Back in Parliament after the NSW result, Howard was reported to be looking relaxed and talking of the dangers of wall-to-wall Labor governments. This gives a good indication on where his thoughts are focussed at the moment, on the MPs behind him.

At face value, the wall-to-wall Labor scare makes little sense. For a Victorian voter, say, surely the central question is whether they would be comfortable with the same party in Spring St and Canberra. In the past they have been and given the policy lightness of today’s ALP, a Bracks-Rudd combo is unlikely to terrify. Given that then, why would they care about the colour of governments in the other state capitals? Is the Melbourne voter, while happy to vote for the same party at the federal level, supposed to pause at the thought that Adelaide or Brisbane will provide no resistance to Labor?

A clue to the real purpose of this issue for Howard is given by the fact it usually accompanies a warning of unbridled union power. Given that union power is not a broad-based concern these days outside his own constituency, one must assume that is who it is aimed at, in particular his own party. The warning is really saying two things 1) remember who we are, we are against union power (if nothing else) and 2) we face electoral irrelevance if we lose the next federal election.

The problem for Howard is that as internal cohesion weighs on his mind he is increasingly getting the internal message mixed up with what he is telling the voting public. As with Iraq, IR reform is another issue that is becoming more beneficial for internal reasons than with the electorate.

Fortunately for Howard he is not the only one making this mistake, as seen by the ALP’s handling of the workplace reforms. Other than increasing insecurity for some of their own core voter base and threatening some of the influence of the unions, the main problem of the workplace reforms for the rest of the electorate is its irrelevance. The more the ALP keep hyping it up as a major threat to Australian family life for their own internal purposes, the more people are inclined to see it as not corresponding to their own reality and an agenda driven by the unions. Iemma’s talking up of the role played by IR in the NSW result may make the ALP feel their hollow election victory was a little less so, but to the public it makes them look detached. With the agenda of both parties increasingly driven by needs of internal cohesion, this promises a federal political debate that will be seen by a bemused public as irrelevant.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 28 March 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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