Intellectual pass the parcel

Sometimes ideas can take circuitous routes into the mass media. Back in 2004, I posted on the mummy party/daddy party thesis about the different roles played by political parties, which I sourced to George Lakoff’s 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. In late November last year, Andrew Leigh mentioned the idea again, attributing it to my 2004 post. Andrew L’s post prompted Don Arthur to explain the idea further at Club Troppo. Don was the one holding the parcel when the music stopped for the last time, and on Monday got credit for it in the SMH:

One theory, proffered by the commentator Don Arthur, is that the left-right divisions of Australian politics have been replaced. Instead, voters see Labor as the caring and nurturing party, better suited to state issues such as health and education, while the Liberals are seen as the strict father, best put in charge of the nation’s finances and defence and border protection. If such a political climate change has occurred it will tilt the odds of federal success against Labor.

Don’s very good at tracing the sources of ideas, and he gave the history of the mummy party/daddy party thesis in his post. But those who clearly explain ideas can come to own them as much as the people who think of them in the first place.

18 thoughts on “Intellectual pass the parcel

  1. The underlying fault with this thesis is :

    – the federal gerrymander which favours rural areas and therefore the coalition. Until votes have equal value it is diffiuclt to say what the electorate really want.

    – voting is compulsary in Australia, if it were not it would take only a few decades to produce election results in which the majority (or a large enough percentage) of people in some electorates dont vote (see UK) , therefore no candidate would be the preference.

    – the idea of a federal coalition and state labour mix has been put forward by many pundits for many reasons. However, in many families the mother is the cold hard biatch and the father is the one who spoils the kids, are the greens the overeducated aunt who is going to have to look after the kids after the parents are burned to death in a global warming caused bushfire?
    How relevant is the nuclear family model to contemporary Australian political sociology as an analogy.

    – Landeryou calls the SMH the Sydney Morning Defamer

    I wouldnt own up to the mummy daddy thesis with pride, in fact when I read Don’s article I was going launch a torpedo but restrained due to its sheer inanity.


  2. The main evidence for the thesis, as I explained in November, is persistent patterns of issue ownership recorded in the polls, with each party fairly (but not entirely) consistently regarded as better in issues which we can stereotypically relate to traditional mother and father roles in the family. Metaphors are never supposed to be literally true; they highlight connections.

    Obviously there are many other factors that also affect elections, but a federal gerrymander is not one of them. A gerrymander is deliberately drawing electorate boundaries so that your opponents’ voters are concentrated in safe seats. In Australia, the boundaries are drawn by an independent authority, the Australian Electoral Commission.

    What you mean is malapportionment, so that there would be fewer voters in some seats. But we don’t have that either, and have periodic redistrubutions to adjust for population movement. The only serious distortion in the electoral system is the same number of Senators for each state.

    Occasionally, there are elections in which the party with the majority of votes does not win – but these are fairly rare and these days have nothing to do with rorting the electoral system.


  3. “- the federal gerrymander which favours rural areas and therefore the coalition. Until votes have equal value it is diffiuclt to say what the electorate really want.”

    There is no federal “gerrymander” (or malapportionment, which is probably what is being described here). The last remnants of it disappeared before the 1984 federal election.

    WA has malapportment for its lower house (which will change to weightage of some electorates next election) and Qld has weightage for 5 state electorates (perhaps dropping to 4 next election?).


  4. There are also the centrelink regulations which stop unemployed people moving to country thereby lessening the number of those who depend on a nanny state in rural areas. This also has the effect of pushing people into the urban job market and into paying tax through their subsequent wages which could alter their voting decisions.
    This would also increase demand for urban housing which is well timed for capital investors given the amount of property development in most Australian cities.
    Polemics aside, I think freedom of movement is a basic human right within the nation state on the grounds of liberty and therefore democracy.


  5. I don’t thnk the centrelink can stop someone moving to the country. The implications of their doing this on any unemployment benefits are an entirely different matter.

    My company requires me to work in an office in Sydney and to probably not move to the country if I am to continue to work for it. Does this constitute a restriction of my freedom of movement?


  6. In the digital age, whereby you could telecommute in many fields of work, yes it does mean restriction and you have my sympathy.

    The centrelink regulations also ensure that people who go up the country are more likely to be empolyed in chopping down trees, creating cyanide lakes for Australian wildlife or engaged in unsustainable farming practices rather than people taking time to defend nature through protest or to interact with it in an equitable manner.


  7. Parkos, I am free to move to the country if I want to. The fact that I would need to get another job is not a restriction on my freedom of movement.


  8. Uncle Sam, Mother Russia, Gog/Magog, Father Land..
    Is Australia a Sheila, a Bruce or a Thai Pole Dancer of intermediate sex?


  9. In Germany, Sacha, you would be subsidised and free to swim in the Interlaken and elsewhere in the EU, with free education whether you had a job or not. Although a medical degree in Riga would cost you about A$40000 over 5 years, easy entrance requirements mind you.

    If it were not for Australian Lithuanian photographer Olegas Truchanas having lots of time to wander through the bush and take photos there may not have been a global green political movement as we know it. His photos inspired the Tasmanian Greens (the world’s 1st green party) who subsequently inspired Petra Kelly and the German greens.


  10. When I read the article, I thought of Andrew Leigh referring to your post on the “mummy and daddy parties” some time ago and thought that it was shame that only Don’s contribution was mentioned.


  11. It all depends on whether you take a mummy or a daddy attitude to this. If you take a mummy attitude, you should just be glad that your idea is out making its way in the world. If you take a daddy attitude, you need to have everyone know that it’s your kid who’s winning all the prizes.


  12. But I think politics is often very transgendered – mummy dressing as daddy, daddy dresing as mummy – Liberal governments trying to act social democratic to appeal to some voters (particularly rural voters), think baby-bonus/family benefits. And Labor governments trying to do the reverse to offer the perception they’ll be tough in various areas.


  13. Isn’t this just the old idea of lefty/social democratic parties being touchy-feely and not necessarily very good with “hard” things such as economics, and righty parties being the converse? (with a fair bit of cross-dressing as Stephen points out)

    I’m sure I was aware of this stereotype as a kid in the 80s – the idea must have an older parentage than ’91.


  14. On this logic, Bob Brown would not make the best wartime PM(“Cuddle them I say”). But let’s not discount the random and human factors on this hard / soft issue question – people with qualities rise to the occasion (eg like him or not, John Howard), and often the heavily hyped fail – John Hewson comes to mind. There must be many Labor examples as well.


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