Broken into tiny pieces

Monday, 20 August 2007 

At the end of June, this blog proposed to divide the election year into four phases

  1. Dec 06 – Feb 07, the period until Howard’s gaffe on Obama when it seemed as though nothing had changed from 2001/2004
  2. Feb 07 – May 07 when Rudd/Gillard maintained a double act on Workchoices that hid the irrelevance of Labor’s old internal structure
  3. May 07 – Jun 07 when the double act collapsed after the Rein affair and Rudd began shifting to a more anti-politics attack on the government and
  4. from June when that anti-politics attack was suspended with the NT intervention.

In this blog’s view both the Rein affair and the NT intervention have indirectly underpinned the modest recovery in the government’s standing over the last few months (shown in the trend graph from Mumble).

Howard’s ability to effectively suspend the campaign was brought to an end with the quiet but deadly blow to its authority from the Haneef affair. Since then Howard has taken the campaign into a new phase by embarking on a series of local interventions across the country (btw. the timing was not prompted by the Textor/Crosby report advocating the attack on the states as it was received by Howard a month earlier, just at the time of the NT intervention). Looking at this campaign over the year, it is striking how the government has attempted to move its focus away from the critical issues of Iraq and global warming, on which it is on the wrong side these days, to try and depoliticise it. This may have stopped Labor reminding voters why this government has become redundant, but has not created the themes by which the government can recover its popularity.

Worse than that, it has resulted in the government seen to be abandoning the national stage. This has extended even to the one issue that the government was supposed to have going for it, the economy. The political debate over the interest rate rise and the financial market turbulence of the last week was whether it would win/lose votes for the government. But the more important point was how it revealed how little influence the government has. Over the last week its ‘economic policy’ has been little more than holding press conferences to react to the decision of the Reserve Bank and the financial markets over which it has no control. Without being able to be seen to influence these events, Howard’s reaction just looks like point-scoring. The view that the government will benefit from the strong economy is based on the assumption that it will get credit for it. But this view would have to explain exactly what part of the government’s economic programme ensures it.

This campaign has now been left with the type of local trivia that now brings state premiers like Beattie on to the national stage. But because there is no political issue at stake, Beattie has no problems in shifting from any positions that cause him trouble, such as preventing councils from holding a vote. This leaves Howard in an argument from which he cannot extract any political capital. As for the rest of the pork-barrelling, it will just be seen as the normal part of government and electioneering rather than making a case why the government, rather than Labor, should be elected.

The fragmentation of the campaign does cause problems for Rudd. Two interviews with Tony Jones and Laurie Oakes last week showed he is now struggling to get any major theme across, except anti-politics. The media is having similar problems. While some have followed Howard down into the swamp, other more sensible members of the press gallery like The Australian’s Matt Price are becoming frustrated by the trivia in which the campaign has descended. But the main problem lies with the government. As everyone says, the one advantage it has is incumbency. Yet the state initiatives are not exercising it, but frittering it away. For little political gain, the government is undermining its claim to a national agenda. After four months of recovery following the Therese Rein affair, it would seem all the conditions are now present for the government’s support to erode.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 20 August 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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