Thursday, 29 July 2010
Forget climate change, asylum seekers, the debt, industrial relations and company tax. None of these issues will decide the election. It’s not just because there is no real difference between the major parties on any of these issues. In fact the reason why there is no real difference between the two parties is because the real deciding issue of this election is stability – or, to put it more bluntly, which party can show it’s the least dysfunctional to run the government.
For most of the last three years it has been the Liberals who have clearly looked the most dysfunctional. But over the last six months it has been shifting back to Labor, and now has come out to such an extent that Labor is in danger of losing power.
Comparisons are being made between this Cabinet leak and the leak in the last election that Turnbull argued in Cabinet to sign up to Kyoto. But that at least was about Turnbull saving his seat, even if doing no good to the government at the time.
These leaks are simply destructive and about making no one look good. The sole purpose of these leaks from inside Labor is to undermine Labor’s election campaign and damage the government. But it is hardly new. The premature Cabinet leak of the government’s dumping of ETS earlier this year did the government no good either. Nor did the constant feeding to journalists of threats to Rudd’s leadership, even if it meant bolstering some of the biggest critics of Labor (to the point where its confused some of them who thought a challenge was on when they were told by a Labor source, and then thought it wasn’t when they looked at the quiescent caucus – clearly looking in the wrong place). Briefing against Rudd to the detriment of Labor as a whole reached its apogee just before he was dumped with internal party polling, that was highly damaging to Labor, being given to one of Labor’s biggest haters in the media.
Rudd’s dumping has not ended it, just broadened it out. We now have top level leaks against Rudd and against Gillard going to and fro in a destructive tit-for-tat. Neither the anti-Gillard leaks nor the anti-Rudd are helpful to the government, because to most there is no issue between them, it just makes the ALP look out of control. Indeed, the media are portraying this as two camps, but that is probably looking at it too neatly. Part of the reason why this would be causing such difficulties to manage, as suggested by Swan last night, Is because the reasons why such leaks are happening in either direction is probably not entirely clear given there is no real difference between the two camps. Rather it is part of a broader malaise in a government losing its direction.
The other reason why it is hard to manage this instability is because there is little else to fall back on. The media have widely praised Gillard’s passionate performance yesterday, just as Swan seemed to finally come to life on The 7.30 Report last night, after dull campaign performances from both. But that is because there has been nothing else to be passionate about. This even applies to the issue for which Gillard claimed a passionate belief for yesterday, paid parental leave. Chris Bowen on Lateline argued that if Gillard was really worried about the cost, PPL would never have happened. But it certainly explains why its one of the stingiest in the developed world. What we saw with the sudden burst of animation yesterday was that for Gillard and Swan, the programme Labor is fighting an election on clearly invokes far less passion than the real battle, within the party itself.
If the campaign is not dull, then it’s trivial. If Bob Brown was horrified by some of the personal questions journalists were asking Gillard on the campaign trails, then he will be mortified by the ones the Women’s Weekly will be asking her. Without having seen the article it’s a safe bet it won’t be on the credibility of Treasury forward projections in the Budget. The WW appearance, of course, has been a deliberate part of Labor strategy to trivialise the campaign and minimise any policy debate with the Coalition. It’s why we are having an election only a few weeks after a new Prime Minister took over promising a new direction, so that we can quickly move forward and not ask too many questions about what exactly that direction was. Using an election this way may have made wonderful sense inside the Labor party, but is now looking highly risky.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 29 July 2010.Filed under State of the parties