Montefiore: Unpacking the political toolbox for election season

Sir Monty’s political tools are oiled and ready for the aspirants of SA’s upcoming election. Within this tricky toolbox are a roundtable, a working party, a white paper, a package of measures, and, of course, the ever-elusive silver bullet.

Lately the light filtering through the windows at Sir Monty’s North Terrace club is assuming a different spectrum to usual for this time of year. But having seen it before, he knows that it’s merely the effect of that occasional Adelaide metaphorical parallel universe weather pattern called the lead-up period.

It’s a time when scores of public sector workers abandon the front counter in favour of organising, phoning and pamphleteering for the good of the Party, high-level state bureaucrats start nervously scanning interstate job ads as a form of post-March 17 insurance, and local government chief executives start talking to the state opposition, just in case.

Given Sir Monty’s prominence, visitations to his rooms have trebled and revenues resulting from his political advice have quadrupled. So many apparatchiks of all branches of the political class seeking poll success have visited that the club manager is rostering bell boys across four shifts, 24/7.

Sir Monty’s analyses rest on an approach gleaned years ago from his political mentor, Sir Frank Andfearless, LLB, JP, OAM. His long-lost, alligator-skin-covered toolbox of instruments of political administration was recently discovered hidden under the barber’s bench in the club’s basement men’s room and it was spirited quickly upstairs by Sir Monty.

It is revelation of the contents of this box that delivers Sir Monty his brief, but spectacular, cash flows once every four years ($2000 per quarter-hour increment; cash up front) as the poll date nears. Contents include a robust discourse, a round table, a working party, a white paper, a package of measures, the letter and, rarest of all, the glittering reflections of a silver bullet.

Not all clients get exposed to them all. It is the accumulation of the knowledge of the whole box of tricks that illuminates the pathway to the government suites, as well as the key to the treasury where those dusty scraps of paper pledging financial restraint can be found, screwed up, littering the floor.

Not all candidates for high office understand the need for robust discourse, and an absence of this understanding is a litmus test, identifying those who don’t stand a chance.

Similarly, the critical importance of a candidate’s enthusiasm to join as many roundtables as possible — even though all of them are rectangular — has been another indicator. The ability of a candidate to accept this round versus rectangle conundrum without demur is vital. It tests their ability to suspend belief, sometimes for years, as long as invitations continue and they are able to stay in that curious place, ‘the loop’.

All Adelaide understands the idea of a party, but the working party is perhaps a little more complicated for the city’s younger political aspirants, given that many are not actually working, or if they are, they spend all of their time focusing on some screen-based plastic slab offering nothing but gossip. The working party is the veritable carburettor of the internal combustion political process, because depending on how it is tuned and tweaked, it enables potential MPs to stall decisions, cease expounding on the policy portfolio, and go out to lunch instead.

The concept of the white paper has proven to be a source of deep confusion, given that most government paper is, er… white. Such a thing should be a device for declaration of a future administration’s position on a matter, indicating likely policy to fly from it, like an ideas kite flicking and swooping in the suburban breeze above marginal electorates likely to be so impressed they will vote accordingly next time. In fact, not one of the apparatchik visitors to Sir Monty had heard of a white paper (let alone a green one). Moreover, many pointed out the dilemma that a party’s declaration of any specific position on anything could pose extreme risk.

But there was a much warmer reception to the notion of a package of measures. This remains one of Adelaide’s favourite political devices for moving forward, and Sir Monty’s patented style of wrapping was seen as a major feature. His concept allows packaging that obscures the form and number of any actual, hands-on, texture-featured measures themselves. When wrapped, the package represents a visual image of an activated 100kg bundle of solutions to intractable Adelaide problems, featuring an inspiring array of action plans certain to quickly resolve them. Crucially, the wrapping omits evidence of last week’s form guide, the historical source of most package inspiration.

The final two instruments of political performance were the most challenging for Sir Monty’s clients. The letter is a marvellous device, hundreds of years old, misleadingly now described as obsolete because of the digital detritus disrupting daily life. At times of political sound and fury, a ten-second email message might be sent to calm opposing forces, but Adelaide’s political performers usually wait until the smoke turns to flames before announcing that they have, at last (and after much frustration) ‘sent a letter’, and now smugly await reply. As a device for stalling, fidgeting and filibustering, it remains the number-one instrument of choice, especially for aspiring premiers and opposition leaders.

Finally — to that rarest of instruments in Sir Monty’s container — the silver bullet. Of all of the political gadgets, this is perceived to be the Holy Grail among those who seek his brotherly mentorship. It is the instrument that makes redundant the need for all of the others. Alas, not even Sir Monty has been able to find it since stashing that box in his upstairs safe.

For the silver bullet, so lusted after by every South Australian party, remains in the ether, a chimera whose physical substance cannot be grasped. It can only be dreamed about. Of this fact Sir Monty gravely commiserates his clients as he strides with them towards his bank, cash receipts in hand.

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