A small moment of truth – wrap up

Wednesday, 28 May 2008 

There are times when what seems like a negative development turns out to be a blessing in disguise because it takes the debate away from the more difficult path it was on.

The leak about Ferguson’s opposition to FuelWatch was similar to Hefferman’s ‘barren’ comment on Gillard last year which detracted attention from Howard’s dodgy IR tactics at the time. The Ferguson leak has shifted the debate firmly on petrol pricing and away from the more uncomfortable one; namely that Rudd had stated the limitations of government before he had laid the political conditions for doing so.

The Liberals attack on rising petrol prices never had any real content to it because there is nothing government can really do to stop it – and everyone knows it. The Liberals might kid themselves that people thought the government did promise that, but if that was true, then they would been under pressure to explain how, and they never were.

Proposing a 5c excise cut was a good tactic at the beginning to highlight that Rudd’s Budget tough anti-inflation message was getting mixed up with the need for a New Sensitivity to deal with exaggerated economic hardships. Unfortunately Nelson is now taking it it too far. The reason why is pretty clear, Nelson has a greater need to respond to the lack of unity behind him than his opponent on the other side of the dispatch box. As his own side wavered at a measure that undermined their sham economic credentials, Nelson is forced to further up the ante and ruin a good ploy. His shrieking yesterday in Parliament over Commodores queueing at the bowser must have made even his own supporters wince. Excitables like Shanahan are 100% wrong that this is the start of the Nelson opposition, yesterday showed why it is ultimately doomed.

When this fake petrol row has died down, however, the task still remains; Rudd must make it politically acceptable for a government to lower expectations about what it can do. The Opposition made another tactical mistake yesterday in Question Time by focussing almost wholly on Rudd because it gave him an opportunity to have a go at selling the message to those in his own parliamentary side like Ferguson who still don’t get it. Rudd spelt it out:

Australian people are sick and tired of irresponsible guarantees by politicians, like the one which said ‘let’s keep interest rates at record lows’. That’s an irresponsible guarantee from central casting, a guarantee which you were incapable of delivering.

Let’s be clear on the implications of this. By irresponsible guarantees Rudd means irresponsible promises (it is why Labor has made such a deal of sticking to theirs). If there is little that a government can do, then practically all promises will be ‘irresponsible’ and it will make it highly difficult for an opposition to make a case for an alternative. It is why making this acceptable is the key to the Rudd government consolidating its power.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 28 May 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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