Question Time was a mess yesterday for the government but Rudd has no choice here but to plough on.

The promise to put petrol GST in the tax review should buy it some time until it is due to be handed down next year. However, this is not really about petrol excise but the PM’s assertion that there is nothing much more he can do.

Rudd cannot give up on making this accepted across the political landscape because the government has no economic policy. This is not because it can’t think of one but because its relationship with the unions, which historically formed the basis of it, is now irrelevant.

Fortunately for the government, the opposition does not now have one either. Nelson has done his damage to the government not by posing a new economic policy but by eroding the pretence that the Liberals had one. This is something that the old Liberal leadership had been very sensitive on maintaining and so would suggest that while they may be going along for the ride for now, they will not forgive Nelson if his tactic goes wrong.

The old leadership’s sensitivity over its illusory economic credentials is what Rudd is poking at with his retort that Nelson’s excise cut is “raiding the surplus”. Testing the patience of the old Liberal leadership and undermining their backing of Nelson is Labor’s best tactic in the short term.

Although Rudd can rely on senior Liberals’ clinging to their pretence of having an economic policy, he apparently still needs to end the pretence on his own side as well. The leak reported by The Australian of Martin Ferguson’s opposition to Fuel Watch (which interestingly Turnbull seemed to allude to in Question Time yesterday before it was released) is not just interesting for the fact that someone leaked it in the first place but that it shows Ferguson’s touching belief that Fuel Watch was supposed to actually be effective rather than the largely token consumer action it is. What makes Rudd’s task of bringing his own side into touch with reality especially fascinating, is that it appears to be the left (judging also by Tanner’s unconvincing defence of Rudd’s comments) that are having most trouble getting to grips with this key element of Rudd’s leadership. This is a shame, since it’s their support that helped create it.

Footnote: When a Tasmanian Labor Premier has trouble pushing through a logging mill against environmental opposition then you truly know the old politics has come to an end. The speed and decisiveness with which the Tasmanian ALP has transferred power from an old union/business operator like Lennon to a technocrat political nobody like Bartlett must make the NSW ALP, the last on the mainland to carry out the transformation, green with envy.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 27 May 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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