Is poll-driven politics reactionary, or responsive?

There's a lot of blame, excuse making and naval gazing going on in the wake of Kevin Rudd's dismissal as Prime Minister. The media are being blamed in part for creating the story of Kevin Rudd's downfall and forcing the hand of the Labor party. The “digtial elites” are being told to give up the belief that what they care about actually matters. A lot of people are questioning how our democratic system works.

My take is a little different: what we've seen recently is a strong example of a working democracy.

The Prime Minister became increasingly unpopular over many issues and didn't take the opportunity to do anything about it. The public stopped believing that he could effectively lead the country. For better or worse, the PM is seen as the policy-setter of the party. They are held accountable for the performance of the whole government. And I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.

There is a reason we make elected ministers, rather unelected public servants, responsible for running portfolios. It's so we have someone to blame. It doesn't matter if a minister loves or hates the policies they are overseeing, they are responsible for them. Of course, the policies come from the party and removing the minister may do little or nothing to change them.

But our votes and our voices are the mechanisms we have to participate in our democracy. The minister, or Prime Minister, is by design the focal point of the public's attention for a given set of issues. They are the conduits from the public to the party. It might be unfair on the individual politician, but that is their role.

The Labor Party didn't remove Kevin Rudd because of some mining magnate/journo-led conspiracy: they did it because he had become unpopular enough to threaten Labor's chances of winning the next election. The party is primarily interested in getting itself elected and that is what drove their decision.

There may well be a downside to reactionary, poll-driven politics. It can certainly be a hindrance to anyone trying to implement a long time vision. But, only if they lose the trust of the public.

More direct responsibility to the public has to be a good thing in a democracy, surely. The public may be open to manipulation by whichever boogeyman you like and our electoral system isn't as representative as it could be. But there's a crytpo-fascist aspect to the 'reactionary is bad' argument: an underlying belief that there are people who are better suited to making the rules and people who are better suited to following them.

We are not cattle. We are smart enough, as a collective, to choose the direction for the country. And if we're not, we'll suffer the consequences, learn and improve. Or, we'll fail miserably. It's entirely up to us.

That, to me, is what democracy is all about.

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