For voters, elite is a dirty word

Voter distrust towards the political class has become potent. It is potent in the United States, it is volatile in Europe and it is evident in Australia, where the electorate has dispatched ten major party leaders in just 12 years.

Here is the roll call: Simon Crean (2003), Mark Latham (2005), Kim Beazley (2006), John Howard (2007), Brendan Nelson (2008), Malcolm Turnbull (2009), Kevin Rudd (2010), Julia Gillard (2013), Kevin Rudd again (2013) and Tony Abbott (2015).

Voter revolt: A marginal figure six months ago, Bernie Sanders has fought to a stalemate with Hillary Clinton.
Voter revolt: A marginal figure six months ago, Bernie Sanders has fought to a stalemate with Hillary Clinton.  Photo: AP

Only two of those leaders, Howard and Rudd in 2013, were sacked via an election. For the rest it was death by polling numbers.

Tuesday's first vote in the 2016 presidential nomination campaign, in Iowa, turned into a voter revolt. Hillary Clinton came close to humiliation. Despite her enormous advantages of high profile, experience, funding and party backing, she was fought to a stalemate by a candidate who was a marginal figure just six months ago.

Senator Bernie Sanders is an avowed socialist. He's from a tiny state, Vermont. He is a rumpled 74-year-old in the twilight of his career. He speaks with a broad Brooklyn accent, reflecting his New York Jewish roots.

On Tuesday, in virtual victory, Sanders delivered a white hot message to a national audience that has seen America's wage growth stagnate for a generation:


"Nine months ago, we came to [Iowa]. We had no political organisation, no money, no name recognition and we were taking on the most powerful political organisation in the United States … Tonight it looks like we are in a virtual tie …

"We do not represent the interests of the billionaire class, Wall Street or corporate America. We don't want their money …

"The American people no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for low wages while all new income and wealth is going to the top one per cent …

"My critics say, well Bernie, how are you going to pay for all [my policies]? I will tell you. We are going to impose a tax on Wall Street speculation. The greed, the recklessness and the illegal behaviour of Wall Street drove this economy to its knees. The American people bailed out Wall Street. Now it's Wall Street's time to help the middle class."

On the Republican side, 61 per cent went to the three candidates who present themselves as insurgents against the Washington political elite: Senator Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Republicans voters delivered a humiliating rebuke to another dynastic politician, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. Despite his campaign spending many millions of dollars in Iowa he received a paltry 2.8 per cent of the vote.

The American people are weary of dynastic politics. Having already seen the White House occupied by a Bush (1988), Clinton (1992), Clinton (1996), Bush (2000) and Bush (2004), there is scant support for Bush (2016) and, as for Clinton (2016), there is only a tepid version of the enthusiasm that carried Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

Back in Australia, and Sydney, the NSW Liberal Party seems to be in the process of disconnecting from the voter base.

Premier Mike Baird is running an imperious and undemocratic campaign against local government, in the name of imposing operating efficiencies. These efficiencies are the business of ratepayers, they are questionable, and forced amalgamations will result in much higher executive salaries for much bigger councils.

Baird also comes from a NSW Liberal Party increasingly controlled by what I call the Concierge faction, because it is dominated by lobbyists and staffers – the door-openers. The Concierge faction is mounting several internal coups seeking to strengthen its grip on the party.

You might ask why the party would move to replace Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, one of the senior woman in the federal government, a hard worker who was number one on the Liberal Senate ticket in 2010, and is only 55, with Richard Shields, a career staffer and lobbyist?

Down in Melbourne, the Liberals' Senate preselection field is absent anyone with a substantial career outside the political bubble. Coincidentally, among that field, for a time, was Julian Sheezel, a staffer and former Liberal Party deputy director, who is the brother of Richard Shields (who changed his name).

As for Labor, its parliamentary ranks have never been more dominated by former union officials and staffers.

The major parties, by their insularity, are not responding to the deeper trend. The electorate is less tribal and more cynical than ever. Hence the turbulent, poll-driven, bloody churn.

Twitter: @Paul­_Sheehan_


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