The Big House on the Hill

Yesterday we visited the State Parliament on a guided tour. I have been to the building a few times but under completely different circumstances when we have held functions there. As it happened, the functions manager was working in the area when we gathered for our security passes and came over to say hello. As always, he was charming and no doubt a little relieved that I was not there to make his life any busier for the immediate future.

When my husband and I were in Dublin, we took a tour of the city on an open-topped double decker bus. Even though my husband was brought up there, it is quite often the case that you never behave like a tourist in your own town and that sometimes means that ironically you see less of things than a visitor might.

So was the case for me with Parliament House. I have actually been lucky enough to have a tour of the Houses of Parliament in London (many years ago) but it was still interesting to visit our state parliament and for once take note of the jarrah floor, with a swan in a mosaic of four wood types at its centre – the symbol of Western Australia rendered in four of our native wood types. We were taken though the history of WA’s settlement, something I learned briefly about in the one year I spent in school over here before I ditched history to concentrate on human biology so I could totally avoid doing maths.

To stand in the chamber of the lower and upper houses is to be reminded of how the system should work, how the checks and balances evolved and were designed to make sure that the people who are represented there by the ministers had their voices heard in the decision-making process. It is a refreshing change to be reminded of how it should work, but comes at a weird time, when around the world there is a huge backlash against politicians in general and a general feeling that the centre of power and the politicians who work there are not to be trusted and that voters are sick of smooth and vanilla-style rhetoric, which keeps the spin doctors happy and the media trying to get a straight answer frustrated.

But it has always been this way, hasn’t it?  This infamous interview with Jeremy Paxman trying to get a straight answer out of Michael Howard demonstrates the point perfectly. No wonder ‘straight talkers’ – as Donald Trump proclaims himself to be – can get a platform, even though he has no platform. He speaks a language some people feel they can understand, even if what he is saying does not make much sense when it is scrutinised. He has managed to make the race for the White House into a TV reality show, even if at the time of writing (just after the third debate) it looks as though his lead is slipping.

But whatever happens in the US (and also after what happened in the UK after the ‘Brexit’ vote), I wonder if any of those who help to fuel the current system will actually reflect upon how Nigel Farage & Co managed to sell a bunch of lies to get a vote and get away with it. Or how Trump started out with a vision of a wall and built a presidential campaign on the back of it which was close to success (assuming that the pollsters are now right and he does not succeed) until a video of him was ‘found’ and leaked to demonstrate his unfitness for the top job. Will they wonder how it all happened? What they have been doing wrong to cause these huge shifts in voter behaviour? Or will they just mop their brows, thank god that campaign is over and forget about it until the next election?

That is the problem with systems. Not the systems themselves, but some of the humans who get involved with them.

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