The ‘challenge’ begins to fade

Monday, 29 March 2010 

A guide to Tony Abbott's pain

The Labor Party has no answer to Tony Abbott’s physical fitness.

Chris Pyne

… all smuggle and no budgie.

Reader’s letter to SMH

Wishing @TonyAbbottMHR all the best today for a very tough race. KRudd

Twitter 28 March 2010

OK. Let’s see if we can get this right. Barnaby Joyce is an excellent retail politician. He cuts through and tells it like it is. It’s just that when he was Finance spokesman he kept on saying things that were either wrong or not true. So he was telling things like it isn’t.

No, that’s not right. Let’s try again. Barnaby Joyce is an excellent retail politician. He cuts through and tells it like it is. He was making the Coalition’s economic policy popular with voters. But he was damaging the Coalition’s economic credibility at the same time. Economic credibility shouldn’t be brought out and used for political advantage, but protected and hidden away from the light like a rare orchid. So a great communicator has been replaced by someone who can’t really communicate at all. That’s better.

Joyce’s dumping from the finance portfolio was widely seen as a smart move, but there was less understanding why Joyce held the post in the first place. Joyce’s appointment was an attempt by Abbott to create an oppositional program where there wasn’t one while looking to be electorally viable, by tapping into anti-political sentiment. Joyce, coming from a party that had been toying around with this tactic for a while, took advantage of the senior coalition partner’s need like any National politician would. Bringing such sentiment into the centre of an establishment party that prided itself on its credibility on the economy (i.e. with business) was always going to be tricky. Now that he’s gone, the vacuum at the centre of the Coalition’s economic ‘alternative’, which Joyce was meant to cover up, is as apparent as Hockey’s inability to make any impact. Robb, without even being the media tart Hockey is, is unlikely to do any better.

For the last few months, the media have been turning Labor’s troubles into a renewal of the right. So in South Australia, we had the Rann government supposedly under pressure from a resurgent Liberal opposition that curiously seemed to forget to target the marginals. This was in contrast to the idea of, say, a hollowing out Labor government facing an even more feeble Liberal opposition.

Yet over the last week, this media narrative of a re-energised right has started to fall apart. Joyce’s bloopers were a sign that this supposed winning political tactic had the capacity to be its opposite, at least as far as the Liberals were concerned. However, a more troubling sign for the media to get its head around was the health debate.

Much has been made of Rudd’s improved performance. But in fact he has always been reasonably to the point on health reform as it goes to themes close to his heart. Abbott’s negativity was seen as a problem, but his performance was not much different from that displayed ritually to media approval in Parliament.

There was only one real difference between what happened last week and what the media had been witnessing since Abbott took the leadership – the public gave its verdict. They didn’t like it. It was the clear message from the studio audiences that they didn’t much care for Abbott’s empty confrontation, which has forced the media narrative to stop and think that perhaps what they were seeing in the polls was the opposition’s ability to only take modest advantage of problems that had set in for Labor well before Abbott took over the leadership.

The concern over the limited value of Abbott’s strategy, borne out of a necessity to cover the gaping hole in the Liberals’ program, has come to the surface from senior Liberals themselves, especially since Minchin’s departure. Given the sensitivity of what is being said, and being the oblique creatures they are, it has come in the form of mutterings about Abbott’s physical regime, which first emanated from Abbott’s own side rather than the government. Concerns that Abbott runs a lot, swims a lot and bikes a lot may make sense to Liberals as code for something more serious, but it doesn’t mean a lot to anyone else. Certainly Gillard and Swan were fools to make such a big deal of it – as though the rest of us couldn’t work out if Abbott was doing all that he probably wasn’t doing much of other things. Far better to follow Rudd’s classic non-partisan tactic for managing an opposition leader running hard on empty – cheer him on.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 29 March 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

Tags: , , ,


19 responses to “The ‘challenge’ begins to fade”

  1. Mr Denmore on 29th March 2010 9:00 am

    But Piping Shrike, it’s simple. With their typically penetrating insight, the ABC and the other media cheerleaders have decreed that Abbott’s aerobic superiority qualifies him as a better PM. Rudd needs to squeeze himself into a lycra suit and be photographed doing push-ups outside the Lodge. Otherwise, he’s milquetoast.

  2. kymbos on 29th March 2010 9:06 am

    I like the way the MSM decided that the worm was biased after it disagreed with their group think.

    I’ll say this for Abbott – people tend to like him who don’t appear to like politics much, and presumably lean to the right. I guess these were the Liberal voters who didn’t warm to Malcolm. How he’ll manage to win over those who lean slightly to the left is anyone’s guess.

  3. Bushfire Bill on 29th March 2010 10:14 am

    “Certainly Gillard and Swan were fools to make such a big deal of it – as though the rest of us couldn’t work out if Abbott was doing all that he probably wasn’t doing much of other things.”

    I disagree. It’s always better to press the point home. Make your case then restate it to make sure everyone got the message.

  4. Ad astra on 29th March 2010 10:45 am

    Another nice piece Piping Shrike.

    Bushfire Bill has written today in similar vein on ‘The Political Sword’ in a piece titled “Spartacus fiddles while policy roams…”

  5. dlew919 on 29th March 2010 10:50 am

    It’s about time someone other than me noticed that Hockey is so lightweight, it’s amazing he doesn’t blow over in a gentle breeze. He fell straight into the Right’s trap of standing against his alleged factional ally, showing us that 1) he has no ethical depth 2) he has a much exaggerated sense of his own impact and importance 3) is not in it for the good of the Liberal Party, but his own pathetic advancement 4) has lost any soul.

    Thanks Piping – new to this, but enjoyed what I’ve read so far…

  6. The Piping Shrike on 29th March 2010 2:12 pm

    BB, the main problem with it as a tactic is that it took attention away from senior Liberals who were briefing to journos on the same thing a couple of days before. It’s why other Liberals and pro-Lib hacks like Ackerman were only too happy to leap on government comments to distract from the rumblings in Abbott’s own ranks.

    It also adds to this image of Abbott being a ‘real’ guy rather than the internally focussed political hack he is.

    Far better it seemed to me was Rudd’s (and partly Roxon’s) tactic of encouraging him on. Why not? It means nothing.

  7. Marilyn Shepherd on 29th March 2010 2:21 pm

    Has anyone remembered Barnaby selling us all out over Telstra?

  8. James on 29th March 2010 2:49 pm

    It looks like Abbott peaked before the health debate. I’ve noticed a change in tone from the conservative press, especially The Australian. They don’t seem anywhere near as keen on Abbott’s “action man” approach as they were. Certain Coalition MPs complaining to the media about it partly explains why. Presumably some of these MPs are part of the conservative bloc that gave Abbott the job. But perhaps the worm has had something to do with the conservative media’s change of heart? They saw how Abbott’s macho approach turned the studio audience off, so they are encouraging him to change his approach before it’s too late because they want the Liberals back in power. Political analysis in the mainstram media in Australia seems to have reached such a low that a worm in a studio can define its parameters. It all seems rather ‘Yes Minister’ to me.

  9. Mr Denmore on 29th March 2010 4:46 pm

    It’s astounding how divorced the media are from the public on this issue. It seems they don’t like Rudd much at a personal level and prefer Abbott as someone to have a beer with. So they cheer Abbott on in their copy. It doesn’t seem to go much deeper than that.

    I really can’t see the Liberal swing gaining momentum from here, particularly when people start to focus on Abbott’s front bench. If that lot get in, I’m leaving the country.

  10. john Willoughby on 29th March 2010 6:19 pm

    The Liberal party is that Sydney centric,
    they think Barnaby speaks “bush”.
    There and again they reappointed Bronnie
    because she speaks geriatric.

  11. Bilko on 29th March 2010 8:40 pm

    “Mr D It’s astounding how divorced the media are from the public on this issue.” Not really, they are running the Murdoch line which has nothing to do with reality. Abbott;s the public are sleep walking/we woz robbed,we were a good government,etc etc a case in point. The expected drubbing at the election (in October my prediction later this year)may bring them that dose of reality they need.
    However the current coalition shadow front bench needs some major chainsaw activity to clear away the deadwood if they hope to be viable by 2017.

  12. Thomas Paine on 29th March 2010 9:57 pm

    The Liberal campaign now seems to be resolved down to Abbott has a bigger dick the Rudd.

  13. Daisey May on 29th March 2010 11:56 pm

    Latest Newspoll is sweeter than honey. Finally the new grooms utter flaccidity has been exposed and now the briefest of brief honeymoons’ is over. The poor bride (the long suffering electorate) has been jilted at the altar. The hired band plays a dirge, the cheap imported flowers start to weep, the drab champagne sighs its last and even the homely bridesmaids (Barnaby, Nick, Joe and Chris) cry into their beers for want of mirror mates to comfort and kiss their dejected lips. It’s all so sad. Not for Malcolm though. Sage advice has come his way and it goes like this- bide your time love. If you are going to be a bitch, choose your moments. Wait till the election proper starts and your leader is on the ropes before going the squirrel grip. Then, when he is bleeding a metaphorical death you glide in and sever the jugular with a deft touch. There are ample precedents from both sides. It must be done with panache though as half of the press gallery are queenish and will only applaud elegant garrottings in their court. I love that the MSM is so dumb that it will be at least two weeks before they change their stance but the change in attitude is coming nonetheless. Oh happy days.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 30th March 2010 7:45 am

    Not bad timing!

  15. HillbillySkeleton on 30th March 2010 8:11 am

    Newspoll is ‘Revenge of the Nerds’! The Jock’s weakest muscle has always been the one in their cranium.

  16. James on 30th March 2010 9:11 am

    Even Denis Shanahan seems to have turned against Abbott. I think Abbott’s parental leave policy has really hurt the Libs. The business community is pissed off and is surely less likely to be as generous with their donations to the Coalition. The reaction of the business community, the decline in the polls, and the fact that Abbott didn’t consult over the policy has depicted Abbott as erratic. Furthermore the electorate probably views the policy as a gimmack that will ultimately be a non-core promise. Meanwhile his involvement in sporting events (there are more to come) has depicted Abbott as distracted from the political game. Turnbull must feel buoyed.

  17. Graham on 31st March 2010 2:43 pm

    The illustration for this article reminds me that an athlete mate of mine told me that at 52 (or however old he is) Abbott is really going to be mentally and physically buggered for about a month after his triathlon effort on the weekend. It might be interesteing to see how he goes in the next few weeks. If I were Rudd, I would challenging him to a couple more debates!

  18. Ricc on 31st March 2010 7:46 pm

    The Age’s first caption is “poor decision making”. Et tu Brute!

  19. Ricc on 8th April 2010 12:23 pm

    TPS, looking forward to your comment on Turnbull

Comments are closed.