Politics is so Claytons, it's become unpalatable

John Hanscombe
May 21 2024 - 12:00pm

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Remember Claytons, the drink you have when you're not having a drink?

It was a non-alcoholic beverage imported from Britain. Starting life in 1880 as Clayton's Kola Tonic, it was a blend of West African kola nuts, hops and sugar. By the 1970s, it had largely been forgotten until a new marketing opportunity was seen with the introduction of random breath testing. And in 1979, Claytons - without the apostrophe - was reborn via the catchy TV commercial.

WATCH: The federal treasurer delivered his 2024 budget in parliament on May 14, likely to be Labor’s last budget before the next election.

We've long forgotten the drink itself but the word "Claytons" has lodged in the Australian vernacular, inducted into the Macquarie Dictionary in 1991. It means a poor substitute for the real thing.

Clayton's, the brand, is now based in Barbados, its apostrophe restored, along with its original name.

Claytons, the Aussie word for fake, resides in Canberra, home of the Labor government you have when you're not having a Labor government and the conservative opposition you have when you're not having a conservative opposition.

In this topsy-turvy world, we have a conservative opposition accusing Labor government of pandering to the top end of town by offering tax breaks and subsidies to kickstart the green energy transformation. "Billions for billionaires," they chant, like students on a protest march.

We have a Labor government, marching to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy, agreeing while in opposition to sink billions into a nuclear subs program a mere 24 hours after hearing about it. Never mind Gough rolling in his grave. Keating's doing a fine job of it in the here and now.

And we have a Labor government tossing around power bill rebates like confetti, $300 for every household - $600, $900, more if you own a holiday home in Lorne, a pad in Byron and a nice little penthouse in the Sydney CBD.

No wonder the polls have the budget getting a C-minus and Labor's primary vote slipping further behind. The only bright spot for Claytons Labor is the PM polling better than the opposition leader - but that's probably only because he has hair and the other bloke doesn't.

The Labor we grew up with - the big-ideas Labor - has vanished, replaced by a harmless substitute that won't land anyone in trouble at the RBT. These days, Labor plays it so safe, it can be hard to know if it's playing at all.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during question time at Parliament House. Picture by Keegan Carroll
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during question time at Parliament House. Picture by Keegan Carroll

The last time Labor toyed with moderately big ideas was 2019 and it lost the unlosable election. Ever since, it's played Claytons politics, offering very little in the way of vision beyond the next election.

There's plenty of action on social media. Some weekends, the Instagram PM seems to be everywhere. One moment, he's at the Khalsa Shaouini Sikh temple in Melbourne, the next he's at the Hellenic Museum. He's at the Labor conference, talking up the budget, no mention of the protesters bashing at the door, demanding a tougher stance on Israel's actions in Gaza. No mention either of the school cleaners pleading not to be privatised.

He's in Gosford spruiking paid pracs for nursing students. Then - also on Instagram - he's trumpeting the government's $6.5 million age-assurance trial for social media because the "government shares parents' concerns about the impact on our youngest children". Wait, what? Albo, you're on social media as you say it.

The next day, the NSW Claytons Labor premier says 16 seems a good minimum age for kids to be able to sign up to social media platforms. Of course, it is. This is the next crop of voters, after all, and what better age to reach them than 16? Claytons concern?

Like countless other Australians back in 1979, I tried Claytons once - and only once. It tasted horrible. Eventually, I gave up alcohol altogether without the need of a nasty substitute.

I fear the same will happen with Claytons politics.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Has Labor lost its mongrel? Is it now so bland it risks sliding into minority government? Would that be a bad thing? Email us: echidna@theechidna.com.au

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THEY SAID IT: "History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

YOU SAID IT: Admit it, you've all delighted in Gina Rinehart's discomfort at those portraits in the National Gallery of Australia.

"My first response was to just laugh at her objection," writes David. "What I didn't laugh at was her roping in the beneficiaries of her selective largesse to go in to bat on her behalf, and the craven willingness of those beneficiaries to do her bidding. Her first response should have been to laugh and it would all have gone away in a day."

Lee writes: "I would not have known about Gina's picture without the fuss. Given all the other pictures in the group it is no better or worse than the rest. I think it is overkill for someone wanting it removed. They should have kept quiet and very few people would be any wiser."

"I had no idea that painting existed but knowing Gina Rinehart hates it was enough for me to share it on Facebook," writes Christine. "I have had unflattering photos of me posted on social media but I am not exactly photogenic so don't care."

Jonni writes: "I totally agree about your unhandsomeness. Also please pass on, say, 15 names of the fools that shunted you over the edge. I'm imagining a decent read." Food for thought, Jonni.

"I join you in cringing at photos of myself, John, but think you look just fine," writes Maggie. "On the subject of politicians' photos, Ralph Hunt was a member of Federal Parliament from 1969 to 1989. A local paper in his constituency used the same photo of him throughout that time, resulting in comments about the Fountain of Youth being hidden in his electorate."

Arthur writes: "If people see in us something we do not like they might be trying to tell us something. If it is just our appearance we can do nothing about it. If it is something else perhaps we need to consider some changes."

"We never see ourselves as others do. As for Gina, she's no oil painting, but she is now!" writes Lorraine.

Tony writes: "Perhaps it was fair for her to ask for the portrait to be removed if she didn't ask for him to paint it. I was unaware of the painting's existence until I saw it on The Betoota Advocate. As she seems to have a great sense of entitlement I certainly enjoyed the schadenfreude."

John Hanscombe

John Hanscombe

National reporter, Australian Community Media

Four decades in the media, working in print and television. Formerly editor of the South Coast Register and Milton Ulladulla Times. Based on the South Coast of NSW.