Saturday, 6 October 2012

Margie Abbott willingly coopted by the conservative machine

Undated rendition of Jean d'Arc.
It started with Margie Abbott, the Opposition leader's faithful gudewyffe, appearing on morning TV yesterday to talk about her husband. Or her husband's problem with women voters. Because it took only a couple of hours before people began publicly posing the question "why"? Why roll out the wife of the alternative prime minister to talk to the electorate in such a visible way unless there was a good reason to do so? It was so odd. The answer lies in the Coalition's recent polling, particularly the current Newspoll, which has Labor and the Coalition neck-and-neck on a two-party-preferred basis at 50 percent each. The halcyon days of a healthy lead in the polls have passed for the Coalition, and it bloody well hurts. The Liberals' internal polling clearly is also telling them that Abbott particularly has a problem with women voters.

Greg Jericho at his Grogs Gamut blog summed up the motivation behind the TV and newspaper onslaught, led by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd, as an "advertisement for the Liberal Party", demonstrating how News tabloids nationwide had run front-page "exclusives" each featuring a splash photo showing a smiling Tony sitting on the grass with his wife and daughters talking about stuff. It's an image with a high degree of affect, designed specifically by Coalition image managers to appeal to Australian women: Abbott's a man who has time for his family, a man who listens in a relaxed way during his copious hours off the job. Jericho's post appeared at 2.43pm, about the same time as, on Twitter, the inhabitants of cyberspace began to deploy their wits using a hashtag, #SensitiveTony, which continued to trend for at least the next 12 hours. Amid universal hilarity ordinary Australians poked savage fun at the Opposition leader by pretending, with a heavy dose of irony, that he "gets" women. "#SensitiveTony has the best quinoa recipe board on Pinterest.", "#SensitiveTony believes virginity is a gift. You know, because he understands women.", and on and on. Relentless. Thousands of messages aimed at a politician who has not settled the electorate's fears about his conservative religious agenda, his traditional views about the role of women in society, and his propensity to resort in his youth to physical acts when confronted by conflict.

But News Ltd as is its wont refused to accede ground in the battle, and so this morning there's a new headline on the website of The Australian: "Mrs Abbott enters the fray." Trumpets off. Banging of cymbals. The battle cry is raised: "Huzzah!" Like a modern day Jean d'Arc, Margie Abbott strides the popular stage girt with an iron will and armed with righteous displeasure at how her husband continues to be slandered by the Labor Party.
MARGIE Abbott has vowed to be at husband Tony's side during the next election campaign, declaring him "a good man with a great heart" as Labor signalled it will not relent on its attack on the Opposition Leader as a man who has a problem with women.
Journalist Sid Maher makes no mention of the tens of thousands of #SensitiveTony tweets, but makes sure to include in his story quotes from two Labor ministers, treasurer Wayne Sawn and environment minister Tony Burke. For News Ltd, social media poses apparently insurmountable problems because it tends to draw the centre of any debate it involves away from the control of traditional media outlets like The Australian. As a campaigning outlet, The Oz prefers to dictate the terms of battle and to restrict the scope of the debate to enemies that it can credibly combat, such as Labor politicians.

The story is a sorrowful puff piece containing little detail, just some nonsense about Abbott's "fundraising efforts for the Manly Women's Shelter and his advocacy for a parental leave scheme" with the rest simply repeating the original message. And now Margie also thinks Tony is "an optimist" (nothing to object to there), "grounded" (the mortgage), and "a feminist" (or not, it's not clear):
"Do you want to know how God turns a man into a feminist? He gives him three daughters."
Good enough, Sid. And the religious touch is nice, well done. But the piece is sure to fail to satisfy the thousands who inhabit the internet. It has the odour of defeat about it. However, the relentless forward movement of the News Ltd campaign machine valiantly tries to turn Margie Abbott into the source of efficient, anodyne sound bites.
She also rejected that her husband was immune to the influences of the women in his life, declaring: "I believe a disservice is being done to women when the gender card is played to shut down debate about policy."
Another jab at Labor, another failure to consider the views of ordinary people. Truly, Margie has been fully coopted by the Coalition campaign machine's vision of debate in the public sphere as a matter of repeated sallies in a total war of messages. But because of the pervasive influence of social media the message from the Dark Side has made this shift - from merely hopeful to doggedly determined - in just one, single day. What people on social media objected to was the cynical use of Margie Abbott in the process of political message making, and the #SensitiveTony hashtag was their way of pricking the bubble of a spin operation they knew almost immediately was designed to influence their views about Tony Abbott. What News Ltd has done is to wilfully refuse to "get" social media and instead press the pedal to the metal and attempt to pass the juggernaut of popular opinion on the inside.

1 comment:

zz said...

I suggest the relationship between Margie and Toxic Tony is best illustrated in the 'fictional' TV series 'Boss'. In it Kelsey Grammar plays a Chicago Mayor. full of his own importance, a hard slugger, who stops at nothing to retain his position and influence. His marriage is a convenience, he trots out his wife as a convenient prop for his supposed adoration of her. Out of the public eye, no such peaches and cream relationship exists.
While 'Boss' is fictional, it seems to be very close to the truth in Abbotts set up.
I doubt he will watch it, there is unprotected sex out of wedlock. Oh wait a minute, he is familiar with that scenario isn't he?