Friday, December 23, 2011

Santa Claus.

Santa Claus; this jolly old fellow is everywhere. They are the main contributor of our three and a half year olds Christmas candy stash. In a movement with the times Santa has also provided two children’s books this year, three if you count the work of an elf in Santa’s name.
Despite this good work there is a tide of disapproval rising against Santa. My older brother who dresses as Santa to walk up and down his local shopping strip has adults come up to him regularly (to what end?) to whisper “I need to tell you, It’s terribly commercial.” 
Santa won’t be coming to our house this year. There is no need with a sole child who is only one of two grandchildren on my side. That’s a lot of presents heading her way already. I’m tempted to re-badge a part of our present to the kid as from Santa but there’ll be no last minute “I’ve got to get something from Santa” panic.
It’s not that we’re anti-Santa at our place. Last year was as close to being anti-Santa as I’ve ever got. With a two year old the Santa tradition was a huge imposition into her developing fantasy life and for a two year old it’s a pretty dull fantasy. There was absolutely nothing for her to do but stick out her hand to receive candy (which her parents largely intercepted) or presents. Think about it, when have you ever seen a child “play Santa” with other kids? If they did it would be a fairly dull game for the non-Santa participants. That’s why instead of Santa we developed our own variant of Bubba Yugga last year. At Christmas time our Bubba Yugga tries to eat children’s fingers but can easily be defeated by pepper on their head; much more interactive.
I also resent the way that people just assume that Santa will be a part of your child’s life. Strangers (good people no doubt) ask your child point blank “Will Santa be coming to your house this year?” Where’s the respect that Santa is not a part of every person’s Christmas? I don’t want strangers coming up to my child and saying “Will you be praying to Jesus this Christmas?” nor do I want a whole heap of religiosity at my kid’s kinder. Why is Santa evangelism any different? Just like when people ask me my star sign I want to say “Hey, freedom of religion also means freedom from religion”, but it feels a little harsh.
Those are my objections to Santa. The Santa story is imposed on us in a way I shouldn’t have to tolerate for such a narrow cultural symbol and it’s completely uninteractive for children to engage with. But that’s where my objection pretty much ends. I don’t share in what seem to me to be the two largest objections to Santa; that Santa is not “real” and that Santa is inherently part of a culture of greed. In fact I want to write specifically against these objections.
1.      Santa is not real.
Our child has asked us whether Santa is real or imaginary. We asked her what she thought. She replied that she thought “Imaginary”. Guess what? This didn’t devastate her. She is still happy to play along with anyone dressed as Santa. She also will ride on your back if you whinny loud enough.
Anyone who is concerned that they are teaching their child things that aren’t true when they tell them about fairies, dragons or Santa needs to remember that your children know the difference between “telling stories”, “tricking” and “teaching”. Or if they don’t you may want to work on that. It has safety implications.
Unfortunately not every adult understands the difference. Some people have no room for fantasy. Every bible story has to be absolutely accurate or it’s a dreadful lie. That’s a position that can be taken by theists or atheists. We also see a lack of moral distinction between the fantastic and the real when playing with guns needs to be replaced by building bridges and slaying dragons has to be replaced by protecting fragile dragon ecosystems.
With Santa this lack of distinction forces people into two equally ludicrous camps; those who try to physically explain with pseudo-science all of the Santa story (his ability to reach every child in one night for example) and in the other camp those who feel it is necessary to point out to a three year old that Santa is just made up. I can’t think of any more boring ways to engage with the Santa myth.
There’s also a bizarre and unnecessary crisis faced by parents when their kids “grow out of Santa”. That crisis never happens with the Easter Bunny. It never happens with dragons either. Prepubescents, adolescents and teenagers walk around with fake (or real when they can get it) dragon tattoos, biting the heads off their chocolate bunnies but Santa is for little kids and adults. I think this is entirely due to all the caring whether Santa is real malarkey. We force kids to choose – stay completely and embarrassingly naive about physics or lose Santa altogether.  What a mean spirited choice. It’s not a choice we are obliged to make about fairies.
2.      Santa is all about greed.
Nothing could be further from the truth than that Santa is all about greed. Santa works all year round making toys for no profit, not even drawing a wage which he then distributes to kids without any reward other than a beverage and a cookie. Ask any Santa suit wearer in an Australian summer whether they felt greedy being Santa and they’ll shoot you a big “Ho, Ho, Ho”. It’s possibly the least selfish time of their life. Think of bikers dressed in Santa hats on their toy run. Santa is actually symbolic of our better natures and putting on a Santa hat allows tuff and gruff men to soften themselves.
Best of all Santa is a way we can give anonymously and yet still be personal about it. Every year the guise of Santa is a means for charitable gifts to be distributed without any credit to the original giver or often even the distributing organisation. All of this is achieved without depersonalising the gift. Santa doesn’t give cheques or subsidies but presents. While this isn’t all families in poverty need it is important. And because Santa gives to all kids this charity doesn’t have to threaten even the proudest parent’s ego.
Businesses do exploit the image of Santa to sell to us though and the super effectiveness of Santa as a selling tool can’t be denied. Parents with a real hunger to give their kids a “good Christmas” (often unlike their own growing up) can be real suckers for anything with a Santa face on it. Kids also recognise the image giving dodgy candy and toys a brand credibility that they don’t deserve. In this way Santa is all about some people’s desire to make money.
I just don’t think that this commercial story overwhelms the story of our people’s Santas, the Santa riding a fire truck to kinder or the one in high heels who came to our play group. Let alone those “real” Santas; those retired gentlemen who wood-turn toys for kids who have none or ladies who knit teddy bears for orphans. I really don’t think that the corporate Santas are winning over our local representatives nor should we let them.
The trick to recognising the virtue of Santa Claus is simple. It is to remember that Santa is something you can be, not just someone else you meet on the street. There really isn’t much to recommend the Santa kids receive other than the tastiness of candy or the quality of the gift but let them peek under the beard a little, stop trying to convince them that it really is an eternal being from the north pole and they will see that Santa is something that one day they can become. That someone is generous and giving without a desire for credit or reward. That someone is one who knows the joy of a child is the greatest treasure, or should be. To me that’s the Santa that works; the Santa you grow into not out of.
Ho, Ho, Ho.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Massacre of the Innocents

This Christmas there will be many parts of the biblical Christmas story shared and remembered. Church sermons will reflect on Mary being told that she’s to bear the Messiah. School pageants will recall the visitation of the angel to the shepherds at Jesus birth. Nativity scenes will depict the attendance of the three wise men. One event though will probably not be getting a lot of airplay. It occurs after the birth although it is predictable beforehand. It is a huge downer and certainly not child friendly. It has traditionally been called “The Massacre of the Innocents.”
In the Gospel of Mathew, Herod, the king of the Jews, hears from the wise men of the star in the sky they are following. Such a star they tell him heralds the coming of a great king. Herod asks them to return and tell him where they find this future king so he can pay homage too. However an angel warns the wise men that Herods’ real plan is to kill his rival so they should go back to their homes another way. When Herod realises he won’t be able to locate the specific child he wants to destroy he has all male children under the age of two from around Bethlehem killed. Joseph is warned by an angel and Jesus escapes.  
Herods’ killing of the male children is “The Massacre of the Innocents”. In the medieval era this was a significant event in the church calender. These children were considered the first Christian martyrs and in some traditions their numbers were estimated as far more than 100,000. Contemporary historians don’t all agree that The Massacre of the Innocents actually happened. There are many symbolic reasons why it might have been included in Mathews Gospel instead. Those who believe it happened now suppose its victims number closer to dozens than thousands. However there is no dispute that this event actually fits into the range of viable actions for government in the first century. Specifically no-one believes it’s out of character for Herod. In the first century Middle East these sorts of things happened.
Jesus grows up to deliver his message to this world of terrible violence. His primary audience are a Jewish people under the antagonising rule of Rome. Even if the Massacre of the Innocents is not true Jesus spoke to people who had lost family to the whims of a government intent on breaking their spirit. Jerusalem was a trouble spot for the Romans and administrators who brought peace by any bloody means could hope to be promoted out of there. To complete the insult there was never any chance for official justice against a roman soldier who had killed a member your family. You could join a resistance movement which had no real chance of success or you could redirect your rage towards elements of your own community or yourself.
There are parts of our world today that bear a terrible resemblance to first century Jerusalem. In fact Palestinian areas around Israel are one. Israeli missiles and tanks have led to many massacred children. The response as in Jesus’ time has been ineffectual revolutions epitomised by rocks thrown at tanks but also tragically by bombs on school buses and in cafes. More children die.
My own life however is nothing like this and I’ve been pondering lately how this means I am apt to miss the point of Christianity. When I translate something like the Sermon on the Mount to my own life I don’t have very real enemies to love. Does Jesus mean the guy hooning down my street at two am? If so I think I can overcome my hate fairly easily. It’s not like I was going to kill them anyway. I’ll just think of their troubled youth and fragile ego issues and feel a sort of benevolent pity for them. Instead of shouting out words of hate and waking up my partner to boot or holding on to a malevolent disdain through the next day I’ll just let it go with nice thoughts. Wow, this Christianity is actually kinda good for me. It’s like a positive mood reinforcer.
What this means however is when something genuinely terrible happens Christianity of the “don’t sweat the small stuff” variety just doesn’t seem to apply. If Christianity is about just feeling nicely disposed towards people who play loud music on the bus then it’s insulting to suggest it speaks to rape victims for example. If Christianity is about just not holding on to mean thoughts then trying to paint it over a conflict such as the Israel -Palestinian one is ludicrous.
That’s why I think we should remember the massacre of the innocents – not necessarily because it actually happened as depicted – but because it gives us a measure of the depth of pain Jesus directly spoke to. Imagine having your child killed by the government and then hearing a survivor of their generation talk about “turning the other cheek.” I think I would want to crucify him.
This also sheds some light on the hostility Jesus copped from the Pharisees of his time. The Pharisees have become a kind of Christian joke. They stand against what has been reinterpreted as a plea for us to have a general warm regard towards others. Of course this makes them look foolish as well as petty and bitter unlike the balanced healthy-outlook Jesus. The Pharisees are people who seem to be pathologically attached to judging and hating. Until we remember the massacre of the innocents.
As I wrote in my post “The Prodigal God” when Jesus embraced sinners he was embracing collaborators with the Romans amongst others. This is akin to Palestinians embracing collaborators with a modern Israel or Irish Catholics embracing collaborators with Protestant rule in the mid twentieth century. It’s an insane idea, it’s insulting and its first century Christianity. By comparison the Pharisees are the balanced ones.
This Christmas many of us will be rushing around, dodging new p-plate drivers and frantic shoppers. Some of us will be sitting in nursing homes getting our Christmas presents stolen by the patient down the hall. Others of us will have to negotiate access and custody over our children with people we can’t stand. Some of us might just be seated next to a grumpy relative for lunch. Some of us may even get our house robbed. Maybe we will use the Christmas spirit to help us take these small and not so small sufferings a little better. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Still I think we should remember the Massacre of the Innocents and be aware that many of us in safe countries only taste a small bitter sip of what love your enemy originally meant. If we don’t be so mindful we risk missing how marvellously outrageously insane Jesus was in his time. Even as a non-Christian I think that would be a shame.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A clearing of my heart on religious freedom.

The ALP national conference recently changed their platform to support marriage equality for same-sex couples. A part of that motion was the following; These amendments should ensure that nothing in the marriage act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.
I’ve been trying to write about the moral responsibility we have to defend others’ freedom of religion. I want to discuss why the above quote in the motion should have been included, not just as a sop to opponents of gay marriage to get the motion through but for its own good reasons.
The reason I want to write this is very specific. I want to write against an ugliness that is in my own heart. It’s a drying up of sympathy and a simmering anger. It’s a frustration with those who have been in power for so long and only now are having to share it. Even now they are refusing to let go of that privilege. We have to tear it from their hands pulling each finger back at a time. We have to do this while listening to them whine about their oppression, about how it’s so unfair that they might have to acknowledge gay relationships or at least not refuse them service. All this while they’ve never seemed to notice how much their own relationship celebrations along with all their religious concerns about our relationships overwhelm the rest of us.
Unfortunately the size of this ugliness inside me is so large I can’t write past it. I certainly can’t write over it. In the words of the song “Going on a Bear Hunt” we have to go through it. I need to look directly at what’s bothering me about discussions of religious freedom before I can address my question.
To be clear; I’m not bothered by the idea that gay marriage is wrong. I may disagree with that idea but I’m happy to engage with it and know good hearted people who hold it. It’s the idea that conservative Christians are victims in our society, with gay marriage the latest attack on them that I’m over. I was once at a dinner party entirely of conservative Christians and me. When I said “I see the recognition of gay relationships by the state as freedom of religion” I copped a screeching “They’re taking our rights.” Yet it’s only the right to exclude others from a special status for your enjoyment that’s being taken away. If this feels like a loss of rights to you, you must think a disproportionate amount of respect and power is your right. It’s because you’ve grown fat and sleek and round on other people’s deference. Any discussion of religious freedom is plagued by that expectation of deference.
There’s a great piece of advice in the Bible though. It’s that we should remove the plank from our own eye before the splinter in another’s. Nobody recognises their own privilege and I like the average conservative Christian am often whining on my throne. When I was a kid I liked to believe I was oppressed as a left hander. When I was older I briefly occupied bisexuality as the site of my oppression. Seriously I am a pretty lucky man in a wealthy country and the rest is largely indulgent crap. I am not oppressed in any significant way – not as a non-theist in a theistic family either. Having to argue your opinions is not oppression. I do have crap teeth though so you know, woe is me.
Even acknowledging all this there are probably still privileges and power I hold and don’t see. I know that I feel the concessions I am obliged to make towards religious people and assume I never ask the same of them. One way that “secularists” do this is through the very definition of secularism as a sort of non-religion and non-philosophy. Secularism as a non-biased basic social language that allows all religions and the irreligious to thrive is a fantasy. Of course there are religions such as the church of the randomly violent or the fellowship of drunken crane operators that we don’t allow to practice. Saying that all churches can operate freely within the law just dodges that the law is how we restrict religion. Nowhere is this more apparent than with discrimination legislation.
Within half a century Conservative Christians in the UK, the U.S. and Australia have gone from being able to close down any establishment that allowed same-sex dancing to being unable to refuse service to unrepentant homosexuals in their own establishments and to being sued for promoting homophobia in the workplace. Back then many peoples’ careers were forfeit if their homosexuality was known with imprisonment or forced psychiatric treatment real possibilities. Now there are almost challenges to the rights of conservative Christians to try and cure their own gay children. Certainly there would be publicly funded services that would support any child who refused such treatment.
It should be obvious that these changes restrict the religious freedom of Conservative Christians. To say otherwise is to play word games with either freedom or religion. However that doesn’t mean that these changes restrict religious freedom overall. The religious freedom of gay dancers is massively increased. This isn’t a war on religion or freedom – if that were so there would universally be more regulation whereas same-sex dancers (let alone conjugators) will assure you for them there is less.
Furthermore it should be obvious that this isn’t any kind of attack on conservative Christians except an inadvertent one. The end point of these cultural and legislative changes is not to oppress Christians but to enable those who want to, to disregard them. The motive of the Queer politic within secularism is to ensure people can live as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender without obstruction and harassment. From a queer perspective if this crosses conservative Christianity that’s conservative Christianity’s fault. It certainly isn’t the queer activist’s objective. This isn’t just playing with words. The second half of the ALP motion is really just stating the obvious.
Despite this conservative Christians do claim that there is a war against them and their beliefs. The reasons for this go beyond just being used to having their way with other people’s lives. As a “born-again” myself I witnessed a church culture of nostalgia for those days when their forebears were being fed to lions. There’s a knowledge that power and privilege are fundamentally at odds with Jesus’ own life and the life of the apostles. Some Christians respond to this by giving up power and privilege. Those people are amazing and I am in awe of them. Most however are as soft in the middle as me. Many can’t sit with the feeling of being a bad Christian and so resolve the contradiction by denial. They ignore that Christianity is a requirement of the most powerful political office in the world and instead identify with the oppression of Chinese Christians. The conservative Christian worries that some people are taking the Christ out of Christmas without wondering if the very ubiquity of Christmas is something that non-Christians might be a little tired of.  There’s an overstatement of cultural loss and personal alienation in order to imagine they are carrying a cross up Calvary even as they are planning a second multi-lane freeway of privilege to get there.
This sense of oppression is helped along by the tension between conservative Christians and science. When the entirety of peer reviewed science tends to support evolution then Creationists are in the same position as climate change deniers – either they’re wrong or there’s a conspiracy against them. But Creationism isn’t the only way conservative Christians can bang up against science. You can’t find a credible peer reviewed piece of psychology that says homosexuals are sick anymore, not since Evelyn Hooker forced the American establishment to look at its biases. Sure you still get crank research put out by “Family” Associations but nobody will publish it. The reason why is that it fails basic standards of research (often taking correlation for causality and failing to use a proper control). From the conservative Christian perspective though, this research is “buried” by an agenda driven scientific establishment. 
This false sense of oppression becomes collective wisdom; disputing it threatens your belonging to the group. Consequently I can wake up to my privileges a whole lot easier than someone inside a conservative Christian church. This does actually mean that I have some sympathy for conservative Christian whining, at least initially. By the umpteenth manifestation of the persecution complex with the next must-read piece of dodgy research my patience wears thin. I start to feel that maybe the kindest thing I could do is a swift whack up the side of the head to wake them up to themselves.  I want to scream that this is not a debate about whether everyone’s out to get you. This is us witnessing the slow maturing of the Conservative Christian’s perspective half a lifetime later than it should have happened.
None of this frustration has any logical relation to the question of how defending religious freedom is a moral responsibility. It’s just a huge emotional cloud covering my thinking and blocking my writing. My brother recently commented that while he can see that gay marriage possibly should be legal he’s overall leaning is towards the opinion it shouldn’t be. I’m not just leaning towards the belief that conservative Christians should have the legal right to not officiate a gay marriage. I feel fairly convinced of it. I’m also leaning slightly towards the belief that schools which teach that homosexuality is an abomination should lose their licence to teach. I find it immensely difficult to articulate exactly why in both cases. I still feel that’s something I should try to do but I had to get this off my chest first.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What just happened? The political game that was the ALP gay marriage vote.

The Labor Party of Australia just changed their party platform to allow same-sex marriage. The exact wording of the motion was;

“Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life. These amendments should ensure that nothing in the marriage act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.”

An amendment was passed to this motion allowing Labor party parliamentary members a conscience vote on this issue. This was passed by 208 to 184 votes.

The amended motion was then put to the floor and passed without a counting of specific votes. Clearly the ayes had it.

All of this is being presented as democracy in motion; however, the exact outcome is so precisely what Labor would want to do strategically that I have my doubts it wasn’t planned to turn out exactly this way.

Same sex marriage has always been a difficult issue for Labor electorally. More so than any other party their voting base is divided on this issue. As momentum for change has grown, Labor’s “do nothing” stance has lost it voters to the Greens. Party strategists however have been concerned that supporting change will lose it more votes to the Coalition.

To allay that concern advocates of change have pointed to the polls which indicate consistently a majority of support for gay marriage in almost every sector of the community. However those polls miss the point. Although most people support gay marriage, Labor party strategists fear that supporters include only a few who would change their vote over the issue. Opponents of gay marriage however may be more likely to vote accordingly. This is the difference between soft and hard support. While hard support (which decides voting intention) is growing amongst supporters of same-sex marriage, soft support is probably still much larger amongst potential Labor voters. Hard supporters of same-sex marriage may have long ago left for the Greens. Some would come back if Labor supported gay marriage unequivocally but many wouldn’t for other reasons.

Meanwhile opponents of gay marriage are almost always motivated by religious conviction. This tends to lead to hard support (although like any personal politic that gets drawn in different directions by the party system). If more opponents than supporters of gay marriage let this issue decide their vote Labor could be following the majority of people on this issue and still pay a penalty electorally.

Further complicating matters is that particular feature of the lower house – the electorate. Seats in the lower house are won and lost on votes in a particular geographical area. The impact on votes of gay marriage is very different in different areas. So the Labor party candidate in a rural Queensland seat faces a higher risk of losing their seat if they support gay marriage while an inner city Melbourne candidate will probably lose their seat if they don’t. Remember even if a majority of people in an area support gay marriage the issue (for the party) is how much hard support and opposition there is amongst potential Labor voters in their electorate.

The absolute perfect political solution to these problems would be to bring the party platform into line with the majority opinion but without running afoul of the hard opposition to change. This would be enough for the soft supporters of Gay marriage who want to vote Labor. Further it will stymie the flow of votes being lost over the issue. So long as Labor can present itself as generally supportive of gay marriage even if it is unable to change legislation (that darn obstructionist opposition!) the Greens will have a hard time using this issue to draw votes to themselves. The Greens can’t say they are the only party (with an electoral chance) to support gay marriage any more. They need to use much more complex language to differentiate their party on this issue. At election time complexity is not rewarded.

The conscience vote amendment allows candidates to loudly or quietly support or distance themselves from the party line if it is useful in their seats. Candidates had previously done this by stating their support for gay marriage in conflict with the then party platform. They were never going to be sanctioned for this when to do otherwise would have been political suicide in suburbs like Brunswick or Glebe. Similarly the party won’t mind a member who votes against gay marriage in line with hard opposition in their electorate. In fact with a leader who is on record as saying she doesn’t support gay marriage it is going to be a very safe environment for such transgression if it can even be called that. 

It is important that, for this strategy to work, people who need to differentiate themselves from the party line be able to do so publicly and heroically. Having a count of votes on the amendment does that. It is also helpful that the party adopt the change to their platform without forcing all those supporting it to be visible. This was achieved by not having a counted vote on that. All in all Labor achieved exactly what it might need to neutralise this as an election negative for them while capturing the positives from it.

There are risks to this strategy. It’s unsure exactly how it will play out once a same-sex marriage bill is actually made law or rejected. It’s possible that the conscience vote will be forgotten should the bill pass and the opponents of same sex marriage will punish the party who broadly supported it. Alternatively if gay marriage is blocked its supporters might move from soft to hard just by the issue having been given a higher profile. No one really remembers a party’s official platform over their policy achievements so Labor could expect to lose some votes from such an outcome. I imagine the party hacks will be trying to figure out if it’s best to introduce a bill after the next election or before. It’s hard to see how Labor can keep this issue on a backburner for much longer though given its growing representation and support.

The Liberal party face far less significant challenges in regard to this issue. The Howard years have purged the party of many supporters of gay marriage. Obviously the hardest supporters couldn’t stay in the fold when Howard passed his Defence of Marriage bill. There’s not much more to lose by keeping that line and while there might be votes to gain by changing, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Still when polls show the majority of people are in support of gay marriage this is not an issue the Liberal party will want to emphasise at a general election. To do so would ensure the soft support from the majority hardens into something threatening. This means they need to control their angry conservatives. We can expect one Liberal message for the general public and another playing to communities where same-sex marriage is opposed. The first will say that this same-sex marriage debate isn’t important, the second will emphasise the need to vote in regard to this matter.

The Liberals need to decide whether their party will allow a conscience vote on any bill that comes before the house and whether they will revisit the issue (if it passes) should they gain government. Regardless of ideology, electoral strategy will play a big part in these decisions. Just making a call I’d say they’ll decide “no” to both.

A Liberal sinking of the gay marriage bill is too disruptive to the governments agenda to not tempt Abbott to impose a binding vote. It will leave the ALP with open divisions and forces them to make another decision on the issue; Do they resubmit the bill triggering a double dissolution and having an election on this issue? Although the Liberals don’t want to make the election about same-sex marriage they won’t be upset if Labor does. They can be completely on message that this is an unimportant issue, an obsession for the government when other matters are more pressing. When Labor doesn’t resubmit the bill it will disappoint its strongest same-sex marriage supporting members.

Only if Abbott is going to be publicly defied by high profile members would he allow a conscience vote. Abbotts control is weak and he can’t afford to expose that. Allowing a conscience vote would definitely be preferably to having one anyway against his will.

It would be complete madness for the Liberals to promise to repeal same-sex marriage after an election. Any promise of this sort would need to be downplayed to the general public while amped up in the anti-gay marriage pockets with a failure to control that being disastrous. The majority of people have soft support for gay marriage and the Liberals need to tell them this issue doesn’t matter. Revisiting the issue will be, according to the Liberals own message, a spiteful further waste of time.

Mind you anything is possible. Abbott is not the shrewdest political operator and often speaks before consultation with wiser party members. The ALP themselves have made mistakes but under Gillard they work together better and as a team they are a lot more careful than Abbott. They are always planning the next election.

Saying there is a tactical sensibleness to the outcome of the ALP conference doesn’t mean that there aren’t people of integrity making what they believe is the right call – on all sides of this debate. There were 184 delegates who rejected the amendment to allow a conscience vote despite this reducing Labor’s political flexibility. However let’s not kid ourselves that democracy ran riot here either. The outcome of the ALP conference was so tactically perfect that I suspect this was a debate that was permitted to happen because its outcome could be foreseen.
That’s politics.