Thursday, 4 December 2008 

Julie and Peter are having this huge fight because Peter asked Julie to help with his homework and she said she would but then she got her friend Murray to do it and he just went and copied it from someone else, who got the answers wrong anyway. Julie is also really cross with Dennis because he has been telling everyone that nobody likes her. She is not even speaking to Julia who is just being mean to her but the other day she really got back at the other rude boys in her gang who were calling names with a really dirty look. Andrew says he likes Julie but Kevin told her that he was saying rude things about her behind her back. Malcolm has been sticking up for Julie and told Julia to leave her alone, but we all know that he’s only being nice because he doesn’t have any friends and needs all the ones he can get. Wayne is just glad everyone has stopped picking on him.

The irritable end to this sitting of Parliament does suggest two things. Firstly, the government is getting on top of the Liberals. Malcolm’s complaints that Julia and co. are being nasty could only be taken seriously by anyone who forgot that the attacks on Bishop started from her own side and whose memory doesn’t span beyond a few months ago when it was Swan that was being targeted. Not because of what he was doing, but on purely personal terms, that is he didn’t come across as confident in the job. Swan had a reason to be nervous, this is the first Labor government without a real base to any economic policy, i.e. a relationship with the unions.

Labor is now starting to realise that the Liberals don’t have any base to their economic stance either, other than they just happened to be in government when times were good. Now that times are not so good they have nothing to say. This economic guilt by association was why Turnbull’s initial response to Labor’s admission of a deficit was good, namely to remind everyone that Labor’s last deficit coincided with the last downturn. The problem is that the Liberals did exactly what was expected and took it too far and made a principle about not having a deficit. This is so unconvincing that even the only Liberal in the country who actually has a Budget to manage, Colin Barnett, doesn’t agree with it. The federal Liberals are making a big deal over the deficit because they need to find some ideological position to have on the economy, especially after their recent cave-in. Barnett doesn’t have that problem, the Premier of any state these days is little more than a bureaucratic functionary.

Turnbull’s need to duck and weave on the ABC the other day over his stance on the deficit at a time when the government should be vulnerable, illustrates the pressure he is under to take meaningless ideological positions to manage his weak grip on the party and his tin ear when it comes to political tactics. The media have been critical of Bishop’s inability to take on the government over the economy but they might consider the lead she is getting from the one who was equally ineffectual in the same position. The media might start finally to take notice of the polls and come to the conclusion that Turnbull may look more like an opposition leader than Nelson but is no more politically effective.

This is the second reason why both parties are getting increasingly unpleasant to each other – both sides are heading into an unprecedented economic crisis with little in the political arsenal to handle it. Having said that, Labor looks in a better position to manage it and new initiatives like the RuddBank at least suggest signs of new thinking. Joining the fashion of getting personal, Labor’s strengths can be summed up by two people, the first is Gillard. She is getting a lot of favourable press these days based on her performance in Parliament. It is effective but very much in the tradition of what we have seen before, think of Costello with brains. Her most important role is internal. Her background from the left, and what people like her and Tanner have done with it around phoney issues like Workchoices, has kept the factions in control and the pressure of old ideological debates off Rudd.

But for attacks on the Liberals, Rudd is still the one to watch. It is not that Rudd is that interesting in Parliament, generally he is not. He waffles on the Global Financial Crisis and even on foreign matters he has not learnt the Howard trick of walking into the chamber dressed in the accolades of international affairs. Where Rudd really shines and is at his most savage against the Liberals, far more than Gillard, is on his one true love, anti-politics. It can come out in the most surprising places. The GFC may bore but COAG got him really fired up. This comes from a tirade against the Liberals on Monday prompted by a question from Andrew Robb:

The political agenda of the member for Goldstein is politics first, second, third and last in every single equation and the political agenda of those opposite was as follows: they wanted simply to preserve a political agenda to blame the states on every occasion possible, a tired political script of which every family and every community group in the country has, frankly, had a gutful.

The Liberals’ internal political game-playing such as around Bishop has left them vulnerable, but there is probably no other politician in Parliament who can so convincingly accuse another politician of being political as Rudd can. This is because there is no-one so detached from the political processes of both sides. There is also no-one who will be so capable of dumping the traditions and practices of the old political programmes should circumstances require. This will be useful for what’s coming next.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 4 December 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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