• Was Malcolm Turnbull's speech last week the "Mona Lisa of meaningless"? (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)Source: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images
To believe you are at the “sensible centre” and “not conservative” is not only so boring, it can cause anyone who hears you to fall asleep. It is, Helen Razer proposes, the true mark of a politician who is actually more radical than they credit themselves to be.
By
Helen Razer

13 Jul 2017 - 3:00 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2017 - 3:54 PM

Perhaps, like your jittery reporter, you suffer a little insomnia in this time that feels like the end of all times. Permit me to prescribe an antidote. First, I find that a warm and non-alcoholic beverage can soothe the troubled sort into sleep. If your milky drink fails, you could then try enduring some political speeches.

No. Not the good old rousing sort about true freedom delivered by the true and unelected leaders of the people. You’ll find that words from someone like Malcolm X make far too much sense, and you’ll remain conscious wondering at just how much sense he made. Listen, rather, to the modern sort delivered by officials and written by officials that have as their topic official things that have no true bearing on real and unofficial life. While it’s true that they’re not nearly as pleasant as a mug of hot choc, they offer such a wealth of empty calories, you’ll sleep if only to avoid reading about nothing.

As far as the art of saying nothing for a very long time goes, this work is exemplary. It is the Mona Lisa of meaninglessness.

Look at this speech from our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, for example. Delivered earlier this week in London, it has all of the thrill and enchantment of the tally of jillions of sheep. As far as the art of saying nothing for a very long time goes, this work is exemplary. It is the Mona Lisa of meaninglessness.

Not to prod our Mal too much, by the by. On a relative political scale and certainly in more casual circumstances, he can be very entertaining. A friend of mine saw him free-styling at the launch of a new publication a few years back, and there, in describing media barons, he used the rather lovely phrase “demented plutocrat” to describe corporate press power. That’s the sort of term that’ll keep you awake at nights, laughing.

Not to prod our Mal too much, by the by. On a relative political scale and certainly in more casual circumstances, he can be very entertaining. 

Not so, his gear at, wherever it was, The Free Society For Chaps in Good Suits. For a sedative, that speech got a whole lot of lively coverage. This was due, I imagine, to some of its phrases which could be loosely interpreted as swipes at Mr Turnbull’s political rival, who, as we all know, is not really the Leader of the Opposition, but some guy called Tony Abbott. Many journalists seem to like covering the mean things politicians do to each other. I guess it helps them avoid the work of describing the mean things politicians are doing to us. 

He used the rather lovely phrase “demented plutocrat” to describe corporate press power. That’s the sort of term that’ll keep you awake at nights, laughing.

A good deal of the speech focuses on the redefinition of the word “conservative”. Turnbull, whose economic policy is a pretty good replica of nearly all Western economic policy for the last 40 years, is not “conservative”. No. Apparently, it’s not “conservative” to do as an imperial West demands and support “free trade”. No. That’s totally out there on a limb, along with everyone else. And, anyhow, who even knows what “conservative” means anymore, asks Malcolm. “The truth is that the labels have lost almost all meaning in the furious outrage cycle of social media politics.”

And then, he goes on to talk about labels.

In my view—well, in the view that I formed before falling sleepy head first into hot choc—one can waste a great deal of time in saying that everyone else is wasting a great deal of time. Blame the meaninglessness of labels. Blame the meaninglessness of social media outrage. Blame everyone but yourself who is, as Malcolm declares, placed at the only meaningful point in any discussion which is at the “sensible centre”.

Still awake? What’s that thing we were saying about labels and how they no longer retain their meaning? If there IS one political label we can really call meaningless, it is the “centre”.

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You, me and everyone we know thinks of themselves at the centre of things. You think you’re pretty moderate. I think I’m pretty moderate. Ms Kafoops secretly suspects that only she is in possession of truly sane ideas. This is how our everyday insanity works: we all think we are rational and therefore at the “centre”.

Now, I go about believing that I am at the centre. A perfectly ordinary gal who longs for nothing more complex that complete economic transformation and rule by the people and the abolition of all private property. I believe this to be a “centrist” proposition. But, it’s important for me to remember to know that it’s not.

To believe you are at the “sensible centre” is not only so boring, it can cause anyone who hears you to fall asleep. It is, I propose, the true mark of the dangerous radical. Every radical thinks that they are at the sensible centre, and that everyone else is loopy. When you’re brainwashed into believing that your ideas are just ordinary, well, you’re brainwashed.

This is how our everyday insanity works: we all think we are rational and therefore at the “centre”.

And that is the horror, as it is the boredom, of Malcolm’s latest speech. He says that the “sensible centre” requires that he should go about his business as he has been, with few changes, for some time. He says this as not only a resident but the leader of a nation now aflame with racism, homelessness and wealth inequality.

To believe you’re at the centre and that everyone else is wrong is, surely, radical.

Then again, to read such words will send you to sleep in an instant, out of either boredom or despair. 

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