Politics as Story-Telling: The Year 9 Circuit-Breaker #vicvotes
As readers would have noticed, I have returned to Victoria at the time of its quadrennial state election, and it is proving to be a far more interesting campaign than I expected.
My column published yesterday in the Business Spectator makes no secret of my views about the extra-special ordinariness of opposition leader Ted Baillieu. He really is the personification of the kind of fat Tory landowner who, in Blackadder’s memorable phrase, becomes an MP when he reaches a certain weight.
So the awfulness of Baillieu on the hustings is perfectly in line with expectations.
After the narrative wasteland of the federal campaign (a pretty well-earned nil-all draw), I wasn’t expecting much from my team, either. After all, it’s not easy going for a fourth term unless you’re one of the Castro brothers.
But the ALP in Victoria is putting in a blinder.
Labor leader, John Brumby, announced the smartest policy idea I have heard from the centre-left in many years: it’s called the Year 9 experience. If you’re interested in the detail of the policy, you can find it here. But this blog deals doesn’t delve too much into policy wonkery. I am more interested with how ideas and policy interact with, and shape, the public discourse — and and that it what interests me here as well.
First, as a matter of campaign tactics, the Year 9 policy has been a slam-dunk for a number of reasons:
- It has genuinely excited the media. Aside from dominating headlines and talkback for close to three news cycles, the Herald Sun remarkably ran an opinion piece from a government minister on the subject this morning. With the unambiguous title“Teen Camps are the best idea I have seen in 18 years of politics, says Tourism Minister Tim Holding”, it was a rare free kick for a political party so close to an election — a sure sign that the policy struck a chord.
- It was announced 12 days out from the election and appears to be the first (and possibly only) breakthrough idea at the very moment voters are starting to take notice. Timing matters, especially when both campaigns are struggling to inspire election-fatigued and largely disengaged voters.
- It fuses policy with personality to powerful effect. The focus on youth and discipline is a great match for John Brumby’s persona and biography, a famously focussed and disciplined character who once taught high school.
- It has done more than anything else, or anything I can think of, to freshen up the Labor brand when longevity is its worst enemy.
But there is something significant and, dare I stretch the point, a little profund in all this. The Year 9 policy is a break from the centre-left’s recent tendency towards values-light, reason-heavy approach to policy innovation. In many ways, it is a direct (though unintentional) retort to David Brooks’ critique of the modern centre-left in Tuesday’s New York Times:
The liberal technicians have an impressive certainty about them. They have amputated those things that can’t be contained in models, like emotional contagions, cultural particularities and webs of relationships. As a result, everything is explainable and predictable. They can stand on the platform of science and dismiss the poor souls down below.
The Year 9 Experience is not science. It is a gut-feel policy that leaps from the page. It provokes real reactions from real people. It sparks actual enthusiasm. In essence, it is story-telling — an art too often wielded against the Left and not by it.
A lot of tactical nonsense and static noise is yet to come over the next ten days, but if Labor prevails on November 27th, we can only hope that this rare and welcome foray into imaginative policy-making gets its fair share of credit.