Friday, 29 January 2010
A curious article by Antony Green on the ABC’s The Drum is making the argument that the polls, which keep putting Labor at around 54-56%, are likely to be over-stating its vote. This assertion is supported, he argues, by the fact that when Rudd did actually face the electorate in the 2007 election, Labor polled a much lower vote at 52.7%.
Actually the 2007 election showed the exact opposite. Labor’s vote was the result of a narrowing of the gap over the course of the election campaign that was dutifully picked up by the polls throughout, with the last Newspoll before the election slightly understating Labor’s final vote at 52% (as shown by Green’s own graph). Rather than showing that the polls overstate Labor’s vote, the 2007 election showed the polls were generally spot on. The difference between Labor’s final vote and the higher levels it got during most of 2007 was the real result of the election campaign, not some illusion of the polls.
Anyway, as Green argues, parties in Australian politics don’t win by such large majorities – except, of course, when they do. But that was in 1966 when the Liberal government faced a demoralised divided opposition under an unpopular leader, which is completely different to now when the government faces, er, well … anyway.
We shall have to see what happens as to whether Labor can translate its current polling lead into an election result this time. But perhaps it is worthwhile recalling why it didn’t last time, because it might help understand Labor’s evolving tactics against the new opposition leader that we have seen in the last few days.
Green is hardly alone in wanting to ignore what happened to Labor’s vote during the last election campaign. To read most of the media at the time you would have had the impression that Howard’s campaign was a disaster, rather than actually eroding Labor’s lead. This is because media perceptions were more about finally coming to terms with what had been staring then in the face all year, Howard’s defeat, than following the actual campaign itself.
But even on the left and in the ALP there was denial on how poor Labor’s 2007 campaign was. This was because Labor’s campaign became less about Rudd and the anti-politics agenda he used to make Howard look irrelevant and out of touch, and more like a traditional Labor campaign centred around nasty right-wing action man Costello and WorkChoices, an irrelevant piece of industrial relations that business had little interest in, let alone anyone else. In doing so, it helped the Liberals rally its core around traditional themes such as Labor’s union links and wall-to-wall Labor governments and prevent the rout the polls had been suggesting.
The Liberals would clearly love to do the same again, which is why we have Abbott. But conditions are making it harder to do so coherently, which is why we have Abbott. Far from reviving Howard and getting back to basic Liberal values, Abbott seems to have trouble making a case for anything. It is hard to imagine Howard making his first policy speech on the environment and his second on the virtues of immigration and multi-culturalism. Is being a greenie multi-culturalist what the Liberals are supposed to be about? Why did they dump Turnbull then?
Abbott’s Australia Day speech was seen in some quarters as Abbott dog-whistling to racists in the electorate. If so, even the dogs wouldn’t have picked it up, given that about the only contentious thing they pointed to was Abbott’s highly controversial opinion that migrants should obey the law, presumably, like everyone else (a point taken somewhat off track by an Abbottesque historical reference to Archbishop Mannix, so those rumours of guns in the cellar weren’t true!).
That Abbott’s anodyne speech was seen by some as controversial, shows that not only would some in the Liberals like to go back to the old argy-bargy of the past, some in the left and the ALP might as well. Yet such attempts to highlight Abbott’s ‘right-wing’ agenda are obscuring the fact that he doesn’t really have one at all.
Similarly, there is some sign that in responding to Abbott’s threat to turn the clock back and resume the old left-right ding-dong, there is part of the government’s strategy that is conceding to it much as Labor did in the last election. Gillard’s leaping on Abbott’s comments about virginity were presumably meant not to highlight Abbott’s personal views, probably rather similar to her own leader’s, but to suggest that the Coalition could impose a traditional family values program, whereas Sharman Stone’s distancing from Abbott’s remarks shows how that is not possible.
No doubt Rudd approved of Gillard’s attack but interestingly, he did not really follow, saying little more than it was a subject Prime Ministers did not talk about. Instead Rudd, as we saw on The 7.30 Report last night, seems prefer to focus on future-big-picture-vision things like infrastructure, population and the climate change threat. There is a danger that this might expose the government’s own programme weaknesses, but at least it will more expose an opposition led by someone who is trying to set out what the Liberals stand for today, but has nowhere but the past to find it.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 29 January 2010.Filed under Tactics