Rudd does negative better

Wednesday, 24 March 2010 

PM scored strong win against Abbott in health and hospital debate at National Press Club. Abbott too weirdly negative for mainstream Oz.

@PremierMikeRann Twitter 23 March 2010

The media’s conclusion that the worm’s positive reaction to Rudd yesterday showed that voters don’t like negativity is absolute nonsense, of course. If it were true, political parties wouldn’t run negative ads – like the ones Labor ran yesterday on Abbott’s record as Health Minister.

What the reaction of the worm (and the worm’s followers, the media) showed yesterday, was that Rudd is better at being negative. He was wrapping up in positive vibes an anti-political attack that is at the heart of the health debate.

When Rudd says now is the time for cooperation, it is not because he actually wants the Liberals’ help. What he is saying is that the Liberals are unjustified doing anything but cooperating. Much has been made of Abbott being at a disadvantage yesterday because he lacked a health policy. But as Laura Tingle noted last night on Lateline, he already has one, and it is pretty well the same as Rudd’s – devolution of power from the states to local boards.

Abbott’s attack on Rudd came not over any serious disagreement with Rudd on the policy, but because of his need to give the party he leads a sense of it standing for something distinct. This is forcing him to take a fight up to the government, even when it’s about nothing. This may be fine when it is done in front of assembled Liberals in Parliament who need reassurance the game is on. It is even fine when it is done in front of the media who seem generally to need the same thing. But when the media get told by the public what a turn-off it is, the narrative changes.

Abbott did the best he could by highlighting the government’s weak point in this debate, namely that there is no reason a federal Labor government will do better than a state Labor government (in fact given its lack of social base, it could do worse). But Rudd stuck closer to pin-pointing Abbott’s central weakness, that he has heightened the aggression on government when it is based on nothing. In fact, Abbott is putting himself in the way of where Rudd’s attack is really aimed, and which has so much support, the state governments.

Rudd was on his home ground, not health but anti-politics, and suddenly the media has noticed his linguistic problems have improved. As Bruce Hawker confirmed last night, the government is now zeroing in on how Abbott’s weakness comes out, an empty aggression matched with a flip-flopping that belies the ‘straight talking’ image. Hawker’s suggestion that this theme of empty obstructionism will be underlined with a Double Dissolution seems credible enough. ‘Kevin07’ looks to be making a comeback, as the media have noted, because Rudd will probably do Abbott in 2010 like he did Howard in 2007. It has taken a few months, especially given Labor’s natural inclination to make Abbott into an extremist that he is not, but the government looks as though it starting to get Abbott’s number.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 24 March 2010.

Filed under Tactics

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6 responses to “Rudd does negative better”

  1. Tim on 24th March 2010 9:37 am

    Piping Shrike I thought of you when I heard the term “co-operation” thrown about. Co-operation? Bah, it was an “anti-political” attack from the get go and an effective one to boot. I don’t see how Abbott has any counter to these tactics, he’s being forced to play obstructionist political games just so his party can be defined around something. Its going to be a tough year for the coalition methinks, considering they have a leader who is tactically vulnerable and on the wrong side of the electorate on Climate Change, IR and now Health.

  2. Graham on 24th March 2010 1:57 pm

    I reckon Abbott has embarked on his “Talaban Strategy” in the pre election period. I think he realises that a full frontal assault isn’t going to work because he and his team don’t have the firepower, but by taking potshots at Rudd, he might get a hit, but at least it is destabilsing the Government. We all know that as elections loom, the nervous Nellies on the backbench and in the marginals begin to worry about their reelection, and if the Libs can convince a few of them that their leader might be terminal, they will do the rest of the undermining for them. By Rudd bring Abbott onto the battle field, he managed to expose his obvious weaknesses, and it also allowed the Government to learn much more about their opponent.

  3. Tim on 24th March 2010 2:23 pm

    That’s the problem with Guerrilla warfare, it is the doctrine of the weak facing the strong. It’s only useful when defending your own ground and thus Abbott isn’t going to win the swinging vote with pot shots; the governments “centre of gravity” to keep the military metaphors rolling.

    Abbott is right about one thing though, if contemporary politics is no longer about ideology then it must be about competence. The problem is you really have to wait for a stuff up or fatigue to set in before you look like a more attractive prospect. Even then its tough (see NSW).

  4. James on 24th March 2010 2:43 pm

    I think Abbott must be more worried now – the debate didn’t work out anywhere near as well for him as he had obviously hoped. He has personally targeted Rudd in a highly aggressive manner for several years now and, as the worm showed, the public is generally turned off by his negative approach. Abbott may have enough time before the election to change his approach but will he? I doubt it, as it seems ingrained in his personality. The government must be very pleased about the debate. The momentum is now behind it and I think most of the mainstream media thinks the same.

  5. Daisey May on 27th March 2010 9:52 pm

    Has anyone considered that Abbott is not very politcally astute? Rudd dropped the ball over the holidays and allowed Abbott to gain momentum. With such a huge margin in the polls and setting a frenzied schedule for the previous two years the PM can be forgiven for taking a bit of a breather. I think he correctly guessed that the polls would come back to normal and his political instincts proved correct. Abbott however has been around for a very long time and was just as surprised as anyone to land the top job for the Coalition. Contrasting the two, you have a fresh leader who according to Peter Harcher is “a very determined bastard” who sets a cracking pace up against a very tired and shop soiled Opposition leader who has more baggage than a minor royal on a glorified pub crawl. Rudd calling Abbotts’ bluff and exposing him on National TV as a brayer and naysayer was a sublime and poetic moment in Australian politics. It harks back to political acumen and tactics both of which he is demonstrably devoid of. It shits me that Howard recieved endless plaudits for being “a clever politician” whenever he lied or inflicted incredibly painful policies upon the populace but Rudd gets no credit for actually, genuinely being a gifted politician who mostly tries to take the nation forward. Cest le vie.

  6. Thomas Paine on 28th March 2010 3:28 am

    In comparing Abbott to Rudd we shouldn’t forget that Rudd has been very heavily handicapped.

    Abbott can do no wrong by most of the media, even when he is into nonsense or contradicting himself one day to the next. The right wing media is out to do what it can for the Liberal Party.

    By contrast Rudd has to be almost perfect in everything to escaped being lambasted by the same media. The media that allows the woeful performance of Abbott to be uncommented.

    It is thus remarkable that even though Rudd is sailing into a very stiff breeze he still managed to come out a mile in front of Abbott, who has the media outboard motor pushing him along.

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