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Monday, 14 September 2015

The prime ministership is not a bag of onions ... or is it?

With the #libspill in full flight and thousands of tweets appearing in the relevant tweetstream per minute, overwhelming completely the ability of a normal human to keep up with the speed of delivery, we have heard a lot of things and seen more. On the TV a series of Liberal politicians has arrived on-camera to deliver their take on the challenge made by the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, just before 4pm this afternoon. And we hear again and again the same bald falsehood.

To say that the prime ministership is in the gift of the Australian people is to cravenly promote a falsehood for narrow partisan reasons. The thing is that politicians are becoming overwhelmed with the process of government in the digital age. Every week there is at least one opinion poll and these days these operations have taken on the meaning of nothing less than a mini election. The results of the polls are discussed online. The lies of politicians, their craven attempts to exploit events of real significance for narrow partisan reasons, and their ugly manipulation of messages that exist in the public sphere, all of these things are discussed endlessly in real-time by people in the electorate. The immediacy of the feedback is just too much for the usual dim-witted pollie to digest. They are frustrated and angry.

Hence the lies about how the prime minister of the country is chosen. The fact is that the prime minister is decided within the Westminster system by the party room of the political party that wins the most seats in the general election. It's as simple as that, and any attempt to declare otherwise is merely an attempt to stop the inexorable tide that has been unleashed by social media. Politicians no longer have three years of "clear air" - that mythological thing of desire for all politicians, it seems - they have a few months at most, and possibly even less. We just don't know. Social media is less than a decade old as a power in the public sphere and how things pan out in future is of course yet to be determined.

One day, if the Australian people have their way, we will have a head of state that is elected directly by public ballot. The 1999 referendum failed largely because the post of president was in it defined as something in the gift of the prime minister. In this sense - and in this sense alone - are today's Liberal politicians on the money.

At least the prime ministership is not a bag of onions. (The hashtag #putoutyouronions was launched this afternoon to flag Tony Abbott's eating a raw onion on TV during one newscast this year.) It's no more in the gift of the Australian people than anything. It's more likely that a bag of onions can be.

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