He’s a fauxgan not a bogan, but Scott Morrison’s blue-collar drag is brilliant marketing | Van Badham | Opinion

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Scott Morrison removed his shoes to play water boy at a rugby league international played on his trip to Fiji. He was photographed in the stands in a polo shirt, gut out, swilling beer.

He was criticised for it on social media. Self-identified wags proclaiming themselves as “the left” in their Twitter bios condemned the prime minister for acting like a bogan. As if that were a bad thing.

Sorry, but it’s not. And Morrison, crucially, knows it’s not. It was entirely the point of those carefully constructed media moments in Fiji to be described as one.

Morrison is, in truth, every inch the eastern suburbs spiv in the mould of his predecessor (and, once, back-slapping chum), Malcolm Turnbull. Conspicuously, he lacks the business acumen, but he has been dangerously underestimated as a marketing man. He understands that to sell a product to people you must design it as a mirror to their culture, making it recognisable as something “of them” before they even possess it.

Morrison knows he needs our bogan votes to remain prime minister. He also knows that voting One Nation or Clive Palmer’s United Australia party acts as a gateway drug for disaffected working-class Labor voters – with the right effort – to be transitioned into Liberal ones. This was John Howard’s triumph.

So with his protesteth-too-much Cronulla Sharks fandom, his baseball caps, beer-swilling and “cars with grunt” persona, Morrison has rebranded as “Scomo”the fauxgan, and gone full working-class drag.

Like most things with the Liberals, the tactic is imported. The billionaire’s son Donald Trump campaigned, implausibly, as a “blue-collar billionaire”, while the high-finance City of London commodities broker Nigel Farage pretends he’s just a man down the pub.

All the aspirants for the Liberal leadership are doing it. Snippy princeling Christian Porter made a media event of getting a tattoo. Peter Dutton is precisely the cop on the beat in a bogan’s worst nightmare, but making ads for muscle cars. The Liberals edit aggressive nightclub hip-hop into their media, but Scott Morrison’s favourite musician is, ahem, Tina Arena.

Do bogans fall for this? Of course not; bogans are not stupid – adding an “o” to your surname doesn’t make you sound like one of us. It’s well known that Morrison won’t send his own kids to the schools where we send ours.

Bogans do appreciate that imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery. The enthusiastic adulation the aping Liberals offer has value, because at least it’s some compensation; for Australia’s bogan cohort, both major parties otherwise seem to offer indistinguishable economic misery.

Labor spent the past six years of opposition on a slow trajectory away from the neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, offshoring and welfare cuts – like that to single mothers – that ruptured its compact with what should be its base. But a renewal message has been slow and unevenly spread; the Liberals’ “death tax” lie found fertile belief among those working- and welfare-class communities where economic mistrust of Labor remains. Labor has gained state governments and picked up federal seats within the decade where the party has spoken to that base with explicit economic alternatives to the Liberals; like specific pledges to create working-class jobs, and loud opposition to privatisation.

Inexplicably, in the wake of federal electoral defeat, Labor’s new leadership team has doubled down remaking the mistakes of the past. Statements from Richard Marles, Andrew Leigh, Jim Chalmers and the talkative Joel Fitzgibbon have very publicly flattered the economic policy direction of the Liberal party.

Fitzgibbon almost lost his seat to One Nation because its blue-collar voters abandoned him. He’s responded by visibly aligning himself with the exact big business-appeasing economic policy suite those voters don’t like. If the rumours are true that Labor will be voting with the Liberals on new trade deals with Peru, Indonesia and Hong Kong – against their own platform, passed only in December – they are perfect dupes. They’ll be making Australian jobs vulnerable to imported labour and trading sovereignty away to the World Trade Organisation. One Nation activists in Fitzgibbon’s seat, lick yo’ lips.

Labor’s insane strategy appears to be to the converse of Morrison’s – to ingratiate themselves with the readership of the AFR and the Australian, who have no need of Labor’s flattery. It must give the editors of these Tory publications a chuckle to watch the supposed party of workers spiv up in suits, parrot the neoliberal bullshit and fall for a ruse that both keeps the working class miserable and the Liberals in power.

The crucial votes Morrison is chasing have no cultural contact with these publications, or their priorities. When someone’s permanent job has been outsourced to labour hire, or offshored, or when a family of battlers are juggling multiple jobs or struggling as contractors, with carer payments or the NDIS, their pride is sourced not from the workplace, but from culture and ritual. And status exists in who you share your experience of those cultural events – TV shows, sport, fashion, songs, slang – with.

Morrison is not like these people but will cap up, swill beer and pretend to be. Leaders of the Labor party – whose base, movement and presently ignored party platform are precisely of and for these people – don’t, and confer greater power and legitimacy on the Liberals the longer they prefer to impersonate their rivals.

In a contest of strategies, believe me: it’s the water boy who’ll win.

Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist


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