Bob Ellis: The Duchessing of our PM

Jul 24, 2022

“Duchessing” as a term and the concept it embraces, derives from the early experiences of the British Labour Party.

Briefly described, it refers to the socialisation of newly elected labour politicians away from sentiments and actions that supported the progressive class aspirations of their electors.

This was achieved by the intervention of Tory individuals, privileged by birth and by wealth, into the developing social experience of the newly elected, generally socially naïve, representatives.

This de-radicalising was partly achieved by the invitation of the elected politicians to residences and social events where they would be entertained and introduced to members of the aristocracy. Those representatives, despite their private contempt for the new politicians, would offer them social opportunities and experiences intended to make the attitudes and behaviour of the aristocracy acceptable and more comprehensible to them.

This developing support for Tory manners and opinion was further advanced by the prestige and privilege which was extended to the new politicians by the institutional and financial benefits parliamentarians had awarded themselves historically.

This process achieved de-radicalisation of individual elected representatives, replacing their previously progressive commitments and beliefs and creating and facilitating potential for division amongst them.

This in turn resulted in Labour Parties generally, including in Australia, requiring their parliamentarians to vote as a block to ensure that individuals who had been “Duchessed” did not defect to individual reactionary voting positions.  

The Duchessed elected representatives, as a result, were blinded to or accepting of ruling class priorities and world views and in some cases became enthusiastic exponents of the perceived social and economic superiority of their aristocratic mentors.

Times have changed. Today oligarchs and despots, rather than aristocrats, are the principal patrons of influences on international elected officials. Their methods include privately lobbying and bribing of those officials and more publicly, exerting direct influence through manufactured public opinion by media barons wedded to economic and political hegemonies.

We have seen, in recent time for example, the intervention of lobbyists and their recruited agents amongst elected representatives of the EU and contemporary European nations.

Recent revelations of these corrupt methodologies by Mark McGann detail the history and methods of Uber to achieve deregulation of labour controls and the expansion of the so-called Gig economy.

It remains to be seen whether the new “Teal” independents will themselves be “Duchessed” by the new ALP government, lobbyists, media representatives or other influencers. The ALP has not made a great start if that should be their intention, denying the independent politicians their expected staff entitlements.

Likewise, the Murdoch outlets have little influence currently. It is not unlikely, however, that should the “Teals” not form a cohesive and supportive grouping, this will be the future of at least some.

The survival of forms of Duchessing at political leadership level can still be discovered in the methods and aspirations of national leaders determined to preserve their international influence or to legitimise their expansionist aspirations.

Often these processes, in their public expression, reach back to displays of excess and historic military might, intended to impress visiting politicians with limited prior experience.

Examples include guards of honour and other military displays involving servicemen in historic uniforms and receptions in opulent halls of palaces, or in buildings such as the US White House with historical associations of power and imperial conquest.

This process may be observed in the experience of the current Australian Prime Minister during his recent visit to Europe and to the gathering of NATO leaders in Madrid to which he was especially invited, along with leaders from Japan, NZ and South Korea.

The operation of a carefully designed strategy to lead him to endorse the propaganda and strategic aims of the US managed NATO involvement into the Ukraine hostilities was evident in the events leading to his visit – which visits have now replaced the recent “war tourism” conducted by the US in Afghanistan.

It is also apparent that the US/NATO invitation of Asian and Australasian nations has a further intention to extend their influence in the region to counter the growing economic might of China.

It is perhaps a sign of Anthony Albanese’s naivety and lack of experience in international politics, not to mention the likelihood that his strategic advice was provided by advisors beholden to US sources in the Australian intelligence groups which had flourished under the Morrison government, that he was so easily manipulated into statements and engagement with the conflict in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister’s statements followed US/NATO scripted propaganda including the ubiquitous claim that Russia’s conduct was a “war crime” equivalent to those historically experienced and documented (but not equivalent to the covered-up US and Australian war crimes in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan).

The statements by the PM provided as, expected, an alibi for US/NATO actions and offered a veneer of multinational legitimacy to their desire to continue and expand the war in Ukraine. This was despite his earlier claims that he would not embark on actions or policies which had not been addressed in his recent successful election campaign.

That latter claim was also unmasked by his decision to send further Bushmaster vehicles to Ukraine beyond those already committed by the previous Morrison government.

The PM and his Defence Minister, have also shown support for the AUKUS posse that the previous Morrison government had enthusiastically embraced in support of the US military build-up against the People’s Republic of China.

Once PM Albanese had accepted the invitation to attend the NATO gathering as a non-member of the standing NATO alliance the Ukrainian diplomatic representative in Australia, no doubt encouraged and supported by US/NATO strategists, extended an invitation for him to engage in the war tourism which had already recruited Prime Minister Johnson, President Macron and other leaders of European countries.

This process is in many ways simply an extension of the earlier “Duchessing” which had been employed by British and other European aristocrats.

Prime Minister Albanese responded in much the same way as the earlier parliamentary neophytes in the course of his conducted tour – condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinese support of Russian economic policies and committing Australia to the supply of war materiel and weaponry to the Ukrainian war effort. He repeated allegations of war crimes of by the invading forces, in puppet-like endorsement of the public statements of US officials. Noticeably, he did not advocate peace negotiations, nor commit to funding humanitarian aid – which would not coincide with the US/NATO desire to continue the conflict as a means of weakening Russian economic and military preparedness.

PM Albanese’s influenced and manipulated response was in stark contrast to the nuanced contribution of Foreign Minister Penny Wong and her colleague Pat Conroy in the Pacific. Although Defence Minister Marles appears to have surrendered entirely to the US and their supporters in the Australian Public Service who are providing his advice on the unfolding AUKUS disaster.

Following these events, the Guardian Essential Poll recorded a 3 point drop in the approval of the PM and a 6 per cent rise in his disapproval. Commentators have credited the rising cost of living as the cause of these changes.

This attribution fails to acknowledge that the US “sanctions” have rebounded on those involved, creating the economic situation internationally of inflationary pressures and manipulated fuel costs by war profiteers. In so far as this is acknowledged by news sources it is universally reported as a result “of the war in Ukraine”, rather than the economic warfare of the US and its European allies.

Time will tell if our PM and the ALP government can escape the US takeover of our foreign policy. At this time, however, it would appear that Anthony Albanese has become the duchessed creature of forces he has not previous encountered or anticipated.

Bob Ellis is retired. He breeds beef cattle in the Adelaide Hills. He was born and educated in Whyalla (SA) and is a graduate of Adelaide and Griffith Universities. 

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