politics

Every election is there for the winning. The theatre of politics is neither a substitute for, nor the antithesis of, good policy: it is what makes winning government, and getting to implement good policy, possible.

If Morrison’s advantage in the theatre of politics cannot be revived, and if Albanese can build on modest recent improvements to further lift his, a change of government at the 2022 election will be more likely.

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Russia criticises U.S. over threat of escalation with Iran at IAEA



Russia on Friday chided the United States for threatening a diplomatic escalation with Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog next month unless it improves cooperation with the agency, saying it risked harming wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States threatened on Thursday to confront Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not give way on at least one of several conflicts with the IAEA, especially its refusal to let the IAEA re-install cameras at a workshop after an apparent attack in June.

“I believe that demonstrates that our American counterparts lose patience but I believe all of us need to control our emotions,” Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov told a news conference with his Chinese counterpart.

“I don’t welcome this particular statement of the U.S. delegation (at the IAEA). It’s not helpful.”

Indirect talks between the United States and Iran aimed at reviving the battered 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers are due to resume on Monday after a five-month break that started after the election that brought Iranian hardline President Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities. Then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by breaching many of the restrictions, reducing the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Tehran denies that it would ever seek atomic weapons.

“The U.S. did not negotiate with the Iranians for a very long time and forgot that Iranians don’t do anything under pressure. If they are under pressure, they resist,” Ulyanov said, apparently referring to the fact that U.S. and Iranian envoys are not meeting directly.


(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

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Extremist Politics Threatens Chile's Economic Miracle – Bloomberg



Chile has for decades been Latin America’s most stable nation and one of its most prosperous. Its pro-business outlook has drawn foreign direct investment and fueled economic growth, and its record in reducing poverty has been impressive. Much of that is now thrown into question. After the recent first round of elections, the two front-runners for the presidency are extremists — an ultraconservative who seems nostalgic for the dictatorial rule of Augusto Pinochet, and a leftist who promises not merely to reform but to dismantle Chile’s economic model. It’s hard to say which of these agendas might prove more toxic.

The candidate of the far right, José Antonio Kast, emerged with a narrow lead heading into the runoff vote on Dec. 19. His platform is thin on economics and heavy on social conservatism and authoritarian messaging. His counterpart on the left, Gabriel Boric, promises radical change to combat inequality, rein in capitalism and dethrone market forces. “If Chile was the birthplace of neoliberalism,” he explains, “it will also be its grave.”

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Now, more than ever, the N.W.T. government needs party politics –



This column is an opinion by former Yellowknife MLA Kieron Testart. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In 2019 near the end of my term as an MLA, I proposed implementing a caucus system that, among other things, would allow for political discipline of MLAs. At the time MLAs rejected any changes that would limit their jealously-guarded independence. What they failed to recognize was that this proposal was not about imposing discipline, rather it was about enabling politicians to effectively discipline MLAs when required. 

The Norn affair and the pronounced lack of any real accountability in the legislature over the government’s failings are the consequences of being governed by a gang of loosely aligned political independents who lack common vision and leadership.

This point was made by MLA Rylund Johnson who said, “In party systems, the party whip would probably make sure this never happens. Party caucuses would kick members out and make them irrelevant …Those aren’t tools that we have in consensus government.”

The consensus system is based on little more than good intentions and is powerless to address its own failings, with MLAs routinely using their constituents as a convenient smoke screen for their own bad behaviour. 

Sound familiar? It should, it happens all the time with the recent example of Steve Norn being the most spectacular failure of political will to date in the 19th Assembly.

Norn’s sustained attacks on his colleagues and the legislature were left virtually unchecked by MLAs, who stood by silently. Public confidence in elected officials has been shaken to the point that two former premiers have taken the extraordinary step of publicly criticizing sitting MLAs. Scandal and policy failures have become the chief commodity of the Legislative Assembly and Caroline Cochrane’s government.

While other provinces acted swiftly with new spending and policies to bolster their economies and attract new health-care workers, the Cochrane government has wrung its hands, paralyzed by bureaucratic inertia. We have watched in real time as our health-care system has buckled and broken under the strain of the pandemic, with no plan yet released for economic recovery after months and months of delay. And despite the outcry from Northerners for their government to act, the “unofficial opposition” of regular MLAs is absent, or at least silent, unable to muster the courage and unify to demand better government from the cabinet. 

In the Northwest Territories the people have a choice in who gets to take power but not in how that power is used, nor can they hold the powerful accountable during elections. MLAs appoint the premier and cabinet, who are solely accountable to each other. This means that voters have no say over who forms government or what that government does for its four-year term and cannot hold that government accountable for its decisions. This leaves accountability in the hands of an undisciplined committee of regular MLAs who lack resources, staff, and experience to provide alternatives to cabinet policies. Public policy development and implementation are the sole domain of unelected bureaucrats in the government’s senior management.

Despite the constant mythologizing of consensus government as a superior form of government, founded in the traditions of Indigenous Peoples, the fact is none of the N.W.T.’s self-governing Indigenous nations use consensus systems, nor did Indigenous people design the system when it was first implemented decades ago. That honour falls to federal bureaucrats when they devolved responsible government to our young territory. Despite their frustration, Northerners continue to consent to an undemocratic democracy where their electoral choices have been reduced to little more than an overblown hiring competition. 

A culture of silence has taken root in the N.W.T.’s democratic discourse. The fear of reprisal from those in power forces many to whisper in the back of coffee shops and speak anonymously to reporters, when they ought to be able to freely express their own views and see those views transformed into political action.

There was a time that the consensus system served Northerners well. But that time has passed, made clear by persistent scandal and public policy implosions that have not stopped since the last election. We’ve seen devolution create a modern N.W.T. granted nearly full responsibility over its land and resources. It is now time for evolution to transform our political system into a modern multi-party democracy that can provide unity and real action on the most pressing issues.

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