This piece originally appeared in The Age
In August last year a warning was issued: the public’s “deep malaise” would be stripped from Newspoll and rudely supplanted to the nation’s highways. Yes, the Convoy of No Confidence was rumbling into town, where this travelling circus of indignation would finally coalesce at the foot of Parliament House. Alan Jones would be its ringleader.
As ringleader, Jones aggravated the collective fever dream of the convoy—the inchoate sense that something was powerfully rotten. There’s much to be said about this government—and I’ve said it—but Jones isn’t in the business of civil or substantive criticism. That day on the Hill confirmed as much. He’s a fantasist, a curator of conspiracies, and he keeps the fantasy alive by stoking apprehension and anger until it’s white-hot. These coals he calls democracy.
The Convoy of No Consequence was a fizzer, but is memorable for at least two reasons: one, the conspiracy that the low attendance was a result of a tyrannous plot hatched by the government, and executed by the Federal Police, to blockade the convoy at the territory’s border.
The second was the wild-eyed intimidation of Sky journalist David Lipson, who had the unforgiveable temerity to call the police and confirm the conspiracy as nonsense. Jones turned on him, and called for the mob to do the same. Lipson wrote about it the following day: “He called me over and asked me if I was calling him a liar on air. I explained I was only quoting Federal Police. He said he didn’t care what police had said…Instead of accepting and correcting the fact he’d been given a bum steer, Jones got back on stage and went after me, accusing me of misleading my viewers… I never got on stage. I was getting used to this angry mob thing and knew it wouldn’t end well… I know it’s the job of shock jocks to wind people up but this was extreme, even by Jones’ standards.”
What conclusions to be made here? They’re mostly obvious ones: that Jones and his not-so-merry band of followers have contempt for this country and for facts. If the convoy demonstrated anything, it’s that Jones is happy to dismiss the enviable worth of our culture and economy as illusory—a carapace of rhetoric disguising a corrupt government bent on a Marxist reimagining of our country. This is one of the fantasies Jones encourages, if doesn’t explicitly sketch.
He is the ringmaster, and the fantasy is unlikely to be broken as long as malcontents roam the earth. It is their hollow anger—and the thrill of possessing it—that fuels Jones, and he them. The sub-text to Jones’ radio show is: You are the forgotten, but I am your father.
The fantasy is also less likely to be broken as long as Labor struggles to communicate itself, a failure entwined with its structural malaise of purpose.
The other conclusion is also obvious: that Jones is shameless. His viciousness, distortions and rank errors are scrawled on a public blackboard, dusted off and replaced with more. It’s drearily predictable.
Take his convoy blockade conspiracy. Now, I’m horrified and humbled if I misspell someone’s name in a column, but Jones’ pungent arrogance can retrench giant misstatements swiftly and cleanly, leaving not the slightest residue of embarrassment. It’s an ugly, remarkable feat.
Jones, if this needs to be said, is not a journalist. A good journalist is chastened by his mistakes, tries to purge his embarrassment—and the erroneous public record—with an unqualified public disavowal. But of course, this is the stuff of modesty.
The grandeur and fantasy-making was on display again this week at Alan Jones’ press conference arranged to address his now infamous remarks. His comment—that the Prime Minister’s father had “died of shame”—he described as black parody, the sickly humour of the trenches. Yes, trenches. He described the milieu of the joke as similar to that of the diggers at Gallipoli, born of the same desperation and anguish.
Pause on that, then consider the difference in living standards between Western Sydney and the conditions our soldiers experience in Afghanistan. Jones’ evocation of Gallipoli is splendidly batty—an attempt to legitimise ignorant rancour as noble mettle—and almost obscene in its detachment from reality.
Does any of this matter? Leader of the House Anthony Albanese has now boycotted Jones’ show, realising there’s no votes in it anyway. Media advisors to this government should consider the party’s purpose and then examine Jones’ demographics and ailing audience, before offering the two-bit advice that to boycott the program will be to court condemnation and accusations of cowardice.
This reactive advice is predicated upon fear and the accumulative cost of it is sclerosis. If the party has a soul, then give a full-throated expression of it rather than fearing the interminable squawks of parrots.