Rudd: the anti-politics campaigner

Monday, 16 July 2007 

There is a subtle but critical point being missed by the media on Rudd’s campaign on grocery prices and housing affordability.

This is not having a resonance because people are struggling to make ends meet as much as it feeds into an annoyance at the detachment of the government, and politicians in general. This is why no-one is especially concerned over what Rudd would do to deal with either issue, which is not very much. It is also why government protestations that people have never been so well off, that only a small minority (5%) according to the Reserve Bank are actually suffering ‘mortgage stress’, are having little impact.

In fact the government has been woeful at handling this. They have turned it into a fight between their statistics of the health of the economy and a Labor party playing on ‘populist’ issues. But by calling it populist, the government is playing right into Labor’s hands as they have essentially polarised the issue between them and the electorate, and revealed what this is really about – an attack on the political class.

It is the same reason that there is also resonance over taxpayers’ money being spent on aircraft and which is now extending to a whole range of expenditure on what are mostly fairly normal government activities.

The issue of the aircraft is interesting because it has revealed two important features of this attack. Firstly, Howard’s defence was to remind the media that they are also implicated given their calls for up-grading the aircraft especially following the Garuda plane crash in Indonesia. That taxpayers, rather than their multi-billion dollar employers, should pay for carrying political journalists around is one of the unspoken assumptions of Australian political life that highlights the close relationship that the media has with the political class of both right and left.

This close relationship is one important reason why the media has had such trouble getting to grips with the progress of this election year and the effectiveness of Rudd’s anti-politics strategy. Probably the clearest example was the confusion around the Budget in May, a parliamentary ritual on which Costello seemed to tick all the right boxes, but that Rudd bypassed through a TV ad and a modest school initiative. It is not surprising that one of the political journalists with the closest political contacts, The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan, should not only get events like the Budget so wrong but, along with his employer, be so sensitive to those outside commentators, like blogger Peter Brent, who do not move in the political circles that The Australian calls the ‘real world’.

The second interesting aspect of the aircraft issue is that it is a reminder that this is an attack on the whole political class, so it also implicates Labor. Rudd has broken a bi-partisan support on Prime Ministerial aircraft, which will undoubtedly affect him if he takes power. It is no coincidence that this attack is being led by members of Labor’s left, increasingly marginalised within their own party, and Rudd, arguably the leader most detached from the party’s organisation that Labor has ever had. (Rudd’s detachment from Labor’s organisation means that he has less trouble breaking with old Labor allies like the unions. But it also means they have no trouble paying him back. The weekend story on his brother’s donations to the coalition was leaked by an internal Labor source, according to Glenn Milne on Insiders. If true, this would be the second time, after a Labor MP passed on to the government an employee’s complaint on Theresa Rein’s business activities, that a Labor insider has exposed embarrassing details on Rudd’s family.) While this anti-politics strategy is helping Rudd get into the Lodge, he is creating a rod for his own back when he gets there.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 16 July 2007.

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