Unity can be death too

Friday, 12 December 2008 

Every now and then a poll comes along that doesn’t so much suggest a change in political reality, than force the media to accept what the reality has been all along.

The 59/41 Newspoll during last September’s APEC Summit was one that made the media finally accept what had been staring them in the face all year, the Howard government’s defeat. Another Newspoll last week giving Labor the same margin has finally forced the media narrative to adapt to the political reality that was apparent from the day Turnbull took to the leadership, the Liberals are as unelectable as ever.

If anything, just going by the polls, Turnbull has in fact reversed the narrowing that was achieved under Nelson’s leadership. Things are a bit more complicated than that, the political environment has changed. But if anything it seems to have led to the economy dominating the political debate which we were told was supposed to be Turnbull’s strong point.

In reality the economy has not dominated political debate because there has been no economic debate. There has been a debate about process, who advised who, what, when, but no debate over whether the advice was right or wrong. There have been Liberal mutterings, but any serious criticisms were shut down by Labor asserting the superiority of the nation’s public officials over anything the political class might have to say.

Tony Abbott (and much of the media) thinks the government is ahead because of the cash hand-outs. This is the same contemptuous view of the public that thought Howard’s big tax hand-outs would save him last year. The point is not so much the hand-outs, but that it is being presented as an economic response, which is why Rudd gives it the grand name of an ‘Economic Security Strategy’. Howard’s cash hand out just looked like the political ploy it was.

Looking like you have an economic strategy is the name of the game, and this is where Turnbull’s problems lie. You would think the Liberals in opposition would be in their element now. The economy is turning down and Labor’s plan is to spend its way out of it. This should be exactly the time that the Liberals should be united. Against all the things that divide them, they are supposed to be against big government spending especially when times are tough. Cutting back spending and taxes is supposed to be one of business’s favourite responses to a downturn.

The trouble is that business doesn’t seem to know where they stand at the moment. If anything they are keener on government spending than anyone else. Nor have the political right been giving them much ideological direction. So we have drift and a unity that is standing for nothing, representing the collapse of the old leadership than Turnbull putting something new in its place.

Despite the facade of unity now looking less believable, nothing has really changed. The big rebellion from the old leadership last week was not against big spending, but the opposite, opposing Labor’s attempt to save money by dipping into funds already set aside. The Nationals’ opposition made political sense, the Liberals’ disunity meant nothing more than its leader is losing control.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 12 December 2008.

Filed under State of the parties

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